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Full text of "The works of Victor Hurgo ; [general introduction and notes by Robert Louis Stevenson]"

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Presented to the 

LIBRARY oj the 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO 

by 

K. G. Morden 



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Victor Mane Hugo 



Cbition be liuxt 



THE WORKS 



O F 



VICTOR HUGO 



VOLUME X 



SHAKESPEARE 



LIFE OF HUGO 

Bv F. T. MARZIALS 



tlTije Jefferson ^vtii 

Posfton ^eto ©ork 



EDITION DE LUXE 

One Thousand copies of this 
edition ha\ e been printed for 
sale in america, of which this is 

Bo 



Copyright. 1905, bt 
EDWIN C. HILL COMPANY 

CoPVRIC.tlT. IPOft, RV 

JAMES L. PERKINS AND COMPANY 



TO 

ENGLAND 

■fl Dedicate tbia :Booft, 

THE GLORIFICATION OF HER POET. 



I TELL ENGLAND THE TRUTH; EtTT, A3 A LAND ILLtTSTKIOUS 

AND FREE, I ADMIRE HER, AND AS AN ASYLUM, 

I LOVE HER. 

VICTOR HUGa 
Hauteville House, 1864. 



1l 



PREFACE 



The true title of this work should be, " Apropos to Shake- 
speare." The desire of introducing, as they saj"^ in England, 
before the public, the new translation of Shakespeare, has 
been the first motive of the author. The feeling which in- 
terests him so profoundly in the translator should not deprive 
him of the right to recommend the translation. However, his 
conscience has been solicited on the other part, and in a more 
binding way still, by the subject itself. In reference to 
Shakespeare all questions which touch art are presented to his 
mind. To treat these questions, is to explain the mission of 
art; to treat these questions, is to explain the duty of human 
thought toward man. Such an occasion for speaking truths 
imposes a duty, and he is not permitted, above all at such an 
epoch as ours, to evade it. The author has comprehended 
this. He has not hesitated to turn the complex questions of 
art and civilization on their several faces, multiplying the 
horizons every time that the perspective has displaced itself, 
and accepting every indication that the subject, in its rig- 
orous necessity, has offered to him. This expansion of the 
point of view has given rise to tliis book. 

Hautevilix House, 1864. 



CONTENTS 



PART I. 
Book Page 

I. Shakespeare. — His Life 1 

II. Men of Genius. — Homer, Job, ^Eschylus, Isaiaii, Ezekiel, 
LucBETins, Juvenal, Tacitus, St. John, St. Paul, Dante, 

Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare 23 

III. Art and Science 66 

IV. The Ancient Shakespeare 80 

V. The Souls 122 

PART II. 

I. Shakespeare. — His Genius 134 

II. Shakespeare. — His Work. — The Culminating Points . . 156 

III. ZoiLus AS Eternal as Homer 179 

IV. Criticism 198 

V. The Minds and the Masses 213 

VI. The Beautiful the Servant of the True 227 



PART HI.— CONCLUSION. 

I. After Death. — Shakespeare. — England 247 

n. The Nineteenth Century 269 

III. True History. — Every one put in his Right Plasb . . 280 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



PART I.— BOOK I 



HIS LIFE 



CHAPTER I 

TWELVE years ago, in an island adjoining the coast of 
France, a house, with a melancholy aspect in every sea- 
son, became particularly sombre l^ecause winter had com- 
menced. The west wind, blowing then in full liberty, made 
thicker yet round this abode those coats of fog that November 
places between earthly life and the sun. Evening comes 
quickly in autumn ; the smallness of the windows added to 
tlie shortness of the days, and deepened the sad twilight in 
which the house was wrapped. 

The house, which had a terrace for a roof, was rectilinear, 
correct, square, newly whitewashed, — a true Jlethodist struc- 
ture. Nothing is so glacial as that English whiteness; it 
seems to offer you the hospitality of snow. One dreams with 
a seared heart of the old huts of the French peasants, built 
of wood, cheerful and dark, surrounded with vines. 

To the house was attaclied a garden of a quarter of an 
acre, on an inclined plane, surrounded with walls, cut in steps 
of granite, and with parapets, without trees, naked, where 
I 1 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



PART I.— BOOK I 



HIS LIPE 



CHAPTER I 

TWELVE years ago, in an island adjoining tlie coast of 
France, a house, with a melancholy aspect in every sea- 
son, became particularly sombre because winter had com- 
menced. The west wind, blowing then in full liberty, made 
thicker j'et round this abode those coats of fog that November 
places between earthly life and the sun. Evening comes 
quickly in autumn ; the smallncss of the windows added to 
tlie shortness of the days, and deepened the sad twilight in 
which the house was wrapped. 

The house, which had a terrace for a roof, was rectilinear, 
correct, square, newly whitewashed, — a true IMethodist struc- 
ture. Nothing is so glacial as that English whiteness ; it 
seems to offer you the hospitality of snow. One dreams with 
a seared heart of the old huts of the French peasants, built 
of wood, cheerful and dark, surrounded with vines. 

To the house was attached a gai'den of a quarter of an 
acre, on an inclined plane, surrounded with walls, cut in steps 
of granite, and with parapets, without trees, naked, where 
I 1 



2 WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 

one could see more stones than leaves. This little unculti- 
vated domain abounded in tufts of marigold, which flourislved 
in autumn, and which the poor people of the country eat 
baked with the eel. The neighbouring seashore was hid from 
this garden by a rise in tlie ground ; on this rise there was a 
field of short grass, where some nettles and a big hemlock 
flourished. 

From the house you might perceive, on the right, in the 
horizon, on an elevation, and in a little wood, a tower, which 
passed for haunted ; on the left you might see tlie dyke. The 
dyke was a row of big trunks of trees, leaning against a 
wall, planted upright in the sand, dried up, gaunt, with 
knots, ankyloses, and patellas, which looked like a row of 
tibias. Revery, which readily accepts dreams for the sake 
of proposing enigmas, might ask to what men these tibias of 
three fathoms in height had belonged. 

The south facade of the house looked on the garden, the 
north facade on a deserted road. 

A corridor at the entrance to the ground-floor, a kitchen, a 
greenhouse, and a courtyard, with a little parlour, having a 
view of the lonely road, and a pretty large study, scarcely 
lighted; on the first and second floors, chambers, neat, cold, 
scantily furnished, newly repainted, with white blinds to the 
window, — such was this lodging, with the noise of the sea 
ever resounding. 

This house, a heavy, right-angled white cube, clwsen by 
those who inhabited it apparently by chance, perhaps by in- 
tentional destiny, had the form of a tomb. 

Those who inhabited this abode were a group, — to speak 
more properly, a family; they were proscribed ones. The 
most aged was one of those men who, at a given moment, 
are de trap in their own country. He had come from an as- 
sembly ; the others, who were young, had come from a prison. 
To have written, that is sufficient motive for bars. Where 
shall thought conduct except to a dungeon.'' 

The prison had set them free into banishment. 

The oldest, the father, had in that place all Ijis own except 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 3 

his eldest daughter, who could not follow him. His son-in-law 
• was with her. Often were they leaning round a table or 
seated on a bench, silent, grave, thinking, all of them, and 
without saying it, of those two absent ones. 

Wliy was this group installed in this lodging, so little 
suitable? For reasons of haste, and from a desire to be as 
soon as possible anywhere but at the inn. Doubtless, also, 
because it was the first house to let that they had met with, 
and because proscribed people are not lucky. 

This house, — which it is time to rehabilitate a little and 
console, for who knows if in its loneliness it is not sad at 
what we have just said about it; a home has a soul, — this 
house was called ^Marine Terrace. The arrival was mourn- 
ful; but after all, we declare, the stay in it was agreeable, 
and Marine Terrace has not left to those who then inhabited 
it anything but affectionate and dear remembrances. And 
w hat we say of that bouse, Marine Terrace, wc say also of that 
island of Jersey. Places of suffering and trial end by having 
a kind of bitter sweetness which, later on, causes them to be 
regretted. They have a stern hospitality which pleases the 
conscience. 

There had been, before them, other exiles in that island. 
This is not the time to speak of them. We mention only that 
the most ancient of whom tradition, a legend, perhaps, has 
kept the remembrance, was a Roman, Vipsanius Minator, who 
employed his exile in augmenting, for the benefit of his 
country's dominion, the Roman wall of which you may still 
see some parts, like bits of hillock, near a bay named, I think, 
St. Catherine's Bay. This Vipsanius Minator was a con- 
sular personage, — an old Roman so infatuated with Rome 
that he stood in the way of the Empire. Tiberius exiled him 
into this Cimmerian island, Csesarea; according to others, to 
one of the Orkneys. Tiberius did more; not content with 
exile, he ordained oblivion. It was forbidden to the orators 
of the senate and the forum to pronounce the name of Vipsa- 
nius Minator. The orators of the forum and the senate, 
and history, have obeyed; about which Tiberius, of course, 



4 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

did not have a doubt. That arrogance in commanding, \vl)ich 
proceeded so far as to give orders to men's thoughts, charac- 
terized certain ancient governments newly arrived at one of 
tliose firm situations where the greatest amount of crime pro- 
duces the greatest amount of security. 

Let us return to ]\Iarine Terrace. 

One morning at the end of November, two of the inhabit- 
ants of the place, the father and the youngest of the sons, 
were seated in the lower parlour. They were silent, like ship- 
wrecked ones who meditate. Without, it rained; the wind 
blew. The house was as if deafened by the outer roaring. 
Both went on thinking, absorbed perhaps by this coincidence 
between a beginning of winter and a beginning of exile. 

All at once the son raised his voice and asked the father, — 

" What thinkest thou of this exile.? " 

" That it will be long." 

" How dost thou reckon to fill it up .'' " 

The father answered, — 

" I shall look on the ocean." 

There was a silence. The father resumed the conversa- 
tion : — 

"And you?" 

" I," said the son, — " I shall ti'anslate Shakespeare." 



CHArTER II 



THERE are men, oceans in reality. 
These waves; this ebb and flow; this terrible go-and- 
come; this noise of every gust; these lights and shadows; 
these vegetations belonging to the gulf; this democracy of 
clouds in full hurricane; these eagles in the foam; these won- 
derful gatherings of stars reflected in one knows not what 
mysterious crowd by millions of luminous specks, heads con- 
fused with Hie innumerable; those grand errant lightnings 
which seem to watch; these huge sobs; these monsters 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 5 

glimpsed at; this roaring, disturbing these nights of dark- 
ness ; these furies, these frenzies, these tempests, these rocks, 
these shipwrecks, these fleets crushing each other, these hu- 
man thunders mixed with divine thunders, this blood in the 
abyss; then these graces, these sweetnesses, these fetes, these 
gay white veils, these fishing-boats, these songs in the uproar, 
these splendid ports, this smoke of the earth, these towns in 
the horizon, this deep blue of water and sky, this useful 
sharpness, this bitterness which renders the universe whole- 
some, this rough salt without which all would putrefy, these 
angers and assuagings, this whole in one, this unexpected in 
the immutable, this vast marvel of monotony, inexhaustibly 
varied, this level after that earthquake, these hells and 
these paradises of immensity eternally agitated, this infinite, 
this unfathomable, — all this can exist in one spirit ; and then 
this spirit is called genius, and you have /Eschylus, you have 
Isaiah, you have Juvenal, you have Dante, you have Michael 
Angelo, you have Shakespeare; and looking at these minds 
is the same thing as to look at the ocean. 



CHAPTER III 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born at Stratford-on- 
Avon, in a house under the tiles of which was con- 
cealed a profession of the Catholic faith beginning with these 
words, " I, John Shakespeare." John was the father of 
William. The house, situate in Henley Street, was humble; 
the chamber in which Shakespeare came into the world, 
wretched, — the walls whitewashed, tlie black rafters laid cross- 
wise; at the farther end a tolerably large window with two 
small panes, where you may read to-day, among other names, 
that of Walter Scott. This poor lodging sheltered a de- 
cayed family. The father of William Shakespeare had been 
alderman ; his grandfather had been bailiff. Shakespeare sig- 
nifies " shakelance ;" the family had for coat-of-arms an arm 



6 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

holding a lance, — allusive amis, which were confirmed, they 
say, by Queen Elizabeth in 1595, and apparent, at the time 
we write, on Shakespeare's tomb in the church of Stratf'ord-on- 
Avon. There is little agreement on the orthography of the 
word Shake-speare, as a family name ; it is written variously, 
— Shakspere, Shakesperc, Shakespeare, Shaks])earc. In the 
eighteenth century it was habitually written Shakespear; the 
actual translator has adopted tlie spelling of Shakespeare, as 
the only true method, and gives for it unanswerable reasons. ' 
The only objection that can be made is that Shakspeare is 
more easily pronounced than Shakespeare, that cutting off 
the e mute is perhaps useful, and that for their own sake, and 
in the interests of literary cui'rency, posterity has, as regards 
siirnames, a claim to euplxmy. It is evident, for example, 
that in French poetry the orthography Shakspeare is neces- 
sary. However, in prose, and convinced by the translator, 
we write Shakespeare. 

2. The Shakespeare family had some original drawback, 
probably its Catholicism, which caused it to fall. A little 
after the birth of William, Alderman Shakespeare was no more 
than " butcher John." William Shakespeare made his debut 
in a slaughter-house. At fifteen years of age, with sleeves 
tucked up, in his father's shambles, he killed the sheep and 
calves " pomjKiusly," says Aubrey. At eighteen he married. 
Between the da}s of the slaughter-house and the marriage he 
com.posed a quatrain. This quatrain, directed against the 
neighbouring villages, is his debut in poetry. He there saj's 
that Hillbrough is illustrious for its gliosts and Bidford for 
its drunken fellows. He made this quatrain (being tipsy 
himself), in the open air, under an apple-tree still celebrated 
in the country in consequence of this Midsummer Night's 
Dream. In this night and in this dream where there were lads 
and lasses, in this drunken fit, and under this apple-tree, he 
discovered that Anne Hathaway was a pretty girl. The wed- 
ding followed. He espoused this Anne Hathaway, older than 
himself by eight years, iiad a dnugiiter by her, then twins, 
boy and girl, and left her; and this wife, vanished from 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 7 

Shnkcspearo's life, appears again only in his will, where he 
leaves her the worst of his two beds, " having probably," says 
a biographer, " employed the best with others." Shakespeare, 
like La Fontaine, did but sip at a married life. His wife put 
aside, he was a schoolmaster, then clerk to an attorney, then 
a poacher. This poaching has been made use of since then 
to justify the statement that Shakespeare had been a thief. 
One day he was caught poaching in Sir Thomas Lucy's park. 
They threw him in prison ; they conmienced proceedings. 
These being spitefully followed up, he saved himself by flight 
to London. In order to gain a livelihood, he sought to take 
care of horses at the doors of the theatres. Plautus had 
turned a millstone. This business of taking care of horses 
at the doors existed in London in the last century, and it 
formed then a kind of small band or corps that they called 
" Shakespeare's boys." 

3. You may call London the black Babylon, — gloomy the 
day, magnificent the night. To see London is a sensation ; 
it is uproar under smoke. Mysterious analogy ! The up- 
roar is the smoke of noise. Paris is the cajjital of one side 
of humanity. London is the capital of the opposite side, — 
splendid and melanclioly town ! Life there is a tumult ; the 
people there are an ant-hill; they are free, and yet dove- 
tailed. London is an orderly chaos. The London of the 
sixteenth century did not resemble the London of our day ; 
but it was already a town without bounds. Cheapside was 
the high-street ; St. Paul's, which is a dome, was a spire. The 
plague was nearly as much at home in London as at Constan- 
tinople. It is true that there was not much difference be- 
tween Henry VIII. and a sultan. Fii'es, also, as at Constanti- 
nople, were frequent in London, on account of the populous 
parts of the town being built entirely of wood. In the streets 
there was but one carriage, — the carriage of her jMajesty. 
Not a cross-road wliere they did not cudgel some pickpocket 
with that drotsch-block which is .still retained at Groningen 
for thrashing the wheat. Manners were rough, almost fero- 
cious; a fine lady rose at six, and went to bed at nine. Lady 



8 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Geraldine Kildare, to whom Lord SuiTey inscribed verses, 
breakfasted off a pound of bacon and a pot of beer. Queens, 
the wives of Henry VIII., knitted mittens, and did not even 
object to their being of coarse red wool. In this London, the 
Duchess of Suffolk took care of her hen-house, and with her 
dress tucked up to her knees, threw corn to the ducks in the 
court below. To dine at midday w'as a late dinner. The 
pleasures of the upper classes were to go and play at " hot 
cockles " with my Lord Leicester. Anne Bolcyn played there ; 
she knelt down, with eyes bandaged, rehearsing this game, 
without knowing it, in the posture of the scaffold. This same 
Anne Boleyn, destined to the throne, from whence she was to 
go farther, was perfectly dazzled when her mother bought her 
three linen chemises at sixpence the ell, and promised her for 
the Duke of Norfolk's ball a pair of new shoes worth five 
shillings. 

4. Under Elizabeth, in spite of the anger of the Puritans, 
there were in London eight companies of comedians, those 
of Newingion Butts, Earl Pembroke's compan}'. Lord 
Strange's retainers, the Lord-Chamberlain's troop, the Lord 
High-Admiral's troop, the company of Blackfriars, the chil- 
dren of St. Paul's, and, in the first rank, the Showmen of 
Bears. Lord Southampton went to the play every evening. 
Nearly all the theatres were situate on the banks of tho 
Thames, which increased the number of water-men. The 
play-rooms were of two kinds : some merely open tavern-yards, 
a trestle leaning against a wall, no ceiling, rows of benches 
placed on the ground, for boxes the windows of the tavern. 
The performance took place in the broad daylight and in the 
open air. The principal of those theatres was tl>e Globe ; the 
others, which were mostly closed play-rooms, lighted with 
lamps, were used at night. The most frequented was Black- 
friars. The best actor of Lord Pembroke's troop was 
called Henslowe; the best actor at Blackfriars was Burbage. 
The Globe was situate on Bank Side. This is known by 
a document at Stationers' Hall, dated 26th November, 
1607 : — 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 9 

" His Majesty's servants playing usually at the Globe on the Bank 
Side." 

The scenery was simple. Two swords laid crosswise, some- 
times two laths, signified a battle; a shirt over the coat sig- 
nified a knight; the petticoat of one of the comedians' wives 
on a brooni-handlc, signified a palfrey caparisoned. A rich 
tlicatre, which made its inventory in 1598, possessed " the 
hmbs of Moors, a dragon, a big horse with his legs, a cage, 
a rock, four Turks' heads, and that of the ancient jMahomet, 
a wheel for the siege of London, and a houclie d'enfcr." An- 
other had " a sun, a target, the three feathers of the Prince 
of Wales, with the device Ich Dien, besides six devils, and the 
Pope on his mule." An actor besmeared with plaster and im- 
movable, signified a wall; if he spread his fingers, it meant 
that the wall had crevices. A man laden with a fagot, fol- 
lowed by a dog, and carrying a lantern, meant the moon ; his 
lantern represented the moonshine. People may laugh at this 
mise en scene of moonlight, become famous by the " Midsum- 
mer Night's Dream," without imagining that there is in it a 
gloomy anticipation of Dante.' The robing-room of these 
theatres, where the comedians dressed themselves pell-mell, was 
a corner separated from the stage by a rag of some kind 
stretched on a cord. The robing-room at Blackfriars was 
shut off by an ancient piece of tapestry which had belonged 
to one of the guilds, and represented a blacksmith's work- 
shop; through the holes in this partition, flying in rags and 
tatters, the public saw the actors redden their cheeks with 
brick-dust, or make their mustaches with a cork burned at 
a tallow-candle. From time to time, through an occasional 
opening of the curtain, you might see a face grinning in a 
mask, peeping to see if the time for going on the stage had 
arrived, or the smooth chin of a comedian, who was to play 
the part of a woman. " Glabri histriones," said Plautus. 
These theatres were frequented by noblemen, scholars, sol- 
diers, and sailors. They acted there the tragedy of " Lord 
iSee L'Inferno, Chant xx. 



10 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Buckhiirst,'" " Gnrl)iuliic," or " Fcrrex and Porrcx," " Mother 
Boiiibic," by Lilly, in which the phip-phip of sparrows was 
lieard ; " The Libertine," an imitation of the " Convivado de 
Piedra," wliich had a European fame; "Felix and Philo- 
mcna," a fasliionable comedy, performed for the first time at 
Greenwich, Ix^fore " Queen Bess ;" " Promos and Cassandra," 
a cometly dedicated by the author, George Whetstone, to Wil- 
ham Fleetwood, recorder of London ; " Tamerlane," and the 
" Jew of ^lalta," by Christopher ^larlowc; farces and pieces 
by Robert Greene, George Pccle, Thomas Lodge, and Thomas 
Kid; and lastly, media>val comedies. For just as France has 
her " L'Avocat Pathelin," so England has her " Gossip Gur- 
ton's Needle." While the actors gesticulated and ranted, the 
nohlemen and officers, with their plumes and Imnd of gold lace, 
standing or squatting on the stage, turning their backs, 
haughty and easy in the midst of the constrained comedians, 
laughed, shouted, plaj'ed at cards, threw them at each other's 
lieads, or played at post and pair; and below in the shade, 
on the pavement, among pots of beer and pipes, you might 
see the " stinkards " (the mob). It %vas by that very theatre 
that Shakespeare entered on the drama. From being the 
guardian of horses, he became the shepherd of men. 

5. Such was the theatre in London abovit the year 1580, 
under " the great queen." It was not much less wretched, a 
century later, at Paris, under " the great king ;" and Mo- 
liere, at his debut, had, like Shakespeare, to make sliift with 
rather miserable playhouses. There is in the archives of the 
Comedie Fran^aise, an unpublished manuscript of four hun- 
dred pages, bound in parchment and tied with a band of white 
leather. It is the diary of Lagrange, a comrade of Moliere. 
Lagrange describes also the theatre where ^loliere's company 
played by order of Mr. Rateban, superintendent of the king's 
buildings : " Tliree beams, the frames rotten and shored up, 
and half the room roofless and in ruins." In another place, 
by date Sunday, 15 March, 1671, he says, " The company 
have resolved to make a large ceiling over the whole room, 
which, up to the said date (15th) has not been covered, save 



WILLIAJtl SHAKESPEARE 11 

by a large blue cloth suspended by cords." As for lighting 
and heating this room, particularly on the occasion of the 
extraordinary expenses necessary for the performance of 
" Psyche," which was by Moliere and Corneille, we read : 
" Candles, thirty livres ; door-keeper, for wood, three livres." 
This was the style of playhouse which "the great khig " 
placed at the disposal of Moliere. These bounties to litera- 
ture did not impoverish Louis XIV. so much as to deprive 
him of the pleasure of giving, for example, at one and the 
same time, two hundred thousand livres to Lavardin, and tlie 
same to D'Epernon ; two hundred thousand livres, besides the 
regiment of France, to the Count de Medavid ; four hundred 
thousand livres to the Bishop of Noyon, because this bisliop 
was Clcrniont-Tonnerre, a family that had two patents of 
count and peer of France, — one for Clermont and one for 
Tonnerre; five hundred thousand livres to the Duke of Vi- 
vonne; and seven hundred thousand livres to the Duke of 
Quintin-Lorges, besides eight hundred thousand livres to Mon- 
seigneur Clement de Bavierc, Prince-Bishop of Liege. Let 
us add that he gave a thousand Hvtcs pension to Moliere. We 
find in Lagrange's journal in the month of April, 1663, this 
remark : — 

" About the same time, M. de MoliJre received, as a great wit, a pen- 
sion from the king, and has been placed on the civil list for the sum 
of a thousand livTes." 

Later, when Moliere was dead and interred at St. Joseph, 
" Chapel of ease to the parish of St. Eustache," the king 
pushed patronage so far as to permit his tomb to be " raised 
a foot out of the ground." 

6. Shakespeare, as we see, remained as an outsider a long 
time on the threshold of theatrical life. At length he entered. 
He passed the door and got behind the scenes. He succeeded 
in becoming a call-boy, vulgarly, a " barker." About 1586 
Shakespeare was barking with Greene at Blackfriars. In 
1587 he gained a step. In the piece called " The Giant 
Agrapardo, King of Nubia, worse than his late brother. An- 



12 WILLI A:M SHAKESPEARE 

giilafcr," Shakespeare was intrusted with carrving the turhan 
to the giant. Tiicn from a supernumerary he became actor, 
tlianks to Burbage, to whom, by an intcrhncation in his will, 
he left thirty-six shillings, to buy a gold ring. He was the 
friend of Condell and Hcmynge, — his comrades whilst alive, 
his publishers after his death. He was handsome; he had a 
high forehead, a brown beard, a mild countenance, a sweet 
mouth, a deep look. He took delight in reading Montaigne, 
translated by Florio. He frequented the Apollo tavern, where 
he would see and keep company with two habitues of his 
theatre, — Decker, author of the " Gull's Hornbook," in which 
a chapter is specialh' devoted to " the way a man of fashion 
ought to behave at the play," and Dr. Symon Fomian, who 
has left a manuscript journal, containing reports of the first 
representations of the " IMerchant of Venice," and " A Win- 
ter's Tale." He used to meet Sir Walter Raleigh at the Siren 
Club. Somewhere about that time, Mathurin Regnier met 
Philippe de Bethune at La Pomme de Pin. The great lords 
and fine gentlemen of the day were rather prone to lend their 
names in order to start new taverns. At Paris the ^'iscount de 
Montauban, who was a Crequi founded Le Tripot des Onze 
Mille Diables. At Madrid, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the 
unfortunate admiral of the " Invincible," founded the Puno- 
en-rostro, and in London Sir Walter Raleigh founded the 
Siren. There you found drunkenness and wit. 

7. In 1589, when James ^'I. of Scotland, looking to the 
throne of England, paid his respects to Elizabetli, who, two 
years before, on the 8th February, 1.587, had beheaded Mary 
Stuart, mother of this James, Shakespeare composed his first 
drama, "Pericles." In 1591, while the Catholic king was 
dreaming, after a scheme of the Marquis d'Astorga, of a 
second Armada, more lucky than the first, inasmuch as it 
never put to sea, lie composed " Henry VI." In 1593, when 
the Jesuits obtained from the Pope express permission to 
paint " the pains and torments of hell," on the walls of " the 
chamber of meditation " of Clermont College, where they 
often shut up a poor youth, who the year after, became fa- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 13 

mous under the name of Jean Chatcl, he composed " Taming 
the Shrew." In 1594, when, looking daggers at each other 
and ready for battle, the King of Spain, the Queen of Eng- 
land, and even the King of France, all three said " my good 
city of Paris," he continued and completed " Ilenrj VI." In 
1595, while Clement VIII. at Rome was solemnly aiming a 
blow at Henry IV. by laying his crosier on the backs of 
Cardinals du Perron and d'Ossat, he wrote " Tinion of 
Athens." In 1596, the year when Elizabeth published an 
edict against the long points of bucklers, and when Philip II. 
drove from his presence a woman who laughed when blowing 
her nose, he composed " Macbeth." In 1597, when this same 
Philip II. said to the Duke of Alba, " You deserve the axe," 
not because the Duke of Alba had put the Low Countries to 
fire and sword, but because he had entered into the king's 
presence without being announced, he composed " Cymbeline " 
and " Richard III." In 1598, when the Earl of Essex rav- 
aged Ireland, bearing on his headdress the glove of the virgin 
Queen Elizabeth, he composed the " Two Gentlemen of Ve- 
rona," " King John," " Love's Labour's Lost," " The Com- 
edy of Errors," "All's Well that Ends Well," "A Mid- 
summer Night's Dream," and " The Merchant of Venice." 
In 1599, when the Privy Council, at her Majesty's request, 
deliberated on the proposal to put Dr. Hayward to the rack 
for having stolen some of the ideas of Tacitus, he composed 
" Romeo and Juliet." In 1600, while the Emperor Rudolph 
was waging war against his rebel brother and sentencing his 
son, murderer of a woman, to be bled to death, lie composed 
" As You Like It," " Henry IV.," " Henry V.," and " .Aluch 
Ado about Nothing." In 1601, when Bacon published the 
eulogy on the execution of the Earl of Essex, just as Leibnitz, 
eighty years afterward, was to find out good reasons for the 
murder of Monaldeschi, with this difference however, that 
Monaldeschi was nothing to Leibnitz, and tiiat Essex had been 
the benefactor of Bacon, he composed "Twelfth Nio-ht; or 
What you Will." In 1602, while in obedience to the Pope, 
the King of France, styled " Renard de Beam " by Cardinal 



14 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Alclobrandini, was counting his beads every day, reciting the 
litanies on Wednesday, and the rosary of the Virgin Mary 
on Saturday, while fifteen cardinals, assisted by the heads of 
the chapter, opened the discussion on Molinism at Rome, and 
while the Holy See, at the request of the crown of Spain, 
" was saving Christianity and tlie world " by the institution 
of the congregation " de Auxiliis," he composed " Othello." 
In 1603, when the death of Ehzabeth made Henry IV. say, 
" She was a virgin just as I am a Catholic," he composed 
"Hamlet." In 1004, while Philip III. was losing his last 
footing in tl>e Low Countries, he wrote " Julius Caesar " and 
" Measure for Measure." In 1606, at the time when James 
I. of England, the former James VI. of Scotland, wrote 
against Bellarmin the " Tortura Forti " and faithless to Carr 
began to look sweetly on Villiers, who was afterward to 
honour liim with the title of " Your Filthiness," he composed 
" Coriolanus." In 1607, when the University of York re- 
ceived the little Prince of Wales as doctor, according to the 
account of Father St. Romuald " with all the ceremonies and 
the usual fur gowns," he wrote " King Lear." In 1609, 
when the magistracy of France, placing the scaffold at the 
disposition of the king, gave upon trust a carte hhinche for 
the sentence of the Prince de Conde " to such punishment as 
it might please his Majesty to order," Shakespeare com- 
posed " Troilus and Cressida." In 1610, when Ravaillac as- 
sassinated Henry IV. by the dagger, and the French parlia- 
ment assassinated Ravaillac by the process of quartering his 
Ixidy, Shakespeare comp>osed " Antony and Cleopatra." In 
1611, while the ^Moors, driven out by Philip III., and in the 
pangs of death, were crawling out of Spain, he wrote the 
" Winter's Tale," " Henry VIII.," and " The Tempest." 

8. He used to write on flying sheets, like nearly all poets. 
Malherlx? and Boileau are almost the only ones who have writ- 
ten on quires of paper. Racan said to Mile, de Gournay : — 

I have seen this morning M. de Malherbe sewing with coarse gray 
threacl a bundle of white papers, on which will soon appear some son- 
nets." 



WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 15 

Each of Shakespeare's dramas, composed according to the 
wants of his company, was in all probability learned and re- 
lu-arscd in haste by the actors from the oi'iginal itself, as they 
had not time to copy it ; hence, in his case as in Aloliere's, the 
mislaying of manuscripts which were cut into parts. Few 
or no entry-books in those almost itinerant theatres ; no co- 
incidence between the time of representation and the publica- 
tion of the plaj's ; sometimes not even a printed copy, — the 
stage the sole publication. When the pieces by chance are 
printed, they bear titles which bewilder us. The second part 
of Henry VI. is entitled "The First Part of the War be- 
tween York and Lancaster." The third part is called " The 
True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York." All this enables 
us to understand why so much obscurity rests on the dates 
when Shakespeare composed his dramas, and why it is diffi- 
cult to fix them with precision. The dates that we have just 
given, and which are here brought together for the first time, 
are pretty nearly certain ; notwithstanding, some doubt still 
exists as to the years when the following were written, or in- 
deed played,— " Timon of Athens," " Cymbeline," "Julius 
Ca?sar," " Antony and Cleopatra," " Coriolanus," and " Mac- 
beth." Here and there we meet with ban-en years ; others 
there are of which the fertility seems excessive. It is, for 
instance, on a simple note by Meres, author of the " Treas- 
ure of Wit," that we are compelled to attribute to the year 
1598 the creation of six pieces, — " Tiie Two Gentlemen of 
Verona," the "Comedy of Errors," "King John," "Mid- 
summer Night's Dream," " The Merchant of Venice," and 
" All's Well that Ends Well," which Meres calls " Love's La- 
bour Gained." The date of " Henry VI." is fixed, for the 
first part at least, by an allusion which Nash makes to this 
play in " Pierce Penniless." The year 160J^ is given as that 
of " Measure for Pleasure," inasmuch as this piece had been 
represented on Stephen's Daj' of that year, of which Hcmynge 
makes a special note; and tiie year 1611 for " Heni-y VIII.," 
inasmuch as " Henry VIII." was played at the time of the 
fire of the Globe Theatre. Various circumstances — a dis- 



16 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

agreement with his company, a whim of the lord-chamhcrlain 
— sometimes compelled Shakespeare to change from one 
theatre to anothei-. " Taming the Shrew " was played for 
the first time in 1593, at Henslowe's theatre; "Twelfth 
Night " in 1601, at Middle Temple Hall; " Othello" in 1602, 
at Harcficld Castle. " King Lear" was played at Whitehall 
during Christmas (1607) before James I. Burbage created 
the part of Lear. Lord Southampton, recently set free from 
the Tower of London, was present at this performance. This 
Lord Southampton was an old Iwbituc of Blackfriars ; and 
Shakespeare, in 1589, had dedicated the poem of " Adonis " 
to him. Adonis was the fashion at that time; twenty-five 
years after Shakespeare, the Chevalier Marini wrote a poem 
on Adonis which he dedicated to Louis XIII. 

9. In 1597 Shakespeare lost his son, who has left as his 
only trace on earth one line in the death-register of the parish 
of Stratford-on-Avon : "1597. August 17. Hanmet. Filius 
Willian) Sh;ikespeare." On the 6th September, 1601, his 
father, John Shakespeare, died. He was now the head of 
liis company of comedians. James I. had given him, in 1607, 
the lease of Blackfriars, and afterward that of the Globe. 
In 1613 Madame Elizabeth, daughter of James, and the Elec- 
tor-palatine, King of Bolicmia, whose statue may be seen in 
the ivy at the angle of a big tower at Heidelberg, came to 
the Globe to see the " Tempest " performed. These royal 
attendances did not save him from the censure of the lord- 
chamberlain. A certain interdict weighed on his pieces, the 
re])resentation of which was tolerated, and the printing now 
and then forbidden. On the second volume of the register at 
Stationers' Hall you ma}' read to-day on the margin of the 
title of three pieces, " As You Like It"," " Henry \'.," " Much 
Ado about Nothing," the words " 4 Augt. to suspend." The 
motives for these interdictions escape us. Sluikcspeare was 
able, for instance without raising objection, to place on the 
stage his former poaching adventure and make Sir Thomas 
Lucy a buffoon (Judge Shallow), siiow the public Falstatf 
killing the buck and belabouring Shallow's people, and push 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 17 

the likeness so far as to give to Shallow the arms of Sir 
Thomas Luc_y, — an outrageous piece of Aristophanism by a 
man who did not know Aristophanes. FalstafF, in Shake- 
speare's manuscripts, was written Falstaffe. In the mean 
time his circumstances had improved, as later they did witli 
Moliere. Toward the end of the century he was rich enough 
for a certain Ryc-Quincy to ask, on the 8th October, 1598, 
his assistance in a letter which bears the inscription : " To 
my amiable friend and countryman William Shakespeare." 
He refused the assistance, as it appears, and returned the 
letter, found since among Fletcher's papers, and on the reverse 
of which this same Rj'c-Quincy had written : " Histrio! 
Mima! " He loved Stratford-on-Avon, where he was born, 
where his father had died, where his son was buried. He 
there purchased or built a house, which he christened " New 
Place." We say, bought or built a house, for he bought it, 
according to Whitcrill, and he built it according to Forbes, 
and on this point Forbes disputes with Whiterill. Tlicse cavils 
of the learned about trifles are not worth being searched into, 
particularly when we see Father Hardouin, for instance, 
completely upset a whole passage of Pliny by replacing nos 
pridem by non pr'idem. 

10. Shakespeare went from time to time to pass some daj's 
at New Place. In these short journeys he met half-way 
Oxford, and at Oxford the Crown Hotel, and in the hotel the 
hostess, a beautiful, intelligent creature, wife of the worthy 
innkeeper, Davenant. In 1606 Mrs. Davenant was brought 
to bed of a son whom they named William, and in 1641' Sir 
William Davenant, created knight by Charles I., wrote to 
Lord Rochester : " Know this, which does honour to my 
mother, I am the son of Shakespeare," thus allying himself 
to Shakespeare in the same way that in our days M. Lucas 
Montigny claimed relationship with ]\Iirabcau. Shakespeare 
had married off his two daughters, — Susan to a doctor, 
Judith to a merchant; Susan had wit, Judith knew not how 
to read or write, and signed her name with a cross. In 1613 
it happened that Shakespeare, having come to Stratford-on- 
2 



18 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Avon, had no further desire to return to London. Perhaps 
he was in difficulties. He had just been compelled to mort- 
gage his house. The contract deed of tliis mortgage, dated 
11th March, 1613, and indorsed with Shakespeare's signa- 
ture, was up to the last century in the hands of an attorney, 
who gave it to Garrick, who lost it. Garrick lost likewise (it 
is Miss Violetti, his wife, who tells the story), Forbes's manu- 
script, with his letters in Latin. From 1613 Slvikespeare 
remained at his house at New Place, occupied with his garden, 
forgetting his plays, wrapped up in his flowers. He planted 
in this garden of New Place the first mulberry-tree that was 
grown at Stratford, just as Queen Elizabeth wore, in 1561, 
the first silk stockings seen in England. On the 2.5tb March, 
1616, feeling ill, he made his will. His will, dictated by him, 
is written on three pages ; he signed each of them ; his hand 
trembled. On the first page he signed only his Christian 
name, " William ;" on the second, " Willm. Shaspr. ;" on the 
third, " William Shasp." On the 23d April, he died. He 
had reached that day exactly fifty-two years, being born on 
the 23d April, 156^. On that s'ame day, 23d April, 1616, 
died Cervantes, a genius of like growth. When Shakespeare 
died, Milton was eight years, Corneille ten years of age ; 
Charles I. and Cromwell were two youths, the one sixteen, the 
other seventeen years old. 



CHAPTER IV 



SHAKESPEARE'S life was greatly imbittercd. He lived 
perpetually slighted ; he states it himself. Posterity 
may read this to-day in liis own verses: — 

" Thence comes it that my name receives a brand. 
And ahnost thence my nature is subdu'd. 
Pity ine, then, 



WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 19 

Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink 
Potions of eysel." i 

" Your love and pity doth th' impression fill 
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow." 2 

" Nor thou with public kindness honour me. 
Unless thou take that honour from thy name."* 

" Or on my frailty why are frailer spies." * 

Shakespeare had permanently near him one envious per- 
son, Ben Jonson,— an indifferent comic poet, whose dt'but 
he assisted. Shakespeare was thirty-nine when Ehzabcth 
died. This queen had not paid attention to him ; she man- 
aged to reign forty-four years without seeing that Shake- 
speare was there. She is not the least qualified, historically, 
to be called the " protectress of arts and letters," etc. The 
historians of the old school gave these certificates to all princes, 
whether they knew how to read or not. 

Shakespeare, persecuted like ]\Ioliere at a later date, sought, 
as Moliere, to lean on the master. Shakespeare and Moliere 
would in our days have had a loftier spirit. The master, it 
was Elizabeth, — " King Elizabeth," as the English called her. 
Shakespeare glorified Elizabeth : he called her tl>e " Virgin 
Star," " Star of the West," and " Diana,"— a name of a 
goddess which pleased the queen, — but in vain. The queen 
took no notice of it; less sensitive to the praises in which 
Shakespeare called her Diana than to the insults of Scipio 
Gentilis, who, taking the pretensions of Elizabeth on the bad 
side, called her " Hecate," and applied to her the ancient 
triple curse " Mormo ! Bombo ! Gorgo ! " As for James I., 
whom Henry IV. called IMaster James, he gave, as we have 
seen, the lease of the Globe to Shakespeare, but he willingly 
forbade the publication of his pieces. Some contemporaries. 
Dr. Symon Forman among others, so far took notice of 
Shakespeare as to make a note of the occupation of an even- 
ing passed at the performance of the " Merchant of Venice ! " 

I Sonnet 111. 2 Sonnet 112. 3 Sonnet 36. < Sonnet 121. 



I'O WILLIAI^I SHAKESPEARE 

That was all which he knew of glory. Shakespeare, once 
dead, entered into oblivion. 

From 164'0 to 1660 the Puritans abolished art, and shut 
up the playhouses. All theatricals were under a funeral 
shroud. With Charles II. the drama revived without Shake- 
speare. The false taste of Louis XIV. had invaded Eng- 
land. Charles II. belonged rather to Versailles than Lon- 
don. He had as mistress a French girl, the Duchess of 
Portsmouth, and as an intimate friend the privy purse of 
the King of France. Clifford, his favourite, who never en- 
tered the parliament-house without spitting, said : " It is 
better for my master to be viceroy under a great monarch 
like Louis XIV. than the slave of five hundred insolent Eng- 
lish subjects." These were not the days of the republic, — 
the time when Cromwell took the title of " Protector of Eng- 
land and France," and forced this same Louis XIV. to accept 
the title of " King of the French." 

LTnder this restoration of the Stuarts, Shakespeare com- 
pleted his eclipse. He was so thoroughly dead that Davenant, 
possibly his son, re-composed his pieces. There was no longer 
any " Macbeth " but the " Macbeth " of Davenant. Drydcn 
speaks of Shakespeare on one occasion in order to sa^' that 
he is " out of date." Lord Shaftesburj' calls him " a wit out 
of fashion." Dryden and Shaftesbury were two oracles. 
Dryden, a converted Catholic, had two sons, ushers in the 
Chamber of Clement XL, made tragedies worth putting into 
Latin verse, as Atterbury's hexameters prove ; and he was the 
servant of that James H. who, before being king on his own 
account, had asked of his brother, Charles II., " Why don't 
you hang Milton ? " The Earl of Shaftesbury, a friend of 
Locke, was the man who wrote an " Essay on Sprightliness 
in Important Conversations," and who, by the manner in 
which Chancellor Hyde helped his daughter to the wing of a 
chicken, divined that she was secretly married to the Duke of 
York. 

These two men having condemned Shakespeare, the oracle 
had spoken. England, a country more obedient to conven- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 21 

tional opinion than is generally believed, forgot Shakespeare. 
Some purchaser pulled down his house, New Place. A Rev. 
Dr. Cartrell cut down and burned his mulberry-tree. At the 
commencement of the eighteenth century the eclipse was total. 
In 1707, one called Nahuni Tate jDublished a " King Lear," 
warning his readers " that he had borrowed the idea of it from 
a play which he had read by chance, — the work of some name- 
less author." This " nameless author " was Shakespeare. 



CHAPTER V 



IN 1728 Voltaire imported from England to France the name 
of Will Shakespeare. Only in place of Will, he pro- 
nounced it Gilles. 

Jeering began in France, and oblivion continued in Eng- 
land. What the Irisliman Nahuni Tate had done for " King 
Lear " others did for other pieces. " All's Well that Ends 
Well " had successively two arrangers, — Pilon for the Hay- 
market, and Kemble for Drury Lane. Shakespeare existec^ 
no more, and counted no more. " Much Ado about Nothing "' 
sei-ved likewise as a rough draft twice, — for Davenant in 
1673, for James Miller in 1737. " Cymbeline " was recast 
four times: under James II., at the Theatre Royal, by- 
Thomas Dursey; in 1695 by Charles Marsh; in 1759 by W, 
Hawkins ; in 1761 by Garrick. " Cbriolanus " was recast 
four times: in 1682, for the Theatre Royal, by Tates; in 
1720. for Drury Lane, by John Dennis; in 1755, for Covent 
Garden, by Thomas Sheridan; in 1801, for Drury Lane, by 
Kemble. " Timon of Athens " was recast four times : at 
the Duke's Theatre, in 1678, by Shadwell; in 1768, at the 
Theatre of Richmond Green, by James Love; in 1771, at 
Drury Lane, by Cumberland ; in 1786, at Covent Garden, by 
Hull." 

In the eighteenth century the persistent raillery of Voltaire 
ended in producing in England a certain waking up. Gar- 



22 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

rick, while correcting Shakespeare, played him, and acknowl- 
edged that it was Shakespeare that he played. They re- 
printed him at Glasgow. An imbecile, Malone, made com- 
mentai-ies on his plays, and as a logictd sequence, whitewashed 
his tomb. There was on this tomb a little bust, of a doubt- 
ful resemblance, and moderate as a work of art ; but. what 
made it a subject of reverence, contemporaneous with Shake- 
speare. It i; after this busl that all the portraits of Shake- 
speare have been made u.at we now see. The bust was 
whitewashed. Malone, critic and whitewasher of Shakespeare, 
spread a coat of plaster on his face, of idiotic nonsense on his 
work. 



BOOK II 

MEN OF GENIUS 



CHAPTER I 

GREAT Art, using this word in its arbitrary sense, is the 
region of Equals. 

Before going farther, let us fix the value of this expres- 
sion, Art, which often recurs in our writing. 

Wo speak of Art, as we speak of Nature; here are two 
terms of an almost unli-^'tec' signification. To pronounce the 
one or the other of these words, Nature, Art, is to make a 
conjuration, to extract from the depths the ideal, to draw 
aside one of the two grand curtains of a divine creation. God 
manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life 
of the univei-se, and in the second through the thought of 
man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the 
first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art. 
Hence this reality : the poet is a priest. 

There is here below a pontiff, — it is genius. 

Sacerdos Magnus. 

Art is the second branch of Nature. 

Art is as natural as Nature. 

By the word God — let us fix the sense of this word — 
we mean the Living Infinite. 

The I latent of the Infinite patent, that is God. 

God is the Invisible seen. 

The world concentrated is God. God expanded, is the 
world. 

23 



24 WILLIAISI SHAKESPEARE 

We, wlio are speaking, we believe in nothino; out of God. 

That being said, let us proceed. God creates art by man. 
He has for a tool the human intellect. This tool the Work- 
man has made for himself; he has no other. 

Forbes, in the curious little work pei^used by Warburton 

and lost by Garrick, affirms that Shakespeare devoted himself 

 to the practice of magic, that magic was in his family, and 

that what little good there was in his pieces was dictated to 

him by one " Alleur," a spirit. 

Let us say on this point, for we must not avoid any of 
the questions about to arise, that it is a wretched error of 
all ages to desire to give the human intellect assistance from 
without,— antrum adjttvat vatcm. To the work which seems 
superhuman, people wish to bring the inten'ention of the 
extra-human,- — in antiquity, the tripod; in our days, the 
table. The table is nothing but the tripod come back. To 
accept ail, pied de la lettre the demon that Socrates talks of, 
the thicket of Moses, the nymph of Numa, the sjairit of Ploti- 
nus, and ^Mahomet's dove, is to be the victim of a metaphor. 

On the other hand, the table, turning or talking, has been 
very much laughed at; to speak the truth, this raillery is out 
of place. To replace inquiry by mockery is convenient, but 
not very scientific. For our part, we think that the strict 
duty of science is to test all phenomena. Science is ignorant, 
and has no right to laugh; a savant who laughs at the pos- 
sible is very near being an idiot. The unexpected ought al- 
ways to be expected by science. Her dut^^ is to stop it in its 
course and search it, rejecting the chimerical, establishing the 
real. Science has but the right to put a visa on facts; she 
should verify and distingTiish. All human knowledge is but 
picking and culling. Because the false mixes with the true, 
it is no excuse for rejecting the mass. When was tlie tare an 
excuse for refusing the corn.'' Hoe the weed, error, but reap 
the fact, and place it beside others. Knowledge is the sheaf 
of facts. 

The mission of science, — to study and try tlie depth of 
everything. All of us, according to our degree, are the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 25 

creditors of investigation ; wc are its debtors also. It is owed 
to us, and we owe it to others. To avoid a phenomenon, to 
refuse to pay it thai attention to wliich it has a right, to lead 
it out, to shut to the door, to turn our back on it laughing, is 
to make truth a bankrupt, and to leave the draft of science 
to be protested. TLo phenomenon of ihe tripod of old, and 
of the table of to-day, is entitled, like anything else, to ob- 
servation. Psychic science will gain by it, without doubt. 
Let us add that t abandon phenomena to credulity is to com- 
mit treason against humr..i reason. 

Homer affirms that the tripods of Delphi walked of their 
own :.ecord; and he explains the fact ' by saj'ing that \u\- 
can forged invisible wheels for them. The explanation does 
not much simplify the phenomenon. Plato relates that the 
statues of Daedalus gesticulated in the darkness, had a will 
of their own, and resisted their master; and that he was 
obliged to tie them up, so that they might not walk off. 
Strange dogs at the end of a chain ! Flechier mentions, at 
page 52 of his " Histoire de Theodose " — referring to the 
great conspiracy of the magicians of the fourth centurj' 
against the emperor — a table-turning of which, perhaps, we 
shall speak elsewhere, in order to say what Flechier did not 
say, and seemed to ignore. This table was covered with a 
round plating of several metals, ex diversis nietall'wis materiis 
fahrcfacta, like the plates of copper and zinc actually em- 
ployed in biology. So you may see that the phenomenon, 
always rejected and always reappearing, is not a matter of 
yesterday. 

Besides, whatever credulity has said or thought about it, 
this phenomenon of the tripods and tables is without any con- 
nection, and it is the very thing we want to come to, with 
the inspiration of the poets, — an inspiration entirely direct. 
The sibyl has a tripod, the poet none. The poet is himself 
a tripod. He is a tripod of God. God has not made this 
mai'\'ellous distillery of thought, the brain of man, not to be 
made use of. Genius has all that it wants in its brain ; every 
1 Song xviii. of the Iliad. 



26 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tliouglil passes by tlicrc. Tliouj^lit ascends and buds from 
tJic brain, as tbe fruit from the root. Thouglit is man's con- 
sequence; the root plunges into eartii, tlie brain into God, — 
that is to say, into the Infinite. 

Those who imagine (there are such, witness Forbes) that 
a jKJCin like " I.e Medecin de son Honneur," or " King Lear," 
can Ix- dictated by a tripod or a table, err in a strange fashion ; 
these works are the works of man. God has no need to make 
a piece of wood aid Shakespeare or Calderon. 

Then kt us disjjose of tlic tripod. I'oetry is the poet's 
own. Let us Ik' respectful before the possible of which no 
one knows the limit ; let us be attentive and serious before tiie 
extra-human, out of which we come, and which awaits us ; 
but let us not diminish the great workers of earth by hj'- 
potheses of mysterious assistance, whicli is not necessary. I^'t 
us leave to the brain what belongs to it, and agree that the 
work of the men of genius is of the superhuman, the offspring 
of man. 



CHAPTER II 



SUPREME Art is the region of Equals. 
The chef d'wuvre is adequate to the cfief d'ccuvre. 

As water, wlien heated to 100° C, is inculpable of calo- 
rific increase, and can rise no higher, so human thought at- 
tains in certain men its maximum intensity. /Eschyhis, Job, 
I'liidias, Isaiah, Saint Paul, Juvenal, Dante, Michael Angelo, 
Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven, 
with some others mark the 100° of genius. 

The human mind has a summit. 

This summit is the Ideal. 

God descends, man rises to it. 

Ill each age three or four men of genius undertake the 
ascent. From below, tlw world follow them with their eyes. 
These men go up the mountain, enter iuto the clouds, disap- 
pear, re-appear. People watch them, mark them. They 




WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 
The portrait, supposed to have been the Original from which Droeshout 
engraved the picture facing the Title page in the First Folio Edition of the 
Master's works, at present preserved in Strafford-on-Avon. 

William Shakespeare. Page 26. 



u 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 27 

Talk by the side of precipices. A false step does not dis- 
please certain of the lookers-on. They daringly piu'sue their 
road. See them aloft, see them in the distance; they are but 
black specks. " How small they are ! " says the crowd. 
They are giants. On they go. The road is uneven, its 
difficulties constant. At each step a wall, at each step a 
trap. As they rise, the cold increases. They must make 
their ladder, cut the ice, and walk on it, hewing the steps in 
haste. Every storm is raging. Nevertheless, they go for- 
ward in their madness. The air becomes difficult to breathe. 
The abyss increases around them. Some fall. It is weU 
done. Others stop and retrace their steps ; there is sad weari- 
ness. 

The bold ones continue; those predestined persist. The 
dreadful declivity sinks beneath them and tries to draw them 
in; glory is traitorous. They are eyed by the eagles; the 
lightning plays about them; the hurricane is furious. No 
matter, they persevere. They ascend. He who arrives at 
the summit is thy equal. Homer ! 

Those names that we have mentioned, and those which 
we might have added, repeat them again. To choose be- 
tween these men is impossible. There is no method for strik- 
ing the balance between Rembrandt and Michael Angelo. 

And, to confine ourselves solely to the autliors and poets, 
examine them one after the other. Which is the greatest.? 
Every one. 

1. One, Homer, is the huge poet-child. The world is 
born. Homer sings. He is the bird of this aurora. Homer 
has the holy sincerity of the early dawn. He almost ignores 
shadow. Chaos, heaven, earth ; Geo and Ceto ; Jove, god of 
gods; Agamemnon, king of kings; peoples; flocks from the 
beginning; temples, towns, battles, harvests; the ocean; 
Diomedes fighting; Ulysses wandering; the windings of a 
sail seeking its home; Cyclops; dwarfs; a map of the world 
crowned by the gods of Olympus ; and here and there a glim- 
mer of the furnace permitting a sight of hell ; priests, virgins, 
mothers; little children frightened by the plumes; the dog 



28 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

who remembers; great words whicli fall from gray-beards; 
friendships, loves, passions, an^l the hydras; Vulcan for the 
laugh of the gods, Thersitcs for the laugh of men; two 
aspects of married life summed up for the benefit of ages in 
Helen and Penelope ; tlic Styx ; Destiny ; the heel of Achilles, 
witliout which Destiny would be vanquished by the Styx; 
monsters, heroes, men ; thousands of landscapes seen in per- 
spective in the cloud of the old world, — this immensity, this 
is Homer. Troy coveted, Itliaca desired. Homer is war and 
travel,- — the first two methods for the meeting of mankind. 
The camp attacks the fortress, the ship sounds the unknown, 
which is also an attack ; around war every passion ; around 
travels every kind of adventure, — two gigantic groups; the 
first, bloody, is called the Iliad; the second, luminous, is 
called the Odyssey. Homer makes men greater than Nature; 
they hurl at each otlier rocks which twelve pairs of oxen could 
not move. The gods hardly care to come in contact with 
them. jNIincrva takes Achilles by the hair ; he turns round in 
anger : " What do you want with me, goddess ? " No 
monotony in these puissant figures. These giants are gradu- 
ated. After each hero, Homer breaks the mould. Ajax, 
son of Oi'leus, is less high in stature than Ajax, son of Tela- 
mon. Homer is one of tlie men of genius who resolve that 
beautiful problem of art (the most beautiful of all, perhaps), 
- — the true picture of humanity obtained by aggrandizing 
man ; that is to say, the creation of the real in the ideal. 
Fable and history, hypothesis and tradition, the chimera and 
knowledge, make up Homer. He is fathomless, and he is 
cheerful. All the depth of ancient days moves happily radi- 
ant and luminous in the vast azure of this spirit. Lycurgus, 
that peevish sage, half way between a Solon and a Draco, 
was conquered by Homer. He turned out of the way, while 
travelling, to go and read, at the house of Cleophilus, Homer's 
poems, placed there in remembrance of the hospitality that 
Homer, it is said, had formerly received in that house. 
Homer, to the Greeks, was a god ; he had priests, — the 
Homerides. Alcibiadcs gave a bombastic orator a cuff for 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 29 

boasting that he had never read Homer. The divinity of 
Homer has sun-ived Paganism. Michael Angclo said, 
" Wiien I read Homer, I look at myself to see if I am not 
twenty feet in height." Tradition will have it that the first 
verse of the Iliad should be a verse of Orpheus. This doub- 
ling Homer by Orplieus, increased in Greece the religion of 
Homer. The shield of xVchillcs ' was commented on in tlie 
temples by Damo, daughter of Pythagoras. Homer, as the 
sun, has planets. Virgil, wlio writes the ^Eneid, Lucan, who 
writes " Pharsalia," Tasso, who writes " Jci-usalem," Ariosto, 
who composes " Roland," ]\Iilton, who writes " Paradise 
Lost," Camoens, who writes the " Lusiades," Klopstock, who 
wrote the " Messiah," Voltaire, who wrote the " Henriade," 
gravitate toward Homer, and sending back to their own moons 
his light reflected in different degrees, move at unequal dis- 
tances in his boundless orbit. This is Homer. Such is the 
beginning of the epic poem. 

2. Another, Job began the drama. This embryo is a 
colossus. Job begins the drama, and it is forty centuries 
ago, by placing Jehovah and Satan in presence of each other ; 
the evil defies the good, and behold the action is begun. The 
earth is the place for the scene, and man the field of battle; 
the plagues are the actors. One of the wildest grandeurs of 
this poem is that in it the sun is inauspicious. The sun is in 
Job as in Homer; but it is no longer the dawn, it is midday. 
The mournful heaviness of the brazen ray falling perpen- 
dicularly on the desert pervades this poem, heated to a white 
heat. Job sweats on his dunghill. The shadow of Job is 
small and black, and hidden under him, as the snake under 
the rock. Tropical flies buzz on his sores. Job has above 
his head the frightful Arabian sun, — a bringer-up of mon- 
sters, an amplifier of plagues, who changes the cat into the 
tiger, the lizard into the crocodile, the pig into the rhin- 
oceros, the snake into the boa, the nettle into the cactus, the 
wind into the simoom, the miasma into the plague. Job is 
anterior to Moses. Far into ages, by the side of Abraham, 
1 Song xviii. of the Iliad. 



30 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tlic Hebrew patriarch, tliere is Job, tlic Arabian patriarch. 
Before being proved, he had been ]iappy, — " the greatest 
man in all the East," says his poem. This was the labourer- 
king. He exercised the innnense priesthood of solitude; he 
sacrificed and sanctified. Toward evening he gave the earth 
the blessing,^ — the " berac." He was learned ; he knew 
rhythm ; his poem, of which the Arabian text is lost, was writ- 
ten in verse, — this, at least, is certain as regards from verse 
S of chap. iii. to the end. He was good ; he did not meet a 
poor child without throwing him the small coin kesitha ; he 
was " the foot of the lame man, and the eye of the blind." 
It is from that that he was prccijjitated; fallen, he became 
gigantic. The whole poem of " Job " is the development 
of this idea, — the greatness that may be found at the bot- 
tom of the abyss. Job is more majestic when unfortunate 
than when prosperous. His leprosy is a purple cloth. His 
misery terrifies those who are there; they speak not to him 
until after a silence of seven days and seven nights. His 
lamentation is marked by they know not what quiet and sad 
sorcery. As he is crushing the vermin on his ulcers, he calls 
on the stars. He addresses Orion, the Hyades, which he 
names the Pleiades, and the signs that are at noonday. Ho 
says, " God has put an end to darkness." He calls the dia- 
mond which is hidden, " the stone of obscurity." He mixes 
with his distress the misfortune of others, and has tragic 
words tjiat freeze, — " The widow is desolate." He smiles 
also, and is then more frightful yet. He has around him 
Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, — three implacable types of the 
friendly busybody, of wliom he says, " You play on me as on 
a tambourine." His language, submissive toward Go<l, is 
liitter toward kings : " The kings of the earth build sohtudes," 
leaving our wit to find out whether he speaks of their tomb 
or their kingdom. Tacitus says, " Solitudincm faciunt." 
As to Jehovah, he adores him; and under the furious scourg- 
ing of the plagues, all his resistance is confined to asking of 
God, " Wilt thou not permit me to swallow my spittle.^ " 
That dates four thousand years ago. At the same hour, per- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 31 

haps, wlien the enigmatical astronomer of Dcnderah carves 
in the granite his mysterious zodiac, Job engraves his on hu- 
man thought; and his zodiac is not made of stars, but of 
miseries. This zodiac turns yet above our heads. We have 
of Job only the Hebrew version, written by Moses. Such a 
poet, followed by such a translator, makes us dream ! The 
man of the dunghill is translated by the man of Sinai. It is 
that, in reality, Job is a minister and a prophet. Job ex- 
tracts from his drama a dogma. Job suffers, and draws an 
inference. Now, to suffer and draw an inference is to teach ; 
sorrow, when logical, leads to God. Job teaches. Job, after 
having touched the summit of the drama, stirs up tlic depths 
of philosophy. He shows first that sublime madness of wis- 
dom wliich, two thousand years later, by resignation making 
itself a sacrifice, will be the foolishness of the cross, — stulti- 
iiam crucis. The dunghill of Job, transfigured, will become 
the Calvary of Jesus. 

3. Another, /Eschylus, enlightened by the unconscious 
divination of genius, without suspecting that he has behind 
him, in the East, the resignation of Job, completes it, un- 
wittingly, by the revolt of Prometheus ; so tiiat the lesson may 
be complete, and that the human race, to whom Job has taught 
but duty, shall feel in Prometheus Right drawing. There 
is something ghastly in ^schylus from one end to the other; 
there is a vague outline of an extraordinary Medusa behind 
the figures in the foreground. ^Eschylus is magnificent and 
powerful, — as though you saw him knitting his brows be- 
yond the sun. He lias two Cains, — Eteoclcs and Polynices ; 
Genesis has but one. His swarm of sea-monsters come and 
go in the dark sky, as a flock of driven birds. ^Eschylus has 
none of the known proportions. He is rough, abrupt, im- 
moderate, incapable of smoothing the way, almost ferocious, 
with a grace of his own which resembles the flowers in wild 
places, less haunted by nymphs than by the Eumenidcs, of 
the faction of the Titans ; among goddesses choosing the 
sombre ones, and smiling darkly at the Gorgons ; a son of the 
earth like Othrys and Briareus, and ready to attempt again 



32 WILLIAM! SHAKE SPExUlE 

the scaling of heaven against that parvenu Jupiter. .Eschy- 
lus is ancient mystery made man, — something hke a Pagan 
prophet. His work, if we had it all, would be a kind of 
Greek bible. Poet hundred-handed, having an Orestes more 
fatal than Ulysses and a Thebes grander than Troy, hai'd as 
a rock, raging like the foam, full of steeps, torrents, and 
precipices, and such a giant that at times you might suppose 
that he becomes mountain. Coming later than the Iliad, he 
has the appearance of an elder son of Homer. 

4. Another, Isaiah, seems, above humanity, as a roar- 
ing of continual tininder. He is the great censure. His 
style, a kind of nocturnal cloud, lightens up unceasingly with 
images which suddenly empurple all the depths of this dark 
mind, and makes us exclaim, " He gives light ! " Isaiah 
takes hiind-to-hand the evil which, in civilization, makes its 
appearance before the good. He cries " Silence ! " at the 
noise of chariots, of fetes, of triumphs. The foam of his 
prophecy surges even on Nature. He denounces Babylon to 
the moles and bats, promises Nineveh briers. Tyre ashes, 
Jerusalem night, fixes a date for the wrong-doers, warns the 
powers of their approaching end, assigns a day against idols, 
high citadels, the fleets of Tarsus, the cedars of Lebanon, the 
oaks of Basan. He is standing on the threshold of civiliza- 
tion, and he refuses to enter. He is a kind of mouthpiece of 
the desert speaking to multitudes, and claiming for quick- 
sands, briers, and breezes the place where towns are, because 
it is just; because the tyrant and the slave — that is to say, 
pride and shame — exist wherever there are walled enclos- 
ures ; because evil is there incarnate in man ; because in soli- 
tude there is but the beast, while in the city there is the 
monster. Tliat which Isaiah made a reproach of in his day 
— idolatry, pride, war, prostitution, ignorance — still ex- 
ists. Isaiah is the eternal contemporary of vices which turn 
valets, and crimes which exalt themselves into kings. 

5. Another, Ezekiel, is the wild soothsayer, — the genius 
of the cavern ; thought which the roar suits. But listen. 
This savage makes a prophecy to the world, — Progress. 



WILLIAJNI SIIAKESPErVRE 33 

Nothing more astonisliing. Ah, Isaiah overthrows? Very 
well! Ezekiel will reconstruct. Isaiah refuses civilization. 
Ezckicl accepts, but transforms it. Nature and humanity 
blend togetlier in that softened howl which Ezekiel throws 
forth. The idea of duty is in Job; of right, in /Eschylus. 
Ezekiel brings before us the resulting third idea, — the hu- 
n)an race ameliorated, posterity more and more free. That 
posterity may be a rising instead of a setting star is man's 
consolation. Time present works for time to come. Work, 
then, and hope. Such is Ezekiel's cry. Ezekiel is in Chal- 
diva ; and from Chaldfea he sees distinctly Judsa, as from op- 
pression you may see liberty. He declares peace as others 
declare war. He prophesies harmony, goodness, sweetness, 
union, the blending of races, love. Notwithstanding, he is 
terrible. He is the austere benefactor. He is the universal 
kind-hearted grumbler at the human race. He scolds, he al- 
most gnashes his teeth; and people fear and hate him. The 
men about are thorns to him. " I live among the briers," he 
says. He condemns himself to be a symbol, and makes in 
his person, become hideous, a sign of human misery and 
popular degradation. He is a kind of voluntarj' Job. In 
his town, in his house, he causes himself to be bound with 
cords, and rests mute: behold the slave. In the public place 
he eats dung: behold the courtier. This makes Voltaire 
burst into laughter, and causes our tears to flow. Ah, Ezekiel, 
so far does your devotion go ! You render shame visible by 
horror; you compel ignominy to turn the head when recog- 
nizing herself in the dirt; you show that to accept a man for 
master is to eat dung; you cause a shudder to the cowards 
mIio follow the prince, by jjutting into your stomach what 
tliey put into their souls ; you preach deliverance by vomit- 
ing; be reverenced! This man, this being, this figure, this 
swine-prophet, is sublime. And the transfiguration that he 
announces he proves. How? By transfiguring himself. 
From this horrible and soiled lip conies fortli tlie blaze of 
poetry. Never has grander language been spoken, never 
more extraordinary. 
3 



34 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

" I saw the vision of God. A whirlwind comes from the norUi, and 
a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself. I saw a cliariot and a like- 
ness of four animals. Above the creatures and the chariot was a space 
like a terrible crystal. The wheels of the chariot were made of eyes, 
and so high that they were dreadful. The nni.se of the wings of tlie 
four angels was as the noise of the AU-Powerfid, and when they 
stojiped they lowered their wings. And I saw a likeness which was as 
fire, and which put forth a luind. And a voice said, 'The kings and the 
judges have in their souls gods of dung. I will take from their brea.sts 
the heart of stone, and I will give them a heart of flesh.' I went to 
them that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I remained there aston- 
ished among them seven days." 

And again : — 

"There was a plain and dry bones; and I said, 'Bones, rise up,' and 
I looked, and tlicre ciime nerves on these bones, and flesh on these nerves, 
and a skin al)ovc; but tlie spirit was not there. And I cried, 'Spirit, 
come from the four winds, breathe, so that these dead revive.' The 
.spirit came. The breath entered into them, and they rose up, and it 
was an army, and it was a people. Then the voice said, ' You sh.dl be 
one nation, you shall have no king or Judge but me; and I will be the 
God who has one people, and you shall be the people who have one 
God.' " 

Is not evcrytliing there? Search for a higlicr formula, 
you W'ill not find it. A free man under a sovereign God. 
This visionary eater of dung is a resuscitator. Ezekiel lias 
mud on the lips and sun in the eyes. Among the Jews the 
reading of Ezekiel was dreaded. It was not pcmiitted be- 
fore the age of thirty years. Priests, disturbed, put a seal 
on this poet. People could not call him an impostor. His 
terror as a prophet was incontestable. He had evidently seen 
what he related. Thence his authority. His very enigmas 
made him an oracle. They could not tell which it was, these 
women sitting toward the north weeping for Tammuz. Im- 
possible to divine what was the " hasnial," this metal which he 
pictured as in fusion in the furnace of the dream ; but noth- 
ing was more clear than his vision of Progress. Ezekiel saw 
the quadruple man, — man, ox, lion, and eagle; that is to 
say, the master of thought, the master of the field, the master 
of the desert, the master of the air. Nothing forgotten. It 
is posterity complete, from Aristotle to Christopher Colum- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 35 

bus, from Triptolemus to Montgolfier. Later on, the Gospel 
also will become quadruple in the four Evangelists, making 
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John subservient to man, the ox, 
the lion, and the eagle, and, remarkable fact, to symbolize 
progress will take tiie four faces of Ezekiel. At all events, 
Ezekiel, like Christ, calls himself the " Son of I\Ian." Jesus 
often in his parables invokes and cites Ezekiel; and this kind 
of first Messiah paves the way for the second. There are in 
Ezekiel three constructions, — man, in whom he places prog- 
ress ; the temple, where he puts a light that he calls glory ; 
the city, where be puts God. He cries to the temple, — no 
priest here, neither they, nor their kings, nor the carcasses 
of their kings. ^ One cannot help thinking that this Ezekiel, 
a species of biblical demagogue, would help '93 in the terrible 
sweeping of St. Denis. As for the city built by him, he 
mutters above it this mysterious name, Jehovah Schammah, 
which signifies " the Eternal is there." Then he is silent and 
thoughtful in the darkness, pointing at humanity ; farther on, 
in the depth of the horizon, a continued increase of azure. 

6. Another, Lucretius, is that vast obscure thing. All. 
Jupiter is in Homer; Jehovah is in Job; in Lucretius Pan 
appears. Such is Pan's greatness that he lias under him 
Destiny, which is above Jupiter. Lucretius has travelled 
and he has mused, which is another voyage. He has been at 
Athens : he has been in the haunts of philosophers ; he has 
studied Greece and made out India. Democritus has made 
him dream on matter, and Anaximander on space. His 
dreams have become doctrine. Nothing is known of the in- 
cidents of his life. Like Pythagoras, he frequented the two 
mysterious schools on the Euphrates, — Neharda and Pom- 
beditha ; and he may have met there the Jewish doctors. He 
spelt the papyri of Sepphoris, which, at his time, was not 
yet transformed into Diocaesarea. He lived with the pearl- 
fishers of the isle of Tylos. We may find in the Apocrypha 
traces of an ancient strange itinerary recommended, accord- 
ing to some, to the philosophers by Empedocles, the magician, 
1 Ezekiel, xliii. 7. 



36 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

of Agrigentum, and, according to others, to the rabbis by the 
high-priest Eleazer wl>o corresponded with Ptolemy Phila- 
delphus. This itinerary would have served at a later time as 
a standard for the travels of the Apostles. The traveller who 
followed this itinerary went through the five satrapies of the 
country of the Philistines, visited the people who charm ser- 
pents and suck poisonous sores, — the Psylli ; drank of the 
torrent Bosor, which marks the frontier of Arabia Dcserta; 
then touched and handled the bronze carcan of Andromeda, 
still sealed to the rock of Joppa ; Balbec in Syria ; Apamea, 
on the Orontes, where Nicanor nourished his elephants; the 
harbour of Eziongeber, where the vessels of Ophir, laden 
with gold, stopped; Segher, which produced white incense, 
preferred to tliat of Hadramauth ; the two Syrtes, the moun- 
tain of Emerald Smaragdus ; the Nasamones, who pillaged the 
shipwrecked; the black nation, xVgysimba: Adribe, the town 
of crocodiles ; Cynopolis, town of aloes ; the wonderful cities 
of Comagena, Claudia, and Barsalium ; perhaps even Tadmor, 
the town of Solomon, — such were the stages of this almost 
fabulous pilgrimage of the thinkers. This pilgrimage, did 
Lucretius make it? One cannot tell. His numerous travels 
are beyond doubt. He had seen so many men that at the 
end they were ail mixed up in his eye, and this multitude had 
become to him shadows. He is arrived at that excess of sim- 
plification of the universe which is almost its entire fading 
away. He has sounded until he feels the plummet float. He 
has questioned the vague spectres of Byblos ; he has convci-scd 
with the severed tree of Ciiyteron, who is Juno-Thespia. 
Perhaps he has spoken in the reeds to Cannes, the man-fish 
of Chaldaa, who had two licads, — at the top the head af a 
man, below the head of a hydra, and who, drinking chaos by 
his lower orifice, rc-vomited it on the earth by his upper lip; 
in knowledge awful. Lucretius has this knowledge. Isaiah 
borders on the archangels, Lucretius on larvas. Lucretius 
twists the ancient veil of Isis, steeped in the waters of dark- 
ness, and expresses out of it sometimes in torrents, sometimes 
drop by drop, a sombre poetry. Tlie boundless is in Lucre- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 37 

tins. At times there passes a powerful spondaic verse almost 
teiTiblc, and full of shadow : " Circum se foliis ac f rondibus 
involvcntes." Here and there a vast image is sketched in 
tlie forest, — " Tunc Venus in sylvis jungebat corpora aman- 
tuni ; " and the forest is Nature. These verses arc impossible 
with Virgil. Lucretius turns his back on humanity, and looks 
fixedly on the Enigma. Lucretius's spirit, working to the 
very deeps, is placed between this reality, the atom, and this 
inij)ossibility, the vacum ; by turns attracted by these two 
precipices. Religious when he contemplates the atom, scep- 
tical when he sees the void; thence his two aspects, equally 
profound, whether he denies, whether he affirms. One day 
this traveller commits suicide. This is his last departure. 
He puts himself en route for Death. He departs to see. He 
has embarked successively on all the pinnaces, — on the gal- 
ley of Trevirium for Sanastrea in Macedonia ; on the trireme 
of Carystus for ]\Ietapon in Greece; on the skiff of Cyllonus 
for the island of Samothrace ; on the sandal of Samothrace 
for Naxos, where is Bacchus; on the ccroscaph of Naxos for 
Syria; on t]v2 vessel of Syria for Egypt, and on the ship 
of the Red Sea for India. It remains for him to make one 
voyage. He is curious about the dark country ; he takes his 
passage on the coffin, and himself unfastening the mooring, 
pushes with foot into space this dark vessel that floats on the 
unknown wave. 

7. Another, Juvenal, has everything in which Lucretius 
fails,— passion, emotion, fever, tragic flame, passion for hon- 
esty, avenging sneer, personality, humanity. He dwells in 
a certain given point in creation, and he contents himself with 
it, finding there what may nourish and swell his heart with 
justice and anger. Lucretius is the universe, Juvenal the 
locality. And what a locality ! Rome. Between the two 
they are the double voice which speaks to land and town, — 
urbi et orb't. Juvenal has, above the Roman Empire, the 
enormous flapping of wings of the griffin above the rest of 
the reptiles. He pounces upon this swarm and takes them, 
one after the other, in his terrible beak, — from the adder 



38 WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 

who is emperor and calls himself Xcro, to tlie earthworm who 
is a bad poet and calls himself Codrus. Isaiah and Juvenal 
have each their harlot ; but there is something more gloomy 
than the shadow of Babel, — it is the crashing of the bed of 
the Csesars; and Babylon is less formidable than Mcssalina. 
Juvenal is the ancient free spirit of the dead republics ; in him 
there is a Rome, in the bronze of which Athens and Sparta 
are cast. Thence in his poetry something of Aristophanes 
and something of Lycurgiis. Take aire of him, he is severe. 
Not a cord is wanting to his lyre or to the lash he uses. 
He is lofty, rigid, austere, thundering, violent, grave, just, 
inexhaustible in imagery, harshly gracious when he chooses. 
His cynicism is the indignation of modesty. His grace, 
thoroughly independent and a true figure of liberty, has 
talons ; it appears all at once, enlivening, by we cannot tell 
what supple and spirited undulations, the well-fonncd majesty 
of his hexameter. You may imagine that you sec the Cat of 
Corinth roaming on the frieze of the Parthenon. There is 
the epic in this satire; that which Juvenal has in his hand is 
the sceptre of gold with which Ulysses beat Thersites. 
" Bombast, declamation, exaggeration, hyperljole," cry the 
slaughtered deformities ; and these cries, stupidly repeated b}' 
rhetoricians, are a noise of glory. " Crime is quite equal to 
committing things or relating them," say Tillemont, ^larc 
Muret, Garasse, etc., — fools, who, hke Muret, are sometimes 
knaves. Juvenal's invective blazes since two thousand years 
ago, — a fearful flash of poetry which still burns Rome in 
the presence of centuries. This splendid fire breaks out and, 
far from diminishing with time, increases under the whirl of 
its mournful smoke. From it proceed rays in behalf of 
liberty, probity, heroism; and it niav be said that it throws 
even into our civilization minds fidl of his light. What is 
Regnier.' wliat D'Aubigne.'' what Corneillc.'' — scintillations of 
Juvenal. 

8. Another, Tacitus, is the historian. Liberty is in- 
carnate in him as in .Juvenal, and rises, dead, to the judg- 
ment-seat, having for a toga its winding-sliroud, and sum- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 39 

mons to his bar tyrants. The soul of a people become the 
soul of man, is Juvenal, as Ave have just said: thus it is with 
Tacitus. By tiie side of the poet who condemns stands the 
historian who punishes. Tacitus, seated on the curule chair 
of genius, summons and seizes in flagante delicto these guilty 
ones, the Ca?sars. The Roman Empire is a long crime. This 
crime commences by four demons, — Tiberius, Caligula, 
Claudius, Nero. Tiberius, the emperor's spy ; the eye which 
watches the world; the first dictator who dared to twist for 
himself the law of power made for the Roman people ; know- 
ing Greek, intellectual, sagacious, sarcastic, eloquent, terrible; 
loved by informers ; the murderer of citizens, of knights, of 
the senate, of his wife, of his famil}" ; having ratiier the air 
of stabbing people than massacring them ; humble before the 
I)arbarians; a traitor with Archelaus, a coward with Ar- 
tabancs ; having two thrones, — Rome for his ferocity, Caprea 
for his baseness; an inventor of vices and names for vices; 
an old man with a seraglio of children ; gaunt, bald, crooked, 
bandy-legged, sour-smelling, eaten up with leprosy, covered 
with suppurations, masked with plasters, crowned with laurels; 
having ulcers like Job, and the sceptre as well, surrounded 
by an oppressive silence; seeking a successor, smelling out 
Caligula, and finding him good; a viper who selects a tiger. 
Caligula, the man who has known fear, the slave become mas- 
ter, trembling under Tiberius, terrible after Tiberius, vomit- 
ing his fright of yesterday in atrocity. Nothing comes up 
to this mad fool. An executioner makes a mistake and kills, 
instead of the condemned one, an innocent man ; Caligula 
smiles, and says, " The condemned had not more deserved it." 
He gets a woman eaten alive by dogs, for the sake of seeing 
it. He lies publicly with his three sisters, stark naked. One 
of them dies, — Drusilla. He says, " Behead those who do 
not bewail her, for she is my sister; and crucify those who 
bewail her, for she is a goddess." He makes his horse a 
pontiff, as, later on, Nero made his monkey god. He ofl^ers 
to the universe this wretched spectacle: the annihilation of 
intellect by power. Prostitute, sharper, a robber, breaking 



40 .WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

the busts of Homer and Virgil, his head dressed as Apollo 
with rays, and booted with wings hke Mercury ; frantically 
master of the world, desiring incest with his mother, a plague 
to his empire, famine to his people, rout to his army, re- 
semblance to the gods, and one sole head to the human race 
that he might cut it off, — such is Caius Caligula. He forces 
the son to assist at the tomient of his father and the husband 
tlie violation of his wife, and to laugh. Claudius is a mere 
sketch of a imler. He is nearly a man made a tyrant, a 
noddle-head crowned. He hides himself; they discover him, 
they drag him from his hole, and they throw him terrified 
on the throne. Emperor, he still trembles, having the crown 
but not sure that he lias his head. He feels for his head at 
times, as if he searched for it. Then he gets more confident, 
and decrees three new letters to be added to the alphabet. 
He is a learned man, this idiot. They strangle a senator. 
He says, " I did not order it, but since it is done, it is well." 
His wife prostitutes herself before him. He looks at her, 
and sav's, "Who is this woman.-'" He scarcely exists: he is 
a .shadow ; but this shadow cnjshes the world. At length the 
hour for his departure arrives: his wife poisons him, his 
doctor finishes him. He says, " I am saved," and dies. After 
his death they come to see bis corpse. While alive they had 
seen his ghost. Nero is the most formidable figure of enmti 
that has ever appeared among men. The yawning monster 
that the ancients called Livor and the moderns call Spleen, 
gives us this enigma to divine, — Nero. Nero seeks simply 
a distraction. Poet, comedian, singer, coachman, exhausting 
ferocity to find voluptuousness, trying a change of sex, the 
husband of the eunuch Sporus, and bride of the slave Pythag- 
oras, and promenading the streets of Rome between his 
husband and wife. Having two pleasures — one to see the 
people clutching pieces of gold, diamonds and pearls, and the 
other to see the lions clutch the people; an incendiary for 
curiosity's sake, and a parricide for want of emplo3Mnent. 
It is to tliese four that Tiicitus dedicates his four fir.st pil- 
lories. He hangs their reign to their necks: he fastens that 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 41 

carcan to theirs. His book of Caligula is lost. Nothing 
easier to comprehend than the loss and obliteration of these 
kinds of books. To read them was a crime. A man hav- 
ing been caught reading the history of Caligula by Sueto- 
nius, Commodus had him thrown to the wild beasts. " Feris 
objici jussit," says Lampridius. The horror of those days 
is wonderful. Manners, below and above stairs, are ferocious. 
You may judge of the cruelty of the Romans by the atrocity 
of the Gauls. A row breaks out in Gaul : the peasants place 
the Roman ladies, naked and still alive, on harrows whose 
points enter here and thei'c into the body ; then they cut 
their breasts from them and sew them in their mouths, as 
though they had the appearance of eating them. " These 
are scarcely reprisals " ( Vix rindicta est ) , says the Roman 
genei-al, Tui-pilianus. Those Roman ladies had the practice, 
while chattering with their lovers, of sticking pins of gold 
in the breasts of their Persian or Gallic slaves who dressed 
their hair. Such is the humanity at which Tacitus is present. 
This view renders him terrible. He states the facts, and leaves 
you to draw your conclusions. You only meet a Potiphar 
in Rome. 

When Agrippina, reduced to her last resource, seeing 
her grave in the eyes of her son, offers him her bed, 
when her lips seek those of Nero, Tacitus is there, following 
her with his eyes, lasciva oscula et prcBnuntias flagitii 
blanditias; and he denounces to the world this effort of a 
monstrous and trembling mother to make the parricide mis- 
carry by incest. Wliatever Justus Lipsius, who bequeathed 
his pen to the Holy Virgin, has said, Domitian exiled Tacitus, 
and did well. Men like Tacitus are unhealthy subjects for 
authority. Tacitus applies liis style to the shoulder of an 
emperor, and the marks remain. Tacitus always makes his 
thrust at the required spot. A deep thrust. Juvenal, all- 
powerful poet, deals about him, scatters, makes a show, falls 
and rebounds, strikes right and left, a hundred blows at a 
time, on laws, manners, bad magistrates, corrupt verses, liber- 
tines and the idle, on Csesar, on the people, — everywhere. 



42 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

He is lavisli, like liail; he is careless, like the whip. Tacitus 
has the conciseness of red iron. 

9. Another, John, is the virgin old man. All the ardent 
sap of man, become smoke and mysterious shaking, is in his 
head, as a vision. One docs not escape love. Love, unsa- 
tiated and discontented, changes itself at the end of life into 
a gloomy overflowing of chimeras. The woman wants man ; 
otherwise man, instead of human, will have a phantom poetry. 
Some beings, however, resist universal procreation, and then 
they are in that peculiar state where monstrous inspiration 
can weaken itself on them. The Apocalypse is the almost 
mad cJief-d' ceuvre of this wonderful chastity. John, while 
young, was pleasant and wild. He loved Jesus; then could 
love nothing else. There is a deep resemblance between the 
Canticle of Canticles and the Apocalypse; the one and the 
other are explosions of pent-up virginity. The lieai-t, 
mighty volcano, bursts open ; there proceeds from it this 
dove, the Canticle of Canticles, or this dragon, the Apoc- 
alypse. These two poems are the two poles of ecstasy, — 
voluptuousness and horror; the two extreme limits of the 
soul arc attained. In the first poem ecstasy exhausts love; 
in the second, terrifies it, and carries to mankind, henceforth 
forever disquieted, the dreadful fright of the eternal preci- 
pice. Another resemblance, not less worthy of attention, 
there is between John and Daniel. The nearly invisible 
tlu'ead of affinity is carefully followed by the e\'e of those 
who see in the prophetic spirit a human and nonnal 
phenomenon, and who, far from disdaining the question of 
miracles, generalize it, and calmly attach it to existing 
phenomena. Religions lose, and science gains by it. It has 
not been sufficiently remarked that the seventh chapter of 
Daniel contains the root of the Apocalj'pse. Empires are 
there represented as beasts. Therefore has the legend associ- 
ated the two poets ! it makes the one traverse the den of lions, 
and the other the caldron of boiling oil. Independently of 
the legend, the life of John is fine. An cxcmj)]ar_v life which 
undergoes .strange openings, passing from Golgotha to Pat- 



WILLIAM SHAKE SPEAK E 43 

mos, and from the execution of Mossiali to the exile of the 
prophet. John, after having been present at tlio sufferings 
of Christ, finislied by suffering on his own account ; tlic suf- 
fering seen made him an apostle, the suffering endured made 
him a magician, — the growth of the spirit was the result 
of the gi-owth of the trial. Bishop, he writes the gospel; 
proscribed, he composes the Apocalypse, — tragic work, writ- 
ten under the dictation of an eagle, the poet having above 
lu's head we know not what mournful flapping of wings. 
The whole Bible is between two visionaries^ — Moses and 
John. This poem of poems merges out of chaos in Genesis, 
and finishes in the Apocalypse by thunders. John was one 
of the great vagrants of the language of fii'e. During the 
Last Supper his head was on the breast of Jesus, and he could 
say, " ISly ear has heard the beating of God's heart." lie 
went to relate it to men. He spoke a barbarous Greek, mixed 
with Hebrc^v expressions and Syrian words, harsh and grat- 
ing, yet charming. He went to Ephesus, he went to Media, 
he went among the Parthians. He dared to enter Ctesiphon, 
a town of the Parthians, built as a counterpoise to Babj'lon. 
He faced the living idol, Cobaris, king, god, and man, forever 
immovable on his block, which sei-ves him as throne and 
latrine. He evangelized Persia, which the Gospel calls Paras. 
When he appeared at tlie Council of Jerusalem, they thought 
they saw a pillar of the Churcli. He looked with stupefac- 
tion at Cerintus and Ebion, who said that Jesus was but a 
man. When they questioned him on the mystery, he an- 
swered, " Love you one another.'' " He died at the age of 
ninety-four years, under Trajan. According to tradition, 
he is not dead ; he is spared, and John is ever living at Patmos 
as Barberousse at Kaiserslautern. There are some waitino-- 
caverns for these mysterious everlasting beings. Jolm, as 
an historian, has his equals, — Matthew, Luke, Mark ; as a 
visionar}' he is alone. There is no dream approaches his, 
so deep it is in the infinite. His metaphors pass out from 
eternity, distracted; his poeti-y has a profound smile of mad- 
ness; the reverberation of the Most High is in the eye of 



44 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

this man. It is the sublime going fully asti-ay. Men do not 
understand it — scorn it, and laugh. "My dear Thiriot," 
says Voltaire, " tlie Apocal^'psc is filth." Religions, being 
in want of this book, have taken to worshipping it ; but, in 
order not to be thrown to the common sewer, it must be put 
on the altar. What does it matter? John is a spirit. It is 
in the John of Patnios, among all, that the communication 
between certain men of genius and the abyss is apparent. In 
all other poets men get a glimpse of this communication ; in 
John they sec it, at times they touch it, and have a shivering 
fit in placing, so to speak, the hand on this sombre door. 
That is the way to the Deity. It seems, when you read the 
poem of Patmos, that some one pushes you from behind ; you 
have a confused outline of the dreadful opening. It fills 
you with terror and attraction. If John had only tliat, he 
would bo immense. 

10. Another, Paul, a saint for tha Church, a great man 
for humanity, represents this prodigy, at the same time 
human and divine, — conversion. He is the one who has had 
a glimpse of the future. It leaves him haggard; and noth- 
ing can be more magnificent than this face, tbrever wonder- 
ing, of the man conquered by the light. Paul, bom a Phari- 
see, had been a weaver of camel's-hair for tents, and servant 
of one of the judges of Jesus Christ, Gamaliel; then the 
scribes had advanced him, trusting to his natural ferocity. 
He was tlie man of the past ; he had taken care of the mantles 
of the stone-thi'owers. He aspired, having studied with the 
priests, to become an executioner; he was on the road for 
this. All at once a wave of light emanates from the dai'k- 
ness, throws him down from his horse, and henceforth there 
will be in the history of the human race this wonderful thing, 
 — the road to Damascus. That day of the metamorphosis 
of Saint Paul is a gi-eat day ; keep the date, — it corresponds 
to the 25th January in our Gregorian calendar. The road 
to Damascus is necessary to the march of Progress. To fall 
into the truth and to rise a just man, a fall and transfigura- 
tion, that is sublime. It is the history of Saint Paul. ' From 



WILLIA^^I SHAKESPEARE 45 

his day it will be the liistory of Immanity. The flash of 
hght is beyond the flash of lightning. Trogi-ess will carry 
itself on by a series of scintillations. As for Saint Paul, 
who has been turned aside by the force of new conviction, 
this harsh stroke from on high opens to him genius. Once 
on his feet again, behold him proceed: he will no more stop. 
" Forward ! " is his cry. He is a cosmopolite. He loves the 
outsiders, whom Paganism calls barbarians, and Christianity 
calls Gentiles ; he devotes himself to them. He is the apostle 
of the outer world. He writes to the nations epistles on be- 
half of God. Listen to him speaking to the Galatians: 
" O insane Galatians ! how can 3'ou go back to the yokes to 
which you were tied.'' There are no more Jews, or Greeks, 
or slaves. Do not carry out your grand ceremonies or- 
dained by your laws. I declare unto you that all that is 
nothing. Love each other. Man must be a new creature. 
Freedom is awaiting you." There were at Athens, on the hill 
of Mars, steps hewn in rock, which may be seen to this day. 
On these steps sat the gi-eat judges before whom Orestes had 
appeared. There Socrates had been judged. Paul went 
there; and there, at night (the Areopagus only sat at night), 
he said to the grave men, " I come to announce to you the 
unknown God." The Epistles of Paul to the Gentiles are 
simple and profound, with the subtlety so marked in its in- 
fluence over savages. There are in these messages gleams 
of hallucination; Paul speaks of the Celestials as if he dis- 
tinctly saw tliiem. Like John, half-way between life and 
eternity, it seems that he had one part of his thought on the 
earth and one in the Unknown ; and it may be said, at mo- 
ments, that one of his verses answers to another from beyond 
the dark wall of the tomb. This half-possession of death 
gives him a personal certainty, and one often distinctly apart 
from the dogma, and a mark of conviction on his personal 
conceptions, which makes him almost heretical. His humility, 
bordering on the mysterious, is lofty. Peter says, " The 
words of Paul may be taken in a bad sense." Tlie deacon 
Hilaire and the Luciferians ascribe their schism to the 



46 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Epistles of Paul. P.-uil is at heart so anti-nionarclilcal that 
King James I., verj much encouraged by the orthodox Uni- 
versity of Oxford, caused the Epistle to the Romans to be 
burned by the hand of the common hangman. It is true it 
was one with a commentary by David Pareus. Many of 
Paul's works are rejected by the Church: they are the finest; 
and among them his Epistle to the Laodiceans, and above all 
his Apocalypse, erased by the Council of Rome under Gel- 
asius. It would be curious to compare it with the Apocalypse 
of John. On the opening that Paul had made to heaven the 
Church wrote, " Entrance forbidden." He is not less holy 
for it. It is his official consolation. Paul has the restless- 
ness of the thinker; text and formulary are little for him. 
The letter does not suffice; the letter, it is matter. 
Like all men of progi-ess, he speaks with reserve of the writ- 
ten law; he prefers grace, as we prefer justice. Wliat is 
grace? It is the inspiration from on high; it is the breath, 
^iat uh't rult; it is liberty. Grace is the spirit of law. This 
discovery of the spirit of law belongs to Saint Paul ; and 
what he calls " grace " from a heavenly point of view, we, 
from an earthly point, call " right." Such is Paul. The 
greatness of a spirit by the irruption of clearness, the beauty 
of violence done by truth to one spirit, breaks forth in this 
man. In that, we insist, lies the virtue of the road to 
Damascus. Henceforth, whoever wishes this incTcase, must 
follow the guide-post of Saint Paul. All those to whom 
justice shall reveal itself, evei-y blindness desirous of the day, 
all the cataracts looking to be healed, all searchers after 
conviction, all the great adventurers after virtue, all the 
holders of good in quest of truth, shall go by this road. 
The light that they find there shall change nature, for 
the light is always relative to darkness; it shall increase in 
intensity. After having been revelation, it shall be rational- 
ism ; but it shall always be light. Voltaire is like Saint Paul 
on the road to Damascus. The road to Damascus shall be 
foi'cvcr the passage for great minds. It shall also be the 
passage far peoples, — for peoples, these vast individualisms. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 47 

have like each of us their crisis and their hour. Paul, after 
liis glorious fall, rose up again armed against ancient errors, 
with that flaming sword, Clunstianity ; and two thousand 
years after, France, struck by the light, arouses herself, she 
also holding in hand this sword of fire, the Revolution. 

11. Another, Dante, has mentally conceived the abyss. 
He has made the epic poem of spectres. He rends the earth ; 
in the terrible hole he has made he puts Satan. Then he 
pushes through purgatory up to heaven. Where all end 
Dante begins. Dante is beyond man; beyond, not without, 
- — a singular pi'oposition, which, however, has nothing con- 
tradictor}' in it, the soul being a prolongation of man into 
the indefinite. Dante twists light and shade into a huge 
spiral; it descends, then it ascends. Wonderful architec- 
ture ! At the threshold is the sacred mist ; across the entrance 
is stretched the corpse of Hope ; all that you perceive beyond 
is night. The infinite anguish is sobbing somewhere in the 
invisible darkness. You lean over this gulf-poem. Is it a 
crater.'' You hear reports ; the verse shoots out narrow and 
livid, as from the fissures of a solfatara. It is vapour now, 
then lava. This paleness speaks; and then you know that 
the volcano, of which you have caught a glimpse, is hell. 
This is no longer the human medium ; you are in the unknown 
abyss. In tliis poem the imponderable submits to the laws 
of the ponderable, with which it is mixed, as in the sudden 
tumbling down of a building on fire, the smoke carried down 
by the ruins, falls and rolls with them, and seems caught 
under the timber and the stones ; thence strange effects : the 
ideas seem to suffer and to be punished in men. The idea, 
sufnciently man to undergo expiation, is the phantom (a 
form that is shade), impalpable, but not invisible, — an ap- 
pearance retaining yet a sufficient amount of realitj- for the 
chastisement to have a hold on it; sin in the abstract state, 
but having kept the human figure. It is not only the 
wicked who grieves in this Apocalypse, it is the evil ; there 
all possible bad actions are in despair. This spiritualiza- 
tion of pain gives to the poem a powerful moral import. 



48 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

The depth of hell once sounded, Dante pierces it, and re- 
mounts to the other side of the infinite. In rising, he be- 
comes idealized; and thougiit di-ops the body as a robe. 
From Virgil he passes to Beatrice. His guide to hell, it is 
tlic poet ; his guide to heaven, it is poetry. The epic poem 
continues, and has more grandeur yet; but man comprehends 
it no more. Purgatory and paradise are not less extraor- 
dinary than gehenna; but the more he ascends the less in- 
terested is man. He was somewhat at home in hell, but he 
is no longer so in heaven. He cannot recognize himself in 
angels. The human eye is perhaps not made for so much 
sun ; and when the poem draws happiness, it becomes tedious. 
It is generally the case witli all happiness. ]\Iarry the lovers, 
or send the souls to dwell in paradise, it is well; but seek the 
drama elsewhere than there. After all, what does it matter 
to Dante if 3'ou no longer follow him? He goes on without 
you. He goes alone, this lion. His work is a wonder. 
What a philosoplicr is this visionary ! What a sage is this 
madman ! Dante lays down the law for JMontcsquieu ; the 
penal divisions of " L'Esprit des Lois " are an exact copy 
of the classifications in the hell of the " Divina Commedia." 
That which Juvenal does for the Rome of the Cfesars, Dante 
does for the Rome of popes ; but Dante is a more terrible 
judge than Juvenal. Juvenal whips with cutting thongs; 
Dante scourges with flames. Juvenal condenms; Dante 
damns. Woe to the living on whom this awful traveller fixes 
the unfathomable glare of liis eyes ! 

12. Another, Rabelais, is the soul of Gaul. And who 
says Gaul says also Greece, for the Attic salt and the Gallic 
jest hive at bottom the same flavour; and if anything, build- 
ings apart, resembles the Pirsus, it is La Rapee. Aris- 
tophanes is distanced; Aristophanes is wicked. Rabelais is 
good ; Rabelais would have defended Socrates. In the order 
of lofty genius, Rabelais chronologically follows Dante; 
after the stern face, the sneering visage. Rabelais is the 
wondrous mask of ancient comedy detached from the Greek 
proscenium, from bronze made flesh, henceforth a human 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 49 

living face, remaining enormous, and coming among us to 
laugli at us, and with us. Dante and Rabelais spring from 
the school of the Franciscan friars, as later Voltaire springs 
from the Jesuits. Dante the incarnate sorrow, Rabelais the 
parody, Voltaire the irony, — they came from the Church 
against tlie Church. Every genius has his invention or his 
discovery. Rabelais has made this one : the belly. The ser- 
pent is in man ; it is the intestines. It tempts, betrays, and 
punishes. Man, single being as a spirit and complex as man, 
has Avithin himself for his earthly mission three centres, — 
the brain, the heai-t, the stomach. Each of these centres is 
august by one great function which is peculiar to it : the 
brain has thought, the heart has love, the belly has paternity 
and maternity. The belly may be tragic. " Fcri ventrem," 
says Agrippina. Catherine Sforza, threatened with the 
death of her children, kept in hostage, exhibits herself naked 
to her navel on the battlements of the citadel of Rimini and 
says to the enemy, " With this I can give birth to others." 
In one of the epic convulsions of Paris a woman of the people, 
standing on a barricade, raised her petticoat, showed the sol- 
diery her naked belly, and cried, " Kill your mothers ! " 
The soldiers perforated that belly with balls. The belly has 
its heroism ; but it is from it that flows in life corruption, 
in art comedy. Tlie breast, where tlic heart rests, has for 
its summit the head ; the belly has the phallus. The belly be- 
ing the centre of matter, is our gratification and our danger; 
it contains appetite, satiety, and putrefaction. The devo- 
tion, the tenderness, which we feel then are subject to death, 
egotism replaces them. Easily do the affections become in- 
testines. That the hymn can become a drunkard's brawl, 
that the strophe can be deformed into a couplet, is sad. That 
comes from the beast that is in man. The belly is essentially 
this beast. Degradation seems to be its law. Tlie ladder 
of sensual poetrj' has for its topmost round the Canticle of 
Canticles, and for its lowest the coarse jest. The belly god 
is Silenus ; the belly emperor is A'itcllius ; the belly animal is 
the pig. One of those horrid Ptolemies was called the Belly, 



50 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

— Physcon. TIic belly is to liunianity a formidable wciglit: 
it breaks every moment the equilibrium between the soul and 
the body. It fills history. It is responsible for nearly all 
crimes. It is the bottle of all vices. It is the belly which by 
voluptuousness makes the sultan and by dninkenness the 
czar; it is this that shows Tarquin the bed of Lucrece; it is 
this that ends by making that senate which had waited for 
Brennus and dazzled Jugurtha deliberate on the sauce of a 
turbot. It is the belly which counsels the ruined libertine, 
Cajsar, the passage of the Rubicon. To pass the Rubicon, 
how well that pays one's debts ! To pass the Rubicon, bow- 
readily that throws women into one's arms ! What good 
dinners afterward ! And the Roman soldiers enter Rome with 
the cry, " Urbani, claudit usores ; mcEchum calvum adduci- 
mus." The appetite debauches the intellect. Voluptuous- 
ness replaces will. At starting, as is always the case, there is 
some nobleness. It is the orgy. There is a gradation be- 
tween being fuddled and being dead drunk. 

Then the orgy degenerates into bestial gluttony. Where 
there was Solomon there is Ramponneau. ]\Ian becomes a 
barrel ; an inner sea of dark ideas drowns thought ; conscience 
submerged cannot warn the drunken soul. Beastliness is con- 
sum' -.; it is not even any longer cynical, it is empty and 
beastly. Diogenes disappears; there remains but the bar- 
rel. We commence by Alcibiades, we finish b}' Trimal- 
cion. It is complete; nothing more, neither dignity, nor 
shame, nor honour, nor virtue, nor wit, — animal gratification 
in all its nakedness, thorough impurity. Thought dis- 
solves itself in satiety ; carnal gorging absorbs everything ; 
nothing sui-vives of the grand sovereign creatui-e inhabited 
by the soul. As the word goes, the belly eats the man. 
Such is the final state of all societies where the ideal is 
eclipsed. That passes for prosperity', and is called aggran- 
dizing one's self. Sometimes even philosophers thought- 
lessly aid tliis degradation by inserting in their doctrines the 
materialism which is in the consciences. This sinkinjj of 
man to the level of the human beast is a great calamity. Its 



WILLIA]\r SHAKESPEARE 51 

first fniit is tlie turpitude visible at the summit of all profes- 
sions, — the venal judge, the simoniacal priest, the hireling 
soldier ; laws, manners, and beliefs are a dungheap, — totus 
homo "fit excrementnm. In the sixteenth century all the in- 
stitutions of the past are in that state. Rabelais gets hold of 
tliat situation ; he proves it ; he authenticates that belly which 
is the world. Civilization is, then, but a mass ; science is mat- 
ter; religion is blessed with a stomach, feudality is digesting; 
royalty is obese. What is Henry VIII.? A paunch. 
Rome is a fat-gutted old woman. Is it health.'' Is it sick- 
ness.'' It is perhaps obesity; it is perhaps dropsy — query. 
Rabelais, doctor and priest, feels the pulse of Papacy ; he 
shakes his head and biu'sts out laughing. Is it because he 
has foxmd life.'' No, it is because he has felt death; it is, in 
reality, breathing its last. Wliile Luther reforms, Rabelais 
jests. Which tends best to the end.'' Rabelais ridicules the 
monk, the bishop, the Pope; laughter and death-rattle to- 
gether; fool's bell sounding the tocsin! Well, then, what.!* 
I thought it was a feast ; it is agony. One may be deceived 
by the nature of tlie hiccough. Let us laugh all the same. 
Death is at the table ; the last drop toasts the last sigh. The 
agony feasting, —  it is superb. The inner colon is king ; all 
that old world feasts and bursts, and Rabelais enthrones a 
dynasty of bellies, — Grangousier, Pantagrucl, and Gargan- 
tua. Rabelais is the ^Eschylus of victuals; indeed, it is 
grand when we think that eating is devouring. There is 
something of the gulf in the glutton. Eat, then, my mas- 
ters, and drink, and come to the finale. To live is a song, of 
which to die is the refrain. Others dig under the depraved 
human race fearful dungeons. For subterraneous caves the 
great Rabelais contents himself with the cellar. This uni- 
verse, which Dante put into hell, Rabelais confines in a wine- 
cask ; his book is nothing else. The seven circles of Alighieri 
bung and encompass this extraordinary tun. Look within 
the monstrous cask, and you see them there. In Rabelais 
they are entitled. Idleness, Pride, Env^-, Avarice, Anger, 
Luxui'y, Gluttony; and it is thus that you suddenly meet 



52 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

again the foniiidiible jester. Where? — in church. The 
seven shis are this cure's sermon. Rabelais is priest. Casti- 
gution, properly understood, begins at home; it is therefore 
on the clergy tiiat he strikes first. It is something, indeed, 
to be at home! The Papacy dies of indigestion. Rabelais 
j)lays the Papacy a trick, — the trick of a Titan. The 
I'antagrnclian joy is not less grandiose than the mirth of 
a Ju2:>itcr, — -jaw for jaw. The monarchical and priestly jaw 
oats ; the Rabelaisian jaw laughs. Whoever has read Rabe- 
lais has forever before his eyes this stem opposition; the 
mask of Theocritus gazed at fixedly by the mask of Comwly. 
Hi. Another, Cervantes, is also a fonn of epic mock- 
cry ; for as the writer of these lines said in 182T,' there are be- 
tween the Middle Ages and the modern times, after the feudal 
barbarism, and placed there as it were for a conclusion, two 
Homeric buffoons, — Rabelais and Cervantes. To sum up 
horror by laughter, is not the least terrible manner of doing 
it. It is what Rabelais did; it is what Cervantes did. But 
the raillery of Cervantes has nothing of the large Rabelaisian 
grin. It is the fine humour of the noble after the joviality 
of the cure. I am the Signer Don Miguel Cel•^'antes do 
Saavedra, Caballeros, poet-soldier, and, as a proof, one- 
armed. No broad, coarse jesting in Cervantes. Scarcely 
a flavour of elegant cynicism. The satirist is fine, sharp- 
edged, polished, delicate, almost gallant, and would even 
run the risk sometimes of diminishing his power with all 
jiis affected ways if he had not the deep poetic .'■pirit of the 
Ut'naissance. That saves his charming g;i-ace from becom- 
ing prettiness. Like Jean Goujon, like Jean Cousin, like 
(icrmain Pilon, like Primatice, Cervantes has tlw cliimera 
within himself. Tliencc all the unexpected marvels of his 
imagiiiation. Add to tha.t a wonderful intuition of the in- 
most deeds of the mind, and a philosophy, inexhaustible in 
asjx^cts, which seems to possess a new and complete chart of 
the Iniman heart. Cervantes sees the inner man. His 
pliJloBophy blends with the comic and romantic instinct. 
1 Preface to " Cromwell." 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 53 

Thence does tlie unexpected break in at each moment in his 
characters, in his action, in his style, — the unforeseen, mag- 
nificent adventure. Personages remaining true to themselves, 
but facts and ideas whirling around them, with a perpetual 
renewing of the original idea, with the unceasing breathing, 
of that wind which can-ies flashes of lightning, — such is the 
law of great works. Cervantes is militant; he has a thesis; 
he makes a social book. Such poets are the fighting cham- 
pions of the mind. Where have they learned fighting.!" On 
the battle-field itself. Juvenal was a military tribune; Cer- 
vantes arrives from Lepanto, as Dante from Campalbino, 
as ^Eschylus from Salamis. After which they pass to a new 
trial. yEscliylus goes into exile, Juvenal into exile, Dante 
into exile, Cervantes into prison. It is just, for they have 
served you well. Cei-vantes, as poet, has the three sovereign 
gifts, — creation, which produces types, and clothes ideas 
■with flesh and bone; invention, which hurls passions against 
events, makes man flash brightly over destiny, and brings 
forth the drama ; imagination, sun of the brain, which throws 
light and shade everywhere, and, giving rilievo, creates life. 
Observation, which is acquired, and which, in consequence, is 
a quality rather than a gift, is included in creation. If the 
miser was not observed, Harpagon would not be created. In 
Cervantes, a new-comer, glimpsed at in Rabelais, puts in a 
decided appearance; it is common-sense. You have caught 
sight of it in Panurge; you see it plainly in Sancho Panza. 
It arrives like the Silcnus of Plautus ; and it may also say, 
" I am the god mounted on an ass." Wisdom at once, reason 
by-and-by ; it is indeed the strange history of the human 
minfl. What more wise than all religions.'' What less rea- 
sonable? Morals true, dogmas false. Wisdom is in Homer 
and in Job; reason, such as it ought to be to overcome 
prejudices, — that is to say, complete and armed cap-a-pie, 
 — will be found only in Voltaire. Common-sense is not wis- 
dom and is not reason; it is a little of one and a little of the 
other, with a dash of egotism. Cervantes makes it bestride 
ignorance; and, at the same time, completing his profound 



54 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

satire, he gives fatigue as a nag to heroism. Thus he shows 
one after the other, one with the other, the two profiles of 
man, and parodies them, witliout more pity for the suhhme 
than for the grotesque. The hippogriff becomes Rosinante. 
Behind the equestrian figure, Cervantes creates and gives 
movement to the asinine personage. Enthusiasm takes the 
field, Irony follows in its footsteps. The wonderful feats of 
Don Quixote, his riding and spurring, his big lance, steady 
in the rest, are judged by the donkey, a connoisseur in wind- 
mills. The invention of Cervantes is so masterly that there 
is between the man type and the quadruj)cd complement statu- 
ary adhesion ; the reasoner, like the adventurer, is part of the 
beast which belongs to him, and you can no more dismount 
Sancho Panza than Don Quixote. The Ideal is in Cei-vantes 
as in Dante ; but it is called the impossible, and is scoffed 
at. Beatrice is become Dulcinea. To rail at the ideal 
would ]x the failing of Cervantes; but this failing is only 
apparent. Look well! The smile has a tear. In reahty, 
Cervantes is for Don Quixote what Moliere is for Alcestes. 
One must learn how to read in a peculiar manner in the books 
of the sixteenth century; there is in almost all, on account 
of the threats hanging over th.e liberty of thought, a secret 
that must be opened, and the key of which is often lost. 
Rabelais had something unexpressed, Cervantes had an aside, 
Machiavelli had a secret recess, — several perhaps ; at all 
events, the advent of common-sense is the great fact in Cer- 
vantes. Common-sense is not a virtue; it is the eye of in- 
terest. It would have encouraged Themistocles and dissuaded 
Aristides. Lconidas has no common-sense; Regulus has no 
common-sense ; but in the face of egotistical and ferocious 
monarchies dragging poor peoples into wars undertaken for 
themselves, decimating families, making mothers desolate, and 
driving men to kill cr.ch other with all those fine words, — mili- 
tary honour, warlike glory, obedience to discipline etc., — it ; 
is an admirable personification, that connnon-sensc coming all I 
at once and cr^'ing to tlic human race, " Take care of your | 
skin!" 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 55 

14. Another, Shakespeare, wliat. is lie? You might al- 
most answer. He is the earth. Lucretius is the sphere; 
Shakespeare is the globe. There is more and less in the globe 
than in the sphere. In the sphere there is the whole, on the 
globe there is man. Here the outer, there the inner, mystery. 
Lucretius is the being; Shakespeare is the existence. Thence 
so much shadow in Lucretius; thence so much movement in 
Shakespeare. Space, — the hlue, as the Germans say, — is 
certainly not forbidden to Shakespeare. The earth sees and 
surveys heaven ; the earth knows heaven under its two aspects, 
darkness and azure, doubt and hope. Life goes and comes in 
death. All life is a secret, — a sort of enigmatical parenthe- 
sis between birth and the death-throe, between the eye which 
opens and the eye which closes. This secret imparts its rest- 
lessness to Shakespeare. Lucretius is ; Shakespeare lives. 
In Shakespeare the birds sing, the bushes become verdant, 
the hearts love, the souls suffer, the cloud wanders, it is hot, 
it is cold, night falls, time passes, forests and crowds speak, 
the vast eternal dream hovers about. The sap and the blood, 
all forms of the fact multiple, the actions and the ideas, man 
and humanity, the living and the life, the solitudes, the cities, 
the religions, the diamonds and pearls, the dung-hills and the 
charnel-houses, the ebb and flow of beings, the steps of the 
comers and goers, — all, all are on Shakespeare and in Shake- 
speare ; and this genius being the earth, the dead emerge 
from it. Certain sinister sides of Shakespeare are haunted by 
spectres. Shakespeare is a brother of Dante. The one com- 
pletes the other. Dante incarnates all supernaturalisni, 
Shakespeare all Nature ; and as these two regions. Nature and 
supernaturalism, which appear to us so different, are really 
the same unity, Dante and Shakespeare, however dissimilar, 
commingle outwardly, and are but one innately. There is 
something of the Alighieri, something of the ghost in Shake- 
speare. The skull passes from the hands of Dante into the 
hands of Shakespeare. Ugolino gnaws it, Hamlet questions 
it ; and it shows perhaps even a deeper meaning and a loftier 
teaching in the second than in the first. Shakespeare shakes 



56 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

it and makes stars fall from it. The isle of Prospero, the 
forest of Ardennes, the heath of Armujr, the plaH'orm of 
Elsinorc, are not less illinninatod than the seven circles of 
Dante's spiral by the sombre reverberation of hypothesis. 
The unknown • — half fable, half truth — is outlined there as 
well as here. Shakespeare as much as Dante allows us to 
glimpse at the crepuscular horizon of conjecture. In the 
one as in the other there is the possible, — that window of 
the dream opening on reality. As for the real, we insist on 
it, Shakespeare overflows with it ; everywhere the living flesh. 
Shakespeare possesses emotion, instinct, the true cry, the 
right tone, all the human multitude in his clamor. His 
poeliry is himself, and at the same time it is you. Like 
Homer, Shakespeare is clement. ]Men of genius, re-begin- 
ners, — it is the right name for them, — rise at all the decisive 
crises of humanity ; they sum up the phases and complete the 
revolutions. In civilization. Homer stamps the end of Asia 
and the commencement of Europe, Shakespeare stamps the end 
of the ]\liddle Ages. This closing of the Middle Ages, Rabe- 
lais and Cervantes have fixed also; but, being essentially 
satirists, they give but a partial aspect. Shakespeare's mind 
is a total ; like Homer, Shakespeare is a cj'clic man. These 
two geniuses. Homer and Shakespeare, close the two gates of 
barbarism, — the ancient door and the gothic one. That was 
their mission ; they have fulfilled it. That was their task ; 
they have accomplished it. The third great human crisis is 
the French Revolution ; it is the third huge gate of Ixirbarism, 
the monarchical gate, which is closing at this moment. The 
nineteenth century hears it rolling on its hinges. Thence 
for poetry, the drama, and art arises the actual era, as in- 
dependent of Shakespeare as of Homer. 



WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 57 



CHAPTER III 

HOMER, Job, yEschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, 
Juvonal, Saint John, Saint Paul, Tacitus, Dante, 
Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare. 

That is the avenue of the immovable giants of the human 
mind. 

The men of genius are a dynasty. Indeed there is no other. 
They wear all the crowns, — even that of thorns. 

Each of them represents the sum total of absolute that 
man can realize. 

We repeat it, to choose between these men, to prefer one 
to the other, to mark with the finger the first among these 
first, it cannot be. All are the Mind. 

Perhaps, in an extreme case — and yet every objection 
would be legitimate — you might mark out as the highest 
summit among those summits, Homer, yEschylus, Job, Isaiah, 
Dante, and Shakespeare. 

It is understood that we speak here only in an Art point of 
view, and in Art, in the literary point of view. 

Two men in this group, ^schylus and Shakespeare, repre- 
sent specially the drama. 

zEschylus, a kind of genius out of time, worthy to stamp 
either a beginning or an end in humanity, does not seem to be 
placed in his right turn in the series, and, as we have said, 
seems an elder son of Homer's. 

If we remember that ^schylus is nearly submerged by the 
darkness rising over human memory ; if we remember that 
ninety of his plays Kive disappeared, that of that subhme 
hundred there remain no more than seven dramas, which are 
also seven odes, we are stupefied by what we see of that 
genius, and almost frightened by what we do not see. 

What, then, was /Eschylus? What proportions and what 
forms had he in all this shadow ? ^Eschylus is up to his 
shoulders in the ashes of ages. His head alone remains out 



58 WILLIAM SPIAKESrEARE 

of lliJit liiir^iny; and, like tlu' giant oi' tlic desert, witli liis 
head alone he is as immense as all the neighbouring gods 
standing on their pedestals. 

]Man passes before this insubmergible wreck. Enough re- 
mains for an immense glory. What the darkness has taken 
adds the unknown to this greatness. Buried and eternal, his 
brow projecting from the grave, /Eschylus looks at genera- 
tions. 



CHArTER IV 



TO the eyes of the thinker, these men of genius oc- 
cupy thrones in the ideal. 

To the individual works that those men have left us, must 
be added various vast collective works, the Vcdas, the 
Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Edda, the Niebelungcn, the 
Heklenbuch, the Romancero. 

Some of these works are revealed and sacred. Unknown 
assistance is marked on them. The poems of India in par- 
ticular have the ominous fulness of the possible imagined by 
insanity, or related by dreams. Those works seem to have 
been composed in common with beings to whom our world 
is no longer accustomed. Legendary horror covers these 
epic poems. These books have not been composed by man 
alone; the Ash-Nagar inscription says it. Djinns have 
alighted upon them ; polypterian magi have thought over 
them ; the texts have been interlined by invisible hands ; the 
demi-gods have been aided by denii-demons ; the elephant, 
which India calls the sage, has been consulted. Thence a 
majesty almost horrible. The great enigmas are in these 
poems. They are full of mysterious Asia. Their prominent 
pai^ have the supernatural and hideous outline of chaos. 
They are a mass in the horizon like the Himalayas. The dis- 
tance of the manners, beliefs, ideas, actions, persons, is ex- 
traordinary. One reads these poems with that wondering 
stoop of the head which is induced by the profound distance 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 59 

that there is between tlie book and tlie reader. This Holy 
Writ of" Asia has evidently been yet more difficult to reduce 
and put into shape tlian our own. It is in every part refrac- 
tory to unity. In vain have the Brahmins, like our priests, 
erased and interpolated. Zoroaster is there; Ized Serosch is 
there. Tlie Eschem of the iMazdwan traditions appears un- 
der the name of Siva ; Manicheism is discernible between 
Brahma and Buddha. All kinds of traces blend, cross, and 
rccross each other in those poems. One may see in them the 
mysterious tramp of a crowd of minds who have worked at 
them in the mist of ages. Here the measureless toe of the 
giant; there the claw of the chimera. Those poems are the 
pyramid of a vanished colony of ants. 

The Niebelungen, another p3'ramid of another ant-hill, has 
the same greatness. What the dives have done there, the 
elves have done here. These powerful epic legends, the testa- 
ments of ages, tattooings marked by races on history, have no 
other unity than the very unity of the people. The collective 
and the successive, combining together, are one. Turha fit 
metis. 

These recitals are mists, and wonderful flashes of light 
traverse them. As to the Romancero, which creates the 
Cid after Achilles, and the chivulric after the heroic, it 
is the Iliad of many lost Homers. Count Julian, King 
Roderigo, Cava, Bernard del Carpio, the bastard iMudarra, 
Nunc Salido, the Seven Infantes of Lara, the Connetablfe 
Alvar de Luna, — no Oriental or Hellenic type surpasses these 
figures. The horse of Campeador is etjual to the dog of 
Ulysses. Between Priam and Lear you must place Don 
Arias, the old man of Zamora's tower, sacrificing his seven 
sons to his duty, and tearing them from his heart one after 
another. There is grandeur in that. In presence of these 
sublimities the reader undergoes a sort of insolation. 

These works are anonymous, and owing to the great 
reason of the homo sum, while admiring them, while holding 
them as the summit of art, we prefer to them the acknowl- 
edged works. With equal beauty, the Ramayana touches us 



60 WILLIAJNI SHAKESPEARE 

less tlian Shakespeare. Tl>e " I " of a man is more vast and 
profound even than the " I " of a people. 

However, these composite myriologies, the great testaments 
of India particuhirly, with a coat of poetry rather than real 
poems, expression at the same time sideral and bestial of 
humanities passed away, derive from their very deformity an 
indescribable supernatural air. The " I " multiple expressed 
by those mj-riologies makes them the polypi of poetry, — 
vague and wonderful enormities. The strange joinings of 
the antediluvian rough outline seem visible there as in the 
ichth^'osaurus or in the pterodactyl. Any one of these black 
chefs-d'aiivrc with several heads makes on the horizon of art 
the silhouette of a hydra. 

The Greek genius is not deceived by them, and abhors them. 
Apollo would attack them. The Romancero excepted, be- 
yond and above all these collective and anonymous produc- 
tions, there are men to represent peoples. These men we have 
just named. They give to nations and periods the human 
face. They are in art the incarnations of Greece, of Arabia, 
of India, of Pagan Rome, of Christian Italy, of Spain, of 
France, of England. As for German^-, the matrix, like Asia, 
of races, hordes, and nations she is represented in art by a sub- 
lime man, equal, although in a different category, to all those 
that we have characterized above. That man is Beethoven. 
Beethoven is the German soul. 

What a shadow tliis Germany ! She is the India of the 
West. She holds everything. There is no formation more 
colossal. In the sacred mist where the German spirit 
breathes, Isidro de Seville places tlieology ; Albert the Great, 
scholasticism; Raban Maur, the science of language; Tri- 
themius, astrology ; Ottnit, chivalry ; Reuchlin, vast curiosity ; 
Tutilo, universality ; Stadianus, method ; Luther, inquiry ; 
Albert Diirer, art; Leibnitz, science; Puffendorf, law; Kant, 
philosophy; P'ichte, metaphysics: W^inckelmann, archaeology; 
Herder, aesthetics ; the Vossiuses, of whom one, Gerard John, 
v/as of the Palatinate, learning; Euler, the spirit of integra- 
tion; Humboldt, the spirit of discovery; Niebuhr, history; 



WILLI A:M SHAKESPEARE 61 

Gottfried of Strasburg, fable ; HofFnian, dreams ; Hegelj 
doubt; Ancillon, obedience; Werner, fatalism: Schiller, en- 
thusiasm; Goethe, indifference; Arminius, libcrtj'. 

Kepler gives Germany the heavenly bodies. 

Gerard Groot, the founder of the Fratres Communis Vltae, 
brings his first attempt at fraternity in the fourteenth 
century. Whatever may have been her infatuation for the 
indifference of Goethe, do not consider her impersonal, that 
(Germany. She is a nation, and one of the most generous; 
for it is for her that Riicert, the military poet, forges the 
" geharnischte Sonnette," and she shudders when Korner 
hurls at her the Song of the Sword. She is the German 
fatherland, the great beloved land, Tctitonia mater. Galgacus 
was to the Germans what Caractacus was to the Britons. 

Germany has everything in herself and at home. She 
.shares Chai-lemagne with France and Shakespeare with Eng- 
land; for the Saxon element is mingled with the British ele- 
ment. She has an Olympus,. — the A'allialla. She must have 
her own stjle of writing. Ulfilas, Bishop of ]Moesia, composes 
it for her, and the Gothic mode of caligraphy will henceforth 
keep its ground along with the writing of Arabia. The capi- 
tal letter of a missal strives to outdo in fancy the signature 
of a caliph. Like China, Germany has invented printing. 
Her Burgraves (this remark has been already made ^) are to 
us what the Titans are to ^Eschylus. To the temple of Tan- 
fana, destroyed by Germanicus, she caused the cathedral of 
Cologne to succeed. She is the grandmother of our history, 
the grandam of our legends. From all parts, — from the 
Rhine to the Danube, from the Rauhe-Alp, from the ancient 
Sylva Gabresa, from the Lorraine on the ^losellc, and from 
tiie riparian Lorraine by the Wigalois and the Wigamur, 
with Henry the Fowler, with Samo, King of the Vends, with 
the chronicler of Thuringia, Rothe, with the chronicler of 
Alsace, Twinger, with tlie chronicler of Limbourg, Gansbcin, 
with all these ancient popular songsters, Jean Folz, Jean \"iol, 
Muscatbliit, with the minnesingers, those rhapsodists,— the 
I Preface of the Burgraves, 1843, 



02 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

talc, tliat form of tlream, rcnchos her, nnd enters into her 
genius. At the same time, idioms are flowing from her. 
From her fissures nash, to tlie north, the Danisli and Swedish, 
to the west, the Dutch and Flemish. The German idiom 
passes the Channel and becomes the English language. In 
the order of intellectual facts, the German genius has other 
frontiers besides Germany. Such people resists Germany and 
yields to Germanism. The German spirit assimilates to itself 
the Greeks by Miillcr, the Sei-v'ians by Gerhard, the Russians 
by Goetrc, tlie JIagyars by ^Mailath. When Kepler, in the 
presence of Rudolph II., was preparing the Rudolphian 
Tables, it was with the aid of Tj'cho-Brahe. German affinities 
go far. Without any alteration in the local and national 
autonomies, it is with the great Germanic centre that the 
Scandinavian spirit in Oehlenscliliigcr, and the Batavian spirit 
in A'ondcl, is connected. Poland unites herself to it, with all 
her glory, from Copernicus to Kosciusko, from Sobieski to 
Mickiewicz. Germany is the well of nations. They pass out 
of her like rivers ; she receives them as a sea. 

It seems as though one heard through all Europe the won- 
derful murmur of the Hercynian forest. The German na- 
ture, profound and subtle, distinct from European nature, 
but in harmony with it, volatilizes and floats above nations. 
The German mind is misty, luminous, scattered. It is a kind 
of immense soul-cloud, with stars. Perhaps the highest ex- 
pression of Germany can only be given by music. Music, 
by its very want of precision, which in this special case is a 
quality, goes where the German soul proceeds. 

If the German spirit had as much density as expansion, — 
that is to say, as nmch will as power, — she could at a given 
moment, lift up and save the human race. Such as she is, 
she is sublime. 

In poetry she has not said her last word. At this hour, 
the symptoms are excellent. Since the jubilee of the noble 
Schiller, particularly, there has been an awakening, and a 
generous awakening. The great definitive poet of Germany 
will be necessarily a poet of humanity, of enthusiasm, and of 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 63 

liberty. Perchance, and some signs give token of it, v>e may 
soon see him arise from the young group of contemporary 
German writers. 

Music, we beg indulgence for this word, is the vapour of 
art. It is to poetry what rever^- is to thought, what the fluid 
is to the liquid, what the ocean of clouds is to tlie ocean of 
waves. If another description is required, it is the indefinite 
of this infinite. The same insufflation pushes it, carries it, 
raises it, upsets it, fills it with trouble and light and with an 
ineffable sound, saturates it with electricity and causes it to 
give suddenly discharges of thunder. 

Music is the Verb of German}'. The German race, so much 
curbed as a people, so emancipated as thinkers, sing with a 
sombre love. To sing resembles a freeing from bondage. 
Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is 
impossible to be silent. Therefore is Germany all music until 
she becomes all liberty. Luther's choral is somewhat a Mar- 
seillaise. Everywhere singing clubs and singing tables. In 
Swabia everj' year the fete of song, on the banks of the 
Neckar, in the plains of Enslingen. The Lkdcrmus'ik, of 
which Schubert's " Le Roi dos Aulnes " is the chef-d'auvre, is 
part of German life. Song is for Germany a breathing. It 
is by singing that she respires and consj^ires. The note being 
the syllable of a kind of undefined universal language, Ger- 
many's grand communication with the human race is made 
through harmony, — - an admirable commencement to unity. 

It is by the clouds that the rains which fertilize the earth 

ascend from the sea ; it is by music that the ideas wliich go deep 

into souls pass out of Germany. 

Therefore we may say that Germany's greatest poets are 

her musicians, of which wonderful family Beethoven is the 

head. 

Homer is the great Pelasgian : ^Eschylus, the gi-eat Hellene ; 

Isaiah, the great Hebrew ; Juvenal, the great Roman ; Dante, 

the great Italian; Shakespeare, the great Englishman; 

Beethoven, the great German. 



04 WILLIAM SHAKESPExVRE 



CHAPTER V 

THE Ex- " Good Taste," that other divine law which has 
for so loiiiT a time weighed on Art, and which had 
succeeded in suppressing the Beautiful for the benefit of the 
Pretty, the ancient criticism, not altogether dead, like the 
ancient monarchy, prove, from their own point of view, the 
same fault, exaggeration, in those sovereign men of genius 
whom we have named above. Thej' are exaggerated. 

This is caused by the quantity of the infinite that they 
have in them. 

In fact, they are not circumscribed. They contain some- 
thing unknown. Every reproach that is addressed to them 
might be addressed to sphinxes. People reproach Homer for 
the carnage which fills his cavern, the Iliad; /Eschylus, for 
his monstrousness ; Job, Isaiah, Ezckiel, Saint Paul, for dou- 
ble meanings ; Rabelais, for obscene nudity and venomous am- 
biguity ; Cervantes, for insidious laughter ; Shakespeare, for 
his subtlety ; Lucretius, Juvenal, Tacitus, for obscurity ; John 
of Patmos and Dante Alighieri for darkness. 

None of tlrose reproaches can be made to other minds very 
gi-eat, but less great. Hesiod, .Esop, Sophocles, Euripides, 
Plato, Thucydidcs, Anacreon, Tlieocritus, Titus Livius, Sal- 
lust, Cicero, Terence, A irgil, Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Ari- 
osto, La Fontaine, Beaumarchais, A'oltaire, have neither ex- 
aggeration nor darkness nor obscurity nor monstrousness. 
What, then, fails them.'' That which the others have. 

That is the Unknown. 

That is the Infinite. 

If Corneille had " that," he would be the equal of ^^schy- 
lus. If ]\Iilton had " that," he would be the equal of Homer. 
If Molicrc had " that," he would be the equal of Shakespeare. 

It is the misfortune of Corneille that he mutilated and 
contractefl the old native tragedy in obedience to fixed rules. 
It is the misfortune of iMilton that by Puritan melancholy 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 65 

he excluded from his work the vast Nature, the great Pan. 
It is Moliere's failing that, out of dread of Boileau, he 
quickly extinguishes the luminous style of the " Etourdi ;" 
tliat, for fear of the priests, he writes too few scenes like " The 
Poor " in " Don Juan." 

To give no occasion for attack is a negative perfection. 
It is fine to be open to attack. 

Indeed, dig out the meaning of those words, placed as 
masks to the mysterious qualities of geniuses. Under ob- 
scurity, subtlety, and darkness you find depth; under exag- 
geration, imagination ; under monstrousness, grandeur. 

Thei'cforc, iij the upper region of poetry and thought 
there are Homer, Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, 
Tacitus, John of Patmos, Paul of Damascus, Dante, Rabelais, 
Cer\'antes, Shakespeare. 

These supreme men of genius are not a closed series. The 
author of All adds to it a name when the wants of progress 
require it. 



BOOK III 
ART AND SCIENCE 



CHAPTER I 

MANY people in our day, readily mcrcKants and often 
lawyers, say and repeat, " Poetry is gone." It is 
almost as if they said, " There are no more roses ; spring has 
breathed its last; the sun has lost the habit of rising; roam 
about all the fields of tlie earth, you will not find a butterfly ; 
there is no more light in the moon, and the nightingale sings 
no more ; the lion no longer roavs ; the eagle no longer soars ; 
the Alps and the Pyrenees are gone; there are no more lovely 
girls or handsome young men; no one thinks any more of the 
graves; the mother no longer loves her child; heaven is 
quenched; the human heart is dead." 

If it was jrcrniittcd to mix the contingent with the eternal, 
it would be rather the contrary which would prove true. 
Never have the faculties of the human soul, investigated and 
enriched by the mysterious excavation of revolutions, been 
deeper and more lofty. 

And wait a little ; give time for the realization of the acme 
of social salvation, — gratuitous and compulsory education. 
How long will it take.'' A quarter of a century; and then 
imagine the incalculable sum of intellectual development that 
this single word contains: every one can read! The multi- 
plication of readers is the multiplication of loaves. On the 
day when Christ created that symbol, he caught a glimpse of 
printing. His miracle is this marvel. Behold a book. I 

66 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 67 

will nourish with it five thousand souls, a hundred thousand 
souls, a million souls, — all humanity. In the action of ChrisL 
bringing forth the loaves, there is Gutenberg bringing fortli 
books. One sower heralds the other. 

What is the human race since the origin of centuries? A 
reader. For a long time he has spelt ; he spells yet. Soon 
he will read. 

This infant, six thousand years old, has been at school. 
Where? In Nature. At the beginning, having no other 
book, he spelt the universe. He has had his primary teach- 
ing of the clouds, of the firmament, of meteors, flowers, ani- 
mals, forests, seasons, phenomena. The fisherman of Ionia 
studies the wave; the shepherd of Chalda'a spells the star. 
Then the first books came. Sublime progress! The book is 
vaster yet than that grand scene, the world ; for to the fact 
it adds the idea. If anything is greater than God seen in 
the sun, it is God seen in Homer. 

The universe without the book is science taking its first 
steps ; the universe with the book is the ideal making its 
appearance, — therefore immediate modification in the human 
phenomenon. Where there had been only force, power re- 
veals itself. The ideal applied to real facts is civilization. 
Poetry written and sung begins its work, magnificent and 
efficient deduction of the poetry only seen. A striking state- 
ment to make, — science was dreaming ; poetry acts. With the 
sound of the lyre, the thinker drives away brutality. 

We shall return later on to this power of the book ; we 
do not insist on it at present ; that power blazes forth. Now, 
many writers, few readers ; such has the world been up to this 
day. But a change is at hand. Compulsory education is a 
recruiting of souls for light. Henceforth every progress of 
the human race will be accomplished by the literary legion. 
The diameter of the moral and ideal good corresponds always 
to the opening of intelligences. In proportion to the worth 
of the brain is the worth of the heart. 

The book is the tool to work this transformation. A con- 
stant supply of light, that is what humanity requires. Read- 



68 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

iiig is nutriment. Thence tlie importance of the school, every- 
where adequate to civiHzation. The human race is at last 
on the point of stretching- open the book. The immense hu- 
man Bible, composed of all the prophets, of all the poets, of 
all the philosophers, is about to shine and blaze under the 
focus of this enormous luminous lens, compulsory education. 

Humanity reading is humanity knowing. 

What, then, is the meaning of that nonsense, " Poetrj' is 
gone".'' We might say, on the contrary, "Poetry is com- 
ing! " For he who says " poetry " says " philosophy " and 
" light." Now, the reign of the book commences ; the school 
is its pui'veyor. Increase the reader, you increase the book, 
— not, certainly, in intrinsic value ; that remains what it 
was ; but in efficient power ; it influences where it had no in- 
fluence. The souls become its subjects for good purpose. It 
was but beautiful ; it is useful. 

Who would venture to deny this? The circle of readers 
enlarging, the circle of books read will increase. Now, the 
want of reading being a train of powjer, once lighted it will 
not stop ; and this, combined with the simplification of hand- 
labour by machinery, and with the increased leisure of man, 
the body less fatigued leaving intelligence more free, vast ap- 
])etites for thought will spring up in all brains ; the insatiable 
thirst for knowledge and meditation will become more and 
more the human preoccupation ; low places will be deserted for 
higli places, — a natural asccut for every growing intelligence. 
People will quit Faublas to read " Orestes." There they will 
taste greatness ; and once they have tasted it, they will never 
be satiated. The}' will devour the beautiful because the re- 
finement of minds augments in proportion to their force; and 
a day will come when the fulness of civilization making itself 
manifest, those summits, almost desert for ages, and haunted 
solely by the elite, — Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare, — will be 
crowded with souls seeking their nourishment on the lofty 
peaks. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 69 



CHAPTER II 

THERE can be but one law ; the unity of law results from 
the unity of essence. Nature and art are the two sides 
of the same fact ; and in principle, saving the restriction 
which we shall indicate very sliortly, the law of one is the 
law of the other. The angle of reflection equals the angle 
of incidence. All being equity in the moral order and equi- 
librium in the material order, all is equation in the intellectual 
order. The binomial theorem, that man-el fitting everything, 
is included in poetry not less than in algebra. Nature plus 
humanity, raised to the second power, gives art. That is tlie 
intellectual benomial theorem. Now replace this A -j" B by 
the number special to each great artist and each great poet, 
and you will have, in its multiple physiognomy and in its 
strict total, each of the creations of the human mind. What 
more beautiful than the variety of chefs-d'arnvrc resulting 
from the unity of law. Poetry like science has an abstract 
root ; out of that science evokes the chcf-d'a'uvre of metal, 
wood, fire, or air, — machine, ship, locomotive, aeroscaph ; out 
of that poetry evokes the chef-d'wuvre of flesh and blood, — • 
Ihad, Canticle of Canticles, Romancero, Divine Comedy, 
" Macbeth." Nothing so starts and prolongs the shock felt 
by the thinker as those mysterious exfoliations of abstraction 
into realities in the double region, the one positive, the other 
infinite, of human thought. A region double, and neverthe- 
less one; the infinite is a precision. The profound word 
number is at the base of man's thought. It is, to our intelh- 
gence, elemental; it has an harmonious as well as a mathe- 
matical signification. Number reveals itself to art by rhythm, 
which is the beating of the heart of the Infinite. In rhvtinn, 
law of order, God is felt. A verse is a gathering like a 
crowd; its feet take the cadenced step of a legion. Without 
number, no science; without number, no poetry. The strophe, 
the epic poem, the drama, the riotous palpitation of man, the 



70 WILLIA]\[ SHAKESPEARE 

bursting forth of love, the irradiation of the imagination, all 
this cloud with its flashes, the passion,— all is lorded over by 
the mysterious word number, even as geometry and arith- 
metic. Ajax, Hector, Hecuba, the seven chiefs before Thebes, 
CEdipus, Ugolino, Messalina, I-ear and Priain, Romeo, Des- 
dcmona, Richard III., Pantagruel, the Cid, Alcestes, all be- 
long to it, as well as conic sections and the differential and 
integral calculus. It starts from two and two make four, and 
ascends to the region where the lightning sits. 

Yet, between art and science, let us note a radical dif- 
ference. Science may be brought to perfection ; art, not. 

Why.? 



CHAPTER III 



AMONG human things, and inasmuch as it is a human 
thing, art is a strange excejjtion. 

The beauty of everything here below lies in the power of 
reaching j)erfcction. Everything is endowed with that prop- 
erty. To increase, to augment, to win strengih, to march 
forward, to be worth more to-day than j'estcrday, — that is at 
once glory and life. The beauty of art lies in not being sus- 
ceptible of improvement. 

Let us insist on those essential ideas, already touched on 
in some of the preceding pages. 

A chef-d'oeuvre exists once for all. The first poet who ar- 
rives, arrives at the suimnit. You will ascend after him, as 
high, not higlier. Ah, you call yourself Dante! well; but 
tliat one calls himself Homer. 

Progress, goal constantly disjjlaced, halting-place forever 
varying, has a shifting horizon. Not so with the ideal. 

Now, progress is the motive power of science; the ideal is 
the generator of art. 

Thus is explained why perfection is the characteristic of 
science, and not of art. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 71 

A savant may outlustre a savant; a poet never throws a 
poet into the sliade. 

Art progresses after its own fasliion. It shifts its ground 
like science; but its successive creations, containing the im- 
mutable, Hve, while the admirable attempts of science, which 
are, and can be notliing but combinations of the contingent, 
obliterate each other. 

 The relative is in science ; the positive is in art. The chef- 
d'cenvre of to-day will be tlie chcf-d'anivre of to-morrow. 
Does Shakespeare interfere in any way with Sophocles? Does 
Moliere take anything from Plautus? Even when he bor- 
rows Amphitryon he does not take him from him. Does 
Figaro blot out Sancho Panza.'' Does Cordelia suppress 
Antigone? No. Poets do not climb over each other. The 
one is not the stejDping-stone of the other. They rise up 
alone, without any other levei- than themselves. They do 
not tread their equal under foot. Those who are first in the 
field respect the old ones. They succeed, they do not replace 
each other. The beautiful docs not drive away the beautiful. 
Neither wolves nor chefs-cVocini'e devour each other. 

Saint-Simon says (I quote from memory): "There has 
been through the whole winter but one cry of admiration for 
M. de Cambray's book, when suddenly appeared M. de 
Meaux's book, which devoured it." If Fenelon's book had 
been Saint-Simon's, the book of Bossuet would not have de- 
voured it. 

Shakespeare is not above Dante, Moliere is not above Aris- 
tophanes, Calderon is not above Euripides, the Divine Comedy 
is not above Genesis, the Romancoro is not above the Odyssej', 
Sirius is not above Arcturus. Sublimity is equality. 

The human mind is the infinite possible. The chefs- 
d'oeuvre, immense worlds, are hatched within it unceasingly, 
and last forever. No pushing one against the other; no re- 
coil. The occlusions, when there are any, are but apparent, 
and quickly cease. The expanse of the boundless admits all 
creations. 

Art, taken as art, and in itself, goes neither fonvard nor 



72 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

backward. The transformations of poetry are but the undu- 
lations of the Beautiful, useful to human movement. Human 
movement, — another side of the question that we certainly do 
not overlook, and that we shall attentively examine farther 
on. Art is not susceptible of intrinsic progress. From 
Phidias to Rembrandt there is onward movement, but not 
progress. The frescoes of the Sistinc Cliapel are absolutely 
notliing to the metopes of the Parthenon. Retrace your steps 
as much as you like, from the palace of Versailles to the 
castle of Heidelberg, from the castle of Heidelberg to Notre- 
Damc of Paris, from Notre-Dame of P;iris to the Alhambra, 
from tlie Alhambra to St. Sopliia, from St. Sophia to the 
Coliseum, from the Coliseum to the PropyliEons, from the 
Propyla'ons to the Pjn-amids ; you may recede into ages, you 
do not recede in art. The Pyramids and the Iliad stand on 
the fore plan. 

IMasterpieces have a level, the same for all, — the absolute. 

Once the absolute reached, all is said. That cannot be 
excelled. The eye can bear but a certain quantity of dazzling 
light. 

Thence comes the assurance of poets. They lean on pos- 
terity with a lofty confidence. " Exegi monumentum," says 
Horace. And on that occasion he insults bronze. " Plau- 
dite, cives," saj-s Plautus. Corneille, at sixt^-five years, wins 
the love (a tradition in the Escoublcau family) of the very 
young Marquise de Contades, by promising her to send her 
name down to posterity : — 

" Chez cette race nouvelle. 
Oil j'aurai quclque orMit, 
Voiis ne passerez pour belle 
Qu'autant que je I'aurai clit." 

In the poet and in the artist there is the infinite. It is 
this ingredient, the infinite, which gives to this kind of genius 
the irreducible grandeur. 

This amount of the infinite in art is not inlurent to 
progress. It may have, and it certainly has, duties to fulfil 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 73 

toward progicss, but it is not dependent on it. It is de- 
pendent on no perfections which may result from the future, 
on no transfonnation of language, on no death or birth of 
idioms. It has within itself the immeasurable and the in- 
numerable; it cannot be subdued by any occurrence; it is as 
pure, as complete, as sidereal, as divine in the heart of bar- 
barism as in tlie heart of civilization. It is the Beautiful, 
diverse according to the men of genius, but always equal to 
itself. Supreme. 

Such is the law, scarcely known, of Ai't. 



CHAPTER IV 



SCIENCE is different. 
The relative, which governs it, leaves its mark on it; 
and these successive stamps of the relative, more and more 
resembling the real, constitute the movable certainty of man. 

In science, certain things have been masterpieces which 
are so no more. The hydraulic machine of Marly was a 
chef-d'ceuvre. 

Science seeks perpetual movement. She has found it ; it is 
itself perpetual motion. 

Science is continually moving in the benefit it confers. 

Everything stirs up in science, everything changes, every- 
thing is constantly renewed. Everything denies, destroys, 
creates, replaces everything. That which was accepted yes- 
terday is put again under the millstone to-day. Tlie colos- 
sal machine. Science, never rests. It is never satisfied; it is 
everlastingly thirsting for improvement, which the absolute 
igTiores. Vaccination is a problem, the lightning-rod is a. 
problem. Jenner may have erred, Franklin may have de- 
ceived himself ; let us go on seeking. This agitation is grand. 
Science is restless around man ; it has its own reasons for this 
restlessness. Science plays in progress tlie part of utility. 
Let us worship this magnificent servant. 



74 WILLIA:M SHAKESPEARE 

Science makes discoveries, art composes works. Science is 
an acquirement of man, science is a ladder ; one savant over- 
tops the other. Poetry is a lofty soaring. 

Do you want examples? They abound. Here is one, — 
the first which occurs to our mind. 

Jacob Metzu, scientifically Metius, discovers the telescojje 
by chance, as Newton did gravitation and Christopher Co- 
lumbus, America. Let us open a })arenthesis : there is no 
cliance in the ci-eation of " Orestes " or of " Paradise Lost." 
A chef-cVa'uvre is the offspring of will. After Metzu conies 
Galileo, who improves the discovery of Metzu; then Kepler, 
who improves on the improvement of Galileo: then Descartes, 
who, altliough going scmevthat astray in taking a concave 
glass for eyepiece instead of a convex one, fructifies the im- 
provement of Kepler; then the Capuchin Reita, who rectifies 
the reversing of objects; then Huyghens, who makes a great 
step by placing the two convex glasses on the focus of the 
objective; and in less than fifty j-ears, from 1610 to 1659, 
during the short interval which separates the " Nuncius 
Sidereus " of Galileo from the " Oculus Elia? et Enoch " of 
Father Reita, behold the original inventor, Metzu, obliterated. 
And it is constantly the same in science. 

Vcgetius was Count of Constantinople; but that is no ob- 
stacle to his tactics being forgotten, — forgotten like the strat- 
egy of Polybius, forgotten like the strategy of Folard. The 
pig's-head of the phalanx and the pointed order of the legion 
have for a moment re-appeared, two hundred years ago, in 
the wedge of Gusta\'us Adolphus ; but in our days, when there 
are no more pikemen as in the fourteenth ccnturj-, nor lans- 
quenets as in the seventeenth, the ponderous triangular at- 
tack, which was in other times the base of all tactics, is re- 
placed by a crowd of Zouaves charging with the bayonet. 
Some day, sooner perhaps than people tliink, the cl)arge with 
the liaj'onet will be itself suj)ersedi'd by peace, at first Eu- 
ropean, by-and-by universal, and then a wliole science — the 
military science — will vanish away. For that science, its 
improvement lies in its disappearance. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 75 

Science goes on unceasingly erasing itself, — fruitful eras- 
ures. Who knows now what is the " Honioeomeria " of 
Anaxinienes, which perhaps belongs in reality to Anaxagoras? 
Cosmography is notably amended since the time when this 
same Anaxagoras told Pericles tliat the sun was almost as 
large as the Peloponnesus. Many planets, and satellites of 
planets, have been discovered since the four stars of Medici. 
Entomology has made some advance since the time when it 
was asserted that the scarabee was somewhat of a god and 
a cousin of the sun, — firstly, on account of the thirty toes 
on its feet, which correspond to the thirty days of the solar 
month; secondly, because the scarabee is without a female, 
like the sun; and when Saint Clement, of Alexandria, out- 
bidding Plutarch, made the remark that the scarabee, like 
the sun, passes six months in the earth and six months under 
it. Do you wish to have the proof of tliis.'' — refer to the 
" Stromates," paragraph iv. Scholasticism itself, chimerical 
as it is, gives up the " Holy IMeadow " of Moschus, laughs 
at the " Holy Ladder " of John Climacus, and is ashamed of 
the century in which Saint Bernard, adding fuel to the stake 
which the Viscounts of Campania wished to put out, called 
Arnaud de Bresse " a man with the head of the dove and the 
tail of the scorpion." The cardinal virtues are no longer the 
law in anthropology. The steyardes of the great Arnauld 
are decayed. However uncertain is meteorology, it is far 
from discussing now, as it did in the twelfth century, whether 
a rain which saves an army from dying of thirst is due to the 
Christian prayers of the Melitine legion or to the Pagan 
intervention of Jupiter Pluvius. The astrologer, Marcian 
Posthumus, was for Jupiter; Tertullian was for the Melitine 
legion. No one stood in favour of the cloud and of the wind. 
Locomotion, if we go from the antique chariot of Laius to the 
railway, passing by the patache, the track-boat, the turgotine, 
the diligence, and the mail, has made some progress indeed. 
The time is gone by for the famous journey from Dijon to 
Paris, lasting a month; and we could not understand to-day 
the amazement of Henry IV. asking of Joseph Scaligcr, " Is 



76 WILLIAM SHAKESPEiVRE 

it true, Monsieur I'Escale, that 3'ou have been from Paris 
to Dijon without relieving your bowels? " Micrography is 
now far beyond Leuwenhoeck, who was himself far beyond 
Swammcrdani. Look at the point to which spermatology and 
ovology are arrived to-day, and recollect Mariana reproach- 
ing Arnaud de Villeneuve, who discovered alcohol and the 
oil of turpentine, with the strange crime of having tried hu- 
man generation in a pumpkin. Grand-Jean de Fouchy, the 
not over-credulous life secretary of the Academy of Sciences, 
a hundred years ago, would have shaken his head if any one 
had told him that from the solar spectrum one would pass 
to the igneous spectrum, then to the stellar spectrum, and 
that by the aid of the spectrum of flames and of the spec- 
trum of stars, would be discovered an entirely new method 
of grouping the heavenly bodies, and what might be called 
the chemical constellations. Orffyreus, who destroyed his 
machine rather than allow the Landgrave of Hesse to see 
inside it, — Offyreus, so admired by S'Gravesande, the author 
of the " Matheseos Universalis Elementa," — would be 
laughed at by our mechanicians. A village veterinary sur- 
geon would not inflict on horses tlie remedy with which Galen 
treated the indigestions of Marcus Aurelius. What is the 
opinion of tlie eminent specialists of our times, Desmarres 
at the head of them, respecting the learned discoveries of the 
seventeenth century by the Bishop of Titiopolis in the nasal 
chambers? The mumnnes have got on; M. Gannal makes 
them diff"erently, if not better, than the Taricheutes, tlie 
Paraschistes, and the Cholch^-tes made them in the days of 
Herodotus, — the first by washing the body, the second by 
opening it, and the third by embalming it. Five hundred 
years before Jesus Christ it was perfectly scientific, when a 
king of Mesopotamia had a daughter possessed by the devil, 
to send to Thebes for a god to cure her. It is not exactly our 
way to treat epilepsy. In the same way have we given up 
expecting the kings of France to cure scrofula. 

In 371, under Valens, son of Gratian le Cordier, the judgt?s 
sunmioned to their bar a table accused of sorcery. This table 



WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 77 

had an accomplice named Hilarius. Hilarius confessed tlie 
crime. Ammianus Marcellinus has preserved for us his con- 
fession, received by Zosimus, count and fiscal advocate : — 

" Constriiximus, magnifici judices, ad cortinae similitudinem Delphicae 
infaustam banc mensulam quam videtis; movimus tandem." 

Hilarius was beheaded. Who was his accuser .-' A learned 
geometrician and magician, — the same who advised Valens 
to decapitate all those whose names began with a Theod. 
To-day you may call yourself Theodore, and even make a 
table turn, without the fear of a geometrician causing your 
head to be cut off. 

One would very much astonish Solon the son of Execes- 
tidas, Zeno the stoic, Antipater, Eudoxus, Lysis of Tarentum, 
Ccbes, Menedemus, Plato, Epicurus, Aristotle, and Epimeni- 
des, if one were to tell Solon that it is not the moon which 
regulates the year; to Zeno, that it is not proved that the 
soul is divided into eight parts ; to Antipater, that the heaven 
is not formed of five circles; to Eudoxus, that it is not cer- 
tain that between the Egyptians embalming the dead, the 
Romans burning them, and the Pjeonians throwing them 
into ponds, the Paeonians are those who are right; to Lysis 
of Tarentum, that it is not exact that the sight is a hot 
vapour; to Cebes, that it is false that the principle of ele- 
ments is the oblong triangle and the isosceles triangle; to 
Menedemus, that it is not true that in order to know the 
secret bad intentions of men it suffices to stick on one's head 
an Arcadian hat with the twelve signs of the zodiac; to 
Plato, that sea-water does not cure all diseases ; to Epicurus, 
that matter is divisible ad inpiifum; to Aristotle, that the fifth 
element has not an orbicular movement, for the reason that 
there is no fifth element ; to Epimenides, that the plague can- 
not be infallibly got rid of by letting black and white sheep 
go at random, and sacrificing to unknown gods hidden in 
the places where the sheep happen to stop. 

If you should try to hint to Pythagoras how improbable 
it is that he should have been wounded at the siege of Troy, — 



78 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

he P^'thagoras, by -\Icnelaus, two hundred and seven years 
before his birth, — he would reply that the fact is incontest- 
able, and that it is proved by the fact that he perfectly rec- 
ognizes, as having already seen it, the shield of ]\Ienelaus 
suspended under the statue of Apollo at Branchides, although 
entirely rotten, except the ivory face ; that at the siege of 
Troy his own name was Euphorbus, and tliat before being 
Eiipliorbus he was yEthalides, son of Mercury, and that after 
having been Euphorbus, he was Hcrniotimus, then Pyrrhus, 
fisherman at Deles, then Pythagoi-as ; that it is all evident 
and clear, — as clear as it is clear that he was present the 
same day and the same minute at ^letapontum and Crotona, 
as e^fident as it is evident that by writing with bloofl on a 
mirror exposed to the moon, one may see in the moon what 
he wrote on the miiTor; and lastly, that he is Pj-thagoras, 
living; at Metapontum, in the Street of the Muses, the author 
of the multiplication-table, and of the square of the hypoth- 
enuse, the greatest of all mathematicians, the father of exact 
science, and that you, a'ou are an imbecile. 

Chrysippus of Tarsus, who lived about the hundred and 
thirtieth Oljinpiad, forms an era in science. This philoso- 
pher, the same who died, literally died, of laughing on seeing 
a donkey eat figs out of a silver basin, had studied everything, 
gone into the depth of everything, written seven hundred and 
five volumes, of which three hundred and eleven were on dia- 
lectics, without having dedicated a single one to a king, — a 
fact which astounds Diogenes Laertius. He condensed in 
his brain all human knowledge. His contemporaries named 
him Light. Chrysippus signifying " golden horse," they 
said that he had got detached from the chariot of the sun. 
He had taken for device " To Me." He knew innumerable 
things, — among others these : The earth is flat. The uni- 
verse is round and limited. The best food for man is hu- 
man flesh. The community of women is the base of the social 
order. The father ought to espouse his daughter. There is 
a word which kills the serpent, a word which tames the bear, 
a word which arrests the flight of eagles, and a word wlu'ch 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 79 

drives the oxen from the beanfield. By pronouncing from 
hour to hour the three names of the Egyptian Trinity, 
Amon-Mouth-Khons, Andron of Argos contrived to cross the 
deserts of Libya without drinking. Coffins ouglit not to be 
manufactured of cypress wood, the sceptre of Jupiter being 
made of that wood. Tlicmistoclca, priestess of Delphi, had 
given birth to children, and yet had remained a virgin. The 
just alone having authority to swear, it is by equity that 
Jupiter has received the name of The Swearer. Tlie phoenix 
of Arabia lives in the fire. The earth is carried by the air 
as by a car. The sun drinks from the ocean, and the moon 
from the rivers. For these reasons the Athenians raised a 
statue to him on the Ceramicus, with this inscription : " To 
Chrysippus, who knew everything." 

About the same time, Sophocles wrote " ffidipus Rex." 

And Aristotle believed in the story about Andron of Argos, 
and Plato in the social principle of the community of women, 
and Gorgisippus in the earth being flat ; and Epicui-us ad- 
mitted as a fact that the earth was supported by the air, and 
Hermodamantes that magic words mastered the ox, the eagle, 
the bear, and the serpent; and Echccrates believed in the im- 
maculate maternity of Themistoclea, and Pythagoras in Jupi- 
ter's sceptre made of cypress wood, and Posidonius in the 
ocean affording drink to the sun and in the rivers quenching 
the thirst of the moon, and Pyrrho in the phcenix existing in 
fire. 

Excepting in this particular, Pyrrho was a sceptic. He 
made up for his belief in that phoenix by doubting everything 
else. 

All that long groping is science. Cuvier was mistaken yes- 
terday, Lagrange the day before yesterday, Leibnitz before 
Lagrange, Gassendi before Leibnitz, Cardan befoi-e Gas- 
sendi, Cornelius Agrippa before Cardan, AveiToes before 
Agrippa, Plotinus before Averroes, Artemidorus Daldian be- 
fore Plotinus, Posidonius before Artemidorus, Democritus be- 
fore Posidonius, Empedocles before Democritus, Carneades 
before Empedocles, Plato before Carneades, Pherecydes before 



80 WILLlAxM SHAKESPEARE 

Plato, Pittacus before Phercc3-des, Thales before Pittacus, 
and before Thales Zoroaster, and before Zoroaster Sanchoni- 
athon, and before Sanchoniathon Hermes, — Hermes, which 
signifies science, as Orpheus signifies art. Oh, wonderful 
marvel, this heap swarming with dreams which engender the 
real ! Oh, sacred errors, slow, blind and sainted mothers of 
truth ! 

Some savants, such as Kepler, Euler, Geoffroy St. Hilaire, 
Arago, have brought into science nothing but light ; they are 
rare. 

At times science is an obstacle to science. The savants 
give way to scruples and cavil at study. Pliny is scandalized 
at Hipparchus ; Hipparchus, with the aid of an imperfect 
astrolalie, tries to count the stars and to name them, — an 
impropriety toward God, says Pliny ("Ausus rem Deo im- 
probam "). 

To count the stars is to commit a wickedness toward God. 
This accusation, started by Pliny against Hipparchus, is 
continued by the Inquisition against Campanclla. 

Science is the asymptote of truth. It approaches unceas- 
ingly and never touches. Nevertheless it has every great- 
ness. It has will, precision, enthusiasm, profound attention, 
penetration, shrewdness, strength, patience by concatenation, 
permanent watching for phenomena, the ardour of progress, 
and even flashes of bravery, — witness La Perouse ; witness 
Pilastre des Hosiers ; witness John Franklin ; witness Victor 
Jacquemont ; witness Livingstone ; witness Mazet ; witness, at 
this very hour, Nadar. 

But science is series. It proceeds by tests heaped one 
above the other, and the thick obscurity of which rises slowly 
to the level of tiiith. 

Nothing like it in art. Art is not successive. All art is 
ensemble. 

Let us sum up tliese few pages. 

Hippocrates is outrun, Archimedes is outrun, Aratus is out- 
run, Avicennus is outrun, Paracelsus is outrun, Nicholas 
Flame] is outrun, Ambrose Pare is outrun, Vesale is outi-un, 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 81 

Copernicus is outrun, Galileo is outrun, Newton is outrun, 
Clairaut is outrun, Lavoisier is outrun, JNIontgolfier is outrun, 
Laplace is outrun. Pindar not, Phidias not. 

Pascal the savant is outrun ; Pascal the writer is not. 

We no longer teach the astronomy of Ptolemy, the geog- 
raphy of Strabo, the climatology of Cleostratus, the zoology 
of Pliny, the algebra of Diophantus, the medicine of Tri- 
bunus, the surgery of Ronsil, the dialectics of Sphceinis, the 
myology of Steno, the uranology of Tatius, the stenography 
of Trithemius, the pisciculture of Sebastien de Medici, the 
arithmetic of Stifcls, the geometry of Tartaglia, the chronol- 
ogy of Scaliger, the meteorology of Stoffler, the anatomy of 
Gassendi, the patholog}' of Fernel, the jurisprudence of Rob- 
ert Barmne, the agriculture of Qucsnay, the hydrography of 
Bougucr, the nautics of Bourde de Villehuet, the ballistics 
of Gribeauval, the veterinary practice of Garsault, the archi- 
tectonics of Dcsgodcts, the botany of Tourncfort, the scho- 
lasticism of Abailard, the politics of Plato, the mechanics of 
Aristotle, the physics of Descartes, the theology of Stilling- 
fleet. We taught yesterday, we teach to-day, we shall teach 
to-morrow, we shall teach forever, the " Sing, goddess, the 
anger of Achilles." 

Poetry lives a potential life. The sciences may extend 
its sphere, not increase its power. Homer had but four winds 
for his tempests ; Virgil who has twelve, Dante who has twen- 
ty-four, Milton who has thirty-two, do not make their storms 
grander. 

And it is probable that the tempests of Orpheus were as 
beautiful as those of Homer, although Orpheus had, to raise 
the waves, but two winds, the Phcenicias and the Aparctias, — 
that is to say, the wind of the south and the wind of the north 
(often confounded, let us say in passing, with the Argestes, 
westerly summer wind, and the Libs, the westerly winter 
wind). 

Some religions die away; and when they disappear, they 
bequeath a great artist to other religions coming after them. 
Serpio makes for the Venus Aversative of Athens a vase 



82 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

that tlie Holy Virgin accepts from Venus, and which to-day is 
used in the baptistery of Notre Dame at Gaeta. 

Oh, eternity of art! 

A man, a corpse, a shade, from the depth of the past, 
through the long ages, lays liold of you. 

I remember, wlicn a 3'outli, one day at Romorantin, in an 
old house we had there, under a vine arbour open to air and 
light, I espied a book on a plank, the only book there was 
in the house, — " De Rerum Natura," of Lucretius. My pro- 
fessors of rhetoric had spoken ver}' ill of it, which was a rec- 
ommendation to me. I opened the book. It was at that 
moment about midday. I came on these powerful and calm 
lines :^ — 

" Religion does not consist in turning unceasingly toward the veiled 
stone, nor in approaching all the altars, nor in throwing one's self pros- 
trated on tlie ground, nor in raising the hands hefore the habitations 
of gods, nor deluging the temples with the blood of licasts, nor in liciip- 
ing vows upon vows, but in beholding all with a peaceful soul." 1 

I stopped in thought ; then I began to read again. Some 
moments aftcnvard I could see nothing, hear nothing; I was 
immersed in the poet. At the dinner-hour I made a sign that 
I was not hungry; and at night, when the sun set, and when 
the herds were returning to their sheds, I was still in the 
.same place reading the wonderful book ; and by my side my 
father, with his white locks, seated on the door-sill of the low 
room, where his sword hung on a nail, indulging my pro- 
longed reading, was gently calling the sheep; and they came 
in turn to cat a little salt in the hollow of his hand. 

1 Kec pietas ulla est, velatum saspe videri 
Vertier ad lapideni, atquc oinnes accedre ad aras. 
Xec procumliere humi prostratum, et pandcre palmas 
Ante deum delubra, neque aras sanguine multo 
Spargere quadrupedum, nee votis nectere vota; 
Sed mage placata posse omnia mente tueri. 



WILLIAiSI SHAKESPEARE 83 



CHAPTER V 

POETRY cannot grow less. Why? Because it cannot 
grow greater. 

These words, so often used, even by the lettered, " decline," 
" revival," show to what an extent the essence of art is ig- 
nored. Superficial intellects, easily becoming pedantic, take 
for revival and decline some effects of juxtaposition, some 
optical mirages, some exigencies of language, some ebb and 
flow of ideas, all the vast movement of creation and thought, 
the result of which is universal art. This movement is the 
very work of the infinite passing through the human brain. 

Phenomena are only seen from tlie culminating point ; and 
seen from the culminating point, poetry is immovable. There 
is neither rise nor decline in art. Human genius is always 
at its full ; all the rain of heaven adds not a drop of water 
to the ocean. A tide is an illusion ; water falls on one shore 
only to rise on another. You take oscillations for diminu- 
tions. To say, " There will be no more poets," is to say, 
" There will be no more ebbing." 

Poetry is element. It is irreducible, incorruptible, and re- 
fractory. Like the sea, it says each time all it has to say ; 
then it re-begins with a tranquil majesty, and with the in- 
exhaustible variety which belongs only to unity. This di- 
versity in what seems monotonous is the marvel of immensity. 

Wave upon wave, billow after billow, foam behind 
foam, movement and again movement : the Iliad is moving 
away, the Romancero comes; the Bible sinks, the Koran 
surges up ; after the aquilon Pindar comes the hurricane 
Dante. Does everlasting poetry repeat itself? No. It is 
the same and it is different. Same breath, another sound. 

Do 3'ou take the Cid for an imitation of Ajax? Do you 
take Charlemagne for a plagiary of Agamemnon? "There 
is nothing new under the sun." " Your novelty is the repeti- 
tion of the old," etc. Oh, the strange process of criticism! 



84 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Then art is but a series of counterfeits! Thersites has a 
thief, Falstaff. Orestes has an imitator, Hamlet. The Hip- 
pogriff is the jay of Pegasus. All these poets! A crew of 
cheats ! They pillage each other, voila tout! Inspiration 
and swindling compounded. CeiTantcs plunders Apuleius ; 
Alcestcs cheats Tinion of Athens. The Smynthean wood is 
the forest of Bondy. Out of which pocket comes the hand 
of Shakespeare.'' Out of the pocket of /Eschylus. 

No! neither decline, nor revival, nor plagiary, nor repeti- 
tion, nor imitation : identity of heart, difference of niind,^ 
that is all. Each great artist (we have said so already) ap- 
propriates ; stamps art anew after his own image. Hamlet is 
Orestes after the effigy of Shakespeare. Figaro is Scapin, 
with the effigy of Bcaumarchais. GrangousicT is Silenus, 
after the effigy of Rabelais. 

Everything re-begins with the new poet, and at the same 
time nothing is inteiTuj)ted. Each new genius is abyss, yet 
there is tradition. Tradition from abyss to abyss, — such is, 
in art as in the firmament, the mystery ; and men of genius 
communicate by their effluvia, like the stars. What have 
they in common? Nothing, — everything. 

From that pit that is called Ezekiel to that precipice that 
is called Juvenal, there is no solution of continuity for the 
thinker. Lean over this anathema, or over that satire, and 
the same vertigo is whirling around both. The Apocalypse 
reverberates on the polar sea of ice, and you have that 
aurora borealis, the Niebelungen. The Edda replies to the 
Vedas. 

Hence this, our starting-point, to which we are returning: 
art is not perfectible. 

No possible decline for poetr}', no possible improvement. 
We lose our time when we say, " Ncscio quid majus nascitur 
Iliadc." Art is subject neither to diminution nor enlarging. 
Art lias its seasons, its clouds, its eclipses, even its stains, 
which arc splendours, perhaps its interpositions of sudden 
opacity for which it is not responsible; but at the end it is 
alwa.ys with the same intensity that it brings light into the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 85 

human soul. It remains the same furnace giving the same 
brilliancy. Homer does not grow cold. 

Let us insist, moreover, on this, inasmuch as the emulation 
of minds is tl>e life of the beautiful, O poets, the first rank 
is ever free. Let us remove everything which may disconcert 
daring minds and break their wings: art is a species of 
valour. To deny that men of genius yet to come may be 
peers with men of genius of the past would be to deny the 
ever-working power of God. 

Yes, and often do we return, and shall return again, to 
this necessary encouragement. Emulation is almost creation. 
Yes, those men of genius that cannot be surpassed may be 
equalled. 

How." 

By being different. 



BOOK IV 

THE ANCIENT SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER I 

TIT' SCHYLUS is the ancient Shakespeare. 
/1-J Let us return to ^Escliylus. He is the grandsire of 
tlio staee. 

This book would lie incomplete if .Eschvlus had not his 
se])arate place in it. 

A man whom we do not know how to class in liis own cen- 
tury, so little does he belong to it, being at the same time 
so much behind it and so much in advance of it, the Marquis 
de jVIirabcau, tiiat queer customer as a philanthropist, but a 
very rare thinker after all, had a library, in the two corners 
of which he had had carved a dog and a she-goat, in re- 
membrance of Socrates, who swore b}' the dog, and of Zeno, 
who swore by the goat. His library presented this peculiar- 
ity: on one side he had Hesiod, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, 
Herodotus, Thucydides, Pindar, Theocritus, Anacreon, Theo- 
phrastus, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Cicero, Titus Livius, Sen- 
eca, Persius, Lucan, Terence, Horace, Ovid, Propertius, Ti- 
bullus, Virgil, and underneath could be read, engraved in 
letters of gold, " Amo ;" on the other side, he had ^Eschylus 
alone, and underneath, this word, " Timco." 

,'Esch_ylus, in reality, is formidable. He cannot be ap- 
proached without trembling. He has magnitude and mys- 
tery. Barbarous, extravagant, emphatic, antithetical, bom- 
bastic, absurd, — such is the judgment passed on him by the 

86 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 87 

official rhetoric of tlic present day. This rliotoric will be 
changed. ^Eschj'lus is one of those men whom superficial 
criticism scoffs at or disdains, but whom the true critic ap- 
proaches with a sort of sacred fear. The dread of genius 
is the first step toward taste. 

In the true critic there is always a poet, even when in a 
latent state. 

Whoever does not comprehend ^Eschylus is irremediably an 
ordinary mind. Intellects may be tried on /Eschylus. 

The Drama is a strange form of art. Its diameter meas- 
ures from the " Seven against Thebes " to the " Philosopher 
Without Knowing it," and from Brid'oison to ffidipus. 
Thyestes forms part of it, Turcarct also. If you wish to 
define it, put into your definition Electra and Marton. 

The drama is disconcerting. It baffles the weak. This 
comes from its ubiquity. The drama has every horizon. 
You may then imagine its capacity. The epic poem has been 
blended in the drama, and the result is this marvellous literary 
novelty, which is at the same time a social power, — the ro- 
mance. 

Bronze, amalgamation of the epic, lyric, and dramatic, — 
such is the romance. " Don Quixote " is iliad, ode, and 
comedy. 

Such is the expansion possible to the drama. 

The drama is the largest recipient of art. God and Satan 
are there ; witness Job. 

To look at art in the absolute point of view, the character- 
istic of the epic poem is grandeur; the characteristic of the 
di'ama is immensity. The immense differs from the great 
in this, that it excludes, if it chooses, dimension ; that " it is 
beyond measure," as the connnon saying is; and that it can, 
without losing beauty, lose proportion. It is harmonious 
as is the Milky Way. It is by this characteristic of im- 
mensity that the drama commences, four thousand years ago, 
in Job, whom we have just named again, and two thousand 
two hundred years ago, in J<]schylus ; it is bj' this charac- 
teristic that it continues in Shakespeare. What personages 



88 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

does jEschylus take? Volcanoes, — one of his lost tragedies 
is called " Etna ;" then the mountains, — Caucasus, with 
Prometheus; then the sea, — the Ocean on its dragon, and 
the waves, the Oceanides ; then the vast East, — the Per- 
sians ; then the bottomless darkness, — the Eumenides. 
^schylus proves the man by the giant. In Shakespeare the 
drama approaches nearer to bumanitj', but remains colossal. 
Macbeth seems a polar Atridcs. You see that the drama 
opens Nature, then opens the soul ; there is no limit to this 
horizon. The drama is life; and life is everything. The 
epic poem can be only great ; the dranm must necessarily be 
immense. 

This immensity, it is ^schylus throughout, and Shake- 
speare throughout. 

The immense, in iEschylus, is a will. It is also a tempera- 
ment, ^schylus invents the buskin which makes the man 
taller, and the mask which enlarges the voice. His meta- 
phors are enormous. He calls Xerxes " the man with the 
dragon eyes." The sea, which is a plain for so n)any poets, 
is for yEschylus " a forest," — uAo-os. These magnifying 
figures, peculiar to the highest poets, and to them only, are 
true; they are the true emanations of revery. /Eschylus ex- 
cites you to the very brink of convulsion. His tragical ef- 
fects are like blows struck at the spectators. When the 
furies of ^schylus make their appearance, pregnant women 
miscarry. Pollux, the lexicographer, affirms that there were 
children taken with epilepsy and who died, on looking at 
those faces of serpents and at those torches violently tossed 
about. 

That is evidently " going beyond the aim." Even the 
grace of ^schylus, that strange and sovereign grace of 
which we have spoken, has a Cyclopean look. It is Polj'phe- 
nius smiling. At times the smile is formidable, and seems 
to hide an obscure rage. Put, by way of example, in the 
presence of Helen, those two poeLs, Homer and .Eschylus. 
Homer is at once conquered and admires. His admiration is 
forgiveness. ^Eschylus is moved, but remains grave. He 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 89 

calls Helen " fatal flower ;" then he adds, " soul as calm as 
the tranquil sea." One day Shakespeare will say, " False as 
the wave." 



CHAPTER II 



THE theatre is a crucible of civilization. It is a place 
of human communion. All its phases require to be 
studied. It is in the theatre that the public soul is formed. 

We have just seen what the theatre was in the time of 
Shakespeare and Moliere. Shall we see what it was at the 
time of iEschylus.'' 

Let us go to that spectacle. 

It is no longer the cart of Thespis ; it is no longer the 
scaffold of Susarion ; it is no longer the wooden circus of 
Chcerilus. Athens, foreboding, perceiving the coming of 
.(Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, has built theatres of 
stone. No roof, the sky for a ceiling, the day for lighting, 
a long platform of stone pierced with doors and staircases, 
and secured to a wall, the actors and the chorus going and 
coining on this platform, which is the logeum, and perform- 
ing the play ; in the centre, where in our days is the hole 
of the prompter, a small altar to Bacchus, tlie thymele; in 
front of the platform a vast hemicycle of stone steps, five or 
six thousand men sitting pell-mell, — such is the laboratory. 
There it is that the swarming crowd of the Pira?us come to 
turn Athenians ; there it is that the multitude become the 
public, until such day when the public will become the people. 
Tlie multitude is in reality there, — all the multitude, includ- 
ing the women, the children, and the slaves, and Plato, who 
knits his brows. 

If it is a fete-day, if we are at the Panatheruea, at the 
Leniea, or at the great Dionysia, the magistrates form part 
of the audience; the proedri, the epistati, and the prytani sit 
in their place of honour. If tlie trilogy is to be a tetralogy, 
if the representation is to conclude by a piece with satyrs ; if 



00 WILLIAM! SHAKESPEARE 

the fauns, the ajgipans, the menades, the goat-footed, and 
the evantes, are to come at the end to perform their pranks; 
if among the comedians, ahnost priests, and called " the men 
of Bacclius," is to appear the favourite actor who excels in 
the two modes of declamation, in paralogy as well as in 
paracatology ; if the poet is sufficiently liked by his rivals to 
let the public expect to see some celebrated men, Eupolis, 
Cratinus, or even Aristophanes figure in the chorus,' — " Eu- 
polis atque Cratinus, Aristophanesque poeta'," as Horace will 
one day say; if a play with women is performed, even the 
old " Alcestis " of Thespis. the whole place is full; there is a 
crowd. The crowd is already to ^Eschylus what, later on, as 
the prologue of the " Bacchides " rcm;>.rks, it will be to Plau- 
tus, — a swarm of men on seats, coughing, spitting, sneezing, 
making gTimaces and noises with the mouth and " ore con- 
crepario," and talking of their affairs ; what a crowd is 
to-day. 

Students scrawl with charcoal on the wall, now in token 
of admiration, now in irony, some well-known verses, — for 
instance, the singular iambic a Phrynichus in a single word : — 

" Archaiomelesidonophrunicherata." i 

Of which the famous Alexandrine, in two words, of one of 
our tragic poets of the sixteenth century was but a poor 
imitation : — 

" M^tamorphoserait Nabuchodonosor." 

Tliore are not only the students to make a row; tliere are 
the old men. Trust to the old men of the " Wasps " of 
Aristophanes for a noise. Two schools are in presence, — 
on one side Thespis, Susarion, Pratinas of Phlius, Epigenes 
of Sicyon, Theomis, Auleas, Choerilus, Phrynichus, ^linos 
himself; on the other, young .Escliylus. .Eschylus is twen- 
ty-eight years old. He gives his trilogy of tlie " Promethei," 
— "Prometheus Lighting Fire;" Prometheus Bound;" 

1 ^ApKaiOfi.eXrjaiOdM'Ot'fpvt'tKTipaTa. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 91 

" Prometheus Delivered," followed by some piece with satyrs, 
— " The Argians," perhaps, of which INIacrobius has pre- 
seiTed a fragment for us. The ancient quarrel of youth and 
old age breaks out ; gray beards against black liair. They 
discuss, they dispute. The old are for the old school ; the 
young are for ^Eschylu.s. The young defend ^Eschylus 
against Thcspis, as they will defend Corneille against Garnier. 
The old men are indignant. Listen to the Nestors gi-um- 
bling. What is tragedy.'' It is the song of the he-goat. 
Where is the he-goat in this " Prometheus Bound " ? Art 
is in its decline. And they repeat the celebrated objection: 
"Quid pro Bacchc? " (What is there for Bacchus.^) The 
graver men, the purists, do not even admit Thespis, and re- 
mind each other that Solon had raised his stick against Thes- 
pis, calling him " liar," for the sole reason that he had de- 
tached and isolated in a play an episode in the life of Bac- 
chus, — the history of Pentheus. They hate this innovator, 
jEschylus. They blame all these inventions, the end of which 
is to bring about a closer connection between the drama and 
Nature, the use of the anapaest for the chorus, of the iambus 
for the dialogue, and of the trochee for passion, in the same 
way that, later on, Shakespeare was blamed for going from 
poetry to prose, and the theatre of the nineteenth century 
for that which was termed " broken verse." These are in- 
deed unbearable novelties. And then, the flute plays too 
high, and the tetrachord plays too low ; and where is now the 
ancient sacred division of tragedies into monodies, stasimes, 
and exodes? Thespis never put on the stage but one speak- 
ing actor; here is ^schylus putting two. Soon we shall have 
three. (Sophocles, indeed, was to come.) Where will they 
stop ? These are impieties. And how does /Eschylus dare to 
call Jupiter "the prytanus of the Immortals.''" Jupiter 
was a god, and he is now no more than a magistrate. Where 
are we going.-^ The thymele, the ancient altar of sacrifice, 
is now a seat for the corypheus ! The chorus ought to limit 
itself to executing the strophe, — that is to say, the turn to 
the right; then the antistrophe, — that is to say, the turn 



92 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

to the left ; then tlie epode, — tliat is to say, repose. But 
what is the meaning of the chorus arriving in a winged 
chariot? What is the gad-fly that pursues lo? Why does 
the Ocean come mounted on a dragon? This is show, not 
poetry. Where is the ancient simphcity? This show is 
puerile. Your ^Eschylus is but a painter, a decorator, a 
composer of brawls, a charlatan, a machinist. All for the 
eyes, nothing for the mind. To the fire with all those pieces, 
and let us content ourselves with a recitation of the ancient 
pa-ans of Tynnichus ! It is Choerilus who, by his tetralogy of 
the " Curetes," has begun the evil. What are the Curetes, 
if you please? Gods forging metal. Well, then, he had 
simply to show working on the stage their five families, the 
Dactyli finding the metal, the Cabiri inventing the forge, the 
Corybantes forging the sword and the ploughshare, the 
Curetes making the shield, and the Telchines chasing the 
jewelry. It was sufficiently interesting in that form; but 
by allowing poets to blend in it the adventure of Plexippus 
and Toxeus, all is lost. How can you expect society to re- 
sist such excess? It is abominable, ^schylus ought to be 
summoned before justice, and sentenced to drink hemlock like 
that old wretch Socrates. You will sec that after all, he will 
only be exiled. Everything degenerates. 

And the young men burst with laughter. Tliey criticise 
as well, but in another fashion. What an old brute is that 
Solon! It is he who has instituted the eponymous archon- 
ship. What do they want with an archon giving his nanie 
to the year? Hoot the eponymous archon who has lately 
caused a poet to be elected and crowned by ten generals, in- 
stead of taking ten men from the people ! It is true that one 
of the generals was Cimon, — an attenuating circumstance in 
the eyes of some, for Cimon had beaten the Phoenicians ; ag- 
gravating in tlie eyes of others, for it is this very Cimon who, 
in order to get out of a prison for debt, sold his sister 
Elphinia, and his wife in the bargain, to Callias. If ^schy- 
lus is a bold man, and deserves to be cited before the 
Areopagus, has not Phrynichus also been judged and con- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 93 

demned for having shown on the stage, in the " Taking of 
Miletus," the Greeks beaten by the Persians? AVhen will 
poets be allowed to suit their own fancy? Hurrah for the 
liberty of Pericles and down with the censure of Solon ! And 
then what is the law that has just been promulgated by 
which the chorus is reduced from fifty to fifteen? And how 
are they to play the '' Danaides " ? and won't they sneer at 
the line of ^Eschylus: '- Egyptus, the father of ^fty 
sons"? The fifty will be fifteen. These magistrates are 
idiots. Quarrel, uproar all round. One prefers Phrynichus, 
another prefers ^schylus, another prefers wine with honey 
and benzoin. The speaking-trumpets of the actors compete 
as well as they can with this deafening noise, through which 
is heard from time to time the shrill ci-y of the public vendors 
of phallus and the water-bearers. Such is Athenian r.proar. 
During that time the play is going on. It is the work of a 
living man. The uproar lias every reason to be. Later i .', 
after the death of ^schylus, or after he has been esiieo 
there will be silence. It is right to be silent before a god. 
" jEquum est," it is Plautus who speaks, " vos deo facere 
silentium." 



CHAPTER HI 



A GENIUS is an accused man. As long as .^schylus 
lived, his life was a strife. His genius was contested, 
tlien he was persecuted, — a natural progi-ession. Accord- 
ing to Athenian practice, his private life was unveiled; he 
was traduced, slandered. A woman whom he had loved, 
Planesia, sister of Chrysilla, mistress of Pericles, has dis- 
honoured herself in the eyes of posterity by the outrages that 
she publicly inflicted on ^schylus. People ascribed to him 
unnatural loves ; people gave him, as well as Shakespeare, a 
Lord Southampton. His popularity was knocked to pieces. 
Then everything was charged to hin. as a crime, even his 



94 WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 

kindness to young poets, who respectfully offered to liini their 
first laurels. It is curious to see this reproach constantly 
re-appearing. Pczay and St. Lambert repeat it in the eight- 
eenth century : — 

" Pourquoi, Voltaire, h oes auteurs 
Qui t'adressent den vers flatteurs, 
R^pondre, en toutes tes missives. 
Par des louanges excessives?" 

.^schylus, living, was a kind of public target for all hat- 
ers. Young, the ancient poets, Thespis and Phrynichus, 
were preferred to him. Old, the new ones, Sophocles and 
Euripides, were placed above him. At last he was Trough'; 
before the Areopagus, and, according to Suidas, because the 
thcati'o tumbled down during one of his pieces ; according 
to ^Elian, because he had blasphemed, or, which is the same 
thing, had related the mysteries of Eleusis, lie was exiled. 
He died in exile. 

Then Lycurgus the orator cried, " We must raise a statue 
of bronze to yEschvlus." 

Athens had expelled the man, but raised the statue. 

Thus Shakespeare, through death, entered into oblivion; 
.(Eschylus into glory. 

This glory, which was to have in the course of ages its 
phases, its eclipses, its ebbing and rising tides, was then daz- 
zling. Greece remembered Salamis, where yEschylus had 
fought. The Areopagus itself was ashamed. It felt that 
it had been ungrateful toward the man who, in the " Ores- 
tias," had paid to that tribunal the supreme honour of brings 
ing before it Minerva and Apollo. ^Eschylus became sacred. 
All the phratries had his bust, wreathed at first with bandelets, 
later on crowned with laurels. Aristophanes made him sa^' 
in the " Frogs " : "I am dead, but my poetry liveth." In 
the great Eleusinian days, the lierald of the Areopagus blew 
the Tyrrhenian trumpet in honour of ^Eschylus. An official 
copy of his ninety-seven dramas was made at the expense of 
the republic, and placed under the special care of the re- 



WILLIAai SHAKESPEARE 95 

corder of Athens. Tlie actors who played his pieces were 
obliged to go and collate their parts by this perfect and 
unique copy. /Eschylus was made a second Homer. /Eschy- 
lus had, likewise, his rhapsodists, who sang his verses at the 
festivals, holding in their hands a branch of myrtle. 

He had been right, the great and insulted man, to write on 
his poems this proud and mournful dedication, " To Time." 

There was no more said about his blasphemy : it had caused 
him to die in exile ; it was well ; it was enough ; it was as 
though it had never been. Besides, one does not know where 
to find that blasphemy. Palingenes searched for it in an 
" Asteropc," which, in our opinion, existed only in imagina- 
tion. Musgrave sought it in the " Eumenides." Musgrave 
probably was right, for the " Eumenides " being a very re- 
ligious piece, the priests could not help of course choosing it 
to accuse him of impiety. 

Let us point out a whimsical coincidence. The two sons 
of jEschylus, Euphorion and Bion, are said to have re-cast 
the " Orestias," exactly as, two thousand three hundred years 
later, Davenant, Shakespeare's bastard, re-cast " Macbeth." 
But in the presence of the universal respect for ^Eschylus 
after his death, such impudent tamperings were impossible; 
and what is true of Davenant, is evidently untrue of Bion and 
Euphorion. 

The renown of ^Eschylus filled the world of those days. 
Egypt, feeling with reason that he was a giant and some- 
what Egyptian, bestowed on him the name of Pimander, 
signifying " Superior Intelligence." In Sicily, whither he 
had been banished, and where they saci-ificed he-goats before 
his tomb at Gela, he was almost an Olympian. Later on, he 
was almost a prophet for the Christians, owing to the pre- 
diction in " Prometheus," which some people thought to apply 
to Jesus. 

Strange thing! it is this very glory which has wrecked his 
work. 

We speak here of the material wreck ; for, as we have said, 
the mighty name of JEschylus survives. 



96 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

It is indeed a drama, and an extraordinary drama, the dis- 1 
appearance of those poems. A king has stupidly robbed the 
liuinan mind. 

Let us relate this robbery. 



CHAPTER IV 



HERE are the facts, — the legend at least; for at such a 
distance, and in such a twilight, history is legend- 
ary : — 

There was a king of Egypt, named Ptolemy Euergetes, 
brother-in-law to Antiochus the god. 

Let us mention it eji passant, all these people were gods : — 
gods Soters, gods Euergetes, gods Epiphanes, gods Philo- 
metors, gods Philadelphi, gods Philopators. Translation : 
Gods saviours, gods beneficent, gods illustrious, gods loving 
their mother, gods loving their brothers, gods loving their 
father. Cleopatra was goddess Soter. The priests and 
priestesses of Ptolemy Soter were at Ptolemais. Ptolemy 
VI. was called " God-love-jMother " (Philometor), because 
he hated liis mother, Cleopatra. Ptolemy IV. was " God-love- 
Fathcr " (Philopator), because he had poisoned his father. 
Ptolemy II. was " God-love-Brothers " (Philadelphus), be- 
cause he had killed his two brothers. 

Let us return to Ptolemy Euergetes. 

He was the son of the Philadelphus who gave golden 
crowns to the Roman ambassadors, — the same to whom the 
pseudo-Aristeus attributes by mistake the version of the 
Septuagint. This Philadelphus had much increased the li- 
brary of Alexandria, which, during his lifetime, counted two 
hundred thousand volumes, and which, in the sixth century, 
attained, it is said, the incredible number of seven hundred 
thousand manuscripts. 

This stock of human knowledge, formed under the eyes of 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 97 

Euclid, and by the care of Callimachus, Diodorus Cronos, 
Theodorus the Atheist, Philetas, Apollonius, Aratus, the 
Egyptian priest Manetho, Lycophron, and Theocritus, had 
for its first librarian, according to some, Zcnodotus of Ephe- 
sus, according to others, Demetrius of Phalerum, to whom 
the Athenians had raised three hundred and sixty statues, 
which they took one year to put up and one day to destroy. 
Now, this library had no copy of .Eschylus. One day the 
Greek Demetrius said to Euergetes, " Pharaoh has not 
^Eschylus," — exactly as, later on, Leidrade, archbishop of 
Lyons and librarian of Charlemagne, said to Charlemagne, 
" The Emperor has not Scana Memor." 

Ptolemy Euergetes, wishing to complete the work of the 
Philadelphus his father, resolved to give ^schylus to the 
Alexandrian library. He declared that he would cause a 
copy to be made. He sent an embassy to borrow from the 
Athenians the unique and sacred copy under the care of the 
recorder of the republic. Athens, not over-prone to lend, 
hesitated and demanded a security. The king of Egypt of- 
fered fifteen silver talents. Now, those who wish to realize 
the value of fifteen talents, have but to know that it was 
three-fourths of the annual tribute of ransom payed by 
Judea to Egypt, which was twenty talents, and weighed so 
heavily on the Jewish people that the high priest Onias II., 
founder of the Onion temple, decided to refuse this tribute 
at the risk of a war. Athens accepted the security. The 
fifteen talents were deposited. The complete copy of ^schy- 
lus was delivered to the king of Egypt. The king gave up 
the fifteen talents and kept the book. 

Athens, indignant, had some thought of declaring war 
against Egypt. To reconquer .Eschylus was as good as re- 
conquering Helen. To recommence Troy, but this time to 
get back Homer, it was a fine thing. Yet, time was taken 
for consideration. Ptolemy was powerful. He had forci- 
bly taken back from Asia the two thousand five hundred 
Egyptian gods formerly carried there by Cambyses, because 
they were in gold and silver. He had, besides, conquered 



98 WILLIAJ^I SHAKESPEARE 

Cilicia and Syria, and all the country from the Euphrates to 
the Tigris. With Athens it was no longer tlie day when 
she improvised a fleet of two hundred vessels against Artax- 
erxes. She left ^Eschylus a prisoner in Egj'pt. 

A prisoner-god. This time the word god is in its right 
place. Tliey paid ^JCschylus unheard-of honours. The king 
refused, it is said, to let a copy be made of it, stupidly bent 
on possessing a unique copy. 

Particular care was taken of this manuscript when the 
library of Alexandria, enlarged by the library of Pergamus, 
which Antony gave to Cleopatra, was transferred to the tem- 
ple of Jupiter Serapis. There it was that Saint Jerome 
came to read, in the Athenian text, the famous passage in 
" Prometheus " })rophesying Christ : " Go and tell Jupiter 
that nothing shall make me name the one who is to dethrone 
him." 

Other doctors of the Church made, from the same cop}', the 
same verification. For, at all times, the orthodox assevera- 
tions have been combined with what have been called the tes- 
timonies of polytheism, and great efforts have been resorted 
to in order to make the Pagans say Christian things, — teste 
David cum Sibijlla. People came to the Alexandrian library, 
as on a pilgrimage, to examine " Prometheus," — constant 
visits which deceived the Emperor Adrian, and made him 
write to the consul Servianus : " Those who adore Serapis 
are Christians: those who profess to be bishops of Christ 
are at the same time devotees of Serapis." 

Under the Roman dominion the library of Alexandria be- 
longed to the emperor. Egypt was Ca;sar"s property. 
" Augustus," says Tacitus, " sepasuit yEgyptum." It was 
not every one who could travel there. Egypt was closed. 
The Ronian knights, and even the senators, could not easilv 
obtain admission. 

It was during this period that the complete copy of 
.i^^schylus could k- consulted and perused by Timocharis, 
Aristarchus, Athena?us, Stoba?us, Diodorus of Sicily, Ma- 
crobius, Plotinus, Jamblichus, Sopater, Clement of Alcxan- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 99 

dria, Nepotian of Africa, Valerius Maximus, Justin the Mar- 
tyr, and even by ^lian, although ,Ehan left Italy but 
seldom. 

In the seventh century a man entered Alexandi'ia. He 
was mounted on a camel and seated between two sacks,' — one 
full of figs, the other full of corn. Tlicse two sacks were, 
with a wooden platter, all that he possessed. This man never 
seated himself except on tlie ground. He drank nothing but 
water and ate nothing but bread. He had conquered half 
of Asia and of Africa, taken or burned thirty-six thousand 
towns, villages, fortresses, and castles, destroyed four thou- 
sand Pagan or Christian temples, built fourteen hundred 
mosques, conquered Izdeger, King of Persia, and Heraclius, 
Empei'or of the East, and he called himself Omar. He 
burned the library of Alexandria. 

Omar is for that reason celebrated. Louis, called the 
Great, has not the same celebrity, which is unjust, for he 
burned the Rupertine library at Heidelberg. 



CHAPTER V 



NOW, is not that incident a complete drama? It might 
be entitled " yEschylus Lost." Recital, node, and de- 
nouement. After Euergetes, Omar. The action begins with 
a robber and ends with an incendiary. 

Euergetes (this is his excuse) robbed from enthusiasm, 
— an unpleasant instance of the admiration of an imbecile. 

As for Omar, he is the fanatic. By the way, we must 
say that strange historical rehabilitations have been attempted 
in our time. We do not speak of Nero, who is the fashion ; 
but an attempt has been made to exonerate Omar, as well as 
to bring a t'erdict of not guilty for Pius V. Holy Pius V. 
personifies the Inquisition ; to canonize him was enough, why 
declare him innocent.'' We do not lend ourselves to those 



100 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

attempts at appeal in trials which have received final judg- 
ment. We have no taste for rendering small senices to 
fanaticism, whether it be caliph or pope, whether it burn 
books or men. Omar has liad many advocates. A certain 
class of historians and biographical critics are readily moved 
to pity for the sword, — a victim oJ slander, this poor sword! 
Imagine then the tenderness that is felt for a scimitar ! The 
scimitar is the ideal sword. It is better than brute, — it is 
Turk. Omar, then, has been cleaned as much as possible. 
A first fire in the Bruchion district, where the Alexandrian 
library stood, was used as an argument to prove how easily 
such accidents happen. TJiat one was the fault of Julius 
Caesar, — another sword. Tlien a second argument was 
found in a second fire, only partial, of tlie Serapeum, in order 
to accuse the Christians, the demagogues of those days. If 
the fire at the Serapeum had destroyed the Alexandrian 
library in the fourtli century, Hypatia would not have been 
able, in the fiftli century, to give, in that same library, those 
lessons in philosophy which caused her to be murdered with 
broken pieces of earthen pots. About Omar we willingly be- 
lieve the Arabs. Abd-Allatif saw at Alexandria, about 1220, 
" the column of pillars supporting a cupola," and said, 
" There stood the library tliat Anu'ou-bcn-Alas burned by 
jiermission of Omar." Abulfaradge, in 1260, relates in his 
" Dynastic History " that b^- order of Omar they took the 
Iwoks from the library, and with them heated the baths of 
Alexandria for six months. According to Gibbon, tliere 
were at Alexandria four tliousand baths. Ebn-Khaldoun, 
in his " Historical Prolegomena," relates another wanton de- 
struction, — the annihilation of the library of the Medes by 
Saad, Omar's lieutenant. Now, Omar having caused the 
burning of the ]\Icdian library in Persia by Saad, was logical 
in causing the dcsti-uction of the Egyptian-Greek library in 
Egypt by Amrou. His lieutenants have preserved his orders 
for us : " If these books contain falsehoods, to the fire with 
them. If they contain truths, tlicsc truths are in the Koran ; 
to the fire with them." In place of the Koran, put the Bible, 



WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE lOl 

Veda, Edda, Zend-Avesta, Toldos Jeschut, Talmud, Gospel, 
and you have tlie imperturbable and universal formula of all 
fanaticisms. This being said, we do not see any reason to 
reverse the verdict of history ; we award to the caliph the 
smoke of the seven hundred thousand volumes of Alexandria, 
.Eschylus included, and we maintain Omar in possession of 
his rights as incendiary. 

Euergetes, through his wish for exclusive possession, and 
treating a library as a seraglio, has robbed us of ^Eschylus. 
Imbecile contempt can have the same effect as imbecile 
adoration. Shakespeare was very near having the fate of 
/Eschylus. He has had, too, his fire. Shakespeare was so 
little printed, printing existed so little for him, thanks to 
the silly indifference of his immediate posterity, that in 1666 
there was still but one edition of the poet of Stratford-on- 
Avon (Hemynge and Condell's edition), three hundred copies 
of which were printed. Shakespeare, with this obscure and 
pitiful edition, waiting in vain for the public, was a sort of 
poor wretch ashamed to beg for glory. These three hundred 
copies were nearly all stored up in London when the fire of 
1666 broke out. It burned London, and nearly burned 
Shakespeare. The whole edition of Hemynge and Condell 
disappeared, with the exception of forty-four copies, which 
had been sold in fifty years. Those forty-four purchasers 
saved from death the work of Shakespeare. 



CHAPTER VI 



THE disappearance of ^schylus! Stretch this catas- 
trophe hypothetically to a few more names, and it 
seems as though you felt the vacuum annihilating the human 
mind. 

The work of ^schylus was, by its extent, the greatest, 
certainly, of all antiquity. By the seven plays which re- 
main to us, we may judge what that universe was. 



102 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Let us point out what ^schylus lost is. 

Fourteen trilogies: the " Pronietlwi," of which "Pro- 
metheus Bound " formed a part ; the " Seven Chiefs before 
Thebes," of which there remains one piece, " The Danaid," 
which comprised the " Supplicants," written in Sicily, and in 
which the Sicelism of ^Eschylus is traceable ; " I^aius," which 
comprised " CEdipus ; " " Athamas," which ended with the 
" Isthmiasts ; " " Perseus," the node of which was the 
" Phorcydes ; " " Etna," which had as prologue the " Etnean 
Women;" " Iphigenia," the dcnoncvient of which was the 
tragedy of the " Priestesses ; " the " Ethiopid," the titles of 
which are nowhere to be found ; " Pentlicus," in which were 
the " Hydrophorcs ; " " Teuccr," which opened with the 
" Judgment of Arms ; " " Niche," which commenced with the 
" Nurses " and ended with the " ]\Ien of the Train ; " a 
trilogy in honour of Achilles, the " Tragic Iliad," composed 
of the " Myridons," the " Nereids," and the " Phrygians ; " 
one in honour of Bacchus, the " Lycurgia," composed of the 
" Edons," the " Bassaridcs," and the " Young Men." 

These fourteen trilogies in themselves alone give a total 
of fifty-six plays, if we consider that nearly all were 
tetralogies, — that is to say, quadruple dramas, — and ended 
with a satyride. 

Thus the " Orcstias " had, as a final satride, " Pro- 
teus," and the " Seven Chiefs before Thebes," had the 
" Sphinx." 

Add to those fifty-six pieces a probable trilogy of the 
" Labdacides : " add tlie tragedies, — the "Egyptians," the 
" Ransom of Hector," " Memnon," undoubtedly connected 
with some trilogies; add all the satyridcs, — •" Sis3'phus the 
Deserter," the " Heralds," the "Lion," the " Argians," 
" Amymonc," " Circe," " Cercyon," " Gl/uicus the ALiriner," 
comedies in which was found the mirth of that wild genius. 

See all that is lost. 

Euergetcs and Omar have robbed us of all that. 

It is difficult to state precisely the total number of pieces 
written by iEschylus. The amount varies. The anonymous 



WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 103 

biographer speaks of seventy-five, Suidas of ninety, Jean 
Deslyons of ninety-seven, Meursius of one iiundred. 

Meursius reckons up more than a hundred titles, but some 
are probably used twice. 

Jean Deslyons, doctor of the Sorbonnc, thcologal of Sen- 
lis, author of the " Discours ecclesiastique contre le paganisme 
du Roi boit," published in the seventeenth century a work 
against the custom of laying coffins one above the other in 
the cemeteries, in which he took for his authority the twenty- 
fifth canon of the Council of Auxerre : " Non licet mortuum 
super mortuum mitti." Deslyons, in a note added to that 
work, now very scarce, and a copy of which was in the pos- 
session of Charles Nodier, if our memory is faitliful, quotes 
a passage from the great antiquarian numismatist of Venloo, 
Hubert Goltzius, in which, in reference to embalming, 
Goltzius mentions the " Egyptians," of ^schylus, and " The 
Apotheosis of Orpheus," — a title omitted in the enumeration 
given by Meursius. Goltzius adds that " The Apotheosis of 
Orpheus " was recited at the mysteries of the Lycomidians. 

This title, " The Apotheosis of Orpheus " opens a field for 
thought. /Eschylus speaking of Orpheus, the Titan meas- 
uring the gn'ant, the god interpreting the god, what more 
magnificent, and how one would long to read that work! 
Dante, speaking of Virgil, and calling him his master, does 
not fill up this gap, because Virgil, a noble poet, but with- 
out invention, is less than Dante; it is between equals, from 
genius to genius, from sovereign to sovereign, that suc^« 
homage is splendid, ^schylus raises to Orpheus a temple 
of which he might occupy the altar himself: it is gi-and. 



104 WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER VII 

TTT^ SCHYLUS is incommensurate. There is in him 
x^Li something of India. The wild majesty of his 
stature recalls those vast poems of the Ganges which walk 
through art with the steps of a mammoth, and which have, 
among the Iliads and the Odysseys, the appearance of 
hippopotami among lions. .Esch^lus, a thorough Greek, is 
yet something else besides a Greek. He has the Oriental im- 
mensity. 

Saumaise declares that he is full of Hebraisms and 
Syrianisms.^ .Eschylus makes the Winds carry Jupiter's 
throne, as the Bible makes the Cherubim carry Jehovah's 
throne, as the Rig-A'eda makes the Marouts caiTy the throne 
of Indra. The winds, the cherubim, and the marouts are 
the same beings,- — the Breezes. Saumaise is right. The 
double-meaning words so frequent in the Phoenician language, 
abound in yEschylus. He plays, for instance, in reference 
to Jupiter and Europa, on the Phoenician word llpha, which 
has the double meaning of " ship " and •' bull." He loves 
that language of Tyre and Sidon, and at times he borrows the 
strange gleams of its style ; the metaphor, " Xerxes with the 
dragon eyes," seems an inspiration fr6m the Ninevite dialect, 
in which the word draka meant at the same time dragon and 
clear-sighted. He has Phoenician heresies. His heifer lo 
is rather the cow of Isis ; he belie\-es, like the priests of Sidon, 
that the temple of Delphi was built by Apollo with a paste 
made of wax and bees'-wings. In his exile in Sicily he often 
drank religiously at the fountain of Arothusa, and never did 
the shepherds who watched him hear him name Arethusa 
other\\ise than by this mysterious name, Alphaga, — an As- 
syrian word signifying " source surrounded with willows." 

^schylus is, in the whole Hellenic literature, the sole ex- 
ample of the Athenian mind with a mixture of Egypt and 
1 " Hebraismis et Syrianismis." 



WILLIAI^I SHAKESPEARE 105 

Asia. These deptlis were repugnant to the Greek intelli- 
gence. Corinth, Epidaurus, ffidepsus, Gythium, Cheronea, 
which was to be the birth-place of Plutarch, Thebes, where 
Pindar's house was, Mantinea, where the glory of 
Epaminondas shone,- — all these golden towns repudiated the 
Unknown, a glimpse of which was seen like a cloud behind 
the Caucasus. It seemed as though the sun was Greek. The 
sun, used to the Parthenon, was not made to enter the diluvian 
forests of Grand Tartary, under the gigantic raouldiness of 
the monocotyledons, under the lofty ferns of five hundred 
cubits, where swarmed all the first dreadful models of Nature, 
and under whose shadows existed unknown, shapeless cities, 
such as that fabulous Anarodgurro, the existence of which was 
denied until it sent an embassy to Claudius. Gagasmira, 
Sambulaca, Maliai-pha, Barygaza, Caveripatnam, Sochoth- 
Benoth, Theglath-Phalazar, Tana-Serim, — all these almost 
hideous names affrighted Greece when they came to be reported 
by the adventurers on their return, first by those with 
Jason, then by those of Alexander, ^schylus had no such 
horror. 

He loved Caucasus. It was there he had made the ac- 
quaintance of Prometheus. One almost feels in reading 
^schylus that he had haunted the vast primitive thickets 
now become coal mines, and that he has taken huge strides 
over the roots, snake-like and half-living, of the ancient 
vegetable monsters, ^schylus is a kind of behemoth among 
geniuses. 

Let us say, however, that the affinity of Greece with the 
East, an affinity hated by the Greeks, was real. The letters 
of the Greek alphabet are nothing else but the letters of 
ilte Phoenician alphabet reversed. .Eschylus was all the more 
Greek from the fact of his being a little of a Phoenician. 

This powerful mind, at times apparently crude on ac- 
count of his very grandeur, has the Titanic gayety and 
affability. He indulges in quibbles on the names of Pro- 
metheus, Polynices, Helen, Apollo, Ilion, on the cock and the 
sun, imitating in this respect Homer, who made on tlie olive 



106 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

that famous pun which caused Diogenes to tiirow away his 
plate of ohves and eat a tart. 

The father of ^Eschylus, Euphorion, was a disciple of 
Pythagoras. The soul of Pythagoras, that philosopher 
half niagian and half brahmin, seemed to have eirtered 
through Euphorion into /Eschylus. We have said already 
that in the dark and mysterious quarrel between the celestiaJ- 
and the terrestrial gods, the intestinal war of Paganism, 
i'Eschylus was terrestrial. He belonged to the faction of tlw 
gods of eartli. The Cyclops had worked for Jupiter ; b« 
rejected them as we would reject a corporation of worker* 
who had turned traitors, and he preferred to tliem the 
Cabyri. He adored Ceres. " O thou, Ceres, nurse of n.y 
soul ! " and Ceres is Demeter, is Gemeter, is the mother-earth. 
Hence his veneration for Asia. It seemed then as though 
Earth was rather in Asia than elsewhere. Asia is, in reality, 
compared with Europe, a kind of block almost without capes 
and gulfs, and little penetrated by the sea. The ilinerva of 
^Eschylus says, " Great Asia." " The sacred soil of Asia," 
says the chonis of the Oceanides. In his epitaph, graven on his 
tomb at Gela and written b}- himself, uEschylus attests " the 
Mede with long hair." He makes the chorus celebrate 
" Susicanes and Pegastagon, born in Egypt, and the cl-icf 
of Memphis, the sacred city." Like the Phu^nicians, he 
gives the name of " Oncea " to Minerva. In the "Etna" 
he celebrates the Sicilian Dioscuri, the Palici, those twin gods 
whose worship, connected with the local worship of Vulcan, 
had reached Asia through Sarcpta and Tyre. He calls them 
" the venerable Palici." Three of his trilogies are entitled 
the " Persians," the " Ethiopid," the " Egyptians." In the 
geography of ^sch3lus, Egypt was Asia, as well as Arabia. 
Prometheus says, '" the flower of Arabia, the heroes of 
Caucasus." ^schylus was, in geogi-aphy, very peculi^ir. 
He had a Gorgonian city Cysthenes, which he placed in 
Asia, as well as a river Pluto, rolling gold, and defended ^y 
men with a single e^ye, — the Arimaspcs. The pii'ates *o 
whom he makes allusion somewhere are, according to all ffV- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 107 

pcarancc, tlie pirates of Angria who inliabitcd the rock 
^'izindruk. He could see distinctly beyond the Pas-du-Nil, 
in the mountains of Byblos, the source of the Nile, still un- 
known to-day. He knew the precise spot whei'C Pronietiieus 
had stolen the fire, and he designated without hesitation 
Mount Mosychlus in the neighbourhood of Lemnos. 

When this geography ceases to be fanciful, it is exact 
as an itinerary. It becomes true and remains without 
measure. Nothing more real than that splendid transmis- 
sion of the news of the capture of Troy in one night by 
bonfires lighted one after the other and corresponding from 
mountain to mountain — from jMount Ida to the promontory 
of Hermes, from the promontorj' of Hemics to Mount Athos, 
from Mount Athos to Mount Macispe, from the Macispe 
to the Messapius, from JMount Messapius over the river 
Asopus to Mount Cythei'on, from Mount Cytheron over the 
morass of Gorgopis to Mount Egiplanctus, from Mount 
Egiplanctus to Cape Saronica (later Spireum); from Cape 
Saronica to Mount Arachne, from Mount Arachne to Argos. 
You ma}' follow on the map tliat train of fire announcing 
Agamemnon to Clytemnestra. 

This bewildering geography is mingled wth an extraor- 
dinary tragedy, in which you hear dialogues more than 
human : — 

Prometheus. " Alas ! " 

Mercurry. " This is a word that Jupiter speaks not." 

And where Gerontes is the Ocean. " To look a fool," says 
the Ocean to Prometheus, " is the secret of the sage," — 
saying as deep as the sea. Who knows the mental reserv'a- 
tions of the tempest.'' And the Power exclaims, '■'■ There is 
but one free god; it is Jupiter." 

^schylus has his own geography ; he has also his own 
fauna. 

This fauna, which strikes as fabulous, is enigmatical rather 
than chimerical. The author of these lines has discovered 
and authenticated at the Hague, in a glass in the Japanese 
Museum, the impossible serpent in the " Orestias," having 



108 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

two heads attached to its two extremities. There arc, it may 
be added, in that glass several specimens of bestiality that 
might belong to another world, at all events strange and not 
accounted for, as we are little disposed to admit, for our part, 
the absurd hypothesis of the Japanese stitchers of monsters. 

^Eschylus at moments sees Nature with simplifications 
stamped with a mysterious disdain. Here the Pythagorician 
disappears, and the magian shows himself. All beasts are 
the beast. ^Eschj'lus seems to see in the animal kingdom 
only a dog. The griffin is a "dumb dog;" the eagle is a 
" winged dog," — " The winged dog of Jupiter," says 
Prometheus. 

We have just pronounced the word magian. In fact, 
^Eschylus officiates at times like Job. One would suppose 
that he exercises over Nature, over human creatures, and 
even over gods, a kind of magianism. He upbraids animals 
for their voracity. A vulture which seizes, even while run- 
ning, a doc-hare with 3'oung, and feeds on it, " eats a wliole 
race stopped in its flight." He calls on the dust and on the 
smoke ; to the one he says, " Thirsty sister of mire ! " to the 
other, " Black sister of fire ! " He insults the dreaded bay 
of Salymdessus : " Hard-hearted mother of vessels." 

He brings down to dwarfish proportions the Greeks, con- 
querors of Troy by treachery : he shows them brought forth 
by an implement of war, — he calls them " these young of 
a horse." 

As for the gods, he goes so far as to incorporate Apollo 
with Jupiter. He magnificently calls Apollo " the conscience 
of Jupiter." 

His familiar boldness is absolute, characteristic of sov- 
ereignty. He makes the sacrificcr take Iphigenia " as a 
she-goat." A queen who is a faithful spouse is for him 
" the good house-bitch." As for Orestes, he has seen him 
when quite a child, and he speaks of him as " wetting his 
swaddling-cloths," — humcctatio ex iir'ina. He even goes 
bcvond this Latin. The expression, which we do not repeat 
here, is to be found in " Lcs Plaideurs," act iii. scene 3, 



WILLIA^I SHAKESPEARE 109 

If you are bent upon reading the word which we hesitate to 
write, apply to Racine. 

The whole is immense and mournful. The profound de- 
spair of fate is in ^Eschylus. He shows in terrible lines 
" the impotence which chains down, as in a dream, the blind 
living creatures." His tragedy is nothing but the old 
Orphean dithyrambic suddenly launching into tears and 
lamentations over man. 



CHAPTER Vni 



ARISTOPHANES loved ^schylus by that law of 
affinity which causes Marivaux to love Racine 
tragedy and comedy made to understand each other. 

The same distracted and all-powerful breath fills ^Eschylus 
and Aristophanes. They are the two inspired spirits of the 
antique mask. 

Aristophanes, who is not yet judged, adhered to the mys- 
teries, to Cecropian poetry, to Eleusis, to Dodona, to the 
Asiatic twilight, to the profound pensive dream. This 
dream, whence sprung the art of Egina, was at the threshold 
of the Ionian philosophy in Tlmlcs as well as at the threshold 
of the Italian philosophy in Pythagoras. It was the sphinx 
guarding the entrance. 

This sphinx has been a muse, — the great pontifical and 
lascivious muse of universal rut; and Aristophanes loved it. 
This sphinx breathed tragedy into /Eschylus, and comedy 
into Aristophanes. It had something of Cybele. The an- 
cient sacred immodesty is in Aristophanes. At moments he 
has Bacchus foaming at the lips. He came from the 
Dionysia, or from the Aschosia, or from the great Trieteric 
Org}', and he strikes one as a raving maniac of the mysteries. 
His wild verse resembles the bassaride hopping giddily upon 
bladders filled with air. Aristophanes has the sacerdotal ob- 



110 WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 

scurity. He is for nudity against love. He denounces the 
Phedras and SthenobiEas, and he creates Lysistrata. 

Let no one be deceived on this point; it was rcHgion, and 
a cynic was an austere mind. The gymnosophists were the 
j)oint of intersection between lewdness and thought. The he- 
goat, with its philosoj)her's beard, belonged to that sect. 
That dark ecstatic and bestial Oriental spirit lives still in 
the santon, the dervish, and the fakir. The corybantes were 
a kind of Greek fakirs. Aristophanes, like Diogenes, be- 
longed to that family. yEschylus, by the Oriental bent of 
his nature, nearly belonged to it himself, but he retained the 
tragic chastity. 

That mysterious naturalism was the ancient spirit of 
Greece. It was called poetry and philosophy. It had un- 
der it the group of the seven sages, one of whom, Periander, 
■was a tyrant. Now, a certain vulgar, mean spirit appeared 
with Socrates. It was sagacity clearing and bottling up 
wisdom. Reduction of Thales and Pytliagoras to the im- 
mediate true. Such was the operation. A sort of filtering, 
which, purifying and weakening, allowed the ancient divine 
doctrine to percolate, drop by drop, and become human. 
These simplifications disgust fanaticism; dogmas object to 
a process of sifting. To ameliorate a religion is to lay 
violent hands on it. Progress offering its services to Faith, 
offends it. Faith is an ignorance which professes to know, 
and which, in certain cases, knows perhaps more than Science. 
In the face of the lofty affirmations of believers, Socrates had 
an uncomfortably slj half-smile. There is something of 
Voltaire in Socrates. Socrates denounces all the Eleusinian 
philosophy as unintelligible and indiscernible; and he said 
to Euripides that to understand Heraclitus and the old 
philosophers, " one required to be a swimmer of Delos," — 
in other words, a swimmer capable of landing on an isle which 
was always receding before him. That was impiety and 
sacrilege for the ancient Hellenic naturalism. There was no 
other cause for the antipathy of Aristophanes toward Socrates. 

This antipathy was quite fearful. The poet showed him- 



I 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 111 

self a persecutor ; he has lent assistance to the oppressors 
against the oppressed, and his comedy has been guilty of 
crimes. Aristophanes has remained iir the eyes of posterity 
in the condition of a wicked genius,— fearful punishment ! 
But there is for him one attenuating circumstance: he was 
an ardent admirer of the poet of " Prometheus," and to ad- 
mire him was to defend him. Aristophanes did what he 
could to prevent his banishment; and if anything can dimin- 
ish one's indignation in reading the " Clouds," implacable on 
Socrates, it is that one may see in the background the hand 
of Aristophanes holding the mantle of zEschylus going into 
exile. yEschylus has likewise a comedy, a sister of the broad 
farce of Aristophanes. We have spoken of his mirth. It 
goes very far in " The Argians." It equals Aristophanes, and 
outstrips the Shrove Tuesdaj' of our Carnival. Listen : " He 
throws at my head a chamber utensil. The full vase falls on 
my head, and is broken, odoriferous, but in a different manner 
from an urnful of perfume. Who says that? yEschylus. 
And in his turn Shakespeare will come and will exclaim through 
FalstafF's lips: "Empty the jorden." What can you say.'' 
You have to deal with savages. 

One of those savages is Moliere: witness from one end to 
the other the " Malade Imaginaire." Racine also is in a de- 
gree one of them : see " Les Plaideurs," already mentioned. 
• The Abbe Camus was a witty bishop, — a rare thing at 
all times ; and what is more, he was a good man. He would 
have desened this reproach of another bishop: "Bon jusqu' 
a la betise." Perhaps he was good because he had wit. He 
gave to the poor all the revenue of his bishopric of Belley. 
He objected to canonization. It was he who said, " II n'est 
chasse que de vieux chiens et chasse que de vieux saints ; " 
and although he did not like the new-comers in sanctity, he 
was a friend of Saint Francois de Sales, by whose advice he 
wrote novels. He relates in one of his letters that one day 
Francois de Sales said to him : " The Church laughs readily." 

Art also laughs readily. Art, which is a temple, has its 
laughter. Whence comes this hilarity.'' All at once, in the 



112 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

midst of chefs-d'auvre, serious figures, a buffoon stands up 
and blurts out, — a chef-d'truv-rc also. Sancbo Panza jostles 
Agamemnon. All the mangels of thought are there ; irony 
comes to complicate and complete them. Enigma. Behold 
art, great art, breaking into an excess of gayety. Its prob- 
lem, matter, amuses it. It was forming it, now it deforms 
it. It was sliaping it for beauty, now it delights in extracting 
from it ugliness. It seems to forget its responsiblity. It 
does not forget it, however ; for suddenly, behind the grimace, 
philosophy makes its appearance, — a philosophy smooth, less 
sidereal, more terrestrial, quite as mysterious as the grave 
philosophy. The unknown which is in man, and the unknown 
which is in things, face each other; and it turns out that in 
the act of meeting, these two augurs. Nature and Fate, can- 
not keep their serious countenance. Poetry, laden with 
anxieties, befools — whom.'' Itself. A mirth, which is not 
serenity, gushes out from the incomprclionsible. An un- 
known, lofty, and sinister raillery flashes its lightning 
through the human darkness. The shadows piled up around 
us play with our soul. Formidable blossoming of the un- 
known. The jest proceeds from the abyss. 

This alarming mirth in art is called, in olden times, 
Aristophanes, and in modern times, Rabelais. 

When Pratinas the Dorian had invented the play with 
satyrs, comedy making its appearance opposite tragedy, mirth 
by the side of mourning, the two styles ready perlwps to 
unite, it was a matter of scandal. Agathon, the friend of 
Euripides, went to Dodona to consult Loxias. Loxias is 
Apollo. Loxias means crooked ; and Apollo was called The 
Crooked, on account of his oracles being always obscure and 
full of ambiguous meanings. Agathon inquired from Apollo 
whether the new style was not impious, and whether comedy 
existed by right as well as tragedy. Loxias answered, 
" Poetry has two cars." 

This answer, which Aristotle declares obscure, seems to us 
very clear. It sums up the entire law of art. Two prob- 
lems, in fact, are presented. In the full light the first prob- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 113 

lem, — noisy, tumultuous, stormy, clamorous, the vast vital 
causeway, offering every direction to the ten thousand feet 
of man ; the quarrels, the uproar, the passions with their 
•why; the evil, which undergoes suffering the first, for to be 
evil is worue than doing it ; sorrows, gTiefs, tears, cries, 
rumours. In the shade, the second one, nnite problem, im- 
mense silence, with an inexpressible and tciTiblo meaning. 
And poetry has two ears, — one which listens to life, the 
other which listens to death. 



CHAPTER IX 



THE power that Greece had to evolve her luminous 
effluvia is j^i'odigious, — even like that to-day which 
we see in France. Greece did not colonize without civilizing, 
— an example that more than one modern nation might fol- 
low. To buy and soil is not everything. 

Tyre bought and sold ; Berytus bought and sold ; Sidon 
bought and sold; Sarepta bought and sold. Where are these 
cities.'' Athens taught; Athens is still at this hour one of 
the capitals of human thought. 

The grass is gi-owing on the six steps of the tribune 
where spoke Demosthenes ; the Ceramicus is a ravine half- 
choked with the marble-dust which was once the palace of 
Cecrops ; the Odcon of Herod Atticus at the foot of the 
Acropolis is now but a ruin on which falls, at certain hours, 
the imperfect shadow of tlie Parthenon ; the temple of Theseus 
belongs to the swallows ; the goats browse on the Pnyx. Still 
the Greek spirit is living ; still Greece is queen ; still Greece is 
goddess. A commercial firm passes away ; a school remains. 

It is curious to say to one's self to-day that twenty-two 
centuries ago small towns, isolated and scattered on the out- 
skirts of the known world, possessed, all of them, theatres. 
In point of civilization, Greece began always by the con- 
struction of an academy, of a portico, or of a logcum. 



114 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Whoever could ha%-e seen, nearly at the same period, rising 
at a short distance one from the other, in Umbria, the Gallic 
town of Sens (now Sinigaglia), and near Vesuvius, the 
Hellenic city Parthenopca (at present Naples), would have 
recognized Gaul by the big stone standing all red with blood, 
and Greece by the theatre. 

This civilization by poetry and art had such a mighty 
force that sometimes it subdued even war. The Sicilians 
— Plutarch relates it in speaking of Nicias — gave liberty 
to the Greek prisoners who sang the verses of Euripides. 

Let us point out some very little known and very singular 
facts. 

The Messcnian colon}', Zancle, in Sicily ; the Corinthian 
colony, Corcyra, distinct from the Corcyra of the Absyrtides 
Islands; the Cj'cladian colony, Cyrene, in Libya; the three 
Phocean colonies, Helea in Lucania, Palania in Corsica, Mar- 
seilles in France, had theatres. The gad-fly having pursued 
lo all along the Adriatic Gulf, the Ionian Sea reached as far 
as the harbour of Venetus, and Tregeste (now Trieste) had 
a theatre. A theatre at Salpe, in Apulia ; a theatre at 
Squillacium, in Calabria ; a theatre at Thernus, in Livadia ; 
a theatre at Lysimachia, founded by Lysimachus, Alexander's 
lieutenant ; a theatre at Scapta-Hyla, where Thucydides had 
gold-mines ; a theatre at Byzia, where Theseus had lived ; a 
theatre in Chaonia, at Buthrotum, where performed those 
equilibrists from Blount Chimera whom Apuleius admired on 
the Poecile; a theatre in Pannonia, at Bude, where the 
Metanastes werc,^ — • that is to say, the " Transplanted." 
]\Iany of these colonies, situated afar, were much exposed. 
In the Isle of Sardinia, which the Greeks named Ichnusa, on 
account of its resemblance to the sole of the foot, Calaris ( now 
Cagliari) was, so to speak, under the Punic clutch; Cibalis, 
in ]M3"sia, had to fear the Triballi ; Aspalathon, the Illyrians; 
Tomis, the future resting place of Ovid, the Scordisci; 
Miletus, in Anatolia, the ^Massagetes; Denia, in Spain, the 
Cantabrians ; Salinydessus, the ^lolossians ; Carsina, the 
Tauro-Scytliians ; Gclonus, the Arymphaeans of Sannatia who 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEAHE 115 

lived on acorns; Apollonia, the Hamaxobians, wandering in 
their chariots; Abdera, the birthplace of Democritus, the 
Thracians, men tattooed all over, — all these towns, by the 
side of their citadel, had a theatre. Why? Because the 
theatre keeps alight the flame of love for the fatherland. 
Having the barbarians at their gates, it was important that 
they should remain Greeks. The national spirit is the strong- 
est of bulwarks. 

The Greek drama was profoundly lyrical. It was often 
less a traged}' than a dithyramb. It had occasionally strophes 
as powerful as swords. It rushed on the scene, wearing the 
helmet, and it was an ode armed cap-a-pie. We know what 
a jMarscillaise can do. 

Many of these theatres were in granite, some in brick. 
The theatre of Apollonia was in marble. The theatre of 
Salmydessus, which could be moved to the Doric place or to 
the Epiphanian place, was a vast scaffolding rolling on cyl- 
inders, after the fashion of those wooden towers which they 
thrust against the stone towers of besieged towns. 

And what poet did they play by preference at these thea- 
tres? ^Eschylus. 

/Eschylus was for Greece the autochthonic poet. He was 
more than Greek, he was Pelasgian. He was born at Eleusis ; 
and not only was he Eleusian, but Eleusiatic, — that is to say, 
a believer. It is the same shade as English and Anglican. 
The Asiatic clement, the grandiose deformation of this genius, 
incx-eascd respect for it ; for people said that the great Diony- 
sus, that Bacchus, common to the West and the East, came in 
jEschylus's dreams to dictate to him his tragedies. You will 
find again here the " familiar spirit " of Shakespeare. 

yEschylus, Eupatride, and Eginetic struck the Greeks as 
more Greek than themselves. In those times of code and 
dogma mingled together, to be sacerdotal was an elevated 
way of being national. Fifty-two of his tragedies had been 
crowned. On leaving the theatre after the performance of 
the plays of Eschylus, tlie men would strike the shields hung 
tit the doors of the temples, crying, " Fatherland, fatherland! " 



116 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Let us add here, that to be hieratic did not hinder him from 
being demotic, ^schylus loved the people, and the people 
adored him. There are two sides to greatness: majesty is 
one, familiarity is the otlior. ^Eschylus was familiar with 
llie turbulent and generous mob of Athens. He often gave 
to that mob a fine part in his plays. See, in the " Orestias," 
how tenderly the chorus, which is the people, receive Cas- 
sandra ! The queen uses the slave roughly, and scares him 
whom the chorus tries to reassure and soothe. .Eschylus had 
introduced the people in his grandest works, — in " Pentheus," 
by the tragedy of " The Wool-combers ; " in " Niobe," by the 
tragedy of the " Nurses ; " in " Athamas," by the tragedy 
of the " Net-drawers ; " in " Iphigenia," by the tragedy of 
the " Bed-Makers." It was on the side of the people that 
he turned the balance in that m^ysterious drama, " The Weigh- 
ing of Souls." ^ Therefore had he been chosen to preserve 
the sacred fire. 

In all the Greek colonies they plaj'ed the " Orestias " 
and " The Persians." .Eschylus being pi-escnt, the father- 
land was no longer absent. The magistrates ordered these 
almost religious representations. The gigantic /Eschylean 
theatre was intrusted with watching over the infancy of the 
colonies. It enclosed them in the Greek spirit, it guaranteed 
them from the influence of bad neighbours, and from all 
temptations of being led astray. It preserved them from 
foreign contact, it maintained them within the Hellenic circle. 
It was there as a warning. All those young offsprings of 
Greece were, so to speak, placed under the care of ^Eschylus. 

In India they readily give the children into the charge 
of elephants. These enormous specimens of goodness watch 
over the little things. The whole group of flaxen heads 
sing, laugh, and play under the shade of the trees. The 
habitation is at some distance. The mother is not with them. 
She is at home, busy with her domestic cares; she pays no 
attention to her children. Yet, joyful as they are, they arc 
in danger. These beautiful trees are treacherous; they hide 
1 The Psychostasia. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 117 

under their thickness thorns, claws, and teeth. There the 
cactus bristles up, the lynx roams, the viper crawls. The 
children must not wander away ; beyond a certain limit they 
would be lost. Nevertheless, they run about, call to one 
another, pull and entiee one another away, some of them 
scarcely stuttering, and quite unsteady on their little feet. 
At times one of them goes too far. Then a formidable trunk 
is stretched out, seizes the little one, and gently carries him 
home. 



CHAPTER X 



THERE were some copies more or less complete of 
yEschylus. 

Besides the copies in the colonies, which were limited to 
a small number of pieces, it is certain that partial copies of 
the original at Athens were made by the Alexandrian critics 
and scholars, who have left us some fragments, — among oth- 
ers the comic fragment of " The Argians," the Bacchic frag- 
ment of the " Edons," the lines cited by Stoba^us, and even 
the probably apocryphal verses given by Justin the Martyr. 

These copies, buried but perhaps not destroyed, have 
buoyed up the persistent hope of searchers, — notably of 
Le Clere, who published in Holland, in 1709, the discovered 
fragments of Menander. Pierre Pelhestre, of Rouen, the 
man who had read everything, for which the worthy Arch- 
bishop Perefixe scolded him, affirmed that the greater part 
of the poems of ^Eschylus would be found in the liliraries of 
the monasteries of Mount Athos, just as the five books of the 
" Annals " of Tacitus had been discovered in the Convent of 
Corwey in Germany, and the " Institutions " of Quintilian, 
in an old tower of the Abbey of St. Gall. 

A tradition, not undisputed, would have it that Euergetes 
II. had returned to Athens, not the original cooy of ^Eschy- 
lus, but a copy, leaving the fifteen talents as a compensa- 
tion. 



118 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Independently of the story about Euergetcs and Omar 
that we have related, and which, very true in the whole, is 
perhaps legendary in more than one particular, the loss of 
so many beautiful works of antiquity is but too well exjjlaine*! 
by the small number of copies. Egypt, in particular, trans- 
cribed everything on papyrus. The papyrus, being very 
dear, became very rare. People were reduced to write on 
pottery. To break a vase was to destroy a book. About the 
time when Jesus Christ was painted on the walls at Rome, 
with the hoofs of an ass, and this inscription, " The God of 
the Christians, hoof of an ass," in the third century, to make 
ten manuscripts of Tacitus yearly, — or, as we should say 
to-day, to strike off ten copies of his works, — a Cajsar must 
needs call himself Tacitus, and believe Tacitus to be his uncle. 
And yet Tacitus is nearly lost. Of the twenty-eight years of 
his " History of the Cirsars," — from the year 69 to the year 
96, — we have but one complete 3'ear, 69, and a fragment of 
the year 70. Euergetes prohibited the exportation of papj'- 
rus, which caused parchment to be invented. The price of 
papyrus was so high that Firnu'us the Cyclop, manufacturer 
of papyrus in 270, made by his trade enough money to raise 
armies, wage war against Aurelian, and declare himself em- 
peror. 

Gutenberg is a redeemer. These submersions of the works 
of the mind, inevitable before the invention of printing, are 
impossible at present. Printing is the discovery of the inex- 
haustible. It is perpetual motion found for social science. 
From time to time a despot seeks to stop or to slacken it, and 
he is worn away by the friction. The impossibility to shackle 
thought, the impossibility to stop progress, the book imper- 
ishable, — such is the result of printing. Before printing, 
civilization was subject to losses of substance; the essential 
signs of progress, proceeding from such a philosopher or 
such a poet, were all at once lacking: a page was suddenly 
torn from the human book. To disinherit humanity of all 
the great bequests of genius, the stupidity of a copyist or 
the caprice of a tyrant sufficed. No such danger in the pres- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 119 

ent day. Henceforth the unseizable reigns. No one could 
serve a writ upon thought and take up its body. It has no 
longer a body. The manuscript was the body of the master- 
piece; the manuscript was perishable, and carried off the 
soul, — the work. The M-ork, made a printed sheet, is deliv- 
ered. It is now only a soul. Kill now this immortal! 
Thanks to Gutenberg, the copy is no longer exhaustible. 
Every copy is a root, and has in itself its own possible regen- 
eration in thousands of editions; the unit is pregnant with 
the innumerable. This prodigy has saved universal intelli- 
gence. Gutenberg, in the fifteenth century, emerges from the 
awful obscurity, bringing out of the darkness that ransomed 
captive, the human mind. Gutenberg is forever the auxiliary 
of life ; he is the permanent fellow-workman in the great work 
of civilization. Nothing is done without him. He has 
marked the transition of the man-slave to the free-man. Try 
and deprive civilization of him, you become Egypt. Tlie 
decrease of the liberty of the press is enough to diminish 
the stature of a people. 

One of the great features in this deliverance of man by 
printing, is, let us insist on it, the indefinite preservation of 
poets and philosophers. Gutenberg is like the second father 
of the creations of the mind. Before him, yes, it was possible 
for a chef-d'a'uire to die. 

Greece and Roman have left — mournful thing to say — 
vast ruins of books. A whole fa9ade of the human mind 
half crumbled, that is antiquity. Here the ruin of an epic 
poem, there a tragedy dismantled; great verses effaced, bur- 
ied, and disfigured; pediments of ideas almost entirely fallen; 
geniuses truncated like columns; palaces of thought without 
ceiling and door; bleached bones of poems; a death's-head 
which has been a strophe; immortality in ruins. Fearful 
nightmare ! Oblivion, dark spider, hangs its web between the 
drama of /Eschylus and the history of Tacitus. 

Where is vEschylus.'' In pieces everywhere. Eschylus is 
scattered in twenty texts. His ruins must be sought in in- 
numerable different places. Athenffus gives the dedication 



120 AVILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

" To Time," ilacrobius the fragment of " Etna " and the 
homage to the Palic gods, Pausanias the epitaph. The 
biographer is anonymous ; Goltzius and Meursius give the 
titles of the lost pieces. 

We know from Cicero, in the " Disputationes Tusculanae," 
that /Eschylus was a Pythagorean ; from Herodotus, that he 
fouglit bravel}' at Marathon ; from Diodorus of Sicily, that 
his brother Amynias behaved valiantly at Plat«a ; from Jus- 
tin, that his brother Cynegyrus was heroic at Salamis. We 
know by the didascalies that " The Persians " were repre- 
sented under the archon ^Icno, " The Seven Chiefs before 
Thebes " under the archon Theagenides, and the " Ores- 
tias " under the archon Philocles ; we know from Aristotle 
that ^Escliylus was the first to venture to make two person- 
ages speak at a time on the stage ; from Plato that the slaves 
were present at his plays ; from Horace, that he invented 
the mask and the buskin ; from Pollux, that pregnant women 
miscarried at the appearance of his Furies; from Philo- 
stratus, that he abridged the monodies ; from Suidas, that his 
theatre tumbled down under the pressure of the crowd; from 
^Elian, that he committed blasphemy; from Plutarch, that he 
was exiled; from Valerius ]\Iaximus, that an eagle killed him 
by letting a tortoise fall on his head ; from Quintilian, that 
his plays were re-cast ; from Fabricus, that his sons are ac- 
cused of this crime of lezc-paternity ; from the Arundel mar- 
bles, the date of his birth, the date of his death, and his age, — 
sixty-nine years. 

Now, take away from the drama the East and replace it 
by the North ; take away Greece and put England, take away 
India and put Germany, that other immense mother. All-men 
(Allemagne); take away Pericles and put Elizabeth; take 
away the Parthenon and put the Tower of London ; take 
away the plebs and put the mob; take away the fatality and 
put the melancholy ; take away the gorgon and put the witch ; 
take away the eagle and put the cloud ; take away the sun and 
put on tlie heath, shuddering in the evening wind, the livid 
light of the moon, and you have Shakespeare. 



WILIJAM SHAKESPEARE 121 

Given the dynasty of men of genius, the originality of 
each being absolutely reserved, the poet of the Carlovingian 
formation being the natural successor of the poet of the Jupi- 
terian formation and the gothic mist of the antique mystery, 
Shakespeare is /Eschylus II. 

There remains the right of the French Revolution, creator 
of the third world, to be represented in Art. Art is an im- 
mense gaping cliasm, ready to receive all that is within pos- 
sibility. 



BOOK V 

THE SOULS 



CHAPTER I 

THE production of souls is the secret of the unfathomable 
depth. The innate, what a shadow ! What is that 
concentration of the unknown whicli takes place in the dark- 
ness, and whence abruptly bursts forth that light, a genius? 
What is the law of these events, O Love? The human heart 
does its work on earth, and that moves the great deep. What 
is tliat incomprehensible meeting of material sublimation and 
moral sublimation in the atom, indivisible if looked at from 
life, incorruptible if looked at from death? The atom, what 
a marvel ! No dimension, no extent, nor height, nor width, 
nor thickness, independent of every possible measure, and yet, 
everything in this nothing! For algebra, the geometrical 
point. For philosophy, a soul. As a geometrical point, the 
basis of science; as a soul, the basis of faith. Such is the 
atom. Two urns, the sexes, imbibe life from the infinite; and 
the spilling of one into the other produces the being. This 
is the normal condition of all, animal as well as man. But 
the man more than man, whence comes he? 

The Supreme Intelligence, which here below is the great 
man, what is tlie power which invokes it, incorporates it, and 
reduces it to a human state? What part do the flesh and the 
blood take in this prodigy? Why do certain terrestrial sparks 
seek certain celcstian molecules? Where do they plunge, those 
sparks? Where do they go? How do they manage? What 

122 



l\ 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 123 

is this gift of iiiun to set fire to the unknown? This mine, 
tlie infinite, this extraction, a genius, what more wonderful! 
Whence does that spring up? Why, at a given moment, this 
one and not that one? Here, as everywhere, the incalculable 
law of affinities appears and escapes. One gets a glimpse, 
but sees not. O forger of the unfathomable, where art thou? 

Qualities the most diverse, the most complex, the most op- 
posed in appearance, enter into the composition of souls. The 
contraries do not exclude each other, — far from that ; they 
complete each other. More than one prophet contains a scho- 
liast; more than one magian is a philologist. Inspiration 
knows its own trade. Every poet is a critic : witness that ex- 
cellent piece of criticism on the theatre that Shakespeare puts 
in the mouth of Hamlet. A visionary mind may be at the same 
time precise, — like Dante, who writes a book on rhetoric, and 
a grammar. A precise mind may be at the same time vision- 
ary, — like Newton, who comments on the Apocalypse ; like 
Leibnitz, who demonstrates, nova inrcnta log'ua, the Holy 
Trinity. Dante knows the distinction between the three sorts 
of words, parola plana, parola sdrucciola, parola tronca; he 
knows that the plana gives a trochee, the sdrucciola a dactyl 
and the tronca an iambus. Newton is perfectly sure that the 
Pope is the Antichrist. Dante combines and calculates ; New- 
ton dreams. 

No law is to be grasped in that obscurity. No system is 
possible. The currents of adhesions and of cohesions cross 
each other pell-mell. At times one imagines that he detects 
the phenomenon of the transmission of the idea, and fancies 
that he dintinctly sees a hand taking the light from him who 
is departing, to give it to him who an-ives. 1642, for exam- 
ple, is a strange year. Galileo dies, Newton is born, in that 
year. Good. It is a thread ; try and tie it, it breaks at once. 
Here is a disappearance: on the 23d of April, 1616, on the 
same day, almost at the same minute, Shakespeare and Cci*- 
vantes die. Why are these two flames extinguished at the 
same moment? No apparent logic. A whirlwind in the 
night. 



124 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Enigmas constantly. Why docs Commodus proccod from 
Marcus Aurclius? 

These problems beset in the desert Jerome, that man of the 
caves, that Isaiah of the New Testament. lie interrupted 
his deep thoughts on eternity, and his attention to the trum- 
pet of the archangel, in order to meditate on the soul of some 
Pagan in whom he felt interested. He calculated the age of 
Persius, connecting that research with some obscure chance 
of possible salvation for that poet, dear to the ccnobite on 
account of his strictness; and nothing is so surprising as to 
see this wild thinker, half naked on his straw, like Job, dis- 
pute on this question, so frivolous in appearance, of the birth 
of a man, with Rufinus and Theophilus of Alexandria, — Ru- 
finus observing to him that he is mistaken in his calculations, 
and that Persius having been born in December under the 
consulship of Fabius Persicus and Vitellius, and having died 
in November, under the consulship of Publius Marius and 
Asinius Gallus, these periods do not correspond rigorouslv' 
with the year II. of the two hundred and third Olympiad, and 
the year II. of the two hundred and tenth, the dates fixed 
bv Jerome. The mystery thus attracts deep thinkers. 

These calculations, almost wild, of Jerome, or other simi- 
lar ones, are made by more than one dreamer. Never to find 
a stop, to pass from one spiral to another like Archimedes, 
and from one zone to another like Alighieri, to fall, while 
fluttering about in the circular well, is the eternal lot of the 
dreamer. He strikes against the hard wall on which the pale 
,ray glides. Sometimes certainty comes to him as an obstacle, 
and sometimes clearness as a fear. He keeps on his way. 
He is the bird under the vault. It is terrible. No matter, 
the dreamer goes on. 

To dream is to think here and there, — passim. What 
means the birth of Euripides during that battle of Salamis 
where Sophocles, a youth, prays, and where .Eschylus, in 
his manhood, fights? What means the birth of Alexander in 
the night which saw the burning of the temple of Ephesus.'' 
What tie between that temple and tlmt man? Is it the con- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 125 

quering and radiant spirit of Europe which, destroyed under 
the form of the chef-d'oeuvre, revives under tlie form of the 
hero? For do not forget that Ctesiphon is the Greek archi- 
tect of the temple of Ephesus. We have mentioned just now 
the simultaneous disappearance of Shakespeare and Cervantes. 
Here is another case not less surprising. The day when 
Diogenes died at Corinth, Alexander died at Babylon. These 
two cynics, the one of the tub, the other of the sword, depart 
together; and Diogenes, longing to enjoy the innnense un- 
known radiance, will again say to Alexander: " Stand out of 
my sunlight ! " 

What is the meaning of certain harmonies in the myths 
represented by divine men.'' What is this analogy between 
Hercules and Jesus which struck the Fathers of the Church, 
which made Sorel indignant, but edified Duperron, and which 
makes Alcidcs a kind of material mirror of Christ.'' Is there 
not a community of souls, and, unknown to them, a communi- 
cation between the Greek legislator and the Hebrew legislator, 
creating at the same moment, without knowing each other, 
and witliout their suspecting the existence of each other, the 
first the Areopagus, the second the Sanhedrim.'' Strange re- 
semblance between the jubilee of Moses and the jubilee of 
Lycurgus! What are these double paternities, — paternity 
of the body, paternity of the soul, like that of David for 
Solomon ? Giddy heights, steeps, precipices. 

He who looks too long into this sacred horror feels im- 
mensity racking his brain. What does the sounding-line give 
you when thrown into that mystery.'' What do you see? 
Conjectures quivei', doctrines shake, hypotheses float; all the 
human philosophy vacillates before the mournful blast rising 
from that chasm. 

The expanse of the possible is, so to speak, under your 
eyes. The dream that you have in yourself, you discover 
it beyond yourself. All is indistinct. Confused white shadows 
are moving. Are they souls? One catches, in the depths be- 
low, a glimpse of vague archangels passing along ; will tliey 
be men at some future day? Holding your head between 



120 WITXIAM SHAKESPEARE 

your liiinds, you strive to sec and to know. You arc at the 
window looking into the unknown. On all sides the deep 
layers of effects and causes, heaped one behind the other, 
wrap you with mist. The man who meditates not lives in 
blindness; the man who meditates lives in darkness. The 
choice between darkness and darkness, that is all we have. In 
that darkness, wliich is up to tlic present time nearly all our 
science, experience gropes, observation lies in wait, supposi- 
tion moves about. If you gaze at it very often, you become 
TYites. Vast religious meditation takes possession of you. 

Every man has in him his Patnios. He is free to go or not 
to go on that frightful promontory of thought from which 
darkness is seen. If he goes not, he I'emains in the common 
life, with the common conscience, with the common virtue, with 
the common faith, or with the common doubt; and it is well. 
For the inward peace it is evidently the best. If he ascends 
to that peak, he is caught. The profound waves of the mar- 
vellous have appeared to him. No one sees with impunity 
that ocean. Henceforth he will be the thinker enlarged, mag- 
nified, but floating, — tliat is to say, the dreamer. He will 
partake of the poet and of the prophet. A certain quantity 
of him now belongs to darkness. The boundless enters into 
his life, into his conscience, into his virtue, into his philosophy. 
He becomes extraordinary in the eyes of other men, for his 
measure is different from theirs. He has duties which they 
have not. He lives in a sort of vague prayer, attaching him- 
self, strangely enough, to an indefinite certainty which he 
calls God. He distinguishes in that twiliglit enough of the 
anterior life and enough of the ulterior life to seize these 
two ends of the dark thread, and with them to tie up his soul 
again. Who has drunk will drink ; who has dreamed will 
dream. He will not give up that alluring abyss, that sound- 
ing of the fathomless, that indiiferencc for the world and for 
life, tliat entrance into the forbidden, that eff'oi-t to handle 
the impalpable and to see the invisible; he returns to them, 
he leans and bends over them ; he takes one step forward, then 
two, — and thus it is that one penetrates into the impenetra- 



WILLIA^I SHAKESPEARE 127 

ble ; and thus it is that one plunges into the boundless chasms 
of infinite meditation. 

He who walks dawn them is a Ivaut; he who falls down 
them is a Swedenborg. 

To keep one's own free will in that dilatation, is to be great. 
But, however great one may be, the problems cannot be solved. 
One may ply the fathomless with questions. Nothing more. 
As for the answers, they are there, but mingled with shadows. 
The huge lineaments of truth seem at times to appear for 
one moment, then go back, and are lost in the absolute. Of 
all those questions, that among them all which besets the 
intellect, that among them all which rends the heart, is the 
question of the soul. 

Does the soul exist? Question the first. The persistency 
of the self is the thirst of man. Without the persistent self, 
all creation is for him but an immense cui bono? Listen to the 
astounding affinnation which bursts forth from all consciences. 
The whole sum of God that there is on the cartli, within all 
men, condenses itself in a single cry, — to affirm the soul. 
And then, question the second : Are there great souls .'' 

It seems impossible to doubt it. Why not great minds 
in humanity as well as great trees in the forest, as well as 
great peaks in tiie horizon.'' The great souls are seen as 
well as the great mountains. Then, they exist. But here 
the interrogation presses further; interrogation is anxiety: 
Whence come they.'' What are they.'' Who are they.'' Arc 
these atoms more divine than others.'' This atom, for in- 
stance, which shall be endowed with irradiation here below, 
this one which shall be Thales, this one ^Eschylus, this one 
Plato, this one Ezekiel, this one Macchaboeus, this one Apol- 
lonius of Tyana, this one Tertullian, this one Epictetus, this 
one Marcus Aurelius, this one Nestorius, this one Pclagius, 
this one Gama, this one Copernicus, this one Jean Huss, this 
one Descartes, this one Vincent de Paul, this one Pirancsi, 
this one Washington, this one Beethoven, this one Garibaldi, 
this one John Brown, — all these atoms, souls having a sub- 
lime function among men, have they seen other worlds, and 



128 [WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

do tlifj bring on cartli the essence of those worlds? The 
master souls, the leading intellects, who sends them? Who 
determines their appearance? Who is judge of the actual 
want of humanity? Who chooses the souls? Who musters 
the atoms? Who ordains the departures? Who premeditates 
the arrivals? Does the atom conjunction, the atom universal, 
the atom binder of worlds, exist ? Is not that the great soul ? 

To complete one universe by the other; to pour upon the 
too little of the one the too much of the other ; to increase 
here liberty, there science, there the ideal ; to communicate to 
the inferioi-s patterns of superior beauty ; to exchange the 
effluvia ; to bring the central fire to the planet ; to harmonize 
the various worlds of the same s_vstem ; to urge forward those 
which are behind ; to mix the creations, — does not that myste- 
rious function exist? 

Is it not fulfilled, unknown to them, by certain elects, who, 
momentarily and during their earthly transit, partly ignore 
themselves? Is not the function of such or such atom, divine 
motive power called soul, to give movement to a solar man 
among earthly men? Since the floral atom exists, why should 
not the stellary atom exist? That solar man will be, in turn, 
the savant, the seer, the calculator, the thaumaturge, the navi- 
gator, the architect, the magian, the legislator, the philoso- 
pher, the prophet, the hero, the poet. The life of humanity 
will move onward through them. The volutation of civiliza- 
tion will be their task ; that team of minds will drag the huge 
chariot. One being unyoked, the others will start again. 
Each completion of a century will be one stage on the jour- 
ney. Never any solution of continuity. That which one 
mind will begin, another mind will finish, soldering phenome- 
non to phenomenon, sometimes without suspecting that weld- 
ing process. To each revolution in the fact will correspond 
an adequate revolution in the ideas, and reciprocally. The 
horizon will not be allowi-d to extend to the riglit without 
stretching us much to the left. ]\Ien the most diverse, the 
most opposite, sometimes will adhere by unexpected parts; 
;uk1 in these adhercnces will burst forth the imjierious logic of 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 129 

progress. Orpheus, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Pytha- 
goras, Moses, Manou, Mahomet, with many more, will be the 
links of the same chain. A Gutenberg discovering the method 
for the sowing of civilization and the means for the ubiquity 
of thought, will be followed by a Christopher Columbus dis- 
covering a new field. A Christopher Columbus discovering a 
world will be followed by a Luther discovering a liberty. 
After Luther, innovator in the dogma, will come Shakes- 
peare, innovator in art. One genius completes the other. 

But not in the same region. The astronomer follows the 
philosopher ; the legislator is the executor of the poet's wishes ; 
the fighting liberator lends his assistance to the thinking 
liberator; the poet corroborates the statesman. Newton is 
the appendix to Bacon; Danton originates from Diderot; 
Milton confirms Cromwell; Byron supports Botzaris; ^Eschy- 
lus, before him, has assisted JNliltiades. The work is myste- 
rious even for the very men who perform it. Some are con- 
scious of it, others not. At great distances, at intervals of 
centuries, the correlations manifest themselves, wonderful. 
The modification in human manners, bcg-un by the religious 
revealer, will be completed by the philosophical reasoner, so 
that Voltaire follows up Jesus. Their work agrees and coin- 
cides. If this concordance rested with them, both would resist, 
perhaps, — the one, the divine man, indignant in his martyr- 
dom, the other, the human man, humiliated in his irony ; but 
that is so. Some one who is very high orders it in that way. 

Yes, let us meditate on these vast obscurities. The charac- 
teristic of revery is to gaze at darkness so intently that it 
brings light out of it. 

Humanity developing itself from the interior to the ex- 
terior is, pi-operly speaking, civilization. Human intelli- 
gence becomes radiance, and step by step, wins, conquers, 
and humanizes matter. Sublime domestication ! This labour 
has phases; and each of these phases, marking an age in 
progress, is opened or closed by one of those beings called 
geniuses. These missionary spirits, these legates of God, 
do they not carry in them a sort of partial solution of this 
9' 



130 WILLI A^I SHAKESPEARE 

question, so abstruse, of free will? The apostolate, being an 
act of will, is related on one side to libertj-, and on the other, 
being a mission, is related by predestination to fatality. The 
voluntary necessar3\ Such is the Messiah; such is Genius. 

Now let us return, — for all questions which append to 
mystery form the circle, and one cannot get out of it, — let 
us return to our starting-point, and to our first question: 
What is a genius.'' Is it not perchance a cosmic soul, a soul 
imbued witli a ray from the unknown.'' In what depths are 
such souls prepared ? How long do they wait.'' What medium 
do they traverse? What is the germination which precedes 
the hatching? What is the mystery of the ante-birth? 
Where was this atom? It seems as if it was the point of in- 
tersection of all the forces. How come all the powers to con- 
verge and tie themselves into an indivisible unity in this sover- 
eign intelligence? Who has bred this eagle? The incuba- 
tion of the fathomless on genius, what an enlgiua ! These 
lofty souls, momentarily belonging to earth, have they not 
seen something else? Is it for that reason that they arrive 
here with so many intuitions? Some of them seem full of 
the dream of a previous world. Is it thence that comes to 
them the scared wildncss that tliey sometimes have? Is it 
that which inspires them with wonderful words? Is it that 
which gives them strange agitations? Is it thence that they 
derive the hallucination which makes them, so to speak, see 
and touch imaginary things and beings? Moses had his fiery 
thicket ; Socrates his familiar demon ; Mahomet liis dove ; 
Luther his goblin playing with his pen, and to whom he 
would say, " Be still, there ! " Pascal his gaping chasm that 
he hid with a screen. 

Many of those majestic souls are evidently conscious of a 
mission. They act at times as if they knew. They seem 
to have a confused certainty. The}- have it. They have it 
for the mysterious ensemble. Tliey have it also for the detail. 
Jean Huss dying predicts Luther. He exclaims, " You burn 
the goose [Huss], but the swan will come." Who sends these 
souls? Who creates them? What is the law of their for- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 131 

mation anterior and superior to life? WHio provides them 
with force, patience, fecundation, will, passion? From what 
urn of goodness have they drawn sternness? In wliat region 
of the lightnings have they culled love? Each of tiiese great 
newly arrived souls renews philosophy or art or science or 
poetry, re-makes these worlds after its own image. They 
are as though impregnated with creation. At times a truth 
emanates from these souls which lights up the questions on 
which it falls. Some of these souls are like a star from which 
light would drip. From what wonderful source, then, do tliey 
proceed, that they are all different? Not one originates from 
the other, and }'et thej' have this in connnon, that they all 
bring the infinite. Incommensurable and insoluble questions. 
Tliat does not stop the good pedants and the clever men from 
bridling up, and saying, while pointing with the finger at the 
sidereal group of geniuses on the heights of civilization: 
" You will have no more men such as those. The}' cannot be 
matched. There are no more of them. Wc declare to you 
that the earth has exhausted its contingent of master spirits. 
Now for decadence and general closing. We must make up 
our minds to it. Wc shall have no more men of genius." — 
Ah, you have seen the bottom of the unfathomable, you ! 



CHAPTER II 



NO, Tliou art not worn out. Thou hast not before thee 
the bourn, the limit, the term, the frontier. Thou hast 
nothing to bound thee, as winter bounds sunnner, as lassitude 
the birds, as the precipice the torrent, as the cliff the ocean, 
as the tomb man. Thou art boundless. The " Thou shalt 
not go farther," is spoken hy thee, and it is not said of 
thee. No, thou windest not a skein which diminishes, and 
the thread of which breaks ; no, thou stoppest not short ; no, 
thy quantity decreaseth not; no, thy thickness becometh not 
thinner ; no, thy faculty miscarrieth not ; no, it is not true that 



132 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tlicv begin to perceive in tliy all-powcrfulncss tliat trans- 
parence which announces the end, and to get a ghinpse bcliind 
tlice of another thing besides thee. Another thing ! And what 
tlicn? The obstacle. The obstacle to whom? The obstacle 
t.) creation, the obstacle to the everlasting, the obstacle to tlic 
necessary ! What a dream ! 

When thou hearest men say, " This is as far as God ad- 
vances, — do not ask more of him : he starts from here, and 
stops there. In Homer, in Aristotle, in Newton, he has given 
you all that he had; leave him at rest now, — he is empty, 
(iod does not begin again; he could do that once, he cannot 
do it twice ; he has spent himself altogether in this man, — 
enough of God docs not remain to make a similar man ;" — 
when thou hearest them say such things, if thou wast a man 
like them, thou wouldst smile in thy terrible depth; but thou 
ra-t not in a terrible depth, and being goodness, thou hast 
no smile. The smile is but a passing wrinkle, unknown to the 
j'bsolutc. 

Thou struck by a powerful chill; thou to leave off; thou 
to break down ; thou to say " Halt ! " Never. Thou shouldst 
l)e comjjellcd to take breath after having created a man! No; 
whoever tliat man may be, thou art God. If this weak swarm 
of living beings, in presence of the unknown, must feel won- 
der and fear at something, it is not at the possibility of seeing 
(he germ-seed dry up and the power of procreation become 
sterile; it is, O God, at the eternal unleashing of miracles. 
The hurricane of miracles blows perpetually. Day and night 
the phenomena surge around us on all sides, and, not less 
marvellous, without disturbing the majestic tranquilhty of the 
Hcing. Tiiis tumult is harmony. 

The huge concentric waves of universal life are boundless. 
The starry sky that we study is but a partial apparition. 
We steal from the network of the Being but some links. 
The complication of the phenomenon, of which a glimpse can 
!>e caught, beyond our senses, only by contemplation and 
ecstasy, makes tlie mind giddy. The thinker who reaches so 
far, is, for other men, only a visionary. The necessary en- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 133 

tanglcment of the perceptible and of the imperceptible strikes 
the philosopher with stupor. This plenitude is required by 
thy all-powcrfulncss, which does not admit any blanks. The 
permeation of universes into universes makes part of thy in- 
finitude. Here we extend the word universe to an order of 
facts tliat no astronomer can reach. In the Cosmos that the 
vision spies, and which escapes our organs of flesh, the spheres 
enter into the spheres witiiout deforming each other, the den- 
sity of creations being different; so that, according to every 
appearance, with our world is amalgamated, in some inex- 
plicable way, another world invisible to us, as we are invisible 
to it. 

And thou, centre and place of all things, as though thou, 
the Being, couldst be exhausted! that the absolute serenities 
could, at certain moments, fear the want of means on the part 
of the Infinite ! that there would come an hour when thou 
couldst no longer supply humanity with the lights which it 
requires ! that mechanically unwearied, thou couldst be worn 
out in the intellectual and moral order! that it would be proper 
to say, "God is extinguished on tliis side!" No! no! no! 
O Fathei- ! 

Phidias created does not stop you from making Michael 
Angelo. Slichael Angclo completed, there still remains to 
thee the material for Rembrandt. A Dante does not tire 
thee. Thou art no more exhausted by a Homer than by a 
star. The auroras by the side of auroras, the indefinite re- 
newing of meteors, the worlds above tlie worlds, the wonderful 
passage of these incandescent stars called comets, the geniuses 
and again the geniuses, Orpheus, then Moses, then Isaiah, 
then ^Eschylus, then Lucretius, then Tacitus, then Juvenal, 
then Cervantes and Rabelais, then Shakespeare, then jNIoliere, 
then Voltaire, those who have been and those who will be, —  
that does not w'eary thee. Swarm of constellations! there is 
room in thy immensity. 



PART II — BOOK I 



SHAKESPEARE.— HIS GENIUS. 



CHAPTER I 

"OHAKESPEARE," says Forbes, "had neither the 
kJ tragic talent nor the comic talent. His tragedy is 
artificial, and his comedy is but instinctive." Johnson con- 
firms the verdict : " His tragedy is the result of industry, 
and his comedy the result of instinct." After Forbes and 
Johnson had contested his claim to drama. Green contested 
his claim to originality. Shakespeare is " a plagiarist ;" 
Shakespeare is " a copyist ;" Shakespeare " has invented notl>- 
ing ;" he is " a crow adorned with the plumes of others ;" he 
pilfers /Eschylus, Boccaccio, Bandello, Holinshcd, Bclleforcst, 
Bcnoist de St. Maur; he pilfers Layamon, Robert of Glou- 
cester, Robert of Wace, Peter of Langtoft, Robert Manning 
John de Mandeville, Sackville, Spenser ; he steals the " Ar- 
cadia " of Sidney ; he steals the anonymous work called the 
"True Chronicle of King Leir;" he steals from Rowley in 
" The Troublesome Reign of King John " (1591), the char- 
acter of the bastard Faulconbridge. Shakespeare pilfers 
Thomas Greene ; Shakespeare pilfers Dekker and Chcttic. 
Hamlet is not his : — Othello is not his ; Timon of Athens is 
not his, nothing is his. As for Green, Shakespeare is for 
him not only " a blower of blank verses," a " shake-scene," 
a Johannes factotum (allusion to his former position as call- 

134 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 135 

boy and supernumerary) ; Shakespeare is a wild beast. Crow 
no longer suffices ; Shakespeare is promoted to a tiger. Here 
is the text: " Tygcr's heart wrapt in a player's hyde." ^ 
Thomas Rhymer judges "Othello:" — 

" The moral of this story is certainly very instructive. It is a warn- 
ing to good housewives to look after their linen." 

Then the same Rhymer condescends to give up joking, and 
to take Shakespeare in earnest : — 

"What edifying and useful impression can the audience receive from 
such poetr)'? To what can this poetry serve, unless it is to mislead 
our good sense, to throw our thoughts into disorder, to trouble our 
brain, to pervert our instincts, to crack our imaginations, to corrupt 
our taste, and to fill our heads with vanity, confusion, clatter, and non- 
sense? " 

This was printed eighty years after the death of Shake- 
speare, in 1693. All the critics and all the connoisseurs were 
of one opinion. 

Here are some of the reproaches unanimously addressed 
to Shakespeare : Conceits, play on words, puns ; improba- 
bility, extravagance, absurdity ; obscenity ; puerility ; bom- 
bast ; emphasis, exaggeration ; false glitter, pathos ; far- 
fetched ideas, affected style ; abuse of contrast and metaphor ; 
subtilty ; immorality ; writing for the mob ; pandering to the 
canaille; delighting in the horrible; want of grace; want of 
charm ; overreaching liis aim ; having too much wit ; having no 
wit ; overdoing his works. 

" This Shakespeare is a coarse and savage mind," says 
Lord Shaftesbury. Dryden adds, " Shakespeare is unintel- 
ligible." Mrs. Lennox gives Shakespeare this slap : " This 
poet alters historical truth." A German critic of 1680, Bent- 
heim, feels himself disamied, because, says he, " Shakespeare 
is a mind full of drollery." Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's pro- 
tege, relates this : " I recollect that the comedians mentioned 
to the honour of Shakespeare, that in his writings he never 

t A Groatsworth of Wit. 1593, 



136 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

erased a line. I answered, ' Would to God he had erased a 
thousand." ^ This wish, moreover, was granted by the 
worthy publishers of 1623, — Blount and Jaggard. They 
struck out of Hamlet alone two hundred lines ; they cut out 
two hundred and twenty lines of " King Lear." Garrick 
pla3'ed at Drury Lane only the " King Lear " of Nahum 
Tate. Listen again to Rhymer : " ' Othello ' is a sanguinary 
farce without wit." Johnson adds, " ' Julius Csesar,' a cold 
tragedy, and lacking the power to move the public." " I 
think," says Warburton, in a letter to the Dean of St. Asaph, 
" tliat Swift has much more wit than Shakespeare, and that 
the comic in Shakespeare, altogether low as it is, is very in- 
ferior to the comic in Shadwell." As for the witches in " Mac- 
beth," " Nothing equals," says that critic of tlie seventeenth 
century, Forbes, repeated by a critic of the nineteenth, " the 
absurdity of such a spectacle." Samuel Foote, the author of 
the " Young Hypocrite," makes this declai-ation : " The 
comic in Shakespeare is too heavy, and does not make one 
laugh. It is buffoonery without wit." At last Pope, in 1725, 
finds a reason why Shakespeare wrote liis dramas, and ex- 
claims, " One must eat ! " 

After these words of Pope, one cannot understand with 
what object Voltaire, aghast about Shakespeare, writes: 
" Shakespeare whom the English take for a Sophocles, flour- 
ishetl about the time of Lopez [Lope, if you please, Voltaire] 
de Vega." Voltaire adds, " You are not ignorant that in 
' Hamlet ' the diggers prepare a grave, drinking, singing 
ballads, and cracking over the heads of dead people tl>e jokes 
usual to men of their profession." And, concluding, he 
qualifies thus the whole scene, — " these follies." He cliar- 
acterizes Shakespeare's pieces by this word, " monstrous farces 
called tragedies," and completes the judgment by declaring 
that Shakespeare " has ruined the English theatre." 

Marmontel comes to see Voltaire at Ferney. Voltaire is 
in bed, holding a book in his hand; all at once he rises up, 

1 Works, vol. ix. p. 175, Gifford's edition. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 137 

throws the books away, stretches his thin legs across the bed, 
and cries to Marmontel, " Your Shakespeare is a barbarian ! " 
" He is not my Shakespeare at all," replies Mannontel. 

Shakespeare was an occasion for Voltaire to show his skill 
at the target. Voltaire missed him rarely. Voltaire shot at 
Shakespeare as the peasants shoot at the goose. It was Vol- 
taire who had commenced in France the attack against that 
barbarian. He nicknamed him the Saint Cliristopher of 
Tragic Poets. He said to Madame de Graffigny, '* Shake- 
speare pour rire." He said to Cardinal de Bernis, " Compose 
pretty verses ; deliver us, monsignor, from plagues, witches, 
the school of the King of Pi-ussia, the Bull Unigenitus, the 
constitutionalists and the convulsionists, and from that ninny 
Shakespeare! Libera nos, Domine," The attitude of Freron 
toward Voltaire has, in the eyes of posterity, as an attenuat- 
ing circumstance, the attitude of Voltaire toward Shakespeare. 
Nevertheless, throughout the eighteenth century, Voltaire 
gives the law. The moment that Voltaire sneers at Shake- 
speare, Englishmen of wit, such as my Lord Marshal, fol- 
low suit. Johnson confesses the ignorance and vulgarity of 
Shakespeare. Frederic II. comes in for a word also. He 
writes to Voltaire a propos of " Julius C»sar :" '" You have 
done well in re-casting, according to principles, the crude 
piece of that Englishman." Behold, then, where Shakespeare 
is in the last century. Voltaire insults him. La Harpe pro- 
tects him : " Shakespeare himself, coarse as he was, was not 
without reading and knowledge." ' 

In our days, the class of critics of whom we have just seen 
some samples, have not lost courage. Coleridge speaks of 
"Measure for Measure:" "a painful comedy," he hints. 
" Revolting," says Mr. Knight. " Disgusting," responds 
Mr. Hunter. 

In 1804 the author of one of those idiotic Biographies 
UniverseUes, in which they contrive to relate the history of 
Galas without pronouncing the name of Voltaire, and to which 

I La Haepe: Introduction au Cours de Littirature. 



138 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

governments, knowing wliat tliej arc about, grant readily 
their patronage and subsidies, a certain Delandine feels him- 
self called upon to be a judge, and to pass sentence on Shake- 
speare ; and after having said that " Shakespeare, which is 
pronounced Chekspir," had, in his youth, " stolen the deer of 
a nobleman," he adds : " Nature had brought together in the 
head of this poet the highest gi'eatness we can imagine, with 
tlie lowest coarseness, without wit." Lately, we read the fol- 
lowing words, written a short time ago by an eminent dolt who 
is living: " Second-rate authors and inferior poets such as 
Shakespeare," etc. 



CHAPTER II 



A POET must at the same time, and necessarily, be a 
historian and a philosopher. Herodotus and Thales 
are included in Homer. Shakespeare, likewise, is this triple 
man. He is, besides, the painter, and what a painter ! — the 
colossal painter. The poet in reality does more than relate; 
he exhibits. Poets have in them a reflector, observation, and 
a condenser, emotion ; thence those grand luminous spectres 
which burst out from their brain, and which go on blazing 
forever on the gloomy human wall. These phantoms hiive 
life. To exist as much as Achilles, would be the ambition of 
Alexander. Shakespeare has tragedy, comedy, fairy-land, 
hymn, farce, grand divine laughter, terror and horror, and, 
to say all in one word, the drama. He touches the two poles. 
He belongs to Olympus and to tlie travelling booth. No 
possibility fails him. 

When he grasps you, you are subdued. Do not expect 
from liim any pity. His cruelty is pathetic. He shows 
you a mother, — Constance, mother of Arthur ; and when he 
has brought you to that point of tenderness that your l>eart 
is as her heart, he kills her child. He goes farther in horror 
even than history, which is difficult. He does not content 



WILLI AIM SITATvESPEARE 130 

himself with killing Rutland and driving York to despair; 
he dips in the blood of the son the handkerchief with which 
he wipes the eyes of the father. He causes elegy to be choked 
by the drama, Desdemona by Othello. No attenuation in 
anguish. Genius is inexorable. It has its law and follows it. 
The mind also has its inclined planes, and these slopes deter- 
mine its direction. Shakespeare glides toward the terrible. 
Shakespeare, zEschylus, Dante, are great sti-eams of human 
emotion pouring from the depth of their cave the urn of tears. 

The poet is only limited by his aim ; he considers nothing 
but the idea to be worked out ; he does not recognize any other 
sovereigntj', any other necessity but the idea ; for, art eman- 
ating from the absolute, in art, as in the absolute, the end 
justifies the means. This is, it may be said parenthetically, 
one of those deviations from the ordinary terrestrial law 
which make lofty criticism muse and reflect, and which reveal 
to it the mysterious side of art. In art, above all, is visible 
the quid diznnum. The poet moves in his work as providence 
in its own ; he excites, astounds, strikes, then exalts or de- 
presses, often in inverse ratio to what you expected, diving 
into your soul through surprise. Now, consider. Art has, 
like the Infinite, a Because superior to all the Why^s. Go and 
ask the wherefore of a tempest from the ocean, that great 
lyric. What seems to you odious or absurd has an inner rea- 
son for existing. Ask of Job why he scrapes the pus on his 
ulcer with a bit of glass, and of Dante why he sews with a 
thread of iron the eyelids of the larvas in purgatory, mak- 
ing the stitches trickle with fearful tears ! ^ Job continues 
to clean his sore with his broken glass and wipes it on his 
dungheap, and Dante goes on his waj'. The same with Shake- 
speare. 

His sovereign horrors reign and force themselves upon 
you. He mingles with them, when he chooses, the charm, 
that august charm of the powerful, as superior to feeble 

1 And as the sun does not reach the blind, so the spirits of which I 
was just speaking have not the gift of heavenly light. An iron wire 
pierces and fastens togetlier their eyelids, as it is done to tlie wild hawk 
In order to tame it. — Purgatory, chap. xiii. 



140 WILLIA:M SHAKESPEARE 

sweetness, to slender attraction, to the charm of Ovid or of 
Tibullus, as the Venus of Milo to the Venus de Medici. The 
things of the unknown ; the unfathomable metaphysical prob- 
lems; the enigmas of the soul and of Nature, which is also 
a soul; the far-off intuitions of the eventual included in 
destiny ; the amalgams of thought and event, — can be trans- 
lated into delicate figures, and fill poetry with m^'sterious 
and exquisite types, the more delightful that are rather sor- 
rowful, somewhat invisible, and at the same time very real, 
anxious concerning the shadow which is behind them, and yet 
trying to plense you. Profound grace does exist. 

Prettiness combined with greatness is possible (it is found 
in Homer; Astyanax is a type of it); but the profound 
grace of which we speak is something more than this epic 
delicacy. It is linked to a certain amount of agitation, and 
means the infinite without expressing it. It is a kind of light 
and shade radiance. The modern men of genius alone have 
that depth in the smile which shows elegance and depth at the 
same time. 

Shakespeare possesses this grace, which is the very op- 
posite to the unliealthy grace, although it resembles it, em- 
anating as it does likewise from the grave. 

Sorrow, — the great sorrow of the drama, which is nothing 
else but human constitution carried into art, — envelopes this 
grace and this horror. 

Hamlet, doubt, is at the centre of his work ; and at the two 
extremities, love, — Romeo and Othello, all the heart. There is 
light in the folds of the shroud of Juliet; yet nothing but 
darkness in the winding-sheet of Ophelia disdained and of 
Desdemona suspected. These two innocents, to whom love 
has broken faith, cannot be consoled. Desdemona sings the 
song of the willow under which the water bears Ophelia 
away. They are sisters without knowing each other, and 
kindred souls, although each has her separate drama. The 
willow trembles over them both. In tlie mysterious chant of 
the calunmiated who is about to die, floats the dishevelled 
shadow of the drowned one. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 141 

Shakespeare in philosophy goes at times deeper tlian 
Homer. Beyond Priam there is Lear; to weep at ingratitude 
is worse than weeping at death. Homer meets envy and strikes 
it with the sceptre ; Shakespeare gives the sceptre to the en- 
vious, and out of Thersites creates Richard IH. Envy is ex- 
posed in its nakedness all the better for being clothed in 
pui-ple; its reason for existing is then visibly altogether in 
itself. Envy on the throne, what more striking! 

Deformity in the person of the tyrant is not enough for 
this philosopher; he must have it also in tlie shape of the 
valet, and he creates Falstaff. The dynasty of common- 
sense, inaugurated in Panurge, continued in Sancho Panza, 
goes wrong and miscarries in Falstaff. The rock which this 
wisdom splits upon is, in reality, lowness. Sancho Panza, in 
combination with the ass, is embodied with ignorance. Fal- 
taif — glutton, poltroon, savage, obscene, human face and 
stomach, with the lower parts of the brute — walks on the 
four feet of turpitude; Falstaff is the centaur man and pig. 

Shakespeare is, above all, an imagination. Now, — and 
this is a truth to which we have already alluded, and which 
is well known to thinkers, — imagination is depth. No fac- 
ulty of the mind goes and sinks deeper than imagination ; it 
is the great diver. Science, reaching the lowest depths, 
meets imagination. In conic sections, in logarithms, in the 
differential and integral calculus, in the calculation of proba- 
bihties, in the infinitesimal calculus, in the calculations of so- 
norous waves, in the application of algebra to geometry, the 
imagination is the co-efficient of calculation, and mathematics 
becomes poetry. I Iwve no faith in the science of stupid 
learned men. 

The poet philosophizes because he imagines. That is why 
Shakespeare has that sovereign management of reality which 
enables him to have his way with it ; and his very whims are 
varieties of the true, — varieties which deserve meditation. 
Does not destiny resemble a constant whim.' Nothing more 
incoherent in appearance, nothing less connected, nothing 
worse as deduction. Why crown this monster, John.'' Why 



142 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

kill that cliild, Artliur? Why have Joan of Arc burned? 
Wiiy Monk triumphant? Why Louis X.\. happy? Why 
Louis XVI. punished? Let the logic of God pass. It is from 
that logic that the fancy of the poet is drawn. Comedy 
bursts forth in the midst of tears; the sob rises out of laugh- 
ter; figures mingle and clash; massive forms, nearly animals, 
pass clumsily ; larvas — women perhaps, perhaps smoke — 
float about; souls, libcllulas of darkness, flies of the twilight, 
quiver among all these black reeds that we call passions and 
events. At one pole Lady Macbeth, at the other Titania. A 
colossal thought, and an immense cajDrice. 

What arc the " Tempest," " Troilus and Cressida," " The 
Two Gentlemen of Verona," " The Merry Wives of Windsor," 
the " Midsummer Night's Dream," " The Winter's Tale? " 
They are fancy, — arabesque work. The arabesque in art 
is the same phenomenon as vegetation in nature. The ara- 
besque grows, increases, knots, exfoliates, multiplies, becomes 
green, blooms, branches, and creeps around every dream. The 
arabesque is endless ; it has a strange power of extension and 
aggrandizement ; it fills horizons, and opens up others ; it in- 
tercepts the luminous deeds by innumerable intersections; and, 
if you mix the human figure with these entangled branches, 
the ensemble makes you giddy ; it is striking. Behind the 
arabesque, and through its openings, all philosophy can be 
seen ; vegetation lives : man becomes pantheist ; a combination 
of infinite takes place in the finite ; and before such work, in 
which are found the impossible and the true, the human soul 
trembles with an emotion oKscurc and yet supreme. 

For all this, the edifice ought not to be overrun by vegeta- 
tion, nor the drama by arabesque. 

One of the characteristics of genius is the singular union 
of faculties the most distant. To draw an astragal like 
Ariosto, then to dive into souls like Pascal, — such is the poet. 
Man's inner conscience belongs to Shakespeare ; he surprises 
you with it constantly. He extracts from conscience every 
unforeseen contiri'icnce that it contains. Few poets surpass 
him in this psychical research. Many of the strangest pe- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 143 

culiarities of the human mind are indicated by him. He skil- 
fully makes us feel the simplicity of the metaphysical fact 
under the complication of the dramatic fact. That which the 
human creature docs not acknowledge inwardl}', the obscure 
thing that he begins by fearing and ends by desiring — such 
is the point of junction and the strange place of meeting for 
the heart of virgins and the heart of murderers; for the 
soul of Juliet and the soul of Macbeth. The innocent fears 
and longs for love, just as the wicked one for ambition. 
Perilous kisses given on the sly to the phantom, smiling here, 
fierce there. 

To all these prodigalities, analysis, synthesis, creation in 
flesh and bone, rcvery, fancy, science, metaphysics, add his- 
tory, — liere the history of historians, there the history of 
the tale ; specimens of everything, — of the traitor, from 
IVIacbeth the assassin of his guest, up to Coriolanus, the 
assassin of his country ; of the despot, from the intellectual 
tyrant Caesar, to the bestial tyrant Henry VIII. ; of the car- 
nivorous, from the lion down to the usurer. One may say to 
Shylock : " Well bitten Jew ! " And, in the background of 
this wonderful drama, on the desert heath, in the twihght, 
in order to promise crowns to murderers, three black outlines 
appear, in which Hesiod, through the vista of ages, perhaps 
recognizes the Pares. Inordinate force, exquisite charm, 
epic ferocity, pity, creative faculty, gayety (that lofty gay- 
ety unintelligible to narrow understandings), sarcasm (the 
cutting lash for the wicked), star-like greatness, microscopic 
tenuity, boundless poetry, which has a zenith and a nadir; the 
ensemhle vast, the detail jjrofound, — nothing is wanting in 
this mind. One feels, on approaching the work of this man, 
the powerful wind which would burst forth from the opening 
of a whole world. The radiancy of genius on every side, — 
that is Sliakespeare. " Totus in antithesi," says Jonathan 
Forbes. 



144 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER III 

ONE of the characteristics which distinguish men of 
o-cnius from ordinarj' minds, is that they have a dou- 
ble reflection^ — just as tiie carbuncle, according to Jerome 
Cardan, diff^ers from crystal and glass in having a double 
refraction. 

Genius and carbuncle, double reflection, double refraction ; 
the same phenomenon in the moral and in the physical order. 

Does this diamond of diamonds, the carbuncle, exist.'* It 
is a question. Alchemy says yes, chemistry searches. As 
for genius, it exists. It is sufficient to read one verse of 
/Eschylus or Juvenal in order to find this carbuncle of the 
human brain. 

This phenomenon of double reflection raises to the highest 
power in men of genius what rhetoricians call antithesis, — 
that is to say, the sovereign faculty of seeing the two sides of 
things. 

I dislike Ovid, that proscribed coward, that licker of bloody 
hands, that fawning cur of exile, that far-away flatterer dis- 
dained by the tyrant, and I hate the bel esprit of which Ovid 
is full; but I do not confound that bcl esprit with the power- 
ful antithesis of Shakespeare. 

Complete minds having everything, Shakespeare contains 
Gongora as IMichacl Angclo contains Bernini ; and there are 
on that subject ready-made sentences: " Michael Angelo is 
a mannerist, Shakespeare is antithetical." Tlwse are the for- 
mulas of the school ; but it is the gi'cat question of contrast 
in art seen by the small side. 

Totus in antithes'i. Shakespeare is all in antithesis. Cer- 
tainly, it is not very just to see all the man, and such a man, 
in one of his qualities. But, this reserve being made, let us 
observe that this saying, Totus in antithesi, which pretends 
to be a criticism, might be simply a statement. Shake- 
speare, in fact, has deserved, like all truly great poets, this 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 145 

praise, — that he is like creation. What is creation? Good 
and evil, joy and sorrow, man and woman, roar and song, 
eagle and viilture, lightning and ray, bee and drone, moun- 
tain and valley, love and hate, the medal and its reverse, 
beauty and ugliness, star and swine, high and low. Nature 
is the Eternal bifronted. And this antithesis, ■whence comes 
the antiphrasis, is found in all the habits of man ; it is in 
fable, in history, in philosophy, in language. Are you the 
Furies, they call you Eumenides, — the Charming ; do jou kill 
your brothers, jo\i are called Philadelphus ; kill A'our father, 
they will call you Philopator; be a great general, they will 
call you le petit caporal. The antithesis of Shakespeare is 
universal antithesis, always and everywhere; it is the ubiquity 
of antinomy, — life and death, cold and heat, just and unjust, 
angel and demon, heaven and earth, flower and lightning, 
melody and harmony, sjjirit and flesh, high and low, ocean 
and env}', foam and slaver, hurrican and whistle, self and not- 
self, the objective and subjective, marvel and miracle, tj'pe 
and monster, soul and shadow. It is from this somber pal- 
pable diff"erencc, from this endless ebb and flow, from this per- 
petual yes and no, from this irreducible opposition, from this 
immense antagonism ever existing, that Rembrandt obtains 
his chiaroscuro and Piranesi his vertiginous height. 

Before removing this antithesis from art, commence by re- 
moving it from nature. 



CHAPTER IV 



' ' f_¥ E is reser\'ed and discreet. You may trust him ; 

X J. he will take no advantage. He has, above all, a 

very rare quality, — he is sober." 

What is this.'' A recommendation for a domestic? No. 

It is the panegyric of a writer. A certain school, called 

" serious," has in our days hoisted this programme of poctrv : 
10 r ^ I , 



146 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

sobriety. It seems that the only question should be to preserve 
literature from indigestion. P'ornicrly, the motto was " Pro- 
lificness and power ;" to-day it is " tisane." You are in the 
resplendent garden of the Muses, where those divine blossoms 
of the mind that tlic Greeks called " tropes " blow in riot and 
luxuriance on evcr^- branch ; everywhere the ideal imago, 
everywhere the thought-flower, everywhere fruits, metaphors, 
golden apples, perfumes, coloiu's, rays, strophes, wonders ; 
touch nothing, be discreet. Whoever gathers nothing there 
proves himself a true poet. Be of the temperance society. 
A good critical book is a treatise on the dangers of drinking. 
Do you wish to compose the Ilaid, put yourself on diet. Ah, 
thou maj'est well open thy eyes wide, old Rabelais! 

Lyricism is heady, the beautiful intoxicates, greatness in- 
ebriates, the ideal causes giddiness ; whoever proceeds from 
it is no longer in his right senses ; when you have walked 
among the stars, you are capable of refusing a prefecture; 
3'ou are no longer a sensible being; they might offer you a 
scat in the senate of Domitian and you would refuse it ; you 
no longer give to Casar what is due to Caesar; you have 
reached that point of mental alienation that you will not 
even salute the Lord Incitatus, consul and horse. See what 
is the result of v'our having drunk in that shocking place, the 
Empyrean ! You become proud, ambitious, disinterested. 
Now, be sober. It is forbidden to haunt the tavern of the 
sublime. 

Liljerty means libertinism. To restrain yourself is well, 
to geld yourself is better. 

Pass your life in restraining yourself. 

Observe sobriety, decency, respect for authority, an irre- 
proachable toilet. There is no poetry unless it be fashionably 
dressed. An uncombetl savannah, a lion which does not pare 
its nails, an unsifted torrent, the navel of the sea which allows 
itself to be seen, the cloud whicli forgets itself so far as to 
show Aldcbaran — oh, shocking! Tlie wave foams on I lie 
rock, the cataract vomits into the gulf, Juvenal spits on the 
tyrant. Fie! 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 147 

We like not enough better than too much. No exaggera- 
tion. Henceforth the rose-tree shall be compelled to count 
its roses. The prairie shall be requested not to be so 
prodigal of daisies; the spring shall be ordered to restrain 
itself. The nests are rather too prolific. The groves are too 
rich in warblers. The Milky Way must condescend to num- 
ber its stars ; there are a good manj'. 

Take example from the big Mullen Scrpcntaria of the Bo- 
tanical Garden, which blooms only every fifty years. That 
is a flower truly respectable. 

A true critic of the sober school is that garden-keeper who, 
to this question, " Have you any nightingales in your trees.? " 
replied, " Ah, don't mention it ! For the whole month of 
Ma^' these ugly beasts have been doing nothing but bark." 

jNI. Suard gave to Marie Joseph Chenicr this certificate: 
" His style has the great merit of not containing compari- 
sons." In our days we have seen that singular eulogium re- 
produced. This reminds us that a great professor of the 
Restoration, indignant at the comparisons and figures which 
abound in the prophets, crushes Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah, 
with this profound apothegm : " The whole Bible is in ' like ' 
(comme)." Another, a gi-eater pi-ofessor still, was the au- 
thor of this sa^'ing, which is still celebrated at the normal 
school : " I throw Juvenal back to the romantic dunghill." 
Of what crime was Juvenal guilty 't Of the same as Isaiah — 
namely, of readily expressing the idea by tlie image. Shall 
we return, little by little, in the walks of learning, to the me- 
tonymy term of chemistry, and to the opinion of Pradon on 
metaphor .'' 

One would suppose, from the demands and clamours of the 
doctrinary school, that it has to supply, at its own expense, 
all the consumption of metaphors and figures that poets can 
make, and that it feels itself ruined by spendthrifts such as 
Pindar, Aristophanes, Ezekiel, Plautus, and Cervantes. This 
school puts under lock and key passions, sentiments, the hu- 
man heart, reality, the ideal, life. Frightened, it looks at the 
men of genius, hides from them everything, and says, " How 



148 WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 

greedy they are! " Therefore it has invented for writers this 
sujDcrlative praise : " He is temperate." 

On all these points sacerdotal criticism fraternizes with doc- 
trinal criticism. The prude and the devotee help each other. 

A curious bashful fashion tends to pi-evail. We blush 
at the coarse manner in which grenadiers meet death ; rhetoric 
has for heroes modest vine-leaves which they call periphrases ; 
it is agreed that the bivouac speaks like the convent, the talk 
of the guardroom is a calunmy ; a veteran drops his eyes at the 
recollection of Waterloo, and the Cross of Honour is given to 
these modest eyes. Certain sayings which are in history have 
no right to be historical ; and it is well understood, for ex- 
ample, that the gendarme who fired a pistol at Robespierre at 
the H6tel-de-Villc was called La-garde-mcurt-et-ne-se-rend- 
ims. 

One salutary reaction is the result of the combined effort 
of two critics watching over jjublic tranquillity. This reac- 
tion has already produced some specimens of poets, — steady, 
well-bred, jirudcnt, whose style alwaj's keeps good time; who 
never indulge in an orgy with all those mad things, ideas; who 
are never met at the corner of a wood, solus cam sola, with that 
Bohemian, Revery ; who are incapable of having connection 
cither with Imagination, a dangerous vagabond, or with In- 
spiration, a Bacchante, or with Fancy, a lorctte; who have 
never in their life given a kiss to that beggarly chit, the 
Muse; who do not sleep out, and who are honoured with the 
esteem of their doorkeeper, Nicholas Boileau. If I'oly- 
hynniia goes by with her hair rather flowing, what a scandal! 
(^uick, they call the hairdresser. M. de la Harpe comes 
hastily. These two sister critics, the doctrinal and the sac- 
erdotal, undertake to educate. They bring up writers from 
the birth. They keep houses to wean them, a boarding- 
school for juvenile reputations. 

Thence a discipline, a literature, an art. Dress right, fall 
into line ! Society must be saved in literature as well as in 
politics. Evei-y one knows that poetry is a frivolous, insig- 
nificant thing, childishly occupied in seeking rhymes, barren, 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 149 

vain ; therefore nothing is more formidable. It behooves us 
to well secure the thinkei's. Lie down, dangerous beast! 
What is a poet? For honour, nothing ; for persecution, every- 
thing. 

This race of writers requires repression. It is useful to 
have recourse to the secular arm. The means vary. From 
time to time a good banishment is expedient. The list of 
exiled writers opens with .Eschylus, and does not close with 
A'oltaire. Each century has its link in this chain. But there 
must be at least a pretext for exile, banishment, and pro- 
scription. That cannot apply to all cases. It is rather un- 
manageable; it is important to have a lighter weapon for 
cvery-day skirmishing. A State criticism, duly sworn in and 
accredited, can render service. To organize the persecution 
of writers by means of writers is not a bad thing. To entrap 
the pen by the pen is ingenious. Why not have literary 
policemen ? 

Good taste is a precaution taken by good order. Sober 
writers are the counterpart of prudent electors. Inspiration 
is suspected of love for liberty. Poetry is rather outside of 
legality; there is, therefore, an official art, the offspring of 
official criticism. 

A whole special rhetoric proceeds from those premises. 
Nature has in that particular art but a narrow entrance, and 
goes in through the side door. Nature is infected with dema- 
gogy. The elements arc suppressed as being bad company, 
and making too much uproar. The equi.-ox is guilty oi" 
breaking into reserve grounds; the squall is a nightly row. 
The other day, at the School of Fine Arts, a pupil-painter 
having caused the wind to lift up the folds of a mantle during 
a storm, a local professor, shocked at this lifting up, said, 
" The style does not admit of wind." 

After all, reaction does not despair. We get on; some 
progress is accomplished. A ticket of confession sometimes 
gains admittance for its bearer into the Academy. Jules 
Janin, Theophile Gautier, Paul de Saint-Victor, Littre, 
Renan, please to recite your creed. 



150 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

But tlvit does not suffice; the evil is deep-rooted. The 
ancient Catholic society, and the ancient legitimate literature, 
are threatened. Darkness is in pci'il. To war with new 
generations ! to war with the modern spirit ! and down upon 
Democracy, the daughter of Philosophy ! 

Cases of rabidness — tliat is to say, the works of genius — 
arc to be feared. Hygienic prescriptions are renewed. The 
public high-road is evidently badly watched. It appears that 
there are some poets wandering about. The prefect of police, 
a negligent man, allows some spirits to rove about. What is 
Authority thinking of.'' Let us take care. Intellects can be 
bitten ; there is danger. It is certain, evident. It is rumoured 
that Shakespeare has been met without a muzzle on. 

This Shakespeare without a muzzle is the present transla- 
tion.^ 



CHAPTER V 



IF ever a man was undeserving of the good character of 
" he is sober," it is most certainly William Shakespeare. 
Shakespeare is one of the worst rakes that serious aesthetics 
ever liad to lord over. 

Shakespeare is fertility, force, exuberance, tlie ovei-flowing 
breast, the foaming cup, the brimful tub, the overrunning 
sap, the overflooding lava, the whirlwind scattering germs, 
the universal rain of life, everything by thousands, everything 
by millions, no reticence, no binding, no economy, the inordi- 
nate and tranquil prodigality of the creator. To those who 
feel the bottom of their pocket, the inexhaustible seems insane. 
Will it stop soon ? Never. Shakespeare is the sower of daz- 
zling wonders. At every turn, the image; at every turn, con- 
trast; at every turn, light and darkness. 

The poet, we have said, is Nature. Subtle, minute, keen, 
microscopical like Nature ; immense. Not discreet, not re- 

1 The Complete Works of Shakespeare, translated hy Francois Victor 
Huso. 



WITXTAM SHAKESPEARE 151 

served, not sparing. Simply magnificent. Let us explain 
this word, simple. 

Sobriety in })oetry is poverty ; simplicity is grandeur. To 
give to each thing the quantity of space which fits it, neither 
more nor less, is simplicity. Simplicity is justice. The whole 
law of taste is in that. Each thing put in its place and 
spoken with its own word. On the only condition that a cer- 
tain latent equilibrium is maintained and a certain mysterious 
proportion preserved, simplicity may Ix; found in the most 
stupendous complication, either in the style, or in the ensem- 
ble. These are the arcana of great art. Lofty criticism 
alone, which takes its starting-point from enthusiasm, pene- 
trates and comprehends these learned laws. Opulence, pro- 
fusion, dazzling radiancy, may be simplicity. The sun is 
simple. 

Such simplicity does not evidently resemble the simplicity 
recommended by Le Battcux, the Abbe d'Aubignac, and 
Father Bouhours. 

Whatever maj' be the abundance, whatever may be the en- 
tanglement, even if perplexing, confused, and inextricable, 
all that is true is simple. A root is simple. 

That simplicity which is profound is the only one that art 
recogiiizes. 

Simplicity, being true, is artless. Artlessness is the char- 
acteristic of truth. Shakespeare's simplicity is the great sim- 
plicity. He is foolishly full of it. He ignores the small sim- 
plicity. 

The simplicity which is impotence, the simplicity which is 
meagreness, the simplicity which is shortwinded, is a case for 
pathology. It has nothing to do with poetry. An order for 
the hospital suits it better than a ride on the hippogriff. 

I admit that the hump of Thersites is simple; but the 
breastplates of Hercules are simple also. I prefer that sim- 
plicity to the other. 

The simplicity which belongs to poetry may be as bushy 
as the oak. Does the oak by chance produce on you the 
effect of a Byzantine and of a refined being.? Its innumera- 



152 .WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 

ble lantitheses, — gigantic trunk and small leaves, rough bark 
and velvet mosses, reception of rays and shedding of shade, 
crowns for heroes and fruit for swine, — are they marks of 
affectation, corruption, subtlety and bad taste? Could the 
oak be too witty? Could the oak belong to the Hotel Ram- 
bouillet? Could the oak be a prcc'mi.r ridicule? Could the 
oak be tainted with Gongorism? Could the oak belong to the 
age of decadence? Is by chance complete simplicity, sancta 
simplicitaf:, condensed in the cabbage? 

Hefinenient, excess of wit, affectation, Gongorism, — that 
is what thev have hurled at Sliakespcare's head. They say 
that those are the faults of littleness, and they hasten to re- 
proach the giant with them. 

But then this Shakespeare respects nothing, he goes 
straight on, putting out of breath those who wish to follow; 
lie strides over proprieties ; he overthrows Aristotle ; he spreads 
havoc among the Jesuits, ]\lethodists, the Purists, and the 
Puritans; he puts Loyola to flight, and upsets Wesley; he is 
valiant, bold, enterprising, militant, direct. His inkstand 
smokes like a crater. He is always laborious, ready, spirited, 
disposed, going forward. Pen in hand, his brow blazing, he 
goes on driven by the demon of genius. The stallion abuses; 
there are he-niules passing by to whom this Is offensive. To 
be prolific Is to be aggressive. A poet like Isaiah, like Juve- 
nal, like Shakespeare, Is, in truth, exorbitant. By all that Is 
holy! some attention ought to be paid to others; one man has 
no right to everything. What ! always virility, inspiration 
everywhere, as many metaphors as the prairie, as many an- 
titheses as the oak, as many contrasts and depths as the uni- 
verse; what! forever generation, hatching, hymen, parturi- 
tion, vast ensemble, exquisite and robust detail, living com- 
munion, fecundation, plenitude, production! It is too much; 
It infringes the I'ights of human geldings. 

For neai'ly three centuries Shakespeai'e, tills poet all brim- 
ming with virility, has been looked ujion by sober critics with 
that discontented air that certain bereaved spectators must 
have in the seraglio. 



WILLTAIM SHAKESPEARE 153 

Shakcspciire has no reserve, no discretion, no limit, no 
blank. What is wanting in him is that he wants nothing. No 
box for savings, no fast-day with him. He ovei'flows like 
vegetation, like germination, like light, like flame. Yet, it 
does not hinder him from thinking of you, spectator or reader, 
from preaching to you, from giving you advice, from being 
your friend, like any other kind-hearted La Fontaine, and 
from rendering you small services. You can warm your 
hands at the conflagration he kindles. 

Othello, Romeo, lago, Macbeth, Shylock, Richard III., 
Julius Csesar, Oberon, Puck, Ophelia, Desdcmona, Juliet, Ti- 
tania, men, women, witches, fairies, souls, — Shakespeare is 
the grand distributer ; take, take, take, all of you ! Do you 
want more? Here is Ariel, Parolles, Macduff', Prospero, 
Viola, Miranda, Caliban. More yet? Here is Jessica, Cor- 
delia, Cressida, Portia, Brabantio, Polonius, Horatio, Mer- 
cutio, Imogene, Pandarus of Troy, Bottom, Theseus. Ecce 
Deus! It is the poet, he offers himself: who will have me? 
He gives, scatters, squanders himself; he is never empty. 
Why? He cannot be. Exhaustion with him is impossible. 
There is in him something of the fathomless. He fills up 
again, and spends himself ; then recommences. He is the bot- 
tomless treasury of genius. 

In license and audacity of language Shakespeare equals 
Rabelais, whom, a few days ago, a swan-like critic called a 
swine. 

Like all lofty mjnds in full riot of Omnipotence, Shake- 
speare decants all Nature, drinks it, and makes you drink it. 
Voltaire reproached him for his drunkenness, and was quite 
right. Why on earth, we repeat, why has this Shakespeare 
such a temperament? He does not stop, he does not feel 
fatigue, he is without pity for the poor weak stomachs that 
are candidates for the Academy. The gastritis called " good 
taste," he does not labour under it. He is powerful. What 
is this vast intemperate song that he sings through ages, — 
war-song, drinking-song, love-ditty, — which passes from 
King Lear to Queen Mab, and from Hamlet to FalstafT, heart- 



154 WTTJ>TA:\r STTAKESPEAKE 

rending at times as a sob, grand as the Iliad? " I have the 
lumbago from reading Shakespeare," said M. Auger. 

His poetry has the sharp perfume of honey made by the 
vagahond hee without a hive. Here prose, tliere verse; all 
forms, being but rcc('])taclcs for the idea, suit him. This 
poetry weeps and laughs. The English tongue, a language 
little formed, now assists, now harms him, but everywhere tlie 
deep mind gushes forHi tr.uisluccnt. Shakespeare's dram.a 
proceeds « ith a kind of distracted rhythm. It is so vast that 
it staggers ; it has and gives the vertigo ; but nothing is so 
solid as this excited grandeur. Shakespeare, shuddering, has 
in himself the winds, the spirits, the pliiUers, the vibrations, 
the fluctuations of transient breezes, the obscure penetration 
of effluvia, the great unknown sap. Thence his agitation, in 
the depth of which is repose. It is this agitation in which 
Goethe is wanting, wrongly praised for his impassiveness, 
which is inferiority. Tiiis agitation, all minds of the first 
order have it. It is in Job, in .Eschylus, in Alighieri. This 
agitation is hunianity. On earth the divine must be human. 
It must propose to itself its own enigma and feel disturbed 
about it. 

Inspiration being prodigy, a sacred stupor mingles with 
it. A certain majesty of mind resembles solitudes and is 
blended with astonishment. Shakespeare, like all great poets, 
like all great things, is absorbed by a dream. His ow^n 
vegetation astounds him ; his own tempest appals him. It 
seems at times as if Shakespeare terrified Shakespeare. He 
shudders at his own depth. Tliis is the sign of supreme in- 
tellects. It is his own vastncss which shakes him and imparts 
to him unaccountable huge oscillations. There is no genius 
without waves. An inebriated savage it may be. He has 
the wildness of the virgin forest ; he has the intoxication of 
the high sea. 

Shakespeare (the condor alone gives some idea of such 
gigantic gait) departs, arrives, starts again, mounts, de- 
scends, hovers, dives, sinks, rushes, plunges into the deptlis 
below, plunges into the depths above. He is one of tiiooe 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 155 

geniuses tliat God purposely leaves unbridled, so that they 
may go headlong and in full flight into the infinite. 

J'rom time to time comes on this globe one of these spirits. 
Their passage, as we have said, renews art, science, jihilosojihy, 
or society. 

They fill a century, then disappear. Then it is not one 
century alone that their light illumines, it is humanity from 
one end to another of time; and it is perceived that each of 
these men was the human mind itself contained whole in one 
brain, and coming, at a given moment, to give on earth an 
impetus to progress. 

These supreme spirits, once life achieved and the woi'k com- 
pleted, go in death to rejoin the mysterious group, and are 
probably at home in the infinite. 



BOOK II 

SHAKESPEARE.— HIS WORK.— THE CULMINAT- 
ING POINTS 



CHAPTER I 

THE characteristic of men of genius of the first order is 
to produce each a pecuHar model of man. All bestow 
on humanity its portrait, — some laughing, some weeping, 
others pensive. These last are the greatest. Plautus laughs, 
and gives to man Amphitryon ; Rabelais laughs, and gives to 
man Gargantua ; Cervantes laughs, and gives to man Don 
Quixote ; Beamnarchais laughs, and gives to man Figaro ; 
Moliere weeps, and gives to man Alceste ; Shakespeare dreams, 
and gives to man Hamlet; /Eschylus meditates, and gives to 
man Prometheus. Tlie others are great; .^Eschylus and 
Shakespeare are immense. 

These portraits of humanity, left to humanity as a last 
farewell by those passers-by, the poets, are rarely flattered, 
always exact, striking likenesses. Vice, or folly, or virtue, 
is extracted from the soul and stamped on the visage. The 
tear congealed becomes a pearl ; the smile petrified ends by 
looking hke a menace; wrinkles are the furrows of wisdom; 
some frowns are tragic. This series of models of man is the 
permanent lesson for generations ; eacli century adds in some 
figures, — sometimes done in full liglit and strong relief, like 
Macette, Celimene, Tartuffe, Turcarct, and the Nephew of 
Rameau; sometimes simple profiles, like Gil Bias, Mauon 
Lescaut, Clarissa Ilarlowe, and Candide, 

156 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 157 

God creates by intuition ; man creates by inspiration, 
strengthened by observation. This second creation, which is 
notliing else but divine action carried out by man, is what is 
called genius. 

The poet stepping into the place of destiny ; an invention 
of men and events so strange, so true to nature, and so mas- 
terly that certain religious sects hold it in horror as an en- 
croachment upon Providence, and call the poet " the liar ; " 
the conscience of man, taken in the act and placed in a me- 
dium which it combats, governs or transforms, — such is the 
drama. And there is in this something superior. This 
handling of the human soul seems a kind of equality with 
God, — equality, the mystery of which is expl.iined when we 
reflect that God is within man. This equality is identity. 
Who is our conscience.'' He. And He counsels good acts. 
Who is our intelligence.'' He. And He inspires the chef- 
d'ceuvre. 

God may be there, but it removes nothing, as we have 
proved, from the sourness of critics; the greatest minds are 
those which arc most brought into question. It even some- 
times happens that true intellects attack genius ; the inspired, 
strangely enough, do not recognize inspiration. Erasmus, 
Bayle, Scaliger, St. Evrcmond, Voltaire, many of the Fathers 
of the Church, whole families of philosophers, the whole School 
of Alexandria, Cicero, Horace, Lucian, Plutarch, Josephus, 
Dion Chrysostom, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Philostratus, 
Metrodorus of Lampsacus, Plato, Pythagoras, have severally 
criticised Homer. In this enumeration we omit Zoilus. Men 
who deny are not critics. Hatred is not intelligence. To 
insult is not to discuss. Zoilus, Mievius, Cecchi, Green, Avel- 
laneda, William Lauder, Vise, Freron, — no cleansing of these 
names is possible. These men have wounded the human race 
through her men of genius ; these wretched hands forever i-e- 
tain the colour of the mud that they have thrown. 

And these men have not even either the sad renown that 
they seem to have acquired by right, or the wliole quantity of 
shame that they have hoped for. One scarcely kjiows that 



158 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

thcj liave existed. They are half forgotten, — a greater 
humiliation than to be wholly forgotten. With the exception 
of two or three among them who have become by-words of 
contempt, despicable owls, nailed up for an examjjle, all these 
wretched names are unknown. An obscure notoriety follows 
their equivocal existence. Look at this Clement, who had 
called himself the " hypcrcritic," and whose profession it was 
to bite and denounce Diderot ; he disappears, and is con- 
founded, although born at Geneva, with Clement of Dijon, 
confessor to iMcsdames ; with David Clement, author of the 
" Bibliotheque Curieuse;" with Clement of Baize, Benedictine 
of St. Maur ; and with Clement d'Ascain, Capuchin, definator 
and provincial of Beam. What avails it him to have declared 
that the work of Diderot is but an " obscure verbiage," and 
to have dietl mad at Charenton, to be afterward submerged in 
four or five unknown Clements.'' In vain did Famien Strada 
rabidly attack Tacitus ; one scarcely knows him now from 
Fabien Spada, called L' Epee de Bois, the jester of Sigismond 
Augustus. In vain did Cecchi vilify Dante; we are not cer- 
tain whether his name was not Cecco. In vain did Green 
fasten on Shakespeare ; he is now confounded with Greene. 
Avellaneda, the " enemy " of Cervantes, is perhaps Avellanedo. 
Lauder, the slanderer of Milton, is perhaps Leudcr. The un- 
known Do Vise, who tormented JMoliere, turns out to be a cer- 
tain Donneau ; he had surnamed himself De Vise, through a 
taste for nobility. Those men relied, in order to create for 
themselves a little eclat, on the greatness of those whom they 
outraged. But no, they have remained obscure. These poor 
insulters did not get their salar}-. Contempt has failed them. 
Let us pity them. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 159 



CHAPTER II 

LET lis add that calumny loses its labour. Then what 
purpose can it serve? Not even an evil one. Do you 
know anything more useless than the sting which does not 
sting .f* 

Better still. This sting is beneficial. In a given time it 
is found that calumny, envy, and hatred, thinking to labour 
against, liave worked in aid of truth. Their insults bring 
fame, their blackening makes illustrious. They succeed only 
in mingling with glory an outcry which increases it. 

Let us continue. 

So, each of the men of genius tries on in his turn this 'im- 
mense human mask ; and such is the strength of the soul which 
they cause to pass through the mysterious aperture of the 
eyes, that this look changes the mask, and, from terrible, 
makes it comic, then pensive, then grieved, then young and 
smiling, then decrepit, then sensual and gluttonous, then re- 
ligious, then outrageous; and it is Cain, Job, Atreus, Ajax, 
Priam, Hecuba, Niobe, Clytcmnestra, Nausicaa, Pistoclerus, 
Grumio, Davus, Pasicompsa, Chimcnc, Don Arias, Don Diego, 
Mudarra, Richard III., Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Juliet, 
Romeo, Lear, Sancho Panza, Pantagruel, Panurge, Arnolphe, 
Dandin Sganarelle, Agnes, Rosine, Victorine, Basile, Al- 
maviva, Cherubin, Manfred. 

From the direct divine creation proceeds Adam, the pro- 
totype. From the indirect divine creation, — that is to say, 
from the human creation, — proceed other Adams, the types. 

A type docs not produce any man in particular; it cannot 
be exactly superposed upon any individual ; it sums up and 
concentrates under one human form a whole family of char- 
acters and minds. A type is no abridgment; it is a con- 
densation. It is not one, it is all. Alcibiades is but Alci- 
biades, Pctronius is but Pctroniiis, Bassompierrc is but Bas- 
sompierre, Buckingham is but Buckingham, Fronsac is but 



160 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Fronsac, Lauziin is but Lauzuii; but take Laiizun, Fronsac, 
Buckingham, Bassompierrc, Petronius, and Alcibiades, and 
jjound tb.ein in the mortar of imagination, and from that 
process you have a phantom more real than them all, — Don 
Juan. Take the usurci-s one by one ; no one of them is that 
fierce merchant of Venice, crying, " Go, Tubal, fee me an 
officer, bespeak him a fortnight before; I will have the heart 
of him if he forfeit." Take all the usurers together; from 
the crowd of them comes a total, — Shjlock. Sum up usury, 
you have Shylock. The metaphor of the people, who are 
never mistaken, confirms, without knowing it, the inventions, 
of the poet ; and while Shakespeare makes Shylock, it creates 
the gripe-all. Shj'lock is the Jewish bargaining. He is also 
Judaism : that is to say, his whole nation, — the high as well 
as the low, faith as well as fraud; and it is because he sums 
up a whole race, such as oppression has made it, that Shylock 
is great. Jews, even those of the Middle Ages, might with 
reason say that not one of them is Shylock. ]\Ien of pleasure 
may with reason say that not one of them is Don Juan. No 
leaf of the orange-tree when chewed gives the flavour of the 
orange, yet there is a deep affinity, an identity of roots, a 
sap rising from the same source, the sharing of the same 
subterraneous shadow before life. The fruit contains the 
mj'stery of the tree, and the tj-pe contains the mystery of the 
man. Hence the strange vitality of the type. For — and 
this is the prodigy — the type lives. If it were but an 
t abstraction, men would not recognize it, and would allow this 
shadow to pass by. The tragedy termed classic makes larvas; 
the drama creates types. A lesson which is a man ; a mj^h 
with a human face so plastic that it looks at you, and that its 
look is a mirror ; a parable which warns you ; a symbol which 
cries out " Beware ! " an idea which is nerve, muscle, and 
flesh, and which has a heart to love, bowels to suffer, eyes to 
weep, and teeth to devour or laugh, a psychical conception 
with the relief of actual fact, and wliich, if it bleeds, drops 
real blood, — that is the type. O power of true poetry ! 
Types arc beings. They breathe, palpitate, their steps are 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 161 

heard on the floor, they exist. They exist with an existence 
more intense tlian that of any creature thinking himself Hving 
there in the street. These phantoms liavc more density than 
man. There is in their essence that amount of eternity which 
belongs to chcfs-d'auvre, and which makes Trimalcion live, 
while ]M. Romieu is dead. 

Types are cases foreseen by God ; genius realizes them. It 
seems that God prefers to teach man a lesson through man, 
in order to inspire confidence. The poet is on the pavement 
of the living; he speaks to them neai'er to their ear. Thence 
the efficacy of types. Man is a premise, the type the con- 
clusion ; God creates the phenomenon, genius puts a name on 
it ; God creates the miser only, genius Harpagon ; God creates 
the traitor only, genius makes lago ; God creates the coquette, 
genius makes Celiniene ; God creates the citizen only, genius 
makes Chrysale ; God creates the king only, genius makes 
Grandgousier. Sometimes, at a given moment, the type pro- 
ceeds complete from some luiknown partnership of the mass 
of the people with a great natural comedian, involuntary and 
powerful realizer ; the ci'owd is a midwife. In an epoch which 
bears at one of its extremities Talleyrand, and at another 
Chodruc-Duclos, springs up suddenly, in a flash of lightning, 
under the mysterious incubation of the theatre, that spectre, 
Robert Macaire. 

Tj'pes go and come firmly in art and in Nature. They 
are the ideal realized. The good and the evil of man are m 
these figures. From each of them results, in the eyes of the 
thinker, a humanity. 

As we have said before, so many types, so many Adams. 
The man of Homer, Achilles, is an Adam; from him comes 
the species of the slayers : the man of ^Eschylus, Prometheus, 
is an Adam ; from him comes the race of the fighters : Shake- 
speare's man, Hamlet, is an Adam ; to him belongs the family 
of the dreamers. Other Adams, created by poets, incarnate, 
this one passion, another duty, another reason, another con- 
science, another the fall, another the ascension. Pi-udencc, 
drifting to trepidation, goes on from the old man Nestor to 
11 



162 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tlio old man Geronte. Love, driftinff to appetite, goes on 
from Daphne to Lovelace. Beaut}', entwined with the ser- 
pent, goes from Eve to Melusina. The types begin in Gen- 
esis, and a link of their chain passes through Restif de la 
Bretonno and Vade. The lyric suits them, Billingsgate is not 
unbecoming to them. They speak in country dialects by the 
mouth of Gros-Rene; and in Homer they say to Minerva, 
holding them b_y the hair of the head: "What dost thou 
want with me, goddess ? " 

A surprising exception lias been conceded to Dante. The 
man of Dante is Dante. Dante has, so to speak, created him- 
self a second time in his poem. He is his own type; his 
Adam is himself. For the action of his poem he has sought 
out no one. He has only taken Virgil as supernumerary. 
jMoreovcr, he made himself epic at once, without even giving 
himself the trouble to change his name. What he had to do 
was in fact simple, — to descend into hell and remount to 
heaven. What good was it to trouble himself for so little? 
He knocks gravely at the door of the infinite and says, " Open ! 
I am Dante." 



CHAPTER III 



TWO marvellous Adams, we have just said, are the man 
of ^Eschylus, Prometheus, and the man of Shakespeare, 
Hamlet. 

Prometheus is action. Hamlet is hesitation. 

In Prometheus the obstacle is exterior; in Hamlet it is in- 
terior. 

In Prometheus the will is securely nailed down by nails of 
brass and cannot get loose; besides, it has by its side two 
watchers, — Force and Power. In Hamlet the will is more 
tied down yet ; it is bound by previous meditation, — the end- 
less chain of the iindccidcd. Try to get out of yourself if 
you can ! What a Gordian knot is our revery ! Slavery 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 163 

from within, that is slavery indeed. Scale this enclosure, " to 
dream!" escape, if you can, from this prison, "to love!" 
The ohIv dungeon is that which walls conscience in. Prome- 
theus, in order to be free, has but a bronze collar to break 
and a god to conquer ; Hamlet must break and conquer him- 
self. Prometheus can raise himself upright, if he only lifts 
a mountain ; to raise himself up, Hamlet must lift his own 
thoughts. If Prometheus plucks the vulture from his breast, 
all is said; Hamlet must tear Hamlet from his breast. Pro- 
metheus and Hamlet are two naked livers ; from one runs 
blood, from the other doubt. 

We are in the habit of comparing ^Eschj'lus and Shake- 
speare by Orestes and Hamlet, these two tragedies being the 
same drama. Never in fact was a subject more identical. 
The learned mark an analogy between them; the impotent, 
who are also the ignorant, the envious, who are also the im- 
beciles, have the petty joy of thinking they establish a pla- 
giarism. It is after all a possible field for erudition and for 
serious criticism. Hamlet walks behind Orestes, parricide 
through filial love. This easy comparison, rather superficial 
than deep, strikes us less than the mysterious confronting of 
those two enchained beings, Prometheus and Hamlet. 

Let us not forget that the human mind, half divine as it 
is, creates from time to time superhuman works. These 
superhun)an works of man are, moreover, more numerous than 
it is thought, for they entirely fill art. Out of poetry, where 
marvels abound, there is in music Beethoven, in sculpture 
Phidias, in architecture Piranesi, in painting Rembrandt, and 
in painting, architecture, and sculpture Michael Angelo. We 
pass many over, and not the least. 

Prometheus and Hamlet are among those more than human 
works. 

A kind of gigantic determination ; the usual measure ex- 
ceeded; greatness everywhere; that which astounds ordinary 
intellects demonstrated when necessary by the improbable; 
destiny, societj', law, religion, brought to trial and judgment 
in the name of the Unknown, the abyss of the mysterious 



164 .WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

equilibrium ; the event treated as a role played out, and, on 
occasion, hurled as a reproach against Fatality or Providence; 
passion, terrible personage, going and coming hi man; the 
audacity and sometimes the insolence of reason; the haughty 
forms of a style at ease in all extremes, and at the same time 
a profound wisdom ; the gentleness of the giant ; the good- 
ness of a softened monster ; an ineffable dawn which cannot 
be accounted for and which lights up everything, — such are 
the signs of those supreme works. In certain poems there 
is starlight. 

This light is in ^schylus and in Shakespeare. 



CHAPTER IV 



NOTHING can be more fiercely wild than Prometheus 
stretched on the Caucasus. It is gigantic tragedy. 
Tl^e old punishment that our ancient laws of torture call 
extension, and which Cartouche escaped because of a hcniia, 
Prometheus undergoes it ; onh', the wooden liorse is a moun- 
tain. What is his crime.'' Right. To characterize right as 
crime, and movement as rebellion, is the immemorial talent of 
tyrants. Prometheus has done on Olympus what Eve did in 
Eden, — he has taken a little knowledge. Jupiter, identical 
with Jehovah {lovi, lava), punishes this temerity, — the de- 
sire to'live. The Eginctic traditions, which localize Jupiter, 
deprive him of the cosmic personality of the Jehovah of 
Genesis. The Greek Jupiter, bad son of a bad father, in 
rebellion against Saturn, who has himself been a rebel against 
Coelus, is a parvenu. The Titans are a sort of elder branch, 
which has its legitimists, of whom ^Eschylus, the avenger of 
Prometheus, was one. Prometheus is right conquered. Jupi- 
ter has, as is always the case, consummated the usurjjation of 
power by the punishment of right. Olympus claims the aid 
of Caucasus. Prometheus is fastened there to the carcan. 
There is the Titan, fallen, prostrate, nailed down. Mercury, 




'The Oceanides — come to worship the Titan— the world suEFers in 
Prometheus — his carcan chokes universal Hfe." 

Wiltiam Shakespeare. Page 165. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 165 

the friend of everybody, comes to give liiin such counsel as 
follows gcneriilly the perpetration of coups d'etat. Mercury 
is the type of cowardly intellect, of every possible vice, but 
of vice full of wit. jNIercury, the god of vice, serves Jupiter 
the god of crime. This fawning in evil is still marked to- 
day by the veneration of the pickpocket for the assassin. 
There is something of that law in the arrival of the diploma- 
tist behind the conqueror. The chefs-d\vuvre are immense 
in tin's, that they are eternally present to the deeds of human- 
ity. Prometheus on the Caucasus, is Poland after 1772; 
France after 1815; the Revolution after Bi-umairc. Mer- 
cury speaks; Prometheus listens but little. Offers of am- 
nesty miscarry when it is the victim who alone should have 
the right to grant pardon. Prometheus, though conquered, 
scorns Mercury standing proudly above him, and Jupiter 
standing above Mercury, and Destiny standing above Jupiter. 
Prometheus jests at the vulture which gnaws at him; he 
shrugs disdainfully his shoulders as nmch as bis chain allows. 
What does he care for Jupiter, and what good is Mercury? 
There is no hold on this haughty sufferer. The scorching 
thunderbolt causes a smart, which is a constant call upon 
pride. Meanwhile tears flow around him, the earth despairs, 
the women-clouds (the fifty Oceanides), come to worship the 
Titan, the forests scream, wild beasts groan, winds howl, the 
waves sob, the elements moan, the world suffers in Pro- 
metheus; his carcan chokes universal life. An immense par- 
ticipation in the torture of the demigod seems to be henceforth 
the tragic delight of all Nature ; anxiety for the future min- 
gles with it: and what is to be done now? How are we to 
move? What will become of us? And in the vast whole of 
created beings, things, men, animals, plants, rocks, all turned 
toward the Caucasus, is felt this inexpressible anguish, — the 
liberator is enchained. 

Hamlet, less of a giant and more of a man, is not less 
grand, — Hamlet, the appalling, the unaccountable, complete 
m incompleteness; all, in order to be nothing. He is prnice 
and demagogue, sagacious and extravagant, profound and 



166 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

frivolous, man and neuter. He has but little faith in the 
sceptre, rails at the throne, has a student for liis comrade, 
converses with any one passing by, argues with the first 
comer, understands the people, despises the mob, hates 
strength, suspects success, questions obscurity, and says 
" thou " to mystery. He gives to others maladies whicli he 
has not himself: his false madness inoculates his mistress with 
true madness. He is familiar with spectres and with come- 
dians. He jests with the axe of Orestes in his hand. He 
talks of literature, recites verses, composes a theatrical 
criticism, plays with bones in a cemetery, dumfounds his 
mother, avenges his father, and ends the wonderful drama of 
life and death by a gigantic point of interrogation. He 
terrifies and then disconcerts. Never has anything more over- 
whelming licen dreamed. It is the parricide saying : "What 
do I know ? " 

Parricide.? Let us pause on that word. Is Hamlet a par- 
ricide? Yes, and no. He confines himself to threatening his 
mother; but the threat is so fierce that the mother shudders. 
His words are like daggers. " What wilt thou do.'' Thou 
wilt not murder me? Help! help! ho! " And when she dies, 
Hamlet, without grieving for her, strikes Claudius with this 
tragic cry: "Follow my mother!" Hamlet is that sinister 
thing, the possible parricide. 

In place of the northern ice which he has in his nature, 
let him have, like Orestes, southern fire in his veins, and he 
will kill his mother. 

This drama is stern. In it truth doubts, sincerity lies. 
Nothing can be more immense, more subtile. In it man is 
the world, and the world is zero. Hamlet, even full of life, 
is not sure of his existence. In this tragedy, which is at the 
same time a philosophy, everything floats, hesitates, delays, 
staggers, becomes discomposed, scatters, and is dispersed. 
Thought is a cloud, will is a vapour, resolution is a crepuscule; 
the action blows each moment in an opposite direction; man 
is governed by the winds. Overwhelming and vertiginous 
work, in which is seen the depth of everything, in which 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 167 

thought oscillates only between the king murdered and Yorick 
buried, and in which what is best rcahzcd is royalty repre- 
Fcntcd by a ghost, and mirth represented by a death's-head. 
" Hamlet " is the cJief-d'ceuvre of the tragedy-dream. 



CHAPTER V 



ONE of the probable causes of the feigned madness of 
Hamlet has not been up to the present time indicated 
by critics. It has been said, " Hamlet acts the madman to 
hide his thought, like Brutus." In fact, it is easy i"or ap- 
parent imbecility to hatch a great project; the supposed idiot 
can take aim deliberately. But the case of Brutus is not that 
of Hamlet. Hamlet acts the madman for his safety. Brutus 
screens his project, Hamlet his person. The manners of 
those tragic courts being known, from the moment that Ham- 
let, through the revelation of the ghost, is acquainted with 
the crime of Claudius, Hamlet is in danger. The sujierior 
historian within the poet is here manifested, and one feels the 
deep insight of Shakespeare into the ancient darkness of 
royalty. In the ]\Iiddle Ages and in the Lower Empire, and 
even at earlier periods, woe unto him who found out a mur- 
der or a poisoning committed by a king! Ovid, according 
to Voltaire's conjecture, was exiled from Rome for having 
seen something shameful in the house of Augustus. To know- 
that the king was an assassin was a State crime. When it 
pleased the prince not to have had a witness, it was a matter 
involving one's head to ignore everything. It was bad policy 
to have good eyes. A man suspected of suspicion was lost. 
He had but one refuge, — folly ; to pass for " an innocent." 
He was despised, and that was all. Do you remember the 
advice that, in /Eschylus, the Ocean gives to Prometheus: 
" To look a fool is the secret of the wise man." When the 
Clwmberlaiu Hugolin found the iron spit with which Edrick 



168 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

the Vendee had empaled Edmond 11., " he hastened to put 
on madness," says the Saxon Clironicle of 1016, and saved 
himself in that way. Heraclian of Nisibo, having discovered 
by chance that Ilhinomcte was a fratricide, had himself de- 
clared mad by tiie doctors, and succeeded in getting himself 
shut up for life in a cloister. He thus lived peaceably, grow- 
ing old and waiting for death with a vacant stare. Hamlet 
runs the same peril, and has recourse to the same means. He 
gets himself declared mad like Heraclian, and puts on folly 
like Hugolin. This docs not prevent the restless Claudius 
from twice making an effort to get rid of him, — in the mid- 
dle of the drama by the axe or the dagger in England, and 
toward the conclusion by poison. 

Tlie same indication is again found in " King Lear;" the 
Earl of Gloster's son takes refuge also in apparent lunacy. 
There is in that a key to open and understand Shakespeare's 
thought. In the eyes of the philosophy of art, the feigned 
folly of Edgar tlirows light upon the feigned folly of Hamlet. 

The Amleth of Belleforcst is a magician ; the Hamlet of 
Shakespeare is a philosopher. We just now spoke of the 
strange reality which characterizes poetical creations. There 
is no more striking example than this type, — Hamlet. Ham- 
let has nothing belonging to an abstraction about liim. He 
has been at the University; he has the Danish rudeness sof- 
tened by Italian politeness; he is small, plump, somewhat 
lymphatic ; he fences well with the sword, but is soon out of 
, breath. He does not care to drink too soon during the assault 
\p{ arms with Laertes, — probably for fear of producing 
perspiration. After having thus supplied his personage witli 
real life, the poet can launch him into full ideal. There is 
ballast enough. 

Other works of the human mind equal " Hamlet ; " none 
surpasses it. The whole majesty of melancholy is in " Ham- 
lot." An open sepulchre from which goes forth a drama, — 
tills Is colossal. " Hamlet " is to our mind Shakespeare's 
chief work. 

No figure among those that poets have created is more 



(WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 169 

poignant and stirring. Doubt counselled by a ghost, — that 
is Hamlet. Hainlet has seen his dead father and has spoken 
to him. Is he convinced? No, he shakes his head. Wliat 
shall he do.?" He does not know. His hands clench, then 
fall by his side. Within him are conjectures, systems, mon- 
strous apparitions, bloody recollections, veneration for the 
spectre, hate, tenderness, anxiety to act and not to act, his 
father, his mother, his duties in contradiction to each other, 
— a deep storm. Livid hesitation is in his mind. Shake- 
speare, wonderful plastic poet, makes the grandiose pallor 
of this soul almost visible. Like the great larva of Albert 
Diirer, Hamlet might be named " Melancholia." He also has 
above his head the bat which flies disembowelled; and at 
his feet science, the sphere, the compass, the hour-glass, love ; 
and behind him in the horizon an enormous, terrible sun, 
which seems to make the sky but darker. 

Nevertheless, at least one-half of Hamlet Is anger, trans- 
port, outrage, hurricane, sarcasm to Ophelia, malediction on 
his mother, insult to himself. He talks with the gravedig- 
gers, nearly laughs, then clutches Laertes by the hair in the 
very grave of Opheha, and stamps furiously upon the coffin. 
Sword-thrusts at Polonius, sword-thrusts at Laertes, sword- 
thrusts at Claudius. From time to time his inaction is torn 
in twain, and from the rent comes forth thunder. 

He is tormented by that possible life, intermixed with 
reality and chimera, the anxiety of which is shared by all of 
us. There is in all his actions an expanded sonmambulism. 
One might almost consider his brain as a formation; there 
is a layer of suffering, a layer of thought, then a layer of 
dreaminess. It is through this layer of dreaminess that he 
feels, comprehends, learns, perceives, drinks, eats, frets, 
mocks, weeps, and reasons. There is between life and him 
a transparency; it is the wall of dreams. One sees beyond, 
but one cannot step over it. A kind of cloudy obstacle every- 
where suiTounds Hamlet. Have you ever while sleeping, had 
the nightmare of pursuit or flight, and tried to hasten on, 
and felt anchylosis in the knees, heaviness in the arms, the 



170 WIT.LIAM SHAKESPEARE 

horror of paral^'srd hands, the impossibiHty of movement? 
Tliis niglitmarc Hamlet undergoes while waking. Hamlet is 
not upon the spot where his life is. He has ever the appear- 
ance of a man who talks to you from the other side of a 
stream. He calls to you at the same time that he questions 
you. He is at a distance from the catastrophe in wliich he 
takes part, from the passer-by whom he interrogates, from 
the thought that he carries, from the action that he performs. 
He seems not to touch even what he grinds. It is isolation 
in its highest degree. It is the loneliness of a mind, even 
more than the loftiness of a prince. Indecision is in fact a 
solitude. You have not even your will to keep you company. 
It is as if your own self was absent and had left you there. 
The burden of Hamlet is less rigid than that of Orestes, but 
more undulating. Orestes carries predestination; Hamlet 
carries fate. 

And thus apart from men, Hamlet has still in him a 
somctliing which represents them all. Ag-nosco fratrem. At 
certain hours, if we felt our own pulse, we should be conscious 
of Ills fever. His strange reality is our own reality after all. 
He is the mournful man that we all are in certain situations. 
Unhealthy as he is, Hamlet expresses a permanent condition 
of man. He represents the discomfort of the soul in a life 
which is not sufficiently adapted to it. He represents the 
shoe that pinches and stops our walking ; the shoe is the body. 
Shakespeare frees him from it, and he is right. Hamlet — 
prince if you like, but king never — Hamlet is incapable of 
governing a people ; he lives too much in a world beyond. On 
the other hand, he does better than to reign ; he is. Take 
from him his family, his country, his ghost, and the whole 
adventure at Elsinore, and even in the form of an inactive 
type, he remains strangely terrible. Tliat is the consequence 
of the amount of humanity and the amount of mystery that 
is in him. Hamlet is formidable, which does not prevent his 
being ironical. He has the two profiles of destiny. 

Let us retract a statement made above. The chief work of 
Shakespeare is not " Hamlet." The chief work of Shake- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 171 

speare .s all Shakespeare. That is, moreover, true of all 
minds of this order. They are mass, block, majesty, bible, 
and their solemnity is their ensemble. 

Have you sometimes looked upon a cape prolonging itself 
under the clouds and jutting out, as far as the eye can go, 
into deep water.'' Each of its hillocks contributes to make 
it up. No one of its undulations is lost in its dimension. Its 
strong outline is sharply marked upon the sky, and enters as 
far as possible into the waves, and there is not a useless rock. 
Thanks to this cape, you can go amidst the boundless waters, 
walk among the winds, see closely the eagles soar and the 
monsters swim, let your humanity wander mid the eternal hum, 
penetrate the impenetrable. The poet renders this service to 
your mind. A genius is a promontory into the infinite. 



CHAPTER Vf 



NEAH " Hamlp.t.'* and on the same level, must be placed 
three S'-and dramas,— " Macbeth," " Othello," " King 
Lear." 

Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Lear, — these four figures tower 
upon tl.e lofty edifice of Shakespeare. We have said what 
Hamlet is. 

To say, " Macbeth is ambitious," is to say nothing. Mac- 
beth is hunger. What hunger? The hunger of ten monsters, 
which is always possible in man. Certain souls have teeth. 
Do not wake up their hunger. 

To bite at the apple, that is a fearful thing. Tlie apple 
is called Omnia, says Filesac, that doctor of the Sorbonne 
who confessed Rabaillac. Macbeth has a wife whom the 
chronicle calls Gruoch. This Eve tempts this Adam. Once 
Macbeth has given the first bite he is lost. The first thin,'^ 
that Adam produces with Eve is Cain ; the first thing that 
Macbeth accomplishes with Gruoch is murder. 



172 WILLIAIVI SHAKESPEARE 

Covetousness easily becoming violence, violence easily be- 
coming crime, crime easily becoming madnc:s, — this progres- 
sion is Macbeth. Covetousness, crime, madness, — these three 
vampires have spoken to him in tlie solitude, and have 
invited him to the throne. The cat Graynialkin has called 
liini: jNIacbeth will bo cunning. The toad Paddock has called 
him: Macbeth will be horror. The unsexed being, Gruoch 
comjjletes him. It is done ; Macbeth is no longer a man. He 
is notliing more than ar unconscious energy rushing wildly 
toward evil. Henceforth, nn notion of right; appetite is 
everything. Transitory right, royalty; eternal right, hospi- 
tality, — Macbeth nmrders them all. He does more than slay 
them, — he ignores them. Before they fell bleeding under 
his hand, they alreadj' lay dead within his soul. Macbeth 
commences by this parricide, — the murder of Duncan, his 
guest; a crime so terrible that froin the counter-blow in the 
night, when their master is stabbed, the horses of Duncan 
again become wild. The first step taken, the fall begins. It 
is the avalanche. Macbeth rolls headlong. lie is precipi- 
tated. He falls and rebounds from one crime to another, al- 
ways deeper and deeper. He undergoes the mournful gravi- 
tation of matter invading the soul. He is a thing that de- 
stroys. He is a stone of ruin, flame of war, beast of prey, 
scourge. He marches over all Scotland, king as he is, his 
bare legged kernes and his heavily-armed gallowglasscs, de- 
vouring, pillaging, slaying. He decimates the Thanes, he 
kills Banquo, he kills all the Macduff's except the one who shall 
slay him, he kills the nobility, he kills the people, he kills his 
country, he kills " sleep." At length the catastrophe arrives, 
— the forest of Birnam moves against him. Macbeth has in- 
fringed all, burst through everything, violated everything, 
torn everything, and this desperation ends in arousing even 
Nature. Nature loses patience. Nature enters into action 
against Macbeth, Nature becomes soul against the man who 
lias become brute force. 

This drama has epic proportions. Macbeth represents 
that frightful Imngry one who prowls throughoui history. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 173 

called brigand in the forest and on the throne conqueror. 
The ancestor of Macbeth is NimrOd. These men of force, 
are they forever furious? Let us be just; no. They have 
a goal, which being attained, they stop. Give to Alexander, 
to Cyrus, to Sesostris, to Ca;sar, what ? — the world ; they 
are appeased. Geoffroy St. Ililaire said to me one day: 
" When the lion has eaten, he is at peace with Nature." For 
Canibyses, Sennacherib, and Genghis Klian, and tlioir paral- 
lels, to have eaten is to possess all the earth. They would 
calm themselves down in the process of digesting the human 
race. 

Now, what is Othello.' He is night; an immense fatal 
figure. Night is amorous of day. Darkness loves the dawn. 
The Afiican adores the white woman. Desdemona is 
Othello's brightness and frenzy ! And then how easy to him 
is jealousy! He is great, he is dignified, he is majestic, he 
soars above all heads, he has as an escort bravery, battle, the 
braying of trumpets, the banner of war, renown, glory; he 
is radiant with twenty victories, he is studded with stars, this 
Othello: but he is black. And thus how soon, when jealous, 
the hero becomes monster, the black becomes the negro! 
How speedily has night beckoned to death ! 

By the side of Othello, who is night, there is lago, who 
is evil, — evil, the other form of darkness. Night is but the 
night of the world ; evil is the night of the soul. How 
deeply black are perfidy and falsehood ! To have ink or trea- 
son in the veins is the same thing. Whoever has jostled 
against imposture and perjury knows it. One must blindly 
grope one's way with roguery. Pour hypocrisy upon the 
break of day, and you put out the sun ; and this, thanks to 
false religions, happens to God. 

lago near Othello is the precipice near the landslip. 
" This way ! " he says in a low voice. The snare advises 
blindness. The being of darkness guides the black. Deceit 
takes upon itself to give what light may be required by 
night. Jealousy uses falsehood as the blind man his dog. 
Othellffl the negi'O, lago the traitor, opposed to whiteness and 



174 WILLIAM SHAKESPEAIiE 

candour, — what can be more terrible! These ferocities of 
the darkness act in unison. These two incarnations of the 
eclipse conspire together, — the one roaring, the other sneer- 
ing; the tragic extinguishment of light. 

Sound this profound thing. Othello is the night, and be- 
ing night, and wishing to kill, what does he take to slay 
with.'' Poison, the club, the axe, the knife.'' No: the pillow. 
To kill is to lull to sleep. Shakespeare himself perhaps did 
not take this into account. The creator sometimes, almost 
unknown to himself, yields to his type, so much is that type a 
power. And it is thus that Desdcmona, spouse of the man 
Night, dies stifled by the pillow, which has had the first kiss, 
and which lias the last sigh. 

Lear is the occasion for Cordelia. Maternity of the 
daughter toward the father, — profound subject; maternity 
venerable among all other maternities, so admirably trans- 
lated by the legend of that Roman girl, who, in tiie depth of a 
prison, nurses her old father. Tlie young breast near the 
white beard, — there is not a spectacle more holy. This filial 
breast is Cordelia. 

Once this figure dreamed of and found, Shakespeare cre- 
ated his drama. Where should he put this consoling vision.'' 
In an obscure age. Shakespeare has taken the year of the 
world 3105, the time when Joas was king of Judah, Aga- 
nippus, king of France, and Leir, king of England. The 
whole earth was at that time mysterious. Represent to your- 
self that epoch : the temple of Jerusalem is still quite new ; 
the gardens of Semiramis, constructed nine hundred years 
previously, begin tO' crumble; the first gold coin appears in 
^-Egina ; the first balance is made by Phydon, tyrant of 
Argos; the first eclipse of the sun is calculated by the Chi- 
nese; throe hundred and twelve years have passed since Ores- 
tes, accused by the Eumcnides before the Areopagus, was 
acquitted; Hesiod is just dead; Homer, if he still lives, is a 
hundred years old; Lycurgus, thoughtful traveller, re-enters 
Sparta; and one may perceive in the depth of the sombre 
cloud of the East the chariot fire which carries Elias away. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 175 

It is at that period that Leir ^- Lear — lives, and reigns 
over the dark islands. Jonas, Holofernes, Dra:o, Solon, 
Thespis, Nebuchadnezzar, Anaximencs who is to invent the 
signs of the zodiac, Cyrus, Zorobabel, Tarquin, Pythagoras, 
^Eschylus, are not born yet. Coriolanus, Xerxes, Cincin- 
natus, Pericles, Socrates, Brennus, Aristotle, Tiinoleon, De- 
mosthenes, Alexander, Epicui-us, Hannibal, are larvjE waiting 
their hour to enter among men. Judas IMaccabajus, Viriatus, 
Popilius, Jugurtha, IVIithridates, Marius and Sylla, Ca;sar 
and Pompcy, Cleopatra, and Antony, arc far away in the 
future; and at the moment when Lear is king of Brittany 
and of Iceland, there must pass away eight hundred and 
ninety-five years before Virgil says, " Penitus toto divisos 
orbe Britannos," and nine hundred and fifty years before 
Seneca says "Ultima Thule." The Picts and the Celts (the 
Scotch and the English) are tattooed. A redskin of the 
present day gives a vague idea of an Englishman then. It 
is this twilight that Shakespeare has chosen, — - a broad night 
well adapted to the dream in which this inventor at his pleas- 
ure puts everything that he chooses, this King Lear, and 
then a King of France, a Duke of Burgundy, a Duke of 
Cornwall, a Duke of Albany, and Earl of Kent, and an Earl 
of Gloster. What does your history matter to him who lias 
humanity.'' Besides, he has with him the legend, which is a 
kind of science also, and as true as history perhaps, but in 
another point of view. Shakespeare agrees with Walter 
Mapes, archdeacon of Oxford, — that is something; he ad- 
mits, from Brutus to Cadwalla, the ninety-nine Celtic kings 
who have preceded the Scandinavian Hengist and the Saxon 
Horsa: and since he believes in Mulmutius, Cinigisil, Ceolulf, 
Cassibelan, Cymbeline, Cynulphus, Arviragus, Guiderius, 
Escuin, Cudred, Vortigern, Arthur, Uther Pendragon, he has 
every right to believe in King Lear, and to create Cordelia. 
This land adopted, the place for the scene marked out, this 
foundation established, he takes everything and builds his 
work. LTnhcardof edifice. Ho takes tyranny, of which, at 
a later period, he will make weakness, — Lear; he takes trea- 



176 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

son, — Edniond ; he takes devotion, — Kent ; he takes ingrati- 
tude which begins with a caress, and he gives to this mon- 
ster two heads, — Goneril, whom the legend calls Gornerille, 
and Regan, whom the legend calls Ragaii; he takes pater- 
nity ; he takes royalty ; he takes feudality ; he takes ambi- 
tion ; he takes madness, which he divides into three, and he 
puts in presence three madmen, — the king's buffoon, mad- 
man bj' trade; Edgar of Gloster, mad for prudence's sake; 
the king mad through misery. It is at the summit of this 
tr;igic heap that he raises Cordelia. 

There are some formidable cathedral towers, like, for in- 
stance, the Giralda, of Seville, which seem made all complete, 
with their spirals, their staircases, their sculptures, their cel- 
lars, their coecums, their aerial cells, their sounding chambers, 
their bells, and their mass and their .spii-e, and all their enor- 
mity, in order to carry an angel spreading on their summit 
her golden wings. Such is this drama, " King Lear." 

The father is the pretext for the daughter. This ad- 
mirable human creation, Lear, serves as a supjjort to that in- 
effable divine creation, Cordelia. The reason why that chaos 
of crimes, vices, madnesses, and miseries exists is, for the 
more splendid setting forth of virtue. Shakespeare, carry- 
ing Cordelia in his thoughts, created that tragedy like a god 
who, having an Aurora to put forward, makes a world ex- 
pressly for it. 

And what a figure is that father! AVhat a caryatid! He 
is man bent down by weight, but shifts his burdens for others 
that are heavier. The more the old man becomes enfeebled, 
the more his load augments. He lives under an overburden. 
He bears at first power, then ingratitude, then isolation, then 
despair, then hunger and thirst, then madness, then all Na- 
ture. Clouds overcast him, forests heap shadow on liim, the 
hurricane beats on the nape of his neck, the tempest 
makes his mantle heavy as lead, t\\e rain falls on his shoul- 
ders, he walks bent and haggard as if he had the two knees 
of night upon his back. Dismayed and yet immense, he 
throws to the winds and to the hail this epic cry: "Why 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 177 

do you hate mc, tempests? Why do you persecute mc ?^ You 
are not my daughters." And then it is over; the light is 
extinguished,, — reason loses courage and leaves him. Lear is 
in his dotage. Ah, he is childish, this old man. Very well! 
he requires a mother. His daughter appears, — his one 
daughter Cordelia ; for the two others Regan and Goncril, are 
no longer his daughters, save to that extent which gives them 
a right to the name of parricides. 

Cordelia approaches. — "Sir, do you know me?" "You 
are a spirit, I know," replies the old man, with the same sub- 
lime clairvoyance of bewilderment. From this moment the 
adorable nursing connncnces. Cordelia applies herself to 
nourish this old dcs])airiiig soul, dying of inanition in hatred. 
Cordelia nourishes Lear with love, and his courage revives ; she 
nourishes him with respect, and the smile returns; she nour- 
ishes him with hope, and confidence is restored; she nourishes 
him with wisdom, and reason revives. Lear, convalescent, 
rises again, and, step by step, returns again to life. The 
child becomes again an old man; the old man becomes a man 
again. And behold him happy, this wretched one. It is on 
this expansion of happiness that the catastrophe is hurled 
down. 

Alas! there are traitors, there are perjurers, there are 
murderers. Cordelia dies. Nothing more heartrending than 
tills. The old man is stunned; he no longci understands an^'- 
tliing; and embracing the corpse, he expires. He dies on 
this dead one. The supreme anguish is spared him of re- 
maining behind her among the living, a poor shadow, to feci 
the place in his heart empty and to seek for his soul, car- 
ried away by that sweet being who is departed. O God, those 
whom thou lovest thou dost not allow to survive. 

To live after the fligiit of the angel; to be the father or- 
phaned of his child ; to be the eye which no longer has light ; 
to be the deadened heart which has no more joy; from time 
to time to stretcli tiie hands into obscurity, and try to reclasp 
a being who was there (wlicre, then, can she be?); to feel 
himself forgotten in that departure; to have lost all reason 
12 



178 WILLIAM SHAKESPEAHE 

for being here below ; to be henceforth a man who goes to 
and fro before a sepulchre, not received, not admitted, — that 
would be indeed a gloomy destinv. Thou hast done well, 
poet, to kill this old maOo 



BOOK III 



ZOILUS AS ETERNAL AS HOMER 

CHAPTER I 

" Ce courtisan grossier du profane vulgaire." i 

THIS Alexandrine is by La Harpe, who hurls it at Shai e- 
speare. Somewhere else La Harpe says, " Shakespeai-e 
panders to the mob." 

Voltaire, as a matter of course, reproaches Shakespeare 
with antithesis: that is well. And La Beaumelle reproaches 
Voltaire with antithesis : that is better. 

Voltaire, when he is himself in question, prodomo sua, gets 
angi'y. " But," he writes, " this Langleviel, alas La Beau- 
melle, is an ass. I defy you to find in any poet, in any book, 
a fine thing which is not an image or an antithesis." 

Voltaire's criticism is double-edged. He wounds and is 
wounded. This is how he characterises the Ecclesiastes and 
the Canticle of Canticles : " Works without order, full of low 
images and coarse expressions." 

A little while after, furious, he exclaims, — 

" On m'ose pr^f^rer Cr^billon le barbare ! " 2 

An idler of the ffiil-de-BcEuf, wearing the red heel and the 
blue ribbon, a stripling and a marquis,- — M. de Crequi,: — 
comes to Ferney and writes with an air of superiority : " I 
have seen Voltaire, that childish old man." 

1 This coarse flatterer of the vitljjar herd. 

2 To me they dare to prefer Cr^billon the barbarian. 

179 



180 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

That injustice should receive a counterstroke from in- 
justice, is nothing more than right; and Voltaire gets what he 
deserved. But to throw stones at men of genius is a general 
law, and all have to bear it. Insult is a crown, it appears. 

For Saumaise, ^Eschjlus is nothing but farrago.' Quin- 
tilian understands nothing of the " Orestias." Sophocles 
mildly scorned ^schylus. " When he does well, he does 
not know it," said Sophocles. Racine rejected everything, 
exccjjt two or three scenes of the " Chocphori," which he con- 
descended to spare by a note in the margin of his copy of 
-Eschylus. Fontenclle says in his " Reniarques " : " One 
does not know what to make of the ' Prometheus ' of 
-Eschylus. ^Eschylus is a kind of madman." The eight- 
eenth century, without exception, railed at Diderot for ad- 
miring the " Eumenidcs." 

" The whole of Dante is a hotch-potch," says Chaudon. 
"Michael Angelo wearies me," sajs Joseph de Maistre. 

" Not one of the eight comedies of Cervantes is support- 
able," says La Harpe. " It is a pity that Moliere does not 
know how to write," says Fenelon. " ]Moliere is a woi-thless 
buffoon," says Bossuet. " A schoolboy would avoid the mis- 
takes of Milton," says the Abbe Trublct, an authority as 
good as another. " Corneille exaggerates, Shakespeare 
raves," says that same Voltaire, who must always be fought 
against and fought for. 

" Shakesjieare," says Ben Johnson, " talked heavily and 
without any wit." How prove the contrary.'' Writings re- 
main, talk passes awaj-. Well, it is alwa_ys so much de- 
nied to Shakespeare. That man of genius had no wit: how 
nicelj' that flatters the numberless men of wit who have no 
genius ! 

Sometime before Scudery called Corneille " Corneille de- 

1 The passage in Saumaise is curious and worth the trouhle of being 
transcribed: — 

Unus ejus Agamemnon obscuritate superat quantum est lilirorum sac- 
rorum cum suis hebraismis ct s\ riatiismis ct tola licllcnistica supellectile 
vel farragine. — De Re UcUeni.itica, p. 38, ep. dedic. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 181 

plumee " (unfeathered carrion crow), Green had called 
Shakespeare a crow decked out with our feathers." In 1752 
Diderot was sent to the fortress of Vincennes for having 
jniblished the first volume of the " Encyclopjcdia," and the 
great success of the year was a print sold on the quays 
which represented a Franciscan friar flogging Diderot. Al- 
though Weber is dead, — an attenuating circumstance for 
those who are guilty of genius, — he is turned into ridicule 
in Germany ; and for thirty-three years a chef-d'ceuvre has 
been disposed of with a pun. The " Euryanthe " is called 
the " Ennuyante " (wearisome). 

D'Alembcrt hits at one blow Calderon and Shakespeare. 
He writes to Voltaire : — 

" T Iiave annnunced to the Academy your ' Heracliiis,' of Calderon. 
The Academy will read it with as much pleasure as the harlequinade of 
Gilles Shakespeare." i 

That everything should be perpetually brought again in- 
to question, that everything should be contested, even the in- 
contestible, — what does it matter? The eclipse is a good 
trial for truth as well as for liberty. Genius, being truth and 
liberty, has a claim to persecution. What matters to genius 
that which is transient.'' It was before, and will be after. It 
is not on the sun that the eclipse throws darkness. 

Everything can be written. Paper is patience itself. 
Last year a grave review printed tliis: "Homer is now go- 
ing out of fashion." 

The judgment passed on the philosopher, on the artist, on 
the poet is completed by the portrait of the man. 

Baron has killed his tailor. Moliere has married his own 
daughter. Shakespeare has " loved " Lord Southampton. 

" Et pour voir a la fin tous les vices ensemble, 
Le parterre en tumulte a demande I'auteur." - 

t Letter cv. 

2 " And at last, in order to see all the vices together. 
The riotous pit called for tlie author." 



182 WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 

That ensemble of all vices is Bcaumarcliais. 

As for Byron, we mention this name a second time; he is 
worth the trouble. Read " Glenarvon," and listen, on the 
subject of Byron's abominations, to Lady Bl— , whom he had 
loved, and who, of course, resented it. 

Phidias was a procurer; Socrates was an apostate and a 
thief, dccrocheur de manteaua:; Spinosa was a renegade, and 
sought to obtain legacies by undue influence ; Dante was a 
peculator ; jVIichael Angelo was cudgelled by Julius II., and 
quietly put up with it for the sake of five hundred crowns ; 
D'Aubigne was a courtier sleeping in the water-closet of the 
king, ill-tempered when he was not paid, and for whom 
Henri IV. was too kind ; Diderot was a libertine ; Voltaire a 
miser ; IMilton was venial, — he received a thousand pounds 
sterling for his apology, in Latin, of regicide: " Defensio 
pro sc," etc. Who says these things? Who relates these 
histories? That good person, your old fawning friend, O 
tyrants, your ancient comrade, O traitors, your old auxiliary, 
O bigots, your ancient comforter, O imbeciles ! — calumny. 



CHAPTER II 



LET us add a detail. Diatribe is, on certain occasions, 
a useful means of government. 
Thus the hand of the police was in the print of Diderot 
Flogged, and the engraver of the Franciscan friar must have 
been kindred to the turnkey of Vincennes. Governments, 
more passionate than necessary, neglect to remain strangers 
to the animosities of the lower orders. Political persecution 
of former days — it is of former days that we are speaking 
- — willingly availed itself of a dash of literary pei'secution. 
Certainly, hatred hates witliout being paid for it. Envy, to 
do its work, docs not need a minister of State to encourage 
it and to give it a pension; and there is such a thing as un- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 183 

official calumny. But a money-bag does no harm. When 
Roy, the court-poet, rhymed against Voltaire, " Tell me, dar- 
ing stoic," etc., the position of treasurer of the chamber of 
Clermont, and the cross of St. Michael, were not likely to 
damp his enthusiasm for tiie Court, and his spirit against 
\'oltaire. A gratuity is pleasant to receive after a service 
rendered ; the masters upstairs smile ; you receive the agree- 
able order to insult some one you detest ; you obey richly ; 
you are free to bite like a glutton ; you take your fill ; it is 
all profit; you hate and you give satisfaction. Formerly au- 
thority had its scribes. It was a pack of hounds as good as 
an^' other. 

Against the free rebel spirit, the despot would let loose 
the scribbler. To torture was not sufficient ; teasing was 
resorted to likewise. Trissotin held a confabulation with 
Vidocq, and from their tctc-a-tcte would bui'st a complex in- 
spiration. Pcdagogism, thus supported by the police, felt 
itself an integral part of authority, and strengthened its 
a'sthetics with legal means. It was arrogant. The pedant 
raised to the dignity of a policeman, — nothing can be so ar- 
rogant as that vileness. See, after the sti-uggle between the 
Arminians and the Gomarists, with what a superb air 
Sparanus Buyter, his pocket full of Maurice of Nassau's 
florins, denounces Josse Vondel, and proves, Aristotle in 
hand, that the Palamede of Vondel's tragedy is no other than 
Barneveldt, — useful rhetoric, by which Buyter obtains 
against Vondel a fine of three hundred crowns, and for him- 
self a fat prebend at Dordrecht. 

The author of the book " Querellcs Litteraires," the Abbe 
Irail cannon of Monistrol, asks of La Beaumelle : " Why do 
you insult M. de Voltaire so much ? " " It is because it sells 
well," replies La Beaumelle. And Voltaire, informed of the 
question and of the reply concludes: " It is just; the booby 
buys the writing, and the minister buys the writer. It sells 
well." 

Francjoise d'Issembourg de Happoncourt, wife of Fran- 
9ois Hugo, chamberlain of Lorraine, and very celebrated 



184 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

under the name Madame de Graffigny, writes to M. Devaux, 
reader to King Stanislaus : — 

My dear Pampam, — Atys being: far off [read: Voltaire beinjj han- 
ishet'.], the police cause to be published against him a swarm of small 
writinjis and ])aniphlets, which are sold at a sou in tlie caf^s and theatres. 
That would displease the marquise,! if it did not please the king. 

Desfontaincs, tliat otlicr insulter of Voltaire, by whom he 
had been taken out of Bicetre, said to the Ablio Prevost, who 
advised him to make his peace with the philosopher: "If 
Algiers did not make war, Algiers would die of famine." 

This Dcsfontaines, also an abbe, died of dropsy ; and his 
well-known tastes gained for him this epitaph : " Pcriit aqua 
qui meruit igne." 

Among the publications suppressed in the last century 
by decree of Parliament, can be observed a document printed 
by Quinet and Besogne, and destroyed doubtless because of 
the revelations it contained, and of which the title gave prom- 
ise : " Ij'Aretinade, ou Tarif des Libellistes et Gens de Let- 
tres Injurieux." 

Madame de Stael, sent in exile forty-five leagues from Paris, 
stops exactly at the forty-five leagues, — at Beaumont-sur- 
I.oire, — and thence writes to her friends. Here is a frag- 
ment of a letter addressed to Madame Gay, mother of the illus- 
trious Madame de Girardin: — 

"Ah, dear madame, what a persecution are these exiles! . . . [We 
suppress some lines.] You write a book; it is forbidden to .speak of it. 
Your name in the journals displeases. Permission is, however, fully 
given to speak ill of it." 

1 Madame de Pompadour. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 185 



CHAPTER III 

SOMETIMES the diatribe is sprinkled with quicklime. 
All those black pen-nibs finish by digging ill-omened 
ditches. 

Among the writers abhorred for having been useful, Vol- 
taire and Rousseau hold a conspicuous rank. They were re- 
viled when alive, mangled when dead. To have a bite at 
these renowned ones was a splendid deed, and reckoned as 
such in favour of literary constables. A man who insulted 
Voltaire was at once promoted to the dignity of pedant. Men 
in power encouraged the men of libellous propensity. A 
swarm of mosquitoes have rushed upon those two illustrious 
minds, and are yet buzzing. 

Voltaire i^ the most hated, being the greatest. Everything 
was good for an attack on him, everything was a pretext : 
Mesdames de France, Newton, Madame du Chatelet, the Prin- 
cess of Prussia, INIaupertuis, Frederic, the Encyclopjedia, the 
Academy, even Labarrc, Sirven, and Calas, — never a truce. 
His popularity suggested to Joseph de Maistre this : " Paris 
crowned him ; Sodom would have banished him." Arouet was 
translated into A rouer} At the liouse of the Abbess of 
Nivelles, Princess of the Holy Empire, half recluse and half 
worldling, and having recourse, it is said, in order to make 
her cheeks rosy, to the method of the Abbess of Montbazon, 
charades were played, — among others, this one: The first 
syllable is his fortune; the second should be his duty. The 
word was Vol-taire.- A celebrated member of the Academy 
of Sciences, Napoleon Bonaparte, seeing in 1803, in the 
library of the Institute, in the centre of a crown of laurels, 
this inscription : " Au grand Voltaire," scratched with his 
nail the last three letters, leaving only, Au grand Volta! 

There is round Voltaire particularly a cordon sanhaire of 

1 Deserving of being broken on the wheel. 

2 Vol meaning theft, taire meaning to be silent. 



186 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

priests, the Abbe Desfontaines at the head, the Abbe Nico- 
lardot at the taiL Freron, although a layman, is a critic 
after the priestly fashion, and belongs to this band. 

Voltaire made his first appearance at the Kastille. His cell 
was next to the dungeon in which had died Barnard Palissy. 
Young, he tasted the prison : old, exile. He ivas kept twenty- 
seven years away fi'om Paris. 

Jean-Jacques, wild and rather surly, was tonnented in con- 
sequence of those traits in his nature. Paris issued a writ 
against his person; Geneva expelled him; Neufchatel rejected 
him ; Motiers-Travers damned him ; Bienne stoned him ; Berne 
gave him the choice between prison and expulsion ; London, 
hospitable London, scoffed at him. 

Both died, following closely on each other. Death caused 
no interruption to the outrages. A man is dead ; insult does 
not slacken pursuit for such a trifle. Hatred can feast on a 
corpse. Libels continued, falling furiously on these glories. 

Tlie Revolution came and sent them to tlie Pantheon. 

At the beginning of this century, children were often 
brought to see these two graves. Tliey were told, " It is 
here." That made a strong impression on their minds. 
They carried forever in their thoughts that apparition of 
two sepulchres side by side, — the elliptical arch of the vault ; 
the antique form of the two monuments provisionally covered 
witli wood painted like marble; these two names, Rousseau, 
Voltaire, in the twilight; and the arm carrying a flambeau 
which was thrust out of the tomb of Jean-Jacques. 

Louis XVin. returned. The restoration of the Stuarts 
had torn Cromwell from his grave; the restoration of the 
Bourbons could not do less for Voltaire. 

One night, in May, 1814, about two o'clock in the morn- 
ing, a cab stopped near the barrier of La Gare, which faces 
Bercy, at the door of an enclosure of ])lanks. This enclosure 
surrounded a large vacant piece of ground, reserved for the 
projected entrepot, and belonging to the city of Paris. The 
cab was coming from the Pantheon, and the coachman had 
been ordered to take the most deserted streets. The closed 



WILLIA]\I SHAKESPEARE 187 

planking opened. Some men ali£fhted from the cab and 
entered the enclosure. Two carried a sack between them. 
They were conducted, so tradition asserts, by the Marquis 
of Puymaurin, afterward deputy to the Invisible Chamber, 
and director of the mint, accompanied by his brother, the 
Compte de Puymaurin. Other men, many in cassocks, were 
waiting for tliem. They proceeded toward a hole dug in 
the middle of the field. This hole, according to one of the 
witnesses, who since has been waiter at the inn of the Mar- 
ronniers at La Rapee, was round, and looked like a blind 
well. At the bottom of the hole was quicklime. These men 
said nothing, and had no light. The wan break of day 
gave a ghastly light. Tlie sack was opened. It was full of 
bones. These were, pell-mell, the bones of Jean Jacques and 
of Voltaire, which had just been withdrawn from the Pan- 
theon. The mouth of the sack was brought close to the hole, 
and the bones were thrown into that darkness. The two 
skulls struck against each other; a spark, not likely to be 
seen by such men as those present, was doubtless exchanged 
between the head that had made tlie " Dictionnaire Phil- 
osophique " and the head which had made the " Contrat 
Social," and reconciled them. When that was done, when 
the sack had been shaken, when Voltaire and Rousseau had 
been emptied into that hole, a digger seized a spade, threw 
inside the opening all the earth which was at the side, and 
filled up the hole ; the others stamped with their feet on the 
ground, so as to remove from it the appearance of having been 
freshly disturbed. One of the assistants took for his trouble 
the sack, as the hangman takes the clothing of his victim ; 
they all left the enclosure, closed the door, got into tlie 
cab without saying a word, and hastily, before the sun had 
risen, those men got away. 

i 



188 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER IV 

SAUMAISE, that worse Scaligcr, does not comprehend 
/Eschylus, and rejects him. Wlio is to hhiine? 
fiauinaise much, yEschyhis little. 

The attentive man who reads great works feels at times, 
in tlie middle of reading, certain sudden fits of cold followed 
by a kind of excess of heat ("I no longer understand! — I 
understand!"), shivering and burning, — something which 
causes him to be a little upset, at the same time that he is 
very much struck. Only minds of the first order, only men 
of supreme genius, subject to heedless wanderings in the in- 
finite, give to the reader this singular sensation, — stupor for 
most, ecstasy for a few. These few are the elite. As we 
have already observed, this elite, gathered from century to 
century, and always adding to itself, at last makes up a num- 
ber, becomes in time a nndtitude, and composes the supreme 
crown, — the definitive public of men of genius, sovereign like 
them. 

It is well w^ith that public that at the end one must deal. 

Nevertheless, there is another public, other appraisers, other 
judges, to wliom we have lately alluded. They are not con- 
tent. 

The men of genius, the great minds, — this /Eschylus, this 
Isaiah, this Juvenal, this Dante, this Shakespeare, — arc be- 
.ings, imperious, tumultuous, violent, passionate, extreme riders 
of winged steeds, " overleaping all boundaries," having their 
own goal, which " goes beyond the goal," " exaggerated," 
taking scandalous strides, flying abruptly from one idea to 
another, and from the north pole to the south pole, crossing 
the heavens in three steps, making little allowance for short 
breaths, tossed about by all the winds, and at the same time 
full of some unaccountable equestrian confidence amidst their 
bounds accross the abyss, untractahle to the " aristarchs," 
reliactory to state rhetoric, not amiable to asthmatical literati, 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 189 

unsubdued to academic hygiene, preferring the foam of Pega- 
sus to asses' milk. 

The worthy pedants arc kind enough to be afraid for them. 
The ascent gives rise to the calculation of the fall. The 
compassionate cripples lament for Shakespeare. He is mad ; 
he mounts too high! The crowd of college fags (they are a 
crowd) look on in wonder, and get angry. .Eschylus and 
Dante make their connoisseurs blink their eyes every moment. 
This ^Eschylus is lost ! This Dante is near falling ! A god 
is soaring above; the worthy bourgeois cry out to him: 
" Look out for yourself ! " 



CHAPTER V 



BESIDES, these men of genius disconcert. 
One knows not on what to rely with them. Their 
lyric fever obeys them; they interrupt it when they like. 
They seem wild. All at once they stop. Their frenzy be- 
comes melancholy. They are seen among the precipices, 
ahghting on a peak and folding their wings, and then they 
give way to meditation. Their meditation is not less sur- 
prising than their transport. Just now they were soaring 
above, now they sink below. But it is always the same bold- 
ness. 

They are pensive giants. Their Titanic revery needs the 
absolute and the unfathomable in which to expand. They 
meditate, as the sunshines, with the abyss around them. 

Their moving to and fro in the ideal gives the vertigo. 
Nothing is too lofty for them, and nothing too low. Thev 
pass from the pygmy to the Cyclops, from Polyphemus to 
the Myrmidons, from Queen Mab to Caliban, and from a 
love affair to a deluge, and from Saturn's ring to the doll of 
a little child. Sinite panmlos venire. One of the pupils of 
their eye is a telescope, the other a microscope. They inves- 



190 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tigate familiarly these two frightful opposite depths, — the 
infinitely gi-cat and the infinitely small. \ 

And one should not be angry with them ; and one should 
not reproach them for all this! Indeed! Where should we 
go if such excesses were to be tolerated? What! No scruple 
in the choice of subjects, horrible or sad; and the idea, even 
if it be disquieting and formidable, always followed up to its 
extreme limits, without pity for their fellow-creatures ! These 
poets only see their own aim ; and in everything are immoder- 
ate in their way of doing things. What of Job.'' — a worm 
on an ulcer. What is the Divina Commedia.'' — a series of 
torments. What is the Iliad.'' — a collection of plagues and 
wounds ; not an artery cut which is not complaisantly de- 
scribed. Go round for opinions on Homer: ask of Scali_ger, 
Terra.sson, Lamotte, what they think of him. The fourth 
of an ode to the shield of Achilles — what intemperance ! He 
who does not know when to stop never knew how to write. 
These poets agitate, disturb, trouble, upset, overwhelm, make 
evcr3'thing shiver, break things, occasionally, here and there. 
TJiey can cause great misfortunes ; it is terrible. Thus speak 
the Athenaea, the Sorbonnes, the sworn-in professors, the so- 
cieties called learned, Saumaise, successor of Scaliger at the 
university of Leyden, and the hourgeoisic after them, — all 
who represent in literature and art the great party of order. 
What can be more logical.'' The cough quarrels with the 
liurrlcane. 

Those who are poor in wit are joined by those who have 
too much wit. The sceptics lend assistance to the fools. 
Men of genius, with few exceptions, are proud and stern ; 
that is in the very marrow of their bones. They have in com- 
pany with them Juvenal, Agrijjpa d'Aubigne, and Milton ; 
they are prone to harshness ; the}' despise the panem et cir- 
censes; they seldom grow .sociable, and they growl. People 
rail at them in a pleasant waj'. Well done. 

Ah, poet! Ah, Milton! Ah, Juvenal ! — ah, you keep up 
resistance! ah, you perpetuate disinterestedness! ah, you bring 
together these two firebrands, faith and will, in order to make 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 191 

the flame burst out from them ! all, there is something of the 
Vestal in you, old grumbler! ah, you have an altar, — your 
country! ah, you have a tripod, — the ideal! ah, you believe 
in the rights of man, in emancipation, in the future, in prog- 
ress, in the beautiful, in the just, in what is great! Take 
care; you are behindhand. All this virtue is infatuation. 
You emigrate with honour; but you emigrate. This heroism 
is no longer the fashion. It no longer suits our epoch. 
There comes a moment when the sacred fire is no longer fash- 
ionable. Poet, you believe in right and truth; you are be- 
hind your century. Your very eternity causes you to pass 
away. 

So much the worse, without doubt, for those grumbling 
geniuses accustomed to greatness, and scornful of what is 
no longer so. They are slow in movement when shame is at 
stake ; their back is struck with anchylosis for anything like 
bowing and cringing. When success passes along, deserved 
or not, but saluted, they have an iron bar keeping their ver- 
tebral column stiff. That is their affair. So much the worse 
for those people of old-fashioned Rome. They belong to an- 
tiquity and to antique manners. To bristle up at every turn 
may have been all verj' well in former days. Those long bris- 
tling manes are no longer worn ; the lions are out of fashion 
now. The French Revolution is nearly seventy-five years old. 
At that age dotage comes. The people of the present time 
mean to belong to their day, and even to their minute. Cer- 
tainly, we find no fault with it. Whatever is, must be. It 
is quite right that what exists should exist. The forms of 
public prosperity are various. One generation is not obliged 
to imitate another. Cato copied Phocion ; Trimalcion is less 
like, — it is independence. You bad-tempered old fellows, you 
wish us to emancipate ourselves.'' Let it be so. We disen- 
cumber ourselves of the imitation of Timoleon, Thraseas Arte- 
veldc, Thomas More, Hampden. It is our fashion to free 
ourselves. You wish for a revolt; there it is. You wish 
for no insurrection ; we rise up against our rights. We 
afTranchise ourselves from the care of being free. To be 



192 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

citizens is a licavy load. Rights entangled with obliga- 
tions are restraints to whoever desires to enjoy life quietW. 
To he guided by conscience and truth in all tlie steps that 
we take is fatiguing. We mean to walk without leading- 
strings and without principles. Duty is a chain ; we break 
our irons. What do you mean by speaking to us of Franklin? 
Franklin is a rather too servile copy of Aristidcs. We carry 
our horror of servilitv so far as to prefer Grimod de la Rey- 
niere. To eat and drink well, there is purpose in that. Each 
epoch has its peculiar manner of being free. Orgy is a liberty. 
This way of reasoning is triumphant ; to adhere to it is wise. 
There have been, it is true, epochs when people thought other- 
wise. In those times the things which were trodden on would 
sometimes resent it, and would rebel, — but that was the 
ancient system, ridiculous now ; and those who regret and 
grumble must be left to talk and to affirm that there was a 
better notion of right, justice, and honour in the stones of 
olden times than in the men of to-day. 

The rhetoricians, official and officious, — we have pointed 
out already their wonderful sagacity,— take strong precau- 
tions against men of genius. Men of genius are not great 
followers of the university ; what is more, the}' are wanting in 
insipidity. They are lyrists, colourists, enthusiasts, enchant- 
ers, possessed, exalted, " rabid " (we have read the word) 
beings who, when everybody is small, have a mania for creat- 
ing great things ; in fact, they have every vice. A doctor 
has recently discovered that genius is a variety' of madness. 
They are Michael Angclo handHng giants; Rembrandt paint- 
ing with a palette all bedaubed with the sun's rays; they are 
Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, exaggerated. They bring a 
wild art, roaring, flaming, dishevelled like the lion and the 
coniet. Oh, shocking! There is coalition against them, and 
it is right. We liave, luckily, the " teetotallers " of eloquence 
and poetry. " I like paleness," said one day a literary 
hovrgcois. Tlie literary bmirgeols exists. Rhetoricians, 
anxious on account of the contagions and fevers which are 
s])rc;id by genius, recommend witli a loftv reason, wliicli we 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 193 



)5 



have commended, temperance, moderation, " common-sense,' 
the art of keeping within bounds, writers expurgated, trimmed, 
pruned, regulated, the worship of the quahties that the malig- 
nant call negative, continence, abstinence, Joseph, Scipio, the 
water-drinkers. It is all excellent, — only, young students 
must be warned that by following these sage precepts too 
closely the}' run the risk of glorifying the chastity of the 
eunuch. Maybe, I admire Bayard ; I admire Origen less. 



CHAPTER VI 



RESUME: Great minds are importunate; to deny them 
a little is judicious. 
After all, let us admit it at last, and complete our state- 
ment ; there is some truth in the reproaches that are hurled 
at them. This anger is natural. The powerful, the grand, 
the luminous, are in a certain point of view things calculated 
to offend. To be surpassed is never agreeable; to feel one's 
own inferiority leads surely to feel offence. The beautiful 
exists so truly by itself that it certainly has no need of pride ; 
nevertheless, given human mediocrity, the beautiful humiliates 
at the same time that it enchants. It seems natural that 
beauty should be a vase for pride, — it is supposed to be full 
of it ; one seeks to avenge one's self for the pleasure it gives, 
and this word superb ends by having two senses, — one of 
which causes suspicion of the other. It is the fault of the 
beautiful, as we have already said. It wearies: a sketch by 
Piranesi bewilders you ; a grasp of the hand of Hercules 
bruises you. Greatness is sometimes in the wrong. It is 
ingenuous, but obstructive. The tempest thinks to sprinkle 
you, — it drowns you ; the star thinks to give light, — it daz- 
zles, sometimes blinds. The Nile fertilizes, but ovei-flows. 
The " too much " is not convenient the habitation of tiic 
fathomless is rude; the infinite is little suitable for a lodging. 
13 



194 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

A cottage is badly situated on the cataract of Niagara or in 
the circus of Gavamie. It is awkward to keep house with 
these fierce wonders ; to frequent tliem regularly without be- 
ing overwhelmed, one must be a cretin or a genius. 

The dawn itself at times seems to us immoderate: he who 
looks at it straight suffers. The eye at certain moments 
thinks very ill of the sun. Let us not then be astonished at 
the complaints made, at the incessant objections, at the fits 
of passion and prudence, at the cataplasms applied by a cer- 
tain criticism, at the ophthalmies habitual to academies and 
teaching bodies, at the warnings given to the reader, at all 
the curtains let down, and at all the shades used against 
genius. Genius is intolerant without knowing it, because it is 
itself. How can people be familiar with .Eschylus, with 
Ezekiel, with Dante.'' 

The / is the right to egotism. Now, the first thing that 
those beings do, is to use roughly the / of each one. Ex- 
orbitant in everything, — in thoughts, in images, in convic- 
tions, in emotions, in passions, in faith, — whatever may be 
the side of your / to which they address themselves, they in- 
convenience it. Your intellect, they surpass it ; your im- 
agination, they dazzle it ; your conscience, they question and 
search it ; your bowels, they twist them ; your heart, they 
break it ; your soul, they carry it off. 

The infinite that is in them passes from them and multi- 
plies them, and transfigures them before your eyes every 
moment, — formidable fatigue for your gaze. With them you 
never know where you are. At every turn the unforeseen. 
You expected only men: they cannot enter 3'our room, for 
they are giants. You expected only an idea : cast your eyes 
down, they are the ideal. You expected only eagles: they 
have six wings, — they are seraphs. Are they then beyond 
Nature? Is it that humanity fails them? 

Certainly not, and far from that, and quite the reverse. 
We have already said it, and wc insist on it, Nature and 
humanity are in them more than in any other beings. They 
are superhuman men, but men. Homo sum. This word of 



WILLIA]M SHAKESPEARE 195 

a poet sums up all poetry. Saint Paul strikes his breast and 
says, " Peccamus ! " Job tells you v.ho he is : "I am the 
son of woman." They are men. That which troubles you 
is that they are men more than you ; they are too much men, 
so to speak. There where you have but the part, they have 
the whole ; they carry in their vast heart entire humanity, and 
they are you more than yourself. You recognize yourself too 
much in their work, — hence your outcry. To that total of 
Nature, to that complete humanity, to that potter's clay, which 
is all your flesh, and which is at the same time the whole 
earth, they add, and it completes your terror, the wonderful 
reverberation of the unknown. They have vistas of revela- 
tion ; and suddenly, and without crying " Beware ! " at the 
moment wheii you least expect it, they burst the cloud, make 
in the zenith a gap whence falls a ray, and they light up the 
terrestrial with the celestial. It is very natural that people 
should not greatly fancy familiar intercourse with them, and 
should have no taste for keeping neighbourly intimacy with 
them. 

Whoever has not a soul well-tempered by a vigorous educa- 
tion avoids them willingly. For great books there must be 
great readers. It is necessar}' to be strong and healthy to 
open Jeremiah, Ezckiel, Job, Pindar, Lucretius, and that 
Alighieri, and that Shakespeare. Homely habits, prosy life, 
the dead calm of consciences, " good taste " and " common- 
sense," — all the small, placid egotism is deranged, let us own 
it, by these monsters of the sublime. 

Yet, when one dives in and reads them, nothing is more 
hospitable for the mind at certain hours than these stern 
spirits. They have all at once a lofty gentleness, as unex- 
pected as the rest. They say to you, " Come in ! " They 
receive you at home with a fraternity of archangels. They 
are affectionate, sad, melancholy, consoling. You are sud- 
denly at your ease. You feel yourself loved by them : you 
almost imagine yourself personally known to them. Their 
sternness and their pride cover a profound sympathy. If 
granite had a heart, hoM" deep would its goodness be ! Well, 



196 WILLI AJM SHAKESPEARE 

gfiiius is granite with goodness. Extreme power possesses 
great love. They join you in your prayers. Tliey know 
well, those men, that God exists. Apply your ear to these 
giants, you will hear them palpitate. Do you want to believe, 
to love, to weep, to strike your breast, to fall on your knees, 
to raise your hands to heaven with confidence and serenity, 
listen to these poets. They will aid you to rise toward the 
healthy and fruitful sorrow; they will make you feel the 
celestial use of emotion. Oh, goodness of the strong ! Their 
emotion, which, if they will, can be an earthquake, is at 
moments so cordial and so gentle that it seems like the rocking 
of a cradle. They have just given birth within you to some- 
thing of which they take care. There is maternity in genius. 
Take a step, advance farther, — a new surprise awaits you: 
they arc graceful. As for their grace, it is light itself. 

The high mountains have on their sides all climates, and 
the great poets all styles. It is sufficient to change the zone. 
Go up, it is tlie tempest; descend, the flowers are tliere. The 
inner fire acconnnodatcs itself to the winter without; the glacier 
has no objection to be the crater, and the lava never looks 
more beautiful tlian when it rushes out through the snow. A 
sudden blaze of fliame is not strange on a polar summit. This 
contact of the extremes is a law in Nature, in which the unfore- 
seen wonders of the sublime burst forth at every moment. A 
mountain, a genius,' — both are austere majesty. These 
masses evolve a sort of religious intimidation. Dante is not 
less perpendicular than Etna. The depths of Shakespeare 
equal the gulfs of Chimborazo. The peaks of poets are not 
less cloudy than the summits of mountains. Thunders are 
rolling there, and at the same time, in the valleys, in the 
passes, in the sheltered spots, in places between escarpments, 
are streams, birds, nests, boughs, enchantments, wonderful 
flor.-E. Above the frightful arch of the Aveyron, in the mid- 
dle of the frozen sea, there is that paradise called Tlie Garden. 
Have you seen it? What an episode! A hot sun, a shade 
tepid and fresh, a vague exudation of perfumes on the gi-ass- 
plots, an indescribable month of May perpetually reigning 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 197 

among precipices, — nothing is more tender and more exquisite. 
Such are poets : such are the Alps. These huge old gloomy 
mountains are marvellous growers of roses and violets ; they 
avail themselves of the dawn and of the dew better than .Jl 
your prairies and all your hillocks can do it, although it is 
their natural business. The April of the plain is flat and 
vulgar compared with their April; and they have, those im- 
mense old mountains, in their wildest ravine, their own charm- 
ing spring, well known to the bees. 



i 



BOOK IV 
CRITICISM 



CHAPTER I 

EVERY play of Shakespeare's, two excepted, " Macbeth " 
and "Romeo and Juliet" (thirty-four plays out of 
thirty-six), offers to our observation one peculiarity which 
seems to have escaped, up to this day, the most eminent com- 
mentators and critics, — one that the Schlegels and M. Ville- 
main himself, in his remarkable labours, do not notice, and on 
which it is impossible not to give an opinion. It is a double 
action which traverses the drama, and reflects it on a small 
scale. By the side of the storm in the Atlantic, the storm 
in the tea-cup. Thus, Hamlet makes beneath himself a Ham- 
let: he kills Polonius, father of Laertes, — and there is 
Laertes opposite him exactly in the same situation as he is 
toward Claudius. There are two fathers to avenge. There 
might be two ghosts. So, in King L^ar: side by side and 
simultaneously, Lear, driven to despair liy his daughters 
Goneril and Regan, and consoled by liis daughter Cordelia, is 
reflected by Glostcr, betrayed by bis son Edmond, and loved 
by his son Edf;.ir. The bifurcated idea, the idea eclioing 
itself, a lesser drama copying and elbowing the principal 
drama, the action trailing its own shadow (a smaller action 
but its paralicj), tlie unity cut asunder, — surely it is a strange 
fact. These twin actions have Ijeen strongly blamed by the 
few commentators who have pointed them out. We do not 
participate in "^hcir blame. Tfo wc then approve and accept 

198 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 199 

as good these twin actions? By no means. We recognize 
them, and this is all. The drama of Shakespeare (we said 
so with all our might as far back as 1827,' in order to dis- 
courage all imitation), — the drama of Shakespeare is peculiar 
to Shakespeare. It is a drama inherent to this poet; it is his 
own essence ; it is himself, — thence his originalities absolutely 
personal; thence his idiosyncrasies which exist without estab- 
lishing a law. 

These twin actions are purely Shakespearian. Neither 
jEschylus nor Moliere would admit them ; and we certainly 
would agree with /Eschylus and Moliere. 

These twin actions are, moreover, the sign of the sixteenth 
century. Each epoch has its own mysterious stamp. The 
centuries liave a seal that they affix to chefs-d'asinre, and which 
it is necessary to know how to decipher and recognize. The 
seal of the sixteenth century is not the seal of the eighteenth. 
The Renaissance was a subtle time, — a time of reflection. 
The spirit of the sixteenth century was reflected in a mirror. 
Every idea of the Renaissance has a double compartment. 
Look at the jubes in the churches. The Renaissance, with an 
exquisite and fantastical art, always makes the Old Testament 
rcpercussive on the New. The twin action is there in every- 
thing. The symbol explains the personage in repeating his 
gesture. If, in a basso-rilicvo, Jehovah sacrifices his son, he 
has close by, in the next low relief, Abraham sacrificing his 
son. Jonas passes three days in the whale, and Jesus passes 
three days in the sepulchre; and the jaws of the monster 
swallowing Jonas answer to the mouth of hell engulfing Jesus. 

The carver of the jube of Fecamp, so stupidly demolished, 
goes so far as to give for counterpart to Saint Joseph — 
whom ? Amphitryon. 

These singular results constitute one of the habits of that 
profound and searching high art of the sixteenth century. 
Nothing can be more curious in that style than the part 
ascribed to Saint Christopher. In the Middle Ages, and in 

1 Preface to " CromwelL" 



200 WILLIAISI SHAKESPEARE 

the sixteenth century, In paintings and sculptures. Saint Chris- 
topher, the good giant martyred by Decius in 250, recorded 
by tlie Bollandists and acknowledged without a question by 
Baillet, is always triple, — an opportunity for the triptj'ch. 
There is foremost a first Christ-bearer, a first Christophorus ; 
that is Christopher, with the infant Jesus on his shoulders. 
Afterward the Virgin enceinte is a Christopher, since she car- 
ries Christ. Last, the cross is a Christoplier ; it also carries 
Christ. This treble illustration of the idea is immortalized 
by Rubens in the cathedral of Antwerp. The twin idea, the 
triple idea, — such is the seal of the sixteenth century. 

Shakespeare, faithful to the spirit of his time, must needs 
add Laertes avenging his father to Hamlet avenging his 
father, and cause Hamlet to be persecuted by Laertes at the 
same time that Claudius is pursued by Hamlet ; he must needs 
make the filial piety of Edgar a comment on the filial piety 
of Cordelia, and bring out in contrast, weighed down by the 
ingratitude of unnatural children, two wretched fathers, each 
bereaved of a kind light, — Lear mad, and Gloster blind. 



CHAPTER II 



WHAT then? No criticising? No.— No blame? No. 
— You explain everything? Yes. — Genius is an 
entity like Nature, and requires, like Nature, to be accepted 
purely and simply. A mountain must be accepted as such 
or left alone. There are men who would make a criticism 
on the Himalayas, pebble by pebble. Mount Etna blazes and 
slavers, throws out its glare, its wrath, its lava, and its ashes; 
these men take scales and weigh those ashes, pinch by pinch. 
Qiiot libras in monte summo? Meanwhole genius continues 
its eruption. Everything in it has its reason for existing. 
It is because it is. Its shadow is the inverse of its light. Its 
smoke comes from its fiame. Its depth is the result of its 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 201 

height. We love this more and that less ; but we remain 
silent wherever we feel God. We are in the forest ; the tortu- 
osity of the tree is its secret. The sap knows what it is doing. 
The root knows its own business. We take things as they 
are ; we are indulgent for that which is excellent, tender, or 
magnificent; we acquiesce in chefs-d'aeiivre; we do not make 
use of one to find fault with the other ; we do not insist upon 
Phidias sculpturing cathedrals, or upon Pinaigrier glazing 
temples (the temple is the harmony, the cathedral is the 
mystery; they are two different forms of the sublime); we 
do not claim for the Miinster the perfection of the Parthenon, 
or for the Parthenon the grandem* of the Miinster. We are 
so far whimsical as to be satisfied with both being beautiful. 
We do not reproach for its sting the insect that gives us 
honey. We renounce our right to criticise the feet of the 
peacock, the cry of the swan, the plumage of the nightingale, 
the butterfly for having been caterpillar, the thorn of the rose, 
the smell of the lion, the skin of the elephant, the prattle of 
the cascade, the pips of the orange, the inmiobility of the 
Milky Way, the saltness of the ocean, the spots on the sun, the 
nakedness of Noah. 

The qii-andoque bonus dormitat is permitted to Horace. 
We raise no objection. What is certain is, that Homer would 
not say it of Horace, — he would not take the trouble. Him- 
self the eagle. Homer would indeed find Horace, the chattering 
humming-bird, charming. I grant it is pleasant to a man 
to feel himself superior, and say, " Homer is puerile ; Dante 
is childish." It is indulging in a pretty smile. To crush 
these poor geniuses a little, why not."" To be the Abbe 
Trublet, and say, " Milton is a schoolboy," it is pleasing. 
How witty is the man who finds that Shakespeare has no 
wit ! That man is La Harpe, Delandine, Auger ; he is, was, 
or shall be, an Academician. " All these great men are made 
up of extravagance, bad taste, and childishness." What a 
fine decree to issue ! These fashions tickle voluptuously those 
who have them ; and in reality, when they have said, " This 
giant is small," they can fancy that they are great. Every 



202 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

man has his own way. As for myself, the writer of these 
lines, I admire everything like a fool. 

That is why I have written this book. 

To admire, to be an enthusiast, — it has stnick me that 
it was right to give in our century this example of folly. 



CHAPTER III 



DO not look, then, for any criticism. I admire ^schylus, 
I admire Juvenal, I admire Dante, in tiie mass, in a 
lump, all. I do not cavil at those great benefactors. Wiiat 
you characterize as a fault, I call accent. I accept and give 
thanks. I do not inherit the marvels of human wit con- 
ditionally. Pegasus being given to me, I do not look the 
gift-horse in the mouth. A masterpiece offers its hospi- 
tality: I approach it with my hat off, and tliink the visage 
of mine host handsome. Gilles Shakespeare, it may be: I 
admire Shakespeare and I admire Gillcs. Falstaff is pro- 
posed to me : I accept him, and I admire the " Empty the 
jorden." I admire the senseless cry, "A rat!" I admire 
the jests of Hamlet; I admire the wholesale murders of Mac- 
betli ; I admire the witches, " tliat ridiculous spectacle ; " I 
admire " the buttock of the night ; " I admire the eye plucked 
from Gloster. I am simple enough to admire all. 

Having recently had the honour to be called " silly " by 
several distinguished writers and critics, and even by my illus- 
trious friend M. de Lamartine,' I am determined to justify 
the epithet. 

We close with one last observation which we have specially 
to make regarding Shakespeare. 

Orestes, that fatal senior of Hamlet, is not, as we have 

1 All the biography, sometimes rather puerile, even rather silly, of 
Bishop Myriel. — Lamabtine: Cuurs de Liltirature (Entretien Ixxxiv. 
p. 385). 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 203 

said, the sole link between ^sehylus and Shakespeare; we 
have noted a relation, less easily perceptible, between Pro- 
metheus and Hamlet. The mysterious close connection be- 
tween the two poets is, in reference to this same Prometheus, 
more strangely striking yet, and in a particular wliich, up to 
this time, has escaped the observers and critics. Prometheus 
is the grandsire of Mab. 

Let us prove it. 

Prometheus, like all personages become legendary, — like 
Solomon, like Casar, like Mahomet, like Charlemagne, like the 
Cid, like Joan of Arc, like Napoleon, — has a double pro- 
longation, the one in history, the other in fable. Now, the 
prolongation of Prometheus is this : 

Prometheus, creator of men, is also creator of spirits. He 
is father of a dynasty of Divs, whose filiation the old metrical 
talcs have preserved: Elf, that is to say, the Rapid, son of 
Prometheus; then Elfin, King of India; then Elfinan, founder 
of Cleopolis, town of tlie fairies; then Elfilin, builder of the 
golden wall ; then Elfiiiell, winner of the battle of the demons ; 
then Elfant, who made Panthea entirely in crj stal ; then 
Elfar, who killed Bicephalus and Tricephalus ; then Elfinor, 
the magian, a kind of Salmoneus, who built over the sea a 
bridge of copper, sounding like thunder, " non imitabile 
fulmen fere et cornipcdum pulsu simularat equorum ; " then 
seven hundi'ed princes ; then Elficleos the Sage ; then Elferon 
the Beautiful; then Oberon ; then ]\Iab, — wonderful fable, 
which, with a profound meaning, unites the sidereal and the 
microscopic, the infinitely great and the infinitely small. 

And it is thus that the infusoria of Shakespeare is con- 
nected with the giant of yEschylus. 

The fairy, drawn over the nose of sleeping men in her 
carriage, covered with the wing of a locust, by eight flies 
harnessed with the rays of the moon, and whipped with a 
gossamer, — the fairy atom has for ancestor the huge Titan, 
robber of stars, nailed on the Caucasus, one hand on the 
Caspian gates, the other on the portals of Ararat, one heel 
on the source of the Phasis, the other on the Validus-Murus, 



204 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

closing the passage between the mountain and the sea, — a 
colossus, whose immense shadow was, according as the rise or 
setting of light, projected by the sun, now on Europe as far 
as Corintli, now on Asia as far as Bangalore. 

Nevertheless, ]\Iab, who is also called Tanaquil, has all 
tlie wavering inconsistency of the dream. Under the name 
of Tanaquil she is the wife of Tarquin the Ancient; and she 
spins for young Scrvius Tullius the first tunic worn by a 
young Roman after leaving off the pretexta. Oberon, who 
turns out to be Numa, is her uncle. In " Huon de Bor- 
deaux " she is called Gloriando, and has for lover Julius 
Cajsar, and Oberon is her son ; in Spenser, she is called Glori- 
ana, and Oberon is her fatlier ; in Shakespeare she is called 
Titania, and Oberon is her husband. Titania: tiiis names 
unites Mab to the Titan, and Shakespeare to ^Eschylus. 



CHAPTER IV 



AN eminent man of our day, a celebrated historian, a 
powerful orator, one of the former translators of 
Shakespeare, is mistaken, according to our views, when he 
regrets, or appears to regret, tlie slight influence of Shake- 
speare on the theatre of the nineteenth century. We cannot 
share that regret. An influence of any sort, even that of 
Shakespeare, could but mar the originality of the literary 
movement of our epoch. " The system of Shakespeare," 
says the honourable and grave writer, witii reference to that 
movement, " can furnish, it seems to me, the plans after 
which genius must henceforth work." We have never been 
of that opinion, and we have said so as far back as forty 
years ago. For us, Shakespeare is a genius, and not a sys- 
tem. On this point we have already explained our views, 
and we mean soon to explain them at greater length; but let 
ys state now tliat what Shakespeare has done, is done once for 



WILLIA]\r SHAKESPEARE 205 

all, — it is impossible to do it over again. Admire or criticise, 
but do not recast. It is finished. 

A distinguished critic who lately died, — jl. Chaudcsaigues, 
— lays a stress on this reproach : " Shakespeare," says he, 
" has been revived without being followed. The romantic 
school has not imitated Shakespeare. In that it is wrong." 
In that it is right. It is blamed for it ; we praise it. The 
contemporary theatre is what it is, but it is itself. The con- 
temporary theatre lias for device, Sum non sequor. It be- 
longs to no " system." It has its own law, and it accom- 
plishes it. It has its own life, and it lives it. 

The drama of Shakespeare expresses man at a given mo- 
ment. Man passes away; that drama remains, having for 
eternal foundation, life, the heart, the world, and for surface 
tiic sixteenth century. That drama can neither be continued 
nor recomposed. Anothei' age, another art. 

The theatre of our day has not followed Shakespeare any 
more than it has followed .Eschylus. And without reckoning 
all the other reasons that we shall note farther on, how per- 
plexed would he be who wished to imitate and copy, in making 
a choice between these two poets ! jEschylus and Shakespeare 
seem made to prove that contraries may bo admirable. Tb.e 
point of departure of the one is absolutely opposite to the 
point of departure of tlie other. yEseJiylus is concentration ; 
Shakespeare is diffusion. One must be much applauded be- 
cause he is condensed, and the otiier because he is diffuse; to 
/Eschylus unity, to Shakespeare ubiquity. Between them 
they divide God. And as such intellects are alv.ays conijjleie, 
one feels in the condensed drama of ^Eschylus the free agita- 
tion of passion, and in the diffuse drama of Shakespeare the 
convei'gence of all the rays of life. The one starts from 
unity and reaches a multiple ; the other starts from the multi- 
ple and arrives at unity. 

This appears strikingly evident, particularly when we 
compare " Hamlet " with " Orestes," — extraordinary double 
page, obverse and reverse of the same idea, and which seems 
written expressly to prove to what an extent two diffcreut 



206 WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 

geniuses, making the same thing, will make two different 
things. 

It is easy to see that the theatre of our clay has, rightly 
or wrongly, traced out its own way between Greek unity and 
Shakespearian ubiquity. 



CHAPTER V 



LET us set aside for the present the question of contem- 
porary art, and take up again the general question. 

Imitation is always barren and bad. 

As for Shakespeare,— since Shakespeare is the poet who 
claims our attention now, — he is, .'n the highest degree, a 
genius human and general ; but like every true genius, he is 
at the same time an idiosyncratic and personal mind. Axiom : 
the poet starts from his own inner self to come to us. It 
is that which makes the poet inimitable. 

Examine Shakespeare, dive into him, and see how de- 
termined he is to be himself. Do not exjject any concession 
from him. It is not egotism, but it is stubbornness. He 
wills it. He gives to art his orders, — of course in the limits 
of his work; for neither the art of .Eschylus, nor the art 
of Aristophanes, nor the art of Plautus, nor the art of 
Macchiavelli, nor the art of Calderon, nor the art of iNIoliere, 
nor the art of Beaumarchais, nor any of the forms of art, 
deriving life each of them from the special life of a genius, 
would ol>ey the orders given by Shakespeare. Art, thus 
understood, is vast equality and profound liberty ; the region 
of the equals is also the region of the free. 

One of the grandeurs of Shakespeare consists in his im- 
possibility to be a model. In order to realize his idiosyncrasy, 
open one of his plays, — no matter which ; it is always fore- 
most and above all Shakespeare. 

What more personal than " Troilus and Cressida".'' A 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 207 

comic Troy! Here is "Much Ado about Nothing," — a 
traivdy which ends with a burst of laughter. Here is the 
" Winter's Tale," — a pastoral drama. Shakespeare is at 
home in his work. Do you wish to see true despotism : look 
at his fancy. What arbitrary determination to dream ! 
WHiat despotic resolution in his vertiginous flight! What ob- 
soluteness in his indecision and wavering! Tlie dream fills 
some of his pLiys to that degree that man changes his nature, 
and is the cloud more tlian the man. Angelo in " Measure 
for ]\Ieasui'e " is a misty tyrant. He becomes disintegrated, 
and wears away. Leontes in the " Winter's Tale " is an 
Othello who is blown away. In " Cymbeline " one thinks 
that lachimo will become an lago, but he melts down. The 
dream is there, — everywhere. Watch iManilius, Posthunms, 
Hcrmione, Perdita, passing by. In the " Tempest," the 
Duke of Milan has " a brave son," who is like a dream in a 
dream. Ferdinand alone speaks of him, and no one but 
Ferdinand seems to have seen him. A brute becomes reason- 
able : witness the constable Elbow in " Measure for Measure." 
An idiot is all at once w itty : witness Cloten in " Cymbeline." 
A King of Sicily is jealous of a King of Bohemia. Bo- 
hemia has a seashore. The shepherds pick up children there. 
Theseus, a duke, espouses Hippolyta, the Amazon. Oberon 
comes in also. For here it is Shakespeare's will to dream ; 
elsewhere he thinks. 

We say more : where he dreams he still thinks, — with a 
different bu, equal depth. 

Let men of genius remain in peace in tlieir originality. 
Ther: is something; v,'ild in these mysterious civilizers. Even 
in their comedy, even in their buffoonery, even in their 
laughter, even in their smile, there is the unknown. In them 
'. Tci. the sacred dread that belongs to art, and the all- 
p werful terror of the imaginary mixed with the real. Each 
of \:hem is in his cavern, alone. They hear one another from 
afar, but never copy one anotlier. We are not aware that 
the hippopotamus imitates the roar of the elephant, neither 
do lions imitate one another. 



208 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Uiclcrot docs not recast Bavlc ; Bcaumarchais does not 
copy Plautus, and has no need of" Davus to create Figaro. 
Piranesi is not inspired by Da'daliis. Isaiah docs not begin 
Moses over again. 

One day, at St. Helena, M. De Las Cases said, " Sire, 
when you were master of Prussia, I would in your place have 
taken the sword of Frederick the Great, which is deposited in 
the tomb at Potsdam : and I would have worn it." " Fool ! " 
replied Napoleon, " I had my own." 

Sliakespeare's work is absolute, sovereign, imperious, em- 
inentljf solitary, uniiciglibourly, sublime in radiance, absurd 
in rcllecticni, and must remain without a copy. 

To imitate Shakespeare would be as insane as to imitate 
Racine would be stupid. 



CHAPTER VI 



LET us agree, by the way, respecting a qualificative much 
used everywhere: rrofanitm tmlgn.i, — tlic saying of 
a poet on which pedants lay great stress. This profanum 
vulgus is rather the weapon of everybody. I^ct us fix the 
meaning of this word. What is the profanum. vidgns? The 
school says, " It is the people." And we, we say, " It is the 
school." 

But let us first define this expression, " the school." When 
we say, " the school," what must be understood.'' Let us 
explain it. The school is the resultant of pedantry; the 
school is the literary excrescence of the budget ; the school is 
intellectual mandarinship governing in the various author- 
ized and official te.ichings, either of the press or of the State, 
from the theatrical fciiiUcton of the prefecture to the bio- 
graphies and encycloj)a'dias duly examined, stamped, and 
hawked about, and sometimes, as a refinement, made by repub- 
licans agreeable to the ])olicc; the school is the circumvallating 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 209 

classic and scholastic orthodoxy, the Homeric and Virgilian 
antiquity made use of by literati licensed by government, — 
a kind of China self-called Greece ; the school is — summed 
up in one concretion which forms part of public order — all 
the knowledge of pedagogues, all the history of histori- 
ographers, all the poetry of laureates, all the philosophy of 
sophists, all the criticism of pedants, all the ferule of the 
" ignorantins," all the religion of bigots, all the modesty of 
prudes, all the metaphysics of those who change sides, all the 
justice of placemen, all the old age of the small young men 
who have undergone the operation, all the flattery of courtiers, 
all the diatribes of censer-bearers, all the independence of 
valets, all the certainty of short sights and of base souls. 
The school hates Shakespeare. It detects him in the very 
act of mingling with the people, going to and fro in public 
thoroughfares, " trivial," speaking the language of the peo- 
ple, uttering the human cry like any other man, welcome to 
those that he welcomes, applauded by hands black with tar, 
cheered by all the hoarse throats that proceed from labour 
and weariness. The drama of Shakespeare is the people ; the 
school is indignant and says, " Odi profanum vulgus." 
There is demagogy in this poetry roaming at large; the 
author of " Hamlet " " panders to the mob." 

Let it be so. The poet " panders to the mob." 

If anything is great, it is that. 

There in the foreground, everywhere, in full light, amidst 
the flourish of trumpets, are the powerful men followed by 
the gilded men. The poet does not see them, or, if he does, 
he disdains them. He lifts his eyes and looks at God ; then 
he lowers his eyes and looks at the people. There in the 
depth of the shadow, nearly invisible, so much submerged 
that it is the night, is that fatal crowd, that vast and mourn- 
ful heap of suff^ering, that venerable populace of the tat- 
tered and of the ignorant, — chaos of souls. That crowd of 
heads undulates obscurely like the waves of a nocturnal sea. 
From time to time there pass on that surface, like squalls 
over the water, catastrophes, — a war, a pestilence, a royal 
14 



210 WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 

fnvoiirite, a famine. That causes a disturbance which lasts 
a short time, the depth of sorrow being immovable as the 
depth of the ocean. Despair deposits in us some weight as 
of lead. The last word of the abyss is stupor; therefore it 
is the night. It is, under the thick blackness, behind which 
all is indistinct, the mournful sea of the needy. 

These overloaded beings arc silent; they know nothing; 
they submit. Plectuntur Achhn, They are hungry and 
cold. Their indecent flesh is seen through the holes in their 
tatters. Who makes those tatters.'' The purple. The 
nakedness of virgins comes from the nudity of odalisques. 
From the twisted rags of the daughters of the peojile fall 
pearls for the Fontanges and the Chateaurous. It is famine 
which gilds Versailles. The whole of that living and dying 
shadow moves ; these larva' are in the pangs of death ; the 
mother's breast is dry ; the fatlier has no work ; the brains 
have no light. If there is a book in that destitution, it re- 
sembles the pitcher, so insipid or corrupt is what it offers 
to the thirst of intellects. Mournful families! 

The group of the little ones is wan. All die away and 
creep along, not having even the power to love ; and unknown 
to them perhaps, while they crouch down and resign them- 
selves, from all that vast unconsciousness in which Right 
dwells, from the rumbling murmur of those wretched breaths 
mingled together, proceeds an indescribable confused voice, 
mysterious mist of language, succeeding, syllable by syllable 
in the darkness, in uttering extraordinary words, — Future, 
Humanity, Liberty, Equality, Progress. And the poet lis- 
tens, and he hears; and he looks, and he sees; and he bends 
lower and lower, and he weeps ; and all at once, growing with 
a strange growth, drawing from all that darkness his own 
transfiguration, he stands erect, terrible and tender, above all 
those wretched ones, — those above as well as those below, — 
with flaming eyes. 

And he demands a reckoning with a loud voice. And he 
says. Here is the effect! And he says, Here is the cause! 
Light is the remedy. Erudimini. And he looks like a great 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 211 

vase full of humanity shaken by the hand which is in the 
cloud, and from whence fall on the earth large drops,- — fire 
for the oppressors, dew for the oppressed. Ah, you find 
fault with that, you fellows! Well, then, we approve of it, 
we do! We find it just that some one speaks when all suffer. 
The ignorant who enjoy and the ignorant who suffer have 
an equal want of teaching. The law of fraternity is de- 
rived from the law of labour. To kill one another has had 
its day. The hour has come to love one another. It is to 
promulgate these truths that the poet is good. For that, he 
must be of the people ; for that he must be of the populace, 
 — that is to say, that, bringing progress, he should not recoil 
before the pressure of facts, however ugly the facts may be. 
The distance between the real and the ideal cannot be meas- 
ured otherwise. Besides, to drag the cannon-ball a little 
completes Vincent de Paul. Hurrah, then, for the trivial 
promiscuousness, for the popular metaphor, for the great 
life in common with those exiles from joy who are called the 
poor ! — this is the first duty of poets. It is useful, it is 
necessary, that the breath of the people should fill those all- 
powerful souls. The peojile have something to say to them. 
It is good that there should be in Euripides a flavour of the 
herb-dealers at Athens, and in Shakespeare of the sailors of 
London. 

Sacrifice to " the mob," O poet ! Sacrifice to that unfor- 
tunate, disinherited, vanquished, vagabond, shoeless, famished, 
repudiated, despairing mob ; sacrifice to it, if it must be and 
when it must be, thy repose, thy fortune, thy joy, thy coun- 
try, thy liberty, thy life. The mob is the human race in 
misery. The mob is the mournful commencement of the peo- 
ple. The mob is the great victim of darkness. Sacrifice 
to it! Sacrifice thyself! Let thyself be hunted, let thy- 
self be exiled as Voltaire to Ferney, as D'Aubigne to Geneva, 
as Dante to Verona, as Juvenal to Syene, as Tacitus to 
Methymna, as ^Eschylus to Gela, as John to Patmos, as Elias 
to Horeb, as Thucydides to Thrace, as Isaiah to Esiongebcr! 
Sacrifice to the mob. Sacrifice to it thy gold, and thy blood 



212 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

which is more than thy gold, and thy thought wliich is moro 
than thy blood, and thy love which is more than tli v thought ; 
sacrifice to it everything except justice. Receive its com- 
plaint ; listen to its faults, and to the faults of others. Listen 
to what it has to confess and to denounce to thee. Stretch 
forth to it the ear, the hand, the arm, the heart. Do everj'- 
thing for it, excepting evil. Alas ! it suffers so much, and 
it knows nothing. Correct it, warm it, instruct it, guide it, 
bring it up. Put it to the school of honesty. ^lake it spell 
truth ; show it that alphabet, reason ; teach it to read virtue, 
probity, generosity, mercy. Hold thy book wide open. Be 
there, attentive, vigilant, kind, faithful, humble. Light up 
the brain, inflame the mind, extinguish egotism, show good 
example. The poor are privation : be abnegation. Teach ! 
irradiate! They need thee; thou art their great thirst. To 
learn is the first step ; to live is but the second. Be at their 
order, dost thou hear.? Be ever there, light! For it is beau- 
tiful, on this sombre earth, during this dark life, short passage 
to something else, it is beautiful that Force should have 
Right for a master, that Progress should have Courage as a 
chief, that Intelligence should have Honour as a sovereign, 
that Conscience should have Duty as a despot, that Civiliza- 
tion should have Liberty as a queen, that Ignorance should 
have a servant, — Light. 



BOOK V 

THE MINDS AND THE MASSES 



CHAPTER I 

FOR the last eighty years memorable things have been 
done. A wonderful heap of demolished materials cov- 
ers the pavement. 

What is done is but little by the side of what remains to be 
done. 

To destroy is the task: to build is the work. Progress 
demolishes with the left hand ; it is with the right hand that it 
builds. 

The left hand of Progress is called Force ; the right hand 
is called Mind. 

There is at this hour a great deal of useful destruction 
accomplished ; all the old cumbersome civilization is, thanks 
to our fathei-s, cleared away. It is well, it is finished, it is 
thrown down, it is on the ground. Now, up with you all, 
intellects ! to work, to labour, to fatigue, to duty ; it is neces- 
sary to construct. 

Here three questions: To construct what.^ To construct 
where.'' To construct how? 

We reply: To construct the people. To construct the 
people according to the laws of progress. To construct the 
people according to the laws of light. 

213 



214 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER II 

TO work for tlw people, — that is the great and urgent 
necessity. 

The human mind — an ini])ortant tiling to say at this 
minute — has a gi-eater need of the ideal even than of the 
real. 

It is by the real that '.ve exist; it is b}' the ideal that we 
live. Now, do you wish to realize the difference.'' Animals 
exist, man lives. 

To live, is to understand. To live, is to smile at the 
present, to look toward posterity over the wall. To live, is 
to have in one's self a balance, and to weigh in it the good 
and the evil. To live, is to have justice, truth, reason, de- 
votion, probity, sincerity, common-sense, right, and duty 
nailed to the heart. To live, is to know what one is worth, 
"what one can do and should do. Life is conscience. Cato 
would not rise before Ptolemy. Cato lived. 

Literature is the secretion of civilization, poetry of the 
ideal. That is why literature is one of the wants of societies. 
That is why poetry is a hunger of the soul. That is 
why poets are the first instructors of the people. That is why 
Shakespeare must be translated in France. That is why 
Moliere must be translated in England. That is why com- 
ments must be made on them. That is why there must be 
a vast public literary domain. That is why all poets, all 
philosophers, all thinkers, all the producers of the greatness 
of the mind must be translated, commented on, published, 
printed, reprinted, stereotyped, distributed, explained, re- 
cited, spread abroad, given to all, given cheaply, given at 
cost price, given for nothing. 

Poetry evolves heroism. M. Royer-Collard, that original 
and ironical friend of routine, was, taken all in all, a wise 
and noble spirit. Some one we know heard him saj' one day, 
" Spartacus is a poet." 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 215 

That wonderful and consolinp; Ezekiel — the tragic re- 
vealer of progress — has all kinds of singular passages full 
of" a profound meaning: "The voice said to me: Fill the 
palm of tliy hand with red-hot coals, and spread them on 
the city." And elsewhere: "The spirit having gone into 
them, everywhere where the spirit went, they went." And 
again : " A hand was stretched towards me. It held a roll 
which was a book. The voice said to me: Eat this roll. 
I opened the lips and I ate the book. And it was sweet in 
my mouth as honey." To eat the book is a strange and 
striking image, — the whole formula of perfectibility, which 
above is knowledge, and below, teaching. 

We have just said, " Literature is the secretion of civiliza- 
tion." Do you doubt it? Open the first statistics you come 
across. 

Here is one which we find under our hand: Bagne de 
Toulon, 1S62. Three thousand and ten prisoners. Of these 
three thousand and ten convicts, forty know a little more 
than to read and write, two hundred and eighty-seven know 
how to read and write, nine hundred and four read badly 
r.nd write badl}', seventeen hundred and seventy-nine know 
neither how to read nor write. In this wretched crowd all 
the merely mechanical trades are represented by numbers 
decreasing according as they rise toward the enlightened pur- 
suits, and you arrive at this final result: goldsmiths and jew- 
ellers, four; ecclesiastics, three; lawyers, two; comedians, one; 
artist musicians, one; men of letters, not one. 

The transformation of the crowd into the people, — pro- 
found labour! It is to this labour that the men called 
socialists have devoted themselves during the last forty years. 
The author of this book, however insignificant he may be, 
is one of the oldest in this labour ; " Le Dernier Jour d'un 
Condamne" dates from 1828, and "Claude Gueux " from 
1834. He claims his place among these philosophers be- 
cause it is a place of persecution. A certain hatred of so- 
cialism, very blind, but very general, has been at work for 
fifteen or sixteen years, and is still at work most bitterly 



216 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

iimong the influential classes. (Classes, then, arc still in ex- 
istence?) Let it not be forgotten, socialism, true socialism, 
has for its end the elevation of the masses to the civic dignity, 
and therefore its principal care is for moral and intellectual 
cultivation. The first hunger is ionorance; socialism wishes 
then, above all, to instruct. That does not hinder socialism 
from being calumniated, and socialists from being denounced. 
To most of the infuriated, trembling cowards who have their 
say at the present moment, these reformers are public enemies. 
They are guilty of everything that has gone wrong. " O 
Romans!" said TertulHan, "we are just, kind, thinking, 
lettered, honest men. We meet to pray, and we love you 
b;cause you are our brethren. We are gentle and peace- 
able like little children, and we wish for concord among men. 
Nevertheless, O Ron)ans ! if the Tiber overflows, or if the 
Nile does not, you cry, ' to the lions with the Christians ! ' " 



CHAPTER III 



THE democratic idea, the new bridge of civilization, un- 
dergoes at this moment the formidable trial of over- 
weight. Every other idea would certainly give way under 
the load that it is made to bear. Democracy proves its solid- 
ity by the absui'dities that are heaped on, without shaking it. 
It must resist everything that people choose to place on it. 
At this moment they try to make it carry despotism. 

The people have no need of liberty,- — such was the pass- 
word of a certain innocent and duped school, the head of 
which has been dead some years. That poor honest dreamer 
believed in good faith that men can keep progress with them 
when they turn out liberty. We have heard him put forth, 
probably without meaning it, this aphorism : Liberty is 
good for the rich. These kinds of maxims have the disad- 
vantage of not being prejudicial to the establishment of 
empires. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 217 

No, no, no! Nothing out of liberty. 

Servitude is the blind soul. Can you figure to yourself 
a m.-ui blinci voluntarily? This terrible thing exists. There 
arc willing slaves. A smile in irons ! Can anything be more 
hideous? He who is not free is not a man; he who is not 
free has no sight, no knowledge, no discernment, no growth,, 
no comprehension, no will, no faith, no love; he has no wife, 
he has no children : he has a female and young ones ; he lives 
not, — ab luce principhim. Liberty is the apple of the eye. 
Liberty is the visual organ of progress. 

Because liberty has inconveniences, and even perils, to wish 
to create civilization without it is just the same as to try 
cultivation without the sun; the sun is also a censurable 
heavenly body. One day, in the too beautiful summer of 
1829, a critic, now forgotten, — and wrongly, for he was 
not without some talent, — M. P., suffering from the heat, 
sharpened his pen, saying, " I am going to excoriate the 
sun." 

Certain social theories, very distinct from socialism such 
as we understand and want it, have gone astray. Let us dis- 
card all that resembles the convent, the barrack, the coll and 
the straight-line system. Paraguay, minus the Jesuits, is 
Paraguay just the same. To give a new fashion to evil is 
not a useful task. To recommence the old slavery is idiotic. 
Let the nations of Europe bcw are of a despotism made anew 
from materials they have to some extent themselves supplied. 
Such a thing, cemented with a special philosophy, might well 
last. We have just mentioned the theorists, some of whom 
otherwise right and sincere, who, by dint of fearing the dis- 
persion of activities and energies, and of what they call 
" anarchy," have arrived at an almost Chinese acceptation 
of absolute social concentration. They turn their resig-na- 
tion into a doctrine. Provided man eats and drinks, all is 
right. The happiness of the beast is the solution. But this 
is a happiness which some other men would call by a different 
name. 

VVe dream for nations something else besides a felicity 



218 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

solely made up of obedience. Tlie bastinado procures that 
sort of felicity for tlie Turkish fellah, the knout for the 
Russian serf, and the cat-o'-nine-tails for the English soldier. 
These socialists by the side of socialism come from Joseph 
de JNIaistre, and from Ancillon, without suspecting it perhaps ; 
for the ingenuousness of these theorists rallied to the fait 
accompli has • — or fancies it has — democratic intentions, 
and speaks energetically of the " principles of '89." Let 
these involuntary philosophers of a possible despotism think 
a moment. To teach the masses a doctrine against liberty; 
to cram intellects with appetities and fatalism, a certain sit- 
uation being given ; to saturate it with materialism ; and to 
run the risk of the construction which might proceed from it, 
 — that would be to understand progress in the fashion of 
the worthy man who applauded a new gibbet, and who ex- 
claimed, "This is all right! We have had till now but the 
old wooden gallows. To-day the age advances; and here we 
are with a good stone gibbet, which will do for our children 
and grandchildren ! " 



CHAPTER rV^ 



TO enjoy a fidl stomach, a satisfied intestine, a satiated 
bcllv, is doubtless something, for it is the enjoyment 
of the brute. However, one may place one's ambition higher. 
Certainly, a good salary is a fine thing. To tread on this 
firm ground, high wages, is pleasant. The wise man likes 
to want nothing. To insure his own position is the char- 
acteristic of an intelligent man. An official chair, with ten 
thousand sesterces a year, is a graceful and convenient seat. 
Groat cmolumeaits give a fresh complexion and good health. 
One lives to an old age in j)leasant, well-paid sinecures. The 
high financial world, rich in plentiful profits, is a place agree- 
able to live in. To be well at Court settles a family well 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 219 

and brings a fortune. As for myself, I prefer to all these 
solid comforts the old leaky vessel in which Bishop Quod- 
vultdeus embarks with a smile. 

There is something beyond gorging one's self. The goal 
of man is not the goal of the animal. 

A moral enhancement is necessary. The life of nations, 
like the life of individuals, has its minutes of depression ; 
these minutes pass, certainly, but no trace of them ought to 
remain. Man, at this hour, tends to fall into the stomach. 
Man must be replaced in the heart; man must be replaced 
in the brain. The brain, — -behold the sovereign that must 
be restored! The social question requires to-day, more than 
ever, to be examined on the side of human dignity. 

To show man the human end, to ameliorate intelligence 
first, the animal afterward, to disdain the flesh as long as the 
thought is despised, and to give the example on their own 
flesh, — such is the actual, immediate urgent duty of writers. 

It is what men of genius have done at all times. 

You ask in what poets can be useful.'' In imbuing civil- 
ization with light, — only that. 



CHAPTER V 



UP to this day there has been a literature of literati. In 
France, particularly, as we have said, literature had a 
disposition to form a caste. To be a poet was something 
like being a mandarin. Words did not all belong by right 
to the language. The dictionary granted or did not grant 
the registration. The dictionary had a will of its own. Im- 
agine the botanist declaring to a vegetable that it does not 
exist, and Nature timidly ofl^ering an insect to entomology, 
■which refuses it as incorrect. Imagine astronomy cavilling 
at the stars. We recollect having heard an Academician, now 
dead, say in full academy that French had been spoken in 



220 WII.T.IAM SHAKESPEARE 

France only in the seventeenth century, and then for only 
twelve years, — we do not remember which twelve. Let us 
give up, for it is time, this order of ideas; democracy re- 
quires it. The actual enlarging of thoughts needs some- 
thing else. Let us leave the college, the conclave, the cell, 
the weak taste, weak art, the small chapel. Poetry is not a 
coterie. There is at this hour an effort made to galvanize 
dead things. Let us strive against this tendency. Let us 
insist on the truths which are urgent. The chefs-d' ceuvre 
recommended by the manual of bachelorship, compliments in 
verse and in prose, tragedies soaring over the head of some 
king, inspiration in full official dress, the brilliant nonentities 
fixing laws on poetry, the Arts poetiqiies which forget La 
Fontaine, and for which Moliere is doubtful, the Planats cas- 
trating the Corncilles, prudish tongues, the thoughts enclosed 
between four walls, and limited by Quintilian, Longinus, 
Boilcau, and La Harpe, — all that, although official and pub- 
lic teaching is filled and saturated with it, all that belongs 
to the past. Some particular epoch, which is called the 
grand century, and for a certainty the fine century, is noth- 
ing else in reality but a literary monologue. Is it possible 
to realize such a strange thing, — a literature which is an 
aside.'' It seems as if one read on the frontal of art " No ad- 
mittance." As for ourselves, we understand poetry onlj' 
with the door wide open. The hour has struck for hoisting 
the " All for All." What is needed by civilization, hence- 
forth a grown-up woman, is a popular literature. 

1830 has opened a debate, literary on the surface, at the 
bottom social and human. The moment is come to close the 
debate. We close it by asking a literature having in view 
this purpose : " The People." 

The author of these pages wrote, thirty-one years ago, 
in tlie preface to '" Lucrece Borgia," a few words often re- 
peated since : " Le poete a charge d'ames." He would add 
here, if it were worth saying, that, allowing for possible 
error, the words, uttered by his conscience, have been his rule 
throughout life. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 221 



CHAPTER VI 

MACCHIAVELLI had a stranrre idea of the people. To 
lieap the measure, to overflow the cup, to exaggerate 
Iiorror in the case of the prince, to increase the crusliing in 
order to stir up the oppressed to revolt, to cause idolatry to 
change into a curse, to push the masses to extremities, — - such 
seems to be his policy. His " yes " signifies " no." He loads 
the despot with despotism in order to make him burst. The 
tyrant becomes in his hands a hideous projectile, which 
will break to pieces. Macchiavclli conspires. For whom.? 
Against whom.'' Guess. His apotheosis of kings is just the 
thing to make regicides. On the head of his prince he places 
a diadem of crimes, a tiara of vices, a halo of baseness; and 
he invites you to adore his monster, with the air of a man 
expecting an avenger. He glorifies evil with a squint toward 
the darkness, — the darkness wherein is Harmodius. Mac- 
chiavelli, the getter-up of princely outrages, the valet of 
the Medici and of the Borgias, had in his youth been put 
to the rack for having admired Brutus and Cassius. He had 
perhaps plotted with the Soderini the deliverance of Florence. 
Does he recollect it .J" Docs he continue? His advice is fol- 
lowed, like the lightning, by a low rumbling In the cloud, — 
alarming reverberation. What did he mean to say? On 
whom has he a design? Is the advice for or against him to 
whom he gives it? One day, at Florence, in the garden of 
Cosmo Ruccelai, there being present the Duke of IMantua and 
John de Medici, who afterward commanded the Black Bands 
of Tuscany, Varchi, the enemy of Macchiavclli, heard him 
say to the two princes : " Let the people read no book, — • 
not even mine." It is curious to compare with this remark 
the advice given by Voltaire to the Duke de Choiseul, — at 
the same time advice to the minister, and insinuation for the 
king : " Let the boobies read our nonsense. There is no 
danger in reading, my lord. What can a great king like the 



222 WITJJAM SHAKESPEAT^E 

King of Franco fear? Tlio people are Imt rabble, and the 
books arc but trash." Let them read iiotliing, let them read 
everything: these two pieces of contrary advice coincide more 
than one would think. Voltaire, with hidden claws, is purring 
at the feet of the king, Voltaire and Macchiavelli are two 
formidable indirect revolutionists, dissimilar in everything, 
and yet identical in reality by their profound hatred, dis- 
guised in flatter}', of the master. The one is malignant, the 
other is sinister. The princes of the sixteenth century had 
as theorist on their infamies, and as enigmatical courtier, 
Macchiavelli, an enthusiast dark at heart. The flattery of a 
sphinx, — terrible thing! Better yet be flattered, like Louis 
XV., by a cat. 

Conclusion: ]\Lake the people read Macchiavelli, and make 
them read Voltaire. 

Macchiavelli will inspire them with horror of, and Voltaire 
with contempt for, crowned guilt. 

But the hearts should turn, above all, toward the grand 
jiure poets, whether they be sweet like Virgil or bitter like 
Juvenal. 



CHAPTER VII 



THE progi'css of man by the education of minds, — there 
is no safety but in that. Teach ! learn ! All the revo- 
lutions of the future are enclosed and imbedded in this phrase: 
Gratuitous and obligator^' instruction. 

It is by the unfolding of works of the highest order that 
this vast intellectual teaching should be crowned. At the 
top the men of genius. 

Wherever there is a gathering of men, there ought to 
be in a spcciixl place, a public expositor of the great thinkers. 

Bj' a great thinker wc mean a beneficent thinker. 

Ti^lic perpetual presence of the beautiful in their works 
maintains poets at the suuunit of teaching. 



WILLIAI^I SHAKESPEARE 223 

No one can foresee the quantity of light which will be 
brought forth by letting the people be in communication 
with men of genius. This combination of the hearts of the 
people with the heart of the poet will be the Voltaic pile of 
civilization. 

Will the people understand this magnificent teaching? 
Certainly. We know of nothing too lofty for the people. 
The people arc a great soul. Have you ever gone on a 
fete-day to a theatre open gratuitously to all.'' What do 
you think of that auditory? Do you know of any other 
more spontaneous and intelligent? Do you know, even in 
the forest, of a vibration more profound? The court of 
Versailles admires like a well-drilled regiment ; the people 
throw themselves passionately into the beautiful. They pack 
together, crowd, amalgamate, combine, and knead themselves 
in the theatre, — a living paste that the poet is about to 
mould. The powerful thumb of Moliere will presently make 
its mark on it ; the nail of Corneille will scratch this ill-shaped 
heap. Whence docs that heap come? Whence does it pro- 
ceed? From the Courtille, from the Porcherons, from the 
Cunette ; it is shoeless, it is bare-armed, it is ragged. Silence ! 
This is the human block. 

The house is crowded, the vast multitude looks, listens, 
loves ; all consciences, deeply moved, throw off their inner 
fire ; all ej'es glisten ; the huge beast with a thousand heads is 
there, — the Mob of Burke, the Plebs of Titus Livius, the 
Fex urh'is of Cicero. It caresses the beautiful ; smiling at it 
with the grace of a woman. It is literary in the most refined 
sense of the word; nothing equals the delicacy of this mon- 
ster. The tumultuous crowd trembles, blushes, palpitates. 
Its modest}' is surprising ; the crowd is a virgin. No prudery 
however; this brute is not brutal. Not a sympathy escapes 
it ; it has in itself the whole keyboard, from passion to irony, 
from sarcasm to sobbing. Its compassion is more than com- 
passion ; it is real mercy. God is felt in it. All at once the 
sublime passes, and the sombre electricity of the abyss heaves 
up suddenly all this pile of hearts and entrails; enthusiasm 



224 WILLIAISI SHAKESPEARE 

effects a transfiguration. And now, is the enemy at the 
gates, is tlie country in danger? Appeal to that populace, 
and it would enact the sublime drama of Thermopyhe. Who 
has called forth such a metamorphosis? Poetry. 

The multitude (and in this lies their grandeur) are pro- 
foundly open to the ideal. When they come in contact with 
lofty art they are pleased, they shudder. Not a detail es- 
capes them. The crowd is one liquid and living expanse 
capable of A'ibration. A mass is a sensitive-plant. Contact 
with the beautiful agitates ecstatically the surface of mul- 
titudes, — sure sign tliat tlie depth is sounded. A rustling 
of leaves, a mysterious breath, passes, the crowd trembles 
under the sacred insufflation of the abyss. 

And even where the man of the people is not in a crowd, 
he is yet a good hearer of great things. His ingenuousness 
is honest, his curiosity healthy. Ignorance is a longing. 
His near connection with Nature renders him subject to the 
holy emotion of the true. He has, toward poetry, secret 
natural desires which he does not suspect himself. All the 
teachings are due to the people. The more divine the light, 
the more is it made for this simple soul. We would have in 
the villages a pulpit from which Homer should be explained 
to the peasants. 



CHAPTER VIII 



TOO much matter is the evil of our day. Hence a cer- 
tain (hilness. 
It is necessary to restore some ideal in tiie human mind. 
Whence shall you take your ideal? Where is it? The 
poets, the philosophers, the thinkers are the urns. The ideal 
is in ^Eschylus, in Isaiah, in Juvenal, in Alighieri, in Shake- 
speare. Throw ^Eschylus, throw Isaiah, throw Juvenal, 
throw Dante, throw Shakespeare into the deep soul of the hu- 
man race. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 225 

Pour Job, Solomon, Pindar, Ezekiel, Sophocles, Euri- 
pides, Herodotus, Theocritus, Plautus, Lucretius, Virgil, 
Terence, Horace, Catullus, Tacitus, Saint Paul, Saint Au- 
gustine, Tei-tuUian, Petrarch, Pascal, Milton, Descartes, 
Corneille, La Fontaine, IMontcsquieu, Diderot, Rousseau, 
Beaumarchais, Sedaine, Andre Chenier, Kant, Byron, Schil- 
ler, — pour all these souls into man. And with them pour 
all the wits from /Esop up to Moliere, all the intellects from 
Plato up to Newton, all the encyclopedists from Aristotle up 
to Voltaire. 

By that means while curing the illness for the moment, 
you will establish forever the health of the human mind. 

You will cure the middle class and found the people. 

As we have said just now, after the destruction which has 
delivered the world, you will construct the edifice which shall 
make it prosper. 

What an aim, — to make the people 1 Principles com- 
bined with science ; every possible quantity of the absolute 
introduced by degrees into the fact; Utopia treated succes- 
sively by every mode of realization, — by political economy, 
by philosophy, by physics, by chemistry, by dynamics, by 
logic, by art ; union replacing little b}' little antagonism, and 
unity replacing union ; for religion God, for priest the father, 
for prayer virtue, for field the whole earth, for language the 
VM-b, for law the right, for motive-jjower duty, for hygiene 
labour, for economy universal peace, for canvas the very life, 
for the goal progress, for authority liberty, for people the 
man, — such is the simplification. 

And at the summit the ideal. 

The ideal ! — inflexible type of perpetual progress. 

To whom belong men of genius if not to thee, people.'' 
They do belong to thee; they are thy sons and thy fath- 
ers. Thou givest birth to them, and they teach thee. They 
open in thy chaos vistas of light. Children, they have drunk 
thy sap. They have leaped in the universal matrix, human- 
itj'. Each of thy phases, people, is an avatar. The deep 

essence of life, it is in thee that it must be looked for. Thou 
15 



226 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

art the great bosom. Geniuses are begotten from thee, mys- 
terious crowd. 

Let them therefore return to thee. 

People, the author, God, dedicates them to thee. 



BOOK VI 

THE BEAUTIFUL THE SERVANT OF THE 
TRUE. 



CHAPTER I 

AH, minds, be useful ! Be of some service. Do not be 
fastidious when it is necessary to be efficient and good. 
Art for art may be beautiful, but art for progress is more 
beautiful yet. To dream revery is well, to dream Utopia is 
better. Ah, 3'ou must think.'' Then think of making man 
better. You must dream.'' Here is the dream for you, — 
the ideal. The prophet seeks solitude, but not isolation. He 
unravels and untwists the threads of humanity, tied and rolled 
in a skein in his soul; he does not break them. He goes 
into the desert to think — of whom ? Of the multitude. It 
is not to the forests that he speaks ; it is to the cities. It is 
not at the grass bending to the wind that he looks ; it is at 
man. It is not against lions that he wars ; it is against ty- 
rants. Woe to thee, Ahab ! woe to thee, Hosea ! woe to you, 
kings ! woe to you, Pharaohs ! is the cry of the great solitary 
one. Then he weeps. 

For what? For that eternal captivity of Babylon, under- 
gone by Israel formerly, undergone by Poland, by Roumania, 
by Hungary, by Venice to-day. He grows old, the good and 
dark thinker ; he watches, he lies in wait, he listens, he looks, — 
ear in the silence, eye in the night, claw half stretched toward 
the wicked. Go and speak to him, then, of art for art, to 
that cenobite of the ideal. He has his aim, and he walks 

227 



228 WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 

straififlit toward it; and his aim is tliis: improvement. lie 
devotes himself to it. 

He does not belong to himself; he belongs to his apostle- 
ship. He is intrusted with that immense care, — the progress 
of the human race. Genius is not made for genius, it is made 
for man. Genius on earth is God giving himself. Each 
time that a masterpiece appears, it is a distribution of God 
that takes place. The masterpiece is a variety of the miracle. 
Thence, in all religions, and among all peoples, comes faith 
in divine men. They deceive themselves, those who think 
that we deny the divinity of Christ. 

At the point now reached by the social question every- 
thing should be action in common. Forces isolated frustrate 
one another ; the ideal and the real strengthen each other. 
Art necessarily aids science. These two wheels of progress 
should turn together. 

Generation of new talents, noble group of writers and 
poets, legion of young men, O living posterity of my coun- 
try, 3'our elders love and salute you ! Courage ! let us conse- 
crate ourselves. Let us devote ourselves to the good, to the 
true, to the just. In that there is goodness. 

Some pure lovers of art, affected by a pre-occupation 
which in its way has its dignity and nobleness, discard this 
formula, " Art for progress," the Beautiful, Useful, fear- 
ing lest the useful should deform the beautiful. They trem- 
ble lest the}' should see attached to the fine arms of the Muse 
the coarse hands of the drudge. According to them, the 
ideal may become perverted by too much contact with reality. 
They arc solicitous for the sublime if it is lowered as far as 
humanity. Ah, they are mistaken. 

The useful, far from circumscribing the sublime, increases 
it. The apjjlication of the sublime to human things produces 
unexpected chef.i-d'irnvre. The useful, considered in itself 
and as an element combining with the sublime, is of several 
kinds; there is the useful which is tender, and there is the use- 
ful which is indignant. Tender, it refreshes the unfortunate 
and creates the social epopee; indignant, it flagellates the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 229 

wicked, and creates the divine satire. Moses hands the rod 
to Jesus ; and after having caused the water to gush from the 
rock, tliat august rod, the very same, drives the vendors from 
the sanctuary. 

What! art should grow less because it has expanded? No. 
One service more is one more beauty. 

But people cry out: To undertake the cure of social 
evils ; to amend the codes ; to denounce the law to the right ; 
to pronounce those hideous words, " bagne," " galley-slave," 
" convict," " girl of the town ;" to control the police-regis- 
ters; to contract the dispensaries; to investigate wages and 
the want of work ; to taste tlie black bread of the poor ; to 
seek labour for the work-girl ; to confront fashionable idle- 
ness with ragged sloth; to throw down the partition of ig- 
norance ; to open schools ; to teach little children how to read ; 
to attack shame, infamy, error, vice, crime, want of conscience ; 
to preach the multiplication of spehing-books ; to proclaim 
the equality of the sun; to ameliorate the food of intellects 
and of hearts ; to give meat and drink ; to claim solutions for 
problems and shoes for naked feet,— that Is not the business 
of the azure. Art is the azure. 

Yes, art is the azure; but the azure from above, from 
which falls the ray which swells the corn, makes the maize 
yellow and the apple round, gilds the orange, sweetens the 
grape. I repeat it, one sei-vice moi-e is one more beauty. 
At all events, where is the diminution.'' To ripen the beet- 
root, to water the potatoes, to thicken the lucern, the clover, 
and the hay ; to be a fellow-workman with the ploughman, the 
vine-dresser, and the gardener, — that does not deprive the 
heavens of one star. Ah, immensity does not despise utility, 
and what does it lose by it.'' Does the vast vital fluid that 
we call magnetic or electric lighten less splendidly the depth 
of the clouds because it consents to perform the office of pilot 
to a bark, and to keep always turned to the north tlie small 
needle that is trusted to it, the huge guide.' Is the aurora 
less magnificent, has it less purple and emerald, does it un- 
dergo any decrease of majesty, of grace and radiancy, be- 



230 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

cause, foreseeing the tliirst of a fly, it carefully secretes in 
the flower the drop of dew which the bee requires? 

Yet, people insist: To compose social poetry, human 
poetry, popular poetry ; to grumble against the evil and for 
the good ; to promote public passions ; to insult despots ; to 
make rascals despair ; to emancipate man before he is of age ; 
to push souls forward and darkness backward ; to know that 
there are thieves and tyrants ; to clean penal cells ; to empty 
the pail of public filth, — what ! PoWhj mnia, sleeves tucked 
up to do such dirty work ? Oh, for shame ! 

Why not? 

Homer was the geographer and the historian of his time, 
Moses the legislator of his, Juvenal the judge of his, Dante 
the theologian of his, Shakespeare the moralist of his, Voltaire 
the philosoplier of his. No region, in speculation or in real 
fact, is shut to the mind. Here a horizon, there wings; right 
for all to soar. 

For certain sublime beings, to soar is to serve. In the 
desert not a drop of water, — a horrible thirst ; the wretched 
file of pilgrims drag along overcome. All at once, in the 
horizon, above a wrinkle in the sands, a griffin is seen soaring, 
and all the caravan cry out " There is water there ! " 

What thinks .Esch^lus of art as art? Certainly, if ever 
a poet was a poet, it is .Eschylus. Listen to his reply. It 
is in the " Frogs of Aristophanes, line 1039. .Eschylus 
speaks : — 

" Since the beginning of time, the ilhistrious poet has served men. 
Orphevis has taught the horror of murder, Musaeus oracles and medi- 
cine, Hesiod agriculture, and that dirine Homer, heroism. And I, after 
Homer, I have sung Patroclus. and Tcncer the lion-hearted; so that 
every citizen should try to resemble the great men." 

As all the sea is salt, so all the Bible is poetry. This 
poetrv talks politiee at its own hours. Open 1 Samuel, chap- 
ter viii. The Jewish people demand a king: 

". . . And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of 
the people in all tliat they say unto thee; for they have not rejected tliee, 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 231 

tint they have rejected me, that I should not reigii over them. . . . 
Ami Samuel told all the words of the Lortl unto the people that asked 
of him a king. And he said, Thi.s will be the manner of the king; that 
.shall reign over you: He will take your son.s and ap])oint them for 
him.self, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run 
before his chariots. . . . And he will take your daughters to l)e con- 
fectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And lie will take your 
fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, 
and give them to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, 
and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your as.ses, 
and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and 
yc shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of 
your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear 
you in tliat day." 

Samuel, we see, denies the right divine; Deuteronomy 
shakes tlie altar, — the false altar, let us observe ; but is not 
the next altar always the false altar? "You shall demolish 
the altars of the false gods. You shall seek God where he 
dwells." It is almost Pantheism, Because it takes part in 
lumian things, is democratic here, iconoclast there, is that 
book less magnificent and less supreme? If poetry is not in 
the Bible, where is it? 

You say: The muse is made to sing, to love, to believe, 
to pray. Yes and no. Let us understand each other. To 
sing whom? The void. To love what? One's self. Va 
believe in what? The dogma. To pray to what? The 
idol. No, here is the truth : To sing the ideal, to love hu- 
manity, to believe in progress, to pray to the infinite. 

Take care, you who are tracing those circles round the 
poet, you put him beyond man. That the poet should be 
beyond humanity in one way, — by the wings, by the im- 
mense flight, by the sudden possible disappearance in the 
fathomless, — is well ; it must be so, but on condition of re- 
appearance. He may depart, but he must return. Let him 
]iave wings for the infinite, provided he has feet for the 
earth, and that, after having been seen fljing, he is seen walk- 
ing. Let him become man again, after he has gone out of 
humanity. After he has been seen an archangel, let him be 
once more a brother. Let the star which is in that eye weep 
a tear, and that tear be tlie human tear. Thus, human and 



232 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

superluiman, lie shall be tlic poet. But to be filtogetber be- 
yond man, is not to be. Sliow mc thy foot, genius, and let 
us see if, like myself, thou hast eartlily dust on thy heel. 

If thou has not some of that dust, if thou hast never 
walked in my pathway, thou dost not know me and I do not 
know thee. Go away. Thou belicvest thyself an angel, thou 
art but a bird. 

Help from the strong for the weak, hclji from the great 
for the small, help from the free for the slaves, help from the 
thinkers for the ignorant, help from the solitary for the mul- 
titudes, — such is the law, from Isaiah to Voltaire. He who 
does not follow that law* may he a genius, but he is only a 
useless genius. By not handling the things of the earth, he 
thinks to purify himself; he annuls himself. He is the re- 
fined, the delicate, he may be the exquisite genius ; he is not 
the great genius. Any one, roughly useful, but useful, has 
the right to ask on seeing that good-for-nothing genius : 
" Who is this idler.'' " The amphora which refuses to go to 
the fountain deserves the hooting of the pitchers. 

Great is he who consecrates himself ! Even when over- 
come, he remains serene, and his misery is happiness. No, it 
is not a bad thing for the poet to meet face to face with 
dut}'. Duty has a stern resemblance to the ideal. The act 
of doing one's duty is worth all the trial it costs. No, the 
jostling with Cato is not to be avoided. No, no, no; truth, 
honesty, teaching the crowds, human liberty, manly virtue, 
conscience, are not things to disdain. Indignation and emo- 
iion are but one faculty turned toward the two sides of mourn- 
ful human slavery ; and those who are capable of anger are 
capable of love. To level the tyrant and the slave, what a 
magnificent effort ! Now, the whole of one side of actual 
society is tyrant, and all the other side is slave. To 
straighten this out will be a wonderful thing to accomplish; 
yet it will be done. All thinkers must work with that end in 
view. They will gain greatness in that work. To be the ser- 
vant of God in the march of jjrogress and the apostle of God 
with tiie jjcople, — such is the law which regulates the growtli 
of genius. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 233 



CHAPTER II 

THERE are two poets, — the poet of caprice find the poet 
of logic ; and there is a third poet, a component of 
both, amending them one by the other, completing them 
one by the other, and summing them up in a loftier entity, 
 — the two statures in a single one. The third is the first. 
He has caprice, and he follows the wind. He has logic, and 
he follows duty. The first writes the Canticle of Canticles, 
the second writes Leviticus, the third writes the Psalms and 
the Prophecies. The first is Horace, the second is Lucan, 
the third is Juvenal. The first is Pindar, the second is 
Hesiod, the third is Homer. 

No loss of beauty results from goodness. Is the lion less 
beautiful than the tiger, because it has the faculty of merci- 
ful emotion? Does that jaw which opens to let the infant 
fall into the hands of the mother deprive that niano of its 
majesty.'' Docs the vast noise of the roaring vanish from 
that terrible mouth because it has licked Androcles.? The 
genius which does not help, even if graceful, is deformed. A 
prodigy without love is a monster. Let us love 1 let us love ! 

To love has never hindered from pleasing. Where have 
you seen one form of the good excluding the other.'' On the 
contrary, all that is good is connected. Let us, however, 
understand each other. It does not follow that to have one 
quality implies necessarily the possession of the other ; but 
ic would be strange that one quality added to another should 
make less. To be useful, is but to be useful ; to be beautiful 
is but to be beautiful ; to be useful and beautiful is to be 
sublime. That is what Saint Paul is in the first century, 
Tacitus and Juvenal in the second, Dante in the thirteenth, 
Shakespeare in the sixteenth, Milton and Moliere in the seven- 
teenth. 

We have just now recalled a saying become famous: " Art 



231. WII.TJAM SHAKESPEARE 

for art." Let us, once for all, explain ourselves in this 
question. If faith can be placed in an affinnation very gen- 
eral and very often repeated (we believe honestly), these 
words, " Art for art," would have been written by the author 
of this book himself. Written? Never! You may read, 
from the first to the last line, all that we have published ; you 
will not find these words. It is tlie opposite which is written 
tliroughout our works, and, we insist on it, in our entire life. 
As for these words in themselves, how far are they real? 
Here is the fact, which several of our contemporaries remem- 
ber as well as we do. One day, thirty-five years ago, in a 
discussion between critics and poets on Voltaire's tragedies, 
the author of this book threw out this suggestion : " This 
tragedy is not a tragedy. It is not men who live, it is sen- 
tences which speak in it ! Rather a hundred times ' Art for 
art ! ' " This remark turned, doubtless involuntarily, from 
its true sense to serve the wants of discussion, has since taken, 
to the great surprise of him who had uttered it, the propor- 
tions of a fornnila. It is this opinion, limited to " Alzire " 
and to the " Orpheline de la Chine," and incontestable in that 
restricted application, which has been turned into a perfect 
declaration of principles, and an axiom to inscrilw^ on the ban- 
ner of art. 

This point settled, let us go on. 

Between two verses, the one by Pindar, deifying a coach- 
mai. or glorifying the brass nails of the wheel of a chariot, 
th-^ other by Archilochus, so powerful that, after having read 
it, Jeffreys would leave off his career of crimes and would 
lianf'' himself on the gallows prepared by him for honest peo- 
ple,— - between these two verses, of equal beauty, I prefer that 
of Archilochus. 

In times anterior to history, when poetry is fabulous and 
legendary, it lias a Promethean grandeur. Wluit composes 
this grandeur? Utility. Orpheus tames wild animals; Am- 
phion builds cities; the poet, tamer and architect, Linus aid- 
ing Hercules, Musa'us assisting Daxlulus, poetry a civilizing 
power, — such is the origin. Tradition agrees witli reason. 



WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 235 

The common-sense of peoples is not deceived in that. It al- 
ways invents fables in the sense of truth. Everything is 
great in those magnifying distances. Well, then, the wild- 
beast-taming poet that j'ou admire in Orpheus, recognize him 
in Juvenal. 

We insist on Juvenal. Few poets have been more insulted, 
more contested, more calumniated. Calumny against Juvenal 
has been drawn at such long date that it lasts yet. It passes 
from one literary clown to another. These grand haters of 
evil are hated by all the flatterers of power and success. The 
mob of fawning sophists, of writers who have around the neck 
the mark of their slavery, of bullj'ing historiographers, of 
scholiasts kept and fed, of court and school followers, stand 
in the wa^' of the glory of the punishers and avengers. They 
croak around those eagles. People do not willingly render 
justice to the dispensers of justice. They hinder the masters 
and rouse the indignation of the lackeys. There is such a 
thing as the indignation of baseness. 

Jloreover, the diminutives cannot do less than help one an- 
othe)', and Caesarion must at least have Tyrannion as a sup- 
port. The pedant snaps the ferules for the benefit of the 
satrap. There is for this kind of work a literary sycophancy 
and an official pedagogism. These poor, dear-paying vices ; 
these excellent indulgent crimes ; his Highness Rufinus ; his 
Majesty Claudius; that august Madame Messalina who gives 
such beautiful fetes, and pensions out of her privy purse, and 
who lasts and who is perpetuated, always crowned, calling 
herself Theodora, then Fredegonde, then Agnes, then Mar- 
garet of Burgundy, then Isabel of Bavaria, then Catherine 
de Medici, then Catherine of Russia, then Caroline of Naples, 
etc., — all these great lords, crimes, all these fine ladies, turpi- 
tudes, shall they have the sorrow of witnessing the triumph of 
Juvenal ! No. War with the scourge in the name of scep- 
tres ! War with the rod in the name of the shop ! That is 
well ! Go on, courtiers, clients, eunuchs, and scribes. Go on, 
publicans and pharisees. You will not hinder the republic 
from thanking Juvenal, or the temple from approving Jesus. 



236 W1IXIA3I SHAKESPEARE 

Isaiali, Juvenal, Dante, — - they arc virgins. Observe their 
eyes cast down. There is chastity in the anger of the just 
against the unjust. The Imprecation can be as holy as the 
Ilosanna ; and indignation, honest indignation, has the very 
purity of virtue. In point of whiteness, the foam has no rea- 
son to envy the snow. 



CHAPTER III 



HISTORY proves the working partnership of art and 
2)rogress. Dicfus oh hoc Icnirc t'lgrcs. Rhythm is a 
power, — a power that the Middle Ages recognize and submit 
to not less than antiquity. The second barbarism, feudal 
barbarism, dreads also this power, — poetry. The barons, not 
over-timid, are abashed before the poet. Who is this man.-* 
They fear lest a manly song be sung. Tiic spirit of civiliza- 
tion is with this unknown. The old donjons full of carnage 
open their wild eyes, and suspect the darkness ; anxiety seizes 
hold of them. Feudality trembles ; the den is disturbed. The 
dragons and the hj'dras are ill at ease. Why.' Because an 
invisible god is there. 

It is curious to find this power of poetry in countries where 
unsociableness is deepest, particularly in England, in that ex- 
treme feudal darkness, pcn'ttus toto divi.ios orhe Bntnnnos. 
If we believe the legend, — a form of history as true and as 
false as any other, — it is owing to poetry that Colgrim, be- 
sieged by the Britons, is relieved in York b^' his brother Bar- 
dulph the Saxon ; that King Awlof jjenetrates into the camp 
of Athclstan ; that Werburgh, prince of Northumbria, is de- 
livered by the Welsh, whence, it is said, that Celtic device of 
the Prince of Wales, Ich dien; that Alfred, King of England, 
triumphs over Gitro, King of the Danes ; and that Richard the 
IJon-heartcd escapes from the prison of Losenstciii. Ra- 
nulph. Earl of Chester, attacked in his castle of Rothclan, is 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 237 

saved by the intervention of the minsh-els, vliich was still au- 
thenticated under Elizabeth by the privilege accorded to the 
minstrels patronized by the Lords of Dalton. 

The poet had the right of rejirimand and menace. In 
1316, on Pentecost Day, Edward II. being at table in the 
grand hall of Westminster with the peers of England, a fe- 
male minstrel entered the hall on horseback, rode all round, 
saluted Edward II., predicted in a loud voice to the minion 
Spencer the gibbet and castration by the hand of the execu- 
tioner, and to the king the hoof by means of which a red-hot 
iron should be buried ii' his intestines, placed on the table 
before the king a letter, and departed ; and no one said any- 
thing to her. 

At the festivals the minstrels passed before the priests, and 
were more honourably treated. At Abingdon, at a festival of 
the Holy Cross, each of the twelve priests received fourpencc, 
and each of the twelve minstrels two shillings. At the priory 
of Maxtoke, the custom was to give supper to the minstrels 
in the Painted Chamber, lighted by eight huge wax-candles. 

The more we advance North, it seems as if the increased 
thickness of the fog increases the greatness of the poet. In 
Scotland he is enormous. If anything surpasses the legend 
of the Rhapsodists, it is the legend of the Scalds. At the 
approach of Edward of England, the bards defend Stirling as 
the three hundred had defended Sparta ; and they have their 
Thermopylae, as great as that of Leonidas. Ossian, perfectly 
certain and real, has had a plagiary ; that is nothing ; but this 
plagiarist has done more than rob him, — he has made him 
insipid. To know Fingal only by Macpherson is as if one 
knew Amadis only by Tressan. They show at Staffa the 
stone of the poet, Clachan an Bairdh, — so named, according 
to many antiquaries, long before the visit of Walter Scott to 
the Hebrides. This chair of the Bard — a great hollow rock 
ready for a giant wishing to sit down — is at the entrance of 
the grotto. Around it are the waves and the clouds. Be- 
hind the Clachan an Bairdh is heaped up and raised the super- 
human geometry of basaltic »»risms, the flell-mcll of colonnades 



238 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

aiul Wiives, and all (he iiiystei'y of ilie fearful edifice. The 
gallery of Fiiigal runs next to the poet's chair; the sea beats 
on it before entering under tliat teiTible ceiling. When even- 
ing comes, one imagines that he sees in that chair a form lean- 
ing on its elbow. " It is tlie ghost ! " say the fislu-riiien of 
^lackinnon's clan; and no one would dare, even in full day, to 
go up as far as that forinid;ible seat; for to the idea of the 
stone is allied the idea of the scpulclu'c, and on the chair of 
granite no one can be seated but the man of shade. 



CHAPTER IV 



THOUGHT is power. 
All power is duty. Shoidd this power enter into re- 
pose in our age.'' Should duty sliut its eyes? and is the mo- 
ment come for art to disarm.'' Less than ever. The hmnan 
caravan is, thanks to 1789, arrived on a high plateau ; and 
the horizon being more vast, art has more to do. This is all. 
To e\Qry widening of horizon corresponds an enlargement of 
conscience. 

We have not reached the goal. Concord condensed in hap- 
piness, civilization summed up in harmony, — that is far off 
yet. In the eighteenth century that dream was so distant 
that it seemed a guilty thought. The Abbe de St. Pierre was 
expelled from the xVcadcmy for having dreamed that dream, — 
an expulsion which seems rather severe <at a period when pas- 
torals earned the day, oven with Fontenelle, and when St. 
Lambert invented the idyll for Ilie use of the nobility. The 
Abbe de St. Pierre has left behind him a word and a dream : 
the word is his own, — " Benevolence ;" the dream belongs to 
all of us, — "Fraternity." This dream, which made Cardinal 
de Polignac foam and Voltaire smile, is not now so much lost 
as it was once in the mist of the improbable. It is a little 
nearer; but we do not touch it. The people, tliose orphans 



WILLI A^I SHAKESPEARE 239 

who seek their mother, do not yet hold in their hand the hem 
of the robe of peace. 

There remains around us a sufficient quantity of slavery, of 
sophistry', of war and death, to prevent the spirit of civiliza- 
tion from giving up any of its forces. The idea of the right 
divine is not yet entirely done away with. That whicli has 
been Ferdinand VII. in Spain, Ferdinand II. in Naples, 
George IV. in England, Nicholas in Russia, still floats about; 
a remnant of these spectres is still hovering in the air. In- 
spirations descend from that fatal cloud on some crown-bear- 
ers who, leaning on their elbows, meditate with a sinister as- 
pect. 

Civilization has not done yet with those who grant consti- 
tutions, with the owners of peoples, and with the legitimate 
and hereditary madmen, who assert themselves majesties by 
the grace of God, and think that they have the right of 
manumission over the human race. It is necessary to raise 
some obstacle, to show bad will to the past, and to bring to 
bear on these men, on these dogmas, on these chimeras which 
stand in the way, some hindrance. Intellect, thought, science, 
true art, philosophy, ought to watch and beware of misunder- 
standings. False rights contrive very easily to put in move- 
ment true armies. There are murdered Polands looming in 
the future. " All my anxiety," said a contemporary poet 
recently dead, " is the smoke of my cigar." My anxiety is 
also a smoke, — the smoke of the cities which are burning in 
the distance. Therefore, let us bring the masters to grief, if 
we can. 

Let us go again in the loudest possible voice over the lesson 
3f the just and the unjust, of right and usuipation, of oath 
and perjury, of good and evil, of fas et nefas; let us come 
forth with all our old antitheses, as they say. Let us con- 
trast what ought to be with what actually is. Let us put 
clearness into everything. Bring light, you that have it. 
Let us oppose dogma to dogma, principle to principle, energy 
to obstinacy, truth to inposture, dream to dream, — the dream 
of the future to the dream of the past, — liberty to despot- 



240 ^VILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

ism. Pcoijie will be able to sit down, to stretch themselves at 
full length, and to go on smoking the cigar of fancy poetry, 
and to enjoy Boccaccio's " Decameron " with the sweet blue 
sky over their heads, whenever the sovereignty of a king shall 
be exactly of the same dimension as the liberty of a man. Un- 
til then, little sleep. I am distrustful. 

Put sentinels everywhere. Do not expect from despots a 
large share of liberty. Break Aour own shackles, all of you 
Polands that may be ! Make sure of the future by your own 
exertions. Do not hope that your chain will forge itself into 
the key of freedom. Up, children of the fatherland ! O 
mowers of the steppes, arise ! Trust to the good intentions 
of orthodox czars just enough to take up arms. Hypocrisies 
and apologies, being traps, are one more danger. 

We live in a time when orations are heard praising the 
magnanimity of white bears, and the tender feelings of 
panthers. Amnesty, clemency, grandeur of soul ; an era of fe- 
licity opens ; fatherly love is the order of the day ; see all 
that is already done ; it must not be thought that the march of 
the age is not understood ; august arms are open ; rally still 
closer round the emperor ; ]\Iuscovy is kind-hearted. See how 
happy the serfs are! The streams are to flow with milk, with 
prosperity and liberty for all. Your princes groan like you 
over the past ; they are excellent. Come, fear nothing, little 
ones ! so far as we are concerned, we confess candidly that we 
arc of those who put no reliance in the lachrymal gland of 
crocodiles. 

The actual public monstrosities impose stern obligations on 
the conscience of the thinker, ])hilosoplier, or jjoet. Incor- 
ruptibility must le '  iption. It is more than ever neces- 
sary to show men tlic .. jal, — that mirror in which is seen the 
face of God. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 241 



CHAPTER V 

THERE are in literature and philosophy men who have 
tears and laughter at conniiand, — Heraclituscs wearing 
the mask of a Democritus ; men often very great, like Voltaire. 
They are irony keeping a serious, sometimes tragic counte- 
nance. 

These men, under the pressure of the influences and preju- 
dices of their time, speak with a double meaning. One of the 
most profound is Bayle,' the man of Rotterdam, the powerful 
thinker. When Bayle coolly utters this maxim, " It is better 
worth our while to weaken the grace of thought than to anger 
a tyrant," I smile; I know the man. I think of the perse- 
cuted, almost proscribed one, and I know well that he has given 
way to the temptation of affirming merely to give me the long- 
ing to contest. But when it is a poet who speaks, — a poet 
wholly free, rich, happy, prosperous almost to inviolability, 
— one expects a clear, open, and healthy teaching, one can- 
not believe that from such a man can emanate anything like 
a desertion of his own conscience; and it is with a blush that 
one reads this: — 

" Here below, in time of peace, let every man sweep his own street- 
door. In war, if conquered, let every man fraternize with the .soldiery. 
. . . Let every entliusiast be put on the cross when he reaches his 
thirtieth year. If he has once experienced the world as it is, from the 
dui)e he becomes the roRue. . . . What utility, wliat result, what 
advantafre does the holy lil)erty of the press offer you? The complete 
demonstration of it is this: a profound contempt' of public opinion. 
. . . There are people who have a ma"'" for rajling at everything 
that is great, — they are the men who ha% I'the Holy Alliance; 

and yet nothing has been invented more augiirft'^hd more salutary for 
humanity." 

These things, which lower the man who has written them, 
are signed Goethe. Goethe, when he wrote them, was sixty 
years old. Indifference to good and evil excites the brain, — 

1 Do not write Beyle. 



242 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

one ma}' get intoxicated with it ; and that is what comes of it. 
The lesson is a sad one. Mournful sight ! Here the helot is 
a mind. 

A quotation may be a pillory. We nail on the public high- 
way these lugubrious sentences ; it is our duty. Goethe has 
written that. Let it be remembered ; and let no one among 
the poets fall again into the same error. 

To go into a passion for the good, for the true, for the 
just ; to suffer with the sufferers ; to feel in our inner soul all 
the blows struck by every executioner on human flesh; to be 
scourged with Christ and flogged with the negro ; to be 
strengthened and to lament ; to climb, a Titan, that wild peak 
where Peter and Caesar make their swords fraternize, gladium 
cum gladio copulcmus; to heap up for that escalade the Ossa 
of the ideal on the Pelion of the real ; to make a vast reparti- 
tion of hope ; to avail one's self of the ubiquity of the book in 
order to be everywhere at the same time with a comforting 
thought; to push pell-mell men, women, children, whites, 
blacks, peoples, hangmen, tyrants, victims, impostors, the 
ignorant, proletaries, serfs, slaves, masters, toward the future 
(a precipice to some, deliverance to others) ; to go forth, to 
wake up, to hasten, to march, to run, to think, to wish, — ah, 
indeed, that is well ! It is worth while being a poet. Beware ! 
you lose your temper. Of course I do ; but I gain anger. 
Come and breathe into my wings, hurricane i 

There has been, of late years, an instant when impassibility 
was recommended to f)oets as a condition of divinit}'. To be 
indifferent, that was called being Olympian. Where had they 
seen that? That is an Olympus very unlike the real one. 
Read Homer. The Oljmipians are passion, and nothing else. 
Boundless humanity, — such is their divinity. They fight un- 
ceasingly. 

One has a bow, another a lance, another a sword, another 
a club, another thunder. There is one of them who com- 
pels the leopards to draw him along. Another, Wisdom, has 
rut off the head of Night, twisted with serpents, and has 
nailed it to his shield. Such is the calm of the Olympians. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 243 

Their angers cause the thunders to roll from one end to the 
other of the Iliad and of the Odyssey. 

These angers, when they are just, are good. The poet 
'.vho has them is the true Olj'mpian. Juvenal, Dante, Agrippa 
d'Aubigne, and Milton had these angers; ]\Ioliere also. 
From the soul of Alcestes flashes constantly the lightning of 
" vigorous hatreds." Jesus meant that hatred of evil when he 
said, " I am come to bring war." 

I like Stesichorus indignant, preventing the alliance of 
Greece with Phalaris, and fighting the brazen bull with strokes 
of the lyre. 

Louis XIV. found it good to have Racine sleeping in his 
chamber when he, the king, was ill, turning thus the poet into 
an assistant to his apothecary, — wonderful patronage of let- 
ters; but he asked nothing more from the beaux esprits, and 
the horizon of his alcove seemetl to him sufficient for them. 
One day, Racine, somewhat urged by Madame de Maintenon, 
had the idea to leave the king's chamber and to visit the gar- 
rets of the people. Thence a memoir on the public distress. 
Louis XIV. cast at Racine a killing look. Poets fare ill 
when, being courtiers, they do what royal mistresses ask of 
them. Racine, on the suggestion of Madame de Maintenon, 
risks a remonstrance which causes him to be driven from 
Court, and he dies of it. Voltaire at the instigation ov 
Madame de Pompadour, tries a madrigal (an awkward one it 
appears), which causes him to be driven from France; and 
he does not die of it. Louis XV. on reading the madrigal, — 
" Et gardez tons deux vos conquetes," — had exclaimed, 
" What a fool this Voltaire is ! " 

Some years ago, " a well-authorized pen," as they say in 
official and academic patens, wrote this: — 

" The greatest service that poets can render us is to be good for 
nothing. We do not ask of them anything else." 

Obsene the extent and spread of this word, " the poets," 
which includes Linus, Musa-us, Orpheus, Homer, Job, Hesiod, 
Moses, Daniel, Amos, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jisop, David, 



244 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Solomon, /Eschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Pindar, Archi- 
lochus, TyrtsEus, Stcsichorus, INIenander, Plato, Asclepiades, 
Pythagoras, Anacreon, Theocritus, Lucretius, Plautus, Ter- 
ence, Virgil, Horace, Catullus, Juvenal, Apuleius, Lucan, 
Persius, Tibullus, Seneca, Petrarch, Ossian, SaJidi, Ferdousi, 
Dante, Cervantes, Caldcron, Lope de Vega, Chaucer, Shake- 
speare, Camoens, Marot, Ronsard, Regnier, Agrippa d' Au- 
bigne, ]\Ialherbe, Segrais, Racan, Milton, Pierre Corncille, 
IMolierc, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Fontcnelle, Rcguard, 
Lesage, Swift, Voltaire, Diderot, Bcauniarchais, Scdaine, 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Andre Chenier, Klopstock, Lessing, 
Wieland, Schiller, Goothc, Hoffmann, Alfieri, Chateaubriand, 
Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Burns, Walter Scott, Balzac, 
Musset, Berangcr, Pellico, Vigny, Dumas, George Sand, La- 
martine, — all declared by the oi-acle " good for nothing," and 
having uselessness for excellence. That sentence (a "suc- 
cess," it appears) has been very often repeated. We repeat 
it in our turn. When the conceit of an idiot reaches such pro- 
portions it deserves registering. The writer who has emitted 
that aphorism is, so they assure us, one of the high j^ersonages 
of the day. We have no objection. Dignities do not lessen 
the length of the ears. 

Octavius Augustus, on the morning of the battle of Actium, 
met an ass that the owner called Triuniphus. This Trium- 
phus, endowed with the faculty of braying, appeared to him 
of good omen ; Octavius Augustus won the battle, remembered 
Triuniphus, had the ass carved in bronze and placed in the 
Capitol. That made a Capitoline ass, but still an ass. 

One can understand kings saying to the poet, " Be useless ;" 
but one does not understand the people saying so to him. The 
poet is for the people. " Pro populo poeta," wrote Agrippa 
d' Aubigne ; " All things to all men," exclaimed Saint Paul. 
What is a mind? A feeder of souls. The poet is at the same 
time a menace and a promise. The anxiety with which he in- 
spires oppressors calms and consoles the oppressed. It is the 
glory of the poet that he places a restless pillow on the purple 
bed of the tormentors; and, thanks to him, it is often that the 



WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 245 

tyrant awakes, saying, " I have slept badly." Every slavery, 
every disheartening faintness, every sorrow, everj' misfortune, 
every distress, every hunger, and every thirst have a claim on 
the poet; he has one creditor, — the human race. 

To be the great servant does not certainly derogate from the 
poet. Because on certain occasions, and to do his duty, he has 
uttered the cry of a people; because he has, when necessary, 
the sob of humanity in his breast, — every voice of mystery 
sings not the less in him. Speaking so loudlj' does not pre- 
vent him speaking low. He is not less the confidant, and some- 
times the confessor, of hearts. He is not less intimately con- 
nected with those who love, with those who think, with those 
who sigh, thrusting his head in the twilight between the heads 
of two lovers. The love poems of Andre Chenier, without 
losing any of their characteristics, border on the angry iambic : 
" Weep thou, O virtue, if I die ! " The poet is the only liv- 
ing being to whom it is granted both to thunder and to whis- 
per, because he has in himself, like Nature, the rumbling of 
the cloud and the rustling of the leaf. He exists for a double 
function, — a function individual and a public function : and 
it is for that that he requires, so to speak, two souls. 

Ennius said : " I have three of them, — an Oscan soul, a 
Greek soul, and a Latin soul." It is true that he made allusion 
only to the place of his birth, to the place of his education, 
and to the place where he was a citizen ; and besides, Ennius 
was but a rough cast of a poet, vast, but unformed. 

No poet without that activity of soul which is the resultant 
of conscience. The ancient moral laws require to be stated ; the 
new moral laws require to be revealed. These two series do 
not coincide without some effort. That effort is incumbent on 
the poet. He assumes constantly the function of the philoso- 
pher. He must defend, according to the side attacked, now 
the liberty of the human mind, now the liberty of the human 
heart, — to love being no less holy than to think. There is 
nothing of " Art for art " in all "that. 

The poet arrives in the midst of thase goers and comers 
that we call the living, in order to tame, like ancient Orpheus, 



246 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

the tiger in man, — his evil instincts, — and, like the legendary 
Aniphion, to remove the stumbling-blocks of prejudice and 
superstition, to sot up the new blocks, to relay the corner- 
stones and the foundations, and to build up again the city, — 
that is to say, society. 

Tliat this immense service — namely, to co-opei-ate in the 
work of civilization — should involve loss of beauty for poetry 
and of dignity for the poet, h a j)roposition which one cannot 
enunciate without smiling. Useful art preserves and aug- 
ments all its graces, all its charms, all its prestige. Indeed, 
because he has taken part with Prometheus, — the man prog- 
ress, crucified on the Caucasus bj' brutal force, and gnawed at 
while alive by hatred, — ^Eschylus is not lowered. Because he 
has loosened the ligatures of idolatry ; because he has freed 
human tliought from the bands of religions tied over it {arctis 
iiodis rcUigionum), Lucretius is not diminished. The brand- 
ing of tyrants with the red-hot iron of prophecy does not 
lessen Isaiah ; the defence of his country does not taint 
Tyrta-us. The beautiful is not degraded bj' having served 
liberty and the amelioration of human multitudes. The 
phase " a people enfranchised " is not a bad end to a strophe. 
No, patriotic or revolutionary usefulness robs poetry of noth- 
ing. Because the huge Griitli has screened under its cliffs 
that formidable oath of tlirec peasants from which sprang 
free Switzerland, it is all the same, in the falling night, a 
lofty mass of serene shade alive with herds, where are lieard 
innumerable invisible bells tinkling gently under the clear 
twilight sky. 



J 



PART III.— BOOK I 
CONCLUSION 



AFTER DEATH.— SHAKESPEARE.— ENGLAND 



CHAPTER I 

IN 1784, Bonaparte, then fifteen years old, arrived at the 
Military School of Paris from Brienne, being one among 
four under the escort of a minim priest. He mounted one 
hundred and seventy-three steps, carrying his small trunk, and 
reached, below the roof, the barrack chamber he was to in- 
habit. This chamber had two beds, and a small window open- 
ing on the great yard of the school. The wall was white- 
washed ; the youthful predecessors of Bonaparte had scrawled 
upon this with charcoal and the new-comer read in this little 
cell these four inscriptions that we ourselves read thirty-five 
years ago : — 

It takes rather long to win an epaulet. — De Montgivray. 
The finest day in life is that of a t)attle. — VU-oinle de TinUniac. 
Life is but a long falsehood. — Le Chevalier Adolphe Delmas. 
All ends under six feet of earth. — Le Comte de la Villetle. 

By substituting for " an epaulet " " an empire," — a very 
slight change, — the above four inscriptions were all the des- 
tiny of Bonaparte, and a kind of " Mene Tekel Upharsin " 

247 



248 WILLI A^I SHAKESPEARL 

written Ijcforoli.ind upon tliat wall. Dcsniazis, junior, who ac- 
companied Bonaparte, being his room-mate, and about to oc- 
cupy one of the two beds, saw him take a pencil (it is Dcs- 
niazis who has related the fact) and draw beneath tlie inscrip- 
tions that he had just read a rough sketch of his house at 
Ajaccio; then, by the side of that house, without suspecting 
that he was thus bringing near the island of Corsica another 
mysterious island then hid in the deep future, he wrote the 
last of the four sentences : " All ends under six feet of 
earth." 

Bonaparte was right. For the hero, for the soldier, for 
the man of the material fact, all ends under six feet of earth ; 
for the man of the idea everything commences there. 

Death is a power. 

For him who has had no other action but that of the mind, 
the tomb is the elimination of the obstacle. To be dead, is 
to be all-powerful. 

The man of war is formidable while alive; he stands erect, 
the earth is silent, siliiit; he has extermination in his gesture; 
millions of haggard men rush to follow him, — a fierce horde, 
sometimes a ruffianly one ; it is no longer a human head, it is a 
conqueror, it is a captain, it is a king of kings, it is an 
emperor it is a dazzling crown of laurels which passes, throw- 
ing out lightning flashes, and allowing to be seen in starlight 
beneath it a vague profile of Ca-sar. All this vision is splendid 
and impressive; but let only a gravel conic in the liver, or an 
excoriation to the pylorus, — six feet of ground, and all is 
' said. This solar spectrum vanishes. This tumultuous life 
falls into a hole ; the human race pursues its way, leaving be- 
hind this nothingness. If this man hurricane lias made some 
lucky rupture, like Alexander in India, Charlemagne in Scan- 
dinavia, and Bonaparte in ancient Europe, that is all that re- 
mains of him. But let some passer-by, who has in him the 
ideal, let a poor wretch like Homer tlu-ow out a word in the 
darkness, and die,- — that word burns up in the gloom and be- 
comes a star. 

This vanquished one, driven from one town to another, is 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 249 

called Dante Aligliicri, — take care ! This exiled one is called 
/Eschylus, this prisoner is called Ezekiel, — beware ! This 
one-handed man is winged, — it is Michael Cervantes. Do 
you know whom you see wayfaring there before you? It is a 
sick man, T^'rta-us ; it is a slave, Plautus ; it is a labourer, 
Spinoza ; it is a valet, Rousseau. Well, that degradation, 
that labour, that servitude, that infirmity, is power,-^ the su- 
preme power, mind. 

On the dunghill like Job, under the stick like Epictetus, 
under contempt like Moliere, mind remains mind. This it is 
that shall say the last word. The Caliph Almanzor makes the 
people spit on Averroes at the door of the mosque of Cordova ; 
the Duke of York spits in person on ^lilton ; a Rohan, almost 
a prince, — " due ne daigne, Rohan suis," — attempts to cud- 
gel Voltaire to death ; Descartes is driven from France in the 
name of Aristotle ; Tasso pays for a kiss given a princess 
twenty years spent in a cell ; Louis XV. sends Diderot to Vin- 
cennos ; these are mere incidents ; must there not be some 
clouds.'' Those appearances that were taken for realities, 
those princes, those kings melt away ; there remains only what 
should remain, — the human mind on the one side, the divine 
minds on the other ; the true work and the true workers ; so- 
ciety to be perfected and made fruitful ; science seeking the 
true ; art creating the beautiful ; the thirst of thought, tor- 
ment and happiness of man ; inferior life aspiring to superior 
life. Men have to deal with real questions, — with progress 
in intelligence and by intelligence. Men call to their aid the 
poets, prophets, philosophers, thinkers, the inspired. It is 
seen that philosophy is a nourishment and poetry a want. 
There must be another bread besides bread. If you give up 
poets, you must give up civilization. There comes an hour 
when the human race is compelled to reckon with Shakespeare 
the actor and Isaiah the beggar. 

They are the more present that they are no longer seen. 
Once dead, these beings live. 

What life did they lead? What kind of men were they? 
What do we know of them? Sometimes but little, as of 



250 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Shakespeare ; often nothing, as of those of ancient days. 
Has Job existed? Is Homer one, or several? Meziriac made 
^Esop straight, and Planudes made him a hunchback. Is it 
true that the prophet Hosea, in order to show his love for his 
country, even wlicn fallen into opprobrium and become infa- 
mous, espoused a prostitute, and called his children jMourning, 
Famine, Shame, Pestilence, and Misery? Is it true that 
Hesiod ought to be divided between Cuma> in .Eolia, where ho 
was born, and Ascra, in Boeotia, where he had been brought 
up? Velleius Paterculus makes him live one hundred and 
twenty years after Homer, of whom Quintilian makes him con- 
temporary. Which of the two is right? What matters it? 
The poets are dead, their thought reigns. Having been, 
they are. 

They do more work to-day among us than when they were 
alive. Others who have departed this life rest from their 
labours ; dead men of genius work. 

They work upon what? Upon minds. They make civili- 
zation. 

" All ends under six feet of earth "? No; everything com- 
mences there. No; everything germinates there. No; every- 
thing flowers in it, and everything grows in it, and everything 
bursts forth from it, and cvcrj'thing proceeds from it ; Good 
for you, men of the sword, are these maxims ! 

Lay yourselves down, disappear, lie in the grave, rot. So 
belt. 

During life, gildings, caparisons, drums and trumphcts, 
panoplies, banners to tJie wind, tumults, make up an illusion. 
The crowd gazes with admiration on these things. It im- 
agines that it sees something grand. Who has the casque! 
Who has the cuirass? Who has the swordbclt? Who is 
spurred, morioned, plumed, armed? Hurrah for that one! 
At death the difference becomes striking. Juvenal takes 
Hannibal in the hollow of his hand. 

It is not the Ca>sar, it is the tiiinkcr, who can say when he 
expires, " Deus fio." So long as lie remains a man his flesh 
interposes between other men and him. The flesh is a cloud 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 251 

upon genius. Death, that immense hpfht, comes and pene- 
trates the man with its aurora. No more flesh, no more mat- 
ter, no more shade. Tlie unknown whicli was within him 
manifests itself and beams forth. In order that a mind may 
give all its light, it requires death. The dazzling of the hu- 
man race commences when that which was a genius becomes 
a soul. A book within which there is something of the ghost 
is irresistible. 

He who is living does not appear disinterested. People 
mistrust him; people dispute him because they jostle against 
him. To be alive, and to be a genius is too much. It goes 
and comes as you do, it walks on the earth, it has weight, it 
throws a shadow, it obstructs. It seems as if there was im- 
portunity in too great a presence. Men do not find that man 
sufficiently like themselves. As we have said already, they 
owe him a grudge. Who is this privileged one.'' This func- 
tionary cannot be dismissed. Persecution makes him greater ; 
decapitation crowns him. Nothing can be done against him, 
nothing for him, nothing with him. He is responsible, but 
not to you. He has his instructions. What he executes may 
be discussed, not modified. It seems as though he had a com- 
mission to execute from some one who is not man. Such ex- 
ception displeases. Hence more hissing than applause. 

Dead, he no longer obstructs. The hiss, now useless, dies 
out. Living, he was a rival ; dead, he is a benefactor. He 
becomes, according to the beautiful expression of Lebrun 
" 1 'homme irreparable." Lebrun observes this of Montes- 
quieu ; Boileau observes the same of Moliere. " Avant qu' un 
peu de terre," etc. This handful of earth has equally ag- 
grandized Voltaire. Voltaire, so great in the eighteenth cen- 
tury, is still greater in the nineteenth. The grave is a cru- 
cible. Its earth, thrown on a man, sifts his reputation, and 
allows it to pass forth purified. Voltaire has lost his false 
glory and retained the true. To lose the false is to gain. 
Voltaire is neither a lyric poet, nor a comic poet, nor a tragic 
poet: he is the indignant yet tender critic of the old world; 
he is the mild reformer of manners; he is the man who 



252 WILLIA:M SHAKESPEARE 

softens men. Voltaire, who has lost ground as a poet, has 
risen as an apostle. He has done what is good, rather than 
what is heautiful. The good being included in the beautiful, 
those wlio, like Dante and Shakespeare, have produced the 
beautiful, surpass Voltaire ; but below the poet, the place of 
the philosopher, is still very high, and Voltaire is the philoso- 
pher. Voltaire is common-sense in a continual stream. Ex- 
cepting in literature, he is a good judge in everything. Vol- 
taire was, in spite of his insulters, almost adored during his 
lifetime ; he is in our days admired, now that the true facts of 
the case are known. The eighteenth century saw his mind: 
we see his soul. Frederic": II., who willingly railed at him, 
wrote to D'Alembert, " Voltaire luiffoons. This century re- 
sembles the old courts. It has a fool, who is Arouet." This 
fool of the century was its sage. 

Such are the effects of the tomb for great minds. That 
mysterious entrance into the unknown leaves light behind. 
Tlieir disappearance is resplendent. Their death evolves au- 
thority. 



CHAPTER II 



SHAKESPEARE is the gi-eat glory of England. Eng- 
land has in politics Cromwell, in pliilosopliy Bacon, in 
science Newton, — three lofty men of genius. But Crom- 
jwell is tinged with cruelty and Bacon with meanness ; as to 
'Newton, his edifice is now shaking on its base. Shakespeare 
is pure, which Cromwell and Bacon are not, and immovable, 
which Newton is not. Moreover, he is higher as a genius. 
Above Newton there is Copernicus and Galileo; above Bacon 
there is Descartes and Kant ; above Cromwell there is Danton 
and Bonaparte ; above Shakespeare there is no one. Shake- 
speare has equals, but not a superior. It is a singular honour 
for a land to have borne that man. One may say to that land, 
" Ahna parens." The native town of Shakespeare is an elect 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 253 

place; an eternal light is on that cradle; Stratford-on-Avon 
has a certaintj' that Smyrna, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, 
Chio, Argos, and Athens — the seven towns which disputed 
the hirthplace of Homer — have not. 

Shakespeare is a human mind ; he is also an English mind. 
He is very English, — too English. He is Englisli so far as 
to weaken the horror surroundino- the horrible kinffs whom lie 
places on the stage, when they are kings of England ; so far 
as to depreciate Philip Augustus in comparison with John 
Lackland ; so far as express]}' to make a scapegoat, Falstaff, 
in order to load him with the princely misdeads of the young 
Henry V. ; so far as to partake in a certain measure of the 
hypocrisies of a pretended national history. Lastly, he is 
English so far as to attempt to attenuate Henry VIII. ; it is 
true that the eye of Elizabeth is fixed upon him. But at the 
same time, let us insist upon this, — for it is by it that he is 
great, — yes, this English poet is a human genius. Art, like 
religion, has its Ecce Homo. Shakespeare is one of those of 
whom we may utter this grand saying: He is Wan. 

England is egotistical. Egotism is an island. That which 
perhaps is needed by this Albion immersed in her own busi- 
ness, and at times looked upon witli little favour by other 
nations, is disinterested greatness ; of tliis Shakespeare gives 
her some portion. He throws that purple on the shoulders of 
his country. He is cosmopolite and universal by his fame. 
On every side he ovei-flows island and egotism. Deprive Eng- 
land of Shakespeare and see how much the luminous reverber- 
ation of that nation would immediately decrease. Shake- 
speare modifies the English visage and makes it beautiful. 
With him, England is no longer so much like Carthage. 

Strange meaning of the apparition of men of genius! 
There is no gi-cat poet bom in Sparta, no great poet born in 
Carthage. This condemns those two cities. Dig, and you 
shall find this: Sparta is but the city of logic; Carthage is 
but the city of matter; to one as to the other love is wanting. 
Carthage immolates her children by the sword, and Sparta 
sacrifices her virgins by nudity ; here innocence is killed, and 



254 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

tlierc modesty. Carthage knows only lier bales and her cases; 
S]jarta blends herself wholly with the law, — there is her true 
territory; it is for the laws that licr men die at Thermopylae. 
Carthage is hard. Sparta is cold. They are two republics 
based upon stone ; therefore no books. The eternal sower, 
who is never mistaken, has not opened for those ungrateful 
lands his hand full of men of genius. Such wheat is not to 
be confided to the rock. 

Heroism, however, is not refused to them; they will have, 
if necessary, cither the martyr or the captain. Leonidas is 
possible for Sparta, Hannibal for Carthage; but neither 
Sparta nor Cartilage is capable of Homer. Some indescrib- 
able tenderness in the sublime, which causes the poet to gush 
from the very entrails of a people, is wanting in them. That 
latent tenderness, that fiebile nescio quid, England possesses ; 
as a proof, Shakespeare. We may add also as a proof, Wil- 
berforce. 

England, mercantile like Carthage, legal like Sparta, is 
worth more than Sparta and Carthage. She is honoured by 
this august exception, — a poet. To have given birth to 
Shakespeare makes England great. 

Shakespeare's place is among the most sublime in that elite 
of absolute men of genius which, from time to time increased 
by some splendid fresh arrival, crowns civilization and illum- 
ines with its immense radiancy the human race. Shakespeare 
is legion. Alone, he forms the counterpoise to our grand 
French seventeenth century, and almost to the eighteenth. 

When one arrives in England, the first thing that he looks 
for is the statue of Shakespeare. He finds the statute of 
Wellington. 

Wellington is a general who gained a battle, having chance 
for his partner. 

If you insist on seeing Shakespeare's statue you are taken 
to a place called Westminster, where there are kings, — a 
crowd of kings : there is also a corner called " Poets' Corner." 
There, in the shade of four or five magnificent monuments 
where some royal nobodies shine in marble and bronze, is 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 255 

shown to you on a small pedestal a little figure, and under 
this little figure, the name, " William Shakespeare." 

In addition to this, statues everywhere; if you wish for 
statues you may find as many as you can wish. Statue for 
Charles, statue for Edward, statue for William, statues for 
three or four Georges, of whom one was an idiot. Statue of 
the Duke of Richmond at Huntley ; statue of Napier at Ports- 
moutli ; statue of Father Mathew at Cork ; statue of Herbert 
Ingram, I don't know where. A man has well drilled the 
riflemen, — he gets a statue ; a man has conunandcd a ma- 
noeuvre of the Horse Guards, — he gets a statue. Another has 
been a supporter of the past, has squandered all the wealth 
of England in paying a coalition of kings against 1789, 
against democracy, against light, against the ascending move- 
ment of the human race, — quick ! a pedestal for that ; a statue 
to Mr. Pitt. Another has knowingly fought against truth, 
in the hope that it might be vanquished, and has found out 
one fine morning that truth is hard-lived, that it is strong, 
that it might be intrusted with forming a cabinet, and has 
then passed abruptly over to its side, — one more pedestal ; a 
statue for Mr. Peel. Everywhere, in every street, in every 
square, at every step, gigantic notes of admiration in the 
shape of columns, — a column to the Duke of York, which 
should really take the form of points of interrogation ; a 
column to Nelson, pointed at by the ghost of Caracciolo ; a 
column to Wellington, already named : columns for every- 
bodj'. It is sufficient to have played with a sword some- 
where. At Guernsey, by the seaside, on a promontory, there 
is a high column, similar to a lighthouse, — almost a 
tower; this one is struck by liglitning; ^Eschylus would 
have contented himself with it. For whom is this.? — for 
General Doyle. Who is General Doyle? — a general. What 
has this general done ? — he has constructed roads. At his 
own expense? ^ — no, at the expense of the inhabitants. He 
has a column. Nothing for Shakespeare, nothing for Milton, 
nothing for Newton ; the name of Byron is obscure. That 
is where England is, — an illustrious and powerful nation. 



256 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

It avails little that this nation has for scout and guide that 
generous British press, which is more than free, — which is 
sovereign,— and which through innumerable excellent jour- 
nals throws light upon every question, — that is where Eng- 
land is; and let not France laugh too loudly, Avith her statue 
of Negrier; nor Belgium, with her statue of Belliard ; nor 
Prussia, with her statue of Bliichcr ; nor Austria, with the 
statue that she probabh' has of Schwartzenberg ; nor Russia, 
with the statue that she certainly has of SouwarofF. If it is 
not Schwartzenberg it is Windischgriitz ; if it is not Sou- 
waroff, it is KutusofF. 

Be Paskiewitch or Jcllachich, — they will give you a statue ; 
be Augcreau or Bessiercs, — you get a statue ; be an Arthur 
Wclleslcy, they will make you a colossus, and the ladies will 
dedicate you to j^ourself, quite naked, with tills inscription : 
" Achilles." A young man, twenty years of age, performs 
the heroic action of niarr^'ing a beautiful young girl: they 
prepare for him triumphal arches ; they come to see him out 
of curiosity ; the grand-cordon is sent to him as on the mor- 
row of a battle ; the public squares are brilliant with fireworks ; 
people who might have gray beards put on perukes to come 
and make speeches to him almost on their knees ; they throw 
up in the air millions sterling in squibs and rockets to the 
applause of a multitude in tatters, who will have no bread to- 
morrow ; starving Lancashire participates in the wedding ; 
jieople are in ecstasies ; they fire guns, they ring the bells, — 
" Rule Britannia ! " " God save ! " Wha"t ! this young man 
has the kindness to do this? Wliat a glory for the nation! 
Universal admiration, — a great people become frantic; a 
great city falls into a swoon ; a balcony looking upon the pas- 
sage of the j'oung man is let for five hundred guineas ; people 
heap themselves together, press upon one another, thrust one 
another beneath the wheels of his carriage ; seven women 
are crushed to death in the enthusiasm, and their little chil- 
dren are picked up dead under the trampling feet ; a hundred 
persons, partially stifled, arc carried to the hospital: the joy 
is inexpressible. While this is going on in London, the cut- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 257 

ting of the Isthmus of Panama is interrupted by a war ; the 
cutting of the Isthmus of Suez depends on one Ismail Pacha ; 
a company undertakes the sale of the \\ater of Jordan at a 
guinea the bottle; walls are invented which resist every can- 
non-ball, after which missiles are invented which destroy every 
wall ; an Armstrong cannon-shot costs fifty pounds ; Byzan- 
tium contemplates Abdul-Azis ; Rome goes to confession ; the 
frogs, encouraged by the stork, demand a heron ; Greece, 
after Otho, again wants a king ; Mexico, after Iturbide, again 
wants an emperor ; China wants two of them, — the king of 
the Centre, a Tartar, and the king of Heaven (Tien Wang), 
a Chinese. O earth ! throne of stupidity. 



CHAPTER III 



THE glory of Shakespeare reached England from abroad. 
There was almost a day and an hour when one might 
have assisted at the landing of his fame at Dover. 

It required three hundred years for England to begin to 
hear those two words that the whole world cries in her ear: 
" William Shakespeare." 

What is England.'' She is Elizabeth. There is no in- 
carnation more complete. In admiring Elizabeth, England 
loves her own looking-glass. Proud and magnanimous, yd 
full of strange hypocrisies ; great, yet pedantic ; hauglity, al- 
beit able ; prudish, yet audacious ; having favourites but no 
masters ; her own mistress, even in her bed ; all-powerful queen, 
inaccessible woman, — Elizabeth is a virgin as England is an 
island. 

Like England, she calls herself Empress of the Sea, 
Basilea maris. A fearful depth, in which are let loose the 
angry passions which behead Essex and the tempest which 
destroy the Armada, defends tin's virgin and defends this 
island from every approach. The ocean is the guardian of 
17 



258 WILLIAM SHAKE SPE ARE 

this modesty. A certain celibacy, in fact, constitutes all the 
genius of England. Alliances, be it so; no marriage. The 
universe alway^ kept at some distance. To live alone, to go 
alone, to reign alone, to be alone, — such is Elizabeth, such 
is England. 

On the whole, a remarkable queen and an admirable nation. 

Shakespeare, on the contrary, is a sympathetic genius. 
Insularism is his ligature, not his strength. He would break 
it willingly. A little more and Shakespeare would be Euro- 
pean. He loves and praises France ; he calls her " the sol- 
dier of God." Besides, in that prudish nation he is the free 
poet. 

England has two books : one wluch she has made, the otlier 
which has made her, — Shakespeare and the Bible. These 
two books do not agi'ce together. The Bible opposes Shake- 
speare. 

Certainly, as a literary book, the Bible, a vast cup from 
tlic East, more overflowing in poetry even than Shakespeare, 
might fraternize with him; in a social and religious jjoint of 
view, it abhors him. Shakespeare thinks, Shalicspeare 
dreams, Shakespeare doubts. There is in him something of 
that Montaigne whom he loved. The " to be or not to be " 
comes from the que sais-je? 

Moreover, Shakespeare invents. A great objection. 
Faith excommunicates imagination. In respect to fables, 
faith is a bad neighbour, and fondles only its own. One 
recollects Solon's staff raised against Thespis. One recol- 
lects the torch of Omar brandished over Alexandria. The 
situation is always the same. Modern fanaticism has inherited 
that staff and that torch. That is true in Spain, and is not 
false in England. I have heard an Anglican bishoj; discu'ss 
the Iliad and condense cverytliing in this reiaark, witli which 
he meant to annihilate Homer: "It is not trae." Now, 
Shakespeare is much more a " liar " than Homer. 

Two or three years ago the journals announced that a 
French writer was about to sell a novel for four hundred tliou- 
sand francs. This made quite a noise in England. A Con- 



WILLIA^I SHAKESPEARE 259 

f'orniist paper exclaimed, " How can a falsehood be sold at 
such a price? " 

Besides, two words, all-powerful in England, range them- 
selves against Shakespeare, and constitute an obstacle against 
him : " Improper, shocking." Observe that, on a host of oc- 
casions, the Bible also is " improper " and Holy Writ is 
" shocking." The Bible, even in French, and through the 
rough lips of Calvin, does not hesitate to say, " Tu as pail- 
larde, Jerusalem." These crudities are part of poetry as 
well as of anger ; and the prophets, those angry poets, do not 
obstain from them. Gross words a: j constantly on their lips. 
But England, where the Bible is continually read, does not 
seem to realize it. Nothing equals the power of voluntary 
deafness in fanatics. Would you have another example of 
their deafness? At this hour Roman orthodoxy has not yet 
admitted the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, although 
averred by the four Evangelists. Matthew may say, " Be- 
hold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without. 
And his brethren, James, and Joscs, and Simon, and Judas. 
And his sisters, are they not all with us? " Mark may insist: 
" Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of 
James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his 
sisters here with us ? " Luke may repeat : " Then came to 
him his mother and his bretiiren." John may again take up 
tlie question : " He, and his mother, and his brethren 
Neither did his brethren believe in him. . . . But when 
his brethren were gone up." Catholicism does not hear. 

To make uj) for it, in tlie case of Shakespeare, " somewhat 
of a Pagan, like all poets " ^ Puritanism has a delicate hear- 
ing. Intolerance and inconsequence are sisters. Besides, in 
the matter of proscribing and damning, logic is superfluous. 
When Shakespeare, by the moutli of Othello, calls Desdemona 
" whore," general indignation, unanimous revolt, scandal from 
top to bottom. Who then is this Shakespeare? All the bib- 
lical sects stop their ears, without thinking that Aaron 
addresses exactly the same ejjithi't to Scphora, wife of Moses. 
1 Rev. John Wheeler. 



260 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

It is true that this is in an Apocryphal woi-k, " The Life of 
Moses." But the Apocryphal books are quite as authentic as 
the canonical ones. 

Thence in England, for Shakespeare, a depth of irreduci- 
ble coldness. What Elizabeth was for Shakespeare, England 
'is still, — at least we fear so. We should be happy to be 
contradicted. We are more ambitious for the glory of Eng- 
land than England is herself. This cannot displease her. 

England has a strange institution,— " the poet laureate," 
— which attests the official admiration and a little the na- 
tional admiration. Under Elizabeth, England's poet was 
named Drummond. 

Of course, we are no longer in the days when they pla- 
carded " Macbeth, opera of Shakespeare, altered by Sir Wil- 
liam Davenant." But if " jMacbeth " is played, it is before 
a small audience. Kean and Macready have tried and failed 
in the endeavour. 

At this hour they would not play Shakespeare on any Eng- 
lish stage without erasing from the text the word God where- 
ever they find it. In the full tide of the nineteenth century, 
the lord-chamberlain still weighs heavily on Shakespeare. 
In England, outside the church, the word God is not made 
use of. In conversation they replace " God " by " Good- 
ness." In the editions or in the representations of Shake- 
speare, " God " is replaced by " Heaven." The sense suffers, 
the verse limps ; no matter. " Lord ! Lord ! Lord ! " the last 
I appeal of Desdemona expiring, was suppressed by command 
in the edition of Blount and Jaggard in 1623. They do not 
utter it on the stage. " Sweet Jesus ! " would be a blas- 
phemy ; a devout Spanish Avoman on the English stage is 
bound to exclaim, "Sweet Jupiter!" Do we exaggerate? 
Would you have a proof.'' Let us open " Measure for Meas- 
ure." There is a nun, Isabella. Whom does she invoke.'' 
Jupiter. Shakespeare had written " Jesus." * 

1 On tlie other hnnd, however, in spite of all the lor(ls-<-hanil)erIain, it 
is diffiriilt to hcnt tlie French censorship. Relipion.s an- diverse, bnt 
bigotry is one, and i,s the same in all its specimens. What we are about 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 261 

The tone of a certain Purittanical criticism toward Shake- 
speare is, most certainly, improved ; yet the cure is not com- 
plete. 

It is not many years since an English economist, a man 
of authority, making, in the midst of social questions, a liter- 
arj' excursion, affinncd in a lofty digression, and without ex- 
hibiting the slightest diffidence, this : — 

" Shakespeare cannot live because he has treated specially foreign or 
ancient sulijects — 'Hamlet,' 'Othello,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Macbeth,' 
' Lear,' ' Julius Caesar,' Coriolanus,' ' Timon of Athens,' etc. Now, 
nothing is likely to live in literature except matters of immediate ob- 
servation and works made on contemporary subjects." 

What say you to the theory? We would not mention it if 
this system had not met approvers in England and propa- 
gators in France. Besides Shakespeare, it simply excludes 
from literary " life " Schiller, Corneille, Milton, Virgil, Euri- 
pides, Sophocles, JSschylus, and Homer. It is true that it 
surrounds with a halo of glory Aulus-Gellius and Restif of 

to write is an extract from the notes (on " Richard II." and " Henry 
IV.") added to his translation by the new translator of Shakespeare: — 
" ' Jesus ! Jesus ! ' This exclamation of Shallow was expunged in the 
edition of 16;J3, conformably to the statute which forbade the uttering 
of the name of the Divinity on the stage. It is worthy of remark that 
our modern theatre has had to undergo, under the scissors of the censor- 
ship of the Bourbons, the same stupid mutilations to which the censor- 
ship of the Stuarts condemned the theatre of Shakespeare. I read what 
follow s in the first page of the manuscript of ' Hernani,' which I have 
in ray hands : — 

' Received at the Theatre-Franyais, Oct. 8, 1829. 
' The Stage-manager, 

' Albeetin.' 
" And lower down, in red ink: — 

' On condition of expunging the name of " Jesus " wherever found, 
and conforming to the alterations marked at pages 27, 38, 39, 62, 74 and 
76. 

' The Secretary of State for the Department of the Interior, 

' La Bouhdonnave. ' " 
We may add that in the scenery representing Saragossa (second act of 
"Hernani") it was forbidden to put any belfry or any church, which 
made resemblance rather difficult, Saragossa having in the sixteenth cen- 
tury three hundred and nine churches and six hundred and seventeen 
convents. 



262 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Bretonnc. O critic, this Shakespeare is not likely to live, 
he is onl^- immortal ! 

About the same time, another — English also, but of the 
Scotch school, a Puritan of that discontented variety of 
which Knox is the head — declared poetry childishness ; re- 
pudiated beauty of st\]e as an obstacle interposed between 
the idea and the reader ; saw in Hamlet's soliloquy only " a 
cold lyricism," and in Otliello's adieu to standards and camps 
only " a declamation ; " likened the metaphors of poets to 
illustrations in books, — good for amusing babies ; and showed 
a particular contempt for Shakespeare, as besmeared from one 
end to the other with that " illuminating process." 

Not later than last January, a witty London paper,^ with 
indignant irony, was asking which is the most celebrated, in 
England, Shakespeare or " Mr. Calcraf t, the hangman : " — 

" There are localities in this enlightened country where, if you pro- 
nounce the name of Shakespeare tliey will answer you: 'I don't know 
what this Shakespeare may he aliout whom you make all tliis fuss, but 
I will back Hammer I.ane of Birmingham to fight him for five pounds.' 
But no mistake is made about Calcraft." 



CHAPTER IV 



AT all events, Shakespeare has not the monument that 
England owes to Shakespeare. 

France, let me admit, is not, in like cases, much more 
speedy. Another glory, very different from Shakespeare, 
but not less grand, — Joan of Arc, — waits also, and has 
waited longer for a national monument, a monument worthy 
of her. 

This land which has been Gaul, and where the Velledas 
reigned, has, in a Catholic and historic sense, for patronesses 
two august figures, — Mary and Joan. Tiic one, holy, is 
the Virgin; the other, heroic, is the Maid. Louis XHI. gave 

1 Daily Telegraph, 13 Jan., 1864. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 263 

France to the one ; the other has given France to France. 
The monument of the second should not be less high than 
the monument of the first. Joan of Arc must have a trophy 
as grand as Notrc-Dame. When shall she have it? 

England has failed utterly to pay its debt to Shakespeare; 
but so also has France failed toward Joan of Arc. 

These ingratitudes require to be sternly denounced. 
Doubtless the governing aristocracies, which blind the eyes of 
the masses, deserve the first accusation of guilt ; but on the 
whole, conscience exists for a people as for an individual. 
Ignorance is only an attenuating circumstance ; and when 
these denials of justice last for centuries, they remain the 
fault of governments, but become the fault of nations. Let 
us know, when necessary, how to tell nations of their short- 
comings. France and England, you are wrong. 

To flatter peoples would be worse than to flatter kings. 
The one is base, the other would be cowardly. 

Let us go further, and since this thought has been pre- 
sented to us, let us generalize it usefully, even if we should 
leave our subject for a while. No; the people have not the 
right to throw indefinitely the fault upon governments. The 
acceptation of oppression by the oppressed ends in becoming 
complicity. Cowardice is consent whenever the duration of 
a bad thing, which presses on the people, and which the peo- 
ple could prevent if they would, goes beyond the amount of 
patience endurable by an honest man ; there is an appreciable 
solidarity and a partnership in shame between the govern- 
ment guilty of the evil and the people allowing it to be done. 
To suff'er is worthy of veneration ; to submit is worthy of con- 
tempt. Let us pass on. 

A noteworthy coincidence : the man who denies Shake- 
speare, Voltaire, is also the insulter of Joan of Arc. But 
then what is Voltaire? Voltaire — we may say it with joy 
and sadness — is the French mind. Let us understand : it 
is the French mind, up to the Revolution exclusively. From 
the French Revolution, France increasing in greatness, the 
French mind grows larger, and tends to become the European 



264 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

mind; it is less local and more fraternal, less Gallic and more 
human. It represents more and more Paris, the city heart of 
the world. As for Voltaire, he remains as he is, — the man 
of the future, but also the man of the past. He is one of 
those glories which make tlie thinker say yes and no ; he has 
against him two sarcasms, Joan of Arc and Shakespeare. 
He is punished through what he sneered at. 



CHAPTER V 



IN tnith, a monument to Shakespeare, cut bono? The 
statue that he has made for himself is worth more, with 
all England for a pedestal. Shakespeare has no need of a 
pyramid ; he has his work. 

What do you suppose marble could do for him? What can 
bronze do where there is glory.'' Malachite and alabaster are 
of no avail; jasper, serpentine, basalt, red porphyry, such as 
that at the Invalidcs, granite, Paros and Carrara, are of no 
use, — genius is genius without them. Even if all the stones 
had a part in it, would they make that man an inch greater? 
What vault shall be more indestructible than this ; " The 
Winter's Tale," "The Tempest," "The IMerrv Wives of 
Windsor," "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," "Julius 
Caesar," " Coriolanus " ? What monument more grandiose 
than " Lear," more wild than " The Merchant of Venice," 
more dazzling than " Romeo and Juliet," more amazing than 
" Ricliard IH." ? What moon could throw on tliat l)uilding 
a light more mysterious than " The Midsunmier Night's 
Dream " ? What capital, were it even London, could pro- 
duce around it a rumour so gigantic as the tunudtuous soul 
of " Macbeth " ? Wliat framework of cedar or of oak will 
last as long as " Othello " ? Wliat bronze will be bronze as 
much as " Handet " ? No construction of lime, of rock, of 
iron and of cement, is worth the breath, — the deep breath of 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 265 

genius, which is the breathing of God through man. A head 
in which is an idea, — such is tlie summit ; heaps of stone and 
brick would be useless efforts. What edifice equals a 
thought.'' Babel is below Isaiah; Cheops is less than Homer; 
the Coliseum is inferior to Juvenal ; the Giralda of Seville is 
dwarfish by the side of Cervantes ; St. Peter of Rome does not 
reach to the ankle of Dante. How could you manage to 
build a tower as high as that name: Shakespeai-e. 

Ah, add something, if you can, to a mind ! 

Suppose a monument. Suppose it splendid ; suppose it 
sublime, — a triumphal arch, an obelisk, a circus with a pedes- 
tal in the centre, a cathedral. \o people is more illustrious, 
more noble, more magnificent, and more magnanimous than 
the English people. Couple these two ideas, England and 
Shakespeare, and make an edifice arise therefrom. Such a 
nation celebrating such a man, it will be superb. Imagine 
the monument, imagine the inauguration. The Peers are 
there, the Conmions give their adherence, the bishops offici- 
ate, the princes join the procession, the queen is present. 
The virtuous woman in whom the English people, royalist as 
we know, see and venerate their actual personification, — this 
worthy mother, this noble widow, comes, with the deep respect 
which is called for, to incline material majesty before ideal 
majesty; the Queen of England salutes Shakespeare. The 
homage of Victoria repairs the disdain of Elizabeth. As 
for Elizabeth, she is probably there also, sculptured some- 
where on the surbase, with Henry VIII., her father, and 
James I., her successor, — pj'gmies beneath the poet. The 
cannon booms, the curtain falls, they uncover the statuey 
which seems to say, " At length ! " and which has grown in 
the shade during three hundred years, — three centuries ; the 
growth of a colossus ; an immensity. All the York, Cumber- 
land, Pitt, and Peel bronzes have been made use of, in order 
to produce this statue; the public places have been disencum- 
bered of a heap of uncalled-for metal-castings; in this lofty 
figure have been amalgamated all kinds of Henrys and Ed- 
wards j the various Williams and the numerous Georges have 



266 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

been melted, the Achilles in Hyde Park has made the great- 
toe. This is fine ; behold Shakespoare almost as great as a 
Pharaoh or a Sesostris. Bells, drums, trumpets, applause, 
hurrahs. 

What then? 

It is honourable for England, indifferent to Shakespeare. 

What is the salutation of royalty', of aristocracy, of the 
army, and even of the English populace, ignorant yet to this 
moment, like nearly all other nations, — what is the salutation 
of all these groups variously enlightened to him who has the 
eternal acclamation, with its reverberation, of all ages and 
all men.^ Wliat orison of the Bishop of London or of the 
Archbishop of Canterbury is worth the cry of a woman be- 
fore Desdemona, of a mother before Arthur, of a soul before 
Hamlet.? 

And thus, when universal outcry demands from England 
a monument to Shakespeare, it is not for the sake of Shake- 
speare, it is for the sake of England. 

There are cases in which the repayment of a debt is of 
greater import to the debtor than to the creditor. 

A monument is an example. The lofty head of a great 
man is a light. Crowds, like the waves, require beacons 
above them. It is good that the passer-by should know that 
there are great men. People may not have time to read ; 
they are forced to see. People pass by that way, and stum- 
ble against the pedestal ; they are almost obliged to raise the 
head and to glance a little at the inscription. Men escape 
IX book ; they cannot escape the statue. One day on the 
bridge of Rouen, before the beautiful statue due to David 
d'Angers, a peasant mounted on an ass said to me : " Do you 
know Pierre Corneille.? " " Yes," I replied. " So do I," he 
rejoined. "And do you know 'The Cid'.''" I resumed. 
" No," said he. 

To him, Corneille was the statue. 

This beginning in the knowledge of great men is necessary 
to the people. The monument incites them to know more of 
the man. They desire to learn to read in order to know what 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 267 

this bronze means. A statue is an elbow-thrust to ignorance. 

There is then, in the execution of such monuments, popular 
utility as well as national justice. 

To perform what is useful at the same time as what is 
just, that will at the end certainly tempt England. She is 
the debtor of Shakespeare. To leave such a debt in obey- 
ance is not a good .ittitude for the pride of a people. It is 
a point of morality that nations should be good payers in 
matters of gratitude. Enthusiasm is probity. When a man 
is a glory in the face of his nation, that nation which does not 
perceive the fact astounds the human race around. 



CHAPTER VI 



E 



NGLAND, as it is easy to foresee, will build a monument 
to her poet. 
At the very moment we finished writing the pages you have 
just read, was announced in London the formation of a com- 
mittee for the solemn celebration of the thrcc^hundrcdth an- 
niversary of the birth of Shakespeare. This committee will 
dedicate to Shakespeare, on the 2:3d April, 1864, a monu- 
ment and a festival which will surpass, we doubt not, the in- 
complete programme we have just sketched out. They will 
spare nothing. The act of admiration will be a striking one. 
One may expect everything, in point of magnificence, from 
the nation which has created the prodigious palace at Syden- 
ham, that Versailles of a people. The initiative taken by 
the committee will doubtless secure the co-operation of the 
powers that be. We discard, for our part, and the commit- 
tee will discard, we think, all idea of a manifestation by sub- 
scription. A subscription, unless of one penny, — that is to 
say, open to all the people, — is necessarily fractional. What 
is due to Shakespeare is a national manifestation ; — a holi- 
day, a public fi'te, a popular monument, voted by the Cham- 



268 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

bors and entered in tlie Budget. Eno-land would do it for 
her king. Now, wliat is the King of England beside the man 
of England ? Every confidence is due to the Jubilee Commit- 
tee of Sliakespearc, — a committee composed of persons highly 
distinguished in the press, the peerage, literature, the stage, 
and the church. Enn'nent men from all countries, represent- 
ing intellect in France, in Germany, in Belgium, in Spain, 
in Italy, complete this committee, in all points of view excel- 
lent and competent. Anotlicr committee, formed at Strat- 
ford-on-Avon, seconds the I,ondon connnittee. We congratu- 
late England. 

Nations have a dull car and a long life, — which latter 
makes their deafness by no means irreparable : they have 
time to change tlieir mind. The English are awake at last 
to their glory. England begins to spell that name, Shakc- 
sjieare, upon which the universe has laid her finger. 

In April, 1664, a liundred years after Shakespeare was 
born, England was occupied in cheering loudly Charles II., 
who had sold Dunkirk to France for two hundred and fifty 
thousand pounds sterling, and in looking at something that 
was a skeleton and had been Cromwell, whitening under the 
north-east wind and rain on the gallows at Tyburn. In 
April, ITGi, two hundred years after Shakespeare was born, 
England was contemplating the dawn of George III., — a 
king destined to imbecility, — who at that epoch, in secret 
councils, and in somewhat unconstitutional asides with the 
Tory chiefs and the German Landgraves, was sketching out 
that policy of resistance to progress which was to strive, fii'st 
against liberty in America, then against democracy in France, 
and which, during the single ministry of the first Pitt, had, in 
1778, raised the debt of England to the sum of eighty mil- 
lions sterling. In April, 1864, three hundred years since 
Shakespeare's birth, England raises a statue to Shakespeare. 
It is late, but it is well. 



BOOK II 

THE NINETEENTH CENTURY 



CHAPTER I 

THE nineteenth century springs from itself only; it does 
not receive its impulse from any ancestor ; it is the off- 
spring of an idea. Doubtless, Isaiah, Homer, Aristotle, 
Dante, Shakespeare, have been or could be great starting- 
points for important philosophical ar poetical formations ; 
but the nineteenth century has an august mother, — the 
French Revolution. It has that powerful blood in its veins. 
It honours men of genius. Wlien denied it salutes them, 
when ignored it proclaims them, when persecuted it avenges 
them, when insulted it crowns them, when detln-oned it re- 
places them upon their pedestal ; it venerates them, but it 
does not proceed from them. The nineteenth century has for 
family itself, and itself alone. It is the characteristic of its 
revolutionary nature to dispense with ancestors. 

Itself a genius, it fraternizes with men of genius. As for 
its source, it is where theirs is, — beyond man. The mys- 
terious gestations of progress succeed each other according 
to a providential law. The nineteenth century is born of 
civilization. It has a continent to bring into the world. 
France has borne this century ; and this century bears Europe. 

The Greek stock bore civilization, narrow and circum- 
scribed at first by the mulberry leaf, confined to the Morea; 
then civilization, gaining step by step, grew broader, and 
formed the Roman stock. It is to-day the French stock, — 

2G9 



270 WILLIA?.! SHAKESPEARE 

tliat is to suj, all Europe, — witli young slioots in America, 
Africa, and Asia. 

The greatest of these young shoots is a democracy, — the 
United States, the sprouting of which was aided by France 
in the last century. France, sublime essayist in progi-ess, 
has founded a republic in America before making one in 
Europe. Et vidit qiiod cssct bomim. After having lent to 
Washington an auxiliary, Lafayette, France, returning home, 
gave to Voltaire, dismayed within his tomb, that formidable 
successor, Danton. In jircsence of the monstrous past, hurl- 
ing every thunder, exhaling every miasma, breathing every 
darkness, protruding every talon, horrible and terrible, 
progress, constrained to use the same weapons, has had sud- 
denly a hundred arms, a hundred heads, a hundred tongues 
of fii-c, a hundred roarings. The good has transformed itself 
into a hydra. It is this that is termed the Revolution. 

Nothing can be more august. 

The Revolution ended one century and began another. 

An intellectual awakening prepares the way for an over- 
throw of facts, — and this is the eighteenth century. After 
which the political revolution, once accomplished, seeks ex- 
pression, and tlie literary and social revolution completes it: 
this is the nineteenth century. With ill-will, but not un- 
justly, has it been said that romanticism and socialism are 
identical: hatred, in its desire to injure, very often estab- 
lishes, and, so far as is in its power, consolidates. 

A parenthesis. This word, romanticism, has, like all war- 
cries, the advantage of readily summing up a group of ideas. 
It is brief, — which pleases in the contest ; but it has, to our 
idea, through its militant signification, the objection of ap- 
pearing to limit the movement that it represents to a war- 
like action. Now, this movement is a matter of intellect, a 
matter of civilization, a matter of soul ; and this is why the 
writer of these lines has never used the words rommiticisTTh 
or romantic. They will not be found in any of the pages of 
criticism that he has had occasion lo write. If to-day he 
derogates from his usual prudence in polemics, it is for the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 271 

sake of greater rapidity and witli all reservation. The same 
observation may be made on the subject of the word socialism, 
which admits of so many different interpretations. 

The triple movement — literary, philosophical, and social 
— of the nineteenth century, which is one single movement, is 
nothing but the current of the revolution in ideas. This cur- 
rent, after having swept away facts, is perpetuated in minds 
with all its immensity. 

This term, " literary '93," so often quoted in 1830 against 
contemporaneous literature, was not so much an insult as it 
■was intended to be. It was certainly as unjust to employ it 
as characterizing the whole literary movement as it is in- 
iquitous to employ it to describe all the political revolutions ; 
thei'e is in these two phenomena something besides '93. But 
this tcnn, " litcrar/j '93," was relatively exact, insomuch as it 
indicated, confusedly but truthfully, the origin of the literary 
movement which belongs to our epoch, while endeavouring to 
dishonour that movement. Here again the clairvoyance of 
hatred was blind. Its daubings of mud upon the face of 
truth are gilding, light, and glory. 

The Revolution, turning climacteric of humanity, is made 
up of several years. Each of these j^ears expresses a period, 
represents an aspect, or realizes a phase of the phenomenon. 
Tragic '93 is one of those colossal years. Good news must 
sometimes have a mouth of bronze. Such a mouth is '93. 

Listen to the immense pi'oclamation proceeding from it. 
Give attention, remain speechless, and be impressed. God 
himself said the first time Fiat lux, the second time he has 
caused it to be said. 

By whom.'' 

By '93. 

Therefore, we men of the nineteenth century hold in hon- 
our that reproach, " You are '93." 

But do not stop there. We are '89 as well as '93. The 
Revolution, the whole Revolution, — such is the source of the 
literature of the nineteenth century. 

On these grounds put it on its trial, this literature, or seek 



272 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

its triumph ; hate it or love it. According to the amount of 
the future that you have in you, outrage it or salute it ; httle 
do animosities and fury affect it. It is the logical deduction 
from the great chaotic and genesiacal fact that our fathers 
have witnessed, and which has given a new starting-point to 
the world. He who is against that fact is against that liter- 
ature; he who is for that fact is on its side. What the fact 
is worth the literature is worth. The reactionary writers are 
not mistaken ; wherever there is revolution, patent or latent, 
the Catholic and royalist scent is unfailing. Those men of 
letters of the past award to contemporaneous Utcrature an 
honourable amount of diatribe; their aversion is convulsive. 
One of their journalists, who is, I believe a bishop, pro- 
nounces this word poet with the same accent as the word Scp- 
tcinhrht; another, less of a bishop, but quite as angry, writes, 
" I feel in all this literature Marat and Robespierre." Tliis 
last writer is rather mistaken ; there is in " this literature " 
Danton rather than ]\Iarat. 

But the fact is true: democracy is in this literature. 

The Revolution has forged the clarion ; the nineteenth cen- 
tury sounds it. 

Ah, this affirmation suits us, and, in truth, we do not re- 
coil before it ; we avow our glory, — we are revolutionists. 
The thinkers of the present time, — poets, wi-iters, liistorians, 
orators, philosophers, — all are derived from the French 
Revolution. They come from it, and it alone. It was '89 
that demolished the Bastille; it was '93 that took the crow.t 
from tjie Louvre. From '89 sprung Deliverance, and from 
'93 Victory. From '89 and '93 the men of the nineteenth 
century proceed : these are their father and their mother. 
Do not seek for them another affiliation, another inspiration, 
another insufflation, another origin. They are the democrats 
of the idea, successors to the democrats of action. They arc 
the emancipators. Liberty bent over their cradles, — they al! 
have sucked her vast breast ; they all have her milk in their 
entrails, her marrow in their bones, her sap in their will, her 
spirit of revolt in their reason, her flame in their intellect. 



WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 273 

Even those among them (there are some) who were born 
aristocrats, who came to tlie world banished in some degree 
among families of the past, who have fatally received one 
of those primary educations whose stupid effort is to contra- 
dict progress, and who have commenced tlio words that they 
had to say to our century with an indescribable royalist stut- 
tering, — these, from that period, from tlieir infancy (they 
will not contradict me), felt the sublime monster within them. 
They had the inner ebullition of the immense fact. They 
had in the depth of their conscience a whispering of mys- 
terious ideas ; the inward shock of false certainties troubled 
their mind ; they felt their sombre surface of monarchism, 
Catholicism, and aristocracy tremble, shudder, and by de- 
grees split up. One day, suddenly and powerfully, the swell- 
ing of truth within them prevailed, the hatching was com- 
pleted, the eruption took place; the light flamed in them, 
causing them to burst open, — not falling on them, but ( more 
beautiful mystery!) gushing out of these amazed men, en- 
lightening them, while it burned within them. They were 
craters unknown to themselves. 

This phenomenon has been interpreted to their reproach 
as a treason. They passed over, in fact, from right divine 
to human riglit. They turned their back on false history, 
on false tradition, on false dogmas, on false philosophy, on 
false daylight, on false truth. The free spirit which soars 
up, — bird called by Aui'ora, — offends intellects saturated 
with ignorance and the fretus preserved in spirits of wine. 
He who sees offends the blind ; he who hears makes the deaf 
indignant ; he who walks offers an abominable insult to crip- 
ples. In the eyes of dwarfs, abortions, Aztecs, myrmidons, 
and pygmies, forever subject to rickets, growtli is apostasy. 

The writers and poets of the nineteenth century have the 
admirable good fortune of proceeding from a genesis, of 
arriving after an end of the world, of accompanying a reap- 
pearance of light, of being the organs of a new beginning. 
This imposes on them duties unknown to their predecessors 

— the duties of intentional reformers and direct civilizers. 
IS 



274 WILLIAM SHAKESrEARE 

Tliej- continue nothing; they remake everything. For new 
times, new duties. The function of thinkers in our days is 
complex; to think is no longer sufficient, — tliey must love; 
to think and love is no longer sufficient, — they must act; 
to think, to love, and to act, no longer suffices, — the}' nmst 
suffer. Lay down the pen, and go where you hear the grape- 
shot. Here is a barricade; be one on it. Here is exile; ac- 
cept it. Here is the scaffold ; be it so. Let John Brown be 
in Montesquieu, if needful. The Lucretius required by this 
centurj' in labour should contain Cato. /Eschj'lus, who 
■wrote the " Orestias," had for a brother Cynegyrus, who fas- 
tened with his teeth on the ships of the enemies: that was 
sufficient for Greece at the time of Salamis, but it no longer 
suffices for P'rance after the Revolution. That /Eschylus and 
C^'negyrus are brothers is not enough ; they must be the same 
man. Such are the actual requirements of progress. Those 
who devote themselves to great and pressing things can never 
be too great. To set ideas in motion, to heap up evidence, 
to pile up principles, that is the redoubtable movement. To 
heap Pelion on Ossa is the labour of infants beside that work 
of giants, the placing of right upon ti'uth. To scale that 
afterward, and to dethrone usurpations in the midst of thun- 
ders, — such is the work. 

The future presses. To-morrow cannot wait. Humanity 
has not a minute to lose. Quick ! quick ! let us hasten ; the 
wretched ones have their feet on red-hot iron. They hunger, 
they thii-st, they suffer. Ah, teiTiblc emaciation of the poor 
human body ! Parasitism laughs, the ivy grows green and 
thrives, the mistletoe is flourishing, the tapeworm is happy. 
WTiat a frightful object the prosperity of the typewonn ! 
To destroy that which devours, — in that is safety. Your 
hfe has within itself death, which is in good health. There is 
too much misery, too much desolation, too much immodesty, 
too much nakedness, too manj' brothels, too many prisons, too 
many rags, too many crimes, too nmch weakness, too much 
darkness, not enough schools, too manv' little innocents grow- 
iag up for evil ! The trucklebeds of poor girls are suddenly 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 275 

covered with silk and lace,— and in that is worse misery ; hy 
the side of misfortune there is vice, the one urging the other. 
Such a society requires prompt succour. Let us seek for the 
best. Go all of you in this search. Where are the promised 
lands.' Civilization would go forward; let us try theories, 
sj'stems, ameliorations, inventions, progi-ess, until the shoe 
for that foot shall be found. The attempt costs nothing, or 
costs hut little, — to attempt is not to adopt, — but before all, 
above all, let us be lavish of light. All sanitary purification 
begins in opening windows wide. Let us open wide all in- 
tellects. Let us supply souls with air. 

Quick, quick, O thinkers! Let the human race breathe; 
give hope, give the ideal, do good. Let one step succeed 
another, horizon expand into horizon, conquest follow con- 
quest. Because you have given what you promised do not 
think you have performed all that is required of you. To 
possess is to promise ; the dawn of to-day imposes on the sun 
obligations for to-morrow. 

Let nothing be lost. Let not one strength be isolated. 
Kvery one to work ! there is vast urgency for it. No more 
idle art. Poetry the worker of civilization, what more ad- 
mirable.'' The dreamer should be a pioneer; the strophe 
should mean something. The beautiful should be at the ser- 
vice of honest}'. I am the valet of my conscience ; it rings 
for me : I come. " Go ! " I go. What do you require of 
me, O truth, sole majesty of this world.'' Let each one feel 
in haste to do well. A book is sometimes a source of hoped- 
for succour. An idea is a balm, a word may be a dressing for 
wounds ; poetry is a physician. Let no one tarry. Suffer- 
ing is losing its strength while you are idling. Let men leave 
this dreamy laziness. Leave the kief to the Turks. Let men 
labour for the safety of all, and yet them rush into it and be 
out of breath. 

Do not be sparing of your strides. Nothing useless ; 
no inertia. What do you call dread nature.-' Every- 
tliing lives. The duty of all is to live; to walk, to run, to 
fly, to soar, is the universal law. What do you wait for.'' 



276 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Who stops you? Ah, there are times when one might wish 
to hear the stones murmur at the slowness of man ! 

Sometimes one goes into the woods. To whom does it not 
happen at times to be overwhelmed? — one sees so many sad 
things. The stage is a long one to go over, the consequences 
are long in coming, a generation is behindhand, the work of 
the age languishes. What! so many sufferings j^et? One 
might think he has gone backward. There is everywhere in- 
crease of superstition, of cowardice, of deafness, of bhndness, 
of imbecility. Penal laws weigh upon brutishness. This 
wretched problem has been set, — to augment comfort by put- 
ting oft' right ; to sacrifice the superior side of man to the 
inferior side ; to yield up principle to appetite. Csesar takes 
charge for the belly, I make over to him the brains, — it is 
the old sale of a birth-right for the dish of porridge. A little 
more, and this fatal anomaly would cause a wrong road to 
be taken toward civilization. The fattening pig would no 
longer be the king, but the people. Alas ! this ugly expedient 
does not even succeed. No diminution whatever of the mal- 
ady. In the last ten years — for the last twenty years — 
the low water-mark of prostitution, of mendicity, of crime, 
has been stationary, below which evil has not fallen one degree. 
Of true education, of gratuitous education, there is none. 
The infant nevertheless requires to know that he is man, and 
the father that he is citizen. Where arc the promises? 
Where is the hope ? Oh, poor wretched humanity ! one is 
tempted to shout for help in the forest ; one is tempted to 
c'laiin support, assistance, and a strong arm from that grand 
mournful Nature. Can this mysterious ensemble of forces 
be indiff'erent to progress? We supplicate, appeal, raise our 
hands toward the shadow. We listen, wondering if the rus- 
tlings will become voices. The duty of the springs and 
streams should be to babble forth the word " Fonvard ! " 
One could wish to hear nightingales sing new Marseillaises. 

Notwithstanding all this, these times of halting are nothing 
beyond what is normal. Discouragement would be puerile. 
There are halts, repose, breathing spaces in the march of peo- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 277 

pies, as there are winters in the progress of the seasons. The 
gigantic step, '89, is all the same a fact. To despair would 
be absurd, but to stimulate is necessary. 

To stimulate, to press, to chide, to awaken, to suggest, to 
inspire, — it is this function, fulfilled everywhere by writers, 
which impresses on the literature of this century so high a 
character of power and originalit3'. To remain faithful to 
all the laws of art, while combining them with the law of 
progress, — such is the problem, victoriously solved bj' so 
many noble and proud minds. 

Thence this word deliverance, which appears above every- 
thing in the light, as if it were written on the very forehead 
of the ideal. 

The Revolution is IVance sublimed. There was a day when 
France was in the furnace, — the furnace causes wings to 
grow on certain warlike martyrs, — and from amid the flames 
this giant came forth archangel. At this day by all the 
world, France is called Revolution ; and henceforth this word 
rez-ohdioii will be the name of civilization, until it can be 
replaced by the word harmoni/. I repeat it : do not seek else- 
where the starting-point and the birth-place of the literature 
of the nineteenth century. Yes, as many as there be of us, 
great and small, powei-ful and unknown, illustrious and ob- 
scure, in all our works good or bad, whatever they may be, 
— poems, dramas, romances, history, philosoplu', — at the 
tribune of assemblies as before the crowds of the theatre, as 
in the meditation of solitudes ; yes, everywhere ; yes, always ; 
j'es, to combat violence and imposture ; yes, to rehabilitate 
those who are stoned and run down ; yes, to sum up logically 
and to march straight onward ; yes, to console, to succour, to 
relieve, to encourage, to teach; yes, to dress wounds in hope 
of curing them ; yes, to transform charity into fraternitv, 
alms into assistance, sluggishness into work, idleness into 
utility, centralization into a family, iniquity into justice, the 
bourgeois into the citizen, the populace into the people, the 
rabble into the nation, nations into humanity, war into love, 
prejudice into free examination, frontiers into solderings, 



276 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

limits into openings, ruts into rails, vestry-rooms into tem- 
ples, the instinct of evil into the desire of good, life into 
right, kings into men; yes, to deprive religions of hell and 
societies of the galley ; yes, to be brothers to the wretched, 
the serf, the fellah, the proleiaire, the disinherited, the ban- 
ished, the betrayed, the conquered, the sold, the enchained, 
the sacrificed, the prostitute, the convict, the ignorant, the 
savage, the slave, the negro, the condemned, and the danmcd, 
— yes, we are thy sons, Revolution ! 

Yes, men of genius; yes, poets, philosophers, historians; 
yes, giants of that great art of previous ages which is all the 
light of the past, — O men eternal, the minds of this day 
salute you, but do not follow you ; in respect to you they hold 
to this law, — to admire everything, to imitate nothing. 
Their function is no longer yours. They have business with 
the virility of the human race. The hour which makes man- 
kind of age has struck. We assist, under the full light of 
the ideal, at that majestic junction of the beautiful with the 
useful. No actual or possible genius can surpass you, ye 
men of genius of old ; to equal you is all the ambition allowed: 
but, to equal j'ou, one must conform to the necessities of our 
time, as you supplied the necessities of yours. Writers who 
are sons of the Revolution have a holy task. O Homer, their 
epic poem must weep ; O Herodotus, their history nmst pro- 
test; O Juvenal, their satire must dethrone; O Shakespeare, 
their " thou shalt be king," must be said to the people ; O 
^schj'lus, their Prometlieus must strike Jupiter with thun- 
derbolts ; O Job, their dunghill must be fruitful ; O Dante, 
their hell must be extinguished ; O Isaiah, thy Babj'lon crum- 
bles, theirs must blaze forth with light ! They do what you 
have done; they contemplate crtation directly, they observe 
humanity directly ; they do not accept as a guiding liglit any 
refracted ray, — not even yours. Like you, they have for 
their sole starting-point, outside them, universal being: in 
them, their soul. They have for the source of their work 
the one source whence flows Nature and whence flows art, the 
infinite. As the writer of these lines said forty years ago: 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 279 

" The poets and the writers of the nineteentli century have 
neither masters nor models." * No ; in all that vast and sub- 
lime art of all peoples, in all those grand creations of all 
epochs, — no, not even thee, /Eschylus, not even thee, Dante, 
not even thee, Shakespeare, — no, they have neither models 
nor masters. And why have they neither masters nor models ? 
It is because they have one model, Man, and because they have 
one master, God. 

1 Preface to " Cromwell." 



fer^;. 



BOOK III 

TRUE HISTORY.— EVERY ONE PUT IN HIS RIGHT 

PLACE 



CHAPTER I 

HERE is the advent of the new constellation. 
It is certain that at the present hour that which has 
boon till now the light of the human race grows pale, and that 
the old flame is about to disappear from the world. 

The men of brutal force have, since human tradition- ex- 
isted, shone alone in the empyrean of history ; theirs was the 
only supremacy. Under the various names of kings, em- 
perors, captains, chiefs, princes, — summed up in the word 
heroes, — tliis group of an apoc;dypse was resplendent. They 
were all dripping with victories. Terror transformed itself 
into acclamation to salute them. They dragged after them 
an indescribable tumultuous flame. They appeared to man 
in a disorder of horrible light. They did not light up the 
heavens, — they set them on fire. They looked as if they 
meant to take possession of the Infinite. Rumbling crashes 
were heard in their glory. A red glare mingled with it. 
Was it purple .'' Was it blood.'' Was it shame.? Their 
hght made one think of the face of Cain. They hated one 
another. Flashing shocks passed from one to the other; at 
times these enormous planets came into collision, stnking 
out lightnings. Their look was furious. Their radiance 
stretched out into swords. All that hung terrible above us. 

280 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 281 

That traffic glare fills the past. To-day it is in full 
process of waning. 

There is decline in war, decline in despotism, decline in 
theocracy, decline in slavery, decline in the scaffold. The 
blade becomes shorter, the tiara is fading away, the crown is 
simplified ; war is raging, the plume bends lower, usurpation 
is circumscribed, the chain is lightened, the rack is out of 
countenance. The antique violence of the few against all, 
called right divine, is coming to an end. Legitimacy, the 
grace of God, the monarchy of Pharamond, nations branded 
on the shoulder with the fleur-de-lis, the possession of peoples 
by the right of birth, the long series of ancestors giving right 
over the living, — these things are yet striving in some 
places ; at Naples, in Prussia, etc. ; but they are struggling 
rather than striving, — it is death that strains for life. A 
stammering which to-morrow will be utterance, and the day 
after to-morrow a full declaration, proceeds from the bruised 
lips of the serf, of the vassal, of the prolctaire, of the pariah. 
The gag breaks up between the teeth of the human race. 
The human race has had enough of the sorrowful path, and 
the patient refuses to go farther. 

From this very time certain forms of despotism are no 
longer possible. The Pharaoh is a mummy, the sultan a 
phantom, the Csesar a counterfeit. This sty lite of the Trajan 
columns is anchylosed on its pedestal ; it has on its head the 
excrement of free eagles ; it is nihility rather than glory ; the 
bands of the sepulchre fasten this crown of laurels. 

The period of the men of brutal force is gone. They have 
been glorious, certainly, but with a glory that melts away. 
That species of great men is soluble in progress. Civiliza- 
tion rapidly oxidizes these bronzes. At the point of ma- 
turity to which the French Revolution has already brought 
the universal conscience, the hei'o is no longer a hero without 
a good reason ; the captain is discussed, the conqueror is in- 
admissible. In our days Louis XIV. invading the Palatinate 
would look like a robber. From the last century these realities 
began to dawn. Frederick II., in the presence of Voltaire, 



282 WILLIAIVr SHAKESPEARE 

felt and owned himself somcwliat of a brigand. To be a 
great man of matter, to bo pompously violent, to govern by 
the sword-knot and the cockade, to forge right upon force, 
to hammer out justice and truth by blows of nccomplished 
facts, to make brutalities of genius, — is to be grand, if you 
like ; but it is a coarse manner of being grand, — glories an- 
nounced with drums which arc met with a shrug of the shoid- 
ders. Sonorous heroes have deafened liuman reason until 
to-day ; that pompous noise begins now to weary it. It shuts 
its eyes and ears before those authorized slaughters that they 
call battles. The sublime nuirderers of men have had their 
time ; it is in a certain relative forgetfulness that henceforth 
they will be illustrious and august ; humanity, become greater, 
requires to dispense with them. The food for guns thinks ; 
it reflects, and is actually losing its admiration for being shot 
down by a cannon-ball. 

A few figures by the way may not be useless. 

All tragedy is part of our subject. The tragedy of poets 
is not the onl}' one ; there is the tragedy of politicians and 
statesmen. Would you like to know how much that tragedy 
costs .'' 

Heroes have an enemy ; that enemy is called finance. For 
a long time the amount of money paid for that kind of glory 
was ignored. In order to disguise the total, there were con- 
venient little fireplaces like that in which Louis XIV. burned 
the accounts of Versailles. That day the smoke of one 
thousand millions of francs passed out the chimney of the 
royal stove. 

The nation did not even take notice. At the present 
day nations have one great virtue, — they are miserly. 
They know that prodigality is the mother of abasement. 
The}' reckon up ; they karn bookkeeping by double entry. 
Warlike glory henceforth has its debit and credit account: 
that renders it impossible. 

The greatest warrior of modern times is not Napoleon, it is 
Pitt. Napoleon carried on warfare ; Pitt created it. It is 
Pitt who willed all the wars of the Revolution and of the 



WILLIAINI SHAKESPEARE 283 

empire ; they proceeded from him. Take away Pitt and put 
Fox in his place, there would then be no reason for that ex- 
orbitant battle of twenty-three years, there would be no longer 
any coalition. Pitt was the soul of the coalition, and he 
dead, his soul remained amidst the universal war. What 
Pitt cost England and the world, liere it is. We add this 
bas-relief to his pedestal. 

In the first place, the expenditure in men. From 1791 to 
1814 France alone, striving against Europe, coalesced by 
England, — France constrained and compelled, expended in 
butcheries for military glory (and also, let us add, for the 
defence of territory) five millions of men; that is to say, six 
hundred men per day. Europe, including the total of France, 
has expended sixteen millions six hundred thousand men ; that 
is to say, two thousand deaths per day during twenty-three 
years. 

Secondly, the expenditure of money. We have, unfor- 
tunately, no authentic total, save the total of England. 
From 1791 to 1814 England, in order to make France 
succumb to Europe, became indebted to the extent of eighty- 
one millions, two hundred and sixty-five thousand, eight hun- 
dred and forty-two pounds sterhng. Divide this total by the 
total of men killed, at the rate of two thousand per dav for 
twenty-three years, and you arrive at this result, — that each 
corpse stretched on the field of battle has cost England alone 
fifty pounds sterling. 

Add the total of Europe, — total unknown, but enormous. 

With these seventeen millions of dead men, they might 
luive peopled Austraha with Europeans. With the eighty 
millions expended by England in cannon-shots, they might 
have changed the face of the earth, begun the work of civ- 
ilization everywhere, and suppressed throughout the entire 
world ignorance and misery. 

England pays eighty millions for the two statues of Pitt 
and WelHngton. 

It is a fine thing to have heroes, but it is an expensive lux- 
ury. Poets cost less. 



284 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 



CHAPTER II 

THE discharge of the warrior is signed: it is splendour 
in the distance. The great Ninirod, the great Cyrus, 
the great Sennacherib, the great Sesostris, the great Alex- 
ander, the great Pyrrhus, the great Hannibal, the great 
Ca\sar, the great Tiniour, the great Louis, the great Frederic, 
and more great ones, — all are going away. 

It would be a mistake to think that we reject these men 
purely and simj^ly. In our eyes five or six of those that we 
have named are legitimately illustrious ; they have even min- 
gled something good in their ravages ;. their definitive total 
embarrases the absolute equity of the thinker, and they weigh 
nearly even weights in the balance of the injurious and the 
useful. 

Others have been only injurious. They are numerous, in- 
numerable even ; for the masters of the world are a crowd. 

The thinker is the weigher. Clemency suits him. Let us 
therefore say. Those others who have done only evil have one 
attenuating circumstance, — imbecility. 

They have anotiier excuse yet, — the mental condition of 
the human i-ace itself at the moment they appeared ; the me- 
dium surrounding facts, modifiable, but encumbering. 

It is not men that are tyrants, but things. The real 
tyrants are called frontier, track, routine ; blindness under 
the form of fanaticism, deafness and dumbness under the form 
of diversity of languages ; quarrel under the form of diversity 
of weights, measures, and moneys ; hatred resulting from 
quarrel, war resulting from hatred. All these tyrants may be 
called by one name, — separation. Division, whence •oroceeds 
iiTesponsible government, — this is despotism in the abstract. 

Even the tyrants of flesh are mere things. Caligula is 
much more a fact than a man ; he is a result more ..ban an 
existence. The Roman proscriber, dictator, or Ca'sar, re- 
fuses the vanquished fire and water, — tliat is to say, puts Ixia 



WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 285 

life out. One da^' of Gela represents twenty thousand pro- 
scribed, one day of Tiberius thirty thousand, one day of 
Sylla seventy thousand. One evening A^itellius, being ill, 
sees a house lighted up, where people were rejoicing. " Do 
they think me dead.''" says Vitellius. It is Junius Blesus 
who sups with Tuscus Cwcina, the emperor sends to these 
drinkers a cup of poison, that they may realize by this sinister 
end of too joyous a night that Vitellius is living. (Red- 
dendam pro intempestiva licentia mcEstam et funebrom noctem 
qua sentiat vivere Vitellium et imperare.) Otho and this 
same Vitellius forward assassins to each other. Under the 
Cassars, it is a marvel to die in one's bca ; Pison, to whom this 
happened, is noted for that strange incident. The garden 
of Valerius Asiaticus pleases the emperor ; the face of Statilius 
displeases the empress, — state crimes : Valerius is strangled 
because he has a garden, and Statilius because he has a face. 
Basil II., Emperor of the East, makes fifteen thousand Bul- 
garians prisoners ; they are divided into bands of a hundred, 
and their eyes are put out, with the exception of one, who is 
charged to conduct his ninety-nine blind comrades. He after- 
ward sends into Bulgaria the whole of this anny without 
eyes. History thus describes Basil II. : " He was too fond 
of glory." ^ Paul of Russia gave out this axiom : " There 
is no man powerful save him to whom the emperor speaks ; 
and his power endures as long as the word that he hears." 
Philip V. of Spain, so ferociously calm at the auto-da-fes, 
is frightened at the idea of changing his shirt, and remains 
six months in bed without washing and without trimming his 
nails, for fear of being poisoned, by means of scissors, or by 
the water in the basin, or by his shii-t, or by his shoes. Ivan, 
grandfather of Paul, had a woman put to the torture before 
making her lie in his bed ; had a newly married bride hanged, 
and placed the husband as sentinel by her side, to prevent tlie 
rope from being cut ; had a father killed by liis son ; in- 
vented the process of sawing men in two with a cord; bums 

1 Delandine. 



28G WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Bariatiii.ski Iiiiiisclf by slow fire, and, while the patient howls, 
brings the embers together with the end of his stick. Peter, 
in point of excellence, aspires to that of the executioner ; he 
exercises himself in cutting off heads. At first he cuts off 
but five per day, — little enough ; but, with application, he 
succeeds in cutting off twenty-five. It is a talent for a czar 
to tear away a woman's breast with one blow of the knout. 

What are all those monsters ? Symptoms, — running 
sores, pus which oozes from a sickly body. They are scarcely 
more responsible than the sum of a column is responsible for 
the figures in that column. Basil, Ivan, Philip, Paul, etc., 
are the products of vast surrounding stupidity. The clergy 
of the Greek Church, for example, having this maxim, 
" Who can make us judges of those who are our masters.''" 
what more natural than that a czar, — Ivan himself, — should 
cause an archbishop to be sewn in a bear's skin and devoured 
by dogs .'' The czar is amused, — it is quite right. Under 
Nero, the man whose brother was killed goes to the temple 
to return thanks to the gods ; under Ivan, a Boyard empaled 
employs his agony, which lasts for twenty-four hours, in re- 
peating, " O God ! protect the czar." The Princess San- 
guzko is in tears ; she presents, upon her knees, a supplication 
to Nicholas: she implores grace for her husband, conjuring 
the master to spare Sanguzko (a Pole guilty of loving 
Poland) the frightful journey tO' Siberia. Nicholas listens 
in silence, takes the supjjlication, and writes beneath it, 
" On foot." Then Nicholas goes into the streets, and the 
crowd throw themselves on his boot to kiss it. What have 
you to say.? Nicholas is a madman, the crowd is a brute. 
From " khan " comes " knez ; " from " knez " comes " tzar ; " 
from " tzar " the " czar," — a series of phenomena rather 
than an affiliation of men. That after this Ivan you should 
have this Peter, after this Peter this Nicholas, after this 
Nicholas this Alexander, what more logical.'' You all rather 
contribute to this result. The tortured accept the torture. 
" The czar, half putrid, half frozen," as IVIadanie de Stael 
says, — you made him yourselves. To be a people, to be a 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 287 

force, and to look upon these things, is to find tlieni good. 
To be present, is to give one's consent. He who assists at 
the crime, assists the crime. Unresisting presence is an en- 
couraging submission. 

Let us add that a preliminai'y corruption began the com- 
plicity even before the crime was committed. A certain 
putrid fermentation of pre-existing baseness engenders the 
oppressor. 

The wolf is the fact of the forest ; it is the savage fruit 
of solitude without defence. Combine and group together 
silence, obscurity, easy victory, monstrous infatuation, prey, 
offered from all parts, murder in security, the connivance of 
those who are around, weakness, want of weapons, abandon- 
ment, isolation, — from the point of intersection of these 
things breaks forth the ferocious beast. A dark forest, 
whence cries cannot be heard, produces the tiger. A tiger 
is a blindness hungered and armed. Is it a being.-' Scarcely. 
The claw of the animal knows no more than does the thorn of 
a plant. The fatal fact engenders the unconscious organism. 
In so far as personality is concerned, and apart from killing 
for a living, the tiger does not exist. !Mouravieff is mis- 
taken if he thinks that he is a being. 

Wicked men spring from bad things. Therefore let us 
correct the things. 

And here we return to our starting-point : An attenuating 
circumstance for despotism is — idiocy. That attentuating 
circumstance we have just pleaded. 

Idiotic despots, a multitude, are the mob of the purple ; but 
above them, beyond them, by the immeasurable distance which 
separates that which radiates from that which stagnates, — 
there are the despots of genius ; there are the captains, the 
conquerors, the mighty men of war, the civilizers of force, 
the ploughmen of the sword. 

These we have just named. The truly great among them 
are called Cyrus, Sesostris, Alexander, Hannibal, CiBsar, 
Charlemagne, Napoleon ; and, with the qualifications we have 
laid down, we admire them. 



288 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

But \vc admire tlieni on the condition of tlieir disappear- 
ance. IMake room for better ones ! Make room for greater 
ones ! 

Those greater, those better ones, are they new? No. 
|Thcir scries is as ancient as the other ; more ancient, perhaps, 
for the idea has preceded the act, and the tliinker is an- 
terior to the warrior. But their place was taken, taken vio- 
lently. This usurpation is about to cease ; their hour comes 
at last ; their predominance gleams forth. Civilization, re- 
turned to the true light, recognizes them as its only founders ; 
their series becomes clothed in light, au'd eclipses the rest ; 
like the past, the future belongs to them ; and henceforth it is 
they whom God will perpetuate. 



CHAPTER III 



THAT history has to be re-made is evident. Up to the 
present time, it has been nearly always written from 
the miserable point of view of accomplished fact ; it is time 
to write it from the point of view of principle, — and that, 
under penalty of nullity. 

Royal gestures, warlike uproars, princely coronations ; mar- 
riages, baptisms, and funerals, executions and fetes; the 
finery of one crushing all ; the triumph of being born king, 
tlie prowess of sword and axe; great empires, heavy taxes; 
the tricks played by chance upon chance ; the universe hav- 
ing for a law the adventures of any being, provided he be 
crowned ; the destiny of a century changed by a blow from 
the lance of a fool through the skull of an imbecile; the 
majestic fistula in ano of Louis XIV. ; the grave words of the 
dying Emperor Mathias to his doctor, trying for the last 
time to feel his pulse beneath his coverlet and making a mis- 
take, — " Erras, amice hoc est membrum nostrum imperiale 
sacroca-sarcum ; " the dance, with castanets of Cardinal Rich- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 289 

elieu, disguised as a shepherd before the Queen of France, 
in the private villa of the Rue do G/iillon ; Hildebrand com- 
pleted by Cisneros ; the little dogs of Henri III. ; the various 
Potemkins of Catherine II., — OrloiF here, Godoy there, etc. ; 
a great tragedy with a petty intrigue,- — such was history up 
to our days, alternating between the throne and the altar, 
lending one ear to Dangeau and another to Doni Calmet, 
sanctimonious and not stern, not comprehending the true 
transitions from one age to the other, incapable of distin- 
guishing the climacteric crises of civilization, making the 
human race mount upward by ladders of silly dates, well 
versed in puerilities while ignorant of right, of justice, and 
of truth, and modelled far more upon Le Ragois than upon 
Tacitus. 

So true is this, that in our days Tacitus has been the object 
of strong attack. 

Tacitus oil the other hand, — • we do not weary of insisting 
upon it, — is, like Juvenal, like Suetonius and Lampridius, 
the object of a rpecial and merited hatred. The day when 
in the colleges professors of rhetoric shall put Juvenal above 
Virgil, and Tacitus above Bossuet, will be the eve of the day 
in which the human race shall have been delivered ; when all 
forms of oppression shall have disappeared, — from the slave- 
owner up to the pharisee, from the cottage where the slave 
weeps to the chapel where the eunuch sings. Cardinal Du 
Perron, who received for Henri IV. blows from the Pope's 
stick, had the goodness to say, " I despise Tacitus." 

Up to the epoch in .vhich we live, history has been a 
courtier. The double identification of the king with the na- 
tion and of the king with God, is the work of courtier history. 
The grace of God begets the right divine. Louis XIV. 
says, " T am the State ! " Madame du Barry, plagiarist of 
Louis XrV., calls Louis XV. " France ; " and the pompously 
haughty saj'ing of the great Asiatic king of Versailles ends 
with " France, your coffin taints the camp ! " 

Bossuet writes v.ithout hesitation, though palliating facts 
here and there, the frightful legend of those old thrones of 
19 



290 WILLI AJil SHAKESPEARE 

antiquity covered with crimes, and, applying to the surface 
of things his vague theocratic declamation, satisfies himself 
bv this formula: "God holds in his hand the hearts of 
kings." That is not the case, for two reasons, — God has no 
hand, and kings have no heart. 

We are only speaking, of course, of the kings of Assyria. 

History, that old history of which we have spoken, is a 
kind of person for princes. It shuts its eyes when a high- 
ness says, " History, do not look this way." It has, imper- 
turbably, with the face of a harlot, denied the horrible skull- 
breaking casque with an inner spike, destined by the Arch- 
duke of Austria for the Swiss magistrate Gundoldingen. At 
the present time this machine is hung on a nail in the Hotel 
de Ville of Lucerne; anybody can go and see it: yet history 
repeats its denial. jNIoreri calls St. Bartholomew's day " a 
disturbance." Chaudon, another biographer, thus character- 
izes the author of the saying to Louis XV., cited above: " A 
lady of the court, iladame du Barry." History accepts for 
an attack of apoplexy the mattress under which John II. of 
England stifled the Duke of Gloucester at Calais. ^ Why is 
the head of the Infant Don Carlos separated from the trunk 
in his bier at the Escurial.? Philip II., the father, answers: 
" It is because the Infant having died a natural death, the 
coffin prepared for him was not found long enough, and they 
were obliged to cut off the head." History blindly believes 
in the coffin being too short. What ! the father to have his 
son beheaded! Oh, fie! Only demagogues would say such 
things. 

The ingenuousness with which history glorifies the fact, 
whatever it may be, and however impious it may be, shines 
nowhere better than in Cantemir and Karamsin, — the one a 
Turkish historian, the other a Russian historian. The Ot- 
toman fact and the Muscovite fact evidence, when confronted 
and compared with each other, the Tartar identity. Mos- 

1 There was hut one John of England, who put to death (a-s is sup- 
posed) his nephew Arthur, Duke of Bretagne. Perhaps tills is what 
Hugo had in mind. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 291 

cow is not less sinisterly Asiatic than Stamboul. Ivan is in 
the one as Mustapha is in the other. The gradation is im- 
perceptible between that Christianity and that Mahometanism. 
The Pope is brother of the Ulema, the Boyard of the Pacha, 
the knout of the bowstring, and the moujik of the mute. 
There is to men passing through the streets little difference 
between Selim who pierces them with arrows, and Basil who 
lets bears loose on them. Canteniir, a man of the South, an 
ancient Moldavian hospodar, long a Turkish subject, feels, 
although he has passed over to the Russians, that he does not 
displease the Czar Peter by deifying despotism, and he pros- 
trates his metaphors before the sultans: this crouching upon 
tlie bell}^ is Oriental, and somewhat Western also. The sul- 
tains are divine; their scimitar is sacred, their dagger is sub- 
lime, their exterminations are magnanimous, their parricides 
are good. They call themselves merciful, as the furies are 
called Eumenides. The blood that they spill smokes in 
Canteniir with an odour of incense, and the vast slaughtering 
which is their reign blooms into glory. They massaci'e the 
I^eople in the public interest. When some padischah (I know- 
not which) — Tiger IV. or Tiger VI. — causes to be strangled 
one after the other his nineteen little brothers running fright- 
ened round the chamber, the Turkish native historian de- 
clares that " it was executing wisely the law of the empire." 
The Russian historian, Karamsin, is not less tender to the 
Tzar than was Cantemir to the Sultan; nevertheless, let us 
say it, in comparison with Cantemir's, the fervency of Karam- 
sin is lukewarnmcss. Thus Peter, killing his son Alexis, is 
glorified by Karamsin, but in the same tone in which we 
excuse a fault. It is not the acceptation pure and simple of 
Cantemir, who is more upon his knees. The Russian historian 
only admires, while the Turkish historian adores. No fire 
in Karamsin, no nerve, — a dull enthusiasm, grayish apothe- 
oses, good-will struck into an icicle, caresses benumbed with 
cold. It is poor flattery. Evidently the climate has some- 
thing to do with it. Karamsin is a chilled Canteniir. 

Thus is the greater part of history made up to the present 



2fl2 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

(lay ; it goes from Bossuet to Karamsin, passing by the Abbe 
Plurlic. That history has for its principle obedience. To 
what is obedience due? To success. Heroes are well treated, 
hut kings are preferred. To reign is to succeed every morn- 
ing. A king has to-morrow: he is solvent. A hero may be 
unsuccessful, — such things happen, — in which case he is 
hut a usurper. Before this history, genius itself, even should 
it be the highest expression of force served by intelligence, is 
compelled to continual success. If it fails, ridicule ; if it 
falls, insult. After Marengo, you are Europe's hero, the 
man of Providence, anointed by the Lord ; after Austerlitz, 
Na])oleon the Great ; after Waterloo, the ogre from Corsica. 
The Pope anointed an ogre. 

Nevertheless, impartial Loriquet, in consideration of ser- 
vices rendered, makes j'ou a marquis. The man of our day 
who has best executed that surprising gamut from Hero of 
Europe to Ogre of Corsica, is Fontanes, chosen during so 
many years to cultivate, develop, and direct the moral sense 
of youth. 

Legitimacy, right divine, negation of universal suffrage, 
tiic throne a fief, the nation an entailed estate, all proceed 
from that history. The executioner is also part of it ; Joseph 
de Maistre adds liim, divinely, to the king. In England 
such history is called " loyal " history. The English aris- 
tocracy, to whom similar excellent ideas sometimes occur, 
have imagined a method of giving to a political opinion the 
name of a virtue, — rnstriinicntum regnl. In England, to be 
a royalist, is to be loyal. A democrat is disloyal; he is a 
variety of the dishonest man. This man believes In the peo- 
ple, — shame ! He would have universal suffrage, — he Is a 
chartist! are you sure of his probity? Here is a republican 
passing, — take care of your pockets ! That is clever. All 
the world is more witty than Voltaire: the English aristoc- 
racy has more wit than jMacchiavelll. 

The king pays, the people do not pay,- — this is about all 
the secret of that kind of history. It has also its own tariff 
of indulgences. Honour and profit are divided, — honour 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 293 

to the master, profit to tlie historian. Procopius is prefect, 
and, what is more, Illustrious by special decree (which does 
not prevent him from being a traitor) ; Bossuet is bishop, 
Fleury is prelate prior of Argenteuil, Karamsin is senator, 
Cantemir is prince. But the finest thing is to be paid suc- 
cessively by For and by Against, and, like Fontanes, to be 
made senator through idolatry of, and peer of France through 
spitting upon, the same idol. 

What is going on at the Louvre? What is going on at 
the Vatican, in the Seraglio, Bucn Rctiro, at Windsor, at 
Schocnbriinn, at Potsdam, at the Kremlin, at Oranienbaum .'' 
Fui-ther questions are needless ; for there is nothing interest- 
ing for the human race beyond those ten or twelve houses, of 
which history is the door-keeper. 

Nothing can be insignificant that relates to war, the war- 
rior, the prince, the throne, the court. He who is not en- 
dowed with grave puerility cannot be an historian. A ques- 
tion of etiquette, a hunt, a gala, a grand levee, a procession, 
the triumph of Maximilian, the number of carriages the ladies 
have following the king to the camp before Mons, the neces- 
sity of having vices congenial with the faults of his majestj', 
the clocks of Charles V., the locks of Louis X^'l. ; how 
the broth refused by Louis XV. at his coronation, showed him 
to be a good king; how the Prince of Wales sits in the Cham- 
ber of the House of Lords, not in the capacity of Prince of 
Wales, but as Duke of Cornwall ; how the drunken Augustus 
has appointed Prince Lubormirsky, who is starost of Kasimi- 
row, under-cupbcarer to the crown; how Charles of Spain 
gave the command of the army of Catalonia to Pimcntel be- 
cause tl:- Pimentels have the title of Benavente since 1308; 
how Frederic of Brandenburg granted a fief of forty thou- 
sand crowns to a huntsman who enabled him to kill a fine 
stag; how Louis Antoine, grand-master of the Teutonic Order 
and Prince Palatine, died at Liege from displeasure at not 
!jeing able to make the inhabitants choose him bishop; how 
the Princess Borghese, dowager of Mirandole and of the 
Papal House, married the Prince of Cellamare, son of the 



294 WILLIA]M SHAKESPEARE 

Duke of Giovciiazzo ; liow mj Lord Scaton, who Is a Mont- 
gomery, followed James II. into France ; how the Emperor 
ordered the Duke of Mantua, who is vassal of the empire, to 
drive from his court the Marquis Aniorati ; how there are 
always two Cardinal Barberins living, and so on, — ^all that 
is the important business. A turncd-up nose becomes an 
historical fact. Two small fields contiguous to the old Mark 
and to the duchy of Zell, having almost embroiled England 
and Prussia, are memorable. In fact, the cleverness of the 
governing and the apathy of the governed have arranged and 
mixed things in such a manner that all those forms of princely 
nothingness have their place in human destiny ; and peace and 
war, the movement of armies and fleets, the recoil of the 
progress of civilization, depend on the cup of tea of Queen 
Anne or the flj'-flap of the Dey of Algiers. 

History walks behind those fooleries, registering them. 

Knowing so many things, it is quite natural that it should 
be ignorant of others. If you are so curious as to ask the 
name of the English merchant who in 1612 first entered China 
by the north; of the worker in glass who in 1663 first estab- 
lished in France a manufactory of crystal ; of the citizen who 
carried out in the States General at Tours, under Charles 
VIII.: the sound principle of elective magistracy (a principle 
which has since been adroitly obliterated); of the pilot who 
in 1-105 discovered the Canary Islands; of the Byzantine lute- 
maker who in the eighth century invented the organ and 
gave to music its grandest voice; of the Campanian mason 
who invented the clock by establishing at Rome on the tem- 
ple of Quirinus the first sundial ; of the Roman lighterman 
who invented tlie paving of towns by the construction of the 
Appian Way in the year 312 B. C. ; of the Egyptian carpen- 
ter who devised the dove-tail, one of the keys of architecture, 
which may be found under the obelisk of Loxor; of the 
Chaldean keeper of flocks who founded astronomy by his 
observation of the signs of the zodiac, the starting-point 
taken by Anaximenes; of the Corinthian calker who, nine 
years before tlie first ()lymj)iad, calculated the power of the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 295 

triple lever, devised the trireme, and created a tow-boat an- 
terior by two thousand six hundred years to the steamboat ; 
of the Macwloniaii ploughman who discovered the first gold 
mine in Mount Pangfcus, — history/, does not know what to say 
to _you: those fellows are unknown to history. Who is that, 
— a ploughman, a calkor, a shepherd, a carpenter, a lighter- 
man, a mason, a lutemaker, a sailor, and a merchant? His- 
tory does not lower itself to such rabble. 

There is at Nuremberg, near the Egydienplatz, in a cham- 
ber on the second floor of a house which faces the church of 
St. Giles, on an iron tripod, a little ball of wood twenty inches 
in diameter, covered with darkish vellum, marked with lines 
which were once red, yellow, and green. It is a globe on 
which is sketched out an outline of the divisions of the earth 
in the fifteenth century. On this globe is vaguely indicated, 
in the twenty-fourth degree of latitude, under the sign of 
the Crab, a kind of island named Antilia, which one day 
attracted the attention of two men. The one who had con- 
structed the globe and drawn Antilia showed this island to the 
other, placed his finger upon it, and said, " It is there." 
The man who looked on was called Christopher Columbus; 
the man who said, " It is there," was called Martin Behaim. 
Antilia is America. History speaks of Fernando Cortez, 
who ravaged America, but not of ^lartin Behaim, wlio di- 
vined it. 

Let a man have " cut to pieces " other men ; let him have 
" put them to the sword ; " let him have made them " bite the 
dust," — horrible expressions, which have become hideously 
familiar, — and if you search histoi-y for the name of that 
man, whoever he may be, you will find it. But search for 
the name of the man who invented the compass, and you will 
not find it. 

In 1747, in the eighteenth century, under the gaze even 
of philosophers, the battles of Raucoux and Lawfield, the 
siege .of Sas^de-Gand and the taking of Bergop-Zoom, eclipse 
and efface that sublime discovery which to-daj' is in course 
of modifying the world,— electricity. Voltaire himself, about 



296 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

that year, celebrated passionately some exploit of Trajan.* 

A certain public stupidity is the result of that history which 
is superimposed upon education almost everj'where. If you 
doubt it, see, among others, the ^publications of Perisse Broth- 
ers, intended by the editors, says a parenthesis, for primary 
schools. 

A prince who gives himself an animal's name makes us 
laugh. We rail at the Emperor of China, who makes people 
call him " His ]Majesty the Dragon," and we placidly say 
" Monseigneur le Dauphin." 

History is the record of domesticity. The historian is no 
more than the master of ceremonies of centuries. In the 
model court of Louis the Great there are four historians, as 
there are four chamber violinists. Lulli leads the one, Boileau 
the others. 

In this old method of history, — the only authorized method 
up to 1789, and classic in every acceptation of the word, — 
the best narrators, even the honest ones (there are few of 
them), even those who think themselves free, place them- 
selves mechanically in drill, stitch tradition to tradition, sub- 
mit to accepted custom, receive the pass-word from the ante- 
chamber, accept, pell-mell with the crowd, the stupid divinity 
of coarse personages in the foreground, — kings, " poten- 
tates," " pontiffs," soldiers, — and, all the time thinking them- 
selves historians, end by donning the livery of historiogra- 
phers, and are lackeys without knowing it. 

This kind of history is taught, is compulsory, is com- 
mended and recommended ; all young intellects are more or 
less saturated with it, its mark remains upon them, their 
thought suffers through it and releases itself only with dif- 
ficulty, — we make schoolboys learn it by heart, and I who 
speak, when a child, was its victim. 

In such history there is everything except history. Shows 
of princes, of " monarchs," and of captains, indeed ; but of 
the people, of laws, of manners, very little; and of letters, of 

I For Trajan, read Louis XV. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 297 

arts, of sciences, of philosophy, of the universal movement 
of thought, — in one word, of man, — • nothing. Civilization 
dates by dynasties and not by progress ; some king or other 
is one of the stages along the historical road ; the true stages, 
the stages of great men, are nowhere indicated. It explains 
how Francis II. succeeds to Henri II., Charles IX. to 
Frances II., and Henri III. to Charles IX. ; but it does not 
tell us how Watt succeeds to Papin, and Fulton to Watt; 
behind the heavy scenery of the hereditary rights of kings a 
glimpse of the mysterious sovereignty of men of genius is 
scarcely obtained. The lamp which smokes on the opaque 
facades of royal accessions hides the starry light whicli the 
creators of civilization throw over the ages. Not one of this 
series of historians points out the divine relation of human 
affairs, — the applied logic of Providence; not one makes us 
see how progress engenders progress. That Philip IV. comes 
after Philip III., and Charles II. after Philip IV., it would 
indeed be shameful not to know ; but that Descartes con- 
tinues Bacon, and that Kant continues Descartes ; that Las 
Casas continues Columbus, that Washington continues Las 
Casas, and that John Brown continues and rectifies Wash- 
ington ; that John Huss continues Pelagius, that Luther 
continues John Huss, and that Voltaire continues Luther,- — 
it is almost a scandal to be aware of tliis ! 



CHAPTER IV 



IT is time that all this should be altered. It is time that 
the men of action should take their place behind, and 
the men of ideas come to the front. The summit is the 
head. Where thought is, there is power. It is time that 
men of genius should precede heroes. It is time to render 
to Csesar what is CiEsar's, and to the book what is the book's : 
such or such a poem, such a drama, such a novel, does more 
work than all the Courts of Europe together. It is time 



298 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

that liistovy should proportion itself to the roahty, that it 
should allow to each influence its true measure, and tliat it 
should cease to place the masks of kings on epochs made in 
the image of poets and philosophers. To whom belongs the 
eighteenth century, — to Louis XV. or to Voltaire? Con- 
front Versailles with Fcrncy, and see from which of these 
tw'o points civilization flows. 

A century is a formula ; an epoch is a thought expressed, 
— after which, civilization passes to another. Civilization 
has phrases : these phrases are the centuries. It does not 
repeat here what it says there ; but its mysterious phrases are 
bound together by a chain, — logic (logos) is within, — and 
their scries constitutes progress. All these phrases, expressive 
of a single idea, — the divine idea, — write slowly the word 
Fraternity. 

All light is at some point condensed into a flame; in the 
same way every epoch is condensed into a man. The man 
having expired, the epoch is closed, — God turns the page. 
Dante dead, is the full-stop put at the end of the thirteenth 
centur}' : John Huss can come. Shakespeare dead, is the 
full-stop put at the end of the sixteenth century ; after this 
poet, who contains and sums up every philosojihy, the philoso- 
phers Pascal, Descartes, jMoliere, Le Sage, ilontesquieu, 
Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarchais can come. Voltaire dead, 
is the full-stop put at the end of the eighteenth century : 
the French Revolution, liquidation of the first social form of 
Christianity, can come. 

These different periods, which we name epochs, have all 
their dominant points. What is that dominant point? Is 
it a head that wears a crown, or is it a head that bears a 
thought? Is it an aristocracy, or is it an idea? Answer 
yourself. Do you see where the power is? Weigh Francis 
I. in the scales with Gargantua: put all chivalry in the scale 
against " Don Quixote." 

Therefore, every one to his right place. Right about face ! 
and let us now regard the centuries in their true light. In 
the fii'st rank, minds; in the second, in the third, in the 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 299 

twentieth, soldiers and princes. To the warrior the darkness, 
to the thinker the pedestaL Take away Alexander, and 
put in his place Aristotle. Strange thing, that up to this 
day humanity should have read the Iliad in such a manner 
as to annihilate Homer under Achilles ! 

I repeat it, it is time that all this should be changed. 
Moreover, the first impulse is given. Already, noble minds 
are at work ; future history begins to appear, some specimens 
of the new and magnificent though partial treatments of the 
subject being already in existence; a general recasting is im- 
minent, — ad usum populi. Compulsory education demands 
true history ; and tnie history will be given : it is begun. 

Effigies nmst be stamped afresh. That which was the re- 
verse will become the face, and that which was the face will 
become the reverse. Urban VIII. will be the reverse of 
Galileo. 

The true profile of the human race will re-appear on the 
different proofs of civilization that the successive ages will 
offer. 

The historical efBgy will no longer be the man-king ; it will 
be the man-people. 

Doubtless, — and we shall not be reproached for not in- 
.sisting on it,- — real and veracious history, in indicating the 
sources of civilization wherever they may be, will not lose 
sight of the appreciable utility of the sceptre-bearers and 
sword-bearers at given periods and in special states of hu- 
manity. Certain wrestling matches necessitate some resem- 
blance between the two combatants ; barbarity must some- 
times be pitted against savageness. There are cases of prog- 
ress by violence. Ca?sar is good in Cimmeria, and Alexander 
in Asia; but for Alexander and Casar the second rank suf- 
fices. 

Veracious history, real history, definitive history henceforth 
charged with the education of the royal infant, — namely, 
the people, — will reject all fiction, will fail in complaisance, 
will logically classify phenomena, will unravel profound 
causes, will study philosophically and scientifically the sue- 



300 WILLIAIM SHAKESPEARE 

ccssive commotions of liumanlty, and ■will talce less account 
of the great strokes of tlic sword than of the grand strokes 
of the idea. The deeds of liglit will pass first ; Pythagoras 
will be a much greater event than Sesostris. We have just 
said it, — heroes, men of the twilight, are relatively luminous 
in the darkness ; but what is a conqueror beside a sage? What 
is the invasion of kingdoms compared with the opening up of 
intellects? The winners of minds efface the gainers of prov- 
inces. He through whom we think, he is the true conqueror. 
In future histor}', the slave ^Esop and the slave Plautus will 
have precedence over kings ; and there are vagabonds who will 
weigh more than certain victors, and comedians who will weigh 
more than certain emperors. 

Without doubt, to illustrate what we arc saying by means 
of facts, it is useful that a powerful man should have marked 
the halting-place between the ruin of the Latin world and 
the growth of the Gothic world ; it is also useful that another 
powerful man, coming after the first, like cunning on the 
footsteps of daring, should have sketched out imder the form 
of a catholic monarch}' the future universal group of nations, 
and the beneficial encroachments of Europe upon Africa, 
Asia, and America. But it is more useful yet to have written 
the " Divina Commedia " and " Hamlet." No bad action is 
mixed up with these great works ; nor is here to be charged to 
the account of the civilizcr a debt of nations ruined. The 
improvement of the human mind being given as the result to 
be obtained, Dante is of greater importance than Charle- 
magne, and Shakespeare of greater importance than Charles 
the Fifth. 

In history, as it will be written on the pattern of absolute 
truth, that intelligence of no account, that unconscious and 
trivial being, — the Nor pJurtbu^ iiiipar, the Sultan-sun of 
Marly, — will appear as nothing more than the almost me- 
chanical preparer of the shelter needed by the thinker dis- 
guised as a buffoon, and of the environment of ideas and 
men required for the pliilosophy of Alceste. Thus Louis 
XIV. makes Moliere's bed. 



WILLI AIM SHAKESPEARE 301 

These exchanges of parts wiU put people in their true light ; 
the historical optic, renewed, will re-adjust the ensemble of 
civilization, at present a chaos; for perspective, that justice 
of geometry, will size the past, — making such a plan to 
advance, placing another in the background. Every ono 
will assume his real stature ; the head-dresses of tiaras and of 
crowns will only make dwarfs more ridiculous ; stupid genu- 
flexions will vanish. From these alterations will proceed 
right. 

That great judge We ourselves, — We all, — having hence- 
forth for measure the clear idea of what is absolute and 
what is relative, deductions and restitutions will of tliem- 
selves take place. The innate moral sense within man will 
know its power ; it will no longer be obliged to ask itself ques- 
tions like this, — Why, at the same minute, do people revere 
in Louis XV. and all the rest of royalty the act for which 
they burn DcschaufFours on the Place de Grevc.? The quality 
of kingship will no longer be a false moral weight. Facts 
fairly placed will place conscience fairly. A good light will 
come, sweet to the human race, serene, equitable, with no 
interposition of clouds henceforth between truth and the 
brain of man, but a definitive ascent of tlie good, the just, 
and the beautiful toward the zenith of civilization. 

Nothing can escape the law which simplifies. By the mere 
force of things, the material side of facts and of men dis- 
integrates and disappears. There is no shadowy solidity; 
whatever may be the mass, whatever may be the block, every 
combination of ashes (and matter is nothing else) returns 
to ashes. The idea of the atom of dust is in the word 
" granite," — inevitable pulverizations. All those granites of 
oligarchy, aristocracy, and theocracy, are doomed to be scat- 
tered to the four winds. The ideal alone is indestructible. 
Nothing lasts save the mind. 

In this indefinite increase of light which is called civiliza- 
tion, the processes of reduction and levelling are accomplished. 
The imperious morning light penetrates everywhere, — enters 
as master, and makes itself obeyed. The liglit is at work; 



302 WILLIAlSr SHAKESPEARE 

under the great eye of posterity, before the blaze of tlio 
nineteenth century, simplifications take place, excrescences fall 
away, glories drop like loaves, reputations are riven in pieces. 
Do you wish for an example, — take Moses. There is in 
Moses three glories, — the captain, the legislator, the poet. 
Of these three men contained in Moses, where is the captain 
to-day.'' In the shadow, with brigands and murderers. 
Where is the legislator.'' Amidst the waste of dead religions. 
Where is the poet.'' By the side of ^'Eschylus. 

Daylight has an irresistible corroding power on the things 
of night. Hence appears a new historic sky above our heads, 
a new philosophy of causes and results, a new aspect of facts. 

Certain minds, however, whose honest and stem anxiety 
please us, object: "You have said that men of genius 
form a dynasty ; now, we will not have that dynasty any 
more than another." This is to misapprehend, and to fear 
the word where the thing is reassuring. The same law which 
wills that the human race should have no owners, wills that 
it should have guides. To be enlightened is quite different 
from being enslaved. Kings possess ; men of genius con- 
duct, — there is the difference. Between " I am a jMan " and 
" I am the State " there is all the distance from fraternity 
to tyranny. The forward-march must have a guide-post. 
To revolt against the pilot can scarcely improve the ship's 
course ; we do not see what would have been gained by throw- 
ing Christopher Columbus into the sea. The dii-ection " this 
way " has never humiliated the man who seeks liis road. I 
accept in the night the guiding authority of torches. More- 
over, a dynasty of little encumbrance is that of men of genius, 
having for a kingdom the exile of Dante, for a palace the 
dungeon of Cervantes, for a civil list the wallet of Isaiah, 
for a throne the dunghill of Job, and for a sceptre the staff 
of Homer. 

Let us resume. 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 303 



CHAPTER V 

HUMANITY, no longer owned but guided, — such is the 
new aspect of facts. 

This new aspect of facts history henceforth is compelled to 
reproduce. To change the past, that is strange; yet it is 
what history is about to do. By falsehood.'' No, by speak- 
ing the truth. History has been a picture; she is about to 
become a mirror. This new reflection of the past will modify 
the future. 

The former king of Westphalia, who was a witty man, was 
looking one day at an inkstand on the table of some one we 
know. The writer, with whom Jerome Bonaparte was at 
that moment, had brought home from an excursion among 
the Alps, made some years before in company with Charles 
Nodier, a piece of steatitic serpentine carved and hollowed 
in the form of an inkstand, and purchased of the chamois- 
hunters of the Mer de Glace. It was this that Jerome Bona- 
parte was looking at. " What is this .'' " he asked. " It is 
my inkstand," said the writer ; and he added, " it is steatite. 
Admire how Nature with a little dirt and oxide has made this 
charming green stone." Jerome Bonaparte replied, " I ad- 
mire much more the men who out of this stone made an ink- 
stand." 

That was not badly said for a brother of Napoleon, and 
due credit should be given for it ; for the inkstand is to de- 
stroy the sword. The decrease of warriors, — men of brutal 
force and of prey ; the undefined and superb growth of men 
of thought and of peace; the re-appearance on the scene of 
the true colossals, — in this is one of the greatest facts of our 
great epoch. There is no spectacle more pathetic and sub- 
lime, — humanity delivered from on high, the powerful ones 
put to flight by the thinkers, the prophet overwhelming the 
hero, force routed by ideas, the sky cleaned, a majestic ex- 
pulsion. 



i^fii 



304 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

Look ! raise your c^'cs ! the supreme epic is accomplished. 
The legions of light drive backward the hordes of fl;ime. 

The masters are departing ; the liberators are arriving ! 
Those who hunt down nations, who drag armies behind them, 
• — • Nimrod, Sennacherib, Cyrus, Rameses, Xerxes, Cambyses, 
Attila, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Alexander, Ca?sar, Bona- 
parte, — all these immense wild men are disappearing. They 
die away slowly, — behold them touch the horizon ; they are 
mysteriously attracted by the darkness ; they claim kindred 
with the shade, — thence their fatal descent. Their re- 
semblance to other phenomena of the night restores them to 
that terrible unity of blind immensity, a submersion of all 
light ; forgetfulness, shadow of the shadow, awaits them. 

But though they are thrown down, they remain formid- 
able. Let us not insult what has been great. Hooting 
would be unbecoming before the burying of heroes; the 
thinker should remain grave in presence of this donning of 
shrouds. The old glory abdicates, the strong lie down : 
mercy for those vanquished conquerors ! peace to those war- 
like spirits now extinguished ! The darkness of the grave 
interposes between their glare and ourselves. It is not with- 
out a kind of religious terror that one sees planets become 
spectres. 

While in the engulfing process the flaming pleiad of the 
men of brutal force descends deeper and deeper into the abyss 
with the sinister pallor of approaching disappearance, at the 
other extremity of space, where the last cloud is about to 
fade away, in the deep heaven of the future, henceforth to 
be azure, rises in radiancy the sacred group of true stars, — 
Orplicus, Hermes, Job, Homer, yEschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, 
Hippocrates, Phidias, Socrates, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, 
Archimedes, Euclid, Pythagoras, Lucretius, Plautus, Juvenal, 
Tacitus, Saint Paul, John of Patmos, Tertullian, Pelagius, 
Dante, Gutenberg, Joan of Arc, Cliristopher Columbus, 
Luther, Michael, Angclo, Corpernicus, Galileo, Rabelais, Cal- 
deron, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Kepler, Milton, 
Molicrc, Newton, Descartes, Kant, Piranesi, Beccaria, Dide- 



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 305 

rot, Voltaire, Beethoven, Fulton, Montgolficr, Washington. 
And this marvellous constellation, at each instant more lu- 
minous, dazzling as a glory of celestial diamonds, shines in 
the clear horizon, and ascending mingles with the vast dawn 
of Jesus Christ. 



THE END. 



I 



20 



LIFE 



OF 



VICTOR HUGO 



BY 
FRANK T. SIARZIALS 



EDITED "BT 

PROF. ERIC S. ROBERTSON, M.A. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER I. 

PAGE 

Battle-field of Victor Hugo's life and work; his birth at Besanfon, 
February 26, 1802; his parents; ancestral pretensions; his deli- 
cacy in infancy; nursed in the lap of war; at Paris in 1805; 
Colonel Hugo appointed Governor of Avellino; his wife and 
children journey thither, October, 180"; brigands hung along 
the road; life at Avellino; Colonel Hugo follows King Joseph 
to Spain, June, 1808; tlie family return to Paris; happy days; 
the family join General Hugo in Spain, 1811; adventures by 
the way; schooldays at Madrid; the family again returns to 
Paris, 1812; Victor's education, pohtical and religious; M. Lari- 
viere; General and Madame Hugo separate; Victor sent to the 
Pension Cordier et Decotte; he leaves school, August, 1818 . 1 

CHAPTER ir. 

First exhibitions of genius; schoolboy versification; competes for 
the Academy prize for French poetry; honourably mentioned, 
1817; resolves to devote himself to literature; General Hugo 
cuts off supplies; Victor resides with his mother; awarded 
medals for two odes at the " Floral Games" of Toulouse, 1819; 
writes for Comervateur LUtfraire, December, 1819, to March, 
1821; early allegiance to the classic school of poetry; "Odes et 
Poesies Diverses " pubUshed June, 1823 19 

CHAPTER ni. 

Death of Madame Hugo, June, 1821; her opinion of Victor; Victor 
desolate; fights a duel; love affairs; receives pension from 

iii 



iv CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Louis XVIII., September, 1S-2J; marries in October; a glimpse 
of tlie future; Madame Drouct; bard work; "Han d'lslande" 
published, February, 18^'3; Pension doubled; domestic sorrow; 
more odes; contributes to the Muse Franqaise; Victor Hugo's 
"ideal novel"; Scott "prosaic"; " Nouvelles Odes," March, 
182-1-; Charles X. adds the Cross of the Legion of Honour to the 
pension, April, 1835; gradual conversion of Victor Hugo to 
Romanticism, IS-iS-t 28 



CHAPTER IV. 

Romanticism in Germany; England; France; the movement in 
France; Chateaubriand, Madame de Stael, Andr6 Chenier, 
Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny; Victor Hugo takes the field with 
his third Volume of Odes, October, 1926; storms the classical 
position in the preface to "Cromwell," 1827; Victor Hugo's 
ideal drama; "Cromwell" not a great play; " Chasse du Bur- 
grave" and "Pas d'Armes du Uoi Jean," 1828; " Orientales," 
1829; a sxiperb Iioolc; its music; metre; glowing colour; Victor 
Hugo "Master" of the French Romantic School: its members; 
the Ceuacle 41 



CHAPTER V. 

Influence of Shakespeare on French stage; Charles Kemble and 
Edmund Kean in Paris, 1827-8; Hugo's drama, "Marion de 
Lornie," prohibited liy the Government, July, 1829; " Hernani," 
Autunm, 1829; diflScultics attending its production; the Roman- 
tic youth; first performance, Feliniary 2.j, 18:10; tierce struggle; 
victory; the Romantic drama triumphant; a word for the Class- 
icists; "Marion de Lorme "' produced, August, 1831; " Le Roi 
s'amuse," November, 1832; "Luer^ce Borgia" and "Marie 
Tudor," 1833; " Angelo Tyran de Padoue," April, 1835; " Ruy 
Bias," November, 1839; " Les Burgraves," March, 1843; Victor 
Hugo's amiiition as a dramatist; his social philosophy; history; 
characters; his plays written for the stage; plots, characters, 
and dialogue; verbal music; Uaclicl 52 



CONTENTS r 

CHAPTER VI. 

PAQE 

Novels since "Han d'lslande"; "Bug Jargal," January, 182G; a 
nigger hero; " Le Dernier Jour d"un Condamne," February, 
18i9; capital punishment; Victor Hugo's sympathies on the sub- 
ect; " Notre Dame de Paris," February 13, 1831 ; " Notre Dame " 
and "Quentin Durward " compared; tlie world of "Notre 
Dame"; a living, terrible book; Victor Hugo an artist in prose 
as well as verse; holds first place in European literature after 
183:3; Goethe and "Notre Dame" 69 

CHAPTER VH. 

Victor Hugo as he appeared in 1831; a period of sadness; "Les 
Feuilles d'Automne," 1831; the poet of childhood; prose work, 
1831-184'8; " Litterature et Philosophie Melees," collected papers, 
1834; "Claude Gueux," 1834; " Le Rhin," 184;3; Poetry: "Les 
Chants du Crepuscule," 1835; "Les Voix Intfrieures," 1837; 
"Les Kayons et les Ombres," 1840; varied character and high 
quality of verse; elected an Academician, 1841; motives for 
seeking election; created a peer, April 13, 1845; his apartments 
and life in the Place Royale; his hospitaUty, grace, and courtesy 
in private life 81 

CHAPTER VIII, 

Politics; his royalist tendencies soon wane; approves of the Revo- 
lution of 1830; an "opportunist" republican in 1848; the Revo- 
lution; elected to the Assembl^e Constituante June 4th; his 
views at the time; Louis Napoleon elected President; Victor 
Hugo elected member of the Assenibl^e L(5gislative, June, 1849; 
becomes an extreme Radical; glittering but violent speeches; a 
prison scene; the Coup d'Etat, December 2, 1851; Hugo takes a 
prominent part in opposing it; he is driven into exile; arrives 
in Brussels, December 14, 1851 93 

CHAPTER IX. 

Hugo's apartment in the Grande Place, Brussels; he writes " His- 
toire d'un Crime " ; publishes " Napoleon le Petit " in summer 



vi CONTENTS 

Page 

of 1852; its- style; the book causes his expulsion from Brussels; 
he goes to Jersey; his liouse in Marine terrace, St. Helier; the 
family life there; " l.es ChatiraeHts," 1853; its castigation of 
Napoleon; anti-imperialist works; the Queen's visit to Napoleon 
III.; tlie exiles attack the Queen in "L'Homme"; the Hugos are 
expelled from Jersey; they leave for Guernsey, October 31, 1855. 104 

CHAPTER X. 

HauteviUe House; Victor Hugo's life there; his sons Charles and 
Francois; " Les Contemplations"; Ltopodine Hugo drowned in 
1843; "La LegenJe des Siccles"; character of the book; "Les 
Mis^rables"; epi.sode.s; the story; resemblance lietween Marius 
and Victor Hugo himself; "William Shakespeare"; "Les 
Chansons des Rues et des Bois"; "Les Travaillcurs de la Mer"; 
"L'Homme qui rit"; an impossible book; family life at Haute- 
viUe House 116 



CHAPTER XL 

Fall of ths Empire; Victor Hugo returns to France, September 5, 
1870; addresses fruitless appeal to the Germans; remains in 
Paris during the siege; elected to the Assembly at Bordeaux, 
February, 1871; resigns his seat; death of Charles Hugo; half- 
sympathies with the Commune; again expelled from Belgium; 
" L Annee Terrible"; " Qiiatrevingt Trcize"; character of the 
book; " Actes et Paroles"; second series of "La Legende des 
Sidles"; several books of verse; grandchildren Georges and 
Jeanne; hale old age; death on May 2-2, 1885; public funeral . 138 

CHAPTER XII. 

Victor Hugo's own claim to universal respect; to what extent ad- 
missible; some element of theatricality in his character must be 
admitted; his political and social philosophy; must be pro- 
nounced obsolete; value of his work not affected thereby; genius 
as a novelist; as a dramatist; as a poet; future of his work . 151 



NOTE 



THE reader would thank me very little for enumerating 
here all the books and periodicals consulted during the 
composition of this biography. My sheaf has been gleaned 
from many fields. Two debts, however, I feel in honour 
bound to acknowledge, one to Madame Hugo's '- Victor Hugo 
raconte par un Temoin de sa vie," and the other to M. Eire's 
" Victor Hugo avant 1830." 

F. T. M. 



I 



LIFE OF VICTOR HUGO 



CHAPTER I 

THERE are some men round whose name and fame and 
work it would almost seem as if human opinion wei-e 
destined to rage in never-ending strife. Such a man was 
Victor Hugo. For upwards of sixty years he remained con- 
spicuous among his contemporaries, an object of passionate 
admiration, and almost equally passionate dislike. During 
the earlier portion of that period he stood in the forefront 
of the great battle between the Romantic and Classical 
schools in French literature. To his followers he was the man 
of men, the " impeccable master," the genius of his age, a 
kind of sun-god dispelling the drear darkness of poetic rou- 
tine and ancient night. To his adversaries he was a mere 
savage, a monster, rudely violating his mother tongue, and 
setting all sane traditions at defiance. Then, when that bat- 
tle had in a measure fought itself out, came even fiercer war- 
fare in the world of politics. The Revolution of IS-iS, fit- 
ful, sudden, erratic, drove Louis Philippe from the throne 
of France. A short-lived Republic followed. But in the Re- 
public was soon visible what some hailed as the dawn, and 
others cursed as the coming night of Imperialism. Among 
those who cursed was Victor Hugo, and his talents in that 
kind were simply magnificent. What winged words, tipped 
with venom and flame, did he not discharge at Napoleon III. ! 
And how cordially the Imperialists hated him in return! But 
even when the Empire had been swept into the dust-heap of 
human failures — even then, amid the shouts that hailed tlie 
1 1 



2 LIFE OF 

poet as tlie laureate of Frencli democracy, discordant voices 
iiiif^Iit still be heard. Not yet had unanimity been reached. 
A new literary school arose professing to be neither classical 
nor romantic, but " naturalist." Facts, realism, science, such 
were, and are, the watchwords of M. Zola and his Comus- 
rout. Weighed in a balance that takes no account of what 
is idea., or beautiful, or sublime, no wonder if Victor Hugo's 
work is found lighter than vanity itself. He is arraigned 
for artificiality, for preferring an epic grandeur to the ac- 
tual proportions of life, and ridiculed for his niedia'val " bric- 
ji-brac," his empt^f, sonorous rhetoric. '" He never followed 
after truth," such is M. Zola's conclusion ; " he was never 
the man of his age." And if this be the verdict of the last 
coarse school in French literature, how does his reputation 
stand among daintier critics of an approved Atticism, like 
]\I. Scherer and j\Ir. IMatthew Arnold.'' The latter praises 
Salnte-Beuve for having early " seized the weak side of Vic- 
tor Hugo's poetry," its " emptiness," " theatricality," " vio- 
lence," and quotes, as " a description never to be forgotten 
of Victor Hugo as a poet," the statement of Sainte-Beuve 
that he was a " Frank, energetic and subtle, who had mas- 
tered to perfection the technical and rhetorical resources of 
the Latin literature of the decadence." After this, if one 
has been watching the battle-field at all impartially, one is 
glad to see a bold, or it may be even a rash, diversion in 
the poet's favour; one is glad to see iVIr. Swineburne swing- 
ing down upon the enemy in full charge, and to hear him 
shouting his mighty war-cry in praise of the " great master 
whose name is the crowning glory of the nineteenth century," 
of the " greatest writer whom the world has seen since Shake- 
speare," " the greatest Frenchman of all times " ! 

Thus for upwards of sixty years has the strife of tongues 
raged, round Victor Hugo. And it is a strife in which who- 
soever speaks of him at all is almost constrained to take a 
part. The man was pre-eminently a fighter. How is it pos- 
sible to avoid controversy in discussing his life and works.' 
So with every desire, as far as in me lies, to live peaceably 



VICTOR HUGO 3 

■with all men, I cannot but feel that before faring very far 
forward, I too shall be drawn into the conflict ; and, standing 
as it were upon the battle's brink, I almost hesitate. 

" This century of ours was two 3'ears old, the Sparta of 
the Republic was giving place to the Rome of the Empire, 
and Bonaparte the First Consul developing into Napoleon 
the Emperor, . . . when, at Besan9on, . . . there 
came into the world a child of mingled Breton and Lorraine 
blood, who was colourless, sightless, voiceless, and so poor a 
weakling that all despaired of him except his mother. 
That child, whose name Life appeared to be erasing 
from its book, and whose short day of existence seemed de- 
stined to pass into night with never a morrow — that child 
am I." Thus, in lines which most Frenchmen know pretty 
well by heart, has Victor Hugo related the incidents of his 
birth. To put the matter more prosaically, he was born at 
Besan9on, in the extreme east of France, on February 26, 
1802. 

His father, Joseph Leopold Sigisbert Hugo, was an offi- 
cer in the French army, and aged some twenty-nine years at 
the time of Victor's birth. Under what circumstances he had 
become a soldier is not quite clear. His own memoirs — for 
he too wielded the pen, and has left memoirs — are somewhat 
reticent on the point. The family record suggests that he 
first embraced the career of arms in 1788 as a " cadet." 
My own impression is that he entered the ranks quite humbly 
as one of the numerous volunteers who, at the approach of the 
Revolution, came forward to do its work and defend the coun- 
try. Be that as it may, in 1793—4 we find him already a 
captain — for among good republicans promotion was rapid 
in those days — and actively engaged in the war against the 
royalists of La Vendee. He has changed his name to " Bru- 
tus," which is a sign of the times, and helps to memorialise 
the Convention in denunciation of the Girondists, and in 
praise of " the sublime Constitution " of 1793 ; and he 
" swears," in common with his co-signatories, to " shed the 



4 LTFE OF 

very last drop of his blood to crush all tyrants, fanatics, 
roj'alists, and federalists." lie is also somewhat busily en- 
gaged as secretary to the niilitarj' commissions which are 
condemning the unhappy royalists to death, or purveying 
victims for the infamous Carrier's revokitionary tribunal at 
Nantes. Dirty work at best, and there seems no reason to 
doubt that he hates it, and does what in him lies — as he 
claims for himself, and Madame Hugo claims for him — to 
mitigate the horrors of that fratricidal war. Thence, the 
rising in La Vendee being crushed, he is transferred to Paris, 
and employed for some two years in semi-military semi-legal 
work at the War Office ; and thence again passes to the Army 
of the Rhine, under ]\Ioreau, and is attached to the personal 
staff of that great genera], who for a time almost seems to 
be the predestined rival of the rising young Napoleon. 
Such is Victor Hugo's father, who, after a creditable, and 
one maj^ almost saj- distinguished military career, is com- 
manding his battalion at Besan^on in 1802. 

As to the boy's mother, she had had, if we may trust a 
passage in the preface to " Les Feuilles d'Automne," a trou- 
bled childhood; had been a br'igande, as the insurgent royal- 
ists wei-e called, " like Madame de Bonchamp and Madame 
de Larochejaquelein," and had been compelled to " fly," she, 
" a poor girl of fifteen," across the ensanguined fields of 
" the Bocage." But here, I think, some little allowance must 
be made for poetic licence. M. Trebuchet, the father of 
this young lady, was a shipowner at Nantes ; and we are told, 
on the excellent authority of his granddaugher,^ that he was 
" one of those honest citizens who never travel bevond the 
confines of their own city, and of their once settled opinion." 
Clearly not the man to go careering about the Bocage with 
his three motherless daughters, or to allow one of them to 

I The reference here, and throughout, when I quote from Madame 
Hugo, is tc her " \'ictor Hugo raoonte par iin tt^moin de sa vie," 
which WHS clearly written under A'ictor Hugo's own eye, and may 
almost be treBtc<l as his autobiograj)hy. It is re-published in tha 
complete edition of his works. 



VICTOR HUGO 5 

take what the French call " the key of the fields " on her own 
account. Moreover, I think we may regard it as pretty 
certain that IMadame Hugo, with her skill in selecting the 
picturesque points in the family history, would not have neg- 
lected so striking an episode, unless it had lain beyond the 
confines of fact, and in the cloudland of legend or imagina- 
tion. Still, though IMademoisclle Trebuchet may never have 
borne arms in her own person, she was a royalist, and the 
daughter of a royalist; and there must have been many ob- 
stacles to the wooing of the handsome young republican offi- 
cer, who, in his frequent visits to Nantes, hovered about the 
dovecote of the worthy shipowner. " Love," however, here 
again, was " lord of all," as in the far-off days when the 
English lady " would marry the Scottish knight." Sigis- 
bert Hugo, for the now obsolete " Brutus " had been dropped, 
held to his suit. Sophie Trebuchet was nothing loath. Her 
father suffered himself to be persuaded, consented even to 
leave Nantes for a time, and take his daughter to Paris, whei'e 
the bridegroom elect was, for the nonce, driving the clerkly 
quill at the War Office. So all went well. The marriage 
took place in 1796. A first-born son, Abel, came into the 
world, at Paris, on the 15th November, 1798; a second, 
Eugene, was born at Nancy on the 16th of September, 1800; 
and Mctor followed on the 26th of February, 1802. 

Having thus spoken of the poet's father and mother, per- 
haps a word may fittingly be said of his ancei^try. \Vliere- 
upon I enter at once into the strife of tongues. According 
to Madame Hugo, to Victor Hugo himself, to M. Barbou, 
Victor Hugo's enthusiastic biographer, the Hugos were a 
noble family, " illustrious both in hterature and in arms," 
and Madame Hugo half apologizes for not carrying their 
genealogy further back than 1532, saying that 'all earlier 
records had perished at the pillage of Nancy, in 1670. Now 
that there was a noble family of Hugos is indisputable. Un- 
fortunately there is nothing to show that our Hugos were 
in any way connected witli them. M. Bird, who has gone 
uito this matter with great care and minuteness, estabhshes 



6 LIFE OF 

the point pretty conclusively. Victor's father was a soldier 
^^lio had entered the army as a volunteer at the outset of 
the Revolution. He speaks of his own people at honnctes 
gens, which may be regarded as the equivalent of worthy and 
respectable. As a matter of fact they belonged to the upper 
artisan class. The poet's grandfather was a carpenter. 
Three of his aunts were sempstresses; one was married to a 
bal<cr; another to a hair-dresser. It is scarcely possible, as 
jMadame Hugo asserts, that five of his uncles should have 
fallen in battle at Wcissenbourg, for there were but five alto- 
gether, and three lived till long after the date of that engage- 
ment. Nor, I repeat, is there anything whatever to connect 
all these worthy people with the knights and esquires, privy 
counsellors, and bishops of the — I was going to say other 
branch, but it should rather be other tree of the Hugos. 
There is evidence, on the contrary, to show that no connection 
existed. 

And here, perhaps, the judicious reader may be tempted 
to ask, " What can all this possibl}' matter.'' Grant that the 
poet's origin was more humble than has hitherto been sup- 
posed, and that, instead of coming from a class which even 
its admirers would admit to have become somewhat effete at 
the end of the eighteenth century, he sprang from a race 
of sturdy and energetic artisans — grant all this, and how 
can it affect him injuriously? In default of ancestral honour 
may not a man like Victor Hugo claim the greater honour 
of being himself an ancestor, and rooting, as it were, a 
mighty and perdurable name.'* " True, most true. But not 
quite the point hei'c at issue. If the poet had said nothing 
about his family, no one else would have said anything about 
it cither. But he did say something, and that something 
was neither accurate in statement nor suggestion ; and, un- 
fortunatcl}', inaccuracies of a similar kind exist throughout 
his works. Here is the cnix. Hero is the question which 
the biographer cannot blink- — a question similar in kind to 
that which has to be faced by the admirers of Chateaubriand 
and Shelley and Goethe, and various other great men. Did 



VICTOR HUGO 7 

Victor Hugo knowingly palter with fact? Did he advisedly, 
and in full knowledge of what he was doing, present it in 
a light that was not the light of truth? Genius is quite com- 
patible with charlatanism, else were we led to the conclusion, 
too evidently absurd, that the great Napoleon was no genius. 
Are we compelled by the verities of criticism to believe that 
there was a baser allo^' of quackery mingled with tlie fine 
gold of the genius of Victor Hugo? Such is the problem ; 
and before I have done I shall have to endeavour to find some 
solution to it. But that must be further on in our story, 
and wlien we have collected additional materials on which to 
found a sane and equitable judgment. Meanwhile it will 
be fitting to return to the birth-place and birth-time of the 
little weakling child, whose future career was to suggest these 
delicate ethical questions. 

We left him at Besan9on on the 26th of February, 1802, 
the doctor declaring that he could not live, the mother fully 
determined that he should live, — and prevailing. Not thus, 
in what Hood, the unrivalled punster, called " Babbicombe 
Bay " and " Port Natal," was the argosy that carried the 
child's superb fortunes to be wrecked  —  not thus, prema- 
turely, was to close a career destined to be remarkable for its 
magnificent vitality. " Victor ]\Iarie," so was the boy chris- 
tened ; and the name proved of happy augury. In his first 
fight he came off victor over death. Witliin six weeks he 
had so far gained strength as to be able to bear removal to 
Jlarseillcs ; and thence, though still very delicate, he was 
taken about to Corsica and Elba, from station to station, in 
the wake of a wandering military father. 

" Blood and iron " ! Prince Bismarck himself might have 
been satisfied if he had lived during the first fifteen 3'ears 
of this century ; for the times were certainly of iron, and blood 
ran without stint. As we think of the great battle-field that 
Europe then was, and listen to the echoes that history brings 
to us, we almost seem to hear again the roar of the old can- 
non, and the tramp of armed men, and the wail of those 
who mourn for their dead. And if such be the impression 



. 



8 LIFE OF 

which Napoleon's campaipjns still produce on us, who live in 
these later days, and have heard the rumour of other armies 
marching and counter-marching, and the crash of other em- 
pires in their fall • — what must have been the impression made 
on an ardent, imaginative boy, himself partly nurtured in 
the camp, and whose father was daily staking his life in tlie 
great war game? The poet has told us, and with some pomp, 
and circumstance, in one of his earlier odes, how his cradle 
had oft been rested on a drum, and water from the brook 
brought to his childish lips in a soldiei-'s helmet, and how the 
glorious tatters of some worn-out flag had been wrapped 
round him in his sleep. Without accepting this quite liter- 
ally, we may yet, I think, easily picture to ourselves how tliC 
boy was influenced by the varied experiences, journe_yings, 
and anxieties of his earlier years. Surclj' the fierce war-god • 
dcss, then crying havoc over the ravaged fields of Europe^ 
was, in her strange wild way, no unfit " nurse for a poetic 
child." 

Memory plays strange pranks with us all, and often hoards 
with a miser-like tenacity some worthless odd and end, while 
she squanders real treasure like a prodigal. Victor's first 
recollection comes strangely, and yet with a sort of " touch 
of nature," among the stirring incidents of his boyhood. His 
father had gone off", in 1805, to join the army in Italy under 
]\Iassena. His mother had brought her little brood to Paris. 
And here he remembered — it was the first dawn-streak on 
the horizon of his mind — how he used to go to school with 
his brother, and how, being a very tiny and very frail scholar, 
he would mostly be taken, on arrival at school in the early 
morning, to the bedroom of Mademoiselle Rose, the school- 
master's daughter, and how, perched up on her bed, he would 
watch her at her toilet. But soon matters of graver import 
began to find a place in his memory. His father, after doing 
good service under Masscna, had passed into the army of 
Joseph Bonaparte, then King of Naples; had tracked and 
captured Fra Diavolo, the famous brigand chief, tracked him 
almost literally like a hare; and had been rewarded with the 



VICTOR HUGO 9 

command of a regiment and the governorsliip of the province 
of Avellino. Peace, or something like peace, reigned in 
Southern Italy ; and Madame Hugo set off, at the end of Oc- 
tober, 1807, to rejoin her husband. So httle Victor jour- 
neyed, in the dear, tedious, lumbering old d'lUgences of those 
days, across a rain-soddened France, and then — in a sledge 
for the nonce — through the snows of the IMont Cenis Pass, 
and then, in diligences again, by Panna, and Florence, and 
Rome the Imperial City, and Naples with her peerless bay, 
and so on to Avellino. Alexandre Dumas, the great Alex- 
andre, most charming of narrators, has developed several chap- 
ters of those light bright memoirs of his to the history of 
Victor Hugo's cluldhood and youth ; and he bears witness, 
from conversations held forty years afterwards, to the sin- 
gular faithfulness of the impressions left on the child's mind 
by that Italian journey. On one point we scarcely need his 
assurances or those of Madame Hugo. Both tell us how 
much the little traveller was affected by the dismal spectacle 
of the bodies of executed brigands, hanging from the 
trees at pretty frequent intervals along the road. All 
through life every form of capital punishment — gibbet or 
guillotine — retained for him a kind of morbid fascination. 
There is, in his house at Guernsey, a picture grisly and hor- 
rible, executed by himself, showing a poor human body, the 
body of John Brown, the negro libcrationist, " hanged by 
the neck " till it seems reduced by time and the weather's 
indignities to mere shreds and tatters of what once was man. 
Among the most powerful passages in " L'Homme qui rit " 
— indeed I think the most powerful — is the description of 
the cropse hanging in chains on the top of Portland Hill, and 
terrifying poor little Gwynplaine by the execution of a 
hideous dance to the wintry pipings of the wind. 

At Avellino life went very pleasantly. As governor of 
the province, Col. Hugo occupied a marble palace, all fissured, 
it is true, by a recent earthquake, but not the less enchanting 
on that account to the eyes and fancy of childhood. Then 
tlicrc was a deep wooded ravine in close proximity, and there 



10 LIFE OF 

were nuts to heart's desire, and — chann of charms to the 
iialural boy! — no lessons, nothing to dim the cloudless blue 
of perfect idleness. So tlic three little Hugos enjoyed hal- 
cyon days with their kind father in the sunny South, amid 
the mountains and gorges of Avellino; hut days all too short, 
and flitting almost with the rapidity of the halcyon's wing. 
Kings were " on promotion " at that time. Joseph Bona- 
parte, after reigning over Naples till June, 1808, was placed 
by his imjjcrious no less than imperial brother upon the Span- 
ish throne, which had just been iniquitously wrested from 
the reigning Bourbons. Col. Hugo stood high in Joseph's 
favour. When the latter moved to Madrid, Col. Hugo re- 
ceived an honourable and pressing invitation to follow. Such 
a proposal was by no means to be refused. As a known 
adherent of the disgraced Moreau, or for other reasons which 
have been variously exj)]ained, the Colonel had little to ex- 
pect from Napoleon, and it was clearly his policy to remain 
attached to the Bonaparte, who appreciated his services. 
But Spain, with her national pride excited to blood-heat, was 
as yet no place for the education of three French boys, or 
the residence of a French lad}^ Again did it become neces-' 
sary for father and children to part. So sorrow reigned on 
either side, and the lads turned their faces towards Paris ver}' 
sadly. 

Madame Hugo, the elder, if we may credit her daughter- 
in-law's testimony, entertained no great admiration for the 
beauties of nature, and had watched the Alps and the Apen- 
nines with some indifference. But she liked a garden ; and 
attached to the house which she took shortly after her return 
to Paris, was a garden that was more than a garden, that 
was a park, a wood, a piece of the country dropped into the 
midst of the great city, a place of enchantment, a very Broce- 
liande, wheix- magicians might weave their spells, and mon- 
sters lurk in secret places, and kiiiglits and ladies wander at 
will, and everything unforeseen and unexpected happen quite 
naturally. In this place of delight, which had belonged in 
pre-revolution days to the convent of the Feuillantines, the 



VICTOR HUGO 11 

three boys were as happy as the exigencies of education would 
allow. Abel, the eldest, was now old enough to go as a 
boarder to the Lycee, or public school ; and Eugene and Vic- 
tor were sent to a somewhat humble day-school not far from 
their hofne, and kept by a certain Lariviere, — a worthy peda- 
gogue, formerly a priest, whom the Reign of Terror had un- 
frocked and frightened into marriage. But in play-time, 
and especially on Sundays, when Abel had his weekly holiday, 
what pleasures did the garden not offer! Thither too would 
come not un frequently, taking her gentler part in the boys' 
rougher games, the little lady whom the jjoct afterwards mar- 
ried. No wonder that the sunshine of the old place lived so 
bright in his memory. 

And besides the tenants with which the imagination of 
these bright children peopled the dainty wilderness and the 
ruined ecclesiastical buildings of the P'euillantines, there was 
a tenant in flesh and blood to whom attached an interest 
quite as romantic. This was General Lahorie, Victor's god- 
father. For General Lahorie, an old friend and companion 
in arms of General Hugo, lay here in hiding. He was one 
of the officers implicated in Moreau's conspiracy against Na- 
poleon, and had been condemned to death,' as we are told —  
but I think that extreme penalty must have been commuted —  
and then tracked from one place of refuge to another, till at 
last Madame Hugo had generously aff"orded him sanctuary 
in a ruined chapel in her garden. Here he appears to have 
remained some eighteen months, and was to the boys the 
pleasantcst of companions. He would tell them numberless 
stories, " true stories," doubtless, of adventure and peril " i' 
the imminent deadly breach," stories calculated to fire tlieir 
young blood, and make them long for the time when they 
too should be old enough to handle sword or musket. He 
would also go over their lessons in the evening, and read 
Tacitus with little Victor, now a progressing and very ad- 
vanced young scholar of nine or ten. Ought we also to be- 

1 Condemned in his absence, as is possible according to French law. 



12 LIFE OF 

lieve tliat lie first lit in that young gentleman's mind the 
briglit jjure flame of democratic republicanism — a flame de- 
stined to smoulder there for a time, and afterwards to burst 
forth as a beacon to the nations? We ought to believe this, 
or something like it, for Victor Hugo tells us so, and repre- 
sents the general, in a ver}' striking passage, as saying " fit 
things " on liberty, and on Napoleon as liberticide, while over- 
head the illuminations of some imperial fete were bravely flar- 
ing. But, alas, that critics should be so troublesome ! Why 
can they not, according to Lord Melbourne's recommendation, 
"let it alone"? M. Bire, I fear, makes it very difficult for 
us to give full credence to this pretty stoi'V- 

Whether or not General Lahorie held the antithetical con- 
versation reported by his godson, certain it is that the days 
went pleasantly by in the house and garden of the Feuillan- 
tines. And beating as it were round the happy shores of 
childhood, adding a kind of zest to the brightness and mirth, 
were the ceaseless wild surges of battle. Wars and rumours 
of wars, these sent their voices continually into that joyous 
home. Now the boys would be listening to such bulletins of 
the imjDerial campaigns as the Government vouchsafed to im- 
part to its lieges — bulletins that spoke of successes very 
often, and of reverses never at all, and were not altogether 
quite ingenuous perhaps. Then would come the visit of a 
colonel uncle, all resplendent in gold lace, and producing on 
his little nephews, so ^'ictor tells us, the effect of Michael tiio 
archangel, as seen in glory. He too might have talcs to tell 
of even newer combats than those described by General La- 
horie. There would also be letters at fairly frequent inter- 
vals from General Hugo, now highei' than ever in Joseph's 
favour, and busily engaged, among other battlings, in track- 
ing the guerilla chief. El Empecinado, as he had before 
tracked Fra Diavolo in Italy. 

And presently the children were to be taken into closer 
contact Avith war. For towards the end of 1810, or there- 
abouts, it occurred to King Joseph that appearances, the 
royal prestige, demanded the presence at his court of the fam- 



VICTOR HUGO 13 

ilies of his generals and higli dignitaries. His gorernnient 
was crumbling under the hatred of the Spanish people. He 
wished by all means in his power to give it a look of stability 
and permanence. So General Hugo, now enrolled as a count 
or marquis among the nobles of Spain, and a governor of 
provinces, received a gentle hint that Rfadame Hugo might 
advantageously take up her residence in the Peninsula. She 
started for jMadrid, with her three boys, in the ensuing 
spring. 

As far as Bayonne nothing very noteworthy happened. 
The journey was a nine days' diligence drive and no more. 
But from Bayonne onwards adventures might be expected. 
At that point the travellers would enter a hostile country, all 
swarming with insurgent patriots and brigands. To pro- 
ceed alone, and without an escort, would have been madness. 
Madame Hugo waited at Bayonne for about a month, and 
then attached herself to the military convoy which was to 
take to Madrid the periodical subsidy of the French govern- 
ment. It was a notable procession. First came a small body 
of troops — cavalry, infantry, and ai'tillery, with two can- 
non. In the midst the waggons containing the " treasure." 
Then the antiquated, huge, travelling carriage of Madame 
Hugo, who, as the wife of a governor, had successfully con- 
tested precedence with a duchess of Spain. Then an inter- 
minable line — more than two miles long, we are told — of 
vehicles of every form and description — all green and gold 
for the most part, those being the Imperial colours — and 
creaking, groaning, jingling on their way, with much crack- 
ing of whips and swearing in every tongue, and an intolerable 
cloud of dust. On either side of the line were more soldiers, 
and, forming the rear-guard, more soldiers still, and a couple 
of cannon. Upwards of two thousand men : such was the 
force required to convoy money across Spain in the days 
when Jaseph was king. Nor docs it appear that there was a 
man too many. Scarcely a month previously another convoy 
had been robbed and massaci'ed at Salinas. 

No such evil chance bef el the cavalcade of which the Hugos 



14 LIFE OF 

formed part. Does not the boat tliat conve3's the fortunes 
of Ca?sar at all times enjoy special imnnniitius? Yet were ad- 
ventures, and even perils, not altogether wanting. Near Sa- 
linas again there was an attack on the part of the Guerillas, 
but badly planned, and resulting onW in some smart sharp- 
sliooting — sharp-shooting, however, carried on at sufficiently 
close quarters to allow of a brace of bullets being lodged in 
the family coach. A little farther on the road, that same 
coach as nearlj' as possible fell over into a precipice, and was 
only saved, with its occupants, by the prompt arms and hands 
of a company of Dutch soldiers, whose good-will IMadame 
Hugo had secured by benevolences of food. Further on an 
axle-tree broke, and the little party were almost left behind to 
the tender mercies of the Guerillas. Everywhere too there 
was evidence of the hatred of the inhabitants. The houses 
in wliich IMadame Hugo and her children were quartered 
seemed deserted, and offered the most sinister hospitality to 
the travellers. All was done to make them feel that they 
were the guests of fear and harsh necessity. 

Over the months of Victor's sojourn in Spain it is not my 
purpose to linger. He reached iladrid in June, 1811, and 
was shortly after placed, with his brother, Eugene, in a great 
dreary aristocratic school kept by the monks. Here the lads 
were far from happy among schoolfellows of a hostile na- 
tion, and relatively much less advanced in learning. Winged 
words hurtled in the air pretty constantly, and blows fol- 
lowed, and, on one occasion at least, the use of Spanish steel. 
Often must the two younger brothers have cast envious 
glances — such glances as the caterpillar may be supposed to 
cast at the butterfly — when looking at Abel Hugo, now pro- 
moted to the dignity of page in the royal household, and 
gaily glittering in his uniform of blue, silver, and gold. 
But deliverance from this Spanish dungeon was at hand. 
The plot had begun to thicken in the Peninsula. The tide 
of conquest was turning. In January, 1812, Ciudad Ro- 
drigo fell into Wellington's hands. Three months later he 
took the commanding position of Badajoz. lu July came 



VICTOR HUGO 15 

the victory of Salamanca. Events either accomplished or 
looming rendered Spain a quite unfit sojourn for French 
women and children at the beginning of that year. Their 
presence could scarcely act, even in appearance, as a kind of 
flying buttress to the tottering French monarchy. Ere 
March had blustered itself into April, IMadarae Hugo and her 
two younger boys were on their way back to the garden of 
the Feuillantines. Abel remained behind to take his boy- 
soldier's part in the conclusion of a war disastrous to the 
French arms. 

The disproportion between the ages of the boys and their 
advancement in learning rendered it difficult to place Eugene 
and Victor in a public school. jM. Lariviere was accordingly 
engaged to teach them their humanities. And as regards this 
worthy pedagogue, as indeed with regard to the whole tend- 
ency of the young Hugos' early education, there are sev- 
eral observations which ought to be made, and may fittingly 
here find a place. Victor Hugo's first works, as we shall 
presently see, were the outcome of very strong monarchical 
and legitimist convictions, and animated throughout by the 
spirit of Roman Catholic Christianity. His later works, the 
works of the last thirty years of his life, were, on the con- 
trary, fiercely democratic and anti-clerical, \\niereas he had 
in his youth execrated the Revolution, and blessed kings and 
priests, he came afterwards to speak of the Revolution in 
terms of rapture, and to regard kings and priests as the twin 
pests that afflict mankind. Of this change in his convictions 
he was very proud. He reverts to the subject again, and yet 
again, in verse and prose. If Murat, he asks, is to be praised 
and honoured because, " having been born a stable-boy, he 
became a king," should not tliat man be honoured more who 
has achieved the rare and difficult ascent from error to truth, 
and, having been " bom an aristocrat and a royalist, has 
become a democrat".'' As to M. Lariviere, — whom he calls, 
apparently for the purpose of intensifying his clerical and 
aristocratic character, the " Abbe de la Riviere," — that poor, 
mild old gentleman's Instructions are used by his pupil to 



16 LIFE OF 

point tlie most terrible moral. lie stands forth as the type 
of the priest-tcaclier, " inoculating young intelligences with 
the old age of prejudice," " taking from childhood its dawn 
and substituting night," " making crooked that which na- 
ture has made straight," and, as a last " terrible chef 
d'winre," " manufacturing (kConned souls like that of Tor- 
quemada, and producing unintelligent intelligences like that 
of Joseph de JIaistre." " To this perilous teaching " — 
perilous indeed — " were subjected " Eugene and Victor 
Hugo. No wonder that the latter was proud of having come 
through such an ordeal, if not unscathed at the time, yet at 
least with powers of ultimate recuperation. 

Now, as regards all this, it is quite clear that great allow- 
ance must again be made for the poetic temperament. Victor 
Hugo's ancestry was not, by any means, as aristocratic as 
he seems to have supposed. " Brutus " Hugo, the son of a 
carpenter, had been an ardent republican ; was probably a re- 
publican still, though of a less advanced type, at the time of 
JMorcau's conspiracy ; seems never to have been a very enthusi- 
astic imperialist, and was no more than a perfunctory roy- 
alist when Louis XVIII. again sat on the throne of France. 
In religion we are told thiit he was, " like most of the soldiers 
of the empire, an anti-clerical." Madame Hugo unquestion- 
ably zcas a royalist. Here indeed a sinister influence must 
be admitted. Her politics were, as seen from her son's ulti- 
mate standpoint, very bad. But her religion.'' She had 
none. She was as freethinking a countrywoman of Voltaire 
as need be. When Eugene and Victor were at the school at 
jMadrid, the fathers wanted them to serve the mass like the 
other pupils. She refused ; and, when the fathers insisted, 
declared that her sons were Protestants. " She was," says 
lier daughter-in-law, " in favour of an entire freedom of edu- 
cation, . . . and interfered no more with the intellects 
of her children than with their consciences," allowing them 
to read indiscriminately Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and even 
the most unsavoury novels of the last century. Whatever 
may have been the faults of such a system of training, it caa 



VICTOR HUGO 17 

scarcelj' be accused of a tendency to superstition. Wlille as 
lo pool' old M. Lariviere, tlie priest who had abandoned his 
orders, and married his cook — with whom lie lived in home- 
liest fashion, — surel}^ the faith of the most orthodox agnostic 
would have had nothing to fear from his teaching. In truth, 
Victor Hugo loved antithesis over much. It filled his memory 
unduly with glooms and gleams. There was not that differ- 
ence which he imagined between his later creed and the influ- 
ences that had surrounded his cliildhood.' 

In 1813, " municipal improvement " cast a covetous eye 
on the beautiful wilderness of the Feuillantines. New streets 
were to be built there ; and Madame Hugo, on the last day 
of the year, moved to a house in the Rue Cherche-Midi, near 
to some old friends, the Fouchers, whom we shall meet again 
in the course of our narrative. The new year, of which this 
31st of December was the eve, proved to be an eventful one 
in the annals of the Hugo family, no less than in the annals 
of Europe. On the 9th of January, 1814, General Hugo, 
who had perforce left Spain after the defeat of the French 
arms at Vittoria in the preceding June, received orders to 
assume command at Thionville, on the Eastern frontier, and 
to defend the place against the approaching allies. In April 
Napoleon abdicated, and Louis XVHI. re-entered Paris, to 
the gratification of all good royalists, — Madame Hugo's en- 
thusiasm flaring so high that it does not seem even to have 
been damped by the quartering upon her of a Prussian col- 
onel and fifty Prussian soldiers. Shortly afterwards she 
went to Thionville, to " settle some important family mat- 
ters " with her husband, as her daughter-in-law tells us. 
Speaking more particularly, she went, as would appear from 
M. Barbou's life of the poet, to arrange the terms of a sepa- 
ration by mutual consent. How liad this come about.? Was 

1 M. Lesclide, who has published a volume of "S'ictor Hugo's Table 
Talk, says, " We all know what a thoroughly monarchical and Christian 
education he had receired." This was evidently tlie impression wliich 
Victor Hugo's conversation left on those about him — probably the im- 
pression in his own mind. 
2 



^^L^ 



18 LIFE OF 

political incompatibility at the bottom of it, as M. Barbou 
tvoiikl have us believe? I trow not. General Hugo's princi- 
ples were scarcely of that inflexible character ; and there arc 
rumours of other reasons. Anjhow, General Hugo seems 
at about this time to have determined that his two j'ounger 
sons should be sent to school,' and educated in view of the 
Ecole Polytcclmique, which is the recognized avenue in France 
to various kinds of government employment, and in particular 
to admission into the corps of military engineers. 

To school the two boys went accordingly, to a certain Pen- 
sion Cordier " et Decotte, where they speedily pushed them- 
selves into a position of some prominence. The future king 
of men — for such Victor Hugo unquestionably became — 
began by being a king of boys. He and his brother led 
rival parties among their school companions, and exercised 
most despotic rule. That some of this ascendency was at- 
tributable to the fact that they occupied the aristocratic posi- 
tion of parlour-boarders, is possible. Native force of char- 
acter and intellect must, however, have had something to do 
with it besides. For the rest, if we try to picture to ourselves 
what Victor was as a schoolboy, we shall, I think, have the 
image of a fine manly intelligent lad, fast developing into a 
fine manly 3'oung fellow. Though he was alreadv rhyming 
apace, and to excellent effect, as we shall presently see, yet 
had he none of the poetic sensitiveness that shrinks and shiv- 
ers at the rude contact of school life. He was no Shelley to 
make himself prematureh' miserable over the want of harmony 
in his little world. Rather did he drink delight of battle 
with his peers, as occasion presented. He seems, too, to have 
studied zealously - — reserving a large place in his thoughts, 

1 According to M. Barliou, and others, it was after the second resto- 
ration of the Bourbons, in 1815, that General Hugo determined to send 
the boys to scliool. But tliis does not agree with Madame Hugo's narra- 
tive, and it is difficult to reconcile .some of the incidents which she re- 
lates with the view that the boys were not at school before the second 
entry of tlie allies into Paris. The question, however, is of no particular 
importance. 

- Cordier. by the by, was another unfrocked priest, an intense ad- 
mirer of Itousseau. 



VICTOR HUGO 19 

no doubt, for Chcateaubriand, who was the idol of young 
France at that time — but still applying himself honestly and 
well to the school curriculum, and following assiduously the 
course of lectures at the College Louis le Grande. For 
mathematics especially he appears to have shown great apti- 
tude ; and, in the general annual competition of all French 
scholars for the University prizes of 1818, he obtained the 
fifth place for physics. 

This was the last year of his school life. In August, I8I8, 
being then sixteen years of age, he left the Pension Cordier 
et Decotte, fully determined for his own part that ho would 
not try to obtain admission to tlie Ecole Polytechnique, or 
be a soldier. He had, in fact, made up his mind to pursue a 
quite different career. 



CHAPTER II 



IN the lives of the great majority of men tliere is a clearly 
marked boundary line, a kind of natural frontier as it 
were, between the years of preparation and the years of per- 
formance. At a certain point education ends, and ends defi- 
nitely. The man has gone through his school or college 
course, and then, his training being over and done with, he 
addresses himself to maturer tasks and duties. But in Victor 
Hugo's life there is no such break. Though, with the arbi- 
trariness of the biographer, I have used the conclusion of his 
school course to mark the end of a chapter, yet in truth the 
severance of his connection with the Pension Cordier was by 
no means an epoch-making event in his career. Long be- 
fore he left that establishment he had commenced what was 
to be his life work. Already had he earned a reputation as 
a poet, and shown his facility and aptitude as a writer. De- 
liverance from lessons and lectui-es merely meant, in his case, 
greater freedom to pursue the avocations which he was al- 



20 LIFE OF 

ready pursuing. In order, tliercf'ore, to take up his literary 
life from its commencement, it is necessary to go some little 
way back. 

Verse, verse, and yet again verse — such had been the boy's 
delight almost from the time when he first went to school. 
Genius was his unquestionably. Boon nature had given him 
that priceless gift without stint or measure. And the cir- 
cumstances of his childhood had been such as to develop and 
foster the gift, and favour its early manifestation. We have 
seen what a panorama of moving sights had already passed 
before his eyes — Italy in her beauty, Spain in her pictur- 
esqueness, war in its grandeur and pomp, its misery and hag- 
gard horror. Young as he was, he had seen many men and 
cities. He must have known, boyishly no doubt, but still very 
really, the poignant emotions of France as news came to her, 
however fitfully, of defeat in Spain, of the melting away of 
the Grand Army into the snows of Russia, and of the cul- 
minating disaster of Waterloo. All this had found a place 
in his mind, had vivified thought and feeling, and given him 
something whereof to sing. So he piped his boyish songs 
without cessation. " During the three years which he spent 
at the Pension Decotte," says Madame Hugo, " he wrote 
verses of every possible kind : odes, satires, epistles, poems, 
tragedies, elegies, idyls, imitations of Ossian, translations of 
Virgil, of Lucan, of Ausonius, of Martial ; songs, fables, 
tales, epigrams, madrigals, logogriphs, acrostics, charades, 
rebuses, impromptus. He even wrote a comic opera." It 
was Theophile Gautier, if I remember right, who declared 
that a poet ought to exercise his prentice hand on at least 
fifty thousand lines of verse before writing anything for pub- 
lication. Victor Hugo nmst have fulfilled this hard saying 
almost to the letter. 

And soon his verse was to receiv ? public recognition. The 
French Academy, that augr;t body, had proposed as the sub- 
ject for the prize of French poetry, to b: awarded in 1817, 
" The happiness that study can procure in every situation 
of life." Scarcely a very fit theme on whicli to poetise, as 



VICTOR HUGO 21 

we should now consider. What composer was it, Gretry or 
Meliul, who gave it as his opinion that the words of a song 
or opera mattered not at all, and that there would be no diffi- 
culty in setting to music The Gazette of Holland? And sim- 
ilarlj' it would almost seem as if the Academicians of the com- 
mencement of this century held that any proposition, however 
prosaic, could be " set " to verse. " Happiness procured by 
study in every situation of life" — what dreary didacticism 
do the words suggest! Nevertheless, young Victor applied 
himself to the task bravely. With the readiness of pen which 
he already possessed, to write the requisite number of lines, 
even on such an untoward subject, was comparatively easy. 
But how should he get the poem, when written, to the Acad- 
emy.'' Schoolmaster Decotte was his rival as a poet, and 
not at all likely to help him. Fortunately a friendly usher, 
in whom he had confided, turned the difficulty by a clever ruse 
— took the boys for a walk in the direction of the Institute, 
set them looking at the fountains before that abode of learn- 
ing, and, while they were thus employed, scampered off with 
"Victor, and deposited the precious manuscript in the secre- 
tary's office. With what anxiety the result was expected 
need not here be told. Is there one of us who has not gone 
tln-ough similar experiences? The Academy delivered judg- 
ment on the 25th of August, 1817, divided the prize between 
a M. Leburn and Saintine,— afterwards well known as the 
writer of " Picciola," the story of the prison flower, — and 
then gave an honourable mention, ninth in order, to Victor 
Hugo's lines. The boy had taken occasion in the poem to 
refer to his age, and this, contrary to the accepted tradition, 
seems to have stood him in good stead with the venerable 
Academicians. 

An honourable mention from the Academy, even with no 
higher place than the ninth, was a title to distinction for a lad 
of fifteen. Victor, who a year before, on the 10th of July, 
1816, had written in one of his copy books, " I will be Cha- 
teaubriand or nothing," must have felt that he had placed his 
foot on the first rung of the ladder of fame. Complimentary 



22 LIFE OF 

verse flowed in upon him. His erewhile rival, H. Dccotte, 
abandoned the poetical field, beaten. The boy became a boy 
of mark in his little world, and was not even quite unknown, 
as a sort of poetic prodigy, in the great world outside the 
school precincts.' So there was much more versifying as 
may be supposed, and a considerable amount of prose writing 
too. 

Abel, the eldest of the three brothers, liad abandoned the 
military profession after the fall of Joseph Bonaparte, and 
was apparently devoting himself to business of some sort, and 
living the pleasant life of young bachelorhood in Paris. 
Among his numerous friends were several who had a turn for 
lettei's. He himself possessed strong literary tastes, and was 
soon to devote himself entirely to literature, and become ." vol- 
uminous writer and compiler. With all these author-aspi- 
rants Eugene and Victor were on the best of tenns. Ar, 
schoolboys they must have been under comparative restraint ; 
but still they were able to join with their elders in periodical 
cheap dinners, at which the readings and recitations, though 
doubtless immature, were doubtless also better than the fare. 
So no wonder if the Ecole Poly technique, and the militar}' 
engineering beyond it, receded gradually into the back- 
ground. To besiege and carry Parnassus, if I may use a 
well-worn image which would have occurred quite naturally to 
any writer of the time - — • to besiege and carry that high em- 
battled hill of Poesy, soon seemed to young \ ictor the only 
strategic operation worth pursuing. 

This was not a view calculated to commend itself to a mil- 
itary father. General Hugo probably thought that liter- 
ature and loafing were synonymous terms ; does not seem to 
have been mollified by the fact that Victor had inscribed his 
name as a law student; and, in fine, adopted the particularly 

X M. Barbou seems to assign to this date the famous epithet of " sub- 
lime child," which Cliateaubriand, or somebody else, did, or did not, 
apply to Victor Hugo. Madame Hugo assigns to it a later date. The 
whole matter, much discussed as it has beeu, seems scarcely worth dis- 
cussion. 



VICTOR HUGO 23 

stern fomi of parental argument which consists in cutting off 
the supphes. Accordingly, when the two boys left school in 
the August of 1818, they went to live with their mother, and, 
as would appear, at her charges. She had no objection to 
literature as a profession, and possibly knew of no particular 
reason why her estranged husband should enjoy the luxury of 
having his own way. Perhaps, with the prescience of love 
and motlierhood, she even foresaw that, in the case of one of 
her sons at least, letters would prove to be the path of glory. 
On the 3rd of May, 1818, Eugene had obtained a mari- 
gold as a prize for an ode sent to the competition of the 
" Floral Games " of Toulouse. Victor, not to be behindhand, 
sent three odes to the competition of 1819. For one of these 
he obtained an honourable mention only ; but the other two 
were more successful, and won respectively a golden lily and 
a golden amaranth. Prize poems are but questionable prod- 
ucts of human industry at the best. These two, however, 
certainly possessed exceptional merit, and, as the work of a 
boy of seventeen, are very remarkable. One was on the Vir- 
gins of Verdun, who, preferring death to dishonour, had 
been infamously put to death, by the revolutionary tribunal, 
for giving money and help to some emigrant nobles ; the other 
was on the re-erection of the statue of Henry IV., overthrown 
during the Revolution, and now, in these happier Restoration 
daj's, replaced on its pedestal with a burst of popular enthu- 
siasm. Both poems were republished three years afterwards, 
in June, 1822, in the volume of " Odes," and form part of 
the collected works. Nor need I say more of them here. 
Neither must I linger, as I am tempted to do, over the per- 
formances of the next year or so, the further competitions at 
Toulouse and the Academy, the poems, political or satirical, 
which the boy publisiicd or wrote. But, hun-ying as I am, I 
cannot forbear to stop one moment to catch a glimpse of 
young Victor through the eyes of an older poet, Soumet, who, 
coming from Toulouse at the beginning of 1820, thus de- 
scribed him to a friend : " This child has a very remarkable 
head, really a study for Lavater. I asked him what he in- 



24 LIFE OF 

tended to be, and if he purposed devoting himself entirely to 
literature. He answered that he hoped one day to become a 
peer of France, . . . and he will succeed." 

So we catch sight of him in the first dawn-flush of his 
fame and young ambition, a noticeable lad who means ere his 
day of life has worn to evening to win a victor's palm. 
Meanwhile he and his brother Abel have started a paper. It 
is to be published twice a month, and the first number has 
appeared in December, 1819. The title is the Conservateur 
Litteraire, or Literary Conservative — a title that rather 
raises a smile as one ihinks how very soon the younger of the 
two editors is to become tiie most ardent of innovaters in mat- 
ters literary, and how ultimately he will become the fiercest 
of Radicals in matter political. As to the causes that have led 
to the establishment of the periodical — these are not far to 
seek. Madame Hugo .-n;! her sons were anything but rich. 
Som2 atfort at remunerative work had evidently to be made. 
According to a friendly article in the political Conservateur, 
Chater.ubricnd's paper, the literary Conservateur was started 
by the young Hugos with the pious object of repaying to 
their mother the debt of gratitude which they owed for their 
education. They wished to add to the graces of her life. 
•' Happy youths," said the article, " to have had a mother 
who has appreciated the value of education ! Happy mother, 
to see her efforts on their behalf so crowned " ! 

Into the work of writing for the Conservateur Litteraire, 
Victor entered with characteristic industry. The duties of 
editor he appears to have shared with his brother Abel; and 
there were several other writers, of whom, so far as I know 
the names, one only, Alfred de Vigny, can be said to have 
made a permanent mark in literature. But the most prolific 
contributor, without any comparison at all, was Victor him- 
self. Poetry, history, politics, the story of Bug Jargal in 
its earliest form, literary criticism in profusion, art criticism, 
dramatic criticism, the boy flamed out his thoughts with the 
lavish prodigality of a young prince. The periodical 'asto( 
from December, 1819, to March, 1821, and forms tliree vol- 



VICTOR HUGO 25 

umes. Of these he is said to have written at least two.* 
Later, in 1834, when he berjan to feel the necessity of giving 
some account of the changes in his opinions, he made a selec- 
tion from his earlier writings of 'his period, and published it 
as a " Journal of the ideas, opinions, and studies of a young 
Jacobite in 18i9." " But thit. selection, which is made with- 
out any direct reference to the Conservateiir, is fragmentary 
only. The exhibited jpecimens g'.\: but c faint idea of the 
wealth of the mine from which they are drawn. This how- 
ever is to be loted: young ..s he was, and I shall have to 
make the same 'emark presently in speaking of his arlier 
verse, he had already acquired .. ringular mastery over his 
pen. If his dtjle di(f not /et possess the individualitj', the 
brilliant colour and nusic which it acquired ten years after- 
wards, — if, in .^- rtford. it was still a classical and not a ro- 
mantic style, — yet it was a very gocJ style of its kind. As 
Carlyle in hij first essays was to show that the writer of " Sar- 
tor Resartus '' might, if so minded, have written his mother 
tongue excellently in the ordinary way; aj Turner in his 
earlier drawings was to demonstrate that the mosL imaginative 
and splendid of colourists had in him the stuff of a minute 
and patient draughtsman — so, in these prentice papers, did 
A'ictor Hugo prove how well he could have walked in the old 
paths of literature, and that it was not because these were 
closed to him that he boldly hewed out for lumself paths new 
and untrod. 

But the days of innovation were not yet. The Conserv- 
ateiir Litteraire was conservative in reality as well as title. 
The great poetical event of the year 1819, an event marking 
a very important date in the history of French poetry, was 
the publication of the posthumous poems of Andre Chenier. 
Victor Hugo, reviewing the volume, speaks, as a matter of 
course, of the writer's royalism, of his martyrdom on the revo- 
lutionary scaffold, and pays a tribute too, it must be admit- 

1 So Jlr. Birfi says. The Conserrateur Littiralre is now a bibliogra- 
phiral raritv, a black swan amonsj books. 

- It forms part of the ' Litterature et Pliilosopliie MJlees." 



26 LIFE OF 

ted, to the power of the verse. But then what reserve in the 
praise, what almost admissions that Chenicr's " style is in- 
correct and sometimes barbarous," his " ideas vague and inco- 
herent," his " imagination effervescent," his " sentences muti- 
lated," his " familiarity' " with the " language " " wanting." 
And, while treating Chenier thus half-heai-tedly - — Chenier, 
who was the real herfild of the romantic movement in French 
poetry, — the young reviewer has words of gracious recogni- 
tion for the Abbe Delille, the almost last withered twig upon 
the classic tree. He speaks of the " elegance and harmony 
of Delille's stj'le," and praises his " pretty poem " on the 
" Departure from Eden," — praising Delille especially for 
" having changed into a tender commisseration the savage 
anger which Adam, in ^Milton's work, had testified against 
Eve," and for having proved, " by this happy inspiration," 
" how well he knew the delicacies of the French !Muse." Vic- 
tor Hugo praising Delille at the expense of Milton, this is in- 
deed a Saul among the classic prophets. But it is as nothing 
to his praising Corneille and Racine at the expense of Shake- 
speare. 

" We have never understood," says he, " the distinction which people 
seek to establish between the classic style and the romantic style. The 
plays of Shakespeare and Schiller only differ from the plays of Cor- 
neille and Uacine in that they are more faulty. That is the rejLson 
why, in the former, recourse must be had to greater scenic pomp. 
French tragedy despises such accessories because it goes straight to tlie 
heart, and the heart hates whatever disturbs its interest." 

We are very far here from the spirit which was soon to 
animate the young romantic school, and to induce Petrus 
Borel to declare that if he could have met the deceased Ra- 
cine in a theatre of to-day, he would have horsewhipped him 
before the public ! 

As regards the poetry which Victor wrote at this time, and 
published in June, 1822, under the title " Odes ct Poesies 
Divcrses," the same criticism holds good. It is emphatically 
classical, not romantic poetry. There are the stock classical 
apostrophes, to " unhappy Vendee ;" to the " light spectres," 



VICTOR HUGO 27 

which had been in life the virgins of Verdun ; to the dead 
Duke of Berry, assassinated in 1820; to the new-born Duke 
of Bordeaux ; to the river Jordan, which liad supphed water 
for that young prince's baptism ; to the " peoples " who had 
wrongly made a hero of " Buonaparte," the " foi-midable in- 
heritor of the spirit of Nimrod." There is here and there 
also an " O thou ! " which sounds distinctly like an echo from 
the emphatic eighteenth century. And a rhetorical periph- 
rasis too often takes the place of an immediate direct word. 
Nor are those final notes of exclamation wanting which, ac- 
cording to Coleridge's splenetic remark, seemed to be used by 
French poets as a kind of hieroglyphics to draw attention 
to their own cleverness. All these objections are fairly 
chargeable against the odes ; and there is in them besides only 
too much of that which has so often been the bane of French 
poetry, eloquence. We English escape that danger with 
greater ease, for in our mother tongue the distinction be- 
tween the language of public speech and the language of 
verse is sharp and clear. Whole classes of words cannot be 
used indifferently' in either. But French is a more ho- 
mogeneous tongue, and though there is in it a real distinction 
of a similar kind, tliat distinction is far less obviously marked. 
And here, moreover, the young poet's very subjects, and the 
spirit in which he addressed himself to them, were such as to 
tempt him into eloquent prose. 

" There are," said he, in his original preface, " two intentions in the 
publication of this work, a political intention, and a literary intention; 
Init in the autlior's thought the first of these is a consequence of the lat- 
ter, for the history of men affords no material for poetry, unless th;-.t 
history be regarded in the light of monarchical ideas and religious 
faith." 

Here we seem well in the regions of rhetoric. 

But if the odes are formed on older models, and have the 
faults of an obsolete school, they are excellent samples of the 
achievements of that school. They possess lithe force and 
fervour, and eloquence most real if misplaced, a power of 
compelling language into metre without recourse to the ob- 



28 LIFE OF 

vious inversions which French verse, — and English verse also 
for that matter, — tolerated all too long. " Madre del oro " 
was the name given by Sir Walter Raleigh to I know not what 
wonderful yellow metal, supposed in nature's alchemy to be the 
generator of the gold he went forth to seek. " Madre del 
oro ! " — if we have not in these first verses of Victor Hugo 
the fine gold of a renovated French poetry, we have, at least, 
the matrix from which it would emerge. 



CHAPTER III 



THE first collection of the " Odes " was published in June, 
1822 ; and t'nough the book produced nmch less sensa- 
tion than had been produced two years before by Lamar- 
tine's " Meditations," yet it clearly " numbered good intel- 
lects." But that highest pleasure which a first great success 
can bring was denied to the young poet : his mother had died 
on the 27th of June, 1821. 

Of her a word may fittingly here be said. She was evi- 
dently a woman of strong character, trained in habits of inde- 
pendent action by her husband's long absences. Thus she 
had been led to assume towards her sons, and especially to- 
wards the two younger, a position of double parentage. 
Loving them with a mother's love and entire devotion, she 
at the same time ruled them with a father's firm hand. Of 
Victor's capacity she entertained, and witli more than abund- 
ant cause, a very exalted opinion. " She looked forward," 
M. Asseline says, " with the greatest confidence to the fu- 
ture of her son, holding that he might, with even greater jus- 
tice than Fouquet," Louis XIV.'s overweening " Surintend- 
ant, adopt as his device the words quo non ascendam? ' to 
what may I not rise.^ ' " That to such a mother Victor 
should, on his side, have been greatly devoted, was but nat- 
ural. That her death ^ould leave a terrible blank in his life 



VICTOR HUGO 29 

was clear. It must also have made a considerable difference 
in liis circumstances. The father married again, and under 
somewhat peculiar conditions, on the 20t]i of July, 1821, 
within a month of his first wife's demise. He seems to have 
given his son at this time neither material nor moral support. 
So the youth of nineteen, left to his own devices, went vei'y 
sadly on his own way ; lived as he could, " and thereto so- 
berly," as Chaucer has it — lived, in fact, as he aftei-wards 
represented Marius to have lived in the " Miserables," on al- 
most nothing ; — worked very hard ; and, being out of sorts 
and quarrelsome, fought a duel with a soldier, who ran him 
through the arm. " Here am I alone," he wrote to a friend 
on the 14th of August, " and I have a whole long life to live 
through, unless "... 

" Unless ! " — what does the word point to ? Suicide, or 
the possibility of some presence that would make life no 
longer a solitude.'' Scai'cely the former; for here Love takes 
in hand the web of Victor Hugo's story, and weaves it with 
tln-eads of purest gold and silk of daintiest dye; and the 
fabric so woven is, as I think, altogether beautiful. 

But, to tell this love-tale aright, I must go a good way 
back — go back indeed to a time anterior to Victor's bii'th, — 
to the days when his father was doing War Office work in 
Paris. 

For among Major Hugo's civilian colleagues at the War 
Office was a certain Pierre Foucher, a man of culture and 
ability, with whom the Major entertained very amicable rela- 
tions. Both were married at about the same time; and jNIajor 
Hugo, acting as best man to his friend, lifted up his glass at 
the wedding dinner, and gave utterance to this wish, " May 
you have a daughter, and I a son, and we will arrange a mar- 
riage between them. I drink to their joint health and pros- 
perity." A prophetic toast truly. Major Hugo did have a 
son : he had three ; and M. Foucher had a daughter, Ad^le, 
of whom we have already caught a glimpse in the garden of 
the Feuillantincs — a little trotting creature, just made to be- 
tossed in a swing, or laugliingly charioted in a wheel-barrow. 



30 LIFE OF 

T.atcr, in 1814, we catcli a glimpse of her again, going arm In 
arm witli Victor, for the two famihes had remained on the 
friendliest terms, to see some rojal procession of the restored 
Bourhons. Later yet, in tiio winter of 1819-20, we see a 
small party of friends, almost a family party, meeting night 
after night at M. Foucher's private apartments in the War 
Office. He is there, of course, and his wife and son — and 
Miss Adele too, we may be sure; and wltli them are Madame 
Hugo and her two sons. It is the quietest of quiet parties, 
for M. Foucher is somewhat of an invalid, and save wlien he 
and Madame Hugo take a pinch of snuff together, little is 
said. But there arc other pleasures than those of speech ; and 
as Victor sits in the half-light watching that dark handsome 
girl at her needle, he thinks that never did hours pass so 
happily. Indeed when winter comes again, he shows his 
pleasure in a manner at once imprudent and obvious. Ma- 
dame Hugo reads his love glances. M. Foucher observes that 
" Miss Adele " sees them too — the expression is her own — 
"without displeasure." Parents are so unreasonable! Victor 
is penniless. Miss Foucher has nothing. Both are too young 
to think of marriage. Tears and separation — what other 
issue is possible.'' 

But not thus was Victor Hugo to be baffled and beaten ; 
not tiius was lus first love to pass out of his life and heart. 
Sighs and the languors of passion, day dreams and the en- 
chanted reveries of youthful hope, all to which the poetic 
temperament turns so naturally for comfort, he thrust reso- 
lutely to one side. With the tenacity and strength of will 
that characterized him through life, he set himself to over- 
come every obstacle. If industry and strenuous effort could 
make the marriage possible, Adele Foucher should be his 
wife. In simple truth, and with no embellishment of rhetoric 
or imagination, did he vow to himself, in Lord Tennyson's 
words, 

" To love one mr\i(len only, cleave to her, 
And worsliip lur by years of noble deeds 
Until he won her." 



VICTOR HUGO 31 

Of course there were occasional meetings. After Mad- 
ame Hugo's dcatii tlie two lovers seem to have come together 
for one sad interview. Then there is a little confusion of 
dates. But in July, 1822, as I gather, tlie opposition of 
the Fonchers was finally overcome. They had gone to 
Dreux, taking their daughter with them. Victor followed, 
as the sunflower turns towards the sun. i\I. Fouchcr says : 
" Wliilc I thought him quietly in Paris, the young poet had 
followed us on foot to Dreux, where we had gone to spend 
a few days. We discovered him roaming round the house, 
and I was compelled to come to some understanding with 
him. At our interview he displayed an unalterahle resolve." 
What was to be done in the face of such perseverance.'' 
Everything pleaded for the lovers — Adele's tears and Vic- 
tor's energy and confidence in the future. " For ourselves," 
says M. Foucher again, " that to which we attached special 
importance was the uprightness of his character, and the 
innocence of his tastes." So they were engaged, and the 
" moments " doubtless " ran themselves in golden sands " 
at Dreux, and afterwards in Paris when the lovers returned 
thither. Prudence, of course, still counselled delay. But 
the first edition of the " Odes " realized a profit of 700 
francs. In September Louis XVIII., most opportunely, gave 
the poet a pension of 1,000 francs from his privy purse.* 
Then the young couple were to be spared the expense of 
house-keeping, for they were to live with the Fouchers. 
And was not Victor full of work, and already nearly famous? 
In brief, the marriage took place on the 12th of October, 
1822. 

Does this love-tale, so beautiful in its beginning — beau- 
tiful with strong tender passion, and energy, and high 
resolve — does it continue beautiful to the end.'' There 
is, to quote Lord Tennyson again, a fierce light that beats 
against a throne ; and of both Victor Hugo and Madame 
Hugo it may be said that the}' sat enthroned among their 

1 tie had already sent Victor Hujro 500 francs some months befor? 
for the ode on the assassination of tlie Due de Berry. 



32 LIFE OF 

fellow men, and tliut the fierce light did not spare them. 
Wlion I think of the episodes of tliis courtship and marriage, 
of tlie glow, as of early sunnner, which this time reflected 
upon the poet's verse, I confess that there also comes back 
to my mind an autumn picture — " autunni in everything," 
as Mr. Browning sings — that has been sketched for us by 
]\I. Asselinc, IVIadame Hugo's cousin. 

Wo are at Guernsey, at Hautcville House, during the 
days of the poet's exile. Some forty-three years or so have 
passed since his marriage. IVIadame Hugo — but why not 
tell tlie talc in ]\I. Asseline's own words, which are wanting 
neither in skill nor pathos.? 

"There are," he says, "certain hours of life that sorrow marks for 
her own. I went one autumn day into Madame \'ictor Hugo's drawing- 
room at Hauteville, and found her alone, sunk in sad tlioujjhts, and 
lying back seemingly exhausted. Her eyes had already grown very weak, 
and she could not see how painfully I was impressed at finding her so 
poorly. ' Vou are not to dine witli me to-day,' she said. 'And why?' 
' Our gentlemen have organized a little merry-making at Madame 
Drouet's, and they are expecting you.' 'But I prefer to dine with you; 
I shall certainly not leave you alone.' 'No, I shall dine with my sister; 
and really I should take it ill if you stayed. I insist on your going 
to Mul.ime Drouet's. It will please my husband. There are few op- 
j)ortunities of pleasure-making here. I repeat that you are expected. 
Go, you will laugh, and the time will pass gaily.' I looked at my cousin 
as she sat in the shadow of the great curtains with their heavy folds. 
Her forehead was of marble, her lips without colour, her eyes almost 
lifeless. Then I drew my armchair nearer to hers, and we lost our- 
selves in endless talk. . . . The day was waning. We exchanged no 
thoughts that were not of sadness. 'Go, go,' she said at last; 'j'ou 
would only make me cry!' I took a few steps towards the door. She 
called me back: 'You will write down for me that fine passage of 
verse you were quoting a moment ago: — 

" ' Time, the old god, invests all things with honour, 
And makes them white.' 

And now be quick and join your cousins; don't keep them waiting.'" 

One can almost see her as she .sits there in the gloaming 
of her life, thronged by shadows from the past. And who 
was the Madame Drouet to whose house her husband and 
sons had gone for merriment? She was an actress, and long 
jears before had won the poet's good-will by taking the 



VICTOR HUGO 88 

somewhat inferior part of the Princess Negroni in his play 
of " Lucrece Borgia ; " and she liad too figured as Lady Jane 
Grey in " Jlarie Tudor." She had also hoen, if we may be- 
lieve his assertion, the most beautiful woman of this centui-y ; 
but then the statement seems to have been made in her 
presence, which would excuse a little flattery, and Victor 
Hugo, moreover, never stood in sufficient awe of a superla- 
tive. The very fairest among the many million daughters 
of Eve born into this world of ours between the years 1800 
and 1875, or thereabouts ! That were indeed a proud posi- 
tion. One rather ventures to doubt whether Madame Droue*:, 
even in the noon of her beauty, can have been quite so 
beautiful as that. Superlatives apart, however, there can 
be no question of her real graces of face and form. Are 
we not told tb.at the record of them remains, modelled into 
Pradier's colossal statue of the town of Lille, on the Place 
de la Concorde, at Paris.'' 

This lady had helped Victor Hugo to escape from Paris 
in the bad days of December, 1851, after the Coup cVEtat. 
She had followed him to Brussels and Guernsey. She was, 
I am quoting M. Asseline again, " the veiled witness of his 
labours," " the discreet confidant of his genius," his " muse," 
his " very soul," his " Beatrice." jMuch of his verse was 
inspired by her. During later years she was his constant 
daily companion. Nor, especially as seen in the beautiful 
still starlight of age, can she be regarded as aught save a 
gracious and dignified figure. There was something queenly, 
we are told, in her crown of silver hair, with its sheen of 
palest gold. " I do i.ct think," says M. Asseline, " that 
any one ever possessed more tact. In a delicate position she 
evinced a perfect dignity, and an irreproachable delicacy of 
conduct. Her tenderness " for Aictor Hugo " had with years 
melted into veneration. A kind of august effluence seemed 
to pass from one to the other." 

Dante's wife, who bore his children, and finds no place 

in his verse — I have often wondered what she tluniglit of 

Beatrice. And Beatrice was, after all, but an ide.iU and as 
3 - ' 



34 LIFE OF 

a vision of one tleatl and seen in glory. Madame Drouet wasi 
no vision. She was a woman of very real flesh and blood, 
whose influence on the poet was persistent and diurnal. Such 
a Beatrice might well be among the shadows that collected 
round ^Madame Hugo as she sat all alone that autumn even- 
ing in the gloom of the old oak and tapestry of Hauteville 
House. 

But, after all, I have no wish to exaggerate, or weigh 
upon this matter unduly. There are many shadows that 
will haunt age and ill-health, even when there is no Madame 
Drouet in the case ; and to endeavour to find the truth in 
tiie obscure heart-relations of two human beings is mostly 
groping and guess work. Through what vicissitudes of 
love the poet and his wife had passed, who shall tell.' 
" L'Homme qui rit " is the latest but one of his novels, and 
in it there is a passage which would seem to have been sug- 
gested rather by his feeling for her than for his silver-haired 
Beatrice : 

" The heart," he says, " prows saturated with love, as with some 
divine salt which keeps it from decay. Hence the incorruptible ad- 
herence of those wlio have loved one anotlier from the dawn of life, and 
the freshness of an old love that is prolonged. There exists an em- 
balmment of love. It is of Daphnis and Cliloe that are made Philemon 
and Baucis. In such cases old age is like youth, as evening is like 
morning." 

As to IMadame Hugo, within a year of her death, in 1868, 
and almost blind, she writes: " My husband is leaving 
Brussels the day after to-morrow. He is young, and of 
exceptional strength ; he is happy and covered with glory, 
which is my greatest joy." 

And so, by a natural transition, we go back to the year 
1822, when life and love were in their morning glow to- 
gether, and the young poet was looking forward gaily, con- 
fidently, to his new life and its responsibilities. ^loney was 
of the scarcest ; work was a necessity ; and from work Victor 
Hugo never shrank. Within a couple of months of his mar- 
riage he had written two more odes — one, of considerable 



VICTOR HUGO 35 

beauty, on Louis XVII., the poor little captive king. A 
second edition of the odes appeared before the end of the 
year. And moreover he was busy with a novel begun in 
May, 1821, set aside for a time after his mother's death, and 
to be soon published anonymously in February, 1823. 

This novel is " Han d'Islande," and may not unfairly be 
described as a very juvenile work, which would long since 
have faded into the night of oblivion if it were not for the 
reflected light of " Notre Dame de Paris " and the " Misera- 
bles." Victor Hugo himself, writing in 1833, calls it the 
production " of a young man, of a very j'oung man; " says 
that it was written "during an attack of fever;" declares 
that only the love passages have any basis of reality ; and 
concludes that if it " be worth classing at all, it can only be 
classed as a fantastic novel." After so frank an admission, 
the critic is, of course, half disarmed. He can do no more 
than put the arrows of his satire back into the quiver. So 
I shall not dwell unduly on the character and habits of Han, 
the hero, though these can scarcely be accepted quite seri- 
ously. 

For Han is a kind of " man-beast of boundless savagery," 
who, living his baleful life in the Norway of 1699, in- 
dulges cannibalistic propensities, tears his human prey with 
long claw-like nails, and assuages his grief for the death of 
his son by cutting that 3'oung man' skull in two, and using 
the upper half as a drinking cup. An eccentric way of show- 
ing honour to the deceased, no doubl:, but not more eccentric 
than the beverages quaffed out of this amazing vessel. 
Han's " particular vanities, as IMr. Stiggins would have said 
— and by the b^' he resembled that worthy in the character 
of his gloves, which were very large and worn constantly, 
so as to hide his talons, — his particular vanities were the 
" blood of men and the waters of the seas." Pah ! how 
nauseous and impi-obable ! Of human blood I say nothing, 
and for sufficient reasons ; but sea water ! Even when put 
into the plural, and set before an ogre, I defy him to drink 
it out of anything but bravado. Canning, speaking in the 



36 LIFE OF 

dark ages of gastronomy, dcclaretl that if anj' one said he 
preferred dry champagne to sweet, lie told a lie. I am bold 
to make the same assertion witli regard to Han, if he alleged 
any real liking for his " waters of the seas." 

It will be gathered from the above that " Han d'Islande " 
is a book in which the horrible jilays a considerable part. 
And this is so. With such a protagonist as Han, murder 
and bloodshed are not likely to be wanting. Part of the 
scene is laid in the dead-house at Urontheiin; and the keeper 
of the dead-house, a fantastic pedant of the name of Spia- 
gudry, is a not unimportant actor in the story. Among the 
other dramatis 'pcrsonw are an old noble, Schumacher, kept 
in prison by the intrigues of his enemies ; his sweet and lovely 
daughter lithel ; and tlie son of one of Schumacher's chief 
enemies, a young officer, called Ordener, who, for love of 
Ethel, dares Han in his lair, to get possession of a casket 
containing the proofs of Schumacher's innocence. Among 
the incidents are a revolt of miners, and a terrible massacre 
of soldiers, after which " certain poor goatherds " see " in 
the gloaming " a " beast with a human face, drinking blood, 
and sitting upon heaps of the slain." There is finally a good 
deal of " business " of one kind and another. Han delivers 
himself up to justice for no very obvious reason, and sets 
fire to his prison and the contiguous barracks, perishing in 
the conflagration. Schumacher's enemies receive the reward 
of their misdeeds. He is released and reinstated in royal 
favour; and Ordener and Ethel are married and live happy 
ever after. 

A book of an obsolete type, of a type which seems to lyive 
been popular at the beginning of this centur3', when Maturin 
and " Monk " Lewis were writers of renown, but now alto- 
gether of the past. Think what Inextinguishable laughter 
■would play like sheet lightning round such a book if pub- 
lished in this year of grace 1888. And yet it may be safely 
affirmed that of the novels published in 1888 not one in a 
hundred will be equally well written, or show sucli in-born 
power of clear and effective narration. Smile as we may at 



VICTOR HUGO 37 

Han and his blood and bones, tlio man who at twenty could 
write this book had a great future before him. 

" Han d'Islande " was criticised pretty freely, especially 
by the liberal journalists; but it won the favour of Charles 
Nodier, himself a novelist of no mean renown, a critic, a 
bibliophile, and also incidentally a graceful poet. He, a 
much older man than Victor Hugo, took the latter into his 
affectionate regard, and introduced him to his own wide circle 
of friends. Nor was this the only piece of good fortune that 
the book brought with it. The publication took place in the 
first part of February, 1823, and before the month had run 
its course, the king increased the poet's pension by 2,000 
francs, and thus enabled him, in the following month, to 
leave M. Fouchcr's hospitable dwelling, and set up house- 
keeping for himself. But joy and sorrow, — such are the 
alternations of human life. As the rapture of the young 
couple's marriage-day had been broken in upon by the sud- 
denly-declared insanity of Victor's brother Eugene, so now 
did a sad bereavement come to mar th.e happiness of the 
first months of their wedded life. A son was born to them 
in August, and in October the baby died. 

That the poet worked hard at this time was almost a mat- 
ter of course. In this very year 1823 he seems to have 
written upwards of twenty odes. In May, 1823, after some 
squabble with his publishers, he brought out a second edition 
of " Han d'Islande." In July there appeared the first num- 
ber of a periodical, the Muse Fran^aise, that lasted just a 
year, and to which he contributed tv.o odes and five prose 
articles. These last were afterwards reproduced, but with 
certain alterations, in the " Litterature et Philosophic 
Melees." They include a not very remarkable paper on 
Byron, then just deceased, and one, of greater importance, 
on " Quentin Durward." The latter has a special interest 
as showing what was the ideal of a novel formed, even at this 
early date, by the future author of " Notre Dame de Paris " 
and the " Miserables." " The novel as written by Walter 
Scott," he says, " is picturesque but prosaic. There is an- 



38 LIFS OF 

otlicr novel that remains to be crcatorl, a novel more beautiful, 
to our thinking, and more complete. That novel will be at 
once a drama and an epic, it will be picturesque but poetical, 
real and also ideal, true and at the same time great. It 
Avill graft Walter Scott into Homer." Sir Waher pi-osaic 
— that may well seem a hard saying. Nor can one quite 
avoid a smile at reading, among the suppressed passages of 
the article, a paragra])h in which the loyal and patriotic 
Victor falls foul of " that Scotchman " for selecting Louis 
XI. from among the roll of Frcncli kings as one of the char- 
acters of his novel. " None but a foreigner," he says, in- 
dignantly, " would have thought of such a thing. Well 
may we recognize in this an inspiration of the English 
muse! " Little can the poet have foreseen, when he shot this 
shaft at pei"fidious Albion, what a part the same Louis XL 
would play in his own novel of " Notre Dame." ^ 

A second volume of odes, under the title of " Nouvellcs 
Odes," appeared in ^Vlarch, 182-i. The preface is an im- 
portant document, as showing how little, even yet, the poet 
was prepared to step forward as the leader of the Romantic 
movement. He declares that, " for his part, he is profoundly 
ignorant of what tlie liomant'ic style and the Classic style 
may happen to be ; " deplores the division of contemporary 
literature into two hostile camps ; is anxious to be a messenger 
of peace between the contending parties ; is anxious, above 
all, to guard against ail " suspicion of heresy in the quar- 
rel " ; is full of " respect " for the " great name of Boileau," 
who, as he saj's, " shares with our Racine the great honour 
of having fixed the French language, a fact which in itself 
would suffice to prove that he too had a creative genius." 
And in a long letter to the Journal dcs Dcbats, dated the 26th 
of July, 182-1, he takes up the same points, and is at great 
pains to prove that he had in no way innovated in his use 
of language, and that writers recognized as classic had em- 

1 The preface to the " Litti'rature et Philosophic Mck'es " implies, not 
quite infrenuously, tliat tlie various papers had been reprinted without 
alteration. 



VICTOR HUGO 39 

ployed expressions and images analogous to those for which 
he had been censured. 

The preface moreover contains one or two eloquent pas- 
sages of what may be described as " throne and altar " Ht- 
erature; and the same spirit breathes in the odes themselves. 
But for detailed analysis I have unfortunately no spacers 
What has been said of the first volume of the odes must do 
duty for criticism on the second. Both deal with the same 
class of subjects, and in much the same way. That treating 
so often of the matter of politics, the verse has a tendency 
to eloquence rather than poetry-, is true. Yet can one not 
help admiring the virility of the themes selected. There was 
something of manhood in a lyre that vibrated so readily to 
any large national interest or feeling. And as the poet went 
on striking the strings, he decidedly acquired greater skill 
as a musician. The poetic quality of the verse in the second 
volume is belter than in the first. 

Louis XA'III. was a gentleman of the old school, who 
loved his ease and his Horace, and possessed a full share of 
the old Fi-ench courtly esprit. Though he certainly read 
the young poet's poems, it may be doubted whether their 
fervour was quite to his taste. But neither he nor his suc- 
cessor, Charles X., could afford to overlook a writer of such 
unmistakable power and so eminently " well-thinking." The 
most popular poet of the time was without doubt Beranger, 
whose songs, borne on the wings of music, were finding their 
waj' into every hamlet of France. And Beranger was not 
" well-thinking " at all. As he explained in some of the wit- 
tiest and most deftly turned of his ringing couplets, the king 
could not be counted among his friends. His verses, now 
half wrapt in oblivion, were then as pebbles from the brook, 
thrown by some master-slinger and whistling round the mon- 
archy and the accepted faith. They were a distinct political 
power. All the more did it behove the Government to en- 
courage writers who were good royalists and good Catholics. 
Accordingly, some very acceptable rewards in money had been 
bestowed on Victor Hugo by Louis XVIII. Charles X., who 



40 LIFE OF 

succeeded his brother on the 16th of September, 1824, added 
to these a coveted distinction. On the 5i9th of April, 1825, 
Victor Hugo, and his brother-poet and friend, Lamartine, 
v.'cre made knights of the Legion of Plonour. ^Madame 
Hugo tells how iier husband and herself, and their infant 
daughter, Leopoldinc, born in the pi'evious year, were just 
starting in the diligence for Blois, on a visit to General Hugo, 
when the letter announcing A^ictor's nomination was placed 
in his hands. A pleasant surprise for the father, when they 
reached their destination, as may be supposed. He detached 
the piece of red ribbon from his own buttonhole, and trans- 
ferred the honourable badge to the coat of his son. As a 
further mark of royal favour, the poet received, while at 
Blois, an invitation to the king's coronation at Reims, on the 
29th of May. He went. But the ode in which the event is 
commemorated is scarcely one of his happiest efforts. 

This same year 1825 marks the point at which Victor 
Hugo's genius, which had hitherto been flowing on in a fairly 
smooth and even bed, suddenly takes the decisive leap in its 
rush towards Romanticism. So far he had not given in his 
adherence to the new school. He seemed unaccountably to 
be hesitating, temporising, hanging back. Henceforward 
there will be no doubt as to his position. In the poems written 
during this year, especially the ballads, there is a marked 
advance. In the preface to the third volumes of the odes 
published in the October of the following year, 1826, there 
is an entire difference of tone. As Madame Hugo says, he 
there " resolutely unfurls the standard of liberty in litera- 
ture." In 1827 he was rallying to that standard the flower 
of the intellectual youth of France, and boldly standing for- 
ward as their acknowledged chief. 



VICTOR HUGO 41 



CHAPTER IV 

rS'^HE nineteenth century dawns sooner, I think, in Ger- 
Ji. many than in either of the other two great intellectual 
countries of Europe. Possibly the admirers of the eighteenth 
century would account for this by sajing that there is some 
slight haze, as of early morning, in tlie German genius, 
and that our own age is nebulous, and lacks dcfinitcness and 
clear precision. I would rather suggest, as one of many 
explanations, that Germany had no great classic literature 
from which to emancipate herself. It was not till the eight- 
eenth century had passed its meridian that she could boast 
of writers who, as artists in language, rank with the great 
poets and prose-men of England and France. Her litera- 
ture, being young, was untrammelled by the past, and, Hke 
Chaucer's monk — 

"lette old thinges pace, 
And held after the newe world the trace." 

Accepting this explanation for what it is worth, of tlic fact 
itself there can, I think, be no question. Take a jsiece of 
literary criticism by Dr. Johnson, or of art criticism by Sir 
Joshua Reynolds, and compare it with a piece of criticism by 
Lessing, and the great relative modernncss of the latter is 
at once apparent. It is the criticism of intuition and im- 
agination as opposed to the old criticism of plain common 
sense. So too in poetry, Schiller, and even Olympian and 
semi-classic Goethe, were precursors. 

Close after the Germans came our own great poets of 
the last decade of the eighteenth, and the beginning of this 
century. And here the task was in some ways harder. A 
strong current had to be stemmed, an effort towards emanci- 
pation to be made. Pope and even Dryden were still a 
living influence, when Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Shelley, 
Keats, and Byron undertook, each after his several kind. 



42 LIFE OF 

to renew the language of poetry, break up the mould in 
which verse had so long and so mechanically been cast, and 
give to words and rhythm their full music, and freedom, and 
varied charm. To shake off the trammels of an immediate 
past was the first work which these great poets had to do. 
But in doing it what help did tliey not receive from a still 
earlier past? If their own practice and theories were called 
in question, could they not appeal to such precedent and 
authority as few Englishmen at least were likely to gainsay? 
What names had the " classic " school in E^nglish poetry to 
put beside the names of Shakespeare and Milton? Was thei-e 
any classicist, however hide-bound, however full of reserves 
and doubts, who could boldl^y refuse to admit the greatness 
of Chaucer, and S])enscr, and of the dramatists of the days 
of Elizabeth and James I.? 

France stood in a different position from either Germany 
or England. Unlike Germany, slie already possessed a body 
of literature universally' recognized as of supreme importance 
and high artistic merit. Unlike England, the body of litera- 
ture which she possessed was, on the poetical side at least, 
almost wholly classical. No one certainly would desire to 
diminish in aught the lustre that lingers round tlie names of 
A'illon, the poet-thief, and Charles d'Orleans, the poet-prince, 
or to deny the wit and vigour of Clement Marot, and the 
grace of Konsard. But to put these names In juxtaposition 
with those of Shakespeare or Milton, were to court ridicule. 
None but an enthusiast would even put them beside the names 
of Hacine and Corneille, of Moliere and Lafontaine. Sainte- 
Beuve did not venture to do it even in the full ardour of his 
romantic time. Tiie later men, in truth, were so great that 
the}' dwarfed and hid the earlier. The French Romantic 
movement had to fight its way against the opposition of 
Racine, and with no such pioneer as Shakespeare. 

And so it came tardily. Victor Hugo did not decisively 
and openly take uji the standard till 1826; and in 1826, 
Wordswortii, Coleridge, and Scott had long executed their 
best work, and Keats, Shelley, and Byron were dead. 



VICTOR HUGO 43 

Yes, the movement came tardily ; and, did space allow, 
there would be an interest in marking its course. Chateau- 
briand helped it forward unquestionably by his eloquent in- 
sistence on the picturesque beauty of the Christian faith as 
seen in history, and by his largely-executed pictures of na- 
ture. Madame de Stael helped it too by giving to the French 
mind a glimpse, and more than a glimpse, of Germany. 
England assisted likewise, through the influence of Byron, 
whose fame, unlike that of his poet contemporaries, ovcrleapt 
the narrow seas, and became European, — and also through 
the influence of Scott. In 1819 came the publication of 
the fragments left by Andre Chenicr, who had been done to 
death by the Revolutionary Tribunal but a day or two before 
the fall of Kobespicrre in 1T93. Poor Andre Chenier ! — 
legend, which in its way is often truer than history, speaks 
of him as striking his forehead just before the fall of the 
fatal axe, and exclaiming, " There was something tlicrc! " 
Yes, there was something there, no doubt, something no less 
important than a renovation of the poetics of France. Half 
a Greek in blood, more than half a Greek in spirit, with a 
knowledge of Greek and Roman antiquity to which Keats 
made no pretension, and a command over language — a 
verbal brush-power, if I may use the expression — scarcely 
inferior to Keats' own — he was distinctly the greatest force 
that had appeared in French poetry since the setting of the 
Grand Siecle of Louis XIV. 

Chenier's poems were first published in 1819. In 1820 
appeared Lamartine's " Meditations," and the Romantic 
movement though not in an aggressive way, was definitely 
started. The latter book at once took the world by storm. 
There was something of novelty and delight in verse of such 
exceeding harmony. It seemed to flow like a wide and beau- 
tiful river, large and limpid, and mirroring of preference in 
its waters the far heavens above — and reflecting the banks 
too, but these last somewhat less definitely, and with no 
strong precision of outlines. At the same time there was a 
young ofiicer in the royal guard, Alfred de Vigny by name, 



44 LIFE OF 

who was writing what the world will not willinjrly let die. 
He wrote little, whether then or afterwards. The jioem.s 
which he i)ublishcd during his life, though he lived long, 
fill a slender volume only; and an equally slender volume, 
" Les Destinees," appeared after his death. But among the 
earlier poems are " Eloa," the story of the angel born of one 
of Christ's tears, and " Jiladnme de Soubise " a story of St. 
Bartholomew, and " Dolorida," and " La Fregate la 
Scrieuse " ; and pervading the later verse there is a sombre 
stoicism of singular individuality and power. Judging by 
quality, as a poet should be judged, Alfred dc ^ igny keeps 
the pride of place which lie won for himself in the years 
following 1820. 

Victor Hugo, as we have seen, had hesitated somewhat 
before openly giving his adherence to the movement. When 
he did do so, he leaped almost at once into the position of 
its acknowledged chief. Of the men who might, perhaps, 
have contested his chieftaincy, Lamartine, though equally 
copious, never had his fire and overmastering energy, and 
De Vigny wrote little, wrote fastidiously, and was in no 
sense a leader of men. The third volume of the odes (to- 
gether with certain ballads) appeared in October, 1826, with 
a preface more advanced in tone than any the poet had yet 
published. The verse itself was in every sense newer, 
especially in the ballads. These were not our modem-an- 
tique friends, of which we have had so many lately, the 
ballades with an e — one of those complicated exotic forms 
of verse from which the real essence of poetry seems some- 
how to evaporate with such case. They were ballads with a 
story in them, or some fantastic, light, tripping, aerial de- 
scription of the legendary creatures, s3-lph or fairy, peri or 
gnome, that haunted the jMiddle Age or Eastern imagina- 
tion. There was a Devil's frolic, and a giant's monologue 
—  things which would have been an abomination to the plain 
eighteenth century — and there were love-stanzas to a 
media'val Madeleine. The whole is full of grace and music. 

At the same time ^'ictor Hugo was writing a very serious 



VICTOR HUGO 45 

drama. WlioHicr tliis play was originally {.ianned foi- 
actual pcrfonnance, is a moot point. In France, as we all 
knov.-, there is not tlie same practical divorce that there is 
in England between literature and the stage. Nearly every 
French writer of power in verse or fiction feels drawn, sooner 
or later, into the glare of the foot-lights. There is no 
inherent improbability therefore, but rather the reverse, in 
Madame Hugo's statement that her husband thus early felt 
the general attraction, and wrote his drama with a view to 
its performance by the great actor Talma. M. Bire, how- 
ever, doubts the storj', and gives cogent reasons for his 
doubts. I sliall not venture to decide between the two. 
What is certain is that Talma died at about this time, and 
that " Cromwell," for such was the subject of the piece, 
soon acquired such gigantic proportions as effectually rele- 
gated it to tjie position of a drama " for the closet." 

But if the })lay was for the closet, the preface was for the 
battle-field. As Cardinal Newman tells us he has ever dated 
the beginning- of the Tractarian movement from the preach- 
ing of Keble's Assize sermon at Oxford, so might many an 
ardent Romanticist date the origin of the Romantic move- 
ment from the publication of the " Preface de Cromwell " 
in October, 1827. " It shone in our eyes like the Tables of 
the Law on Mount Sinai," says Theophile Gautier, " its argu- 
ments seemed to us irrefutable." Never did some sixty pages 
of eloquent prose come into the world with more aggressive 
opportuneness. 

" The present generation," I am quoting Th(5opliile Gautier again, 
" must have some difficulty in conceiving the state of effervescence in 
jieople's minds at that time. A movement similar to tlie Renaissance was 
in progress. The sap of a new life flowed everywhere impetuously. 
All things were simultaneously germinating, quickening, Inirgeonin'g, 
bursting into leaf and blossom. The flowers exhaled a passionate per- 
fume, the very air was an intoxicant; v.-e were mad with lyric arcfour 
and art. We seemed to ourselves to have discovered the great lost 
secret — and so we had, the lost secret of poesy." 

It was among minds ju.st ripening for this state of ecstasy 
that the celebrated " Preface " came like a sunnnons to ai-nis 



46 LIFE OF 

and conquest. Nor did tlic truinjxt now give an uncertain 
sound. Tlierc was no halting, no licsitation any longer, no 
douljt as to what the difference between the Classic and Ro- 
mantic schools niiglit happen to be. Boldly, perhaps even 
rashly, did the writer declare that there had been three ages 
of poetry, each answering to a given state of society, the 
ode for primitive times, the epic for antiquity, the drama 
for to-day. " The ode," so the writer declares, " sings of 
eternity, tlie epic solenuiizes history, the drama paints life." 
But to paint life, the drama must often be prepared to set 
the beautiful to one side. Nay, it is a law of the highest 
art that the beautiful itself will be enhanced by the juxta- 
position of what is ugly. Thus the grotesque comes into 
being. As to the " unities," they are naught. As to Ra- 
cine, he is a " divine poet," if you like, but not a dramatist, 
not, above all, to be accepted as the typical writer of French 
verse. And in a brilliant passage the writer desci'ibes his 
ideal of what a dramatic style should be. 

" Dramatic verse," he cries, " should be free, frank, direct, sufficiently 
outspoken to say everything without prudery or affectation; ahle to pass 
by natural transition from the comic to the tragic, from the sublime 
to the grotesque; by turns matter-of-fact ;ind poetical, at once artistic 
and inspired, profound and full of surprises, large and true; skilful 
to vary the pauses in the line so as to break the monotony of the alex- 
andrine; rather prone to run a sentence from one line to another than 
to imliroil it by inversion of the words out of their ordinary sequence; 
faithful to the rhyme, that queen-slave, that supreme grace of our 
poetry, that generating power of our verse; incxliaustilde in variety; 
too subtle for analysis in its elegance and technical qualities; able, like 
Proteus, to take a thousand shapes witliout clianging its real type and 
character; solier of declamatory S])eech; playful in the dialogue; faith- 
ful to tlie character of the person represented; mindful to keep its 
due ])lacc, and only beautiful as it were fortuitously, in spite of itself, 
and iniconsciously ; by turns lyric, epic, dramatic; able to run over tlie 
whole poetic scale, and go from the bottom to the top, from the highest 
to the most vulgar thoughts, from the most broadly comic to the most 
grave, from the most concrete to the most abstract, and yet never 
passing outside the limits of a spoken scene." 

Racine not a dramatist ! Shakespeare the " lilghest poetic 
altitude of modern times " ! O cril days, O perversion of 



VICTOR HUGO 47 

public taste ! cried the outraged classicists. O dawn of a 
new and splendid era ! answered their Romantic opponents. 
But Victor Tlugo was mindful of tlie fact tliat an artist's 
theories must be proved by Iiis practice, not his reasoning. 
As Shelley says, 

" It is a dangerous invasion 
When poets criticise. Their station 
Is to delight, not pose." 

So together with the " Preface de Cromwell " came " Crom- 
well " itself. Unfortunately the edifice is, I think, scarcely 
as striking as the portico. The play is liardly one of tlit 
poet's great plays. The whole action turns on Cromwell's 
desire to be crowned king, and the plot, in so far as it can 
be called a plot, consists in the exhibition of the various 
forces opposed to the realization of his wishes — the last 
words being Cromwell's half-musing aside, " When then shall 
I be a king.'' " But even so we scarcely reach a very striking 
or effective dramatic climax. The first act, I confess, always 
seems to me better adapted to the libretto of an opera than 
to a serious historical drama. For there are degrees of ad- 
missible improbability even on the stage. We allow a larger 
latitude to poetry' than to prose, and to music than to either. 
And so it seems to want a chorus of male voices to give even 
an air of probability to this meeting of Roundheads and 
Cavaliers, for the most part quite unknown to each other, 
who have come together in a public tavern-room to declaim 
treason and conspire against the Protector. How is secrecy 
imaginable in such conditions without basses and tenors, and 
a full orchestra? 

But lest this criticism should be taxed with frivolity, I 
hasten to add — what indeed scarcely any one would now 
think of denying, — that with " Cromwell " the language of 
the poetical drama in France made an immense stride. And 
at the same time Victor Hugo was renovating the language 
of poetry generally, was reviving ancient and forgotten 
metres, inventing new metres, and pouring a new and spark- 



48 LIFE OF 

ling wine into the old bottles of French verse. The " Chasse 
du Burgrave," with its echoing rhymes, and the " Pas 
d'Armes du Roi Jean," arc dated respective!}' Januarj' and 
June, 1828; and in January, 1829 again heralded by a 
warrior-preface came out the first edition of the " Orientales." 
A brilliant, a superb book. It opens with a description 
of the cloud from the Lord that broke in fire on Sodom and 
Gomorrah; and it almost closes with a kind of dreamiU' 
expressed desire that the mists on the French horizon should 
suddenly' break, and disclose a Moorish town sending up, 
like a rocket, through the evening sky, its minarets of gold. 
But why tantalise the reader thus? An English book is for 
English readers ; else might I here qtiote freely. And trans- 
lated verse.'' A translation that renders the music and col- 
our of the original —  that is at once really a translation and 
really poetry — such a translation is far rarer than a good 
poem. I am too obviously no Rossetti nor Fitzgerald, and 
have no intention of courting ruin by an attempt to emulate 
their renderings of the poetry of earl}' Italy and of Omar's 
" I">astern lay." Not for me is it to " English " Victor 
Hugo's masterpieces. I must ask my readers, therefore, if 
so be that French is unknown to them, to imagine the indolent 
swaj'ing music to which " Sara the Bather " swings to and 
fro in her hanmiock over the waters of the fountain ; and the 
superb march-movement of the " Djinns," those Eastern 
imps, who, as the verse swells in syllables and power, seem 
hurrying from some distance beyond distance till we hear 
round us the roar of their wings and the tumult of their 
onset, — sounds that gradually die away as, baffled and 
beaten, they retreat into the silence from whence they came. 
I must ask my readers too take my word for the light that 
palpitates through it all, and the brilliant colour, and the 
great variety of tone,- — tlie energy of the ode to Napoleon, 
the light grace of " Sultan Achmet's " offer of love to the 
beauty of Grenada, the tragic directness of swift vengeance 
in the stoi-y of the maiden done to death by her brothers 
because her veil has been uplifted. 



VICTOR ITUCO 49 

That tlicso " Oricntalcs " are of a doubtful Orientalism 
has been wliispercd by the erudite. But what can that pos- 
sibly matter? Byron's " Bride of Abydos," " Giaour," and 
"Lara," IMoore's" " Lalla Rookh," these " Orientales " them- 
selves, must be judged as poems, as pieces of art whose 
" motive " is of the iMorning-land, and not merely from the 
standpoint of the traveller and the historian. And what- 
ever bo the verdict on Byron and Moore, there can be no 
doubt that as pieces of art these poems of Victor Hugo are 
superb. The workmanship is of the finest quality. This is 
scarcely the time and place for a discussion on the techni- 
calities of French verse, else might one here descant learn- 
edly on " rich " rhymes, and " supporting consonants," and 
the " cjEsura," and the relations of the sentence to the line. 
Suffice it to say that judged by the highest standard in 
such matters, neither the " Orientales," nor any of the other 
verse of Victor Hugo's maturity, can be found wanting. 
Docs this statement coming from an English critic seem to 
require support.'' We may accept the testimony of Theophile 
Gautier and 'M. de Banville freely ; for if Gautier and M. 
de Banville are not artists in words, they are nothing ; and 
their reverence for A'ictor Hugo's technique amounts almost 
to a superstition. 

As to metre, he seemed to play w-ith it. Sainte-Bouve 
gave him at about this time an old copy of Ronsai'd, in- 
scribing it to the " greatest lyrical inventor French poetry 
has known since Ronsard ; " and the praise had been fairly 
won. I shall take but one example from the " Orientales " 
— the Djinns, to which I have already referred. The first 
verse is in lines of two syllables, the second verse in lines 
of three, and so on till the central verse, where ten syllables 
are reached, — after which the verses decline, in the same 
way, till the last verse, which consists of lines of two syllables 
again. A mere feat of verbal juggling the reader will 
say, and no more to be ranked as poetry than an acrostic. 
Not at all. The poem is poetry, and poetry of a high 
order, and the lines of varying length are so used as to 
4 



50 LIFE OF 

emphasize the idea, and give it its fullest force. I know no 
finer crescendo and diminuendo in verbal niusic. 

No wonder that poetry of this freshness and beauty, on 
its first blossoming into that ardent young world, acted as a 
kind of lyrical intoxicant. No wonder that the youth of the 
time hailed the writer as their hero, their denii-god. M. 
Amaury-Duval, writing of days just anterior to these, and 
of the joyous simple dances in Nodier's rooms at the Library 
of the Arsenal, saj's: 

" The attitude of the poet in society was quiet and almost grave, 
and contrasted with a l)eardless face full of sweetness and charm. 
He did not take part, like Alfred de Musset i and the rest, in our 
youthful amusements; but the serious side was not really, I think, 
the most important side of his character. Did lie consider it necessary 
to affect gravity in view of his high mission? If so, he was taking 
unnecessary trouble: his works alone, and his genius would have suf- 
ficed to awe us into respect and admiration." 

And Theophile Gauticr, writing of the subsequent days of 
1830, when the great battle of " Hornani " had been fought 
and won, tells us of the inward tremors with which he first 
sought an audience with the " Master," — of his going three 
times up the stairs, before he mustered courage to ring the 
bell, — and then, half whimsically, compares his actual entry 
to that of Esther into the presence of Ahasuerus. 

So between 1826 and 1830 was the " jNIaster " held in 
reverence by the young Romantic school. They gathered 
round him as round their natural leader. And what bril- 
liant names did the band contain ! Saint-Beuve was one of 
them. He first made the poet's acquaintance in January, 
1827. They were brought together in this way: Sainte- 
Beuve had written two perfectly independent but sympa- 
thetic articles, on the " Odes et Ballades," for the Globe 
newspaper, a very distinguished organ of that time. Victor 
Hugo called to thank him for the articles. He returned 
the call, and there resulted a very close intimacy and friend- 

1 Who has left so charming a memento of these evenings in the 
" R^ponse & M. Charles Nodier," dated August, 1843. 



VICTOR HUGO 51 

ship, destined too soon to pass into indifference and a very 
armed neutrality. The whole story of their relatiens is 
curious. I shall not, however, attempt to write it here. 
Suffice it to say, that while the friendship lasted either poet 
was not without influence on the other, and the flame of 
mutual admiration flared high. Sainte-Beuve afterwards 
asserted, in one of his interesting autobiographical notes, 
written long after this date, that the only time in his life 
when his singularly fluid nature had been reallv fixed and 
congealed was " in Victor Hugo's world," adding, however, 
that it was " then only by the effect of a charm." And 
at the time he sang his friend's praises fortissimo. As to 
Victor Hugo, he, as we know, always had a tendency to 
superlatives. There is one of his odes, written in December, 
1827, and addressed "To my friend S. B.,"— who can be 
none other than Sainte-Beuve, — in wliich he addresses that 
young gentleman as an " eagle," a " giant," a " star," and 
exhorts him to make the acquaintance of the lightning, and 
to roll through the realms of tliought like a " royal meteor " 
with trailing locks. We, who chiefly know a later Sainte- 
Beuve, can scarcely recognise him in the character of a 
comet ; and, even then, he himself, for he was always very 
reasonable, must sometimes have smiled at these grandiose 
epithets. Sitting somewhat apart in the shadow, and rhym- 
ing a sonnet to a white cap, or an eye of jet- — this is how 
he lives in Alfred de Musset's reminiscences, and I take it the 
sketch is truer to nature. 

Alfred de Musset — he too was one of the band that 
pressed round the " Master." Ah, charming and admirable 
poet, whose verse, to use his own poignant image, always 
trailed after it a drop of blood — whose life was ruined all 
the more irretrievably because he had glimpses of a better 
heaven than tliat sky of Paris that lowered above his head 
— poor " Enfant du Siecle," child of this age of ours which 
gave its offspring no better refuge against the sorrows of our 
human lot than drink — surely as a kind of epitaph over 
his career might fittingly be used those lines of Wordsworth, 



52 LIFE OF 

" We poets in our youtli bepcin in gladness, 
But thereof conies in tlie end despondency and madness." 

And there is another of Victor Hugo's followers to whom 
tliese words would equally apply: poor Gerard de Nerval, 
wlio, after leading hither and thither a strange incoherent 
existence, hanged himself, in a hideous nook of old Paris, 
in January, 1855. But these are pitiful memories. I must 
not incongruously forget that we are looking at the genera- 
tion of 1830 in its spring. There was no thought of the 
distant days of winter and death when Saintc-Beuve, and 
^lusset, and Gerard de Nerval and the two Deschamps, and 
I)e Vigny, and the exuberant, inexhaustible Dumas, and 
Delacroix, " the Hugo of paint," — when all these and many 
more poets, writers, artists, used to meet in the brave days 
of the Romantic movement, and recognized Victor Hugo as 
their chief.' 



CHAPTER V 



MEANWHILE was no effort to be made towards rescu- 
ing, the French stage from the thraldom of Classi- 
cism? Was the "Preface de Cromwell" to remain a barren 
manifesto, an empty trumpet blast preceding no advance of 
conquering arms.'' Was the author of "Cromwell" to rest 
content with a mere literary triumph, while the theatre could 
still boast itself unassailed and unwon.' Not thus did Victor 
Hugo understand his duties as leader of the Romantic move- 
ment. 

And here this England of ours did yeoman's service, and 
pioneered the attack most effectually. In July and August, 
185^2, a company of English actors had endeavoured to per- 
form tiie plays of Shakespeare for the benefit of the Parisian 
public, but had been met with an organized opposition, and 

1 They called their brotherhood the C/narle, from the upper room 
;.i which our Lord had partalven of the Last Supper wiUi His disciples. 



VICTOR HUGO 53 

cries of " Speak French," " Down with Shakespeare, he is 
one of Wellington's aide-de-camps," and other popular 
amenities of a similar kind. In the latter part of the sum- 
mer of 1827, the attempt was renewed. The great John 
Kemble's lesser brother Charles came over from London, — 
in some trepidation, as his daugliter Frances tells us — and 
with him other English actors and actresses, among whom 
was a certain Irish girl called Miss Smithson. They took 
the fickle Parisians by storm. Since 1822 tlie Romantic 
movement had waxed and grown strong. Shakespeare be- 
came the rage. That young France in the least understood 
his language can very safely be denied. But the situations 
were new and striking, and the whole thing unconventional, 
and in accord with the whim of the hour. ]\Iiss Smithson 
especially achieved a real triumph, — " received a rather dis- 
proportionate share of admiration," is the form in which 
Frances Kemble puts it. And that fair critic speaks also 
somewhat slightingly of Miss Smithson's " figure and face 
of Hibernian beauty," and of her " Irish accent." As to 
the niceties of the brogue, they were, no doubt, as Frances 
Kemble says, lost upon French cars, which would know no 
distinction between the English of Dublin and the English 
of London. But as for the " Hibernian beauty-," most of us, 
I think, would be inclined to say that the term is scarcely 
one of reproach, and that Erin's daughters are not among 
the ill-favoured of the earth. Anyhow, i\Iiss Smithson, 
brogue, beauty, and all, was for the hour the idol of the 
French public ; — and one Frenchman of genius, Berlioz the 
composer, the Hugo of music, conceived for her a passion 
which has become historical, and married her five years after- 
wards, when her hour of popularity had passed, and she was 
ruined, and possibly a cripple for life. The Romanticists, it 
will thus be seen, carried romance be3'ond the sphere of their 
art. 

Charles Kemble's visit to Paris took place in September, 
1827. In October is dated the " Pre-face de Cromwell." 
And in the following May, Edmund Kean made a flitting 



54, LIFE OF 

appearance on the French boards. He was drunk, accord- 
ing to the French tradition, when he came on the stage to 
play Richard III., and having kept the audience waiting for 
a very long time, was badly received ; but as he warmed to 
his work, his genius carried all before him. There was no 
resisting it. And his performance of Shylock, two or three 
days afterwards, made a lasting impression. I seem to re- 
member, not so very many j'ears ago, a dramatic feuilleton 
of Jules Janin, the famous critic, in which he spoke of the 
thrill of horror that went through the house at the deadly 
realism witli which the Jew sharpened his knife upon his 
sleeve. 

So with Shakespeare the romantic drama, in its right royal 
English dress, first found a place upon the Parisian stage. 
But obviously that was not enough. To really move a na- 
tion's heart, it is imperative to use that nation's speech. A 
foreign play is for the cultivated few only. It was for the 
French writers to " dare to follow," now that Shakespeare 
had " cleared the waj-." Accordingly, in the early part of 
1829, Alexandre Dumas rushed forward with his play of 
Henry III., which came upon the public as something young, 
fresh, and full of exuberant life ; and, on the 2-ith of June, 
Victor Hugo had finished " IMarion de Lomie." 

The Theatre Fran^ais, the Porte-Saint-]Martin, and the 
Odeon all competed for the play ; and the Theatre Franyais, 
as first in the field, was preparing to put it on the stage. 
But here the Government intci-vencd. There is one of the 
acts, the fourth, in which Louis XIII. shows pitiably, and 
as a mere tool in the hands of his imperious minister. Cardi- 
nal Richelieu. Now in July, 1829, the monarchy of the 
elder branch of the Bourbons was tottering to its fall. The 
attacks made upon it from all sides were incessant and most 
bitter. The king especially was accused of being under 
priestly government. M. de ^Martigriac, the Home Minister, 
may therefore be forgiven if he thought the moment inoppor- 
tune for the production of a play which might easily be used 
politically as a weapon of offence. Naturally Victor Hugo 



VICTOR HUGO 55 

took a different view. He appealed from the minister to the 
king. The king granted him a private audience on the 7th 
of August ; received him with the greatest affability and 
kindness ; but, on reflection, did not sec tliat it would be safe 
to yield. He, however, as some indemnity, offered the poet 
an increase of 2,000 francs to his existing pensions. This 
Victor Hugo thought it right to refuse, though in most loyal, 
and one may almost saj' humble, terms ; whereupon he became 
more popular than ever, and the opposition journals talked 
of his incorruptibility. 

But; as Madame Hugo rightfully says, " Victor Hugo was 
not one of those men who arc discouraged by a check." He 
at once set to work, began " Hernani " on the 29th of Au- 
gust, and, on the 1st of October, read it to the Committee of 
the Theatre P^'an^ais. 

Then there ensued, as before, a groat battle, a series of 
skirmishes, excursions and alarums, affairs of outposts. On 
the 18th of December Victor Hugo wrote to a friend : 

" You know that I am overwhelmed, overburdened, crushed, throttled. 
The Comedie Franfaise, ' Hernani,' the rehearsals, the green-room rival- 
ries of actors and actresses, the intrigues of the newspapers and the po- 
lice; and, on the other hand, my jirivate affairs, which are much em- 
broiled, my father's inheritance not yet settled, our property in Spain of 
which Ferdinand VII. has tal^en possession, the compensation due to us 
in Saint Domingo and kept l)ack by Boyer, our sands at Sologne which 
have been on sale for the last twenty-three months, our houses in Blois 
which our stepmother is trying to keep away from us, consequently 
nothing, or next to nothing, to be saved out of the wreck of a consid- 
erable fortune. Such is my life." 

Not a very happy picture, certainly. But our immediate 
interest is with those special troubles that thickened round 
the production of " Hernani." To begin with, the per- 
formers were hostile. Mdlle. Mars, the great tragic actress, 
on whom had naturally devolved the chief part of Dona Sol, 
was a woman of fifty, and had little sympathy, as may be 
supposed, with novelties. Alexandre Dumas relates, in his 
sparkhng way, how she would interrupt the rehearsals again 
and again, and worry the poor author with poetical sugges- 



56 LIFE OF 

tions. It was not till he threatened to take the part from 
her that she was brought to reason. Her frigidity froze 
the other actors ; and the bitterness of a terrible winter tended 
to freeze them still more. JNIeanwhile the press was not idle. 
Scraps and detached passages of the play leaked out, and 
were travestied and ridiculed. One scene was burlesqued 
upon the stage. The censorship also " made its reserves," 
contested admissibility of certain passages, insisted upon 
changes in various lines, had to be reasoned with, bullied, ca- 
joled. Finally the claque, the paid apjjlauders who in a 
French theatre direct the popular enthusiasm, turned mu- 
tinous. Their loyalty could not be depended ujjon. They 
might even desert in the hour of battle, and go over to the 
enemy. 

But against all forms of opposition, whether open and 
angry, or occult and insidious, Victor Hugo showed a most 
admirable tenacity and courage. " We should not, perhaps, 
be able fully to understand the essentially militant charac- 
ter of his political and literary life," says iVIadame Hugo, 
" if we did not know from what a soldier-family he sprang." 
And here he showed himself a born fighter. If the claque, 
those hired mercenaries, would not support his cause, he 
would rely on the enthusiasm of volunteers. Word went 
forth among the students of the " Quarticr Latin," the 
younger journalists, the artists going through their appren- 
ticeship in the various " ateliers," tliat the future of the 
French drama, nay, of French poetry itself, was at stake. 
Theophile Gautier has told how Gerard dc Nerval acted as 
recruiting sergeant, and went round distributing tickets for 
the first performance, and with what a passion of joy he, 
Gautier, received six orders, in solenm trust, with an adjura- 
tion to bring none but sure hands. Eacli ticket bore inscribed 
upon it the Spanish word, h'lerro, " iron." 

And what a strange young generation tliey were to whom 
this call was addressed ! Together with a genuine enthusiasm 
for evcrj'tliing relating to art, using the word in its most 
extended sense, how much of folly and wilful eccentricity! 



VICTOR HUGO 57 

Eccentricity, indeed, was their goddess. They hated with an 
undying hate the peaceful " bourgeois " who paid his debts, 
hved cleanly, foreswore sack, and cultivated only the prose 
of life. Such a man, according to one of these cannibalistic 
young gentlemen, was only fit to be eaten. To " asphyx- 
iate " him " with the smell of punch, patchouli, and cigars " ^ 
seemed a desirable object. To adopt a name that could 
by no means be mistaken for his commonplace name was a 
clear duty. Thus, if tlio Romantic aspirant had been chris- 
tened " Jean," he added a medieval h, and called himself 
" Jehan ;" if his name were plain " Pierre," he called himself 
" Petrus." Or else he gave a kind of pseudo-foreign air to 
his cognomen, and " Auguste jMaquet " became " Augustus 
i\IcKeat," and " Theophile Dondey " became " Philothee 
O'Neddy." There was one daring spii'it who even ventured 
to designate himself as " Napoleon Tom." Napoleon Tom ! 
I declare there is a touch of genius in the combination. 
When one thinks of it, when one considers the absui-dity of 
these outlandish designations, even the inexplicable seems 
streaked with a dawn of explanation, and one almost ceases 
to wonder whence Victor Hugo derived the amazing English 
names in " L'Homme qui rit." Even " Govicum," the pot- 
boy, and " Lord Tom Jim Jack," seem to have prototypes. 

Nor were outward and visible signs of eccentricity want- 
ing in tlie youthful band that crowded round the door of 
the pit of the Theatre Fran9ais on the memorable 5i5th of 
February, 1830, when " Hernani " was to be first presented 
to the public. They have been often described. According 
to Madame Hugo they were " strange, uncouth, bearded, 
long-haired, dressed in every manner except according to the 
existing fashion, in loose jerkins, in Spanish cloaks, in Robe- 
spierre waistcoats, in Henry HI. bonnets, having every cen- 
tury and every country upon their shoulders and heads." 
No wonder that the peaceful burgesses were " stupefied and 
indignant." Theophile Gautier especially " insulted their 

1 The expression is tliat of Ga%arm the great caricaturist, who, how- 
ever, came into vogue a little later. 



58 LIFE OF 

eyes." His locks, like those of Albert Diirer, flowed far over 
his shoulders, and he wore a scarlet satin waistcoat of me- 
dieval cut, a black coat with broad velvet facings, trousers 
of a pale sea-green seamed with black velvet, and an ample 
grey overcoat lined with green satin. Well might he speak 
enthusiastically, in after years, of the " phantasy of indi- 
vidual taste " that had " regulated " the " costumes " of the 
" champions of the ideal " who waited outside the Theatre 
Franfais. His encomiums on their " just sense of colour " 
one feels inclined, in view of the sea-green trousers, to ac- 
cept more doubtfully. As to the scarlet waistcoat, it has a 
place in history. It flames in the forefront of the Romantic 
battle like the white plume of King Henry of Navarre at 
Ivry. 

Our young friends were admitted into the theatre at two, 
and the public were not to enter till seven. What was to be 
done meanwhile in the great ghostly unht place? Talk of- 
fered a resource, and cat-calls, and endless songs, which the 
Government papers of the following day described as " im- 
pious," and the opposition journals as " obscene." The 
more prudent of the band had provided themselves with sau- 
sages, ham, chocolate, and bread ; and an improvised picnic 
made the time pass pleasantly. When the audience began 
to assemble, they were greeted by a fine smell of garhc. O 
abomination of desolation ! Tliis is the holy of holies of the 
drama, in the " House of Mohere " ! ildUe. ^lars was furi- 
ous. She had acted, she declared to A'ictor Hugo, before 
every kind of public : it was to him, to him that she must owe 
the indignity of acting before such a public as that! 

However at last the performance began, and began coldly. 
But, as it proceeded, the admirable vigour of the verse, and, 
one may add, the stage effectiveness of the situations, began 
to produce tlieir due effect. At the second act, where 
Hernani and Don Carlos, rivals in their love for Dona Sol, 
exchange words of hate and defiance, the clapping of the 
author's followers found an echo in a few boxes. Tliis tem- 
porary success was, however, jeopardised by the scene in 



VICTOR HUGO 59 

which Don Ruy Gomez too lengthily catalogues his pictured 
ancestry on the wall ; though, in the end, his refusal to vio- 
late his ideal of hospitality at Don Carlos' bidding, " brought 
down the house." Strangely enough, Charles V.'s long mon- 
ologue before the tomb of Charlemagne first really clinched 
success and made victory certain. Poetry went for some- 
thing in those days, and undramatic as that soliloquy may be, 
each line, as it flashed upon the audience, woke in them a 
glowing enthusiasm. Before the applause had died down, an 
unknown publisher accosted the author, and offered six thou- 
sand francs for the right to publish the play, saying that at 
the end of the second act he had intended to propose two 
thousand francs, at the end of the third four, and that he 
should greatly prefer to close the bargain there and then, as 
at the end of the performance he might be tempted to give 
ten thousand. Victor Hugo, whose whole possessions hap- 
pened at the moment to consist of fifty francs, or £2, laugh- 
ingly concluded the bargain. 

The fifth act was a triumph. Mdlle. Mars acted it su- 
perbly. In her love duet with Hernani — that duet which 
vaguely reminds one of the duet between Juliet and Romeo,- — • 
her voice rendered admirably the music of the verse, and 
thrilled to its emotions. When Ruy Gomez, having first 
sounded his fatal horn, came to claim Hernani's life, she 
sprang up with an energy v.hich was new even to her admir- 
ers, like a tiger in defence of her whelps. — And we too have 
seen that act not inadequately performed. We too have 
heard a silvery voice descanting sweetest love-music with 
Hernani ; have watched the dawning horror on the face as the 
meaning of Ruy Gomez' visit became apparent ; have seen 
the frail shape dilate in fierce defiance, and then sink down 
in passionate appeal for mercy ; have noted how, amid the 
gathering darkness of death, love still flickered on in look 
and speech. So does Sarah Bernhardt act the part of Dona 
Sol ; and to those who have seen the play thus acted it will 
scarcely seem strange that the first performance of " Her- 
nani " came to a successful close. 



60 LIFE OF 

But how about the second performance, when the appeal 
would be to the general public, not the cultured few? The 
first performance had been like Lign}^ or Quatre Bras be- 
fore Waterloo. The great battle had still to be fought. 
And fiercely did it rage. Verse after verse, as the play went 
on, was assailed with Homeric laughter. Victor Hugo's 
friends replied with volley on volley of applause. And so 
again the toilsome evening wore through. Nor was this yet 
in any wise the end. After the third performance, the author 
had only one hundixd tickets at his disposal ; and the enemy 
were more eager than ever in the attack. 

" Then indeed," snys Jladanie Hiijro, " did tlic re.il struggle begin. 
Each performance became an indescribable tumult. The boxes sneered 
and tittered; the stalls whistled; it became a fashionable pastime to go 
'and laugh at " Hernani." ' Every one protested after his own manner, 
and according to his individual nature. Some, as not being alile to bear 
to look at such a piece, turned their backs to the performers; others 
declared aloud that tlicy could stand it no longer, and went out in the 
middle of the acts, and banged the doors of their boxes as they went. 
The more peaceable .... ostentatiously spread out and read their 
newspapers." 

For five and forty nights did the actors and Victor Hugo's 
volunteers stand in the breach and carry ])crformance after 
performance to the end ; and it was not till June 18, 1830, 
when 3Idlle. ^lars required a holiday, that the piece was with- 
di'awn. 

Thus was fought and won the great battle, or ratlier cam- 
paign, of " Hernani." Romantic drama had made good its 
position on the French stage. 

And shall we throw up our caps at the victory, and cry 
huzza with the "hirsute generation"^ of 1830.'' Yes and 
no, I think. Dante, as it has ;ihvays seemed to me, and I say 
it reverently", strikes a false note when he tells how — 

" Ciniabuc lliought 
To lord it over painting's field, but hark! 
The cry's Giotto's, and his name eclipsed;" 

1 M. Zola's e.\pression, " la race chcvelua." 



VICTOR HUGO 61 

for the sucx'css of an artist in no sense detracts from the mer- 
its of his predecessors. And so, though quite prepared to 
admit that the French stage stood in need of a revival at 
the beginning of this century, and that the classical drama 
was senile and d^'ing, jet am I not prepared to say that the 
French classical drama, in its first vigour and freshness, was 
anything but a superb product. Of course we must judge 
it by standards different from those which we are in the habit 
of applying. Taking Shakespeare as our great exemplar, 
what we look for, what delights us, in tiie higher drama, is 
an infinite play of life, a large variety of character, the &«- 
dence, in conception and language, of unrestrained power — 
power braving all danger, heedless of difficulty, and gi'andly 
daring if, by any means, it can enlarge the scope of art. 
The ideals of the French dramatists of the great period, Ra- 
cine, Corneille, jNIoliere, were quite other. What they aimed 
at was rather to circumscribe than to enlarge, rather to se- 
lect, simplify, and concentrate than to hold the mirroi up 
to nature, and show life in all its complexity. Shakespeare, 
having to paint a lover and jealous husband in Othello, 
gives to the love and jealousy, all important as they are, 
only a relative influence in the man's portrait. Othello - - the 
soldier so essentially a soldier that he regards even the peace- 
ful time of his courtship as " wasted," — has a being and 
personality apart from his relations v.ith Dcsdemona. Ra- 
cine would have treated the story quite differently. His 
Othello would have been a lover, and jealous — and have been 
nothing else. Our whole attention would have been concen- 
trated on that one point. The poet would have held him- 
self false to his art if he had endeavoured to amuse us with 
matters which he, justly or unjustly, regarded as of second- 
ary interest. Not love and jealousy under certain pai-ticular 
circumstances, and in a given individual of warlike habits 
and dark complexion, — but love and jealousy apart from all 
such adjuncts, and in their most concentrated form — such, 
according to his conception, would have been the proper mat- 
ter of a drama. A false conception, the English reader i$ ' 



62 LIFE OF 

at once tempted to exclaim. And yet I don't know. It 
seems to me at least a perfectly admissible conception. 
Granting at once, and of course, that Shakespeare's art is 
unapproachable, yet it does not follow that there is no room 
in the world for art of another kind. And if we once allow 
this, then can we certainly not withhold our meed of admira- 
tion from those whose art of that other kind was perfect. 
Nay, as regards Shakespeare himself, is the advantage in 
artistic method so invariably on his side? Does he always 
profit by giving full rein to the power that is in him? Take 
Tinion of Athens and compare him with Alceste, the misan- 
thrope 01 Moliere. Timon, in his hatred for his fellows, al- 
most cast'j away his humanity, and lowers himself to the level 
tiL one of Swift's yahoos. Alceste, so far from dropping 
his humanity, remains a gentleman. Here we have, on the 
one side, unbridled power, and, on the other, measure, re- 
straint, reasonableness, tact. The art in which these qual- 
ities attained their highest ideal, as they did in the work of 
the French poets of the seventeenth century, is, of its own 
kind, great art. 

However, though the subject is alluring, I must not be 
tempted to dwell on the beauties of Racine, Corneille, IMoliere, 
and of Lafontaine whose verse is as the very daintiest gold- 
smith's work in human language. My inunediate purpose 
v.ill be sufficiently answered if I have made it clear that the 
Classical party had something to say for itself when oppos- 
ing '• Hernani." 

That play was first produced on the 25th of February, 
1830. It was followed on the 11th of August, 1831, by 
" Marion de Lorme," which had been previously prohibited 
')y the Government of Charles X. Tliis was followed in 
turn, on the 22nd of November, 1832, by " Le Roi s'anuise," 
Tvhich seems to have been made the occasion of a political 
manifesto, and was prohibited by the Government of Louis 
Philippe. Then came '' Lucrece Borgia," in the beginning 
of 1833; "Marie Tudor," on the 6th of November in the 
sam. year ; '' Angelo Tyran de Padoue," on the 28th of 



VICTOR HUGO 63 

April, 1835; "Ruy Bias," on the 8th of November, 1838; 
and, finally, " Les Burgraves," on the 8th of March, 1813. 
The last-named failed to secure such success as to tempt Vic- 
tor Hugo to work any more for the stage. It was only per- 
formed some thirty times, and met with great opposition. 

And of the play-j which Victor Hugo thus composed in 
view of the footlights, what shall we say.? Clearly in com- 
posing them he was animated by the very highest literary 
ambition. It is difficult to read the " Preface dc Cromwell," 
and the prefaces to each of the plays, without coming to the 
conclusion that he had braced himself to no less a task than 
taking the drama where Shakespeare left it, and can-ying it 
to greater heights of historical accuracy and social and phil- 
osophic truth. A magnificent ideal without doubt ; and to 
the honour due to those who fail in the greatest attempts, he 
is unquestionably entitled. For failure to reach such high 
altitude, there obviously is. Of Victor Hugo's social philoso- 
phy I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. Suffice it to 
say here that one can scarcely think without a smile of the 
light in which it would have appeared to Shakespeare's pre- 
eminently large and equitable spirit. Nor can the historical 
pretensions be taken very seriously. This is a point on which 
Victor Hugo seems clearly to have been in the habit of de- 
ceiving himself. In his view, it was part of his mission as a 
playwright to " explain history ;" and in a note to " Marie 
Tudor " he says : 

" So that the reader may be in a position, once for all, to appre- 
ciate the more or less of historical certainty contained in tlie author's 
works, as also the quantity and quality of historical research under- 
taken by him in view of each of his dramas, he thinks it his duty to 
print here, as a specimen, the list of the books and documents con- 
sulted in writing ' Marie Tudor.' He could publish a shnilar catalogue 
as regards each of his other pieces." 

The list thus announced with some little pomp is only 
calculated to inspire a moderate amount of confidence. It 
contains more than one obvious misnomer, and opens with a 
history of Henry VII. by " Franc Baronum," who cannot 



64 LIFE OF 

well be any other than our old acquaintance Francis Bacon. 
But, to let such trifles pass, what is of infinitely gi-eater im- 
})ortance, tlie chariicter of Queen Mary, as presented in the 
drama, is quite unhistorical and false. Poor Bloody jNIary, 
wc know her story very well. It has been told for us, with 
even more than his customary picturesqueness and skill, by 
]\Ir. Froude. It has been dramatised for us by Lord Tenny- 
son. 

"Mother of God, 

Thou knowest never woman meant so well. 

And fared so ill in thi . dis /itrous world. 

M}' i>eople hate me r.nd desiiv my death. 

. . . . My '.lard fa'lier hat :"d me; 

My brother rather hated me than loved; 

My sister cowers and h-tec me. . . . 

My husband hates me and desires my death." 

Poor virtuous Mary, with the bigot-creed and the narrow in- 
tellect, who worked such ruin even to the cause she loved, 
who having the lion spirit of her race, yet did such packal's 
work, — and all the time hungered so In her woman's heart 
for the child that never came and the love that never was 
hers — surely there is scarce a more pathetic Igin'c in history. 
The ]\Iary of Victor Hugo is tlie paramour of I know not 
what Italian adventurer, and prepared at any moment to cry 
her shame to the whole court, to her future luisbnnd's am- 
bassador, to anybody who will listen. No one, however great 
he may be, has a right to play such fantastic tricks with a 
real character — still less to call the bespattering, history. 

But if Victor Hugo has failed to improve on Shakespeare's 
social philosophy or history, has he at least equalled him in 
j)eopling the stage with living, acting, feeling, thinking men 
and women - — human creatures of intensest vitality, but 
whose characters will yet bear the most minute dissection? 
No, no, the later poet, great as he is, has not done this. I 
am far from agreeing witli those critics, as M. Zola for in- 
stance, who hold that all liis dramtis persona are mere marion- 
ettes, tricked out in doublet and trunk-hose, ruff and farth- 
ingale, all the frippery of any particular time, and with 



VICTOR HUGO 65 

wood, TTiro, and bran wliere flesh, ncn^es, and blood should be. 
But if this is malevolent exaggeration, yet is it unfortunately 
true that in man}- of his characters, and those often the most 
important, a certain mechanical something is too obvious. 
Explaining the genesis of Triboulet, in " Le Roi s'amuse," 
and Lucvece Borgia, in the pla}' of the same name, the author 
tells us — 

" Take the most hideous, repulsive, complete physical deformity; 
place it where it will be most stril^ing — at the lowest, meanest, most 
despised stage of the social edifice; light up that miseraljle creature 
from all sides with the sinister light of contrast; and then throw 
into him a soul, and put ir.to that soul the purest feeling given to 
man, the feeling of fatherhood. What will happen? Why tliat si'i- 
lime feeling, heated according to certain conditions, will transform 
before your eyes the degraded creature; the being that was small 
will become great; the being that was deformed will become beau- 
tiful. In its essence this is ' Le Roi s'amuse.' Well, and it is also 
' I.ucr^ce Borgia.' Take the most hideous, repulsive, complete moral 
deformity; place it where it will be most striking, in a woman's heart, 
with all such adjuncts of physical beauty and royal grandeur as may 
give prominence to crime; and now mingle with all this deformity a 
pure feeling, the ]nirest feeling that a woman can experience, the feeling 
of motherhood; in your monster place a mother's heart; and the monster 
will become interesting; and the monster will make you weep; and 
that creature that inspired only terror, will excite pity, and that de- 
formed soul will become almost beautiful i.i your eyes. Thus father- 
hood sanctifying physical deformity — that i; what we have in ' Le 
Roi s'amuse;' motherhood sanctifying moral deformity — that is what 
we have in ' Lucrfece Borgia.' " 

To me, I confess, in all this there is something mechan- 
ical and forced. Human characters are not compact of such 
tremendous contrasts. Certainly a monster like Triboulet —  
for in moral repulsiveness he is pretty nearly the fellow of 
Lucrece — may love his offspring. Love is a flower that will 
will grow almost anywhere. But it is scarcely a flower that 
will give out its fullest, purest perfume when growing out 
of so polluted a soil. And the attempt to excite interest by 
dwelling on the diff^erence between soil and product can only 
lead to exaggeration and falsehood. Or take again the char- 
acter of Marion de Lorme. IMarion de Lorme is a noted 

courtesan. Her life is a bvword. Scarce a noble about the 
6 



66 LIFE OF 

Court but can boast of her favours. Yet she becomes again 
all dainty-pure, as in her maidenhood, through her love for 
Didier. In other words, she abandons the world of realities, 
and becomes an antithesis. 

Nor is it possible to place such lover-heroes as Hernani, 
Didier, and Ruy Bias beside Shakespeare's real men. They 
belong, all three of them, to a distinctly obsolete Byronic 
type, and talk too gloomily and too much of the fates, and 
destiny, and evil stars, and such other moody and uncom- 
fortable matters. As to Ruy Bias, I go even further, and 
express disbelief in him altogether. What ! here is a poet 
of line intellect and noblest sentiments, though wearing, for 
the sake of contrast, a lackey's coat ; he is in love with the 
queen ; h<? is left behind at Court by his master, for wicked 
purposes, in a position of power, and displays in that position 
the highest qualities of a statesman and a patriot : and yet, 
when his master conies back — a step which even imbecility 
might have anticipated — and declares an Intention of dis- 
honouring the queen, he, the poet and man of action, can 
find nothing better to do than whine like a whipped cur — no 
more effective way of defending 1 's love than praying in 
churches and wandering about the streets ! Bah ! any man 
with a spark of manhood — having such advantages on his 
side too — would have made short work of Don Salluste de 
Bazan. Ruy Bias does not hold together as a man, a poet, 
a statesman, or a lackey. The best criticism on his charac- 
ter and conduct remains that of the spectators in the gallery 
when the play was first produced. They, we are told, used 
to cry out in their jargon, as he stooped down to pick up 
his master's handkerchief, " Don't pick it up, you fool ; have 
him run in." 

A second Shakespeare? Hardly. Superb as are Victor 
Hugo's gifts, he is unable to sustain that comparison. But 
still, without being a Shakespeare, it is possible to be a ver^' 
powerful dramatist; and Victor Hugo's plays • possess merits 
of the highest kind. Of course, in judging them, we must 
always bear in mind that they were written directly in view of 



VICTOR HUGO 67 

the stage. They arc not, like Mr. Browning's dramas, for 
example, literature and literature alone. They are intended, 
and rightly, to show life according to theatrical conditions 
and as seen through an atmosphere of stage illusion. And 
when so regarded their strong points are not to be gainsaid. 
Each is constructed on lines so large and easily intelligible 
as not to disconcert the average spectator. The introduction 
is in every case deftly managed: we are placed at once, 
without long and tedious explanations, in the centre of the 
subject. The plot is skilfully combined for the purpose of 
exciting curiosity and retaining interest. If the incidents 
are too often those of a melodrama, and are caused rather 
by what may be called accident than development of char- 
acter, yet no one can deny their stage effectiveness, and the 
opportunities they afford to the actor. Dorta Sol (in 
" Hernani " ) , IMarion de Lorme, the Queen ( in " Ruy 
Bias"), have each the most excellent parts. So has Tribou- 
let, whatever we may think, on reflection, of his truth to na- 
ture. No one who has seen M. Coquclin as Don Cesar, that 
roystering, brave, blackguard cavalier, can have any doubt 
of the author's power to produce a strongly vitalised char- 
acter, at least for the stage. And to these gifts we must 
add a singular power in the management of dialogue. This, 
however, is praise which must be mainly restricted to the 
dramas in verse. For, by a singular phenomenon, the per- 
sonages in Victor Hugo's stage-world speak far less naturally 
and forcibly when speaking in prose than when speaking to 
the cadence of metre. The difficulties of rhyme seem to 
nerve the dramatist to greater efforts, just as a minor poet 
will often succeed better in a sonnet than a simple ballad. 
So here the dialogue when in verse is almost invariably natu- 
ral, alert, incisive, quick in thrust and parry as a rapier, now 
flashing with the brightest gems of imagination, now trem- 
bling with passion or sorrow. 

Yet there a:c critics ready enough to tell us that, even 
from the stage point of view, Victor Hugo's " theatre " 
" threatens ruin," nay, that it lies in ruins already. Such 



68 LIFE OF 

critics hold that his art has permanently lost its power to 
charm and electrify an audience, and can never again possess 
more than an interest of literary curiosity. But tliis surely 
is altogether an exaggeration. I am prepared to give over 
to the tormentors the plays in prose, " Angelo," " Marie 
Tudor," and " Lucrece Borgia " ; for ^'ictor Hugo, when 
writing these dramas in prose, hecanie as one who throws away 
his arms in the hour of battle, and courts defeat. I am 
ready to allow that " Les Burgraves," notwithstanding the 
great power of the verse, is constructed on lines too large 
and epic for the modern stage, — that Barbarossa waking 
white-haired at his country's need from his inunemorial slum- 
ber, and the other old Rhineland demigods, with their ha- 
treds that endure threescore years and ten, are fitter for the 
twilight of imagination than the comparative reality of the 
theatre. Even stage illusion cannot raise mere flesh and 
blood to such heroic proportions. But " Hernani," and 
"Marion de Lorme " and " Ruy Blas".^ Time has told on 
them no doubt. Fashions change in fifty years. Yet to the 
criticism that holds them to be moribund or dead, one may 
fitly answer that there is in each a soul of poetry that will 
for ever keep it alive. Grant that in certain respects they 
are rather melodramas than dramas, yd are they melodra- 
mas set to incomparable verse. ^lusic will make them im- 
mortal, a kind of superb verbal orchestration that for variety 
and power, for " sonoritj' " and brilliance of effect, has no 
equal in French dramatic verse. Even if they had no other 
excellences, they would live, — as an opera ma}- live though 
the libretto is naught. Never, I think, will the time come 
when such stage music will altogether fail of its appeal. 

Was the " name " of " Cimabue " so entirely " eclipsed " 
when Giotto ai'ose over the horizon? Did Racine and classic 
tragedy entirely suffer defeat in the great battle of 
"Hernani".? Between 1830 and 1838, "Hernani," " Ma-.- 
rion de Lornic," " Le Roi s'amuse," " Lucrece Bogia," " Ma- 
rie Tudor," "Angelo," and "Ruy Bias" strutted bravely 
on the boards. But in those same years there was " a cer- 



VICTOR HUGO 69 

tain sorry little scrub," wlio " went up and down " Paris, 
" none " much " caring how ;" and that " little scrub " — a 
lean slip of a girl, with intense dark Jew eyes, who bore the 
name of Rachel, — proved to have power enough, when once 
her genius had declared itself, to stem the onset of Romanti- 
cism, and in her turn to take the world by storm with the old 
classic drama. Not as Doiia Sol, Marion de Lorme, nor the 
Queen of Spain, did the incomparable actress ' achieve her 
triumphs. Fine as these parts are, she felt that in such char- 
acters as Racine's Phedre there is a deeper, more poignant 
life ; that through all changes of dramatic form the heart- 
strings of humanity are more passionately a-quiver in tiie 
older plaj's. And so once again Racine's beautiful old word- 
music, which is, as one may say, so purely of the strings, pre- 
vailed on the French stage. 

But Victor Hugo's moi-e varied orchestra of words and ef- 
fects has in turn had its revivals, and that three at least of 
his plays will live, and live for the stage, I make no question. 



CHAPTER VI 



* 'T 7"ICT0R in drama " with " Hernani," Victor in poetry 
V with " Les Orientales," it remains for us now to 
consider Hugo as " Victor in romance " ' with Notre Dame 
de Paris." But in order to do this, I must retrace my steps 
somewhat. His last play, " Les Burgraves," was produced 
in 1843 ; and to take up the thread of the novels it is nec- 
essary to go back some twenty years, to 1823 when " Han 
d'Islande " was first published. 

Of that book I have already spoken ; nor is it necessary 
to say more about it liere. It is in every sense a juvenile 

1 Victor Hugo, characteristically, thought little of Rachel. 

2 See first line of Lord Tennyson's Sonnet to Victor Hugo: 

" Victor in drama, Victor in romance." 



70 LIFE OF 

production, and only interesting as the start-point of a great 
career. Three years afterwards, in January, 1826, ap- 
peared " Bug Jargah" That short novel had indeed seen 
the light already in an earlier, simpler, and shorter form. It 
had been first written, according to tlie preface of 18;}2, in 
1818, when the author was sixteen years old — written for 
a wager in fifteen days, and published in the Con.servateur 
Littcraire. But in 1826 it reappeared in its present shape, 
greatly altered, and, in fact, rewritten. It must therefore be 
regarded as the author's first step, or rather stride forward 
in novel-writing, after " Han d'Islande." 

" Bug Jargal " is a story of the rising of the slaves in St. 
Domingo. The author supposes that in 1793, or thereabouts, 
a number of French officers determine to relate their ad- 
ventures for the purpose of beguiling the tedium of the 
long evenings by the camp fire. When Captain Leopold 
d'Auverney's turn comes round, he first declares that there 
has been nothing in his career worthy of fixing their atten- 
tion. But then being pressed, he tells his tale. Though 
not born in St. Domingo he had been brought up there, and 
was living with his uncle, and betrothed to ]\Iarie his beau- 
tiful cousin. One of the slaves, a negro prince in his native 
Africa, also entertains for Marie a passionate attachment. 
This slave, Bug Jargal by name, is as generous as he is 
brave, fulfilled with every noble sentiment, a hero of romance. 
Jealousy against his white rival finds no lasting home in his 
breast. He tramples it under foot, and swears eternal friend- 
ship and brotherhood. On the very night of D'Auverney's 
marriage the insurrection breaks out. IVIurder, incendiarism, 
outrage, stalk through the island. The bride and bride- 
groom have been separated by an untoward chance. Bug 
Jargal saves the former, and, afterwards, when D'Auverney 
is taken prisoner, and is about to be tortured to death, saves 
him too. He himself is shot by a lamentable accident. As 
to Marie she soon dies ; and D'Auverney also, shortly after- 
wards, finds an end to his sorrows, for within a few days of 
the telling of his talc, he falls on the field of battle. 



VICTOR HUGO 71 

Such, very shortly stated, is the story of Bug Jargal ; and 
it is told with unmistakable power and interest. That the 
hero's character is altogether life-lilcc I will not affirm. Ne- 
groes, or even white men, of his stamp arc rare. But in the 
world of art there is room for more than the prose of our 
cvery-day experience ; and though Carlyle would certainly 
have objected to recognise the possibility of " the hero as 
nigger," we need scarcely be so exclusive. Decidedly the 
culminating point of the story is the description of the strug- 
gle between D'Auverney and a hideous, powerful hunchback, 
Habibrah, on the brink of a yawning gulf in a cavern. The 
prentice hand that wrought that scene was rapidly becoming 
the master hand that would produce the scene in which Claude 
Frollo falls from the topmost tower of Notre Dame. 

Victor Hugo's next venture in fiction was " Le Dernier 
Jour d'un Condamne," the " last day of a man condemned 
to death." This book appeared anonymouslj- ^ in February, 
1829, just three years after " Bug Jargal," and a month, it 
may be remembered, after the " Orientales." It appeared 
therefore when the author was in the plenitude of his powers ; 
and a remarkable harrowing book it distinctly is. A stoi-y.'' 
No, not exactly a story. Rather a psycliological study, an 
endeavour to sound, with the plummet of imagination, the 
dark places in the soul of a man who has forfeited his life 
to human justice, and is about to be launched into eternity. 
The book is autobiographical in form, and the supposed 
writer describes the ghostly march of his own emotions 
through the horror of great darkness by which he is sur- 
rounded. He is evidently an educated man, a man not at 
all vitiated by a career of crime, but blameless except in re- 
spect of the one act that has brought him to this extremity. 
His kindlier better feelings are unimpaired. He thinks of 
his mother, his wife, his child — " a little girl of three years 
old, gentle, rosy, frail, with large black eyes and long au- 
burn locks." The shame that will splash up to them from 

1 In the third edition, however, also dated 1899, and now before me, 
Victor Hugo's name is given on the title-page. 



72 LIFE OF 

liis spilt life tortures him. In the midst of the ghastly night- 
mare of his waking and sleeping existence come visions of his 
childhood - — of a garden — (Ah ! poet, was not that a remi- 
niscence of the Feuillantines and thine own child-love?) — 
in which he was wont to play with a little dark-eyed Spanish 
girl, till one day, as they read a book together, hke Paolo 
and Francesca in the " Inferno," their lips met, and " On 
that da}' they read no more therein." Then he tries to look 
death in the face, but it daunts him. Anon he rages like some 
trapped animal ; and so he passes to his hideous end. 

Victor Hugo describes the man's torture well. The writer 
who afterwards pictured so vividly the storm of guilty love 
that raged in the heart of Claude Frollo the priest, and the 
fierce battle of rectitude against self-preservation in the brain 
of Jean A'aljean, was not likely to fail when dealing with 
such a theme. Nor does it at all impair the artistic merit 
of the book, viewed as a psychological story, that the evil 
deed by which the condemned man has brought himself within 
the clutches of the law should be kept so entirely out of 
sight. Accepting the author's first description of his work 
as that of a. " dreamer," a " philosopher," a " poet," bent on 
" observing nature for the benefit of art," then have we com- 
paratively little concern with the specific murder committed. 
Our interest is properly concentrated on the criminal, not the 
victim. 

Directly, however, the author changes his front, as he did 
after the issue of the first few editions, and asks us to regard 
his book mainly as a serious argument in favour of the 
abolition of capital punishment, then one has a right to ask 
what crime had this amiable murderer committed. Doubtless 
it was a hard thing that he should be made to walk through 
the valley of the shadow of death prematurely, and in this 
particularly horrible manner. Yet, after all, the act for 
which he suffered was his own. But his victim, how had he 
deserved death? The light of the sun was as pleasant to 
him as to his murderer. Life smiled with equal kindliness 
on both. If it were repugnant to the one to be executed. 



VICTOR HUGO 73 

it must have been far from agreeable to the other to be 
poisoned, throttled, or shot. Aud he had no choice in the 
matter. He was but a passive agent; while the poor crim- 
inal, with whose pains we are called upon to sympathise, 
might have kept his life out of jeopardy by simply observ- 
ing the most ordinary rules of moral conduct. Surely the 
sufferings of the murderer constitute in this matter no argu- 
ment at all. To dwell upon them eloquently, passionately, 
and to keep the sufferings of the victim out of sight, is to 
appeal to emotion and prejudice, not reason. Viewed as a 
pamphlet in favour of the abolition of capital punishment, 
the " Dernier Jour " is singularly inconclusive. 

Unfortunately a similar weakness runs through nearly all 
Victor Hugo's polemics on the question. It was Alphonse 
Karr, if I remember right, who wittily observed that he saw 
no objection to the abolition of capital punishment, but 
thought " IMcssieurs the assassins " ought first to show the 
way. Victor Hugo saw no necessity for that jDreliminary 
step on the assassins' part. Of course it was wrong to com- 
mit murder, very wrong ; but the wrong was not of such a 
nature as to make the murderer liable to forfeit his own life 
in return. No wrong could be heinous enough for that. 
Judging on a jJrtori grounds, he held strongly that society 
does not possess the right, even in self-defence, to cut short 
the existence of any of its members. Into the question 
whether that particular form of punishment was best calcu- 
lated to act as a preventive for that particular class of crime, 
he seldom entered. 

Nor can it be denied that something morbid mingled at 
last with Victor Hugo's genuine s^^mpathy for any man con- 
demned to death. In October, 1853, a murder was com- 
mitted in Guernsej'. The murderer, a sort of Government 
clerk called Tapner, belonged essentially to the class of hu- 
man vermin. He was drunken ; he was debauched. He lived 
with two sisters, of whom one was his wife, and the other 
his mistress. He had committed his crime with premedita- 
tion, and under circumstances of peculiar atrocity, first kill- 



74 LIFE OF 

ing and robbing his victim — a woman — and then setting 
fire to her house to obliterate all traces of his deed. He was 
more than suspected of having done the same thing before. 
Of his guilt there could be no manner of question ; and the 
law sentenced him to its extreme penalty'. Whereupon Vic- 
tor Hugo moved heaven and earth to save the man ; and from 
his point of view was, of course, quite justified in so doing. 
But when the law had taken its course, and no mark of 
interest or sympathj- could be of further practical avail, he 
made a kind of pilgrimage to the scenes — hallowed, I was 
going to say, by Tapner's presence. He visited the dead 
man's cell, followed his course to the place of execution, mor- 
alised on the view to be seen from the spot, hunted up and 
examined the gibbet in an out-house where it had been de- 
posited, purchased for three francs a posthumous cast of 
the deceased's head, and finally discovered the place of inter- 
ment, and gathered a bunch of grass from the grave. After 
this, I think Victor Hugo is a little hard upon the inhabitants 
of Guernsey for their eagerness to possess small pieces of the 
rope as relics. 

But if the description of this pilgrimage, in the author's 
" Choses Vues," rings a little false, it would be unjust not to 
recognise that the passionate zeal with which he strove to 
give effect to his convictions respecting the abolition of cap- 
ital punishment were worthy of all praise. The cause was 
dear to his heart, and to the hearts of his sons. One of the 
latter suffered imprisonment for it in 1851. He himself gave 
it time and energy without stint — was instant in its advo- 
cacy, in season and out of season. Never did he omit an 
opportunity of urging with tongue and pen that the existing 
laws should be changed ; — never did he forbear to plead for 
the life of any one condemned to death whose case came under 
his notice. From John Brown, the martyr of negro eman- 
cipation, down to wretches like Tapner, the large mantle of 
his clemency would have been thrown over all without distinc- 
tion. And that his zeal to save even the most criminal life 
came of a strong humanity, there can be no doubt. 



VICTOR HUGO 75 

But all this has led us a little away from the series of 
his earlier novels — which is our immediate subject. The 
"Dernier Jour" was published in 1829. In February to 
June, 1830, came the battle of " Hernani." In July, 1830, 
the monarchy of the elder branch of the Bourbons passed 
away, and Louis Philippe was made King of the French. 
And in the autumn and winter of the same year, A'ictor Hugo 
was hard at work on a novel of greater sc;ile than he had 
yet attempted. He had, some little time before, incautiously 
entered into an engagement with a publisher to write the 
book by a given time. That time had passed. Something 
had angered the publisher. Law proceedings were threat- 
ened. Haste was imperative. The poet, as ]Madame Hugo 
tells us, " purchased a bottle of ink, and a great grey knitted 
woollen wrapper that covered him from his neck to his toes; 
locked up all his clothing so that he might have no tempta- 
tion to go out; and entered into his novel as if it had been 
a prison. . . . Thenceforward he never left his desk 
save to eat and sleep. His only relaxation was an hour's 
after-dinner chat with a few friends, to whom he sometimes 
read the pages written during the day." " He had been," 
Madame Hugo adds, " very melancholy " when his incarcera- 
tion began. But " with the first few chapters, his melan- 
choly departed ; his creation seized hold of him ; he felt neither 
weariness nor the winter's cold; in December he worked with 
his windows open." And well might an inner fire of enthu- 
siasm give heat to that almost monastic seclusion of five 
months' duration. The poet-novelist was at work upon a 
masterpiece. On the 13th of February, 1831, appeared 
" Notre Dame de Paris." 

A great book, a magnificent book most unquestionably, a 
book before which the critic may fitly throw down all his small 
artillery of carpings and quibblings, and stand disarmed and 
reverent. That Victor Hugo had realised his ambition of 
crowning with poetry the prose of Sir Walter Scott, I shall 
not affirm. But then it scarcely seems as if any such crown- 
ing were needed, or possible ; for the good Sir Walter's faults 



76 LIFE OF 

lay neither in Lick of imagination, nor lack of fervour, nor 
an absence of elevation of tone, nor, in short, in a deficiency 
of aught that goes to the making of poetry. " Quentin 
Durward " deals with the same period as " Notre Dame de 
Paris," and if one places the two books side by side in one's 
thoughts, such differences as there are will hardly seem to 
be differences in degree of poetical inspiration. Our own 
great novelist's work is fresher, healthier perhaps, more of the 
open air. A spirit of hopefulness and j'outh and high cour- 
age seems to circulate through his pages — a sort of per- 
vading trust that the good things of this world come to those 
who deserve them, that merit has its prizes, and unworthiness 
its punishments. There is blood enough and to spare in the 
book, and a good deal of hanging and much villainy. But 
our feelings are not greatly liarrowed thereby. We need not 
weep unless so minded. If a good tall fellow is lopped down 
here and there, — like the worthy Gascon whom Dunois strikes 
through the unvisored face — the tragedy comes before we 
have known the man long enough to grow greatly interested 
in him. We are only affected as by the death of a very 
casual acquaintance.* And such sufferers as the Wild Boar 
of the Ardennes deser\'e their fate too thoroughly to cause 
us the most passing pang. So does Scott, in his genial kind- 
liness, temper for us the horrors of the IVIiddle Ages. He 
docs not blink them, as JM. Taine erroneously seems to hold. 
He presents them, with consunnnate art, so that they shall not 
cause unnecessary pain. Victor Hugo, in " Notre Dame," 
was animated by a quite other spirit. After the manner of 
his nation — for French fiction tolerates an amount of un- 
merited misery to which the English reader would never sub- 
mit — he looks upon life far more gloomily. Claude Frolic 
may perhaps deserve even the appalling agony of those eternal 
moments during which he hangs suspended from the leaden 
gutter at the top of the tower of Notre Dame, and has a 
hideous foretaste of his imminent death. Quasimodo is at 

1 The murder of the Bishop of Liege is, I atliuit, an exception. 



VICTOR HUCxO 77 

best but an animal with a turn for bell-ringing, and, apart 
from his deformity and deafness, not entitled to much sym- 
pathy. But Esmeralda, poor Esmeralda, who through the 
deep mire of her surroundings has kept a soul so maidenly 
and pure, who is full of tender pity for all suffering, and 
possesses a heart that beats with such true woman's love — 
what had she done that Victor Hugo should bestow the treas- 
ure of that love upon the worthless archer-coxcomb, Phcebus 
de Chateaupers, that he should make her frail harmless pretty 
life, a life of torture, and cause her to die literally in the 
hangman's grasp? Was it worth while that Esmeralda's 
mother, Paquerctte la Chantefleurie, should find her child 
again, after long years of anguish, only to relinquish her, 
after one brief moment of rapture, for that terrible end? 
Quentin's courage and practical sagacity are crowned with 
success : he saves the woman he loves. But by what irony of 
fate does it happen that Quasimodo's heroic efforts to defend 
Esmeralda have for only result to injure those who are trying 
to save her, and the hastening of her doom? 

Gloom, gloom, a hoiTor of darkness and evil deeds, of hu- 
man ineptitude and wrong, such is the background of " Notre 
Dame." If Scott gives us a poetry of sunshine and high em- 
prise, Victor Hugo gives us, and here with a more than equal 
puissance, the poetry of cloud-wrack and ungovernable pas- 
sion. There is no piece of character-painting in " Quentin 
Durward " that, for tragic lurid power and insight, can be 
placed beside the portrait of Claude Frollo.' Lucid and an- 
imated as are such scenes as the sacking of the bishop's pal- 
ace, and the attack on Liege, they are not executed with such 
striking effects of light and shade as the companion scene 
in " Notre Dame," the attack of the beggars on the cathe- 
dral. Scott's landscape is bright, pleasant, the reflection of 
a world seen by a healthy imagination and clear in the sun- 
light of a particularly sane nature. Victor Hugo's world 
in " Notre Dame " is as a world seen in fever-vision, or sud- 

1 Brian de Bois Guilbert is the corresponding character in Scott, — a 
character equally passionate, but not, I tliink, analysed so powerfully. 



78 LIFE OF 

denly illumined by great flashes of lightning. The mediaeval 
city is before us in all its picturesque huddle of irregular 
buildings. We are in it; we see it: the narrow streets with 
their glooms and gleams, their Rembrandt effects of shadow 
and light ; the quaint overhanging houses each of which 
seems to have a face of its own ; the churches and convents 
flinging up to the sky their towers and spires ; and high above 
all, the city's very soul, the majestic cathedral. And what 
a niotlcj' medley of human creatures throng the place ! Here 
is the great guild of beggar-thieves even more tatterdemalion 
and shamelessly grotesque than when Callot painted them for 
us two centuries later. Here is Gringoire, the out-at-elbows 
unsuccessful rhymer of the time. Anon Esmeralda passes 
accompanied by her goat. She Lu's down her little mat, 
and dances lightly, gracefully to her tambourine. Sec how 
the gossips whisper of witchcraft as the goat })lavs its pretty 
tricks. And who is that grave priest, lean from the long 
vigils of study, who stands watching the girl's every mo- 
tion with an eye of .sombre flame.'' Close behind, in attend- 
ance on the priest, is a figure, scarcely human, deformed, 
hideous, havnig but one Cyclops cj'e — also fastened on the 
girl. x\mong the bystanders may be seen the priest's brother, 
Jehan, the Paris student of the town-sparrow type that has 
existed from the days of Villon even until now. Before the 
dancer has collected her spare harvest of small coins, a sol- 
dier troop rides roughly by, hustling the crowd, and in the 
captain the poor child recognises the man who has saved her 
from violence some days before — the man to whom, alas, she 
has given her heart. In such a group as this what elements 
of tragedy lie lurking and ready to out-leap.'' That priest 
in his guilty passion will foreswear his priestly vows, stab the 
soldier, and, failing to compass his guilty ends, give over the 
poor child-dancer to torture and death. The deformed Cy- 
clojjs, seeing the priest's fiendish laughter as they both stand 
on the top of Notre Dame tower, watching the girl's execu- 
tion, will guess that he is the cause of her doom, and hurl him 
over the parapet. And the student too will be enlaiigled in 



VICTOR HUGO 79 

the tragic chains by whicli these human creatures are bound 
togetlier. His shattered carcass will lie hanging from one of 
the sculptured ornaments on the front of the Cathedral. 

Living, living, — yes, the book is unmistakably palpitat- 
ingly' alive. It does not live, perhaps, witli the life of prose 
and every-day experience. But it lives the better life of 
imagination. The novelist, by force of genius, compels our 
acceptance of the world he has created. Esmeralda, like 
Oliver Twist, and even more tlian Oliver Twist, is an improb- 
able, almost impossible being. No one, we conceive, writing 
nowadays, with Darwinism in the air, would venture to disre- 
gard the laws of inherited tendency so far as to evoke such 
a character from the cloud-land of fancy. If he did, ]\Ir. 
Francis Galton would laugli him to scorn. The girl's motiier 
— one does not want to press heavily upon the poor creature, 
and it must therefore suffice to say that she was far from 
being a model to her sex. The father was anybody yo\i like. 
From such parentage of vice and chance what superior virtue 
was to be expected.? And, failing birth-gifts, had there been 
anything in education or surroundings to account for so 
dainty a product ? Far from it. The girl from her infancy 
had been dragged through the ditches that lie along the 
broad highway of life, and is dwelling, when we came across 
her, in one of the foulest dens of the foul old city. She is 
almost as impossible as Eugene Sue's Fleur dc Marie in the 
" Mysteries of Paris." And yet, impossible as she may be, 
we still believe in her. She is a real person in a real world. 
That Paris of gloom and gleam may never have existed in 
history exactly as Victor Hugo paints it for us. It exists 
for all time notwithstanding. And Claude Frollo exists too, 
and Jehan, and Gringoire, and Coppenole, the jolly Flemish 
burgher, and Phoebus, and the beggars, — all the personages 
of this old-world drama. I should myself as soon think of 
doubting the truth of the pitiful story told by Damoiselle 
Mahiette, of how poor Paquerette loved and lost her little 
child, as I should think of doubting that Portia did, in actuaj 
fact, visit Venice, disguised as a learned judge from Padua 



80 LIFE OF 

and, after escaping her husband's recognition, confound Shy- 
lock by her superior interpretation of the law. 

In the " Oriuntales " and " Hcrnani," Victor Hugo had 
shown himself a magnificent artist in verse. In " Notre 
Dame de Paris," he showed himself a magnificent artist in 
prose. The writing throughout is superb. Scene after 
scene is depicted with a graphic force of language, a power, 
as it were, of concentrating and flashing light, that are be- 
yond praise. Some of the word-pictures are indelibly bitten 
into the memory as when an etcher has bitten into copper with 
his acid. Henceforward there could be no question as to the 
place which the autlior of the three works just named was 
entitled to take in the world of literature. Bj'ron was dead, 
and Scott dying. Chateaubriand had ceased to be a living 
producing force. Goethe's long day of life was drawing to 
its serene close. Failing these, \'ictor Hugo stejjped into the 
first place in European literature, and that place he occupied 
till his dcath.i 

And what light did Olympian Goethe, the star that was 
setting, throw upon " Notre Dame de Paris ".'' A light not 
altogether benignant, nor, if one may venture to say so in all 
humility and reverence, altogether just. 

" Victor Hugo has a fine talent," he said in one of his conversa- 
tions with Eckerman, "but he is imbued with the disastrous romantic 
tendencies of his time. Tliis is why he is led astray, and places beside 
what is beautiful that which is most unbearable and hideous. I have 
been reading ' Notre Dame de Paris ' these last few days, and it required 
no small dose of patience to endure the torments which that perusal cost 
me. It is the most detestal)le book ever written. . . . What shall we 
think of a time that not only produces such books, but enjoys them?" 

Whereupon one sighs to think that even the gods sitting 
on Oh'mpus are in some slight sort subject to the infirmities 
of age, and lose the power of looking with an equally large 
equity upon the present and future, as well as upon the past. 

1 I am not here, of course, arguing any question as to the relative 
greatness of Byron as compared with Wordsworth or Coleridge, who 
were then still alive. Rut neitlier Wordsworth nor Coleridge had, like 
Byron, a European name. 



VICTOR HUGO 81 



CHAPTER VII 

WITH the year 1831, and the pubHcatlon of " Notre 
Dame de Paris," we have reached, as it were, a high 
tablelaiid in the career of Victor Hugo. He has achieved 
the most honourable, one may even say tlie most splendid dis- 
tinctiorr. He possesses a band of enthusiastic admirers and 
disciples. If his fame is still contested, it is with such 
clamour as in itself implies homage, for none but the very 
great excite in their opponents that kind of anger. He is 
happy in his children, Leopoldine, Charles, Franfois Victor. 
He is still young, moreover, not yet thirty, in the first full 
flower of his manhood. As we scan the portrait, somewhat 
idealized, perhaps, that Theophile Gautier has left of him at 
this tmie, we certainly see a man well dowered with life's best 
gifts. 

" What most struck one at first sight in Victor Hugo was a truly mon- 
umental brow tliat rose like a white marlile entablature over his "quietly 
earnest face. . . . The beauty and vastness of that forehead were 
in truth well-nigh su])erhuuian. It seemed to afford room for the great- 
est thoughts. Crowns of gold or laurel would fitly have found a place 
there, as on the lirow of a Caesar or a god. ... It was set in a 
frame of light, long, auburn hair. But though the hair was somewhat 
long, the poet wore neither beard, moustachios, wliiskers, nor imperial, 
the face being most carefully shaven, and of a particular kind of 
paleness, burnt through, as it were, and illumined by two eyes of bronze- 
gold, like the eyes of an eagle. The drawing of " the mouth was firm 
and decided, with lips curved and bent dov.n at tlie corners, lips that, 
when parted by a smile, displayed teeth of dazzling whiteness. His 
dress consisted of a black frock coat, grey trousers, a little turned-down 
collar,^ a ' get-up ' of alxsolute re.spectal)ility and correctness. No one 
would have suspected that this perfect gentleman could be the chief of 
those bearded and dishevelled hordes who were the terror of tlie smooth- 
chinned citizen. Such Victor Hugo appeared to us when first we met; 
and the image has never faded from our memor3^ We cherish with 
pious care that portrait of him as he was, young, handsome, smiling, 
radiant with genius, and shedding round him a sort of phosphorescence 
of glory." 

Surely the man of whom such a portrait could at all truth- 
fully be drawn ought not to have found the waters of life 
6 



82 LIFE OF 

hitter. Surely lie can have liaci no quarrel with fate. And 
3'et, by a strantre irony, the volume of poems which Victor 
Hugo published in the latter part of this same year, 1831, 
bears the sad-sounding title of " Feuilles d'Automne " (" Au- 
tumn Leaves "), and is, in its pen-ading tone, melancholy with 
the rustle of dead hopes. Yes, even at thirty, youth and so 
many of its illusion:: had flown — even to this pre-eminently 
successful man succc:;s seemed to mean so little. So he sings 
of his lorrows in delightful verse, sings of the child that 
he had once been, anc". in whose presence the man that he 
now is " almost blushes " — sings of that child's earliest 
memories, his mother's love, his boyish aspirations, his 
glimpses of the great Napoleon — sings a dirge over the 
" best time of lifj flown without hope of return." And 
mingled with all this " pathetic minor," come some few love- 
verses - — for what poet, however tearful, ever forbore for 
any long time to sound love's tremulous string? and verses 
also that seem set to the music of children's voices and 
laughter. Hei'e the poet was striking a congenial chord, 
and with a master's hand. What child-poetry will compare 
with his.'' As in the days of old, " out of the str»ng came 
forth sweetness," so from this poet of storm and battle, this 
cloud-compeller, whose words often boom and reverberate 
like thunder, so from him, when childhood was his theme, 
have come some of the gentlest, most graceful, most deli- 
cate, most tender of human words. He never seems to think 
of the little folk without a mental caress. His thought smiles 
to them. His fancy seems to make itself a child in their 
company. His sympathies are keenly wrung by their sor- 
rows. " Le livre des Meres " ^ (the " Mother's book "), 
such has been the title given to a selection from his poems 
on childhood and infancy, and no title could be more ap- 
propriate. Throughout his life, in his extreme age as in 
his earlj' manhood, he loved the little ones with almost a 
mother's heart. 

1 " Les Enfants, le livre des Mires." 



VICTOR HUGO 83 

If one comes to ask why at this particular moment in 
Victor Hugo's career, and even for some time afterwards, the 
prevaihng tone in his verse should have been a tone of sad- 
ness and disenchantment, the reply can only be given vaguely, 
and as a matter of guess work. There may have been noth- 
ing more in the feeling which here finds expression than the 
melancholy often accompanying the first approach of middle 
age. Youth's battle is over ; success has been achieved, the 
heights breasted and won ; and now, when the ardour of on- 
set has cooled, the result seems poor and unprofitable — the 
tableland of life, bleak, barren, and cold. Was it worth 
while storming the ascent for this? Could but j^outh and 
its illusions, and the old delight of battle, come back once 
more ! Such, consciously or unconsciously, may have been 
the state of Victor Hugo's mind at this period. Whether 
he had other causes of sadness, self-dissatisfaction, or what 
not, is unrevealed. On this, as on many other questions re- 
lating to his real inner life, we are much in the dark. There 
are few men wiiose inmost nature it is more difficult to reach. 
In inaccessibility, as in so many other things, he bears no 
small resemblance to a king. Even his verse, like the state 
and pageantry surrounding a monarch, seems in one sense 
rather to hide than really to reveal him. No doubt the feel- 
ings and thoughts to which it gives expression are for the 
most part genuine. The poet had had such feelings and 
thoughts. But in showing them to the world, in clothing them 
in their art dress, they necessarily underwent a transfonna- 
tion into " something rich and strange," or at any rate some- 
thing not quite the same. What was the real actual Hugo 
behind them? This it is very far from easy always to dis- 
cover. Possibly, as time goes on, the publication of his cor- 
respondence will throw light on some obscure points. Mean- 
while it must remain to some extent a problem, that the man 
who was afterwards to front with undaunted serenity, exile, 
old age, the death of those he most loved, should now, amid 
the full leafage of his June, have faltered and talked of 
autumn and its falling leaves. In the tremendous trials, 



84 LIFE OF 

public and private, of liis later life, he " bated do jot of 
heart or hope," but " still kept up and steered >:ight on- 
ward," thereby giving to mankind an example of fortitude 
and high courage. Why do the volumes of verse dated re- 
spectively 1831 and 1835 bear titles so suggestive of sad- 
ness as " Autumn Leaves," and " Songs of the Twilight " ? 

Of the succession of plan's produced in the middle period 
of Victor's Hugo's career, I have already spoken ; nor need 
I criticise th^m again here, and linger over the incidents 
attendant on their production, and the lawsuits to which 
they gave rise. The only real importance of the latter in 
the poet's career is the evidence they afforded of his power 
as an orator, for he spoke in his own defence, and spoke 
well, — whereof, as Carlyle would have said, might come 
much. 

Of his prose it is necessary to speak at greater length. 
Considering what a brilliant success he had achieved with 
" Notre Dame," one cannot but wonder, even when all ex- 
planations have been given, that he did not almost im- 
mediately turn to fiction again, instead of resolutely putting 
it to one side for thirty' long years. His first pros<>-work 
after " Notre Dame " was entitled " Litterature et Philo- 
sophic Melees" (Literature and Philosophy' Commingled"), 
and appeared in the early part of 1834. There is a pref- 
ace, of course. Victor Hugo, in the good old days, never 
sent out a book on its embassage without a herald-preface, 
dulj' attired in the cloth-of-gold and brocade of rhetoric, to 
announce its qualities and purpose. So here he explains 
why he has unearthed from the Conservateur Litteraire, 
which he does not name by-the-by, the articles that had 
slumbered there since 1819, and placed them in juxtaposi- 
tion with the jottings of 1830 and various papers of later 
date, and notably, one on IMirabeau, written in 1834* A 
conscientious desire to study the development of his own 
mind has been the detenninant cause. That was the point 
from which he started. This is the point he has reached. 
And every stage of the progress, as he declares — pw»- 



VICTOR HUGO 85 

testing therein perhaps a little too much — has been pre- 
sided over by " uprightness, honour, a real conviction, and 
disinterestedness." Of the somewhat miscellaneous contents 
of the book, the paper on Mirabcau is decidedly the finest 
and most striking. It may be read advantageously with 
what Carl3lc has written on the same subject. 

To this same year, 1834, belongs a powerful apologue 
entitled " Claude Gueux," which appeared in the Revue de 
Paris. It is the story of a workman, not over-idealized but 
with fine elements in his character, who, acting judiciously 
according to his lights, kills the governor of the prison in 
which he is confined. iMoralizing whereon, the author pre- 
cceds to plead eloquently the cause of the poor and ignorant, 
the cause of education, and, what seems strange, yet shows 
the state of Victor Hugo's opinions at this time, the cause 
of religion and the gospel. " Sow the villages with the 
gospel!" he cries. "Let there be a Bible in every hut!" 
" Jesus had better lore to teach than Voltaire." 

Next in order of publication comes a voluminous work 
issued in the beginning of 1842,^ and entitled " Le Rhin " 
(" The Rhine "). It purports to consist of a series of letters 
written to a friend in Paris, and giving a traveller's ex- 
periences amid the beauties and picturesqueness of the 
glorious old Rhineland. Here, as in the volume entitled 
" Choses Vues " ("Things Seen"), which has appeared 
within the last few months, the author shows himself, for 
the most part, without his prophet's robe, and describes 
simply what happened simpl}', and graphicly what lent it- 
self to imaginative picturing. On the perfect accuracy of 
the erudition displaj'ed, I will offer no opinion. I am will- 
ing to take it on trust. But no special trustfulness is re- 
quired to accept for truth the " Legend of the Handsome 
Pecopin and the Beautiful Bauldour," and their sad separa- 
tion of a hundred years. " Dull would he be of soul " who 
refused to accompany the poet into the " fairyland forlorn " 
of their sorrows, and to follow the supei'b tramplings and 
1 Greatly added to in later editions. 



86 ' LIFE OF 

hurrj'ings of Pecopin's wild ride through the enchanted 
forest. 

Contemporaneously with these volumes of prose, A'ictor 
Hugo published three volumes of verse: " Lcs Chants du 
Crepuscule " (Songs of the Twilight"), issued in 1835; 
"Lcs Voix Interieures" ("Voices Within"), in 1837; and 
" Les Rayons et les Ombres " (" The Rays and the 
Shadows"), in 1840. 

These volumes are full of good things, but how shall I 
characterize them? How try to photograph into poor prose 
the evanescences of a great singer's verse.'' We have here 
again memories of the poet's childhood, of " what took place 
at the Fcuillantines in 1813." We have recollections of 
former events in his career, of his interview with Charles X. 
on the 7th of August, 1829, when the performance of 
" Marion de Lorme " was in question. We have hymns of 
praise and thanksgiving over the Revolution of 1830 ; and 
also, in more than one piece, strains drear and melancholy 
with the recurring troubles and uncertainties of the time. 
Napoleon comes in for a good deal of adulation ; for are we 
not in the days just anterior to the bringing back of the 
great dead from St. Helena, and his second interment be- 
neath the dome of the Invalides.'' And the contrast between 
the condition of the rich and the poor is vigorously shown. 
One piece of invective, against the man who had betra3'ed the 
Duchesse de Berry, foreshadows the tremendous denuncia- 
tions of the Second Empire in the " Chatiments." Love 
poems, too, again we have, and some few songs. And 
throughout, if the general tone no longer posseses the glad- 
ness of youth, yet has it distinctly less of the melancholy of 
age than in the " Fcuilles d'Automne." " Olympio " — for 
under that name the poet seems here to idealize himself — 
Olympio is attacked, mis-said, reviled ; storms gloom, and 
lightnings flicker and flash round him, as they did of old 
round the hoar mount wliose name he has borrowed ; and in 
his less prophetic and more human character he visits again 
the places hallowed by the memories of love, and mourns in 



VICTOR HUGO 87 

memorable verse, as Lamartine had mourned before ; as nearly 
all poets have mourned, over the mutability of things and 
nature's impassivencss. But, after all, Olympio is not un- 
comforted. He looks from this lower world to the world 
which is invisible, and determines to keep his soul's tran- 
quillity unruffled, as a mountain keeps eternal and unmoved 
its coronet of snow. At which the reader may perhaps feci a 
little inclined to smile. But if he does he should balk the wish. 
For, in point of fact, life's storms beat their hardest round 
Olympio's head, and he did bear it above the clouds to the 
end. That there was a strong element of theatricality in 
his nature cannot be denied. Are we not told that Shake- 
speare himself had killed beeves "with a flourish".'' But 
behind the theatricality was a man, and a great man. 

And now he was aspiring to be a member of the Academy, 
which somewhat fluttered the thirty-nine immortals, " seated," 
as Mr. Browning irreverently puts it, " by gout and glory," 
in their thirty-nine arm-chairs. Of course, looking at his 
genius and literary position, he ought to have been elected 
at once, and without demur. But academies are consei-va- 
tive, and by their ver}' nature seldom march in the van of 
any literary or artistic movement. So he knocked at the 
door thrice before he gained admittance; was rejected in 
1836 in favour of a M. Dupaty, who has left no great name 
of any kind; was rejected in 1839 in favour of j\I. IVIole, 
whose name, or so much of it as remains, is philosophico- 
political rather than literary; was rejected in 18-iO in favour 
of a scientific M. Flouren«; and, finally, was elected in 1841. 

Certain persons there were at the time, and Alexandre 
Dumas and Alphonse Karr were among them, who blamed 
the poet for wishing to be an Academician ; and Mr. Cappon, 
in his recent clever book on Victor Hugo, echoes the thought, 
and asks, " if a green border on his vestment, and a faitteuil, 
even in that weighty assembly, could add any real distinc- 
tion to the author of ' Hcrnani ' and the ' Voix Interieures ' " .'' 
Perhaps not ; and yet the feeling that here finds utterance 
seems to me, I confess, somewhat overstrained. Doubtless 



88 LIFE OF 

very great men: Balzac, Andre Chcnier, Rousseau, Pascal, 
IMolicre, Bcaumarchais, Dumas himself, have sat in that 
fort^'-first arm-chair of which M. Arsene Houssaye has wittily 
written the history • — that imaginary forty-first arm-chair 
which has been occupied by those who ought to have be- 
longed to the Academy, and yet never found admittance 
there. But the forty-first arm-chair is one only, and the 
others are forty, and, strength for strength, the forty are 
stronger than the one. The French Academy is a body that 
no writer, however great, can afford to despise. Nor, look- 
ing at tlie matter in a larger, less personal aspect, is it 
fitting that a writer who is really great, should arrogantly 
refuse to contribute his share of lustre to a body so linked 
with all the nation's past. Therefore it seems to me that 
]\Iadame Hugo's apology for her husband is scarcely needed. 
He wished to take an active part in politics, she tells us; 
and to do this a peerage was necessary, and to be eligible for 
a peerage he must be an Academician. Hence his candi- 
dature. 

Be it so. But INIadame de Girardin, who, under the 
pseudonym of Vicomet de Launay, acted as the chronicler 
of the time, has left an account of his reception on the 3rd 
of June, 1841, and tells us that he by no means seemed to 
regard the ceremony as a thing of naught, and took his posi- 
tion as an Academician very seriously. She tells us, too, 
how it had been expected that he would, in his speech, riddle 
with sarcasm his " classical " opponents. But those who 
anticipated mischief were disappointed. Victor Hugo's ad- 
dress soared out of petty personal regions, dealt largely with 
Napoleon, whose praise was, for the nonce on everybody's 
tongue, and somewhat, generally, with the high mission of 
the thinker and the writer. Nor did the same amenity fail 
him on the two subsequent occasions when it fell to his lot 
to speak at the Academy. On the 16th of January, and 
again on the 2Tth of February, 18-i5, he had to reply to the 
reception speeches of Saint-JNIarc Girardin and Saintc-Beuve. 
With neither writer can he have been in any sympathy. 



VICTOR HUGO 89 

Girardin, in his lectures on dmmatic art, had spoken of Victor 
Hugo's works with perfect courtesy, — for when did a dis- 
courteous word proceed from those refined and Attic hps? — 
but still critically and without enthusiasm, and was essentially 
a classic; while with Sainte-Bcuve, Victor Hugo was now on 
that curious footing of reticent hostility which each main- 
tained towards the other to the end. But, in addressing 
both, his words were those of entire good taste; and his 
critical account of Sainte-Beuve's works was more than just ; 
it was generous and kindly. 

And did the Academy prove a stepping-stone to the peer- 
age as Victor Hugo had hoped? Most certainly it did. 
With Louis Philippe he had for some time been on the best 
terms. His unique literary position more than justified his 
elevation. There was nothing in his views, as expressed so 
far, to make it probable that he would be a factious opponent 
of Guizot's jMinistry, by which tlie King's Government was 
then conducted, or to the Government itself. And accord- 
ingly, on the 13th of April, 184o, he was made a peer. 
But of his doings in that capacity, and of his politics gen- 
erally, I purpose to speak in another chapter. 

Before doing so, however, it may be as well to say a few 
words about the poet's residence in the Place Royale, which 
he occupied from the autumn of 1832 till nearly the time 
when the Coup d'Etat drove him from Paris.' The house, 
we are told, I don't know how truly, had long, long years 
before been occupied by IMarion de Lorme. It has been 
several times described. I quote M. Barbou's description, 
rather than M. de Banville's, because, though less poetical, 
it is perhaps more precise. 

" The suite of apartments," he says, " was on tlie second floor, 
anil approacl-.ed hy a wide and handsome staircase. A door opened 
into tlie dininjc-roora, which was adorned with some fine tapestry, 
representing scenes In the ' Romaunt of the Rose.' . . . The study 
was a room full of quaint pieces of furniture, and overlooking an 

1 Tl'.e house which he then occupied was in the Rue de la Tou'^ 
d'Auvergne. It has been described by Thcophile Gautier. 



90 LIFE OF 

inner courtyard. The ceiling was decorated with a painting by Auguste 
de Chatillon, called Le Moine Rouge, ' the red monk,' a strange pro- 
duction, ... its subject being a priest rolled in red, lying at full 
length, and reading a Bible held up by a nude female figure. .• . . 
The salon might almost be described as a picture gallery, so numer- 
ous were the artists . . . who had sought the honour of being 
allowed to contribute to its decoration. At one end was a high mantel- 
piece, fashioned according to the poet's taste, covered with drapery, and 
supporting some fine china vases. On the left was a sort of dais . . . 
on which it has been alleged that Victor Hugo, in his vanity, used to 
sit on a throne, . . . beneath a canopy, and extend his hand to be 
kissed by his admirers, who would mount the steps tipon their knees. 
. . . Some arm-chairs of the time of I.ouis XV., made of gilt wood, 
and co%'ered with tapestry, completed the furniture of the reception 
room. . . . Opposite the dais were three large windows reaching to 
the ground, and opening on to a balconj' that ran the whole length of 
the salon, and overlooked the Square." 

The picture is of a luxuriou.sly artistic dwelling, and 
reminds us, in some of the details, of the interior decora- 
tion of Hauteville House, Guernsey', where the poet's taste 
in such matters was hereafter to find such full expression. 
The story of the dais and canopy, and the semi-religious 
function connected herewith, we might, I think, at once 
laugh away, even without j\I. Barbou's indignant disclaimer. 
Victor Hugo was, no doubt, inclinetl to pontificate on public 
occasions, and, in later years, spoke only too often urbi et 
orbi, to the city of Paris and to the world. But in private 
life, all evidence goes to prove that he was pleasant, genial, 
simple, a charming host, and fulfilled with an old-world charm 
of manner and com-tliness. Forster, for instance, tells us with 
what " infinite courtesy and grace " he received Dickens and 
himself; and after descanting on tjie "noble corner house," 
the " gorgeous tapestries, the painted ceilings, the wonderful 
carvings, and old golden furniture," goes on to say : 

" He was himself, however, the best thing we saw; and I find it 
difficult to associate the attitudes and as]>ect in which the world has 
lately wondered at him, with the sober grace and self-possessed quiet 
gravity of tliat night of twenty-five years ago. Just then I.ouis Philippe 
had eiiiinbled him, but the man's nature was written nolile. Rather un- 
der the middle size, of coni])act clo>e-biiltiiiied-up figure, with ani[)le 
dark hair falling loosely over his close-shavcii face, 1 never saw u|)on 
features so keenly intellectual such a soft and sweet genialitj", and 



VICTOR HUGO 91 

certainly never heard the French language spoken with the picturesque 
distinctness given to it by Victor Hugo. He talked of his childhood 
in Spain, and of his father having been srovernor of the Tagus in Na- 
poleon's wars; spoke warmly of the English people and their literature; 
declared his preference for melody and simplicity over the music then 
fashionalile at the Conservatoire;! referred kindly to Ponsard,^ laughed 
at the actors who had murdered his (Pensard's) tragedy at the Odeon, 
and sympathized with the dramatic venture of Dumas. To Dickens he 
addressed ver>- charming flattery in the l:iest taste; and my friend long 
remembered the enjoyment of that evening." 

But all testimony is to the same effect. M. Legouve, the 
Academician, having to describe an interview with the great 
man, sa^'s, " he showed himself, on this occasion, what in 
private life he invariably was, unaffected, amusing, full of 
anecdote and pleasantry." M. Lesclide, his private secretary 
in later years, speaks to similar effect, and insists on " the 
charm of his conversation, which was easy, simple, yet full 
of colour, and, when he was animated, of an ardent en- 
thusiasm." M. dc Banville, who mentions the throne-and- 
da'is story as an invention of the small paragraphists of the 
press, says he " had indeed other tigers to comb " — a digni- 
fied foreign equivalent for " other fish to fry," — than 

" to play at royalty. He was then, as we have ever seen him, aflFable, 
full of welcome, thinking of every one, forgetful of him.self, and re- 
taining no trace of his aristocratic breeding, save an exquisite polite- 
ness and familiar courtesy. When in his house, you felt at home, free, 
happy, at ease, and warmed by a pleasant atmosi)here of affection and 
tenderness. It was hospitality of the real right kind — that which you 
will find in a king's palace, and a woodcutter's hut." 

Nor would it be right to forget the part which Madame 
Hugo contributed to the charm of this delightful hos- 
pitality. jNI. de Banville not only speaks enthusiastically 
of her dark beauty, calling her " the Muse of Romanti- 
cism," but also speaks of " the sovereign grace " with which 
she " did the honours " of her salon, and helped to make 
it a place where " all the men of that time who had achieved 
fame " delighted to congregate. 

1 Like many great verbal melodists, he had no ear or real liking 
for mu.sic. 

2 Whom the classical party had set up as his rivaL 



92 LIFE OF. 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE Revolution of July, 1830, which drove Charles X. 
from the throne of France, was a mistake, but an ex- 
cusable mistake. The Revolution of February, ISiS, which 
cut short the reign of Louis Philippe, was a mistake without 
an excuse. No doubt the Citizen King's government had 
committed errors, as what govcnuncnt has not.'' The suf- 
frage was too restricted, the number of place-men in Parlia- 
ment excessive. And that Guizot, the minister who in him- 
self personified the policy of the last years of the reign, 
thought overmuch of the opinion of the Chambers, and over 
little of the opinion of the country, cannot be denied. But 
such reasons, however valid for the overturning of a ministry, 
were certainly not adequate reasons for upsetting a govern- 
ment, and casting a great nation adrift to the chances of 
revolution, anarchy, and imperialism. 

Nor does it seem that at the time Victor Hugo would have 
repudiated this view. In order, however, to understand the 
part he took in politics during the stormy days from 184-8 
to 1851, it is necessary to go back, and to follow the course 
of his opinions from an earlier date. 

Long years before, when he and the Government of the 
Restoration were young together, he had been an ardent 
roj'alist. His royalisni, no doubt, cooled a good deal before 
the great three days of July, 1830, which sent Charles X. 
into exile ; but still there is no strong evidence anywhere, 
that up to that time he went very fiercely into opposition. 
Madame Hugo makes much of the " Ode a la Colonne " 
(the "Ode to the Column"), publislied in 1827, under the 
following circumstances. The Austrian ambassador had 
asked a certain number of French marshals to an entertain- 
ment ; — they came, and were announced with their names 
shorn of the titles won in battle against the Austrian arms. 
Whereupon they withdrew. And \'ictor Hugo, a few days 



VICTOR HUGO 93 

afterwards, published his fine ode, all quivering with patriotic 
indignation. But such an act need not at all necessarily 
have been an act of declared opposition. M. Bire shows al- 
most conclusively that it was not ; and that the king, on 
this occasion, shared the sentiments of the poet. The fact 
is, that with the death of Napoleon, imperialism had ceased 
for a time to be a practical factor in French politics, and that 
Victor Hugo might declare himself, in sonorous verse, to be 
the Memnon tuneful in the rays of the Imperial sun, with- 
out greatly hurting anybody's susceptibilities. The admira- 
tion was felt to be poetical only. When, therefore, he 
claimed in the preface to " Marion de Lorme," dated Au- 
gust, 1831, to have "been for many years in the most 
laborious, if not the most illustrious, ranks of the opposi- 
tion," he seems clearly to have been deceiving himself. His 
royalism had certainly undergone a change since he wrote 
about the Virgins of Verdun, and La Vendee, and the conse- 
cration of Charles X. But he had drawn his pension regu- 
larly, and spoken of the king with politeness, if not en- 
thusiasm. The evidence, in short, of his long years of 
patient labour for the overthrow of the government is want- 
ing- 

After the Revolution of 1830 his opinions took an added 
tinge of liberalism. He marched with the times. In the 
preface to " Marion de Lorme " that Revolution is character- 
ized as " admirable." In the preface to " Le Roi s'amuse," 
dated November, 1832, we are told that " in July, 1830," 
" France had done three good days' work, had advanced 
three great stages along the road of civilization and prog- 
ress." The " Feuilles d'Automne " contains a poem in 
favour of the " oppressed nationalities," — " Greece, our dis- 
embowelled mother," and " bleeding Ireland, dying upon her 
cross," and " Germany in chains, struggling against ten 
kings," and Poland " dead and dishevelled, violated by a 
hideous Cossack." A portion of the " Litterature et Philo^ 
sophie Melees " is entitled a " Journal of the Ideas and 
Opinions of a Revolutionist of 1830," and opens with this 



94 LIFE OF 

declaration: "What we require after July, 1830, is a re* 
pulilic in fact, and a monarchy in word." 

This last quotation may fairly be accepted as repre- 
senting the attitude of Victor Hugo's mind from 1830 to 
18-18 ; and that attitude may still further be illustrated by 
another quotation from the same journal. 

" The republic, in tlie view of some persons, is the warfare of those 
who possess neitlier a hulfjicnny, nor an idea, nor a single virtue, 
against whomsoever possesses any one of these three things. The 
republic, as I understand it — that republic which is not yet ripe, but 
which will embrace the whole of Eurojjc a century hence — is society 
entirely self-,i.'fiveriied: self -protected through the national guard; self- 
judged through the jury; self-administered through the municipality; 
self-directed through the suffrage. In that rejjublic the four mem- 
bers of the Mionarihy — the army, the magistracy, the administrative 
organization, tlic ])cerage, are only four inconvenient excrescences which 
will gradually wither and soon die." 

Thus Victor Hugo was at this time wliat wo should now 
call an " opportunist." He looked forward in the future 
to certain political and social changes. But meanwhile he 
had no desire to hurry matters — rather thought, on the 
contrary, that undue haste would cause accidents and delay 
— and was quite content to make the best use possible of 
existing institutions. Thus, for instance, though the peer- 
age might prove in 1930 or thereabouts to be " an incon- 
venient excrescence," there was no reason why he should not, 
while that consunnnation was still remote, be a peer, and a 
useful peer — exercising his judicial functions reasonably 
and well, as it seems he did — and making speeches on copy- 
right, on Poland, on the defence of the coast, on the read- 
mission of the Bonajiartc family into France, and on the 
aspirations of Pope Pius IX. towards a united Italy. 

A republican in theory, a monarchist in practice, a liberal 
in his acceptance of the sonorous watchwords of liberalism, 
a conservative in his conviction that great inmicdiate political 
changes would be an unmixed evil, a poet in his sympathy for 
the poor and down-trodden, a practical man in his apprecia- 
tion of the fact that any bettering of the condition of tiie 



VICTOR HUGO 95 

masses must be a work of time and patience — such was 
Victor Hugo when the Revohition of February, 1848, broke 
suddenly upon constitutional monarchy in France. 

That it came on him, at first, as a blow, seems un- 
questionable ; — and all honour to the feeling, the blow was 
a blow to France. On the 24th of February, the kingt 
weakly abdicated rather than cause any effusion of blood ; 
and the widowed Duchess of Orleans, with her two children, 
the Comte de Paris and the Due de Chartres, went to the 
Chambers to see if it were yet possible to save the crown 
for the elder. It was a brave, a desperate expedient, and 
might perchance have been successful, so did the woman's sor- 
rows and gallant bearing impress the Assembly, had not 
Lamartine, the poet, tiuown the weight of his popularity and 
eloquence into the adverse scale. Victor Hugo at that time 
favoured the appointment of the Duchess as Regent, and 
vainly proclaimed her rights on the Place de la Bastille. 
When it became clear that the monarchy was gone, he hesi- 
tated for some time as to his future political course. In 
the month of April he was put forward as a candidate to 
represent Paris in the " Assemblee Constituante," which was 
to be called together for the purpose of framing a constitu- 
tion. But his name only came out forty-eighth on the list, — 
Lamartine's being first, — and he was unsuccessful. On the 
4th of June, however, a supplementary election proved more 
propitious. 86,965 votes were recorded in his favour, and 
he entered the Assembly. Among those elected with him was 
Louis Napoleon, then living as a very unattached prince in 
England. 

Victor Hugo's address to the electors fairly represents 
the attitude he was to hold in the Assembly. There were 
two republics in possibility, he declared — one that would 
run up the red flag, erect a statue to Marat, make half- 
pence out of Napoleon's column, abolish property, destroy 
family ties, parade guillotined heads on the top of pikes, 
• — and, in short, exhibit the ghastly phantasmagoria of 1793, 
which Victor Hugo was afterwards to regard with so much 



96 LIFE OF 

complacency. Tlio otlier republic, on the contrarj', was 
really to be a very respectable and quite affair, and to in- 
augurate a reign of peace, plenty, and brotherhood. It will 
thus be seen that the poet at this time spake the words of 
sobriety and wisdom. His sympathy for the poorer classes 
was, as it had always been, ardent and openly expressed. 
But he would have nothing to say to national workshops 
and other quack remedies for their troubles. No doubt he 
had crotchets of his own, such as the abolition of capital 
punishment; but they were harmless and even beneficent 
crotchets when compared with the wild theories thrown hither 
and thither like Greek fire in that assembly of all the ec- 
centricities. At no period of his subsequent life did he show 
the same sanity and equipoise of political judgment, as when 
sitting in the Constituent Assembly as a conservative re- 
publican. 

A very short experience served to sicken France of tlie 
democratic government inaugurated in February, 1848. The 
constitution — a thoroughly bad one — framed by the Con- 
stituent Assembly, provided for the election of a president 
by universal suffrage. That election took place on the 10th 
of December, with this result — that Lamartine, who had 
started in the previous February with unbounded popularity, 
and had really rendered great services to France, was no- 
where ; that General Cavaignac, who represented moderate re- 
publicanism, only secured 1,448,107 votes, and that Louis 
Napoleon headed the poll with 5,434,226 votes. 

And what did Louis Napoleon represent? Personally he 
represented a past that was simply ridiculous — a farcical 
landing at Boulogne with a tame eagle, a temporary Im- 
prisonment in a bathing machine, a hoplessly aboi-tive at- 
tempt at Strasburg to incite a regiment to mutiny. But, 
of course, his name represented something essentially dif- 
ferent, it represented a past to which Frenchmen of nearly 
all shades looked back as one of glory — a past in which 
revolutionary passion had been curbed by a strong, firm hand. 
And then that name had been so superbly advertised ! Think 



VICTOR HUGO 97 

how the Napoleonic legend had been preached to the people, 
and by what effectual tongues. Beranger, the most popular 
poet of his day, had given it a voice through the length and 
breadth of the land. Thiers had devoted to its proclamation 
the beautiful lucidity of his prose. Victor Hugo had sung 
it again and yet again in impassioned verse. Not nine yeai-s 
before, the body of the great emperor had been borne 
through the streets of Paris, with all outward signs of a na- 
tion's mourning, and the country had re-echoed with the 
dead man's fame. And now, when the time was ripe, the 
nephew appeared transfigured by the uncle's glory. Every 
one, the most illiterate voter, knew Louis Napoleon's name ; 
and in such a case to be known is everything. He was 
simply by far the best advertised among the candidates. 

Victor Hugo has described, in the opening of his scathing 
book, " Napoleon le Petit " (" Napoleon the Little "), how in 
the gathering darkness of a winter afternoon, on the 20th of 
December, 18-i8, Louis Napoleon ascended the tribune of the 
Assembly, and swore in " the presence of God, and before the 
French people, to remain faithful to the democratic Republic 
one and indivisible, and to fulfil all the duties imposed on him 
by the Constitution." 

To what extent did the Prince President mean to keep that 
oath.? Who shall tell.'' The man was a mystic, a visionary, 
a fatalist, and in his strangely compounded intellect had 
probably a kind of belief in some personal mission of his 
own that absolved him from the petty trammels of honour. 
That the " democratic Republic " was in evil case even at 
that time is clear ; and also that the " Constitution " was 
pretty neai-ly unworkable anyhow, and absolutely unworkable 
when subjected to the strain and jars of disloyalty. Victor , 
Hugo, in his polemics, lays all the blame for subsequent , 
events on Louis Napoleon's turpitude, on his intrigues for the 
consolidation of his own power, his constant attempts to 
discredit parliamentary government, his settled determination 
by all means to reach the Empire. But there is, of course, a 
different side to all this. If the advanced radical party, to 
7 



98 LIFE OF 

■which Victor Hugo was so soon to belong, had not tlioroughly 
frightened France, imperialism would have been impossible. 
The wild talk of the revolutionists, frothy with the froth 
of blood, the horrors of the insurrection of June, 1848, the 
martyrdom of the Archbishop of Paris, sliot down as he 
strove to put an end to a fratricidal war  — such were the 
arguments that told so heavily in Louis Napoleon's favour. 
He was borne to liis evil goal by the faults of his enemies. Of 
course he took advantage of their faults. It was by playing 
on the fears which tliey excited that he secured the co- 
operation of statesmen of the highest character and intellect, 
who would, in calmer times, have been the first to oppose his 
designs. 

Meanwhile, what part was Victor Hugo taking in public 
affairs? At first he favoured Louis Na])oleon. They had 
both been elected to the Constituent Assembly at the same 
time, and when the question was debated whether the Prince, 
then still in London, should be admitted into France to take 
his seat, Victor Hugo voted in his favour. He also sup- 
ported his candidature for the Presidency. At the same time, 
he was speaking and voting as a conservative republican, 
and on the 29th of January, 1849, we find him opposing 
the radical party who objected to the dissolution of the As- 
sembly. 

But in May, when the dissolution took place, and a new 
Assembly, the Assemblee Legislative — far more conservative 
than the old — came into existence, Victor Hugo's attitude 
changed altogether. He had again been elected b}' the City 
of Paris, and now took up openly the position of extreme 
radicalism from which he never afterwards retreated. What 
had led to this change of front.' We are not able to answer 
the question with any degree of precision. Victor Hugo him- 
self, in one of his jiompous later prefaces, tells us that — 

"After June, lS4f), the lijrlitnin;; flash tliat leaps out of events 
entei-c(l into the author's mind. That kind of flash is indclihle. A 
flasli 111' liirlitniiip- that remains ])ermancnt — such is the lio-ht of truth 
in the luiiuan conscience. In 1819 tlial light shone dcllnitely for him. 



VICTOR HUGO 99 

SVhen he saw Rome trodden down in the name of France; when he 
saw the majority, hj-pocritical so far, suddenly throw awa\' the mask 
behind whicli it had, on tlie 4th of May, 1848, cried seventeen times, 
'Long live the Republic!' when he saw, after the 13th of June, tlie 
triumph of all the coalitions hostile to progress; when he saw that 
cjTiical joy, sadness filled his heart; he >mderstood; and at the moment 
when the hands of the conquerors were held out to draw him into 
their ranks, he felt in the bottom of his soul that he too was one of 
the conquered. A corpse lay on the ground, and all cried, ' Lo, the 
Republic lies there ! ' He went and looked at that corpse, and recog- 
nized that her name was Liberty. Then he stoojied towards her, and 
took the dead to his bosom as his wife. Before him, as he looked into 
the future, were overthrow, defeat, ruin, insult, exile, and he said, 'It is 
well ! ' " 

Not, perhaps, without a certain kind of eloquence all this, 
but decidedly a little vague ; and as the poet does not ap- 
pear, even at the time, to have condescended to more detailed 
explanation, one can scarcely wonder that the change in his 
opinions was regarded with suspicion. As he afterwards 
said, very characteristically, " I was accused of apostasy when 
I thought myself an apostle." Veuillot, the acrid Roman 
Catholic journalist, writing, as usual, with a pen dipped in 
gall, simply accounted for his conversion by sa^-ing that he 
felt altogether outrivalled among the orators of the more 
Conservative ranks, and saw that his only chance of securing 
personal preeminence was among the Radicals. Montalem- 
bert, the eloquent Liberal Catholic, in one of their many 
word-duels, openly cast at the poet a rankling accusation 
of " having flattered and then denied every cause." 

The party polemics of the day one may rightly set to 
one side. Victor Hugo's attitude during the years 1849, 
1850, and 18.51 is entirely to be commended in so far as it 
was attributable to a clear foresight on his part that Louis 
Napoleon aimed at a personal despotism. Where he seems 
to have gone wrong was in thinking that the imperialist de- 
signs could best be frustrated by ultra-radical means. By 
openly allying himself, therefore, to a party whose violence 
of act and speech formed the future Emperor's stock-in- 
trade, he simply played into the enemy's hands. That he 
should speak well and eloquently in his new cause was al- 



100 LIFE OF 

most a matter of course. Togetlier with a powerful voice, 
audible even amid the storms of a popular Assemblj', Victor 
Hugo had all the other parts of an orator — perfect self- 
possession and confidence, a command of ready and striking 
language — and language not too delicate in its effects for 
the speaker's art — and an inborn feeling for form. His 
passion moved, and his sarcasm went barbed to its mark. 
That his speeches contained some verbal glitter is un- 
doubtedly true. They seem to crackle every here and there, 
as one may say, with the tinsel of antithesis. But of their 
telling brilliancy there can be no question. Whether they 
are a statesman's speeches is a different matter. Let us take 
an instance. We have reached the 17th of July, 1851, and a 
great question is being debated in the Asscmbl}'. Accord- 
ing to the constitution, Louis Napoleon's tenure of office 
will expire in 1852 ; but a revision of the constitution has 
been proposed. Failing such revision, the Prince President 
must retire into private life. Will he do so? And, if not, 
what means will he adopt to remain in power.f* Now, If 
ever, it seems desirable to use moderation for the purpose 
of conjuring the advancing peril, and showing that the 
republican party is not really a portent and a bugbear, but 
capable of right reason and good government. Yet this Is 
the occasion which Victor Hugo selects for an harangue, 
eloquent indeed, but calculated to give a tongue to every 
worse accusation brought against the extreme radicals, and to 
alienate altogether those on whose help the republicans might 
have counted in any future struggle against the President. 
He slorifies the Revolution of 1793 as the " era foreseen bv 
Socrates, and for which he drank the hemlock ; as the work 
wrought by Jesus Christ, and for which he was nailed to 
the cross." He declares the Republic and the Revolution 
to be Indissolubly bound together. He mingles, for com- 
mon insult and execration, all kinds of monarchy, constitu- 
tional as well as unconstitutional. He proposes, as a prac- 
tical measure, that all judges should be elected by universal 
suffrage, and the greater political questions decided by direct 



VICTOR HUGO 101 

appeal to tlie same tribunal. He speaks glibly of the 
" United States of Europe," ^ and heralds the " august 
proclamation of the Rights of Man." In short, he makes 
a vivaciot5s and telling speech, and plays the game of 
the ambitious Prince President most effectually. It was 
speeches of this kind that helped to make the Coup d'Etat 
possible, and gave Louis Napoleon his immense popular ma- 
jorities. 

But here, amid all this storm of politics, these light- 
nings of vivid speech and thunderings of revolution, we may 
fittingly pause once more for the purpose of getting a glimpse 
of the poet among his family and friends. The place of 
meeting is not of happy augury. It is none other than the 
Conciergerie prison, in which his two sons, and Paul ]\Ieurice 
and Auguste Vacquerie — the whole staff of the Evcnement," 
Victor Hugo's paper — had been confined for various press 
delinquencies. But what a merry party they are as M. de 
Banville drops in upon them ! There is the poet himself, 
who has come to spend the day with the prisoners, and 
Madame Hugo, and their daughter, Adele. The young men 
are " handsome, gay," full of life and spirits, making a jest 
of their incarceration. The parents are proud to see them 
in such good heart, and the father caresses their abundant 
locks. He, too, is " gay, smiling, happy . . . prodigal 
of winged words, of crystallized sayings, of anmsing anec- 
dotes, delightfully familiar, and a thousand times more witty 
than those who make trade and merchandize of wit." So 
does the dismal old place ring with their bright talk and 
laughter, and the day lightly, quickly pass, and fade into the 
night. 

For now the 2nd of December, 1851, is upon us. The 
Cowp d'Etat, however, belongs rather to the general history 
of France than to my immediate subject, and I need not 

1 " Really, this is going too far," cried Montalembert when the orator 
had reached this point. " Hugo is crazy ! " 

2 Started on the 1st of April, 1S4-8, with this motto: "Intense hatred 
cf anarchy; tender love for the people." -^ 



102 LIFE OF 

iill its full story here. We nil of us know how, during 
the fatal night from the 1st to the 2nd, the leading dep- 
uties from whom any organized resistance was to be ex- 
pected, were arrested and lodged in prison ! how, on the fol- 
lowing day, a proclamation was published declaring the Na- 
tional Assembly dissolved, and appealing to universal suf- 
frage to ratify the President's acts ; how every printing- 
press in the capital was gagged ; how every attempt at re- 
sistance was ruthlessly suppressed ; how, in fine, the hand of 
an iron despotism seized France in its grasp. 

Victor Hugo has himself told us the share which he took 
in resisting the President's usurpation. The news of what 
had happened in the niglit reached him at eight o'clock in 
tjie morning. He breakfasted hurriedly, kissed his wife and 
daughter, and sallied forth to meet the other Republican 
deputies. The meeting took place, and there was some 
speaking and determination, and then separation in various 
directions to see if it were possible to induce the people to 
rise. But from the first it must have been clear that any 
very effectual rising was problematic. The Assembly was un- 
popular with the masses, who remembered besides the punish- 
ment they had received during the insurrection of June, 
18-18, and had little care to try conclusions with the troops 
again. Moreover Louis Napoleon's appeal to universal suf- 
frage was a skilful move. So the first day wore through in 
somewhat sterile agitation, and Victor Hugo slept, or rather 
spent a sleepless night, in the house of a stranger — in a 
delightful domestic nest which he describes with an artist's 
feeling for the effectiveness of contrast. 

The next morning he visited his own home ; learned that 
a police-officer had been to the place the day before ; went 
off in a cab to the classic region of revolt, the Faubourg 
Saint Antoine ; found that there had already been some 
fighting ; that the barricade erected mainly by the repre- 
sentatives was taken, and Representative Baudin killed. 
Here, in view of the entire apathy of the Faubourg, Victor 
Hugo acknowledges that he felt the cause of resistance to 



VICTOR HUGO 108 

be well-nigh hopeless. Nevertheless he did not surcease from 
his efForts. There were more meetings, more haranguings of 
the people, more endeavours to issue proclamations, though 
the difficult}' of getting anything printed was almost in- 
superable, and another flying visit to his home. Then, after 
an evening all lurid with battle and the coming storm, he 
found refuge for the night once more in a friend's house. 

The third day, further proclamations ; and also, which is 
more perhaps to the purpose, greater signs of a popular 
rising • — barricades in every direction, which Victor Hugo 
visits, — and a great deal of firing. The hearts of the in- 
surgents are elate; and Victor Hugo is even considering 
whether it may not be desirable to spare the life of Louis 
Napoleon when taken, and so help on the cause of the 
abolition of capital punishment. But at this moment the 
troops, who have hitherto been acting more or less fitfully, 
put forth their whole power. The boulevards are swept with 
grape. Volleys of nmsketry are fired in every direction. 
The people in the streets are bayoneted and sabred down. 

This, according to Victor Hugo's constant contention, was 
mere murder, a cowardly massacre of non-combatants, hav- 
ing for its only object intimidation. And even IM. de Mau- 
pas, the Prefect of Police at the time, and one of the four 
chief agents in the Coup d'Etat, seems to admit that the 
President's military adviser, Saint Arnaud, had purposely 
allowed the insurrection to gather head so as to quell it 
more effectually and for ever. If this were really Saint 
Arnaud's object, he succeeded most entirely. Paris was 
thoroughly cowed. There were, during the same evening 
and night of December 4th, further barricades defended 
and taken, further deeds of violence. But the fight was 
virtually spluttering out. Victor Hugo fled from place to 
place, striving in vain to kindle the dying embers, seeing on 
his way many a scene of blood and son'ow, to be thereafter 
chronicled in his " Histoire d'un Crime," or to find a place 
and irretrievably lost. From the 5th he was a mere fugitive, 
in his poetry and fiction. But the game was played out 



104 LIFE OF 

flitting hither and thitlier, and lurking in one hiding-place 
after another. Madame Drouct's devotion here stood him 
in good stead; and on December IJ'th, by means of a false 
passport and a disguise, he succeeded in reaching Brussels.^ 



CHAPTER IX 



AS one who has suffered shipwreck upon the stormy wa- 
ters of life and bravely struggles to the shore, so did 
A'ictor Hugo reach Brussels on December 14, 1851. The 
cause for which he had fought lay in ruins ; the party to 
which he belonged was hopelessly beaten and dispersed ; his 
private fortune, the result, as he tells us, of his own toil, 
was greatly impaired. Yet not for a moment did he bate 
heart or hope. " Never once," his son says, " did his best 
friends, his own family, . . . hear from his lips a single 
word of discouragement or sadness tliat miglit betray the 
secret emotions caused b}' so terrible a wrench from all that 
he held dear." His pen was his sword, and with his pen 
he determined to attack the master of legions, by whom he 
had been driven from the soil of France. 

Brussels was already full or filling with refugees. They 
were republicans for the most part, though with a smaller 
proportion of royalists, and mixed in character as well as 
politics. Many were men of mark, General Lamoriciere, 
Eniile de Girardin tlie famous journalist, and others. But 
Victor Hugo, of course, overtopped them all. In January 
he had taken up his quarters at No. 27, in the picturesque 
beautiful Grande Place, the great square where Counts Eg- 
mont and Horn were beheaded when Alva ruled in the Nether- 
lands — the square that witnessed the ball on the night be- 
fore Waterloo ; and there, in a fairly-large apartment com- 

1 M. de Maupas says the Government could easily have laid hands upon 
him if it had wished to do so; and this seems quite probable. 



VICTOR PIUGO 105 

manding a full view of the Hotel de Ville and its beautiful 
spire, he received many visitors, and worked assiduously. 
The visitors would come and go while he was writing. But 
they never took off his attention ; for at the point of his 
pen he felt, as it were, his adversary's sword in the great 
duel between them, and his whole soul was in the combat. 
At first he intended to open his attack with a history of the 
Coup d'Etat; and he states that he actually commenced the 
" Histoire d'un Crime" on December l-ith, the very day of 
his arrival in Brussels. But soon he seems to have felt that 
the times required something more stirring than a history, 
however impassioned, some more direct appeal to God and 
man against the wrong that had been perpetrated. Ac- 
cordingly, though he completed the " Histoire d'un Crime " 
on Alay 5th, 1852, he did not publish it then, nor for twenty- 
five years afterwards. Now, with a pen all quivering with 
indignation, he was writing one of the most superb pieces of 
invective in literature, " Napoleon le Petit." 

I know no other work that is quite like it. Macaulay's 
article on Barrcre is cold by comparison. Even Milton's 
" Eikonoklastes " is not so uniformly at white heat. Al- 
most literally the language seems molten with passion, and 
rolls in a stream like lava, lurid, scorching, devouring. As 
the reader is rushed through page after page, the hori-or of 
Louis Napoleon's crimes deepens upon him. What manner 
of ruler can this have been who solemnly swore his oaths 
before God and man, and then violated them so cynically.'' 
What kind of government was this which he had instituted? 
"V^Tiat crimes were these, what mire of blood, what infamy of 
cruel persecution, through which he had crawled his way to 
power? What eloquence had he quenched in the process? 
By what abject tools had he been absolved and declared in- 
nocent? So, through chapter after chapter, is the reader 
borne breathless and indignant, — noting every here and 
again some passage of brilliant rhetoric, like the famous de- 
scription of ^lirabeau as the incarnation of a New World 
speaking to the Old. 



106 LIFE OF 

The book burst into tliaf newer world like a bomb-shell 
in Jul_v, 1852 ; — and one of tlie effects of the explosion was 
to blow Victor Hugo himself out of Belgium. The country 
was given to hos})itality, and not unmindful to entertain 
strangers and political refugees : and it was a country where 
the liberty of the press had due recognition. But, for all 
that, it was a very little country beside a very large country, 
and to suffer the de facto government of France to be out- 
raged, might prove perilous. So, as the existing laws did 
not provide adequate machinery for causing Victor Hugo to 
" move on," a special law was passed to enable the govern- 
ment to get rid of such a dangerous guest. His sons, who 
had heard the thunder of the Coup d^Etat from behind the 
prison walls of the Conciergeric, had joined him on their re- 
lease in January, 1852; and all three together left Antwerp 
on the 1st of August, and, merely passing through England, 
landed in Jersey on the 5th. 

The house which the Hugo family occupied in the island 
stands on the low shore, a little way out of St. Hclier, and 
bears the designation of 3, Marine Terrace. It is an ordi- 
nary seaside house enough, stuccoed and slate-roofed, with 
no pretensions or special cha.ractcr, but deriving a slightly 
French look from its green shutters. Along the back towards 
the shore, there is a greenhouse with grapes, and then a 
little garden with some evergreens, and then a strip planted 
with tamarisks, — which, as I was told, I know not how 
truly, had been brought from France, and, with an exile's 
tenderness, set there by Victor Hugo himself. A sort of 
sandy ridge hides the sea from the lower rooms. Beyond 
this ridge stretch the sands, all studded with rocks, and then 
comes the encircling waters — a peaceful, suiuiy expanse on a 
fine da}', but, with a rising tide and a stormy, wind a very 
devil's caldron of frothing yeast." 

The house has as few pretensions internally as externally, 
and as the autunni began to gather, seemed dreary enough 
to the exiles. " There is notliing so icy cold as that English 
whiteness," says Victor Hugo> describing in after years the 



VICTOR HUGO 107 

effect of tlic whitewashed walls. " The place was like a 
piece of Iniilt nicthodism." Why then had they chosen to 
live there? A little by the choosing of chance, and because 
it happened to be the first dwelling they had found to let. 
A little, too, as M. Vacquerie tells us in his " Miettes dc 
I'Histoire," because it was near the town, and IMdlle. Hugo's 
twent}' summers craved some amusement. INIadame Hugo, 
who had been ill at the time of the Coup d'Etat, and seems 
to have so far remained in France, soon joined her husband 
and sons. Let us look at the group first through her eyes, 
and then through the ej'cs of the poet himself. 

" Our life," she writes to one of her relations, on the 13th of October, 
"is regular, quiet, and in pait devoted to worii. The country is superlj, 
and all articles of food are aliundant, easilj^ olitained, and a little 
cheaper than in Paris. The land is pre-eminently that of freedom. 
Policemen are unknown. Passports are papers of which the meaning 
is not understood. Everybody comes and goes as suits his particular 
fancy. . . . The Queen of England is greatly worshipped. . . . 
I am extremely pleased with Charles. He accepts his new life as a 
philosopher — wears thick boots and coarse clothing, grows stout, fishes, 
is followed by a dog which has taken a fancy to him, is in excellent 
spirits, and thereby gives life to our home. He has begim a book of 
which three-quarters are finished, but tlie arrival of M. and his wife 
liave interrupted him. . . . The sojourn here of Toto (Francois 
Victor Hugo) has prevented young Charles, whom his father calls the 
' indefatigable idler,' from continuing to work at his volume. Charles 
works for twelve hours at a stretch, and then the slightest thing dis- 
turbs him. For the rest, he has entirely given up dress and all 
frivolous spending of money. Exile has been of the greatest benefit 
to my dear child. ... It does not suit my daughter so well, nor, 
indeed, did her moral health require so heroic a remedy. But winter 
is coming soon, and here people dance a great deal, stupidly, but still 
they dance. Get Victor (F'ran^ois) to tell you what the dancing routs 
of Jersey are like." 

Does not this extract introduce us pleasantly, familiarly, 
to the Hugo family? Does it not bring before us the kind 
of change which transportation from Paris had produced in 
their lives? How dull the gaieties of St. Helier seem to 
these gay young Parisians ! How much, as we learn further 
from M. Asseline, the young men miss the dissipations of 
the metropolis of pleasure! But they accept the inevitable 



108 LIFE OF 

cheerfully, and put a good face on evil fortune. They work, 
they ride, they fish, they fence, they bathe, they take photo- 
graphs/ Charles, who had evidently been developing dandy 
tastes upon the boulevards, now dresses manfully in home- 
spun ; and Jliss Adele will gladl}' accept the Jersey dances 
in default of more brilliant assemblies. 

A'ictor Hugo, too, has painted us a picture of his home 
at this time — a picture as severe and gloomy as a Spag- 
nolctto or Zurbaran — dead earnest every brush-stroke 
of it: 

" Those who dwelt in this house ... of melancholy aspect . . . 
were a group, or let us rather say a family. They were exiles. The 
eldest was one of those men who, at a given moment, are no longer 
wanted in their native land. He was leaving a popular assemlily; 
the others, who were young, were leaving a prison. To have written 
aueht, is not tliat a sufficient motive for bolts and bars? Whither 
should thought lead if not to a dungeon? 

" The prison had released them into exile. 

" The eldest, the father, had all his dear ones by his side, with 
the exception of his eldest daughter, who had been unable to follow 
him. His son-in-law was with her. 2 

" Silent they often leant over a tal'le, or sat on a bench, grave, 
musing together, thinking without spt c-h of the two who were away. 
. . . One morning, at the end of November, two of the inhabitants 
of this place, the father and the younger of the sons, were sitting in 
the parlour. They were silent like men after a shipwreck. 

" The rain fell, the wind howled, the house was as it were deafened 
by the external clamour. Both were sunk in thought, absorbed, per- 
chance, in considering the coincidence of a beginning of winter and a 
beginning of exile. 

"Suddenly the son lifted up his voice" [1 am translating quite 
literally], "and questioned the father: 

"'What do vou think of this exile?' 

" ' That it will be long.' 

'"How do you inland to employ it?' 

" ' I shall contemplate the ocean.' 

"There was a . ilence. The father losumed: 

"'And you?' 

" ' I,' said the ten, ' I shall translate Shakespeare.' " 

1 M. Vacquerie, who was one of the party, thus describes their occu- 
pations. 

- The reference hero, I imagine, is to tlie daughter who was sleep- 
ing her long sleep by tlie waters of the Seine. 



VICTOR HUGO 109 

Fortunately there is evidence that A'ictor Hugo was not 
always in this ti'agic mood during his residence at Marine 
Terrace ; for on the door of one of the upper rooms are 
scratched, in his handwriting and with his signature, the 
words " spes," " pax " — " hope " and " peace." And, more 
fortunately still, he did a great deal during his nineteen years 
of exile besides contemplating the ocean. He wrought with- 
out remission, at prose and verse. And the firstfruits of his 
toil was a volume of poems, published in 1853. His Muse 
had been all but silent since she sang of the burial of the 
great Napoleon in IS^tO; she now put a sterner string to her 
lyre, and sang of the misdeeds of Napoleon " the Little." 
The title of the new book frankly indicates its character. 
It is called " Les Chatiments." 

A terrible book, a book of lashing invective and sarcasm, 
a book well named " The Chastisements," for in verse after 
verse one watches as it were the wriggle of the lash — ay, 
sees the spurt of blood where it falls, and hears the sharp 
cry of pain. Is such a book justifiable one is tempted to 
ask.' Is there not something cruel in thus using the pen as 
a Russian soldier would use a knout.'' But here, I think, 
Victor Hugo must be exonerated. There is no sign through- 
out his life that he ever emploj'ed his tremendous literary 
power for the mere purpose of inflicting pain. He could 
hit out freely enough on occasion, and probably took a cer- 
tain pleasui-e — as what pugilist does not.'' — in the skill and 
vigour with which he delivered his blows. But he had not 
simply the mauling of his opponents in view. He really 
fought for what he had persuaded himself, rightly or 
wrongly, were causes of momentous importance. The Em- 
press of the French,^ it is said, had a strong desire to see 
this very book, and, after reading it, observed, " M. Victor 
Hugo must hate us very much." And so he did. He hated 
the Emperor with a gamekeeper's hatred of a stoat or a 
pike, as a noxious thing to which no " law " could justifiably 
be given. 

I Of the Empress he always spoke with perfect courtesy. 



no LIFE OF 

So in the face of the Empire and its orgies, he ovolccs the 
crime on which it had been founded, and the victims it had 
done to death, or sent to rot in the penal settlement of Cay- 
enne. He takes for the title of each of the books into which 
the volume is divided, one of the cant expressions used 
by the supporters of the Cotip d'Etat, " Society is saved," 
" Order is re-established," " Religion is glorified," and flashes 
upon the words the fierce light of his satire. Toor Louis 
Napoleon, how sadly he fares in the hands of this angry 
opponent ; what ignominy is heaped upon his head ! Did his 
uncle, the great Napoleon, deserve punishment for aiTesting 
the march of Liberty ? It might have seemed that that pun- 
ishment had fallen when he saw the Grand Army melt into 
an interminable horror of snow during the retreat from Mos- 
cow. But not so. The full thunderbolt of God's wrath had 
not yet fallen. Was the punishment consummated amid the 
wild' confusion of defeat at Waterloo.? Still not yet. There 
were worse things in store for the ruined Emperor. Yes, 
worse things than that; and even worse things than to be 
chained to the rock of St. Helena. The worst chastisement 
of all lay in his nephew's gilt and shame. Translate this 
back in thought from bald prose to such verse as makes of 
each situation — Moscow, Waterloo, St. Helena — a niighty 
picture, and you will understand the peculiar kind of lyrical 
satire tliat infuses most of this book. Or take another poem, 
the " Souvenir de la Nuit du i " (" Reminiscence of the 
Night of the -ith"). It is the account, which Victor Hugo 
has also written in prose, of an incident he had witnessed on 
the evening of the -ith of December, when he was hurrying 
hither and thither in Paris for the purpose of stirring the 
people to resistance. A child, a boy of seven, had been 
shot down as he ran across the street. Some one had car- 
ried him to the room where he lived with his grandmother — 
a place quite humble, but decent, and every way respectable. 
The little corpse lay in the old woman's amis, and she 
was murmuring over it half-broken words, " to think that he 
called me grandmama this morning," " only seven years old," 



VICTOR HUGO 111 

" the masters at his school were so pleased with him,' " he 
was all tliat I had left of his mother." Then they took the 
child and undressed him. There was a top in the pocket. 
As they drew off his socks the grandmother started ; " Don't 
hurt him," she cried, and taking the poor, cold feet into 
her withered hands, she tried to warm them at the hcartii. 
Then she hurst into terrihle sohs. Why had they killed her 
child.'' What had he done.'' What government of murder- 
ers and brigands was this.'' 

" Mother," says the poet, taking up his parable, 

" Mother, it is clear that when you asked that question you did not 
understand politics. M. Napoleon — for that, it seems, really is his 
name — is poor and a prince; he is fond of palaces; it pleases him to 
ha\e horses, lacquejs, money for liis play, his table, his pleasures, and his 
hunting. At the same time he acts as the saviour of the family, the 
church, and society; he also desires to have Saint Cloud for residence, 
where, mid the roses of summer, the prefects and mayors may come 
and worship him. And tliat is why it is necessary that old grand- 
mothers witli their poor, gray, trembling fingers should sew tlie shrouds 
of seven-j'ears old children." 

This is a very fine poem. There is a simplicity and direct- 
ness about it beyond praise. Almost each line is self-suffi- 
cient, pregnant, and decisive, like a line from a dialogue of 
Euripides. 

And here, perhaps, it may be convenient to take a gen- 
eral survey of what Victor Hugo wrote and thought about 
Louis Napoleon and his government. Of " Napoleon le 
Petit " I have already spoken, and also of the " Chatiments." 
The third book in which he treated of the Coup d'Etat, the 
" Histoire d'un Crime," was written in the first six months 
of 185i2, but a good deal " worked upon " afterwards, as I 
should gather from the style, and not published till 1877. 
All three books may, for my present purpose, be taken to- 
gether. 

That they are in any sense impartial cannot be affirmed. 
When Michelet, the historian, was accused of partiality, he 
boldly accepted the charge, and declared that he was, and 
should ever remain, partial, strongly partial on the side of 



112 LIFE or 

justice and right. Victor Hugo would have rebutted any 
similar attack with the same reply. Was there anything to 
be said, he would have asked wonderingl}', in favour of Louis 
Napoleon and his rout? Consequently, if we want to know 
how it came to pass that imperialism became possible in 
France, that the country ratified the Conp d'Etat and ac- 
claimed the Empire by such overwhelming majorities, and 
that men of high character and ability, such as Montaleni- 
bert, went with the President up to December, 1851, and 
some few even beyond — if we want infonnation on these and 
kindred matters, we must look elsewhere. On these points 
Victor Hugo will not enlighten us. In his view Napoleon and 
his immediate instruments were malefactors, and all who sup- 
ported them knaves, cowards, fools. 

Such a way of looking at an important historical event is 
obviously a little wanting in discrimination. Nor can one 
altogether avoid a feeling of scepticism when noting through- 
out these books what a dark cloud of infamy hovers over the 
one party, and what a brilliant light of virtue and glory 
illumines the other. Ever}' general on the side of the Coup 
d'Etat is venal, everj- soldier drunken, every police-agent 
shameless. If one of these fautors of crime meets an honest 
patriot he hangs his head, stammers, and has nothing to 
say for himself. If insulted, however grossly, he reviles not 
again. Officers who are about to order wholesale butchery, 
off'er their cheeks to the smiter with a compunction thr.t would 
be quite edifj'ing, if it did not so obviously spring from 
the terrors of an evil conscience. But what a change when 
we come to the other, the right side ! What courage, what 
ardent patriotism, what disinterestedness, what eloquence, 
what capacity for saying the right and telling thing exactly 
at the proper moment! The men of action among these 
advanced Republicans are heroes, the men of thought or 
speech geniuses. Here is So-and-so of whom the world never 
heard very much ; he is a " pamphleteer like Courier, and a 
song-writer like Beranger." 

Now, of course, there is exaggeration in all this. The 



VICTOR HUGO 113 

supporters of the Coup d'Etat were not uniformly venal. 
Many had persuaded themselves that Louis Napoleon's strong 
hand was needed to save them from the vagaries of Victor 
Hugo's friends. The opponents of the Coup d'Etat were 
not uniformly the salt of the earth. They were a mixed body 
of men like the rest of us - — good and evil together. And 
as to So-and-so, we may be quite sure, without reading a 
word of his pamphlets or his songs, that he bore no resem- 
blance to either Courier or Beranger. But when one looks 
bej'Ond the exaggeration, when one tries to get to the real 
essential history of the Coup d'Etat, then I fear it must be 
admitted that Victor Hugo's view is not substantiallv un- 
just. The Coup d'Etat was an act of illegality. It violated 
an existing constitution. It could only have been justified 
by the extreme peril of society. But in December, 1851, no 
such terrible peril existed. Though the future of France 
was dark, it was not desperate. The difficulties ahead were 
not insuperable. And in looking for a solution of these diffi- 
culties, Louis Napoleon was guided rather by his own selfish 
interests than by care for the well-being of France. There- 
fore the government which he founded was a government of 
decay. It had no root in the better aspirations of the coun- 
try, and could produce no ultimate fruit. In the Coup 
d'Etat lui-ked the germs of Sedan. Accordingly history, for 
all her large tolerance, will refuse to obliterate Victor Hugo's 
terrible words. Those words will live by their literary power. 
They will live also, too many of them, by their truth. 

But now another Coup d'Etat comes across our way, — }'es, 
in territory subject to her gracious Majesty the Queen, an- 
other Caup d'Etat — for so does Charles Hugo designate 
the events that led to his father's expulsion from Jersey. 
The reader, however, need be under no alarm. This was a 
Co'up d'Etat without effusion of blood. No barricades were 
erected in the streets of St. Helier. No volleys of grape and 
musketry mowed down the peaceful citizens of that bright 
and busy town. No autocratic English governor determined 
to suppress the liberties of the island, and march through 



114 LIFE OF 

crime to his nefarious ends. Comparatively speaking, this po- 
htical event must be regarded as a tame affair. 

Divested of a good deal of extraneous matter, its history 
appears to be somewhat as follows: in 1854'-5, the English 
and French armies were fighting side by side in the Crimea. 
A close and friendly alliance united tiic two countries, and 
mutual civilities took place between their respective rulers. 
This was naturally gall and wormwood to the French exiles. 
To them tile Emperor appeared simply as a criminal and 
outlaw; and France, so long as he held sway, ought, in their 
view, to have been under a kind of international interdict. 
Accordingly they wrote and spoke very intemperately about 
the alliance, and with peculiar and offensive virulence about 
the Emperor's visit to the Queen, and the Queen's visit 
to the Emperor. This was, of course, not calculated to please 
the English public. To be hospitable is one thing, but to 
be lectured and insulted by one's guests is another. English 
feeling rose pretty high, as it was sure to do when England's 
sons were shedding their blood against the same enemy as 
the sons of France. Nor in such a cause was Jersey likely 
to be behind the rest of the Empire. The French exiles in 
the island had always been particularly busy. The}' were 
a small active band, living in the kind of agitation that exile 
fosters, seeing the baleful shadow of the Emperor everj'- 
where, keeping the keenest of noses for a spj', writing apace, 
issuing a newspaper, L'Hommc (" ]\Ian "), to which thej' 
confided the story of their wrongs and hopes — and, in short, 
looking at everything through the somewhat narrow lens 
of their own position. Sooner or later a collision between 
them and the islanders scemctl inevitable. On the 10th of 
October, 1855, L'Homme published a letter that had been 
addressed by three of the London exiles to the Queen. Wiiy 
had the Queen gone to Paris .'' the letter asked. She herself 
was, so the writers were pleased to say, " as honest a woman 
as it was possible for a queen to be." What did she mean 
by going to Paris, where she had " put Canrobert in his 
bath " — a graceful allusion to the Order of the Bath, — 



VICTOR HUGO 115 

" drunk champagne, and kissed Jerome Bonaparte," — where 
she " had sacrificed everything, her dignity as a queen, her 
scruples as a woman, her pride as an aristocrat, her feelings 
as an Englishwoman, her rank, her race, her sex, every- 
thing, even to her shame, . . . even to her honour"? 
That this letter was in the worst possible taste needs no 
demonstration. The people of Jersey, who, as Madame 
Hugo had remarked on first landing in the island, were par-i 
ticularly loyal, and greatly attached to the Queen, took it in 
very evil part. They were in no mood to appreciate the sub- 
tle distinction drawn by Charles Hugo. UHomme had pos- 
sibl}' published the letter without endorsing its sentiments ; 
but U Homme had published the letter. That was enough. 
An indignation meeting was held on the 13th of Octo- 
ber, and, amid great enthusiasm, resolved to petition the 
governor to suppress the paper. Then the mob made an 
attack on the publishing office ; but not a very determined 
attack, for the besiegers were effectually put to flight by 
a shower and one policeman. However, the town was in an 
uproar, the exiles were in peril, and Victor Hugo sent his 
manuscripts into hiding. Whereupon the governor ordered 
the editorial staff of UHomme to leave the island. This 
raised the spirit of the exiles ; and Victor Hugo drew up a 
protest, — in which, after referring, not very relevantly, to 
the " glove of Castlereag," — whom I take to be our old 
friend Lord Castlercagh, — he went on to declare that Louis 
Napoleon was very wicked, that the English Government had 
for ally " the crime-emperor," and that England would 
shortly become " an annexe of the French Empire." " And 
now," the protest concluded, " expel us." Whereupon they 
were expelled. The protest is dated the 17th of October, and 
on the 31st Victor Hugo and his son Francois Victor left by 
the steamer for Guernsey. 

To what extent this expulsion was legal according to the 
Constitution of Jersey, I do not know. The act was clearly 
■one which the exiles had done their best to provoke, by going 
counter in a very offensive way to a popular feeling. This, 



116 LIFE OF 

however, docs not justify it ; and whether lawful or not, it 
seems clearly to have been a mistake. UHomme and the ex- 
iles were not doing much harm to any one, and might well 
have been left alone. That the expelled should have re- 
garded this new misfortune as due to the Machiavellian influ- 
ence of the Emperor, is comprehensible enough. To tiieir 
fevered fancy the Emperor \\ as ubiquitous ; — did not Victor 
Hugo himself consider that Lord Palmerston had refused to 
respite Tapner, the murderer, out of deference to the wishes 
of that potentate? But we, who look at these things with 
the unbiased eyes of posterity, may rest content with simpler 
explanations. 



CHAPTER X 



WITH the transfer of the poet's home from Jersey to 
Guernsey, we may, for a time at least, bid farewell 
to politics, and return to literature. It was while living at 
Hauteville House, Guernsey, that he published the master- 
pieces of his later life. 

But first a word as to the house itself — a house which will 
for ever be associated with Victor Hugo, as Abbotsford is 
associated with Scott, and Rydal INIount with Wordsworth. 
It stands about half way up a little narrow picturesque ill- 
paved street that ascends from St. Peter Port to the Haute 
Ville, and is, externally, as respectable a house as need be, 
such a house as a well-to-do country solicitor or doctor 
might inhabit, with a little front yard containing two trees 
— evergreen oaks if I remember right — and a door standing 
well in the centre, and two windows on each side of the 
door. But once within, we bid farewell to the commonplace 
directly. Victor Hugo was evidently an ipsthete " before let- 
ters," an aesthete before the time when old oak, blue china, 
and tapestry had become fasliionahle. He must for years 
have collected these articles with assiduity and excellent dis- 



tttfi 



VICTOR HUGO 117 

cvotion. The place is full of tlicin : old oak, tiles, and a tapes- 
tried ceiling in the dining-room; old oak in the billiard- and 
smoking-rooms; old oak in the almost palatial guest-cham- 
ber prepared for Garibaldi, and to which Garibaldi never 
came ; and tapestry pretty well everywhere. Everywhere too, 
inscriptions in Latin or French, containing, as one may sup- 
pose, the quintessential wisdom which the poet-philosopher 
had distilled from the leaves of the Tree of Life: "The 
People are now little, but they will be great ;" " Night, 
death, life ;" " Life itself is an exile." There are portraits 
too of Victor Hugo,^ and c:,j of Madame Hugo, painted 
when she would be about thirty-five, a dark, handsome woman, 
with fine white arms and shoulders, and a face puissant, 
though scarcely intellectual, and an almost voluptuous look 
in the eyes. A few drawings executed by the poet are there 
also ; for this man of many aptitudes was a busy draughts- 
man, and with any kind of instrument, and any sort of pig- 
ment — ink, sepia, cigar ash, charcoal, mulberry juice, burnt 
onion, tooth paste, — would draw the vividest, most fantas- 
tic pictures, and might unmistakably have been a notable 
imaginative painter if he had not been the first poet of his 
time. At the back of the house a garden, fairly large and 
delightfully situated, tosses into every room the perfume of 
its flowers. 

But all this while we have not penetrated into the temple's 
inner shrine, not reached the place where the poet's thoughts 
were moulded into their often perfect form of words. In 
order to get to this, we must leave the ground floor where 
ai-e the dining-room and billiard-rooms ; must pass the draw- 
ing-room with its somewhat rococo gilding; must go higher 
still, past the Garibaldi chamber on the next floor ; and then 
up another flight of stairs, and through a short book-shelved 
corridor, when we shall find ourselves in a curious sort of 
glass-enclosed place, a place more like a photographer's stu- 
dio than anything else to which I can compare it; and there, 

1 Not very satisfactory portraits. Victor Hugo said in later life, 
" I really was a better looking young feUow than they used to paint me." • 



118 LIFE OF 

tliere in one corner, we shall see a black shelf, a kind of sim- 
ple standing-desk ; — and at that shelf Victor Hugo wielded 
his untiring pen. 

With such a view ! Through all the glass sides of the 
place, wherever one looks, thci-e is a very festival of nature's 
beauty. To the right is the green slope of the hill, gardens 
and trees, and a fort. Beyond lies the great encircling sea, 
with the long straight spine of Sark on the horizon. Nearer 
in are the twin islands of Jethou and Herni, and, dotted here 
and there, rocks romid which the white foam chafes almost 
constantly. Back towards the shore again. Castle Cornet 
stands on its rock below us, — and there is the port, and the 
shipping, and the long low line of the coast trending out at 
Saint Sampson ; and back again, further along the left, the 
town rising against the hill, and the red-roofed houses jost- 
ling one another at our feet. Well had this eagle spirit 
chosen his eyrie. One likes to think of him watching the 
changes of light and shadow that play over this superb ex- 
panse of land and sea, and seem to give it almost a voice. 

Close to this unique study is the little garret room in which 
Victor Hugo mostly slept. When I saw it, his father's sword 
lay on the bed, and there were on the walls two pictures of 
Victor Hugo himself as he lay dead. 

But death was not yet in the winter of 1855 -6, when Vic- 
tor Hugo would be moving into Hautevillc House. He was 
then a hale and hearty middle-aged man of fifty-four or so, 
with over thirty years more of good work in him ; and life, 
even life in the saddened garb of exile, must have smiled at 
him not unpleasantly as he set up his household gods in his 
new abo<le, and began to adorn it to his taste. One of his 
favourite sayings, we are told by M. Asseline, was to the 
eifect that " a little work is a burden, and much Avork a 
pleasure." And if we take this wholesome motto for true, 
as it indubitably is, he had many a happy hour in that glass 
study of his. His habits seem to have been very regular. 
He would rise at six, or shortly after, refresh himself with a 
sight of nature in her first morning beauty from the sort of 



VICTOR HUGO 119 

balcony that runs round tlic top of the house, and then write 
steadily, without interruption, till twelve. 

"After this, with his legs a little stiff, for he had acquired the 
haljit of standing as he wrote, and of walking when in the act of 
composition, he would come slowly down the stairs, the tapestry dead- 
ening the sound of his steps, and would lightly shake off his graver 
thoughts, and give them a holiday for the rest of the day. He was 
now no longer the poet, the insjjired prophet of a few minutes ago; 
he was the friend who came to be with his family, the dear kind friend 
who had always some pleasant word for greeting, and a tender caress 
for farewell. Ah, admirable great man! And how can I, when the 
word work is mentioned, not call to mind the ingenious tender devices 
by which he beguiled us to follow his example; for he did not like to 
see any one idle about him. ' No day without its line,' he was wont to 
say." 

So even Charles, " the indefatigable idler,"' who had now 
reached the age of twenty-nine, having been born on the 2nd 
of November, 1826, was won to labour, and wrought at his 
novels pretty regularly; while Fran9ois, who was two years 
younger, having been born on the 22nd of October. 1828, 
set himself assiduously to the gigantic task of translating 
Shakespeare. 

The latter was the more serious spirit of the two. " The 
younger is the austere one," said Victor Hugo in the some- 
what grandiloquent account which he gave of his two sons 
in the introduction to Charles Hugo's " Hommes de I'Exil ;" 
— " he never loses an hour, he entertains a religious respect 
for time, his habits are at once those of a Parisian and a 
monk ;" and the young man himself describes his existence 
at this time as that of a " Benedictine," and speaks of its 
" salutary monotonousness," and the health, content, and 
serenity of the household. In their opinions on political, 
literary, and social matters, the sons were closely in accord 
with the father. This indeed was counted to them for sin by 
Veuillot, of the venomous pen, who complained that, how- 
every much they might grow in years, they never seemed to 
put forth any branch or twig that ventured to stray beyond 
liie ]Kiternal enclosure. But, after all, their father was Vic- 
tor Hugo ; and, with such a father, a certain ductility of mind 



120 LIFE OF 

w;is excusable. jNIost of us, I think, will consider that there 
is something beautiful, and one may almost say august, in 
the sight of these three men so bravely, and with such unity 
of purjjosc, doing battle against adverse fortune. 

And what was the first jar of honey that came from this 
busy hive? A book of poems by Victor Hugo, with a preface 
dated Blarch, 1856, and " Les Contemplations " for title. 

The book is divided into two parts, of which the first is 
called " Formerly," and contains poems either written be- 
tween the years 1830 and 1843, or relating to these years; 
while the second is called " To-day," and refers, in the same 
manner, to the v'ears intervening between ISiS and 1855. 
And why should the poet thus have taken the year 1843 as 
marking so distinct an epoch in his life, and separating the 
present from the past? Because it was in that year that he 
had lost his elder daughter, Leopoldine. She had been mar- 
ried, on the 15th of February, to Charles A'acqueric, the 
brother of one of Victor Hugo's staunchcst admirers. The 
marriage was a marriage of love on both sides, and alto- 
gether happy. But on the 4th of September death stepped 
in, and turned the joy of both families into mourning. The 
Vacqueries lived at Villequicr on the Seine. The young cou- 
ple went out on the day in question for a sail down the river. 
A sudden wind upset the boat. The young bride seems to 
have lost her presence of mind, and resisted all her husband's 
efforts to detach her from the sinking craft. He was an ex- 
pert swimmer, and would probably have taken her safely 
to the shore if she had yielded to his efforts. That he might 
easil}' have saved himself tiiere seems no question. As it was, 
both were drowned.^ 

Such is the terrible tragedy that gives its tone to nmch of 
the second part of the " Contemplations." The father looks 
back into his daugliter's short life — he sees her in her child- 
hood, — " Ah, do you remember the pretty little dress she 
wore? " He thinks of her as she used to dance about iiis 

1 There is a strikinp; account of the accident in Alphonse Karr's 
" Guepes " for September, 1813. 



VICTOR HUGO 121 

desk as he sat at work, and scribble her formless pictures, 
her little lispings of art, over his papers, — " and, I don't 
know liow it liappened," he says, " but my best lines always 
seemed to spring into life on the parts of the paper that 
she had touched." He hears her at her play, too, listens to 
her pretty child-warblings of pleasure, as in the summer days 
she flitted here and there beneath his window. Then memory 
brings back the happy evenings they used to spend together 

— the book, or story — all that gracious companionship — - 
there is none surely more beautiful — between an intelligent 
girl and her fatlier. Gone, gone, things of the past, cov- 
ered one and all by the cere-cloth of death. And with the 
thought of death come the obstinate questionings, the dark 
misgivings, that death suggests. Does she know aught in 
tlie grave where she lies.'' Feeling so cold in her narrow 
bed, does she ask, " has my father forgotten me.'' " Forgot- 
ten.' How could that be.'' Twelve years afterwards, ad- 
dressing his wife, he can say that no single day has passed 
on which tliey have not incensed her name with love and 
prayer. And in that same twelfth year, being in Guernsey, 
on All Souls' Day, the " Day of the Dead," as the French 
call it, he turns his accustomed thought to the little church- 
yard by the Seine, and would so fain go thither once more 
and carry to the grave his tribute of flowers ; failing which 

— for the bitter waters of exile flow between him and the 
place — he wafts to his dead child, wherever she may be, the 
spirit of the book in which her memory is enslirined. 

But though Leopoldine ^'acquerie occupies so important 
a place in the " Contemplations," she by no means fills the 
book to the exclusion of other subjects. Victor Hugo's last 
volume of poems, exclusive of the " Chatiments," was " J.es 
RaA'ons et Les Ombres," publislicd in 1840; we are now in 
1856, and in the years between there is room for many poetic 
moods. So he gives us here poems of all sorts and kinds, 
from love poems that for " motive," aye, and fresh lyrical 
directness, are not unlike those written by Burns in honour 
of " Bonnie Jean," to poems that are as the " trumpet of 



122 LIFE OF 

a prophecy " of the good things in store when Christ shall 
have converted Belial, and other equally desirable, if remote, 
results have been attained. Some poems, too, there are here 
that may fittingly be called satires, in the old acceptance 
of the term. In short, essentially a miscellaneous volume 
of verse, and also, in some sort, a link between the poet's 
earlier and later manner. 

For now we I'each a new and admirable derelopment in his 
genius. With certain minor differences, the volumes ex- 
tending from the " Fcuilles d'Automne " to the " Contempla- 
tions " are, if we except the " Chatiments," fairly similar in 
form and manner. But in the two first volumes of the 
" Legcnde des Siecles," the poet gives us something novel, 
striking, superb. No doubt there were, here and there in 
Victor Hugo's former works, passages, as notably the de- 
scription in the '" Burgraves " of Barbarossa sleeping his 
age-long sleep, which, read in the light of the later book, 
seem prcsageful of its characteristic beauties. Such passages 
arc, however, rare. They are as the one swallow that does 
not make a summer. The '" Legendc des Siecles " came upon 
us in the autunui of 1859 like a revelation. 

Seldom, surely, can poet have chanced upon a subject, or 
class of subjects, more in harmony with his genius. Not his- 
tory did Victor Hugo now propose to paint — history with 
her severe outline, her impartial calm, her attitude of strict 
equity. What he here took for his model was history's 
strange shadowy sister, who sometimes looks as if she were 
history's double, and sometimes takes her place, and some- 
times mocks and mimics hex-, and sometimes, most often, 
perhaps, while maintaining a certain resemblance, assumes 
proportions, large, heroic, real yet unreal, and sometimes 
seems so altogether unlike that it is difficult to trace any re- 
lationship at all. Legend was to be his subject ; the " Legend 
of the Ages " was to inspire him for the nonce. Or, to 
change the image, like a paladin of old venturing forth on 
some hard quest, he had set himself to conquer and make 
his own the cloud-land of fancy and imagination that has 



VICTOR HUGO 123 

gathered from the dawn of time round the sober world of 
fact. 

And well was lie equipped for the adventure. Onlj' a 
great poet can leave with impunitj' the solid ground of na- 
ture, and attempt to give reality to the supernatural. As we 
read the " Ancient ]\Iariner," it never occurs to us to ques- 
tion any of the incidents of that uncanny voyage. The old 
man's spell is on us, as it was on the wedding guest. Cole- 
ridge utters his words of magic, and the transformation is 
effected. We see for the time with his eyes. And so, in 
this wonderful work, Victor Hugo holds each of us, " like " 
any " seven-years child," while he unfolds many a marvellous 
tale. We never think of doubting what lives so fully in his 
imagination, what he reproduces so vividly. As well might 
we doubt the reality of those scorching fires of Hell that 
had left their mark, as his contemporaries thouglit, upon 
the face of Dante; or of the fearful sights and sounds that 
beset Christian on his way through the Valley of the Shadow 
of Death. These things seem natural enough in the world 
which a great imagination creates. And so here, when Eblis, 
at work in his laboratory of evil, takes all Goil's best gifts 
and transforms them into the locust, and God in turn takes 
the locust and makes of it a sun, we are not astonished. 
When the lions to which Daniel has been thrown speak to 
us their grave thoughts, we listen without surprise. When 
the archangel shears off the head of the Emperor Ratbert, 
and wipes his sword upon the wind-vexed evening clouds, 
our only feeling is one of satisfaction that justice has been 
done. We follow unhesitatingly Canute the Parricide in 
his march of horror, when, being dead, he fares forth into 
the darkness, and takes the snow of the mountain to make 
him a winding-sheet, and feels its whiteness sullied, drop after 
drop, by a red rain of blood, and so wanders on for ever, 
(ifraid to appe;:r in the light of God's countenance. But 
here a quotation will help me, for a part of this poem has 
been excellently rendered by Mr. Gamett : 



124 LIFE OF 

" Evening came 
And hushed the organ in Uie holy place, 
And the priests, issuing from the temple doors, 
Left the dead king in peace. Tlien he arose. 
Opened his gloomy eyes, and grasped his sword. 
And went forth loftily. The massy walls 
Yielded before the phantom, like a mist. 
There is a sea where Aarhuus, Altona, 
And Elsinore vast domes and sliadowy towers 
Glass in deep waters. Over this he went 
Dark, and still Darkness listened for his foot 
Inaudil)le, itself being but a dream. 
Straight to Mount Savo went he, gnawed by time. 
And thus, ' O mountain, buffeted of storms. 
Give me of thy huge ni.antle of deep snow 
To frame a winding-sheet.' The mountain knew him. 
Nor dared refuse, and with his sword Canute 
Cut from its flank white snow, enough to make 
The garment he desired; and then he cried, 
'Old mountain! death is dumb; but tell me thou 
The way to God.' More deep each dread ravine 
And hideous hollow yawned, and sadly thus 
Answered that hoar associate of the clouds: 
' Spectre, I know not, I am always here.' 
Canute departed, and with head erect. 
All wliite and ghastly in his robe of snow, 
AVent forth into great silence and great night. 
By Iceland and Norway. After hira 
Gloom shallowed up the universe. He stood 
A sovran kingdomless, a lonely gho'it 
Confronted with Immensity. He saw 
The awful Infinite, at whose portal pale 
Lightning sinks dying; Darkness, skeleton 
Whose joints are nights, and utter Formlessness 
Moving confusedly in the horrible dark. 
Inscrutable and blind. No star was there, 
Yet something like a haggard gleam; no sound 
But the dull tide of Darkness, and her dumb 
And fearful shudder. "Tis the tomb,' he said: 
' God is beyond ! ' Three steps he took, then cried. 
'Twas deathly as the grave, and not a voice 
Responded, nor came any breath to sway 
The snowy mantle, with unsullied white 
Emboldening the spectral wanderer. 
Sudden he marked how, like a gloomy star, 
A spot grew broad upon his livid robe; 
Slowly it widened, raying darkness forth; 
And Canute proved it with his spectral hands: 
It was a drop of blood." 



VICTOR HUGO 125 

But in the world of legend there are other things besides 
the supernatural and marvellous. There are things which 
copy fact so closel}' as to be almost undistinguishable from 
it. That Philip 11., the " patient writer of the Escurial," 
as Motley calls him, sat at his desk, day after day, compass- 
ing the downfall of England, this we know. And may it 
not be true that some last puff of the tempest that scattered 
the Armada did actually penetrate into the Escurial garden 
and deflower the little Infanta's rose, bringing a flush of sur- 
prise and anger into her sweet child's face.'' " Madam," is 
the duenna's explanation and comment, " everything in the 
world belongs to princes except the wind." Was ever moral 
of a great event so daintily enforced? But there is an- 
other poem in the " Legende " in which we hug reality 
even more closely, the poem entitled " Les pauvres Gens " 
(" Poor Folk ")." The world is not so ill a place but that this 
touching and beautiful story has had its counterpart, many 
a time and oft, among the authentic annals of the poor. The 
fisherman who takes two little orphans into his already' over- 
brimming family belongs fortunately to a world not alto- 
gether of legend. 

Between the story of the " Pauvres Gens " on the one hand, 
and Canute the Parricide on the other, come legends of chiv- 
alry — of the mighty battle between Roland and Oliver, of 
the taking of Narbonne by Aymerillot, of the Cid, of other 
paladins ; — legends of the East, of Sultan Mourad saved 
from the last extremity of hell by his kindness to a swine ; 
legends of the Renaissance, and of Pan singing his strange 
wild song on Olympus before the gods ; legends of to-day ; 
and also apocalyptic visions of the future. 

For these last I confess to not caring very greatly. Thev 
are the preludes to a class of poem which finally invaded Vic- 
tor Hugo's art, and made it too often diffuse, formless, and 
void of interest. The singular advantage to the poet of the 
subjects which he mainly treated in the " Legende " was 
their comparatively concrete character. Each contained a 
story ; and, as he was an excellent story-teller, and a great 



126 LIFE OF 

artist to boot, lie naturally set himself to tell his story as 
well as possible, and with as little abstract disquisition and 
declamation as might be. Thus the legends did him the in- 
estimable service of holding his work together, of forcing him 
to concentrate himself. 

Language and verse too are of the highest quality. There 
is a force, an almost rugged strength about the former quite 
new in French poetry. As Milton takes English, and hews 
it, like a sculptor hewing marble, into shapes of imperish- 
able beauty, so here Victor Hugo takes French, a far less 
plastic material, and moulds it to his every purpose in his 
puissant hands. He never violates its laws, for, rash inno- 
vator as he has been called, he thoroughly respects the ma- 
terial in which he woi-ks. But he bends it to his fancy and 
iuiagination, and the result is superb. And as with the lan- 
guage, so with the verse. The French alexandrine becomes 
ductile to his touch, and as fit as our own blank verse for 
every highest poetic use. The " Legende des Siecles " is 
the work of a great master. It marks an epoch in the his- 
tory' of French literature. 

And with the prodigality of genius Victor Hugo was about 
to give to the world, beside this masterpiece in verse, a 
masterpiece in prose. The " I^egende des Siecles " had ap- 
peared in the autumn of 1859. On April 3, 1862, was pub- 
lished simultaneously in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, 
Madrid, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Turin, the first volume 
of the " lAIiserables." 

The book had been begun, we are told, long years before, 
even so far back as in the daj's anterior to 18-i8, and had 
afterwards been gradually worked upon, added to, altered. 
And it bears in some respects the mark of this slow fitful- 
ness of growth. Not that there is any want of unity of 
effect or purpose. That is very far from being the case. 
But the unity, to use a very old image, which, however, is 
here so apposite that I must be forgiven for making it do 
sei'vice once more — the unity is that of a Gothic cathedral, 
and quite compatible with all kinds of episodical additions 



VICTOR HUGO 127 

and outgrowths. These, in the " IMiserables," are of very 
diverse interest and value. It would be too much to affirm 
that a description of tlie battle of Waterloo was essential to 
the book. No doubt the father of IMarius, the second hero, 
ivS all but slain in that " king-making victory," and IVIarius 
himself greatly influenced in after years by the manner of 
his father's rescue. But to hold it necessary on this ground 
to give a full account of the battle is taking a very liberal 
view of the novelist's functions. Nevertheless few of us 
would wish Victor Hugo's description unwritten. It may or 
may not be strategically exact — of this I am no judge. It 
is at least a fine effective piece of battle painting, and not to 
be spared. But when Marius in turn is rescued, and the nov- 
elist thereupon thinks it incumbent upon him to give an ac- 
count of the origin and history of the sewers through which 
the wounded 3'outh is borne, — why then we feel inclined to 
use the reader's privilege of " skipping." Except to a spe- 
cialist, the sewers of Paris, regarded in their historical as- 
pect, can scarcely have an interest for any one ; and the 
specialist would probably regard Victor Hugo's erudition as 
not beyond cavil. 

However, this is but playing in the outskirts of a mighty 
book, or, to go back to our cathedral image, entering by some 
little lateral door, and peeping at the side-chapels and sacristv 
to the neglect of the great dim nave and soaring choir. Let 
us enter, as enter we should, by the west portal which Victor 
Hugo himself has prepared for us. 

"So long," says the preface, "as, owing to the operation of laws 
and customs, there exists a social damnation creating artificial hells 
in the midst of civilization, and complicating destiny, which is Divine, 
with an element of human fatality; so long as the three problems of 
the age, the degradation of man through proletarianism, the fall of 
woman through hunger, the atrophy of the child through night, are 
unsolved; so long as in certain regions social asphyxia is still possible; 
or, in other words, and looking at the matter from a more extended 
standpoint, so long as ignorance and misery remain upon the earth — 
«o long books of this kind may not be without use." 



128 LIFE OF 

Of thu influence of luws and customs in all this, I may have 
somowhat to say hereafter. Meanwhile we will look into the 
" artiiicial hells " of which the novelist speaks. 

Jean V'aljean the hero, the leading character of the book, is 
a convict. He had stolen a loaf of bread for his starving 
sister and her seven starving children, and had thereupon 
been sent to the hulks. Here he remained for several years, 
and at last, when the story begins, comes forth into the 
world again, bearing in his heart a bitter hatred for his fel- 
low-men. His first experiences of outside life are not calcu- 
lated to dispel this feeling. Though able and willing to 
pay for a night's lodging, he is driven from place to place, 
and at last even barked and bitten out of a dog-kennel. 
Then a kindly soul directs him to the dwelling of the good 
bishop, Myriel. The man is quite worn out and desperate, 
and makes no attempt to conceal his character. But the 
saintly bishop entertains him hospitably, and as an equal, and 
sets him to sleep in the guest-chamber of the house. Jean 
Valjean wakes in the middle of the night. Evil and good 
contend in his breast. He rises stealthily, and steals his gen- 
erous host's small supply of silver plate. In the morning 
he is found by the rural police with the spoons and forks 
on him, and naturally brought back as a thief. But M. 
Myriel obtains his release by saying that the articles have 
been given to him, and adds to the gift two silver candlesticks. 
Even 3'et, however, the evil in Jean Yaljean's heart is not con- 
quered. In a strange state of mental perturbation, he robs 
a child of a two-franc bit. Then a great horror of himself 
comes over him. 

Nor is his repentance transient. We next find him as a 
beneficent manufacturer, under the name of M. Madeleine, 
making his own fortune and that of the district in which he 
has settled. He is honest, kindly, and generous. One of his 
good works is to rescue a poor sick girl called Fantine, who 
has been seduced and heartlessly abandoned by a Paris stu- 
dent — a poor girl who, to support her little daughter, has 
sold all — her shame, her teeth, her hair. But just as he 



VICTOR HUGO 129 

is about to bring together the dying mother and her child, 
a terrible complication arises in his own affairs. He hears 
that a man has been arrested for his own old theft of the two- 
franc bit, and may possibly be condemned. Then a fearful 
conflict arises in his breast. Is it his duty to give himself up 
to justice, to cut short his own most useful career, to go 
back to the living death of tlie hulks? Fiercely does the 
tempest rage in his brain. For a whole night it sways this 
way and that. At last right prevails. With immense diffi- 
culty he succeeds in reaching the place of trial in time to save 
the false Jean Valjean. 

Does the reader follow Victor Hugo's thought.? Here, he 
seems to say, is a man who has achieved the immensely diffi- 
cult task of reforming his own character, a man who is good, 
wise, useful, — and yet, because of his past, because in a mo- 
ment of fierce mental crisis he has deprived a child of two 
francs, he is branded and irretrievably ruined. 

So poor Jean Valjean is retaken, and sent back to the 
hulks. But he escapes ; and finds poor little Cosette — who 
meanwhile has been villainously used by tlie people to whom 
Fantine had confided her — and hides himself from pursuit 
in the great wilderness of Paris. There the child grows into 
a beautiful girl ; and Love takes her destiny in hand, as Love 
sometimes does take in hand the destiny of men and maidens, 
and she gives her heart to Marius de Pontmercy. But 
though Love be ready enough to direct our lives, he does not 
always lead them into the smoothest of paths, and Cosette and 
IMarius have to pass over many rocks and direful places. 
Jean Valjean, too, has his troubles. Indeed one ratlier pities 
him than the two lovers, for they have youth and its hopeful- 
ness on their side, while he is old, and Cosette is his all. 
However, here again, he conquers all lower feeling, resigns 
his more than daughter to her lover, saves that lover's life at 
the risk of his own, and without that lover's knowledge; and 
then dies, almost forsaken, except at the very last, by those 
for whom he had done so much. 

But how, by any weak process of epitome or analysis, con- 



180 LIFE OF 

vcy to the reader any impression of the power of this great 
book? There arc chajjters upon cliaptcrs in it that for 
grandeur and pathos cannot be surpassed. Sucli is the clia])- 
ter to which I have already alluded, tlie chapter entitled 
I" Une tempete sous un crane," describing the storm in Jean 
IValjean's brain when he is debating whether lie should de- 
liver himself up to justice. Such are the chapters relating to 
poor little Cosctte, — her terrified walk in the dark to tlie 
village well — her little broken wooden shoe put out on 
Clu'istmas eve in the hope that some Santa Claus niiglit pass 
that way — though, heaven knows, no Santa Claus had ever 
put anything into it on previous occasions. Such — I am 
quoting almost at hazard — is the short chapter comparing 
Jean Valjean's position to that of a man lost and sinking in 
mid-ocean. And everywhere the descriptions live, the events 
move. We see it all. Each scene is present to us. And the 
characters live too. Bishop Myriel, apostolic as he may be, 
is no lay figure. Jean A'aljcan is a man of very real flesh 
and blood. Poor Fantine one seems to know ; and Cosette 
most certainly ; and Marius as a " jeune premier " of a very 
French type. Marius' royalist grandfather, M. Gillenor- 
mand, is also genuine enough, if somewhat caricatured. And 
there are two characters that live not only as individuals, but 
as types. These are, Javcrt, the ideal policeman, whose life 
is wrecked on finding that Jean Valjean, though a convict, 
is not a scoundrel ; — and Gavroclic, the little street arab, 
the town sparrow of Paris. The latter with his light gaiety, 
I his ready wit, his queer kindliness, his pluck under fire, may 
be said to have won a place in universal literature beside 
Gil Bias and Don Quixote, and mine uncle Toby, and Sam 
Weller. Did not !M. Renan lately inform us how many years 
of study and anxious thought it had taken him to reach the 
high serenity of Gavroche's religious opinions.'' 

Victor Hugo was not one of those novelists who are fond 
of masquerading in their own novels. We can nowhere point 
to any character of his and say that it is merely A'ictor 
Hugo in another dress, and represents either what he thought 



VICTOR HUGO 131 

himself to be, or wished liimself to be thought. Tlie char- 
acter who comes nearest to be an exception to this is Marius 
de Montmercy, whose experiences have a very suggestive sim- 
ilarity to the earl}' experiences of the novelist. Both have 
been brought up in monarchical opinions. Both have im- 
perialist fathers who have served under Napoleon. Both 
work through imperialism to republicanism. Both fall in 
love — though that perhaps is not distinctive, — and in both 
cases the love-idyl is connected with a garden. Both, too, 
are crossed in love — separated by untoward chance, from the 
object of their affections; — and both pass through a season 
of penury and almost want ; and finally the love-suits of both 
are crowned with success. 

The publication of the " Miserables " was an event, as 
many of us can very well remember. The power and pathos 
of the book were unmistakable. Vigour in the painting of 
the scenes, admirable, effectiveness in narration, real vitality 
in the characters, intense sympathy with the down-trodden 
and suffering, a style such as no other contemporary, and 
but few writers of any other time could handle — when a 
novel possesses qualities like these, it is a very great novel. 
Here, as in the " Legende des Siecles," Victor Hugo was at 
his best. So every one read the book, and nearly every one 
admired it, and it flew into all lands upon the wings of many 
languages. When the publication was complete, on the 16th 
of September, 1862, M. Lacroix, the publisher, gave a grand 
banquet to the author at Brussels. Thither flocked liberal 
journalists and literary men from Paris, and writers from 
various quarters, and all was conviviality and congratulation. 

But soon the busy worker was at work again. In the 
spring of 1864 appeared his book entitled " William Shake- 
speare " — a book, as Mr. Swinburne admits, that " throws 
more light on the greatest genius of our own century than 
on the greatest genius of the age of Shakespeare." And in 
good sooth the light it throws on the latter is scarcely blind- 
ing. But it shows what Victor Hugo himself had come to 
regard as the poet's mission. The poet, as he here tells us. 



132 LIFE OF 

" for a ti-utli, is a priest. There is but one pontiff here be- 
low, — genius." Whereupon, if we ask by what signs we 
are to recognise our spiritual pastors and masters, we arc told 
tliat they are " the men who represent the total sum of the 
absolute realisable by man," that they attain to the " highest 
summit of the human spirit," " the ideal," where " they oc- 
cupy thrones," and that their thoughts plunge into the abyss 
of the infinite. Alas, it was an evil day when Victor Hugo 
embraced these ecclesiastical opinions. Exile had served him 
well in many ways. It had forced him to concentrate himself 
on great work, as he had not done, latterly at least, amid the 
mental dissipations of Paris. But clearly brooding in soli- 
tude, and receiving the adulation of his own party, were not 
without danger. To few is it given in this world to pon- 
tificate with advantage, or even with impvmity. 

IMeanwhile, during the publication of all these books, the 
snows of age were gatliering on the poet's head. He had 
left France in 1851 a middle-aged man of forty-eight. In 
the autunm of 1865, when his next volume after " William 
Shakespeare " appeared, he had reached the riper age of 
sixty-two. But tliough the " Chansons des Rues et des 
Bois " (" Tlie Songs of the Streets and the Woods ") is thus 
not the production of a j'oung man, yet it is, in the class 
of subjects treated, and the mode of treatment also, the most 
juvenile of the books written by Victor Hugo after he was 
out of his teens. " There is a certain moment of life," he 
says in the preface, " when . . . the desire to look back 
becomes irresistible. Our youth, dead in her beauty, re- 
appears to us and insists on claiming our thoughts." So the 
poet sings here of youth's liglit gossamer loves, the very this- 
tledown of early passion — sings, tliough with less of sensu- 
ality, almost as Beranger had sung of Lisette — sings, 
though with less of real feeling, as Burns had sung of Bonnie 
Jean and Highland Mary. Does the singing sound false 
at aU.' is the reader inclined to ask; does the quavering 
falsetto of age mar the delivery of the notes.? Why, no; 
one cannot fairly say that there is any defect of this kind. 



VICTOR HUGO 133 

If the book were a young man's book, one would accept it as 
genuine enougli, and have nothing but praise for the deft 
skill, the admirable craftsmanship of the versification. Our 
only feeling of incongruity comes from a knowledge that the 
writer must long have put away the childish things of which 
he speaks. 

A novel conies next in the long roll of Victor Hugo's works, 
a novel with a short preface dated March, 1866. It is en- 
titled "Les Travailleurs de la Mer " ("The Toilers of the 
Sea"), and the scene is laid partly in Guernsey and partly 
on a lone rock-reef amid the ever-boiling waters. Gilliatt 
and Deruchette are the hero and heroine — the latter a pretty 
piece of not very distinctive womanhood — the former a fine 
fellow, gifted with a strength of body and will beyond mor- 
tal. Poor Gilliatt ! the fates were decidedly harsh to him. 
Why does Deruchette unwittingly and unintentionally win 
his heart by writing his name in the snow? Why, when her 
uncle's steamer is lost, does she — like any princess of ro- 
mance sure of the inestimable value of her charms — pi'o- 
claim that she will marry whomsoever rescues the wrecked 
vessel.'' Ought pretty girls to make such rash vows, espe- 
cially' when they have no intention of keeping them.'' Vainly 
does Gilliatt go forth to the reef where the boat has been 
cast by the sea ; vainly does he fight for long weeks against 
mechanical difficulties wellnigh insurmountable, against the 
weather's worst inclemencies, against hunger and thirst, 
against growing weakness, against a monstrous devil-fish 
of the deep, against the full fury of an Atlantic storm ; vainly 
does he conquer all these, rescue the steamer's engine and 
bring it back single-handed to St. Sampson. When he pre- 
sents himself, all weather-scarred and hacked with toil, be- 
fore Derucliette, he finds that that young woman has, during 
his absence, given her heart to a pretty young clergyman. 
Hyperion to a satyr they stand before her. Gilliatt recog- 
nizes his defeat ; magnanimously helps his rival to a somewhat 
unceremonious marriage ; and suif ers the sea to swallow him 
up just as the boajb containing the bride and bridegroom dips 



184 LIFE OF 

below the horizon. An unhappy ending certainly. A man 
of tiiis power might have done mankind some service. Pity 
so strong a craft should have foundered in the wake of a light 
little feather-brained pleasure-boat like Miss Deruchette. 
But such things have happened since the days of Solomon, 
and were possibly not even unknown before the reign of that 
wise monarch. 

It were idle to declare that " Les Travailleurs de la Mer," 
notwithstanding some grand seascapes, and a kind of Titanic 
heroism in the principal cliaracter, is at all comparable with 
so majestic a work as " Les Miserables." But at least the 
world to which it introduces us is a sufficiently real world for 
all art purposes. The secondary personages are quite possi- 
ble — some even apparently sketched from actual life — and 
Gilliatt himself is a character that the world of fiction could 
ill spare. When, however, we come to Victor Hugo's next 
novel, " L'Homme qui rit " (the "Laughing ]\Lin "), pub- 
lished in 1869, we are carried to regions the like whereof were 
never trodden by human foot nor conceived by a healthy im- 
agination. " The repulsiveness of the scheme of the story," 
says Mr. Louis Stevenson, " and the manner in which it is 
bound up with impossibilities and absurdities discourage the 
reader at the outset, and it needs an effort to take it as 
seriously as it deserves." Mr. Louis Stevenson is a critic 
from whom one differs with doubt — feeling that he may 
probably be right ; but yet I confess to not seeing how such 
a book can deser\-e to be taken seriously at all. To me it is 
simply a preposterous, an impossible book. That Victor 
Hugo possessed no knowledge of the England of Queen 
Anne's day is abundantly clear. That his knowledge of the 
England of an}' day was of the most fantastic character 
scarcely needs formal proof. The historical names in this 
book are misspelt in a way that shows ignorance as well as 
carelessness. The English names which he invents for his 
imaginary characters, Lord Tom-Jim-Jack, Govicum, the 
pot-boy, Phelem-ghe-madone, the prizt^fighter, Barkilphcdro, 
the courtier-parasite, are names to excite deri.sion. Whether 



VICTOR HUGO 133 

Southwark was pronounced " Soudric " in Queen Anne's days, 
I don't know. It certainly is not pronounced " Sousouorc " 
now. Neither is " Fibi " or " Vinos " at all likely to con- 
vey to a French ear the sound of the English " Venus " or 
" Phoebe." Neither are Englishmen in the habit of address- 
ing God as " My Lord," though Victor Hugo gravely as- 
sures us that this is the case, and bases moral teachings on 
that form of address to the deity. Neither was a " wapen- 
take " a kind of superior policeman. Neither was James II. 
in any sense a "jovial" monarch. Nor, in short, does any- 
thing in this fantastic book bear any resemblance to anj'thing 
that ever was or ever will be. 

However, let us take the book out of the region of his- 
tory and political purpose altogether, and regard it simply 
as a novel. Let us accept it as true that a king — James 
II. if you like — has, for eccentric purposes of his own, or- 
dered a set of polyglot scoundrels to cut off a boy's lips, so 
that he shall wear an eternal grin upon his face; and then 
let us follow the boy's fortunes — his meeting with Dca, the 
little blind girl, with Ursus the kindly misanthropic tramp ; 
his growth to manhood ; his love for Dea ; his love passages 
with Lady Josiane the virgin harlot ; his recognition as a 
peer of the realm; his single speech to their lordships; his 
return to Ursus and Dea ; and his death. Let us look at the 
persons he conies across in the course of his career. Can it 
be said that a single one of them lives.'' They all strut about 
in a galvanic sort of a manner certainly, and they all talk, 
and in exactly the same way. But does a single one of them 
live? Can one of them, with the single doubtful exception 
of Lady Josiane, be said to have a human character.'' And 
how many of the scenes possess even as much likelihood as is 
required for the purposes of fiction? Certainl}' not the sink- 
ing of the vessel containing the pol^yglot scoundrels afore- 
said, nor the amazing trial, nor the wonderful prize-fight in 
which foul blows are freely allowed. Of course there are 
striking scenes and pieces of literary art. A writer like Vic- 
tor Hugo does not write a long book without showing signs" of 



136 LIFE OF 

his power. Charles Keade lield him to be the one great genius 
of this century, adding, however, that he sonictinies liad tlic 
nightmare. In " L'Homme qui rit " the nightmare decidedly 
predominates. 

Place the book in thought, for a moment, beside Thack- 
eray's " Esmond." Both relate to the same period of Eng- 
lish history. The one reproduces faultlessly the spirit of 
that period, and makes the days of Queen Anne live for us 
again. The other, with far greater professions of accuracy 
and research, is an absurd caricature. Victor Hugo was the 
great romanticist of his time; Thackeray the great English 
classic of his generation. There were things that \'ictor 
Hugo could do magnificentl3', and that Thackeray couitl not 
touch. But in such comparison as this the Frenchman's 
work is " as the small dust of the balance," and kicks the 
beam. Place " L'Homme qui rit " beside " Esmond," and its 
unreality becomes doubly glaring. 

The publication of " L'Homme qui rit " takes us to 1869, 
and therefore to the eve of A'ictor Hugo's re-entry into 
France. If we look back to the fourteen years of his so- 
journ in Guernsey, we shall see that they had been filled with 
excellent work. Indeed his pen had been so prolific as to 
leave me scant space for the chronicling of domestic events. 
This, however. Is the less to be regretted, inasmuch as the 
years in question were, for the most part, barren of striking 
incident. Guernsey had been like a haven of refuge after 
the storms in Paris, Brussels, and Jersey. Of the way of 
life at Hauteville House, a word has alrcad_y been said. The 
morning was spent in work. At twelve came the French 
breakfast, or early lunch. Then thci-e were long walks — 
for the poet was here an xniwcaried pedestrian, as he had 
always been when in Paris ; — and many huntings about for 
bric-a-brac of various kinds ; and billiards ; and other forms 
of amusement. With tlie society of Guernsey, I was in- 
formed, locally, that the Hugos did not mix very much. 
Every Thursday a dinner was given to some of the poorest 
children in the island. Of course the poet paid the penalty 



VICTOR HUGO 137 

of greatness in having an enormous correspondence. With 
the success of his books wealth had returned, and his well- 
known generosity tempted applicants from all quarters. 
Literary letters also flowed in upon him. Scarce a French 
author-aspirant who did not wish to submit his verse or prose 
to " the Master." Towards such " the ^Master " was not al- 
ways quite ingenuous. It has been said of Lamartine, Vic- 
tor Hugo, and George Sand, that the first answered j'oung 
writers by saying, " Thank you, you are very good ;" the 
second, " Thank you, you are very great ;" and that the 
woman alone had sufficient candour to express an honest opin- 
ion on the productions submitted to her judgment. The 
bill is a true one. Victor Hugo's praises on such occasions 
were perfectly indiscriminate, and often • — as in the case of 
31. IVIaximc du Camp — quite absurdly fulsome. 

The years between 1856 and 1870 are marked by four 
events of capital importance in the domestic annals of the 
Hugos — for it seems unnecessary to give any record here 
of summer trips to Brussels, Zealand, and elsewhere. It 
was during th.ese j-ears that Fran9ois Hugo loved and lost 
a Guernsey girl to whom he was engaged, and greatly at- 
tached ; that Adele Hugo, much against her father's wish as 
I o-ather, married an English naval officer; and that Charles 
Hugo married, at Brussels, a ward of M. Jules Simon, the 
eminent orator, writer, and statesman. And it was on the 
28th of August, 1868, and also at Brussels, that Madame 
Hugo bade to her husband and children her last farewell. 
She had asked to be buried beside her daughter, at Villequier. 

So, amid the joys and sorrows that are common to the 

greatest as well as the least of men, did the years of the 

poet's exile wear to a close. But before passing on, it is 

only just to record the impression which he left on the mind 

of one who knev.- him well at this time: 

" He was good enough," says M. Asseline, " to accept my friend- 
ship, and to give me liis own in return. I was long his neighbour, 
and often his guest. We have travelled together.i With his sons 

1 All testimony is unanimous that he was the most delightful of 



138 LIFE OF 

he was ever radiant, the gayest, and most alert of us all. Every- 
where, and at all times, I have seen him gracious and good,— I am 
describing liiin here as I have known him in the intimacy of private 
life, and" such as he shows himself in his letters — kindly and indul- 
frent to his own people, and full of good-will towards all. It is not 
r'Tlit that future generations should only remember Victor Hugo as 
•the Master,' the pontiff-king. There was akso in him the man, the 
kindly relation, the friend, and in eadi of these characters he was 
most lovable." 



CHAPTER XI 



IN August, 1870, the eyes of all the world were turned to- 
wards the frontier lands between Germany and France. 
At the news of the first disasters to the French arms, Victor 
Hugo left Guernsey and hurried to Brussels. Thither, in 
the first days of that terrible September, came tidings of 
the Emperor's capitulation at Sedan; and, on the -tth, the 
news of the revolution which had swept away the wreckage of 
the F^mpirc, and established a Republic on the ruins. Vic- 
tor Hugo might have returned to his native land in 1859, 
and again ten years afterwards; but though his son Fran- 
cois had accepted the later amnesty, and had for some months 
been doing opposition journalistic work,' he had haughtily 
declared that, so long as Louis Napoleon held criminal sway, 
he should not deign to put his foot on French soil. Now, 
however, the way was open. The Empire was gone; the 
country in sore need. On the 5th he took the train from 
Brussels to Paris. 

jVI. Claretie, the voluminous novelist, dramatist, journal- 
ist, who has just been made an Academician, accompanied 
ihe poet on this somewhat memorable journey, and has told 
its incidents. He describes how Victor Hugo, wearing a soft 
felt hat, and carrying a small travelling bag slung across 

travelling companions, uniformly good-tempered and ready to be 
pleased. 

1 On the lUiipel, in Paris. 



VICTOR HUGO 139 

his shouldprs, took his ticket for Paris — the very IMecca of 
all Frenchmen - — with a ver}' natural emotion ; how he sat 
in the ti'ain watching for the first glimpse of the old loved 
countr}' ; how tears filled his eyes at the sight of some of 
A'inoy's defeated soldiers, and how he tried to cheer the pool 
worn-out wretches by shouts of " A'ive la France ! Vive 
I'Armee ! Vive la Patrie ! " Then the shades of evening 
began to gather, and it was ten o'clock before the train 
reached its destination. Charles Hugo was accompan^'ing 
his father. But on the platform were Francois Hugo, and 
the poet's friends and disciples, M. Vacquerie and M. Paul 
Meurice. 

These raised a great shout of " Vive Victor Hugo ! " — 
but there were wounded men in the train, and the shout 
was silenced ; — to be taken up again, however, outside the 
station, by thousands upon thousands of throats, and to 
roll, like a great sea of acclamation, all along the way to 
Paul Meurice's house. " Never," says M. Alphonse Daudet, 
the novelist, — " never can I forget the sight as the carriage 
passed along the Rue Lafayette, Victor Hugo standing up 
and being literally borne along by the multitude." 

So there was great and pardonable excitement, on either 
side, as the old man, whose vigour was still that of youth, 
came back among the people he loved so well ; — and he spake 
to them words, not unfitting nor wanting in appropriate 
eloquence, on the duty of defending and saving Paris, and 
the immediate duty, above all, of being at unity among 
themselves. 

But his words lost their magic when addressed to other 
than French hearts. As the ring of iron drew ever closer 
and closer round the doomed city, it occurred to him that he 
might with advantage address an appeal to the advancing 
Prussians. They, however, were scarcely in a mood to be 
moved by antithetical distinctions between the Empire and 
France's new government, still less to listen patiently to 
panegyrics of Paris as the place where " men learn to live," 
" the city of cities," " the city of men," the city occupy- 



140 LIFE OF 

ing thfi position of pre-eminence formerly occupied by Athens 
and Rome, — the " centre " beside which " Berlin, Dresden, 
Vienna, Munich and Stuttgart," were but as provincial capi- 
tals. When the beast that lurks in the dark places of our 
humanity is roused and roaring, no remembered services, how- 
ever great, will appease his rage. Did not the people of Sel- 
kirk tlirow stones at Sir Walter Scott's carriage during the 
Reform agitation, and the populace of London break the Duke 
of Wellington's windows Nay, within a very few months of 
the issue of this manifesto, was not Victor Hugo himself, when 
speaking in defence of the Communards, to have his hour of 
unpopularity among his own countrymen, and to be bitterly 
assailed and reviled, even by such approved liberals as M. 
Sarcey.' Could it be reasonably expected that the Germans, 
who owed Victor Hugo nothing, should be stayed in tlie full 
rush of conqviest by invidious comparisons between their own 
cities and Paris.'' They have somewhat to answer for in con- 
nection with the war. But that they took this manifesto very 
ill, and even suggested the propriety of " hanging the poet," 
can scarcely excite our wonder. 

The poet, meanwhile, has decided to remain in the be- 
leaguered city, and take his share in its perils. That he 
should be a personage there, or, indeed, anj'where, is a matter 
of course ; and pieces from the " Chatimciits " are freely re- 
cited for patriotic purposes, and one of the cannon presented 
to the city by the Society of Men of Letters is christened 
with his name. But he takes no very active part in such 
politics as are possible, and refuses to abet anj"^ revolutionary 
movement that might hamper the defence. As usual, he bears 
a brave heart, cheering all those about him by his gay endur- 
ance of the privations incident to a siege. He even wears the 
little military ktpi of the National Guard, incurring thereby 
the contempt of General Trochu, whose sneers he afterwards 
answers in kind. His sons are in Paris also, and his two in- 
fant grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne — of whom he is to 
write so often anfl so patlietically ; and on the 1st of January, 
amid the flash of swords and the sparkle of bayonets, he takes 



VICTOR HUGO 141 

to tlie little ones his new year's gift of toys. He wanders 
about the city a great deal, too, revisiting the old haunts so 
familiar in days of yore ; and once, when musing in the place 
where the garden of the Feuillantincs had been, — musing of 
his far-distant childhood, of his mother, of the wife he has 
lost,- — a bombshell breaks in rudely upon his meditations. 
Anon the poor little baby Jeanne falls ill, for the unnatural 
diet tells heavily on infant life, and a great fear falls upon 
the grandfather's heart lest the child should die. He writes a 
good deal, of course, writes much of the verse that finds a place 
in the " Annee Terrible," published two years afterwards : 
verse denunciatory of Louis Napoleon, and the Prussians, and 
kings, and priests, and full of patriotism ; but inferior, as I 
venture to think, to the verse which he would have written, 
in less didactic days, on the terrible tragedy being enacted 
before his eyes. And all this while the weary weeks of the 
siege are crawling onwards, with hope now and again of 
some successful sortie or of relief from without, and the per- 
sistent accumulated horrors of war, famine, and winter ; and 
finally the dread certainty that everything is in vain, that 
General Trocjui has no plan, has never had a plan, and that 
capitulation is inevitable. 

So came the end; and on the 8th of February, 1871, elec- 
tions were held, with Germany's consent, to determine whether 
poor France should drain the cup of war to the last dregs, or 
submit to be dismembered and despoiled. Victor Hugo was 
elected second on the list, with 214,169 votes, by the Depart- 
ment of the Seine, and reached Bordeaux, where the Assembly 
was to meet, on the 14th. Seldom has popular assembly had 
to decide on a more momentous issue, or been placed between 
the horns of a more dreadful, a more hideous dilemma. 

Victor Hugo spoke in the Assembly itself three times, and 
in committee once. He spoke in favour of the continuance of 
the war, in favour of the deputies from Alsace and Lorraine 
retaining their seats in the Assembly, even after the cession 
of the two provinces ; in favour of the retention of Paris as 
the seat of government ; in favour of recognizing the election 
of Garibaldi, which it had been proposed to annul. The last 



142 LIFE OF 

speech was violentlv interrupted. Garibaldi's name was of 
an ill savour in the Assembly. France, in her hour of an- 
guish, had turned towards her rural gentry, and a great pro- 
portion of the members were royalists and good Catholics. 
To these Graribaldi's anti-clerical opinions were a stone of 
stumbHng. Victor Hugo had already, in his first speech, 
offended their susceptibilities by ill-advised remarks on the 
Pope. When therefore he declared that Garibaldi " was the 
onlv general who had fought on the French side, and not 
been defeated," there arose a mighty hubbub, — in the midst 
of which he, then and there, resigned his seat. 

Xot an altogether dignified proceeding perhaps. If a 
man, however eminent, enters parUamentary Hfe, he must ac- 
cept its conditions. He can hardly expect a miscellaneous 
popular assembly to listen to him as the College of Cardinals 
listen to an allocution from the Papal chair. Though, how- 
ever, Victor Hugo certainly exhibited some petulance on this 
occasion, yet it cannot be a matter of regret to his admirers 
that he abandoned a sphere for which he was not certainly 
now, if he ever had been, well fitted. His few speeches in 
the Assembly are sufficient to show how entirely he had become 
unfitted for practical politics. 

This happened on the 8th of ilarch. On the 13th, and 
just as he was about to take his departure from Bordeaux, a 
terrible calamity fell upon him. He had on that dav invited 
a few friends to a farewell dinner. Charles Hugo was to be 
of the party, and started in a cab for the place of meeting. 
When the cab arrived, he was found to be dead, struck down 
by a fit of apoplexy. The father took the body of his son to 
Paris, and buried it there on the memorable 18th of March, 
amid the first sputterings and mutterings of the horrible insur- 
rection of the Commune, — buried it with funeral procession of 
promiscuous National Guards, and with insurgents on the 
barricades presenting arms to the dead. Then, on the 21st 
of March, he went on to Brussels to settle his son's afi^airs. 

But not here, and not yet, was this stormy petrel of politics 
to find rest. From Brussels he watched, as may be supposed. 



VICTOR HUGO 143 

with an intense absorbing interest — all Europe was watching 
it too — the outbreak of revolutionary passion in Paris. His 
sympathies, on the whole, were on the side of the Commune. 
Was not Paris the first city of the world.' Was she not, 
above all other cities, entitled to govern herself.? Was not 
the majority of the Assembly a majority of reactionists.? 
Was it not their ineptitude that had goaded the people of 
Paris into revolution? Accordingly, though forced to admit 
that the movement, involving as it did a civil war almost within 
gunshot of the Germans, was at least inopportune, and though 
constrained to condemn many of the actions of the Com- 
munards, their murders and incendiarism, and the destruction 
of Napoleon's column, yet as I have said, his sympathies were, 
on the whole, rather with them than with the party of order. 
So when they were defeated and ruthlessly jnniished, he lifted 
up a voice of protest. The Belgian Government had de- 
cided not to treat them as political refugees, but ri the enemies 
of mankind, and to refuse them admittance into the counti-y. 
He, on his side, declared, publicly and with pomp, in a letter 
to the Indcpendance Edge, dated the 26th of :\Iay, that if 
any escaped Communard came to his dwelling, "Place des 
Barricades, No. 4," he should be taken in and protected. This 
letter, not altogether unnaturally, exasperated the loyal Bel- 
gians. Some fifty of them collected, on the night of the 27th, 
before his house, and threw stones at the windows, and howled 
out their execrations; and on the 30th of May the Govern- 
ment, for the second time, intimated to him that he must go 
elsewhere. Accordingly, on the 2nd of June, he had made 
his way into Luxembourg. 

But from this date, at last, something like comparative 
peace is reached. Of course a man like Victor Hugo, with 
his passionate convictions, keen interest in public affairs, and 
full assurance that he possesses a seer's foresight for the di- 
rection of mankind, is not likely to abandon politics al- 
together. In this same year, 1871, we find him refusing, 
ultra-liberal as he is, to accept an electoral mandate, but pre- 
senting himself once more and this time unsuccessfully, as a 



144 LIFE OF 

candidate for re-election to the Assembly ; and on the 30th of 
January, 1876, he is elected to the Senate. But practically, 
after June, 1871, his career as an active politician is over. 
If he still writes and speaks in favour of the amnesty, the 
necessity of making Paris once more the capital of France, 
and other matters political and social, he does so as a publicist 
only, and not as a militant party man. More and more, as 
the end draws near, docs he withdraw from the arena. 

But still he wrote apace. Many poets of renown have not, 
ill their whole lives, written as much as he published between 
1872 and 1885, that is, between his seventieth and eighty- 
third years. The volumes during that period followed one 
another so rapidly that it is scarcely passible for the epit- 
omizing biographer to do more than barely catalogue their 
titles. First, on the 20th of April, 1872, appeared " L'An- 
nee Terrible," to which I have already referred, using it as a 
record of the poet's life during the siege. It is dedicated 
" to Paris, the Capital of the Nations." Next, on the 20th 
of February, 187-i, came out his last novel, " Quatre-vingt 
Treize" ("Ninety-three'"). Tiiis was written mainly dur- 
ing a season of retirement at Guernsey, and may occup3' a 
place among his books by the side of the " Travailleurs de la 
Mer," and far above " L'Homme qui rit." The story is com- 
paratively simple. A republican battalion — we are, as the 
title of the book implies, in 1793 — has found in the woods 
of the Vendee a poor woman and her three children, and has 
taken the children into its affection. The children are cap- 
tured by the royalists, and the mother is wounded and left 
for dead. Then the roj'alists in turn are defeated, and take 
refuge in a castle, where they are besieged, and in sore straits. 
Whereupon they offer to give up the three children if al- 
lowed by the besiegers to go forth safe and sound ; — other- 
wise the children will be burnt. This is a bargain which the 
attacking party, notwithstanding the love they bear to the 
little things, cannot accept, and the assault begins. It is of 
a terrible character. The royalists arc killed one by one, all 
except their Marquis-chief, who is wonderfully saved through 



VICTOR HUGO 145 

a sort of moving stone in the wall. Tlio last man left, as he 
is dying, musters his remaining strength to light the slow 
match which is to set fire to the tower on the bridge in which 
the children are confined. Nothing can save them. The 
flames are flickering up in long tongues, higher, higher, 
higher, from the lower storey. Suddenly the mother, who 
lias recovered from her wound, and for long daj's has been 
looking for her children, appears on the scene with a lam- 
entable cry : 

" The figure they saw there was no longer Michelle Pilchard, it 
was a Gorgon. Those who are miserahle are formidable. The peasant 
woman was transfigured into one of the Kumenides. This common- 
place village wife, vulgar, ignorant, incapalile of thought, had sud- 
denly acquired the epic proportions of despair. Great sorrows are a 
gigantic enlarging of the soul; this mother now represented maternity; 
everything tliat epitomizes humanity is superhuman; she stood there, 
on the border of that ravine, before that conflagration, before that 
crime, like some sepulchral power; she had the cry of a beast, and the 
gesture of a goddess; her visage, from which cur.ses ])roceedcd, seemed 
like a flamins mask. Nothing could I)e more sovereign than the light- 
ning that flashed from her tear-drowned eyes; her look cast thmiiler- 
bolts on the conflagration." 

Her anguish is so terrible that it excites compassion even in 
the iron heart of the escaped royalist chief, still lurking in 
the adjacent woods. He returns to the castle with the key 
of the tower, saves the children, and is, of course, taken. The 
republican chief, who happens to be his nephew, does not, 
however, consider that he ought to be guillotined as the con- 
sequence of an act of humanity and allows him to go free. 
Whereupon the nephew is himself guillotined by order of a 
delegate from the Convention, who has educated him, and 
loves him with a passionate love. As his head falls, the dele- 
gate shoots a bullet through his own heart. 

Now, of course, it must at once be apparent that such a 
story demands certain concessions on the reader's part. He 
must, for instance, be prepared to take for granted the 
probability that three little peasant children should acquire 
an importance so disproportionate in the contest between 

bodies of armed men. He must further be rciuly to acceot 
10 ' - 



146 LIFE OF 

it as likely that the royalists would, out of the merest wanton- 
ness — for at that stage their own fate was sealed — do their 
best to burn the pretty little creatures. He must also make 
up his mind to receive, with as much confidence as he can 
command, a good deal of quasi-histor_y. And if he further 
thinks that the mother would be a more pathetic figure if less 
j)urely animal, I, for one, shall not blame him. But, having 
once made these concessions and reserves, he will be a reader 
ditiicult to please if he does not admit tliat the fighting in the 
book is done in a masterly way, that the description of the 
children at their play in the tower is a pretty, smiling, happy 
picture of childhood ; and that the book generally, though 
now and then, as in the passage quoted, somewliat thunderous 
in st^'le, is }'et full of passages of striking grapjiic prose. 

Passing by Victor Hugo's rather pompous account of his 
two sons, given as an introduction to Charles Hugo's " Hom- 
mes de I'Exil," published in October, IST-l, we come next to 
the three volumes of " Actes et Paroles " (" Deetls and 
Words "), published respectively in May, 1875, November, 
1875, and July, 1876. These volumes contain his utter- 
ances on public matters between 18-il and 1851, 1852 and 
1870, 1870 and 1876 — all utterances of capital importance 
to the biographer, but with which the reader need not here 
be detained. For on the 26th of February, 1877, we come 
to what should interest liim more, to the issue of a new series 
of the " Legende des Siecles." 

Are these two volumes, then, equal to the two volumes 
published eighteen years before? Hardly. As time went 
on, the habit of preaching had grown terribly on the poet. 
He did it not only in his speeches, where the preaching 
may have been admissible, and in his prose, where it might 
have been spared, but in his verse, which at last it almost 
drowned. He had preached a great deal, a very great deal, 
in " L'Annee Terrible." He preached a great deal in these 
two later volumes of the " Legende des Siecles ;" and in " Le 
Pape," published in April, 1878, and " La Pitie Supreme," 
published in February, 1879, and " Religions et Religion," 



VICTOR PIUGO 147 

published in April, 1880, and " L'Anc," published in October, 
1880, he may be said to have done nothing but preach. 
When, however, in the volumes of the " Legcnde " now im- 
mediately before us, he condescends to leave the pulpit and to 
become once more the minstrel, the teller of stories, the poet, 
then all his old skill comes back to him, and he is the Hugo 
whom no one can approach. Beside the masterpiece of the 
first series one can place, for power and weird horror, 
"L'Aigle du Casque" ("The Eagle on the Helmet"), the 
story of the unequal combat between Tiphaine the hardened 
warrior and Angus the stripling, and of the fierce chase of the 
latter through the woods — and then of the punishment in- 
flicted on Tiphaine for his misdeeds by the bronze eagle upon 
his helm. Nor, for pathos, does the earlier series contain a 
story more touching than the story of " Petit Paul " (" Little 
Paul "), the poor motherless child whose father marries again, 
whose grandfather takes the mother's place, and then dies 
also, leaving the helpless three-years mite doubly forlorn, for- 
saken, misused, until one winter night he strays out to the 
churchyard where his gi-andfather lies, and is found sleeping 
the sleep that has no earthly moiTOW. Two battles pieces 
also, "Jean Chouan," and " Le Cimetiere d'Eylau " ("The 
Cemetery of Eylau "), the latter full of musketry-crash and 
cannon music — these should be mentioned as equal to the 
poet's best. Why, why in the days of isolation and com- 
parative solitude, in Jersey and Guernsey, had it ever been 
borne in upon him that he had a prophet's mission. Why 
did he not rest content with the poet's laurel? 

Of the books just enumerated I do not propose to say 
very much. " Le Pape " is constructed upon a most in- 
genious plan. The poet-pontiff supposes that the real Pope 
dreams a dream, and in that dream delivers Victor Hugo's 
philosophy ex cathedra to whomsoever will hear. Pope and 
anti-Pope thus exchanging sentiments — the idea is a happy 
one. In " La Pitie Supreme " the poet surveys all history, 
and expresses his compassion at once for wicked kings and suf- 
fering peoples. In " Religions et Religion " he demonstrates 



148 LIFE OF 

the futility of all dogmatic teaching, and preaches a pure 
deism — tiic belief in a vague being, whose " solstice " is 
" Conscience," whose " axis " is " Justice," whose " equinox " 
is " Equality," whose " vast sunrise " is " Liberty." In 
" L'Ane," a very learned ass explains to philosopher Kant, at 
some considerable length, that human knowledge comes to 
very little — a position which Kant is finally constrained to 
admit. Whereupon the poet epiloguises, and assures Kant 
that all things, even evil things, are working for good. 

Three other books of verse did this most prolific writer 
produce. 1 " L'Art d'Etre Grandpere " (" The Art of Being 
a Grandfather"), published in Mav, 1877; " Les Quatre 
Vents de VEsprit " ("The Four Winds of the Spirit"), 
published in June, 1881 ; and " Theatre en Liberie," pub- 
lished in 1886, after his death. Over each of these one 
might willingly linger. The last is a book of plays not in- 
tended for the stage. The " Quatre Vents de I'Esprit " is a 
really important work, divided into four books — satirical, 
dramatic, lyrical, and epic — and containing poems of very 
diverse value. " L'Art d'Etre Grandpere " is a monument 
of the old man's tenderness for his two grandchildren, and 
a book of singular grace. In what does the " art of being a 
grandfather" consist.'' does the reader ask.'' In being full 
of love, and delicate sympathy, and undeviating indulgence, 
Victor Hugo would reply. To the father is committed the 
rod of discipline. He may have to be occasionally stern. 
But the grandfather - — no such harsh duty is his. He may 
give the little folks all they ask for, may gratify their everj' 
whim, may carry jam to them in moments of penitential re- 
tirement, may spoil them to his heart's content. It is his 
])rivilege, his joy; and if any one ventures to ask whether 
such a mode of education be the best devisable, he has his 
answer rcadv: Have sterner methods succeeded very well in 
the education of mankind.'' Whereupon one trusts th.ac 
Master Georges and ]\Iiss Jeanne were unspoilable, and felt 

1 It is said that there are a great raany more in MS. and to he jjublislied. 



VICTOR HUGO 149 

the cxcccdinf^ beauty of the love which their grandfather 
lavislicd upon tlieni. 

And who would churlishly have begrudged to the old man 
the happiness which he derived from the constant society of 
these two children? His own children were all now gone, for 
Franfois Hugo had died in Paris, after a long illness, on the 
26th of December, 187B, and his daughter was divided from 
him by the terrible separation of insanity'. What wonder if 
his heart went out to these last scions of his race — if he 
watched them, treasured their little saj'ings and doings, 
played with them, told them his beautiful stories, drew pictures 
for them, was a child again in their company. 

Nor must it be supposed that the last years of this great 
man's life were anything but bright and happy. In De- 
cember, 1871, on his return to Paris, he took apartments at 
No. 66, Rue de la Rochefoucauld, whence he removed, in 
1873, to No. 21, Rue de Clichy.^ Here he lived with Madame 
Charles Hugo, and his two dear grandchildren ; and Madame 
Drouet lived there, too, doing the honours of the salon, in 
which he received his friends and admirers. These, as may be 
supposed, flocked thither. The place became the rendezvous 
of all that was greatest in literary France. For upwards of 
forty years the man had been the foremost writer in his coun- 
try, one may even say the foremost poet in the world. Dur- 
ing nineteen of those j'ears he had been an exile in a cause 
which was now triumphant. Everything conspired to exalt 
him and do him honour. His plays were revived amid uni- 
versal enthusiasm. His earlier books were spoken of with 
reverence, the new received with an almost-unanimity of praise. 
Nor, amid all this passion of admiration, did he pretermit the 
literary toil in which he took such keen pleasure. As he had 
laboured in Jersey and Guernsey, so he laboured amid the 

1 In 1878 he was driven away from the Rue de Clichy by the im- 
portunity of visitors, and went to live in a quieter place, No. 130, 
Avenue d'Eylan, near the Bois de Boulogne. Madame Charles Hugo 
married M. Lockroy, the Deputy, and lived with Georges and Jeanne 
next door. Madame Drouet died two or three years before the j,oet. 



150 LIFE OF 

distractions of Paris, neither hindered by the claims of society 
and attendance at the Senate, nor with brain in aught be- 
clouded, nor hand made weaker by old age. Old age ! Until 
quite at the last he never seems to have felt its touch. As 
one reads the record of his secrctarj-, IM. Lesclide, one is 
simply amazed at the man's marvellous vitality. He might 
be a young fellow of twenty for the things he does and the 
energy he displays. He never wears a great coat ; he never 
carries an umbrella. His favourite form of relaxation is 
riding on the top of an omnibus. He goes up in a balloon — • 
a kind of amusement which Madame Drouct by no means en- 
joys. He is fond of little excursions in the environs of Paris, 
and is on such occasions the blithest of companions, as frolic 
as a boy, pleased with everything, the scenery', the flowers, 
the fare at the inn, all the little incidents of the day. Well 
may M. Banvlllc sa}' that he is voungcr in these later times 
than he had been at thirty. At thirty he was writing of 
" Autumn Leaves," and singing " Songs of the Twilight." 
Now, with life near its end, he is full of peace, looking death 
clicerfullv in the face, confident in the hope of a world beyond 
the grave ; and ardent, too, in his faitji that a happier age 
is dawning for mankind. 

So docs a serene and beautiful light linger upon the evening 
of his day of life. When one remembers how sadly the careers 
of such men as Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Alfred de jNIusset, 
wore to a close — how painful are the concluding chapters 
of most biographies — one can, I think, but be glad that a 
great man should thus live greatly to the end. 

For now death at last struck the fatal blow. The poet 
was not to have his wish, and dandle a child of Jeanne upon 
his knee. On May 13, 1885, he seems to have caught a chill 
during one of his omnibus rides. Heart and lungs became 
affected. He suffered greatly and wished for the end. On 
the 22nd that wish was answered. Plis last word, his last 
conscious act, were for his grandchildren. 

In a memorandum given by the poet some few months be- 
fore to his friend M. Vacquerie, he had said, '" I give 50,000 



VICTOR HUGO 151 

francs to the poor. I wish to be taken to the grave in their 
hearse. I refuse the prayers of all churches. I ask for a 
prayer from every human soul. I believe in God." Such 
were his scant directions as to his own obsequies. But the 
country felt at once that its great dead ought to be buried 
with all national honour. He had been the foremost poet, 
not only of Ph-ance, but of his generation. On the Republic 
he had very special claims, as having been her champion in 
evil days, and having suffered on her behalf loss of fortune 
and exile. So a public funeral was fittingly decreed, and the 
Government decreed also that the Pantheon,, — that edifice of 
many vicissitudes, where Mirabeau and Marat had lain for 
awhile, and Rousseau and Voltaire, — should be unchurched 
once more to receive him. Accordingly, on the morning of 
May 31st, the body was placed beneath the Arc de Triomplie, 
in a coffin palled with black and silver and royal purple, and 
lay there in stjite till the following day when it was borne to 
its last home, in a pauper's hearse indeed, but otiierwise with 
such pomp, such a mighty procession, such signs of national 
mourning, such votive wreaths from every land, as Paris itself 
had scarcely seen since the day of Napoleon's funeral.^ 



CHAPTER XII 



ON February 26, 1880 — that is on his seventy-eighth 
birthday — Victor Hugo wrote a preface for the col- 
lected edition of his writings. It is a short preface, and in 
it there occurs tlie following passage : 

" Of the value of the sum of work here presented, time alone can 
decide. But this at least is already ecitain, and satisfies the author, 
that in our own day, in the present tumult of opinions, amid the violence 
of existing prejudices, and notwithstanding all passions, anger, and 

1 Victor Hugo's personal estate in B^ngland alone was sworn under 
£9^,(100, and he had real property in Guernsey liesides. Nearly all 
his money is said to have been invested in foreign (not French) fuiids. 



1.52 LIFE OF 

Iiatred, there is no reader, be lie who he may, who, if he is himself 
worthy of respect, will lay down the book without respecting tlic author. 

This is a proud claim to be inscribed, as it were, over the 
very portal of the edifice reared by the writer's genius. It 
fronts us there. We cannot pass it by. Let us endeavour to 
meet it quite honestly. 

Respect, respect — why should any of us have to pause for 
a moment, doubting, before he gives a reply to the challenge.'' 
No one would hesitate if similarly challenged on behalf of 
Scott. Why does not the assent come so readily, so uni- 
versally in the case of Victor Hugo? 

For this reason — that, if one examines his life at all 
minutely, it is scarceh" possible to avoid the conclusion that the 
facts do not always agree with his prcs.ntation of them, and 
further, that the differences have at lea. t a look of being de- 
signed so as to add to his prestige and glory. Here at 
once we are met bj' something that checks respect, inasmuch 
as it needs explanation. How shall we explain it.'' In the 
partly analogous cases of Goethe and Shelley, apologists have 
said, and said ti-uly, that the poet often sees things differently 
from other men, that he sees them surrounded by a haze of 
imagination, in which their real outlines are blurred and lost, 
and that, as regards past events especially, he sees his re- 
membered feelings in connection with them rather than the 
events themselv'es. To the full benefit of such an excuse 
Mctor Hugo is clearly entitled. Though he claimed for him- 
self a memory of extraordinary and minute accuracy, jet there 
seems no doubt that that faculty sometimes played iiim tricks, 
especially when matters affecting himself were involved. Why, 
for instance, should he have alleged that 'M. Pietri, one of 
Louis Napoleon's myrmidons, had offered 25,000, and even 
50,000 francs for his capture alive or dead? Had he not 
brooded over the importance of the capture till he imagined 
the reward? 

The poetic vision will not however, I fear, account for all 
that here needs explanation. The fact is, and one says it 
sadly, there was a strong element of theatricality about the 



VICTOR HUGO 153 

man. Great as he was, he liked to appear greater. His 
statements about himself, his surroundings, the events in 
which he had himself taken part, bear often the same propor- 
tion to fact that the stage bears to real life. They lack the 
simplicity of truth. They are, in effect, false. There, the 
murder is out ! and if there be any one who cannot esteem a 
character tainted with thcatricalit}', why then he must leave 
Victor Hugo unhonoured. 

But I, for one, shall not agree with him. Behind the 
actor in Victor Hugo there was a man, and a great man —  
a man, in his private life, simple, genial, kindly, and in 
his public life fulfilled with passionate convictions for which 
he was prepared to battle and to suffer. In the essential 
heart of him, he was genuine enough. The theatricality, 
the vainglory, were of the surface. 

And what the opinions which, from the year 1849 on- 
wards, had seized so fast a hold on his whole being? Sub- 
stantially they were the opinions of Rousseau, as held by 
Robespierre. Man, according to these theorists, was origi- 
nally good, kindly, beneficent. If he seemed to be something 
different it was because he had been deformed by vicious 
institutions - — the rule of kings, the inventions of priests, the 
tyranny of aristocracies, the pressure of iniquitous laws. 
Once remove these evil influences, and he would at once go 
back to a state of nature, which was a state of excellence. 
Once let the Rights of Man prevail, and those rights would 
be exercised in the most unselfish and excellent manner. The 
voter would invariably vote according to his conscience, and 
with a single eye to the general good. The ruler would rule 
simply as the voters' delegate, and for the common advantage. 
Man all over the world would be the brother of man, wars 
would cease, property be equalized, and everybody, according 
to the pleasant old saying, live happy ever after. 

And because the French Revolution had done so much to 
clear away pre-existing institutions, and to give man an en- 
tirely unencumbered piece of high tableland on which to rear 
the edifice of the future, therefore Victor Hugo felt for the 



154 T.IFE OF 

French Revolution a boundless love and veneration. He is 
never weary of singing its praises. He retums to the subject 
with an added zest on every possible opportunity. The 
" French Revolution," he tells us, for instance, " is the might- 
iest step taken by the human race since Christ. It is the con- 
secration of humanity." " It was an immense act of probity." 
" It was nothing else than the ideal bearing the sword, . . . 
and closing the portals of evil, and opening the portals of 
good." " It promulgated truth." " It may be said to have 
created man over again, by giving him a second soul, a sense 
of right." It rendered all savage upheavals of the masses for 
ever impossible — this was written before the outbreak of the 
Commune, — and, in short, it was a movement quite marvellous 
and miraculous in its beneficent effects. 

And if the movement itself had such a transcendent 
character, the actors in it were no less heroic. ISIichclet, the 
historian, assevei-ates, in his somewhat wild way, that the 
Assembly that nominally governed France during the Reign 
of Terror was " a majestic assembly, sovereign among all 
assemblies, founding, organising, representing, above any 
other human force, the inexhaustible fecundity of nature." 
Victor Hugo, not to be outdone, says of this Assembly — an 
Asembly, be it remembered, chiefly remarkable for grotesque 
ineptitude and cowardice — that it was to all other repre- 
sentative bodies what the Himalayas are to other mountains. 
But how, indeed, could he be expected to speak otherwise .!* 
For had not this Assembly helped to found " the Republic," 
and was not "the Republic" the fetish of his later years." 
No cavalier, in the good old days, can ever have believed more 
passionately in the divine right of kings than he believed in 
the divine right of this particular form of government. It 
was not, in his mind, a government like any other, applicable 
or not applicable in a given case, according to a country's 
liistory, traditions, circumstances — a government which any 
country, by the exercise of its volition, might accept or reject 
at will. It was a government of right as opposed to wrong, 
a something supreme and absolute, which it would have been 



VICTOR HUGO 155 

blasphemy even to question, a universal panacea for every ill 
to which political or social man is heir. It meant the realised 
ideal for which the Revolution had prepared, — " the end of 
prostitution for woman, the end of starvation for man, the end 
of night for the child." It meant " brotherhood, concord, 
dawn." It meant universal peace, and universal benevolence, 
and the extinction of poverty, and a regenerated world. 

Now to all tliis philosophy of the eighteenth century, and 
the political and social theories founded upon it, there is but 
one word to apply, and that word is, " obsolete." They tot- 
tered to their fall under Burke's attack, and from the date 
when Darwin published his great work they became things 
of the past. As soon as the idea of development had taken 
possession of men's minds, it became difficult for any really 
serious thinker to regard man apart from his history, and as 
a creature originally beneficent and good, and only led into 
evil by pernicious laws and institutions. IMan has grown to 
be what he is, grown by slow, patient effort, prolonged from 
generation to generation, grown by the help of the very 
institutions which the eighteenth century regarded as the 
origin of all his woes. lie is not, as Rousseau and his school 
heltl, a kind of abstract being, under the exclusive guidance 
of his intellect, who can be divorced from every influence of 
the past, and trusted to be always reasonable. His past 
forms part of himself and his reasonableness mainly depends 
upon it. Can-y him back to a " state of nature," in his re- 
motest days, and you carry him back to the state of the 
savage, and even worse. Behind the savage there is the 
brute, far enough removed in history, but lurking all too 
near to the heart of each one of us, and easily roused, and 
with difficulty appeased. How idle to suppose that he can 
be suppressed by cancelling all that has taken place since he 
held undisjjutcd sway ! 

And with the crumbling of Rousseau's worm-eaten philos- 
ophy, the French Revolution assumes its right proportions 
as a movement in whicli the Ignite in man played an all too 
important part. The history- of 1793 has been rewritten for 



156 LIFE OF 

us lately, with an almost supert-bundance of detail, by M. 
Taine. It is scarcely a history over which one feels inclined 
to join in Victor Hugo's hosannas. 

While as to "the Republic "— why "the Republic" is 
a good form of government enough under certain conditions. 
It is a better form of governm.ent doubtless than the Empire ; 
for it has possibilities of continued life — and those the Em- 
pire never had. But even in France, which Victor Hugo held 
to be the vanguard of the nations — even in Paris, which he 
considered to be the Holy City of the human race, — can it 
be said that even there " the Republic " has brought in its 
train all the blessings he anticijjated.'' Is woman's purity 
more conspicuously honoured there than elsewhere.'' Is man 
less subject to poverty and the other ills of life? Is the 
child treated so exceptionally well.'' The government of 
France is doubtless doing its best under difficult conditions. 
But can we as yet regard it as showing to all governments a 
brilliant example of " brotherhood " and " concord " .'' Can 
it be said to have its being in a rose-ilush of perpetual 
" dawn " .? 

So I fear that Victor Hugo's claim to be considered as 
a prophet nuist be rejected, somewhat sadly. In truth, he 
was in one sense, but a " laudator temporis acti." The doc- 
trines which he preached in politics, social philosophy, and 
religion, were but the Gospel according to Jean Jacques, as 
Carlyle called it in derision, the Gospel of Rousseau, as 
it had taken shape in 1793. Apart from the cry for heads, 
he was the intellectual continuator of Robespierre. From 
that old wind-withered tree what fruit could be gathered for 
the healing of tho nations? 

But, very fortunately for mankind, the truth or falsehood 
of a great writer's systematized opinions is no measure of 
the value of his work. Pictures of the most superb power 
may be painted on very indifferent canvas, just as immortal 
miisic may be allied to words that arc almost meaningless. 
Who thinks of Godwin's poor thin philosophy when watch- 
ing the unearthl}' pageant of " Prometheus Unbound," and 



VICTOR HUGO 157 

listening to the enchanted verbal harmonies of Shelley's verse? 
And similarly, we can disregard Victor Hugo's political sys- 
tem, and consider him only as a poet and a prose writer; 
and then, if he be not a delight to us, the fault is ours. 

Of course, in the enormous mass of his work, there is much 
that is unequal. His early writings are those of a child. 
His later writings are often marred by didacticism and tricks 
of manner. What I have ventured to call the theatrical ele- 
ment in his character not unfrequently gives to his prose and 
verse a tone of exaggeration, unreality, and violence. But 
in considering the place he holds in literature, all such faults 
may fitly be brushed to one side. He should be judged by his 
best, and that best is not only immense in quantity, but of a 
quality so excellent that the critic experiences some trouble 
in adequately speaking of it without falling into what may 
seem to be hyperbole. 

As a novelist he holds rank with the highest. There are 
two of his books, at least, which the world will not easily 
let die. One of them, " Notre Dame de Paris," has been 
published now for fifty-seven years ; the other, " Les Miser- 
ables," for upwards of a quarter of a century. Neither, 
whatsoever M. Zola may say, has at all waxed old. There 
is in each a salt of genius which will for ever preserve it 
from decay. Vivid powers of description, admirable skill as 
a narrator, the faculty of creating real characters, and in- 
teresting us in their fortunes, the power of marshalling their 
actions to definite ends, pathos, passion, a noble intolerance 
of wrong and a style of mai-vellous richness and brilliancy —  
all these he displayed in " Notre Dame " and " Les Miser- 
ables." What more would you have.? They hold an honour- 
able place in the permanent literature of the world. 

As a dramatist he takes rank, if not with the very highest, 
if not on that unapproachable peak where Shakespeare dwells 
alone, yet high upon the spurs of the great mountain. Here, 
again, he displayed excellent gifts of invention, and also a 
real playwriglit's instinct for what is scenic and effective. 
Working for the stage, he adapted himself to its conditions, 



158 LIFE OF 

and succeccled in making an audience accept plays that were 
in a high sense literature. Then too in his dramas there was 
room for the display of his supreme gift, his gift as a poet. 
And that he was a poet, and a great poet, who shall be 
bold to question.? Speaking lately, in the preface to a dic- 
jtionary of Victor Hugo's similes, M. Coppee '■ says — 

" Among all the poets of mankind Victor Hugo is the one who has 
invented the greatest number of similes, and tliose the best carried 
out, the most striking, the most magnificent. . . . He is the greatest 
lyric poet of all ages." 

Without quite endorsing these superlatives, one may at least 
claim for him a place in the very first rank of the world's sing- 
ers. The mere enumeration of the points at which he touched 
the highest excellence is itself eloquent. As a song writer 
he has had few equals. His songs have the essential lyric qual- 
ities, spontaneous tunefulness, light delicacy of touch, — all 
that we are accustomed to associate with the flutter and war- 
ble of a bird. As a satirist he is direct, trenchant, terrible, 
a swordsman whose weapon draws blood at every stroke. As 
a writer of reflective verse — I am not speaking here of the 
didactic work of his later life — he is weighty and impressive, 
and, amid all his philosophising, remains a poet. As a nar- 
rator, he is singularly lucid and striking, and possesses to the 
full the story-teller's gift of awakening and retaining interest. 
By turns sublime and playful, roughly strong and daintily 
delicate, full of love-passion and a sweet, fatherly tender- 
ness, — he seems to touch at will all the organ stops in our 
nature. And what regal command over rhymes, rhythms, 
and metre! what a rich verbal palette! what superb freedom 
of power in its use! His words are as pigments, and as pig- 
ments, if that were conceivable, which appeal to the ear as well 
as to the eye. They seem to give out at once colour and 
sound. 

Ah, ho was more than the prophet or apostle of a narrow 
sect. And when time lias done its worst and best with liis 

1 In my judgment the foremost living French poet. 



VICTOR HUGO 159 

^vork — has disintegrated the quartz and washed away the 
clay — there will remain a treasure of gold, without which 
mankind would be appreciably the poorer. He was one of 
the world's great poets, and his verse will continue through 
the after-time as a living force, because, while perfect in 
workmanship, it is broad-based upon the universal human 
heart, and so eternal. 



THE END. 



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