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Eliot; or, if you prefer another branch of the genealogical tree, to Stendhal, to Flaubert, and so forth. But Hugo's stories do no more than touch this field. They are far more of romances than novels in the stricter sense. Nay, in one characteristic, the improbabilities of their plots, they are further removed than Notre-Dame' is from any touch of realism. They have a connexion, too_Les Misérables,' 'L'Homme qui rit' have at least--with another order of fiction, which should have a section to itself-namely, the detective novel. This forms not a very high class of literature—by nature. But Balzac had a great leaning towards it, as had Hugo; and the latter might be content to shelter himself bebind so great a name as Balzac's. On the whole, the detective part of 'Les Misérables' is the best done. Undoubtedly · Les Misérables,' with its discourses, digressions, strange scraps of learning (the thieves' slang for instance), all running on in a matter of eight or ten volumes, is a stupendous accomplishment; one can hardly call it a stupendous work. There are immensely good, effective, and affecting passages in it: Myriel, a delightful sketch; the troubles of Fantine, most heart-moving ; Jean Valjean and Javert are both creations up to the romantic standard of what is human. But what are we to think of Jean Valjeanmerely because he must be the perfect and guileless man
-falling into that trap of the Thénardiers as he did ; he who had had fourteen years' converse with gaol-birds ? And for probability, take out of the same portion Marius's relations with these same Thénardiers, the command in his father's will, and all the rest. The book is provoking in a way. Could you but eliminate the little dross of theatricality, it would be as fine in execution as in sentiment. That garden of the Rue Plumet comes very near to being a pure idyll. We know also it had a true source of inspiration in the garden where Hugo first met the woman he married. Here, be it said, is one of the hundred instances in which we see Hugo inspiring after-writers. For surely in the description of the Rue Plumet garden we may detect the prototype of the ‘Paradou' of 'L'Abbé Mouret'?
The Travailleurs de la Mer' is the best of the remaining Hugo novels. Its octopus or sea-devil is and remains monumental, and the description of the storm and shipwreck what few prose writers have been able to come near. Of course it is overloaded, as we saw Swinburne's description of his little storm is overloaded. Allowing for Hugo's love of contrasts, for his theory (see the preface to Lucrèce
• Borgia ') that that is the right way of art, Gilliatt and Déruchette in this tale give just the contrast required.
Quatre-vingt-treize’ is a kind of essay in psychology. The essential part of the plot is a struggle between the dictates of humanity and duty. The soldiers of the Republic are condemning three children who have won their hearts, by pressing the siege of the royalists. Psychology ? yes; but once again the psychology of the melodrama. As for the remaining one of the four, 'L'Homme qui rit,' with its Gwynplaines, its Tom-Jim-Jacks, its Wapentakes and other wonders, as great as any that came out of the sea—what are we to say of that, if not that it is likewise “l'homme qui • fait rire ??
And now, having dealt with those aspects of Victor Hugo's art in which he is most open to criticism, but which are also the aspects that are best known in England, let us pass on to speak of the field in which he reigns supreme.
If Paris—which in this regard is France-be, and it can scarcely be questioned, the Mecca of the plastic arts and the cynosure of Europe, this is only a fair compensation to Frenchmen for that in the greatest art of all, in poetry, they are more isolated than any other people. The want of accent in their language makes their metre far less intelligible, far less easy to appreciate even by the remaining Latin races, Italians or Spaniards, than is by nature the metre of English or German or Scandinavian verse. For us not only are the accents which we look for wanting, so that French blank verse cannot exist, and that form of it which is practised to-day as vers libres is only a form of prose, but the principles of rhyme are different from ours and at times opposed to ours.* This is the further reason why we cannot appreciate Hugo at his best. The while
* 'Quant aux mots,' writes De Banville in his Petit Traité de Poésie française' (p. 80), qui, tout-à-fait différents l'un de l'autre pour le sens, offrent exactement le même son pour l'oreille, ils s'accouplent excellemment.' And, of course, we know in practice that more than half the French rhymes are those identities of sound which are forbidden to us. This use is, however, more suitable to French vaudeville verse than to the more serious. It is one which Banville much affected himself. There is, be it said, one excellent song of Hugo's (Légende,' vol. iii.) which quite anticipates the manner of the author of the 'Odes Funambulesques :'
• En partant du golfe d'Otrante
Nous étions trente;
Nous étions dix.'
that Victor Hugo was engaged in writing his plays, his romances, and in later years those monumental novels (if we call them novels), he was likewise issuing a continuous series of volumes of pure poetry; and the while he was in * Notre-Dame' and in his plays fighting the formal battle of romanticism, he was by his verse everywhere, in the volumes of poetry and in the poetical plays likewise, accomplishing a much greater feat even than romantic victories, nothing less than the utter rebuilding of French versification, of French poetry.
A reaction takes place in French literature in the first half of the nineteenth century, against the influence of the classics in verse precisely similar to the reaction against the Pope influence in our country; it goes on precisely similar lines to ours, and, in the same way as ours, looks back to a still earlier tradition. Only there is the difference that, in spite of Dryden and of Pope, Shakespeare always holds his head above the waves of fashion ; but there Corneille and Racine and even Molière were part of the evil tradition which had to be overcome. With us Lamb, Hazlitt, Coleridge brought the lesser Tudor dramatists into vogue; with them Sainte-Beuve resuscitated Ronsard and the Pleiad. * French poetry,' says Banville, speaking with the enthusiasm of the romanticist yet hardly too strongly, “leaps from the
sixteenth century to the nineteenth.' In this movement André Chénier plays to Victor Hugo something the same part which Cowper played to Wordsworth. But the burden which Hugo bears on his own shoulders corresponds with that which in England was carried by the Lakists and by Byron, by Shelley and Keats in common. Hugo championed that splendid band of versifiers who, since the thirties and the forties, have not fainted, but carried on the new art in French poetry down to our doors—De Musset, Gautier, Baudelaire, Bangille, Leconte de Lisle, Verlaine, Heredia, Coppée, and the Parnassians. These have demolished the
old rock' of poesy, the strong city of Boileau, against which Chénier led the first forlorn hope, and which, except for that one predecessor, Victor Hugo may be said to have captured almost as completely and almost as singly as Aymery captured Narbonne :
""Tu seras, pour ce propos hautain,
* "La Légende des Siècles,' Aymerillot.
Technique is not the whole of art, but it is a great part of it. And the excellence of Hugo's technique is a matter of wonder-all the more when we remember how few good models he had immediately before him. Here, from Les * Contemplations are some fine examples of this workmanship. The motive of the second part of the Contemplations' is itself fine enough; the volume is a memorial of the poet's grief for the death of his child Léopoldine, who, married only six months, was drowned along with her husband, Charles Vacquerie, in a boating accident at Villequier on the Seine. But adequate motive without technical accomplishment cannot make great verse; witness Wordsworth's
She was a phantom of delight.' Here there is no failure; these funereal strains are in the grand manner of the singers of the sixteenth century:
* Il est temps que je me repose ;
Je suis terrassé par le sort.
J'ai fait ma tâche et mon devoir.
* Elle nous quitta pour la tombe;
Un autre ange qui s'est enfui.'* And this on the son-in-law, Charles Vacquerie, is still finer perhaps. The pity is that space prevents us from quoting the whole :
• Il ne sera pas dit que ce jeune homme, o deuil !
Où séjourne l'ombre abhorrée,
Renversé la coupe dorée.' + * Trois ans après.
† Vacquerie threw away his own life when he found it was impossible to save his wife, Léopoldine.
And so on through some other 'il ne sera pas dit’ to the verse
• En présence de tant d'amour et de vertu,
Moi qu'attendent les maux sans nombre!
Fait asseoir une strophe sombre!!
How beautiful and classic that last line is ! This is the true funereal dirge as the best poets understand it, and as distinguished from the funeral oration as we get it in the alexandrines of Racine. Victor Hugo, of course, has given us countless examples of his own manipulation of the alexandrine. He can be declamatory—too much, too often. But then in his happy moments his command of rhyme is so absolute !
It is hardly fair, perhaps, to compare with this Andromache's speech to Pyrrhus:
Seigneur, vous voyez l'état où vous me réduisez ;
J'ai vu mon père mort et nos murs embrasés,' &c. though the critics have commonly spoken of that as a chef-d'oeuvre.
And what is not less wonderful, semi-miraculous, is the skill with which he can commingle his graver and lighter metres. People have smiled at Swinburne’s exuberance of enthusiasm over the Breton song in the Châtiments '-'the song of those who go to sea.'
L'onde est en furie;
Azur ! and all the rest. But you have to take the poem where you find it, in the midst of those trenchant chastisements,