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devotion, springs from the gutter. The Duchess Josiane in 'L'Homme qui rit,'suddenly enamoured of the defaced Gwynplaine: all those are of a piece. On the same principle is Hugo's choice elsewhere of heroes and heroines, Hernani the bandit, Marion the courtesan. In situations it is the same. Who does not think at once of the feasters and the prisoners in 'Les Burgraves,' the drinking chorus of the one mingling with the clanking chains of the others ?— 'Là le bruit de l'orgie, ici le bruit des fers.'
Nay, this antithesis accompanies Hugo to his tomb. For what else is that clause in his will desiring that a pauper hearse should carry him to his grave, at the same time that he omits to provide for a private funeral? To count the antithetic lines in Victor Hugo's verse would be like counting the sands of the sea—
'Un roi chantait en bas, en haut mourait un dieu.' *
'Le jeune homme est beau, mais le vieillard est grand.' t
The couplet which follows soon after is one of the examples of success in this use—
'Et l'on voit de la flamme aux yeux des jeunes gens,
In the dramas, as one might expect, this play of antithesis or of epigram is continual—
'Don Carlos. Quand j'aurai le monde.
Or from ' Marion Delorme '—
'Savig/iy (to the gaoler). Vous ra'ôtez mon sommeil.
How terribly feeble is this—
'Didier. On veut notre tête; eh! pour n'être pas en faute
For of course this love of antithesis at once runs into the love of epigram :—
'Général, pour hochets il prit les pyramides: 'J
the 'he' who performed this infantine feat is of course Napoleon. And what a detestable passage to follow :—
'Empereur, il voulut dans ses voeux moins timides
The bathoses into which our poet is led by this same effort
* 'Légende des Siècles,' Booz. f Ibid.
J 'Chants du Crépuscule,' La Colonne.
to be epigrammatic and antithetical, these, too, are beyond numeration.
'Juillet vous a donné, pour sauver vos familles,
And the inflating bellows are clearly audible sometimes when the poet insists on mounting his rostrum and writing on public events whether he be inspired or no :—
'Gloire à notre France eternelle!
He is far too insensible to absurdities and the pretentious commonplace when in search of his rhymes :—
'Ces pentes de granit où saute le chamois
What an abominable line is this last ! |
That which makes, we have suggested, these blots the blacker is that they are not slips but examples of predetermination, of volonté, such predetermination and volonté being in themselves at war with the sincerity of genius.
Nor can we look deep into the more moving passages in Hugo's writings without finding a somewhat of fictitious in his sentiments also, a certain confirmation, at least, of Heine's biting phrase. Take, for instance, 'L'Art d'être • Grand-père,' which, without doubt, is largely simple and genuine, which more than anything else has won for Hugo the suffrages of that very middle class which every French artist affects to despise. Take even such charming passages as this wherein the grandfather confesses his over-indulgences :—
'C'est terrible. Je règne
Mal, je ne veux pas que mon peuple me craigne;
Or, mon peuple, c'est Jeanne et George; et moi, barbon,
Aïeul sans frein, ayant cette rage, être bon,
Je leur fais enjamber toutes les lois, et j'ose
Pousser aux attentats leur république rose.
Certe, on passe au vieillard, qu'attend la froide nuit,
* 'Chants du Crepuscule,' Juillet 1830. t Ibid.
t 'Légende,' Régiment du Baron Madruce. § Les Enfants gûtés.
VOL. OÏOVI. NO. OOOOI. M
'Un fils a ma vieillcsse!
Would not one say, having regard not merely to the sentiments but to the form and movement of the verse of these two passages, that the emotions in the minds of the two old men are almost precisely the same? Would not one say, in fact, that the same old man was speaking in similar circumstances? Yet the characters, circumstances and all, are utterly distinct—one is Victor Hugo himself, the other is the iron old burgrave Job. Again, towards the end of the 'Mis^rables' there is a passage— Jean Valjean with the returned Cosette and Marius—where Valjean talks in just the same strain in which this same Job talks to Regina and Otbert in the scene of 'The Burgraves' from which we have just quoted. The three old men are really identical; for Victor Hugo's imagination, so soon as the moment comes for a special kind of sentiment, is no longer dramatic; it is personal. This shows something of fictitious, something of stereotyped in our author. We might multiply instances and enlarge upon this subject. But surely enough has been said of his defects.
For now consider his achievements.
The facts of Victor Hugo's life are no longer of supreme consequence to us, nor even the order of his works. In his lifetime he was, and in the history of letters still is, a power as well as a poet; this side of him belongs more than all else to, and is involved in, the rise of Romanticism. But even Romanticism as a movement is now half forgotten, and the permanent interest of Victor Hugo rests elsewhere.
Victor was the son, we know, of one of Napoleon's generals, who stood high in favour with Joseph Bonaparte when the latter was King of Spain; and in Spain Victor passed a portion of his childhood. Thus, as has often been said, the poet had two countries: his own, France, and the peninsula beyond the Pyrenees. But this last was always less known than pro magnifico with Victor Hugo, the eternal huntingground for his romantic imagination. At fourteen he sketches the plot of a play. He is sent to the icole polytechnique by his father, and has to learn mathematics, in which branch he is said to have become (like our Carlyle) no mean proficient; but that old adventurer of a General Hugo quarrels with and separates from Madame Hugo, attaching himself to another woman, while the sons attached themselves to their mother. Hugo, now more free to follow his natural bent, turns poet professed, and falls in love; he writes royalist odes, and rewards and pensions come to him; till that long love-affair, begun almost in childhood—a very charming and romantic one, wherefrom even certain after infidelities (which cannot be altogether forgotten) did not take away all the glory and the grace—ends in marriage. Up to 1848 Hugo's conduct and his opinions were, be it said, from an official point of view, unexceptionable; he approved the revolution of July, but did not object to the constitutional monarchy. Hugo's first essays in verse appear in his volume of' Odes and Ballads.' The ballads—some of which are genuine ballades of the Villon type—are later than the odes. Both show a great command of rhyme and of the beautiful commonplace, and have, on the whole, a character like Lamartine's verse. If Hugo had continued on these lines he would have been another, maybe a lesser, Lamartine. Howbeit the ballads proclaim the beginning of a change. They have an astonishing lightness and alertness in their versification. The Renaissance had got hold of Hugo, witness the real ballades. In one of the ballad series, by accident it may be, we have an echo of Sidney's echo-song in the 'Arcadia:'
'Si tu fais ce que je desire,
Nous t'édifierons un tombeau
and so forth. For now the Romantic movement seizes him. What one forgets to-day, the Romantic movement is also partly a realistic movement likewise; Delacroix is of it; Berlioz is for it—he who, before Wagner, wrote a music of the senses and in the true meaning dramatic. What Romanticism is to do in the end for Hugo, its greatest gift to him, is to show him that rhymes must not consist of melodious adjectives or abstractions in the three parts of them, but must deal, if need be, with the common things of life; yea, with rude harsh sounds, if need be, supposing these are the more effective—as our Browning's rhymes do, only do so too much. Romanticism meant a hundred things for France in those days, and it would be impossible here to analyse it; but the most important of all its meanings to Hugo and to French literature is simply seisachtheia, a shaking off of burdens. To the old school the seismos was merely volcanic and destructive; now we know what good it has produced. 1830 is the great year of the Romantic battle, of Hugo's famous drama 'Hernani.' Before that, Hugo had written his 'Cromwell,' a play of great length, and good enough to make the reputation of a common man. 'Marion Delorme,' or * De Lorme,' ' Le Roi 's'arause,' and with these the prose plays, 'Lucrece Borgia,' 'Marie Tudor,' and 'Angelo de Padoue,' belong to the full flush of this romantic impulse, as does Hugo's one absolute and great romance 'Notre-Dame.' Two of his other plays, 'Ruy Blas ' and ' Les Burgraves,' come a little later; and of course there are others—' Esmeralda,' the libretto from 'Notre'Dame,' 'Amy Robsart,' 'Les Jumelles,' 'Torquemada,' published after his death. All but the last were written before the time when Victor Hugo began to take a very keen interest in politics; even as the greater part of Hugo's best verse follows the time when he was violently excluded from the arena of practical politics and from France by Napoleon ' le Petit.'
What shall we say, then, of these creations of Hugo in his true romantic era? One thing—that their relationship to the drama of Shakespeare is but remote. It would not be true to say that Hugo has no knowledge of human nature. But he certainly lacks the instinctive and convincing sympathy with human nature which makes Shakespeare what he is, and which is not to be obtained by taking thought. There are others of the Elizabethans who see things more as Hugo does, on broader lines, as of the folktales, the novelle or the modern melodrama. Stated roughly, that is Hugo's standpoint. But he is so constantly excelling himself that he puts general classification to despair. Carr in * Cromwell' is a good instance. Carr seems at first a commonplace type of the ranter; but there are passages of his speaking wherein Hugo, inspired by the Biblical language which he puts into the mouth of the Independent, rises to a great dignity; so that this Carr really does stand above Scott's portraits of the same kind of personage, his Bletson Harrisons, his Desboroughs, but not above his Balfour of Burley. On the other hand, Cromwell himself is far below what we had a right to expect, and what, if one half of Hugo's pretended documentation had been genuine and not parade, we should very likely have had. A stroke of Carlyle's pen gives the Protector more character and more humanity than all Hugo's brush-work. Hernani is, through almost the whole play to which he gives his name, a merely