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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:
'II est temps que je me repose;
'Que veut-on que je recommence?
'Pourquoi m'appelez-vous encore?
J'ai fait ma tâche et mon devoir.
Qui travaillait avant l'aurore
Peut s'en aller avant le soir.
, . • •
'Elle nous quitta pour la tombe;
Et vous savez bien qu'aujourd'hui
Je cherche dans la nuit qui 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, 6 deuil!
Où séjourne l'ombre abhorrée,
Renversé la coupe dorée.' t
* Trois ans après.
t 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!
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 Kacine. 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;
though the critics have commonly spoken of that as a chef-d'œuvre.
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.'
Adieu, maison, treille au fruit mûr,
and all the rest. But you have to take the poem where you find it, in the midst of those trenchant chastisements, to snatch it out of the midst of such bitter lines as those on the new President—
'Done, vieux partis, voila votre homme consulaire!
to get the right effect; and then you will hardly think that any praise is over-praise.
Here is an example of another kind—taken from the 'Orientales '—of that gift which is specially needful in French verse, the sudden surprises which the rhyme may have in store for one:
'Chio, qui dans les flots refletait ses grands bois,
And you pass on from such an example to the pure and absolute songs written for music, such as—
'S'il est un charmant gazon
to the incomparable 'Gastibelza' and to some of the songs in the plays: Fabiani's' Quand tu dors' in' Marie Tudor,' the 'Nargue a Dieu' of 'The Burgraves.' Words written for music, or with the idea of musical accompaniment present to the mind, rank in the lowest order of poetry. For true as it is that (as De Banville says) 'toute po€sie est chant,' poetry must bring its own air with it, not receive it from outside. Yet is it a wondrous thing to note how also in this form of verse Hugo is unexcelled.
He has again the true poet's gift of being carried away by his verse and (often) saying things better than he intended—Carr in 'Cromwell' we took as an instance of this—or of saying them differently. His verse is in this sense as creative as the versification of 'Christabel' or of ' Kubla Khan.1 To find the best examples of these powers in Hugo one must go to the 'L6gende des Siecles,' the earlier series: the series which follows the first by a long interval, after Hugo's return to Paris, is in quite a different vein.§ Certain among the poems of this 'L^gende' are
* L'autre President.
J 'Chants du CWpuscule.'
§ The two series were not kept in the order of their appearance, but confounded in later editions by Hugo himself. In the stereotyped edition, therefore, they are mixed up also.
probably known to the reader: 'Booz' for example (we call him Boaz), which has caught so strangely the atmosphere of an Eastern evening:
'Comme dormait Jacob, comme dormait Judith,
and has such a splendid and peaceful close:
'Tout repoaait dans TJr et dans Jt'rimadeth;
'Immobile, ouvrant l'oeil a. moitie sous ses voiles,
Of course there is a shade of over-emphasis here, as so often in Victor Hugo's work. 'Ces fleurs de l'ombre' is perfect alone: but when you have again 'le champ des etoiles,' its mystery and beauty are half ravished from the phrase. Throughout even these early ' legendes' you detect Hugo's reiteration of the more grandiose ideas and words. It occurred to the present writer to count how many times in the first dozen or so of the poems in the original volume occurred the word 'ombre ' alone. It was forty times: and there were' tenebres ' and 'profondeur' and' immensite,' and all the other abstractions to be reckoned with.
When, long years after, Hugo wrote the second part of this ' Legende' and the third part later still, and had learnt (it must be confessed) to pose before the world as a prophet with a mission and nothing less than a prophet, he imagined a tremendous purpose in the whole work. Large as it is in the sum, the whole 'Legende des Siecles' was to be only one third of a vaster trilogy. (The other parts remained unfinished, but begun, at Hugo's death.) But in the earlier series of stories there is very little of this self-consciousness visible. The tales here picked up and put together seem to have been got by accident: the story of Cain pursued by the eye of God; * the story of Boaz and Ruth; Canute's soul wandering wrapped in a shroud of snow on which drops of blood begin to fall; of Mohammed's last speech; of the Cid
* Stevenson, of course, drew on this for a well-known passage in his' Dynamiter.'
grooming his horse; the horrible 'Jour des Rois;' the knight-errant series. There is nothing in all such of oversystematisation, over-logic, Hugo's and the Frenchman's usual failing. It is the verse in which they are told that gives to these legends their force: verse by no means equal in merit (like the verse of Milton for example), but so full of excellences that it is almost impossible to make a choice for quotation. Take this passage, for example, on the knightserrant as a class:
'Leur seigneurie £tait tutrice des chaumieres;
Le peuple en leur présence avait l'inqui&ude
I)e la foule devant la pale solitude;
Car on a peur de ceux qui marchent en songeant.'
Would it be possible to give more finely what in cant phrase one is constrained to call the psychology of such beings and of their times ?' La foule devant la pale solitude' is not less than magnificent; so is the final line. And take the beggar on the bridge of Crassus in the ' Jour des Rois,' him first (but all that passage is too long for quotation) and next what he sees—
'Flamme au septentrion. C'est Vich incendiee.
Flamboiement au midi. C'est Girone qui brule.
'Rougeur a 1'orient. Cest Lambier en feu;
—a passage which gives excellent example of Hugo's originality and boldness in rhyming.
For a tour de force take the description of the figures in armour in 'Eviradnus.' In themselves they were not, perhaps, much more miraculous—those hollow armours upon wooden horses—than what one may see any day in the Tower of London. But read Hugo's description, the things become sepulchral, monstrous. It is absolutely true, as De Banville says, that this ' Legende des Siecles' alone constitutes a revolution in French literature; the mixture in the whole of a lyrical and an epic element likewise forms a new departure altogether. The wondrous asides, the little