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Un fils à ma vieillesse !
Le soir, sur mes genoux j'avais sa tête blonde.' Would not one day, 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 Misérables 'there is a passageJean 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 hunting, ground for his romantic imagination. At fourteen he sketches the plot of a play. He is sent to the école 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
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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 désire,
Beau,' 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
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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'amuse, and with these the prose plays, 'Lucrèce 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
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melodramatic hero, standing continually with his arms crossed and so forth, as the bandit should do. Doña Sol is Hugo's invariable jeune première. But just at the end, when she asks what Hernani's oath has to do with them now, there is a touch of common human nature in her which charms. Don Carlos in the same play is not a complete man, but more nearly so than either the hero or than Ruy Gomes de Silva : and at least the passage of Charles at the tomb of Charlemagne is a fine, and, what is strange, on the stage an effective piece of declamation. As for the plotthe cherished revenge, the point of Castilian honour to kill oneself when called upon-perhaps the less said about those the better. It is good enough for the Spain of Hugo's dreams and omne ignotum pro magnifico. And then, remember that there is much beyond all these heavy melodramatic elements in Hugo's romantic plays and stories. The lighter dialogue of the Don Ricardos and the others in • Hernani,' of the Jehan Frollos and Pierre Gringoires of · Notre-Dame,' is pleasant, lively and natural, witty by times, though here Hugo has rather followed in the wake of Balzac than studied from nature. Both those remarks apply likewise, be it said in passing, to Hugo's students in Les Misérables.'
In Marion Delorme' he has followed in the wake of l'Abbé Prévost. Manon was a great creation; but she is now apt to re-create herself in every French story of sentiment: she is their one type. And Didier of the same play is a melodramatic hero of the same blood as Hernani. The ending is one of the most obvious of endings. In ‘Le · Roi s'amuse' again our author has professedly gone in search of violent contrasts. He thinks that good art; and he thought so to the end when he wrote Quatre-vingt-treize.'
are But for all that we are carried away by the roll of the lines and the merits of the verse, and we accept the picture as really affecting and almost real.
The romanticism of Scott and of the German romantics is as much a creation of, and has as much to do with, places as with persons. R. L. Stevenson has noted that; and, speaking like the romantic that he is, he declares that there are some places where you are ready to swear something eventful must have happened, though the report of it has never come down to us. French Romanticism, too, attaches itself to places and to other material things, sometimes to mere furniture and trappings, as much as to human beings. The true inspiration of Notre-Dame'is the middle-age cathedral
in the general; as the lesser followers of Hugo, his lieutenants in the romantic war, found their romanticism in pourpoints and justaucorps. The personality and the overshadowing immensity which 'Notre-Dame' lends to the cathedral church of Paris that plays in it the title rôle are something not reached elsewhere in literature. But it is the fault of all the romantics to fall below the things from which they have drawn; the Scottish border is greater than Scott. Wherefore, side by side with what the Gothic cathedral really is, in its eternal shadow and its undying echoes, Notre-Dame' seems but a pale reflex. It is not serious enough to rise to the height of that monumental seriousness. But it is serious enough to give us, while we are reading, moments of acute feeling. The whole story of Esmeralda and her tragic fate, the description of Paris in the early morning of Esmeralda’s execution, as seen from the cathedral tower, and the agony of Claude Frollo, these give one searchings of the heart enough and to spare all the while we have the book in hand. And then the countless lesser excellences, the Cour des Miracles,' Pierre Gringoire *-for any book this is good measure pressed down and running over. But then, of course, the greatest among writers give us more than "books.' The ‘Antigone,' “Hamlet,' and · Faust” are not books.
Let us pass straight from this romance of Hugo's early maturity to the series of novels which he only began in his declining years, and was still engaged upon at his deathLes Misérables,' 'L'Homme qui rit,'Les Travailleurs de
la Mer,' and 'Quatre-vingt-treize.' We have now entered the section of Hugo's writing which is most familiar to English readers. Tennyson's bad line, · Victor 'in drama, victor in romance,' glances at the two fields of work which we have at present dwelt on only, and of these two the field of fiction is that known to the average English reader of Hugo. We have called these later works, 'Les Misérables' and its successors, novels, in contradiction to Notre-Dame;' they rub shoulders, at any rate, with the novel of character, as it has existed from Richardson to Balzac, from Balzac to Thackeray and George
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* Pierre Gringoire is good up to the moment when he saves Djali, the goat, and leaves Esmeralda to her fate ; then he at once becomes fantastic and inhuman. Such sudden lapses from sense and artistry are, alas ! almost as characteristic of our author as his unexpected excellencies.