페이지 이미지

of 1783 ; to pass in review before us its humors, follies, and opinions, painted in colors gay or grave, sketchy or elaborate, according to the manner or mood of the artist. Such a subject, even tolerably well executed, can never be destitute of interest. And we advert to it with the more pleasure, because it affords us an opportunity of briefly noticing some of those names which have lately been rising into literary celebrity in France, in the field of poetry or novel-writing,

Whatever benefits the revolution may have conferred, or may yet have in store, in other matters, its influence on literary taste has not been favorable. The productions of the day seem rather to have become more ephemeral, their aim less dignified, their manner more theatrical and exaggerated than before. Nothing wears an aspect of permanency; nothing seems to address itself to posterity, or to have any higher object in view than that of amusing, exciting, astonishing, - if any thing could astonish, the present generation. Every thing seems hurried up with the coarse rapidity of scenes for the theatre ; the temples, and fairy grots, and glooiny caves, are only made to be viewed under the glitter of gas, and after attracting for a few weeks, to be washed out and superseded by some newer but not more substantial pageant. Periods of perplexity and change, in fact, are not those in which men labor for eternity ; in the suspense, the all-engrossing interests of the present, the future, like the past, is scarcely thought of. “Let us eat and drink,” is then the watchword of literature," for to-morrow we die.” For the creation of those enduring works, which appeal, not to the present century, but to all, there must be confidence, tranquillity of mind, sequestration from the anxieties, and struggles, and shifts of party. There must be one clear, decided, overruling bar of public opinion to appeal to, not an endless babble of conflicting judicatories. There must be a morality fixed and immutable, based in religion, felt in its beneficent effects; not a morality of economy and expediency, always vacillating with the last theory. There must be some general recognition of religious principles, binding mankind into one, supplying some stay and leaning-place, in this incessant motion of all things around, and harmonizing all those discords of society which are at present obtruded in such jarring tones upon the general ear.

Is this to be found in France as a feature of the national mind? We fear not, and the literature of the day bears traces sufficiently evident of the 'chaos of opinion which prevails. Its most salient and characteristic feature is its aimlessness, its contradictory nature. It is not a professedly infidel literature, like that of the 18th century, possessing a certain grandeur even from the unity, the combination, with which it accomplished its evil work ; nor is it one of general faith and positive convictions, like those of the 16th and 17th. In truth, it seems to have no general aim. The efforts, like the opinions of its members, contradict each other; seldom indeed is any one long consistent even with himself. No commanding tone is heard above the rest, but only a Babylonish gibbering among the workmen, all laboring away, as one would think, with much seeming energy on the edifice of social and moral improvement, but in truth doing little or nothing to advance the work. The royalist, the republican, the middleman, each presses forward, anxious to make his own block the cornerstone of the building; while the St.-Simonian ever protests that all their attempts will crumble to pieces, because they build on the old foundations, however they may attempt to vary the superstructure; that society must be reconstructed from its very elements, that there must be a new heaven as well as a new earth, and that he, the disciple of St. Simon, is the man to give us both.

Meantime literature every where bears the stamp of this prevailing excitation, suspense, conflict, and fear of change. Nothing in it seems calm, majestic, simple, classical ; at best the model which it selects is the convulsive action of the Laocoon, not the divine dignity of the Apollo. In poetry, generally, what monstrous exaggeration of coloring! what diseased pictures of feeling! what audacity of speculation ! what extravagance of diction ! As if the language would break down under the thought, all the contortions of the Sybil in truth, but how little of her inspiration ! What chance has the voice of a Lamartine or a Victor Hugo, pouring forth their inspirations from a loftier and more sequestered seat, to be heard in the din produced by the sickly whining of a Joseph Delorme,* the rancorous tirades of the Nemesis and the Gorgone, or the impious and licentious vulgarities of a Barbier? What chance, in short, has any thing pure, subdued, consistent, beside the dazzling, the diseased, the gigantic, the inconceivable ?

It is delightful, however, for those who can still appreciate the better part of poetry, to turn from this lunatic vehemence of tone to the quiet and simple strain which Victor Hugo has lately uttered in his “ Feuilles d'Automne.” Growing calmer in his feelings, as life advances, more still as the noise about him increases, he has published a volume worthy of the better days of poetry : tender, domestic, chastened both in its mournfulness and its mirth; filled with the unstudied expression of youthful hopes,

A work published under that fictitious name by M. Sainte-Beuve. We have a high esteem for the talents of the author, and are very far from meaning to convey any reflection upon his compositions generally.

recollections, sorrows, friendships, and loves. If our time permitted, we would quote largely from this delightful volume; as it is, we must limit ourselves to one of his pictures of infancy, in which there seems to us a wild charm, which we fear our readers may not discover in our translation, but which we think can hardly escape any one who peruses the original. u In the dusky court,

“ Dans l'alcove sombre, Near the altar laid,

Près d'un humble autel,
Sleeps the child in shadow

L'enfant dort à l'ombre
Of his mother's bed:

Du lit maternel.
Softly he reposes,

Tandis qu'il repose, And his lids of roses,

Sa paupière rose,
Closed to earth, uncloses

Pour la terre close,
On the heaven o'erhead.

S'ouvre pour le ciel. “ Many a dream is with him,

« Il fait bien des rêves. Fresh from fairy land,

Il voit par momens Spangled o'er with diamonds Le sable des grèves Seems the ocean sand;

Plein de diamans, Suns are gleaming there,

Des soleils de flammes, Troops of ladies fair

Et de belles dames,
Souls of infants bear

Qui portent des ames
In their charming hand.

Dans leurs bras charmans. “O! enchanting vision !

Songe qui l'enchante! Lo, a rill up-springs,

Il voit des ruisseaux.
And, from out its bosom,

Une voix qui chante
Comes a voice that sings.

Sort du fond des eaux.
Lovelier there appear

Ses sąurs sont plus belles. Sire and sisters dear,

Son père est près d'elles.
While his mother near

Sa mère a des ailes
Plumes her new-born wings.

Comme les oiseaux. “ But a brighter vision

« Il voit mille choses Yet his eyes behold;

Plus belles encore ;
Roses all, and lilies,

Des lis et des roses
Every path enfold;

Plein le corridor;
Lakes in shadow sleeping,

Des lacs de délice Silver fishes leaping,

Où le poisson glisse,
And the waters creeping,

Où l'onde se plisse
Through the reeds of gold.

A des roseaux d'or ! “ Slumber on, sweet infant,

Enfant, rêve encore ! Slumber peacefully;

Dors, ô mes amours ! Thy young soul yet knows not Ta jeune ame ignore What thy lot may be.

Où s'en vont tes jours. Like dead leaves that sweep

Comme une algue morte Down the stormy deep,

Tu vas, que t'importe !
Thou art borne in sleep,

Le courant t'emporte,
What is all to thee ?

Mais tu dors toujours ! " Thou canst slumber by the way;

“ Sans soin, sans étude, Thou hast learnt to borrow

Tu dors en chemin ;
Nought from study, nought from care; Et l'inquiétude
The cold hand of sorrow,

A la froide main,
On thy brow unwrinkled yet,

De son ongle aride, Where young truth and candor sit, Sur ton front candide Ne'er with rugged nail hath writ Qui n'a point de ride,

That sad word, · To-morrow!' N'écrit pas : Demain !

" Innocent! thou sleepest,

See the heavenly band,
Who foreknow the trials

That for man are planned;
Seeing him unarmed,
Unfearing, un-alarmed,
With their tears have warmed

His unconscious hand.

" Il dort, innocence !

Les anges sereins
Qui savent d'avance

Le sort des humains,
Le voyant sans armes,
Sans peur, sans alarmes,
Baisent avec larmes

Ses petites mains.

“ Angels, hovering o'er him,

Kiss him where he lies.
Hark! he sees them weeping,

Gabriel !' he cries ;
"Hush !' the angel says,
On his lip he lays
One finger, one displays

His native skies."}

" Leurs lèvres effleurent

Ses lèvres de miel,
L'enfant voit qu'ils pleurent,

Et dit: 'Gabriel !
Mais l'ange le touche,
Et berçant sa couche,
Un doigt sur sa bouche

Lève l'autre au ciel !"

To turn from these pure and touching strains to the field of novel-writing, is like passing from one of the Cupids of Albano into a gallery filled with the gloomy martyrdoms of Caravaggio, or the diableries of Callot and Breughel d'Enfer. The taste for the revival, in fiction, of other times, seems to have passed away, or to have been transferred, at least in its more sombre point of view, to the stage. It has been succeeded by fictions which better reflect the fermentation, the relaxation of established principles which characterize society; a literature which delights in the studious agitation of those moral problems from which men are generally anxious to shrink; in speculations upon "all fearful, all unutterable things”; in attacks upon all the connecting principles of society ; in details of the most frightful atrocities; in the most singular alliances between the ludicrous and the terrible, between voluptuousness and horror; in the prevalence of a fatalism, which urges man to live and die like the beasts that perish, or of a despair venting itself in. impiety or exhaled in sarcasm.

Nowhere is there repose, no where a principle of consolation; - all is wild merriment or gnashing of teeth. A dazzling picture of the splendors of the palace is succeeded by the misery of the hovel, the loathsomeness of the dungeon or the hospital, a drunken revel, a licentious orgy, the guillotine, or the Morgue. We are perpetually treading on the confines of decency, often plunging · into undisguised licentiousness. There are scenes in the “Peau de Chagrin," of Balzac, such as the revel which follows the acquisition of the talisman, and the situation in which the death of the hero takes place, which would in this country have attracted the notice of the Attorney-General. In the fortunes of " Michel Raymond” (a tale of adultery, one of the most favorite topics of the day), in his “Daniel le Lapidaire,” in the “Confession” and “ La Femme Guillotinée ” of Janin, scenes are perpetually occurring which few would have the courage to read aloud in Eng

lish, and few even, we would hope, in French society. You lay down the book with a conviction like that of Alceste, after reading Oronte's sonnet,

“ Qu'un homme est pendable après les avoir faits.” Yet the scope or intention of the author may not be to corrupt; these outrages seem as often to be the result of insensibility as of intention. The style, of course, partakes of the wild, incongruous character of the incidents. "It moves in galvanic jerks and frantic gambols, with incoherent images like a madman's dreams; metaphors, similes, illustrations drawn from the most revolting departments of the physical, or the most sacred of the moral world, and paradoxical maxims of morality, dazzling for a moment and confounding the understanding. The feeling, on laying down the strange imbroglio, is one of exhaustion, as if we had been gazing on the jets, and stars, and snaky convolutions of a fire-work; our eyes ache in attempting to follow its windings, our ears are stunned by its discharges, and we gladly escape after the exhibition from the sulphureous atmosphere we have been breathing, to the “breeze of heaven fresh blowing," the tranquil glories of nature, and the silent, steady lustre of the moon and stars.

This character, it may be objected, is too indiscriminately applied; and undoubtedly many examples might be pointed out in the lighter literature of the last two or three years of a more subdued and natural cast. But what we mean is, that the leading talent of the day has taken the direction to which we have alluded; that the dissection of the body social and the body politic, sometimes by the coarsest instruments, and with the most needless parade of its morbid anatomy, in the guise of philosophical romances, calculated to leave the most humiliating and desolating impression on the mind, seems to have almost superseded those more comprehensive, more indulgent, and, after all, truer pictures of life, that humor gently blending with pathos, and even producing it, which presented themselves to a Lesage or a Cervantes, that disposition to find good in every thing which colors nature in the pictures of Scott.

It would be unjust, however, to this literature, whatever may be thought of its accordance with taste or morality, to deny it the praise of a seductive vivacity of movement, great variety, intense force, and a perfect command of those means of effect, which, though of coarse material and speedily worn out, are perhaps the best instruments for making an impression on minds which the strong excitement of the time has rendered callous to slighter emotions. We would point to two names in particular, out of

« 이전계속 »