Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Victor Hugo: His Life and Works
Author: Smith, G. Barnett
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Victor Hugo: His Life and Works" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



VICTOR HUGO

_HIS LIFE AND WORK_

BY G. BARNETT SMITH,

AUTHOR OF
'SHELLEY: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY,' 'POETS AND NOVELISTS,' ETC.

_WITH A PORTRAIT OF VICTOR HUGO._

LONDON:
WARD AND DOWNEY,
12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
1885.

[_All Rights Reserved._]


[Illustration: Victor Hugo]


I INSCRIBE THIS VOLUME TO ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE,
REJOICING THUS TO CONNECT THE GREAT BARD AND PROPHET OF FRANCE
WITH THE ENGLISH SINGER OF A YOUNGER DAY,
WHO HAS DRUNK DEEPLY OF THE MASTER'S SPIRIT.

_G. B. S._



PRELIMINARY NOTE.


I began this study of Victor Hugo in December last, and arrangements
were made for its early publication. The great poet has now passed away,
and this melancholy event gives the biographical portion of the present
volume a completeness not originally anticipated. Notwithstanding the
multitude of criticisms which have appeared in our own and other
languages upon Hugo's works, this is the only book which relates the
full story of his life, and now traces to its close his literary career.
More than twenty years have elapsed since the publication of Madame
Hugo's memorials of the earlier portion of the poet's history, and since
that time M. Barbou's work (excellently translated by Miss Frewer) is
the only narrative of a biographical character which has appeared. The
writings of various French and English critics, the two works I have
named, and those valuable chroniclers, the journals of London and Paris,
have been of considerable service to me in the preparation of the
biography now offered to the public.

The writings of Victor Hugo are so varied and multifarious, and many of
them are so well known to English readers, that I have not deemed it
necessary to subject them to a detailed analysis. At the same time, the
reader unfamiliar with these powerful works will, I trust, be able to
gather something of their purport and scope from the ensuing pages. As
they have impressed all minds, moreover, by their striking originality,
I thought that it would not be without its value if, while venturing to
record my own impressions, I gave at the same time a representation of
critical contemporary opinion upon them. Finally, it has been my object
to present to the reader, within reasonable compass, a complete survey
of the life and work of the most celebrated Frenchman of the nineteenth
century.

G. BARNETT SMITH.

HIGHGATE, LONDON, N.,
_June 3rd, 1885_.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                           PAGE

    I. EARLY YEARS                                   1

   II. DAWNINGS OF GENIUS                           18

  III. VICTOR HUGO'S HUMANITARIANISM                37

   IV. THE TRIUMPH OF ROMANTICISM                   49

    V. 'NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS'                        65

   VI. 'MARION DE LORME' AND OTHER DRAMAS           77

  VII. LAST DRAMATIC WRITINGS                       92

 VIII. THE FRENCH ACADEMY                          110

   IX. PERSONAL AND POLITICAL                      121

    X. THE POET IN EXILE                           141

   XI. IN GUERNSEY.--'LES MISÉRABLES'              152

  XII. LITERARY AND DRAMATIC                       169

 XIII. PARIS AND THE SIEGE                         186

  XIV. 'QUATRE-VINGT-TREIZE.'--POLITICS, ETC.      201

   XV. POEMS ON RELIGION                           217

  XVI. PUBLIC ADDRESSES, ETC.                      223

 XVII. 'LA LÉGENDE DES SIÈCLES,' ETC.              237

XVIII. HONOURS TO VICTOR HUGO                      248

  XIX. PERSONAL AND MISCELLANEOUS                  261

   XX. THE POET'S DEATH AND BURIAL                 274

  XXI. GENIUS AND CHARACTERISTICS                  304



VICTOR HUGO:

HIS LIFE AND WORK.



CHAPTER I.

EARLY YEARS.


The glory of France touched its zenith at the period when our narrative
opens. Europe virtually lay at the feet of Napoleon, who had risen to a
height of authority and power which might well have satisfied the most
vaulting ambition. Nations whose records extended back into the ages of
antiquity trembled before him; and only one people, that of this
sea-girt isle of Britain, declined to bend the knee to the
all-conquering First Consul. Yet the philosophic mind, reflecting that
the stability of a nation or a throne must be measured by its growth,
must surely have distrusted the permanence of a grandeur and a greatness
thus rapidly achieved. And speedily would such prevision have been
justified, for in little more than one brief decade the sun of Napoleon
set as suddenly as it arose.

But while as yet the fame and the splendour of the conqueror were in
their noonday, there was born at Besançon another child of genius, whose
triumphs were to be won in a different and a nobler sphere. He was
destined to touch, as with Ithuriel's spear, the sleeping spirit of
French poesy, and to animate it with new life, vigour, and enthusiasm;
he was to recall the divine muse from the drear region of classicism,
and, by revivifying almost every branch of imaginative literature, he
was himself to gain the triple crown of poet, romancist, and dramatist.
And not alone for this was the child Victor Hugo to grow into manhood
and venerable age. He was to become a great apostle of liberty, and as
his life opened with the triumphs of the first Napoleon, so before its
close he was destined to behold the last of that name pass away in the
whirlwind, and France recover much of her prosperity and her power under
the ægis of the Republic, of which the poet sang and for which he
laboured.

The ancestry of Victor Hugo were not undistinguished. Documents
concerning them before the fifteenth century were lost in the pillage of
Nancy, but since that time a clear genealogy is claimed. There was one
Hugo, a soldier, who obtained in 1535 letters patent of nobility for
himself and his descendants from Cardinal Jean de Lorraine, Archbishop
of Rheims, which letters were subsequently confirmed by the Cardinal's
brother, Antoine, Duke of Lorraine. The fifth descendant from this
warrior-noble, Charles Hyacinthe Hugo, obtained new letters patent; and
his grandson, Joseph Leopold Sigisbert, was the father of the poet. In
the seventeenth century, a member of the Hugo family was known both in
the Church and in literature, and became Abbé of Estival and Bishop of
Ptolemais. Another who lived in the eighteenth century, Louis Antoine
Hugo, was a member of the Convention, and was executed for moderatism.
Thus in career, as in character, there was much variety in the Hugo
family.

Sigisbert Hugo, who entered the army as a cadet in 1788, ultimately
attained the rank of General under the First Empire. Although the
hereditary title of Count was the appanage of this rank, he never took
it up. While brave and fearless in war, he is represented as being
devotion and goodness personified, and humane to a fault. 'He set his
children a fine example of duty, being ever their instructor in the
paths of honour.' During a period of military service at Nantes, he
became acquainted with Sophie Trébuchet, the daughter of a wealthy
shipowner. An attachment soon sprang up between them, and they were
married in Paris, Hugo having been summoned thither as reporter to the
first council of war on the Seine.

Though the grandfather of Victor Hugo on the maternal side was engaged
in commerce, he belonged to an old family, and one famous in La Vendée
for its devotion to the Royalist cause. A cousin of Madame Hugo was the
Count de Chasseboeuf, better known as Volney, the author of _Les
Ruines_; and another cousin was Count Cornet, who was very prominent in
political matters both before and during the First Empire. Two sons were
born to Major Hugo and his wife, and then they looked forward with hope
to the birth of a daughter, whom it was decided to name Victorine.
Another son, however, came instead, and one so weakly and diminutive
that the accoucheur declared strongly against his chances of life. The
babe was taken to the mairie at Besançon, and registered as having been
born on the 26th of February, 1802. He received the names of Victor
Marie Hugo, and his godfather was Major Hugo's intimate friend, General
Lahorie, chief of the staff to General Moreau. It has been pointed out
that the word Hugo in old German was the equivalent of the Latin word
_spiritus_, and this fact, combined with the Christian name of Victor,
caused Dumas the elder to say that 'the name of Victor Hugo stands forth
as the conquering spirit, the triumphant soul, the breath of victory.'

But for some time there could be little presage of triumph or victory in
connection with Victor Hugo. Languid and ailing in body, he became
unusually sad for a child of such tender years, and 'was sometimes
discovered in a corner, weeping silently without any reason.' He
afterwards described his untoward childhood in the opening lines of the
_Feuilles d'Automne_. For some time the Hugo family accompanied its head
in his military journeyings; but when Major Hugo was ultimately ordered
to join the army of Italy, he settled his wife and their three young
children in Paris, in the Rue de Clichy. That the youngest scion of the
house could not really have been as feeble and frail as he looked, and
that he must have had the basis of a good, sound constitution, is proved
by his long life; but we must not forget also in this regard the great
care and assiduous attention lavished upon him by his mother. His career
furnishes another illustration of the truth that while the most glorious
promise sometimes sets in gloom and premature death, on the other hand
genius also not infrequently advances from the wavering spark to a noble
flame, and out of weakness is made strength.

Major (afterwards General) Hugo rendered conspicuous service in Italy by
the capture of the notorious bandit chief, Fra Diavolo, and the
pacification of Naples. For these acts he was made Colonel of Royal
Corsica and Governor of Avellino. When not quite five years old Victor
was taken by his mother, with his brothers, Abel and Eugène, to
Avellino, and the journey to Italy is associated with his first
observations of natural scenery. Though so young, his imagination was
fired by all he saw, and the impressions he formed were very
distinct--so much so that in after life he would discuss with Alexandre
Dumas the aspects of the country through which he had travelled in his
childhood.

In 1808 Colonel Hugo was sent to Madrid in the train of Joseph
Bonaparte; but, as Spain was disturbed by war, he would not hazard the
presence of his wife and children in that country. Madame Hugo
accordingly went to Paris, and established herself at the house No. 12,
in the Impasse des Feuillantines, where she now devoted herself to the
education of her children. Late in life, Victor Hugo described the
household in the Feuillantines. Near by there was an aged priest, who
acted as tutor to the boys, teaching them a good deal of Latin, a
smattering of Greek, and the barest outlines of history. In the gardens,
and amid the ruins of an old convent in the grounds, the Hugo boys
passed many happy days. 'Together in their work and in their play,
rough-hewing their lives regardless of destiny, they passed their time
as children of the spring, mindful only of their books, of the trees,
and of the clouds, listening to the tumultuous chorus of the birds, but
watched over incessantly by one sweet and loving smile.' 'Blessings on
thee, O my mother!' was the invocation of the poet in his later years.

Once the family received an accession in the person of General Lahorie,
who had been connected with Moreau's conspiracy, and was condemned to
death for contumacy. Madame Hugo, in her secluded dwelling, and in a
little chapel buried amongst the foliage, gave him a secure shelter for
eighteen months. Young Victor did not then know that the stranger in
whom he took so deep an interest, and in whom he begat an equal
interest, was his godfather. Lahorie took kindly to the boy, and
frequently conversed with him, saying to him on one occasion with great
impressiveness, 'Child, everything must yield to liberty!' The
precautions of Lahorie and his friends were in the end of no avail. In
1811 he was arrested at the Feuillantines, tried and condemned by
court-martial, and shot on the plain of Grenelle. Napoleon was
implacable in his revenge; his wrath might sleep, but it was never
allowed to die.

Another visitor to the Feuillantines was General Louis Hugo, uncle to
the youths. With that strong poetic imagery which characterized him,
little Victor said that the entrance of his uncle into the salon 'had on
us the effect of the Archangel Michael appearing on a beam of light.'
The visitor came at the request of his brother to hasten the departure
of the family for Spain. The boys Hugo were informed by their mother
that they must learn Spanish, and just as they would have performed much
more impossible feats under such a command, they acquired the language
in the course of a few weeks.

In the spring of 1811, Madame Hugo and her children began their journey
into Spain. At Bayonne they had to await a convoy for Madrid. Here the
travellers paid several visits to the theatre, which made a deep
impression upon Victor, yet one which, while more lasting perhaps, was
not so deep as that made by the little daughter of a widow, who seems to
have quite captivated the boy. He afterwards referred to this attachment
as bearing the same relation to love that the light of dawn bears to the
full blaze of day. But he never saw again the youthful _inamorata_ who
stirred 'the first cry of the awakening heart.'

The dilatory progress of the convoy to Madrid, though irksome to Madame
Hugo, was not so to her youngest son. He delighted in observing the
features of the scenery and the towns through which they passed. With
Ernani he was especially pleased, and subsequently gave to one of his
dramas the name of this town. After a number of adventures, some of them
of a trying character, the convoy entered Madrid, and Madame Hugo and
her family were accommodated at the palace of Prince Masserano. Their
rooms and all the appointments were very sumptuous, and there was a
great display of Bohemian and Venetian glass and magnificent China
vases. Concerning the latter, Victor Hugo said that he had 'never since
met with any so remarkable.' Victor's eldest brother, Abel, was made a
page to King Joseph, and it was intended that Victor himself should
follow his example. Meanwhile Eugène and Victor were placed in the
Seminary of Nobles, a proceeding which affected them deeply, and made
them inexpressibly miserable after the happiness they had found in the
Masserano Palace.

But great and dire events were impending in Napoleonic history. By the
beginning of the year 1812 the position of French affairs generally
became so threatening that General Hugo decided to send his wife and the
two younger children back to Paris. Not many months elapsed before his
prescience was justified. Bonaparte's army was decimated by the
inclement snows of Russia after the burning of Moscow, and the kings he
had set up in the European capitals began to tremble for the stability
of their thrones.

Madame Hugo and her two sons safely reached Paris after a tedious
journey, and once more established themselves in the Feuillantines. The
biographical work written by the poet's wife shows that Madame Hugo had
liberal ideas on the subject of education: that where religion was in
question she was averse to forcing any particular persuasion on her
sons, or to interfere with their natural tendencies; neither did she
wish to tax their intelligence any more than their consciences. In the
matter of reading she was equally liberal: the boys were allowed the
greatest freedom, and read Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and other
authors; but the works of such writers paled in comparison with Captain
Cook's travels, which had a great fascination for the young students.
Madame Hugo judged that any errors her sons were likely to imbibe in
their wide and catholic reading would be rendered innocuous by the
influence of a good example and the purity of the home life. She
restrained them by her authority, and, while attending to their mental
and moral development, she did not neglect the physical. She desired
them to grow up healthy and complete in mind and body alike.

The troubles in Spain thickened apace, and King Joseph left Madrid,
being followed by General Hugo. The victory of the Allies at Vittoria
practically settled the fate of Joseph Bonaparte and the Spanish crown.
The King dismissed his retinue of officers and retired into private
life, and General Hugo returned to Paris with his son Abel. Madame Hugo
and the other children had moved into the Rue du Cherche-Midi. Having
herself been an invader, it was now the turn of France to be invaded.
General Hugo was no favourite with the Emperor (who had not forgotten
the Moreau conspiracy), but when his country was in danger he could not
remain inactive. So he volunteered, and went into the provinces, where
he rendered conspicuous service. He long held Thionville, keeping the
Allies at bay, and refused to open the town until he received official
despatches from his General-in-Chief announcing the cessation of
hostilities. The restoration of the Bourbons followed, and, although
this was hailed with great joy by Madame Hugo, it led to General Hugo
being deprived of his command and removed from active employment,
together with all the officers who had shared in the defence of
Thionville.

Eugène and Victor Hugo now lost the liberty they had for some time
enjoyed, and were sent to school, being placed in the Collége Cordier et
Decotte, in the Rue Ste. Marguerite. At first the removal was especially
bitter to Victor, as it separated him from Adèle Foucher, a young girl
who had completely won his youthful heart. This love continued to grow
from its inception in the Rue du Cherche-Midi till the time when Adèle
became his devoted wife, and returned Victor Hugo's affection with an
ardour equal to his own.

The Hugo boys were naturally the subject of a cross-fire in regard to
politics. Their father was devoted to the Empire, and their mother was
equally devoted to the Royalists. But as the influence of a mother
always has priority in regard to time, Victor Hugo was for a season
enthusiastic about royalty. He could not, with his warm temperament and
lively imagination, be half-hearted about anything. Nor need it surprise
us that he yielded first to the influence of his mother as regarded the
Bourbons, and then to that of his father as regarded the Bonapartes. In
youth it is the imagination which is developed; the judgment is formed
by slow stages. It would have surprised us more if Victor Hugo had not
shown himself amenable to the potent influences of his home training.
His father and mother were of no ordinary type; they had both great
latent force of nature and character, which deeply impressed itself upon
their children. In estimating the career of Victor Hugo, then, with its
later changes of opinion, the circumstances which surrounded his early
years, and greatly assisted in moulding his character, must not be
forgotten.

Early in 1815 Paris was electrified by the news that Napoleon had
returned from Elba. For a brief period the magic of his name once more
exercised a profound influence; and under this revival of Bonapartist
prospects General Hugo was again despatched to take the command of
Thionville. He exhibited the same capacity and spirit as before, but all
was of no avail. The crowning disaster of Waterloo extinguished the
hopes of the Bonapartists, and Napoleon fell, 'like Lucifer, never to
rise again.'

It is matter for regret that the differences between General and Madame
Hugo on the subject of politics and dynasties led to a separation
between them, though one that was mutually desired. Each felt too
strongly on these subjects to give way, and thereby stultify his or her
convictions. But political disagreements did not affect the deep
interest of both parents in their children. The boys made great progress
at school, and also attended courses of lectures in physics, philosophy,
and mathematics at the Collége Louis-le-Grand. Their proficiency was
especially marked in mathematics, and it obtained for both honourable
mention in the examinations.

Poetry, however, even thus early, was the real mistress of Victor Hugo.
His tentative efforts in this direction were as varied as they were
numerous, and he has left an amusing record of his first wooings of the
Muse. He alternated fights at the college (he and Eugène were the kings
of the school) with flights of the imagination. Nothing came amiss to
him, whether ode, satire, epistle, lyric, tragedy, elegy, etc.; and he
imitated Ossian and translated from Virgil, Horace, and Lucan at an age
when others only just begin to acquire an appreciation and understanding
of those authors. Nor were such writers as Martial and Ausonius unknown
to him. Then from poetry he would turn to romances, fables, stories,
epigrams, madrigals, logographs, acrostics, charades, enigmas, and
impromptus; and he even wrote a comic opera.

In one of these youthful pieces he deprecated the exercise of the
reader's satirical rage over the effusion; and certainly the chief
impression which these initial attempts at composition leave upon the
reader is not a critical one founded upon their manifest crudity and
inconsequences of thought, but one of surprise at the exuberance of
fancy and command of expression so soon and so singularly displayed.
There was more than sufficient in them to the observant eye to
foreshadow the genius which their author afterwards developed. Each of
these poems was an effort of the imagination after strength of wing. But
of all those who perused these early poetic efforts, Madame Hugo was
probably the only one able to gauge the great promise of the writer. She
could not but anticipate much from that genius which was just essaying
to unfold itself in the sun. Yet even she could not fully foresee the
magnificent, eagle-like flights of which these imaginings were but the
first faint flutterings of the eaglet's wing.



CHAPTER II.

DAWNINGS OF GENIUS.


Victor Hugo was not quite thirteen when he wrote his first poetical
essay, which had for its subject _Roland and Chivalry_. This was
followed in the same year, 1815, by an intensely Royalist poem, and one
breathing indignation against the Emperor, after the disaster of
Waterloo. The poet had been thrown constantly into the midst of Royalist
influences and surroundings; not only his mother, but General Lahorie
and M. Foucher, her most intimate friends, were enemies of the Empire,
and the youth consequently imbibed at the same time hatred of the Empire
and love of the Bourbons.

His first tragedy, _Irtamène_, was written in honour of Louis XVIII.,
and though professedly dealing with Egyptian themes, it was really a
defence of the French King. There is a usurper in it, who meets with
condign chastisement, and the play ends with the coronation of the
legitimate monarch. 'Those who hate tyrants should love kings,' said the
writer, to whom at that time the restoration of the Bourbons meant
liberty. But these things must not be made too much of. The poet was at
that nebulous stage when the fact of writing poetry was more to him than
the subject-matter of his exercises. He read voluminously, but he had
not as yet begun to separate, to weigh, and to discriminate.

A course of the _Théâtre de Voltaire_ led him to begin a new tragedy,
_Athéli; or, the Scandinavians_, all in dramatic order, with its five
acts, and its due regard to narrative, scenery, etc. Before he had
completed it, however, he turned to a comic opera, _A Quelque Chose
Hasard est Bon_. Then he reverted to the drama, and wrote a play in
three acts, with two interludes, entitled _Inez de Castro_. From the
point of view of literary art, little is to be said of these things; but
there are many scattered passages in them which reveal remarkable
insight on the part of one so young. In the year 1817 he first sought
publicity for his compositions, competing for the poetical prize
annually offered by the French Academy. The subject chosen was, _The
Advantages of Study in every situation of Life_, and amongst the
competitors were Lebrun, Delavigne, Saintine, and Loyson, who all on
this occasion made their poetical debut. The first prize was divided
between Saintine and Lebrun, and Hugo received honourable mention; but
when the poems came to be declaimed in public, the warmest applause
followed that by Victor Hugo. The Academy judges were considerably
puzzled by Master Hugo's exercise. In one place he wrote as though he
had arrived at years of discretion and comparative maturity, and then
demolished this idea by the lines--


     'I, who have ever fled from courts and cities,
     Scarce three short lustres have accomplished yet.'


The judges came to the conclusion that the young poet was playing with
them, and in their report accordingly threw doubt upon his statement
that he was only fifteen years old. The production of his birth
certificate set this question at rest, and Victor's name now became
prominent in the newspapers. M. Raynouard, the cultured Secretary of the
Academy, finding that the 'most potent, grave, and reverend signors'
had not been deceived, expressed the great pleasure he had in making the
youthful competitor's acquaintance. Other distinguished men followed
suit, and Hugo was described as 'the sublime child,' either by
Chateaubriand or Soumet. The evidence points to the latter having first
made use of this phrase, but its origin matters little, for
Chateaubriand fully adopted it, remarking that anyone might naturally
have used the words, they expressed so decided a truth. Hugo was taken
by a friend to see the author of _Atala_, and the impression made upon
his mind by this man of genius found utterance in the exclamation, 'I
would be Chateaubriand or nothing.'

In 1818 Victor's brother Eugène was awarded a prize at the floral games
of Toulouse. The younger brother's ambition was touched, and in the
following year he secured two prizes from the same Academy for his poems
on _The Statue of Henry IV._, and _The Virgins of Verdun_. The former
poem gained the golden lily, and the latter the golden amaranth. It
seems that just as the writer was about to set to work on the
first-named poem, Madame Hugo was seized with inflammation of the
chest. She lamented that her son would be unable to complete his poem in
time; but he set to work, wrote it in a single night, and it was
despatched next morning in time to compete for the prize. The President
of the Toulouse Academy admitted that it was an enigma for one so young
to exhibit such remarkable talents in literature.

A poem, _Moses on the Nile_, gained him a third prize at Toulouse, and
this constituted him Master of the Floral Games, so that at the age of
eighteen he became a provincial academician. He was still Royalist in
his opinions, and on the few occasions when he was in the company of his
father, the latter did not attempt to change his views, feeling that it
would be useless to attempt to set the arguments of a few hours against
a daily and hourly influence. But he had a true apprehension of his
son's character, and on one occasion, when Victor had expressed himself
warmly in favour of the Vendeans, General Hugo turned to General
Lucotte, and said: 'Let us leave all to time. The child shares his
mother's views; the man will have the opinions of his father.'

Victor Hugo was now the subject of conflicting claims. There was the
law, which he had chosen as a profession, with its demands upon him, and
there was literature, which he loved too much to surrender; while at the
same time love and politics also claimed their share in him. He
determined to throw himself ardently into literature. Separated from the
object of his youthful affections, he wrote his _Han d'Islande_, in
which, while there are many crimes and horrors, there are also passages
of tenderness, wherein he sought to embalm and reveal his feelings of
love. His courage sustained him through many trials, but at last he was
called upon to bear one that made a profound impression upon his heart.
Madame Hugo, who was now living in the Rue Mézières, was seized with
serious illness after working in her garden, which was her favourite
occupation. For some time she struggled successfully with the disease,
but it had obtained too firm a hold upon her, and she died suddenly on
the 27th of June, 1821. On the evening of the funeral, Adèle Foucher,
unconscious of what had occurred, was dancing at a party given in
celebration of her birthday. Next morning Victor called upon her, and
the lovers, mingling their tears together, mutually renewed their old
vows of attachment. Victor, to whom life had seemed without an object on
the death of his mother, speedily found another after his betrothal to
Adèle. Her parents no longer actively opposed the union, but stipulated
for its postponement until Victor could provide a home.

In conjunction with several friends, Hugo had already founded the
_Conservateur Littéraire_, to which he contributed articles on Sir
Walter Scott, Byron, Moore, etc., and a number of political satires. He
had a sum of seven hundred francs, upon which he subsisted for a year,
and the method by which he did it will be found related in the
experiences of Marius in _Les Misérables_. Translations from Lucan and
Virgil, which appeared under the name of D'Auverney, and the Epistles
from Aristides to Brutus on _Thou_ and _You_, emanated from his pen. He
also wrote a very noticeable article on Lamartine's _Méditations
Poétiques_, which had just appeared. Then came the first instalment of
his own _Odes et Ballades_, a work in which his genius began to attain a
fuller freedom and a richer expression. The volume was received with
very wide favour, and though, as M. Barbou has observed, it presents
many ideas that would find no approval now, the poet, nevertheless,
declared that he could proudly and conscientiously place the work side
by side with the democratical books and poems of his matured manhood.
This, he said, he should be prepared to do, because in 'the fierce
strife against early prejudices imbibed with a mother's milk, and in the
slow rough ascent from the false to the true, which to a certain extent
makes up the substance of every man's life, and causes the development
of his conscience to be the type of human progress in general; each step
so taken represents some material sacrifice to moral advancement, some
interest abandoned, some vanity eschewed, some worldly benefit
renounced--nay, perhaps, some risk of home or even life incurred.' This
justification may fairly be accepted, but from another aspect also these
_Odes_ are worthy of attention. They were the first noble efforts of the
poet to emancipate French poetry from the trammels which had too long
governed it, and which had rendered it almost dead, and effete alike in
spirit and in form. At length imagination was to resume its rightful
sway, and exhibit some return to its pristine vigour.

The _Odes_ not only brought the author friends like Émile Deschamps and
Alfred de Vigny, but they were pecuniarily successful. The first edition
yielded him a profit of seven hundred francs, and a second quickly
followed. The attention of the King was called to the poems, and the
interest his Majesty took in them, together with a romantic incident in
connection with the Saumur plot, led to a pension of 1,000 francs being
conferred upon the poet from the King's privy purse. He now thought he
was entitled to press the question of his marriage. His father, who had
married again, offered no opposition; the Fouchers also gave way, and
bestowed the hand of their daughter Adèle upon the young and now
successful poet. Victor Hugo had shortly before this made the
acquaintance of the celebrated priest Lamennais, and it was from his
hands that he received the certificate of confession required before he
could get married. 'I trust with all my heart,' wrote the priest, 'that
God will bless this happy union, which He appears Himself to have
prepared by implanting in you a long and unchanged affection, and a
mutual love as pure as it is sweet.'

The Saumur plot, to which I have referred, took place in 1822, and
amongst those implicated in it was a young man named Delon, who had been
an intimate friend of Victor Hugo in his childhood. On hearing of
Delon's danger, Hugo wrote to the conspirator's mother, offering an
asylum for her son in his own house, and remarking that as the writer
was well known for his devotion to the Bourbons, he would never be
sought in such a retreat. This letter fell into the hands of the King,
but instead of its prejudicing him against Victor Hugo, he generously
said, 'That young man has a good heart as well as great genius; he is an
honourable fellow; I shall take care he has the next pension that falls
vacant.' This was the origin of the poet's pension, which was in nowise
due to an expressed wish or desire on his own part.

_Hans of Iceland_, the first published romance of Victor Hugo, appeared
anonymously in 1823. The work at once attracted attention by reason of
its graphic power and the startling nature of its contrasts. It combines
horror with tenderness, the deepest gloom with flashes of the purest
light. The author himself had a great affection for it, on the personal
ground already mentioned. But its chief features are of a different
order. In this northern romance, as one critic has observed, the
youthful novelist has turned to great account the savage wilds, gloomy
lakes, stormy seas, pathless caves, and ruined fortresses of
Scandinavia. 'A being savage as the scenery around him--human in his
birth, but more akin to the brute in his nature; diminutive, but with a
giant's strength; whose pastime is assassination, who lives literally as
well as metaphorically on blood--is the hero; and round this monster are
grouped some of the strangest, ghastliest, and yet not wholly unnatural
beings which it is possible for the imagination to conceive--Spiagudry,
the keeper of the dead-house, or _morgue_, of Drontheim, and Orugex, the
State executioner--while gentler forms, the noble and persecuted
Schumacker, and the devoted and innocent Ethel, relieve the monotony of
crime and horror.' M. Charles Nodier, one of the ablest of French
contemporary critics, in a review of the work in the _Quotidienne_,
remarked upon the fact that there were men of a certain organization, to
whom glory and distinction were temptations, just as happiness and
pleasure tempted other men. 'Precocious intellects and deep sensibility
do not take the future into consideration--they devour their future.
The passions of a young and powerful mind know no to-morrow; they look
to satiate their ambition and their hopes with the reputation and
excitement of the present moment. _Han d'Islande_ has been the result of
this kind of combination, if indeed one can describe as a combination
that which is only the thoughtless instinct of an original genius, who
obeys, without being aware of it, an impulse at variance with his true
interests, but whose fine and wide career may not improbably justify
this promise of excellence, and may hereafter redeem all the anxiety he
has caused by the excusable error he committed when he first launched
himself upon the world.' M. Nodier then discussed with much freedom, and
yet with almost as much fairness, the peculiar features of the romance,
its close and painful search into the morbidities of life, its pictures
of the scaffold and the _morgue_, etc., as well as its strong local
colouring, its historical truth, its learning, its wit, and its vigorous
and picturesque style.

The author and his critic became personally acquainted. The latter
called upon Victor Hugo, who, after other changes of abode, had now
established himself in the Rue de Vaugirard. A second pension of 2,000
francs had been awarded him by the King; hence his migration into
comparatively sumptuous quarters. Other literary friendships besides
that with M. Nodier were formed as the result of Victor Hugo's first
romance.

At this period he wrote an ode on the _Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile_, and
there were many indications that his early Royalist opinions were in
process of abandonment. He visited his father at Blois, and the General
was not slow to observe the changes taking place in his son's views.
While he could not admire Napoleon personally, he began to do justice to
those who had planted the French standard in all the capitals of Europe.
But it seemed as though the King was resolved to retain him by favours,
for there was now conferred upon him the coveted badge of the Legion of
Honour. He attended the coronation of Charles X. at Rheims, and from
thence went to pay a visit to Lamartine. A project was formed and a
treaty signed with a publisher, by which M. Lamartine, Victor Hugo, M.
Charles Nodier, and M. Taylor engaged to prepare a work detailing a
poetical and picturesque trip to Mont Blanc and the Valley of Chamouni.
For four meditations Lamartine was to receive 2,000 francs, Hugo 2,000
for four odes, Taylor 2,000 for eight drawings, and Nodier 2,250 for all
the text. The travellers set out, Hugo being accompanied by his wife and
child. On reaching Geneva--after a temporary arrest of Hugo, some time
before, on account of the delay of his passport in its journey from
Paris--the visitors found the police regulations very annoying. Each
hotel possessed a register, in which every traveller was bound to write
his name, his age, his profession, the place from whence he came, and
his object in travelling. M. Nodier was so exasperated that in reply to
the last query he wrote, 'Come to upset your Government.' For a few
moments the hotel-keeper was not unnaturally electrified. The travellers
got their jaunt, but owing to the insolvency of the publisher with whom
they had arranged, the literary scheme was never carried out.

In ascending the Alps to the Mer de Glace, Victor Hugo had a narrow
escape. His guide, who was new to the business, took the wrong path, and
landed the visitor upon a dangerous tongue of ice. From this he was
rescued with great difficulty, and for several moments, which seemed
like hours, he was suspended over a terrible abyss. Victor Hugo wrote a
description of the journey from Sallenches to Chamouni, which was
translated by Madame Hugo, and published in her sketch of the poet.

_Bug Jargal_, the second romance by Victor Hugo, but the earliest in
point of time, was published in 1826. It had been originally written for
the _Conservateur Littéraire_; but after its appearance there, it was
almost entirely remodelled and rewritten. It is a tale of the
insurrection in St. Domingo. The essential improbability of such a
character as Bug Jargal (by what means did the author get such an
uncouth name?), a negro of the noblest moral and intellectual character,
passionately in love with a white woman, has been unfavourably commented
upon. The hero is represented as not only tempering the wildest passion
with the deepest respect, but he even sacrifices life itself at last in
behalf of the woman of his love, and of her husband. It was objected
that this was too violent a call upon the imagination, but knowledge of
the negro character would tend to prove that such a devotion as Bug
Jargal's is by no means impossible. In any case, as the novelist is
allowed great license, this objection cannot be regarded as fatal to the
romance. Notwithstanding its alleged defects of plot, however, this
story has many enthralling passages. No reader is likely to forget 'the
scenes in the camp of the insurgent chief Biassou, or the death-struggle
between Habihrah and d'Auverney on the brink of the cataract. The
latter, in particular, is drawn with such intense force, that the reader
seems almost to be a witness of the changing fortunes of the fight, and
can hardly breathe freely till he comes to the close.' Whatever else
these early romances demonstrated, or failed to demonstrate, they were
at least inspired by enthusiasm, and tinged with aspirations of a noble
order.

The genius of the author had drawn towards him the admiration, and very
speedily the friendship, of such men as M. Méry, the journalist; M.
Rabbe, author of the 'History of the Popes;' M. Achille Devéria and M.
Louis Boulanger, the eminent artists; M. Sainte-Beuve, one of the most
incisive of critics, and others whose names have since occupied
considerable space in the roll of fame. Hugo was indefatigable in his
literary efforts. _La Revue Française_, a periodical which
unfortunately had but a brief existence, bore testimony to this, as well
as his poetical miscellany entitled _La Muse Française_. He also wrote a
criticism upon Voltaire, which was afterwards reprinted in his _Mélanges
de Littérature_; but this estimate did not reveal the breadth of view
which the writer manifested in later years, when he passed an eloquent
eulogium upon the philosopher of Ferney.

For a new edition of the _Odes_ issued in 1826, and now separated from
the _Ballades_, the author wrote an introduction in which he distinctly
unfolded his principles of liberty in the realm of literature. He
expressed his belief that 'in a literary production the bolder the
conception the more irreproachable should be the execution;' and he
added that liberty need not result in disorder. It was the first
occasion on which the claims of what was called, for want of a better
word, romanticism were formally promulgated by a writer eminent in that
school. We shall shortly see how Victor Hugo translated these ideas into
a concrete form in his works. Meantime, in February, 1827, an incident
occurred which led to a stirring poem by Hugo, and one which made him
friends in a new quarter, while it lost them in an old one.

It appears that at a ball given by the Austrian Ambassador in Paris, the
distinguished French marshals who attended were deliberately shorn of
their legitimate titles. Thus, the Duke of Taranto was announced as
Marshal Macdonald; the Duke of Dalmatia as Marshal Soult; the Duke of
Treviso as Marshal Mortier, and so on. The insult was studied and
deliberate on the part of the Ambassador; 'Austria, humiliated by titles
which recalled its defeats, publicly denied them. The marshals had been
invited in order to show contempt for their victories, and the Empire
was insulted in their persons. They immediately quitted the Embassy in a
body.' Victor Hugo's blood was stirred by this incident, and, without
counting the cost, he took his revenge. Throwing all the weight of his
indignation into the _Ode à la Colonne_, he hurled that effusion at the
enemies of France. He was now only anxious to show that he was a
Frenchman first, and a Vendéan afterwards.

The Ode made a great sensation, but it had a wider effect than its
author anticipated. The Opposition welcomed him as one of themselves,
for in celebrating the marshals had not the poet celebrated the Empire?
The Royalists, on the other hand, seeing this bitter attack upon the
Austrians, who were the most powerful friends of the Bourbons, naturally
thought that Victor Hugo had abandoned the Royalist cause. Neither side
could quite understand how such a burst of invective as that witnessed
in the Ode might be due alone to the outraged feelings of a Frenchman,
without being intended in the least to partake of the nature of a
political manifesto. To these fierce partisans, party was everything; to
Victor Hugo it was the nation that was everything. But his rupture with
the Royalists is naturally enough traced to this period. He and they
could never be the same again to each other. The poet passed now from
his admiration of the Bourbons to an acknowledgment of the glory and
prowess of the Empire, as at a later period he pressed still further
forward, and hailed the fuller liberty of Republican France.



CHAPTER III.

VICTOR HUGO'S HUMANITARIANISM.


In 1829 Victor Hugo published anonymously his _Le Dernier Jour d'un
Condamné_ ('The Last Day of a Convict'). It thrilled the heart of Paris
by its vivid recitals. While having no pretensions to the character of a
regular tale, it was, as a writer in the _Edinburgh Review_ remarked,
one of the most perfect things the author had as yet produced. It was
the representation of one peculiar state of mind--that of a criminal
faced by the certainty of his approaching death under the guillotine.
Like Sterne, Hugo had taken a single captive, shut him up in his
dungeon, and 'then looked through the twilight of the grated door, to
take his picture.' The work is a chronicle of thoughts, a register of
sensations; and it is amazing to see what variety and dramatic movement
may be imparted to a monologue in which the scene shifts only from, the
Bicètre to the Conciergerie, the Hôtel de Ville, and the Place de Grève.

Few descriptions could be found in literature to vie with that in which
Victor Hugo places the criminal before us as he enters the court to
receive his sentence on a lovely August morning. But all the incidents
attending the trial, the condemnation, and the execution are depicted
with graphic skill and powerful energy. No one knows better than Victor
Hugo how to relieve unutterable gloom by some brilliant ray of human
affection, and so upon this condemned prisoner he causes to break a
temporary vision of youth and innocence. The intensity all through this
piece is such as to give the reader a strange realization of the
criminal, with his weight of guilt, and his terrible and conflicting
emotions.

But the critic of the _Edinburgh_ would have us believe that all this
was merely due to a desire by Victor Hugo to exhibit his literary skill.
He even calls it absurd to regard the sketch as a pleading against the
punishment of death, and roundly denies that the author had any such
esoteric purpose. Unfortunately for him, there is conclusive evidence to
prove that Victor Hugo had a deeper intent in this painful
representation than a mere literary play upon the feelings. In a preface
to the edition of 1832 he distinctly avows his purpose: 'It is the
author's aim and design that posterity should recognise in his work
_not_ a mere special pleading for any one particular criminal, which is
always easy and always transitory, but a general and permanent appeal in
behalf of all the accused, alike of the present and of the future. Its
great point is the right of humanity urged upon society.'

Moreover, there is another powerful argument to be considered. Ever
since 1820 Victor Hugo had been deeply moved on the question of capital
punishment, and resolved to labour for its abolition. It will be
convenient here to review briefly his public utterances on the subject,
both before and subsequent to the appearance of _Le Dernier Jour d'un
Condamné_. We shall thereby be enabled to keep the literary and personal
thread of our narrative intact. In the year above named Victor Hugo had
seen Louvel, the murderer of the Duke of Berry, on his way to the
scaffold. The culprit was a being for whom he had not the slightest
sympathy; but his fate begat pity, and he began to reflect on the
anomaly that society should, in cold blood, commit the same act as that
which it punished. From that time, observes Madame Hugo, he had an idea
of writing a book against the guillotine. Two executions which he
witnessed during the next few years strengthened his convictions, and
led to the work we have already discussed. Subsequently he wrote _Claude
Gueux_, founded upon the sad and miserable story of a man of that name.
Gueux was condemned to death in 1832 for a crime to which the pangs of
hunger had impelled him. The case was doubly painful from the fact that
the father of Claude, a very old man, had been sentenced to a punishment
in the prison of Clairvaux, and the son, in order to bring help to him,
committed an act whose consequences brought him within the walls of the
same prison. Strenuous exertions were made by Hugo and others to save
Gueux, but the Council of Ministers rejected the appeal. The man was
executed, and a noble protest which Victor Hugo afterwards issued
greatly moved the public conscience, and rendered society still more
familiar with the writer's views.

In May, 1839, one Barbès was condemned to death for his share in the
insurrection in the Place Royale. Victor Hugo immediately sent this
message of appeal to the King:


     'By your guardian-angel fled away like a dove,
     By your royal child, a sweet and frail reed,
     Pardon yet once more, pardon in the name of the tomb!
           Pardon in the name of the cradle!'


The King, against the advice of his Ministers, insisted on pardoning
Barbès. More than twenty years afterwards the latter figured as a
character in _Les Misérables_, and a correspondence, alike honourable to
both, ensued between him and the author. Twice as a peer of France
Victor Hugo was called upon to give verdicts in cases where capital
punishment would follow conviction, and in both instances he voted in
favour of perpetual imprisonment and against the death-penalty. When the
question of capital punishment came before the Assembly in 1848, Victor
Hugo ascended the tribune and made an impassioned speech, from which I
take these extracts:

'What is the penalty of death? It is the especial and eternal mark of
barbarism. Wherever the penalty is, death is common, barbarism
dominates; wherever the penalty of death is rare, civilization reigns
supreme. You have just acknowledged the principle that a man's private
dwelling should be inviolate; we ask you now to acknowledge a principle
much higher and more sacred still--the inviolability of human life. The
nineteenth century will abolish the penalty of death. You will not do
away with it, perhaps, at once; but be assured, either you or your
successors will abolish it. I vote for the abolition, pure, simple, and
definitive, of the penalty of death.'

In March, 1849, Victor Hugo made an unsuccessful appeal in the case of
Daix, condemned to death for the affair of Bréa; and in the following
year the poet himself appeared as an advocate in the Court of Assize. He
defended his eldest son, Charles Hugo, who had been summoned for
protesting in his journal, _L'Évènement_, against the execution, which
had been accompanied by revolting circumstances. In the course of his
eloquent pleadings, Victor Hugo said: 'The real culprit in this matter,
if there is a culprit, is not my son. It is I myself. I, who, for a
quarter of a century, have not ceased to battle against all forms of the
irreparable penalty--I, who, during all this time, have never ceased to
advocate the inviolability of human life.... Yes, I assert it, this
remains of barbarous penalties--this old and unintelligent law of
retaliation--this law of blood for blood--I have battled against it all
my life; and, so long as there remains one breath in my body, I will
continue to battle against it with all my power as an author, and with
all my acts and votes as a legislator. And I make this
declaration'--(_the pleader here stretched out his arm towards the
crucifix at the end of the hall above the tribunal_)--'before the Victim
of the penalty of death, whose effigy is now before us, who is now
looking down upon us, and who hears what I utter. I swear it, I say,
before this sacred tree, on which, nearly two thousand years ago, and
for the instruction of men to the latest generation, the laws,
instituted by men, fastened with accursed nails the Divine Son of God!'
In conclusion, the orator exclaimed, 'My son! thou wilt this day receive
a great honour. Thou art judged worthy of fighting, perhaps of
suffering, for the sacred cause of truth. From to-day thou enterest the
just and true manly life of our time, the struggle for the true. Be
proud, thou who art now admitted to the ranks of those who battle for
the human and democratic idea! Thou art seated on the bench where
Béranger and Lamennais have sat.' Notwithstanding his father's defence,
which powerfully moved the whole court, Charles Hugo was sentenced to
six months' imprisonment.

While living in exile in Jersey, in 1854, Victor Hugo made an appeal on
behalf of a man who was to be hanged in Guernsey. One of his letters was
addressed to the people of Guernsey, who petitioned, but in vain, for
the life of the convict Tapner. Another was addressed to Lord
Palmerston, who gave the usual orders for the execution; and probably no
English Minister ever received, either before or since, a communication
couched in such burning and passionate language. The writer was
literally overwhelming in his indignant rhetoric.

For John Brown, of Harper's Ferry, the anti-slavery enthusiast, Victor
Hugo put in a strong plea with the United States. He told that country
that 'Brown's executioner would neither be the Attorney Hunter, nor the
Judge Parker, nor the Governor Wyse, nor the State of Virginia; it would
be, though one shudders to think it, and still more to say it, the great
American Republic itself.... When we consider that this nation is the
glory of the whole earth; that, like France, England, and Germany, it
is one of the organs of civilization, that it has even gone beyond
Europe in certain sublime strokes of bold progress, that it is at the
summit of the whole world, that it wears on its brow the star of
liberty, we are tempted to affirm that John Brown will not die; for we
shrink back horrified at the idea of so great a crime being committed by
so great a nation!' The writer predicted that 'the murder of Brown would
make in the Union a rent, at first concealed, but which would end by
splitting it asunder.' John Brown was executed, and Hugo's prediction
was verified. The South did indeed discover that the spirit of Brown was
'marching on'; and the American Union was for a time convulsed to its
centre, ostensibly on the ground of union, but practically on account of
slavery. Brown, the martyr, was justified by the event, and slavery was
abolished in the United States.

During the year 1861, a Belgian jury pronounced, on a single occasion
only, nine sentences of death. Thereupon a writer, assuming the name of
Victor Hugo, published some verses in the Belgian journals, imploring
the King's pardon for the nine convicts. Hugo's attention was drawn to
the verses, when he replied that he was quite willing for his name to be
used, or even abused, in so good a cause. As his _alter ego_ had
addressed the King, so he now addressed the nation. He called upon it to
arrest this great sacrifice of life, and to abolish the scaffold. 'It
would be a noble thing that a small people should give a lesson to the
great, and by this fact alone should become greater than they. It would
be a fine thing that, in the face of the abominable growth of darkness,
in the presence of a growing barbarism, Belgium, taking the place of a
great Power in civilization, should communicate to the human race by one
act the full glare of light.' The sentence of seven of the condemned men
was commuted, but the two remaining convicts were executed.

When the Republic of Geneva revised its constitution in 1862, the
principal question remitted to the people was the abolition of the
punishment of death. M. Bost, a Genevese author, appealed to Victor Hugo
for his intervention in the discussion. The poet replied by a long and
exhaustive communication, in which he reviewed the leading cases in
various European countries where the scaffold had recently been called
into requisition, and he closed with this exordium: 'O people of Geneva,
your city is situate on a lake in the Garden of Eden! you live in a
blessed place! all that is most noble in creation surrounds you! the
habitual contemplation of the beautiful reveals the truth and imposes
duties on you! Your civilization ought to be in harmony with nature.
Take counsel of all these merciful marvels. Believe in your sky so
bright; and as goodness descends from the sky, abolish the scaffold. Be
not ungrateful. Let it not be said that in gratitude, and, as it were,
in exchange for this admirable corner of the earth, where God has shown
to man the sacred splendour of the Alps, the Arve and the Rhone, the
blue lake, and Mont Blanc in the glory of sunlight, man has offered to
the Deity the spectacle of the guillotine.' The question had already
been decided by the retention of the scaffold when this letter reached
Geneva, but Victor Hugo now addressed the people. His second letter had
an immense effect, and secured the rejection of the constitution
proposed by the Conservatives. It also brought over a great number of
adherents to the cause of abolition, which ultimately triumphed.

On many subsequent occasions, and notably in connection with Italy and
Portugal, Victor Hugo wrote and strove for the abolition of capital
punishment. In France his pressing personal appeals more than once
availed to procure a commutation of the death-punishment. To his _Last
Day of a Convict_ was due the introduction of extenuating circumstances
in the criminal laws of France, and he projected a work to be entitled
_Le Dossier de la Peine de Mort_.

It is not my intention here, nor, indeed, is it necessary, to discuss
the arguments which may be advanced for or against capital punishment.
It has been simply my object to present Victor Hugo in a light which,
while it may divide men in their judgments, will unite them in their
sympathies. The cases I have cited will be more than sufficient to
demonstrate that noble enthusiasm of humanity which forms so conspicuous
a feature in Victor Hugo's character.



CHAPTER IV.

THE TRIUMPH OF ROMANTICISM.


The war between the two great schools of French poetry, the classic and
the romantic, passed into an acute stage shortly before the publication
of Victor Hugo's _Cromwell_. Romanticism meant more than was implied in
the definition of Madame de Staël, viz., the transference to French
literature of 'the poetry originating in the songs of the troubadours,
the offspring of chivalry and Christianity.' Victor Hugo, and men of a
kindred if not an equal genius, were engaged in a struggle for the very
life and soul of poetry. Poetic genius in France was wrapped in the
grave-clothes of classicism; it was a corpse that needed galvanizing
into life; and it was practically Victor Hugo who rose and said, 'Loose
her, and let her go.'

Goethe had already fought the battle of literary freedom from old
superstitions in Germany, and Byron had done the same in England. It was
now the turn of France to feel the new gush of life, and to gather
strength and lustre in the revival. As M. Asselineau has observed of the
French romanticists, 'to their sincerity, their detestation of
tediousness, their sympathy with life and joy and freshness, as well as
to their youthful audacity, that was not abashed either by ridicule or
insult, belongs the honour of securing to the nineteenth century the
triumph of liberty, invaluable for its preciousness in the world of
art.' And in enumerating the leaders of the movement, he cites as the
most prominent and influential, Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo, Madame de
Staël, Lamartine, Dumas, Alfred de Vigny, Balzac, George Sand, Théophile
Gautier, Mérimée, Philarète Chasles, Alfred de Musset, and Jules Janin.
Certainly the influence that developed the talents of such a galaxy of
genius, so far from being despised, should be acclaimed as a force
worthy of all admiration. It was one, in fact, that practically saved
French literature from expiring of inanition.

But the romantics were fiercely assailed; so fiercely that Victor Hugo
said, if they had been thieves, murderers, and monsters of crime, they
could not have been exposed to severer condemnation. Duvergier de
Hauranne treated romanticism as a brain disease, and recommended a
careful diagnosis of those suffering from it, in order to recover for
them gradually their lost senses. But pleasantries such as these were
not likely to affect a man in severe earnest. The literary
revolutionaries of the Cénacle Club, whose leading spirit was Victor
Hugo, laughed at the denunciations hurled against them, knowing that
their opportunity had come. There was only one writer who, having put
his hand to the plough, turned backward. This was Sainte-Beuve. The
temper of his mind was critical, and after the first burst of enthusiasm
with which he hailed the new school, and under whose influence he for a
time joined it, had spent itself, he threw off his allegiance to the
movement, and vowed that he had never really belonged to the reforming
band.

Victor Hugo soon gave a pledge, though not in some respects a successful
one, of the sincerity of his own convictions. M. Taylor, Commissaire
Royal at the Comédie Française, and afterwards widely known in the world
of art, asked the poet on one occasion why he never wrote for the
theatre. Hugo replied that he was thinking of doing so, and had already
commenced a drama on the subject of Cromwell. 'A Cromwell of your
writing should only be acted by Talma,' said Taylor; and he forthwith
arranged a meeting between the famous tragedian and the dramatist. Talma
was at that time greatly depressed, taking gloomy views of the stage,
and asserting that his own career had been a failure--had never
fulfilled its ends. No one knew what he might have been, he confided to
Hugo, but now he expected to die without having really acted once.
Nevertheless, from the genius of Hugo he did look for something
original, and he had always longed to act Cromwell. In response, the
author explained his intentions with regard to the proposed play, and
also his views upon the drama generally. These views he afterwards
enlarged upon in the preface to the play. He asserted that there were
three epochs in poetry, each corresponding to an era in society; and
these were the ode, the epic, and the drama. 'Primitive ages are the
lyric, ancient times the heroic, and modern times the dramatic. The ode
sings of eternity, the epic records history, the drama depicts life....
The characters of the ode are colossal--Adam, Cain, Noah; those of the
epic are gigantic--Achilles, Atreus, Orestes; those of the drama are
human--Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth. The ode contemplates the ideal; the
epic, the sublime; the drama, the real. And, to sum up the whole, this
poetical triad emanates from three fountain-heads--the Bible, Homer, and
Shakespeare.'

In _Cromwell_, urged Hugo, he intended to substitute a drama for a
tragedy, a real man for an ideal personage, reality for conventionalism;
the piece was to pass from the heroic to the positive; the style was to
include all varieties, epic, lyric, satiric, grave, comic; and there
were to be no verses for effect. The author repeated his first line,
'_Demain, vingt-cinq juin, mil six cent cinquante-sept_,' which was
certainly ludicrously matter-of-fact. Talma was delighted with the whole
idea, and begged the poet to complete his work at once. Unfortunately
the actor died soon afterwards, and the dramatist now went leisurely on
with his play. While engaged upon the preface he saw some Shakespearean
dramas performed in English at the Odéon, and the representations
affected him deeply, and tinged his dramatic views. At the close of
1827 _Cromwell_ was published, and great indeed was the controversy to
which it gave rise. The period dealt with was not what would be
considered one of the most dramatic in the career of the Protector. It
was that 'when his ambition made him eager to realize the benefits of
the King's death,' when, having attained what any other man would have
reckoned the summit of fortune, being not only master of England, but by
his army, his navy, and his diplomacy, master of Europe too, he was
urged onwards to fulfil the visions of his youth, and to make himself a
king. Cromwell's final relinquishment of the kingly idea, with the
preliminary stages which led up to his resolution, were delineated with
subtle power and psychological skill.

But it was not the play so much as its preface--which the author put
forward as the manifesto of himself and his literary friends--that
stirred the gall of the critics. A writer in the _Gazette de France_,
referring to Hugo's avowed aim to break 'all those threads of spiders'
web with which the army of Liliput have undertaken to chain the drama
whilst slumbering,' reminded him that in this liliputian army there
were some dwarfs to be found not so despicable after all; and amongst
others stood out those men who had written for the stage from _Le Cid_
down to _Cromwell_. 'But what would these men be worth in the eyes of
him who calls Shakespeare the god of the Theatre? It is necessary to
possess some strength to venture to attack giants; and when one
undertakes to dethrone writers whom whole generations have united in
admiring, it would be advisable to fight them with weapons which, if not
equal to theirs, are at least so constructed as to have some chance.' M.
de Rémusat in _Le Globe_ endeavoured to hold the scales of justice
between the contending parties, while the famous Preface acted as a
rallying-cry for the supporters of the new principles. M. Soumet, Hugo's
old friend, wrote concerning the drama: 'It seems to me full of new and
daring beauties; and although in your preface you spoke mercilessly of
mosses and climbing ivy, I cannot do less than acknowledge your
admirable talent, and I shall speak of your work--grand in the style of
Michael Angelo--as I formerly spoke of your odes.'

About the time of the publication of _Cromwell_, Victor Hugo was
severely visited in his domestic relations. Madame Foucher, his wife's
mother, and a woman of many and great virtues, passed away; and on the
28th of January, 1828, the poet's father died suddenly of apoplexy. The
General and his second wife had been quite reconciled to Victor and his
brothers, and the Government had once more recognised the title of the
old soldier as General of Division. He was happy in the affection of his
sons, his daughter-in-law, and Victor Hugo's two children--Léopoldine
and Charles. On the evening of his death he had spent several happy
hours with the poet, but in the night the apoplexy struck him with the
rapidity of a shot, and he immediately expired. The incident, as may be
imagined, profoundly affected the sensitive and impressionable spirit of
Victor Hugo.

Some years before these events, Victor Hugo had, in conjunction with M.
Soumet, written a play entitled _Amy Robsart_, founded upon Scott's
_Kenilworth_. Not being able to agree as to the value of each other's
contributions, the two authors separated, each bearing away his own
dramatic goods. Hugo afterwards handed over his play to his
brother-in-law, Paul Foucher, who produced the piece in his own name at
the Odéon. It was loudly hissed. There were passages in it that
unmistakably bore the impress of Victor Hugo, and the latter
chivalrously wrote to the newspapers to say that those parts which had
been hissed were his own work. This acknowledgment drew a number of
young men to the theatre, who were as loud in their applause as a large
portion of the audience were in their condemnation. Altogether, matters
became so lively that the Government interfered, and, to allay the
tumult, interdicted the play.

In the Rue Notre-Dame des Champs there were some rare meetings of poets
and wits, when Victor Hugo and Alfred de Musset would recite poems
composed during the day, and Mérimée and Sainte-Beuve would engage in
arguments. M. Henri Beyle, M. Louis Boulanger, and M. Eugène Delacroix
were also to be seen there; and once the venerable Benjamin Constant was
a guest. When Béranger was condemned to three months' imprisonment for
one of his songs, Victor Hugo visited him in his cell. He found that the
French Burns, though obnoxious to the authorities, was the idol of the
populace. His cell was generally full of visitors, and he was inundated
with pâtés, game, fruit, and wine.

Another great stride in romanticism was made by the publication of
Victor Hugo's _Orientales_, which appeared in 1828. These lyrical poems
were full of energy and inspiration, and it was clear that the very
antithesis of the classical style had now been reached. They enhanced
the reputation of the writer, while they charmed all readers by their
freshness, simplicity, and vigour.

In July, 1829, a brilliant company assembled at Hugo's house to listen
to the reading of a new play by the poet, the famous _Marion de Lorme_,
originally called _A Duel under Richelieu_. The writer, it was soon
seen, had avoided the faults which marked the construction of
_Cromwell_, and had produced a real drama, and one well adapted for
stage representation. The company present at the reading included
Balzac, Delacroix, Alfred de Musset, Mérimée, Sainte-Beuve, Alfred de
Vigny, Dumas, Deschamps, and Taylor. Dumas, with the generous frankness
which always characterized him, afterwards wrote respecting the play: 'I
listened with admiration the most intense, but yet an admiration that
was tinged with sadness, for I felt that I could never attain to such a
powerful style. I congratulated Hugo very heartily, telling him that I,
deficient in style as I was, had been quite overwhelmed by the
magnificence of his.' But there was one point upon which Dumas,
supported by Sainte-Beuve and Mérimée, pleaded, and pleaded
successfully. Not feeling satisfied that Didier should meet his death
without forgiving Marion, Hugo yielded to the pressure put upon him, and
altered the drama accordingly. The news of a new play by Victor Hugo
brought forward the managers at once, but it had already been promised
to M. Taylor for the Théâtre Français. However, there was the ordeal of
the censors yet to pass through, and fears were entertained as to the
fourth act, in which Louis XIII. was described as a hunter, and
represented as governed by a priest--points in which everybody would see
a resemblance to Charles X. Permission to perform the play was refused.
Victor Hugo appealed to the King, who removed from office the Minister
of the Interior (M. de Martignac), the dramatist's chief enemy, and
promised to read the offending act himself. Having done so, his Majesty
declined to give his sanction to the representation of the drama, but
by way of a solatium granted the poet a fresh pension of 4,000 francs.
Hugo was indignant, and at once wrote declining the pension, upon which
the _Constitutionnel_ remarked, 'Youth is less easily corrupted than the
Ministers think.' With regard to the drama itself, it has been well
remarked that 'had Marion, in spite of her heroism and her repentance,
been adequately chastised for her lapse from virtue, probably much of
the sentimentality would have been avoided, which, although now
exploded, at the time caused a great depravity of taste, and invested
the "Dames aux Camellias" and the "Mimis" of Bohemian life with an
interest that they did not deserve.'

Undismayed by what had occurred, Victor Hugo now devoted himself to the
composition of another drama, and his _Hernani_ was shortly in the hands
of M. Taylor for production. The censors again interfered, and in the
course of a very impertinent report, observed that the play was 'a
tissue of extravagances, generally trivial, and often coarse, to which
the author has failed to give anything of an elevated character. Yet
while we animadvert upon its flagrant faults, we are of opinion that
not only is there no harm in sanctioning the representation of the
piece, but that it would be inadvisable to curtail it by a single word.
It will be for the benefit of the public to see to what extremes the
human mind will go, when freed from all restraint.' These literary
censors did, however, require the alteration or removal of certain
passages in which the kingly state and dignity were handled with too
much freedom; and they forbade the name of Jesus to be used throughout
the piece.

The supporters of the classical drama strenuously exerted themselves to
prevent the play from being produced, but in vain. Of course, this
creation of a new style meant the decline of the old one. The play went
into rehearsal, and the author had a passage of arms with Mademoiselle
Mars, who took the part of Doña Sol. This lady, whose power had made her
imperious, found her master in Hugo, and when threatened with the loss
of her part, she consented to deliver a disputed phrase as written. The
time for production came, and when the author was asked to name his
systematic applauders, according to custom, he declined to do so,
stating that there would be no systematic applause. The play excited
the liveliest curiosity. Benjamin Constant was amongst those who
earnestly begged for seats, and M. Thiers wrote personally to the author
for a box. The literary friends of Victor Hugo attended in great
numbers, including Gautier, Borel, and Balzac. The theatre was crowded,
and the feeling of all parties intense. As the play progressed from act
to act, nevertheless, it gained in its hold upon the audience. When the
fourth act closed, M. Maine, a publisher, sought out Victor Hugo, and
offered him 6,000 francs for the play, but the matter, he said, must be
decided at once. The author protested, remarking that the success of the
piece might be less complete at the end. 'Ah, that's true, but it may be
much greater,' replied the publisher. 'At the second act I thought of
offering 2,000 francs; at the third act I got up to 4,000; I now at the
fourth act offer 6,000; and after the fifth I am afraid I should have to
offer 10,000.' Hugo laughingly concluded the bargain for 6,000 francs,
and went with the eager publisher into a tobacco shop to sign a roughly
improvised agreement. The play concluded brilliantly, Mademoiselle Mars
securing a great triumph in the last act. The whole house applauded
vociferously, and the triumph of romanticism was complete.

The literary war which ensued was very fierce. In the provinces, as in
Paris, it divided the public into hostile camps, and so deep were the
feelings which it excited that in Toulouse a duel was fought over the
play, and one of the antagonists was killed. Armand Carrel was
especially bitter in his assaults upon _Hernani_, but Hugo was more than
consoled for this and other attacks by the following letter from
Chateaubriand: 'I was present, sir, at the first representation of
_Hernani_. You know how much I admire you. My vanity attaches itself to
your lyre, and you know the reason. I am going--you are coming. I
commend myself to the remembrance of your muse. A pious glory ought to
pray for the dead.' As an amusing pendant to this, it may be mentioned
in connection with the poet and _Hernani_, that a provincial Frenchman
(in making his will) ordered the following inscription to be placed on
his tombstone: 'Here lies one who believed in Victor Hugo.'

In spite of the attacks in the press, also of personal threats and of
the deliberate and almost unparalleled attempts to stifle the play in
the theatre itself, _Hernani_ held its own, and continued to be played
with great pecuniary success until the enforced absence of Mademoiselle
Mars, when it was withdrawn from the stage, and not acted again for some
years. But the play had practically established the new drama. It was
the herald of the renaissance, and for this reason must continue to
occupy a conspicuous position whenever an attempt is made to estimate
the dramatic work and influence of Victor Hugo.



CHAPTER V.

'NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS.'


There is a natural desire to know something of the personal aspect of
men who have become great. What would the world give, for example, for a
faithful account of the character, the appearance, the sayings, the
habits of Shakespeare, written by a friend and a contemporary? In the
case of Victor Hugo we fortunately have such a description from the pen
of one of his most enthusiastic admirers, Théophile Gautier. The sketch
represents the poet as he appeared at the time which we have now reached
in his history, that is when he was about twenty-eight years of age.

Gautier was exceedingly nervous over his contemplated interview with
Victor Hugo, and twice failed to summon up the necessary courage for the
meeting. On the third occasion he found himself in the poet's study.
All his prepared eloquence, we are told, at once vanished away; the long
apostrophe of praise which he had spent whole evenings in composing came
to nothing. He felt like Heine, who, when he was going to have an
interview with Goethe, prepared an elaborate speech beforehand, but at
the crucial moment could find nothing better to say to the author of
_Faust_ than that the plum-trees on the road between Jena and Weimar
bore plums that were very nice when one was thirsty. But the Jupiter of
German poetry was probably more flattered by his visitor's bewilderment
than he would have been by the most glowing eulogium. Passing over
Gautier's panegyrics, here is what he wrote concerning the person of
Hugo: 'He was then twenty-eight years of age, and nothing about him was
more striking than his forehead, that like a marble monument rose above
his calm and earnest countenance: the beauty of that forehead was
well-nigh superhuman; the deepest of thoughts might be written within,
but it was capable of bearing the coronet of gold or the chaplet of
laurel with all the dignity of a divinity or a Cæsar. This splendid brow
was set in a frame of rich chestnut hair that was allowed to grow to
considerable length behind. His face was closely shaven, its peculiar
paleness being relieved by the lustre of a pair of hazel eyes, keen as
an eagle's. The curved lips betokened a firm determination, and when
half opened in a smile, displayed a set of teeth of charming whiteness.
His attire was neat and faultless, consisting of black frock-coat, grey
trousers, and a small lay-down collar. Nothing in his appearance could
ever have led anyone to suspect that this perfect gentleman was the
leader of the rough-bearded, dishevelled set that was the terror of the
smooth-faced _bourgeoisie_. Such was Victor Hugo. His image, as we saw
it in that first interview, has never faded from our memory. It is a
portrait that we cherish tenderly; its smiles, beaming with talent,
continue with us, ever diffusing a clear and phosphorescent glory!'

In the year 1831 Victor Hugo published a work which, if he had written
nothing else, would have given him a place amongst the immortal writers
of France. This was his _Notre-Dame de Paris_, undertaken and produced
under extraordinary circumstances. It was received with mixed favour by
the critics, but at once made its way to the heart of the people. Any
number of hostile reviews would have been insufficient to check the
progress of so singular and powerful a work. The author had made an
engagement to write this book for a publisher named Gosselin, and the
latter now claimed the execution of the contract. The work was
originally to have been ready by the close of 1829, but in July, 1830,
it was not yet begun, and a new contract was prepared, under which it
was to be completed by the ensuing December. Political events greatly
disturbed the progress of the romance, and a further difficulty was
created by the loss of manuscript notes which had taken two months to
collect. In the removal of Hugo's books and manuscripts from the house
in the Rue Jean Goujon to the Rue du Cherche-Midi, these valuable notes
went astray. They were not recovered till some years afterwards, when
they were incorporated in a later edition of the novel. A still further
delay was granted by the publisher, in accordance with which the author
was to complete the story by February, 1831, having just five months in
which to accomplish the task.

Hugo set to work with marvellous energy, and some amusing details are
given of the way in which he laboured with his romance. 'He bought a
bottle of ink, and a thick piece of grey worsted knitting which
enveloped him from the neck to the heels; he locked up his clothes, in
order not to be tempted to go out, and worked at his novel as if in a
prison. He was very melancholy.' It appears that he never left the
writing-table except to eat and to sleep, and occasionally to read over
some chapters to his friends. The book was finished on the 14th of
January, and as the writer concluded his last line and his last drop of
ink at the same moment, he thought of changing the title of the novel,
and calling it 'The Contents of a Bottle of Ink.' This title, which was
not thus used, however, was subsequently adopted by Alphonse Karr.

On being asked by his publisher for some descriptive notes upon the
work, which might be useful in advertising it, Victor Hugo wrote: 'It is
a representation of Paris in the fifteenth century, and of the fifteenth
century in its relations to Paris. Louis XI. appears in one chapter, and
the King is associated with, or practically decides, the _dénouement_.
The book has no historical pretensions, unless they be those of painting
with some care and accuracy--but entirely by sketches, and
incidentally--the state of morals, creeds, laws, arts, and even
civilization, in the fifteenth century. This is, however, not the most
important part of the work. If it has a merit, it is in its being purely
a work of imagination, caprice, and fancy.' Nevertheless, the author has
underrated in certain respects the value of his own work. Powerful as it
is from the imaginative point of view, it is no less remarkable for the
way in which the writer has brought together a mass of historical and
antiquarian lore. Its thoroughness and careful construction in regard to
such details may be recommended to less accurate writers in the field of
historical romance. Paris, with its myriad interests, is vividly
represented by one to whom it had given up its past as well as its
present. Whether we see life beneath the shadow of Notre-Dame, in the
Cour des Miracles, the Place de Grève, the Palais de Justice, the
Bastille or the Louvre, it is all the same--the master-hand has given
life and vitality to all it has touched.

The gipsy girl Esmeralda, a fascinating creation, has been compared with
the Fenella of Scott, the La Gitanilla of Cervantes, and the Mignon of
Goethe. But she has a character of her own distinct from all of these.
In her history the power of love is once more exemplified, and if round
her centres the finest pathos of the work, so also is she its noblest
gleam of light and grace and beauty. It has been said that love makes
the learned archdeacon forget his studies, his clerical character, his
reputation for sanctity, to court the favours of a volatile Bohemian.
'Love for this same Parisian Fenella softens the human savage Quasimodo,
the dumb one-eyed bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, and transforms him into a
delicate monster, a devoted humble worshipper of the Bohemian. While
she, who is the cynosure of neighbouring eyes, the object of adoration
to these singular lovers, is herself hopelessly attached in turn to a
giddy-pated captain of the guard, who can afford to love no one but
himself.' In his grand and startling effects, the writer has been
compared with the painter Martin. There is an almost unparalleled
breadth, which gives the work a Rembrandtish effect in all the chief
scenes. The siege of the cathedral by the banded beggars and vagabonds
of Paris in the night is one not readily effaced from the memory; and
this is equally true of the terrible interview between the infatuated
monk and his victim in the filthy dungeons of the Palais de Justice; of
the weird scene of the Fête de Fous in the Hall of the Palace; of the
Alsatian picture of the examination and projected hanging of Gringoire
among the thieves in the Cour des Miracles; of the execution of
Esmeralda; and of the fearful fate of the impassioned monk.

The strange fatality attending upon mere passion is insisted on all
through; it binds together in one miserable chain the priest who is
prepared to sacrifice all that is sacred in duty for love, the heartless
soldier, and the trusting maiden. As to the _dramatis personæ_, the
_Athenæum_, observed, 'No character can be more intimately identified
with the genius of Victor Hugo than the interesting, generous, and
high-minded gipsy girl Esmeralda. The character of Phoebus de
Chateaupers, the bold, reckless, gay, gallant, good-tempered,
light-hearted, and faithless captain of gendarmerie, is also original,
and wrought out with great skill. The Archdeacon Claude Frollo is a
striking specimen of those churchmen of the fifteenth century who united
the grossest superstition to the most consummate hypocrisy, and applied
the influences of religion to acts of the blackest perfidy. There are
many historical characters in this work, and, among others, our old
acquaintances in Quentin Durward, Louis XI., Olivier-le-Daim, and the
squinting Provost, Tristan l'Hermite.' In eloquence, in vigour, in
animation, and in all the masterly pageantry of a bygone age, this work
will continue to hold a unique position amongst symbolical and
historical romances.

_Notre-Dame_ was assailed by the majority of the Parisian journals, but
in the minority warmly in its favour were to be found some of the first
writers of the age. Touching the style of the work, Sainte-Beuve said,
'There is a magical facility and freedom in saying all that should be
said; there is a striking keenness of observation, especially is there a
profound knowledge of the populace, and a deep insight into man in his
vanity, his emptiness, and his glory, whether he be mendicant, vagabond,
_savant_, or sensualist. Moreover, there is an unexampled comprehension
of form; an unrivalled expression of grace, material beauty, and
greatness; and altogether a worthy presentment of an abiding and
gigantic monument. Alike in the pretty prattlings of the nymph-like
child, in the cravings of the she-wolf mother, and in the surging
passion, almost reaching to delirium, that rages in a man's brain, there
is the moulding and wielding of everything just at the author's will.'
Alfred de Musset, while unable to take in the scope of the work,
acknowledged that it was colossal. Jules Janin remarked that 'of all the
works of the author it is pre-eminently that in which his fire of
genius, his inflexible calmness, and his indomitable will are most
conspicuous. What accumulation of misfortunes is piled up in these
mournful pages! What a gathering together there is of ruinous passion
and bewildering incident! All the foulness as well as all the faith of
the Middle Ages are kneaded together with a trowel of gold and of iron.
At the sound of the poet's voice all that was in ruins has risen to its
fullest height, reanimated by his breath.... Victor Hugo has followed
his vocation as poet and architect, as writer of history and romance;
his pen has been guided alike by ancient chronicle and by his own
personal genius; he has made all the bells of the great city to clang
out their notes; and he has made every heart of the population, except
that of Louis XI., to beat with life! Such is the book; it is a
brilliant page of our history, which cannot fail to be a crowning glory
in the career of its author.' Finally, Eugène Sue wrote: 'If the useless
admiration of a barbarian like myself had the power to express and
interpret itself in a manner worthy of the book which has inspired it, I
should tell you, sir, that you are a great spendthrift; that your
critics resemble those poor people on the fifth story, who, whilst
gazing on the prodigalities of the great nobleman, would say to each
other, with anger in their hearts, "I could live during my whole life on
the money spent in a single day."'

The publisher had some doubts of the pecuniary success of the novel, but
these speedily disappeared, as edition after edition was called for. In
the course of a year only, eight large editions had been disposed of,
and the number of editions which have been issued since that time may be
described as legion. From thinking, as he did originally, that he had
made a bad bargain, M. Gosselin soon had reason to arrive at the
conclusion that he had made a remarkably good one. Together with other
publishers, he now pestered the author continually for more novels.
Hugo protested that he had none to give them; but wearied at length by
their importunities he furnished the titles of two stories he proposed
to write, which were to be called the _Fils de la Bossue_ and _La
Quinquengrogne_. The latter name was the popular designation of one of
the towers of Bourbon l'Aschembault, and in the novel the author
intended to complete the account of his views concerning the art of the
Middle Ages. Notre-Dame was the cathedral, La Quinquengrogne was to be
the dungeon.

Victor Hugo wrote at this time his admirable descriptive work _Le
Rhin_--a work full of learning, vivacity, and humour--but he never
proceeded with the two projected novels. _Notre-Dame_ remained for many
years the only romance in which the author revealed his marvellous power
of moulding human sympathies, of throwing into imaginative conceptions
the very form and substance of being, and of realizing a dead-past age
as though it were that of the actual and the living.



CHAPTER VI.

'MARION DE LORME' AND OTHER DRAMAS.


That despotic monarch, Charles X., having been driven from his throne by
the Revolution of July, 1830, there naturally followed the removal of
the interdict from the theatres. Victor Hugo was at once applied to by
the Comédie Française for his drama of _Marion de Lorme_, which had been
in enforced abeyance. But when the political reaction was an absolute
certainty, the sensitive mind of Hugo shrank from a demonstrative
triumph. It is true that he was now in the full tide of masculine
judgment, and that his ideas of progress and liberty were crystallized
and matured; but he could not forget his early opinions. Though crudely
formed, and based upon sentiment and not upon reason, they had been
genuine and disinterested, and his chief feeling at this later period
was not one of hatred of the King, but rather of rejoicing with the
people.

However, after a year had elapsed from Charles's fall, there was no
reason why a drama should be lost to the stage simply because it
contained an historical presentment of Louis XIII. After declining many
offers, the author resolved to give the play to M. Crosnier, for the
theatre of the Porte St. Martin; and he also entered into an agreement
to write yearly two works of importance for this theatre. Dumas's
_Antony_ was being performed at the Porte St. Martin, but on the
conclusion of its run _Marion de Lorme_ was produced, with Madame Dorval
in the part of Marion, and M. Bocage in that of Didier. Difficulties as
usual were thrown in the way of the new play, but it eventually
triumphed over them. The journals, nevertheless, were hostile, the
_Moniteur_ especially so, affirming that the author had never yet
conceived anything more meagre and commonplace, and more full of
eccentricities, than this piece. One critic asserted that the character
of Didier was taken from that of Antony, although Hugo's play had been
written first. Those friends who formerly applauded Hugo and Dumas
conjointly, now divided themselves into two parties, one of which
persistently assailed the writer of _Marion de Lorme_. From a variety of
causes the play was only performed four nights on its first production,
but the performances were afterwards resumed. It may be added that the
_Revue des Deux Mondes_, whose judgment was better worth having than
that of most of its contemporaries, remarked that Victor Hugo had never
so truly shown himself a poet, nor attained to so high a range of
vision, nor so wide a field of judgment, as in this piece.

A tragic incident which occurred not long after the representation of
this play affected the poet deeply. Amongst the warmest of his band of
admirers was M. Ernest de Saxe-Coburg, whose race and origin are
indicated by his name. He and his mother lived in Paris, on a pension
granted them by the Duke. Ernest was taken seriously ill, and the
distracted parent rushed to the house of Victor Hugo, exclaiming, 'You
alone can save him! Come at once!' But the unfortunate young man was
already dead; and a painful scene took place in the chamber of death on
the arrival of Victor Hugo and the mother. 'The unhappy woman, who had
but this only child in the world to love, would not believe that he was
dead. He was but cold, she said; and she threw herself on his bed,
encircling him in her arms in order to impart warmth to the corpse. She
frantically kissed his marble face, which was already cold. Suddenly she
felt within herself that it was all over; she raised herself, and
haggard and wild as she was, though still beautiful, she exclaimed, "He
is dead!" M. Victor Hugo spent the night by the side of the mother and
the corpse.' It was the lot of Hugo to awaken by his genius many
personal attachments and enthusiasms such as that felt for him by this
ill-fated youth; and these attachments were invariably strengthened and
deepened by subsequent friendship.

In 1832 the poet wrote his _Le Roi s'Amuse_. It has been charged against
this play that it presents an unredeemed picture of vice and
licentiousness. It has 'overstepped all bounds,' wrote one critic;
'history, reason, morality, artistic dignity, and refinement, are all
trampled under foot. The whole piece is monstrous; history is set at
nought, and the most noble characters are slandered and vilified. The
play is entirely void of interest, and the horrible, the mean, and the
immoral are all jumbled together into a kind of chaos.' As we shall
see, Victor Hugo traversed the whole of these and similar judgments.
Baron Taylor secured the play for the Théâtre Français, Triboulet being
assigned to M. Ligier, Saint-Vallier to M. Joanny, Blanche to
Mademoiselle Anaïs, and Francis I. to M. Perrier. A preliminary flourish
occurred between Hugo and M. d'Argout, the Minister of Public Works, in
whose department the theatres lay. The Minister first demanded the
manuscript, then sent for the author, and finally wrote that the
Monarchical principle in France must suffer from the author's attacks on
Francis I., which would be taken as being levelled against Louis
Philippe. The poet replied that the interests of history were to be
consulted before those of royalty, but he denied that there was anything
in the piece reflecting on Louis Philippe. The play was produced on the
22nd of November, and met with a very mixed reception, the hisses
predominating. It was partly damned by the defects of the actors. When
the curtain fell upon the last act, and it was felt that the play had
failed, the leading performer said to the author, 'Shall I mention your
name?' Hugo answered haughtily, 'Sir, I have a rather higher opinion of
my play now it is a failure.'

Next day the play was suspended, the reason given being that it was an
offence against public morality. It appears that a number of devotees of
the classical school had persuaded the Minister that a drama which had
for its subject the assassination of a king was not to be tolerated on
the very day after the existing monarch had himself escaped
assassination; that the play was an apology for regicides, etc. Victor
Hugo was not the man to be thus crushed without an effort to save his
drama. In the first place he issued a manifesto to the public, briefly
summarizing the plot of the piece, and denying that it was immoral. Then
he entered a civil suit before the Board of Trade to compel the Théâtre
Français to perform _Le Roi s'Amuse_, and likewise to compel the
Government to sanction the performance. The trial opened in a densely
crowded court, many celebrities being amongst the audience. They had
been attracted by the announcement that the author would plead his own
case. Hugo's speech was applauded by a band of very sympathetic
listeners, and on its conclusion M. de Montalembert assured him that he
was as great an orator as he was a writer, and that if the doors of the
theatre were closed against him, the tribune was still available.
Judgment was given against the poet, and for the Minister. M. Paul
Foucher, describing the scene on the night of the first performance of
_Le Roi s'Amuse_, observed that while the whole theatre was in an
uproar, and Hugo's name was drowned in the sea of roaring voices, 'the
author's face exhibited no sign of despondency at the failure any more
than it had shown passion or excitement during the struggle. His
Olympian brow had withstood the tempest with the firmness of a rock, and
after the curtain fell, he went to offer his thanks and encouragements
to the actors and actresses, saying, "You are a little discomposed
to-night; but you will find it different the day after to-morrow!" In
spite of the hissing, he was sanguine about his play; nevertheless, it
was not destined to be repeated.'

The poet's enemies now caused him considerable annoyance on the subject
of his pension. He had ceased to receive the 1,000 francs granted him by
Louis XVIII. out of his privy purse, but still received the 2,000 francs
allowed him by the Home Minister. In reply to the recriminations of the
Ministerial journals, he wrote a letter to M. d'Argout, showing that
this pension was clearly granted to him on literary grounds, quite apart
from political opinions. But he had decided to accept it no longer, and
thus stated his reasons: 'Now that the Government appears to regard what
are called literary pensions as proceeding from itself, and not from the
country, and as this kind of grant takes from an author's independence;
now that this strange pretension of the Government serves as the basis
to the somewhat shameful attacks of certain journals, the management of
which is, unfortunately, though no doubt incorrectly, imagined to be in
your hands; as it is also of importance to me to maintain my relations
with the Government in a higher region than that in which this kind of
warfare goes on--without discussing whether your pretensions relating to
this indemnity have the smallest foundation, I hasten to inform you that
I entirely relinquish it.' The Minister replied, taking the poet's view,
that the pension was a debt due from the country, and stating that it
should still be reserved for him; but Victor Hugo never took it up from
this time forward.

For a brief period managers held aloof from the dramatist, and when he
wrote _Le Souper à Ferrare_, which title was afterwards changed to that
of _Lucrèce Borgia_, no one was eager for it. But this attitude changed
after his speech at the tribunal, and M. Harel, director of the Porte
St. Martin, sought for and obtained the play. Admirable representatives
were found for the chief parts, Frédérick Lemaître taking that of
Grennaro, Delafosse that of Don Alphonse d'Esté, Mademoiselle Georges
that of Lucretia, and Mademoiselle Juliette that of the Princess
Negroni. Meyerbeer and Berlioz composed the music for the song which was
sung at the supper given by the Princess Negroni. Only one person was
allowed to be present at the final rehearsal, and that was Sainte-Beuve.
The critic was playing a double part towards the dramatist, with whom he
had been out of sympathy for some time past, and it is recorded that at
the close of the rehearsal of _Lucrèce Borgia_ he warmly congratulated
the author upon his drama, and went away circulating reports everywhere
that the piece was an utter absurdity! 'It was solely due to his
treachery and infamous gossip that on the morning of the day on which
the piece was to be performed in the evening, several newspapers
announced that they were in possession of the plot, and that the whole
production was in the highest degree obscene, depicting orgies terrible
and indecent beyond conception.'

Great interest, notwithstanding, was manifested in the play, and amongst
those who implored the author for first-night seats was General
Lafayette. The representation was a triumphant success, and for awhile
nothing was talked about in Paris but the new play. The monetary success
was equal to the literary and dramatic. The receipts for the first three
performances amounted to 84,769 francs--a sum which no other work had
equalled or approached during M. Harel's management. Referring to two of
his most widely known dramas, Victor Hugo predicted that _Le Roi
s'Amuse_ would one day prove to be the principal political era, and
_Lucrèce Borgia_ the principal literary era of his life. He had
purposely presented deformities in both, but he believed that by uniting
monsters to humanity, one could not fail to excite interest and perhaps
sympathy. 'Physical deformity, sanctified by paternal love, this is what
you have in _Le Roi s'Amuse_; moral deformity, purified by maternal
love, this is what you find in _Lucrèce Borgia_.'

Hugo was fated to be the victim of misunderstanding with regard to
almost all his dramas, and he found no exception in _Lucrèce Borgia_.
From an attitude of delight and complacency, M. Harel, the director of
the theatre, passed to one of studious neglect and insolence. He took
off the play, and then demanded a new one, which he averred the poet had
agreed to write for him. A quarrel ensued, and the manager challenged
the dramatist to a duel. It would have taken place, but M. Harel thought
better of the affair, and apologized, whereupon Hugo agreed to give him
his next piece. M. Harel remarked upon the whole incident, 'You are
probably the first author to whom a manager has said, "Your play or your
life!"'

_Marie Tudor_, produced in November, 1833, was the next play by Victor
Hugo. It was concerned with a queen, a favourite, and an executioner, a
trio as common in history as upon the mimic stage. The dramatist had now
two difficulties to contend with. In the first place, the partisans of
Dumas sowed dissension between the two authors, and spread lying
reports respecting Hugo and his attitude towards Dumas; and in the
second place, the writer's own friends grew alarmed at various reports
which gained currency. 'I hear on all sides,' wrote one of them, 'that
your play is more than ever a tissue of horrors--that your Mary is a
bloodthirsty creature, that the executioner is perpetually on the stage,
and several other reproaches all equally well founded.' Hugo remained
calm and unmoved, though he was warned that the presence of the
executioner on the stage had been given as the watchword to those who
intended to hiss the play. The piece was produced in due course, and
Mademoiselle Georges looked superbly and acted well. But the author's
enemies kept up a persistent hissing, and there was a strong contest
between those who formed a genuine judgment upon the play and greatly
admired it, and those who were resolved upon its ruin. The first night
left the result dubious, but the piece continued to be played beyond the
time generally regarded as constituting an average success. On its
withdrawal, all the relations between the author and the Porte St.
Martin naturally ceased, and the treaty with M. Harel for a third drama
was destroyed by mutual consent.

Hugo's dramatic work was now interrupted by the composition of his
_L'Étude sur Mirabeau_, which may be taken as an apology for his
advanced political and social views. He felt it necessary to review his
past career, and to make known to the world the processes of education
through which his mind had passed since his early days of Royalist
fervour. This study, which appeared in his _Littérature et Philosophie
Mêlées_, is a defence of conscience, and illustrates the power of
growing convictions to emancipate the mind from prejudice and error,
regarding the matter, of course, from the standpoint of the writer
himself.

In 1835 the Théâtre Français applied to Victor Hugo for a new drama, and
in response he gave to it his _Angelo_, one of his best pieces for
construction and for rapid and vigorous effects. It was the author's
intention in this drama, as he has himself stated, 'to depict two sad
but contrasted characters--the woman in society, and the woman out of
society; the one he has endeavoured to deliver from despotism, the other
he has striven to defend from contempt; he has shown the temptations
resisted by the virtue of the one, and the tears shed over her guilt by
the other; he has cast blame where blame is due, upon man in his
strength and upon society in its absurdity; in contrariety to the two
women, he has delineated two men--the husband and the lover, one a
sovereign and one an outlaw, and, by various subordinate methods, has
given a sort of summary of the relations, regular and irregular, in
which a man can stand with a woman on the one hand, and with society in
general on the other.' There is nothing more characteristic of the
author's dramas than this exhibition of striking contrasts; and, indeed,
in all his poetic work is to be traced this juxtaposition of the
strongest lights and shades of which human life and human emotion are
capable.

The two leading stars in _Angelo_ were Mademoiselle Mars and Madame
Dorval. Unfortunately, a serious feud arose in consequence of the former
discovering that the part she had chosen was not the most forcible and
picturesque; and it required all the strong will of Victor Hugo to bring
the actress to reason. The two ladies had their partisans in the theatre
when the play came to be acted, but the representation passed over
without mishap, and it was conceded that a fair success had been
achieved.

Whatever might be Victor Hugo's defects as a dramatist, and however he
might divide in opinion the theatre-going public of Paris upon the
general claims of his plays, he had certainly infused life into the
dramatic literature of the time. He had attained a commanding position,
and although his genius was marred by some eccentricities, it was also
as unquestionably distinguished for its grand conceptions, its dramatic
felicities, and its splendours of diction.



CHAPTER VII.

LAST DRAMATIC WRITINGS.


In some respects, no man of equal genius was ever so unfortunate as
Victor Hugo in his relations with the stage. I refer, of course, to the
earlier part of his career, for there came a time when the appreciation
of him as a dramatist was as high and universal as was the admiration of
his literary excellence. But during the long struggle between the old
and the new drama there were always enemies ready to denounce and hiss
whatsoever he produced; and had he given them a _Romeo and Juliet_ or a
_Hamlet_, the result would have been precisely the same.

We have seen the alternations of failure and success which attended the
plays already passed in review; and the same mixed reception was awarded
to those final efforts in connection with the drama which led him to
adopt the resolution to quit the stage for ever. An operatic venture
into which the poet was drawn in 1836 resulted in the same ill-fortune
which had marked more regular dramatic compositions. Meyerbeer and other
celebrated musicians had begged Victor Hugo to make an opera of
_Notre-Dame de Paris_, but he had steadfastly declined all such
proposals. At length he yielded to friendship, and wrote the libretto of
an opera called _La Esmeralda_, the music being composed by Mademoiselle
Bertin, daughter of the conductor of the _Journal des Débats_. Curiously
enough, the libretto ended with the word 'fatality,' and this
represented the misfortune of the piece and its performers. Though
boasting a singular array of talent in its production and
representation, it was hissed. Mademoiselle Falcon, the leading singer,
lost her voice; M. Nourrit, the tenor, subsequently went to Italy, and
killed himself; the Duke of Orleans gave the name of _Esmeralda_ to a
valuable mare, which was killed at a steeplechase; and finally, a ship
called the Esmeralda was lost in crossing from England to Ireland, and
every soul on board perished.

A domestic grief visited the poet in the following year, when his
brother Eugène died. For some time before his death he had been insane,
and towards the end his one favourite relative, Victor, even could not
visit him, as the sight of his brother conjured up illusions which made
him dangerously violent. Though of strong constitution naturally, when
the sufferer's mind gave way his physical health began to fail also, and
he gradually wasted away until death released him in February, 1837.
This was the brother who had been Victor Hugo's constant companion in
early life, and the news of his death deeply agitated the survivor,
keenly awakening the slumbering recollections of childhood.

Louis Philippe gave a grand fête at Versailles in the summer of 1837, on
the occasion of the marriage of the Duke of Orleans. Victor Hugo, Dumas,
Balzac, and other men of letters were invited, and were obliged to
appear in fancy dress, the result being ludicrous in some cases, as in
that of Balzac, who had on the dress of a marquis, which, it was
jokingly said, fitted him as badly as the title itself would. Hugo was
an object of special distinction by the Royal family. The King conversed
with him, and the Duchess of Orleans paid him marked attention. There
were two people, she said, with whom she wished to become acquainted--M.
Cousin and himself. She had often spoken of him to Monsieur de Goethe;
she had read all his works, and knew his poems by heart. Her favourite
book was the _Chants du Crépuscule_; and she added, 'I have visited
_your_ Notre-Dame.' Hugo was promoted to the rank of Officer of the
Legion of Honour, and he received from the Duchess a painting by M.
Saint-Evre representing Inez de Castro. It was a valuable work, and on
the gilding of the frame was inscribed, '_Le Duc et la Duchesse
d'Orléans à M. Victor Hugo, 27 Juin, 1837_.'

At this juncture the poet brought a second action before the Board of
Trade, to compel the Comédie Française to fulfil its agreement with him
by producing his plays. He also claimed compensation for past neglect.
Hugo's advocate, M. Paillard de Villeneuve, in an effective speech,
demonstrated the injustice of a theatre supported by the State becoming
the monopoly of a clique; showed how the existing state of things
pressed heavily upon such men of genius as his client; and asserted that
not only had no pieces ever realized greater profits, but that actually
at that moment, while they were prohibited in France, they were drawing
large and appreciative audiences in London, Vienna, Madrid, Moscow, and
other important cities. Victor Hugo himself also spoke, complaining that
the manager of the French theatre had deceived him, and that he wore two
masks--one of which was intended to deceive authors, and the other to
elude justice. The Board gave judgment in the poet's favour, sentencing
the Comédie Française to pay 6,000 francs damages, and to perform
_Hernani_, _Marion de Lorme_, and _Angelo_ without delay. An appeal was
entered against this judgment, and when it came on for hearing Hugo
pleaded his cause in person, asserting that there was an organized
effort to close the stage against the new and rising school of
literature. The appeal was dismissed, and justice was at length done to
the dramatist. In conformity with the judgment, _Hernani_ was first
produced, and the play was brilliantly successful.

I must refer in this place to some of Victor Hugo's lyrical efforts. Not
without reason has the volume entitled _Feuilles d'Automne_ held a high
place in the regard of his admirers. It is the poetry of the emotions
expressed in such graceful lyric verse as has rarely been penned. In
these tender and exquisite poems, as M. Alfred Nettement observed, the
poet's 'lay is of what he has seen, of what he has felt, of what he has
loved: he sings of his wife, the ornament of his home; of his children,
fascinating in their fair-haired beauty; of landscapes ever widening in
their horizon; of trees under which he has enjoyed a grateful shade.'
Nature and personal experiences--from the opening thoughts of the child
to the greater aspirations of the man--are blended in beautiful harmony
in these poems, which may be turned to again and again for their
sweetness and melody. In 1835 appeared _Les Chants du Crépuscule_, which
truly represent a kind of twilight of the soul. 'As compared with what
had gone before, the book exhibits the same ideas; the poet is
identically the same poet, but his brow is furrowed by deeper lines, and
maturity is more stamped upon his years; he laments that he cannot
comprehend the semi-darkness that is gathering around; his hope seems
damped by hesitation; his love-songs die away in sighs of misgiving; and
when he sees the people enveloped in doubt, he begins to be conscious of
faltering too. But from all this temper of despondency he quickly
rallies, and returns to a bright assurance of a grand development of
the human race.' The volume has tones of gentleness and also tones of
lofty scorn. To the suffering and the unfortunate the poet was ever
tender and pitiful; but to the mean, the base, and the vicious he was as
a whip and a scourge. He always endeavoured to separate the worthy from
the unworthy, and wherever the latter were to be found, whether in the
ranks of friends or foes, they were never suffered to escape the lash of
his indignation.

Another volume of poems, _Les Voix Intérieures_, was published in 1837.
'The poet in this production,' says one of his biographers, 'regards
life under its threefold aspect, at home, abroad, and at work; he
maintains that it is the mission of the poet not to suffer the past to
become an illusion to blind him in the present, but to survey all things
calmly, to be ever staunch yet kind, to be impartial, and equally free
from petty wrath and petty vanity; in everything to be sincere and
disinterested. Such was his ideal, and in accordance with it Victor Hugo
spared no effort to improve the minds and morals of men in general, and
by his poetry, as well as by his romances and his plays, he desired to
constitute himself the champion of amelioration.' This same desire for
the elevation of the race ran through all his efforts--social, literary,
and political. He may have been mistaken in his means sometimes, never
in the honesty and purity of his intent.

Returning to the stage, Victor Hugo had become so impressed with the
idea that the French nation had a right to have a theatre in which the
higher drama should be performed, that he was brought to consent to
several interviews on the subject with M. Guizot. The latter admitted
that there never was a more legitimate request; he agreed with the poet
that a new style of art required a new style of theatre; that the
Comédie Française, which was the seat of Tradition and Conservatism, was
not the proper arena for original literature of the day; and that the
Government would only be doing its duty in creating a theatre for those
who had created a department of art. A scheme was perfected for a new
theatre, and M. Anténor Joly was named as manager. No building but a
very old one was to be had, however, and this--which was in a bad
situation--was transformed into the Théâtre de la Renaissance. For this
theatre Hugo wrote his _Ruy Blas_, a drama which, as is well known,
deals with the love of a queen for a valet who subsequently becomes a
minister. The play was in five acts, and the leading character was
sustained by Lemaître. The actor strongly approved the first three acts,
but was more than dubious about the fourth and fifth. During the final
rehearsals of this piece Victor Hugo had a marvellous escape of his
life. Two of the actors happening to station themselves awkwardly, he
got up in order to indicate their right positions. Scarcely had he left
his chair when a great bar of iron fell upon it from an arch above,
smashing it to atoms. The author would undoubtedly have been killed on
the spot but for this momentary rising to correct the mistake of the
actors.

The body of the theatre being incomplete when the play came to be
produced, difficulties beset the representation. It was winter, and many
of the audience were chilled by violent draughts. But the play soon
warmed them into enthusiasm. In the fifth act, we are told by one who
was present, Lemaître rivalled the greatest comedians, and success was
more decided than ever. 'The way in which he tore off his livery, drew
the bolt, and struck his sword on the table, the way in which he said to
Don Sallustre:


                                 '"_Tenez_,
     Pour un homme d'esprit, vraiment vous m'étonnez!"


--the way in which he came back to entreat the Queen's pardon, and
finally drank off the poison--everything had so much greatness, truth,
depth, and splendour, that the poet had the rare joy of seeing the ideal
of which he had dreamt become a living soul.'

The play was successful with that part of the public which was
unprejudiced, and the press generally was in its favour. But it appears
that the theatre was wanted by the co-manager for comic opera, so the
fourth act of Hugo's play was persistently hissed at every
representation by interested persons. The _claqueurs_ were detected and
instantly recognised. _Ruy Blas_ ran for fifty nights, the same
programme of hissing being carried through to the end. The manuscript of
the piece was sold to the manager of a publishing company, M. Delboye.
The company also purchased the right of publication of the whole of the
poet's works for eleven years, for which they agreed to pay 240,000
francs; and the poet on his part agreed to add two unpublished volumes.

Victor Hugo produced no drama after this for several years; but in 1840
he issued his work _Les Rayons et les Ombres_, consisting of poems which
had previously been read to his friends Lamartine, Deschamps, De
Lacretelle, and others. Here again he sought expression for his
ever-widening aspirations after human perfectibility. Once more in this
work 'he claims the right of expressing his goodwill for all who labour,
his aversion to all who oppress; his love for all who serve the good
cause, and his pity for all who suffer in its behalf; he declares
himself free to bow down to every misery, and to pay homage to all
self-sacrifice.' In the poetical alternations and contrasts in this
volume will be discovered a profound love and appreciation of Nature, as
well as an undercurrent of affection for the human. The poet himself,
looking back upon what he had accomplished, and forward towards what he
hoped to do, at the transition period before he went into exile,
asserted his thesis that 'a poet ought to have in him the worship of
conscience, the worship of thought, and the worship of Nature; he should
be like Juvenal, who felt that day and night were perpetual witnesses
within him; he should be like Dante, who defined the lost to be those
who could no longer think; he should be like St. Augustine, who,
heedless of any accusation of Pantheism, declared the sky to be an
intelligent creation.' And it is under such inspiration that 'he has
attempted to write the poem of humanity. He loves brightness and
sunshine. The Bible has been his Book; Virgil and Dante have been his
masters; he has laboured to reconcile truth and poetry, knowing that
knowledge must precede thought, and thought must precede imagination,
while knowledge, thought, and imagination combined are the secret of
power.' It would be impossible for a poet with any vigour of
imagination, and any perception of the soul of beauty in all things, to
fail with these sublime ideals before him.

I now come to the last of Victor Hugo's writings for the stage, and in
_Les Burgraves_ we have in some respects the best of his dramatic works.
It was written towards the close of 1842, and produced (like its
predecessors) in the midst of difficulties in March, 1843, at the
Comédie Française. At the time of its production, the author's
political opinions had arrived at a stage of compromise. Though he was a
Republican in theory, he had no strong objection to such a monarchy as
that of Louis Philippe, which was liberty itself compared with that
which it overthrew. For a sovereign who refrained from tyranny, and was
not inimical to progress, he had some sympathy, and he was willing to
wait until the time became ripe for the advent of the Republic. Writing
to M. Thiers, indeed, to beg for some amelioration in the lot of an
imprisoned editor, he said of himself, 'I do not at the present time
take any definite political part. I regard all parties as acting with
impartiality, full of affection for France, and anxious for progress. I
applaud sometimes those in power, sometimes the opposition, according as
those in power or in opposition seem to me to act best for the country.'

The catholic spirit in which he looked upon public affairs was
manifested in his study upon Mirabeau. Defining the position of the wise
politician, he remarked that 'he must give credit to the moderate party
for the way in which they smooth over transitions; to the extreme
parties for the activity with which they advance the circulation of
ideas, which are the very life-blood of civilization; to lovers of the
past for the care which they bestow on roots in which there is still
life; to people zealous for the future, for their love of those
beautiful flowers which will some day produce fine fruits; to mature men
for their moderation, to young men for their patience; to those for what
they do, to those for what they desire to do; to all the difficulty of
everything.' So, some years later he stated that the aim he had in view
was 'to agree with all parties in what is liberal and generous, but with
none in what is illiberal and mischievous.' The form of government he
regarded as a secondary affair; liberty and progress demanded the first
and most urgent thought. Herein, of course, he differed from the
professional politician, who has ever looked at great questions not from
the poet's point of view, but from the immediately personal and
practical. Many of his humanitarian ideas appeared Quixotic and
chimerical to those who viewed politics as a matter of party, or as a
means of personal triumph; while unjust and illiberal men were not also
wanting in the ranks of the Republicans.

Then there were some who, like Armand Carrel, were prepared to go with
Victor Hugo in politics, but rejected his new literary ideas. They clung
to the old form of the drama, and found a new star in Ponsard, the
author of _Lucrèce_, a tragedy which had for its subject the expulsion
of the Tarquins and the establishment of a Republic in Rome. So the
Parisians were beguiled by the name of Ponsard, who found a great and
useful ally in Rachel; and Hugo was contemned, in spite of such
strictures as those of Thierry in _Le Messager_, who drew a comparison
between the ostracism with which his countrymen visited such brilliant
writers as Hugo, and that of the Athenians, who punished people whose
renown lasted too long.

It was at this juncture that _Les Burgraves_ was produced, and even the
genius of the writer himself added to the difficulties by which he was
beset. He had conceived three stupendous characters, Job, Otbert, and
Barbarossa; and although the actors who sustained these characters, MM.
Beauvallet, Geffroy, and Ligier, were undoubtedly men of dramatic
instinct and ability, neither they nor any other living tragedians could
adequately set forth these epic creations. In the matter of this
magnificent trilogy, the author has been not inaptly compared with
Æschylus. 'The first of Greek tragedians, Æschylus, after he had long
stirred the emotions of the Athenians, was finally deserted by them;
they preferred Sophocles to him, and full of dejection he went into
exile, saying, 'I dedicate my works to Time;' and Time at last did him
ample justice, though he did not live to enjoy his triumph. But in this,
Hugo differed from the glorious Greek, for he lived to witness the
repentance of the people.

_Les Burgraves_ was ill received on the first night, but this was
nothing compared with the opposition subsequently manifested. At every
representation, sneers and hissing interrupted the progress of the
piece; but the manager and the actors struggled on and played the drama
for thirty nights. Some of the most influential journals joined
themselves to the enemy, and the time was marked by the defection of
Lamartine to the side of Ponsard. Théophile Gautier was one of the small
band who boldly applauded Hugo's drama in the press. 'In our day,' he
asserted, 'there is no one except M. Hugo who is capable of giving the
epic tone to three great acts, or of maintaining their lyric swing.
Every moment seems to produce a magnificent verse that resounds like
the stroke of an eagle's wing, and exalts us to the supremest height of
lyric poetry. The play is diversified in tone, and displays a singular
flexibility of rhythm, making its transitions from the tender to the
terrible, from the smile to the tear, with a happy facility that no
other author has attained.'

With the production of this play dates Victor Hugo's final abandonment
of the stage. Strange fate this for a writer for whom Charles Nodier
claimed the honour of being, after Rabelais and Molière, one of the most
original geniuses that French literature ever saw. But the dramatist was
disgusted with the literary hostility, the political insincerity, and
the personal antipathy which abounded, and although he had a play, _Les
Jumeaux_, which had never been produced, he resolved to give no more of
his writings to the stage. He was repeatedly pressed in after years to
depart from this resolution, but in vain. 'My decision is final,' he
said on one occasion. 'Under no pretext shall any more of my plays
appear on the stage during my life.'

The poet wrote several plays not for publication after this time, and
one of them, _Torquemada_, has been published. Others, named
respectively _L'Épée_, _La Grand'mère_, and _Peut-être Frère de
Gavoche_, will only appear posthumously. That there will be in them
characters which will live, and that the plays themselves are such as to
enhance the public view of Victor Hugo's dramatic talents, are points
upon which we have explicit assurances from those who have had the
privilege of listening to the pieces as read by the late venerable
author himself.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE FRENCH ACADEMY.


A seat amongst the 'forty Immortals' is the high and honourable aim of
every distinguished Frenchman. But the chequered history of the Academy
since its formation by Richelieu two centuries and a half ago, furnishes
another evidence of the truth that merit does not always secure its just
reward. Again and again have men illustrious in letters been passed
over, whilst those who had no claim upon the nation's regard have
snatched fortuitous honours by unworthy means. Amongst those who knocked
on more than one occasion at the doors of the French Academy in vain,
was Victor Hugo. That such a man must be ultimately successful was
beyond a doubt; but it says little for the Academy that it failed to
recognise his claims until its hostile attitude had become a scandal to
literature.

As a kind of apology for, or defence of his career, in 1834 Hugo
published his _Littérature et Philosophie Mêlées_. For those who could
see nothing but tergiversation in the development of his views, as
regarded from the Royalist standpoint of 1819 and the Revolutionary
standpoint of 1834, these collected papers presented a series of
progressive arguments well worthy of study. Nor was it merely from the
personal point of view that the author issued this work; he believed
that the gradual changes of thought which they revealed, all tending
towards a fuller liberty in art, politics, and literature, were but
typical of the states of mind through which a very large moiety of the
young thinkers of his generation had passed. That he did not spare the
crudities and defects which marked his own period of literary
adolescence will be apparent from this passage, in which he frankly
discusses his early compositions: 'There were historical sketches and
miscellaneous essays, there were criticism and poetry; but the criticism
was weak, the poetry weaker still; the verses were some of them light
and frivolous, some of them tragically grand; the declamations against
regicides were as furious as they were honest; the men of 1793 were
lampooned with epigrams of 1754, a species of satire now obsolete, but
very fashionable at the date at which they were published; next came
visions of regeneration for the stage, and vows of loyalty to the State;
every variety of style is represented; every branch of classical
knowledge made subordinate to literary reform; finally, there are
schemes of government and studies of tragedies, all conceived in college
or at school.'

The time had now come in which he demanded a larger scope. His ideas had
expanded, and while not abandoning the life contemplative, he desired to
become in some way the man of action, and to mingle in the literary and
political conflicts going forward around him. Taxed with forsaking the
study of Nature, the poet replied that he still loved that holy mother,
but in this century of adventure a man must be the servant of all.
Reviewing his political position, he felt that he had more than paid his
debt to the fallen monarchy, while he could at the same time
conscientiously acknowledge Louis Philippe. The recollection of a
pension was balanced by the confiscation of a drama, observes Madame
Hugo, and he was now his own master to follow out his convictions. In
the adoption of a public career there were two courses nominally open to
him. But with respect to one of these, that of entering the Chamber of
Deputies, he was met by an obstacle which completely disbarred him. He
was not a wealthy man, and by the electoral law of that day only wealthy
men could become deputies. Moreover, if he could have secured by some
means a nominal qualification, the electors looked askance upon literary
men. They regarded them as more fitted for the quietude of the study
than the bustling activity of the tribune. Lamartine was a deputy, it is
true, but he was a rare exception.

Abandoning all idea of the Chamber of Deputies at that time, Victor Hugo
next thought of the Chamber of Peers. But here again he was met by a
practical difficulty. In the selection of peers the King could only
choose men who had attained to certain dignities; and in Hugo's case
election to the Academy was the only qualifying dignity that was open to
him. To the Academy accordingly he appealed. The first vacancy occurred
in 1836. But Victor Hugo had enemies, and amongst these was Casimir
Delavigne, who had considerable weight amongst the Forty. M. Barbou
states that 'the poet of the imperial era was sickly and asthmatic, and
he detested Victor Hugo simply for his robustness and power.' When Dumas
canvassed Delavigne in the interest of his friend, the author of
_Notre-Dame_, Delavigne replied with warmth that he would vote for Dumas
with all his heart, but for Hugo never. The Academicians elected M.
Dupaty, probably on the principle that his fame was of such a restricted
character that it could not in the least detract from their own lustre.
Commenting upon his defeat, Hugo said, 'I always thought the way to the
Académie was across the Pont des Arts; I find that it is across the Pont
Neuf.'

Three years later there was another vacancy, and Hugo canvassed the
Academicians in turn. But the whole nature of his work was opposed in
spirit to the exclusives of the Academy, and it is not to be wondered
at, from this standpoint, that he failed to meet with a favourable
appreciation. However brilliant a candidate might be, most of the
members were unable to take a large and liberal view. Alexandre Duval
was especially bitter against Hugo, and when the poet was asked what he
had done to offend him, he replied, 'I had written _Hernani_.' Though in
a dying condition, Duval insisted upon being taken from his bed to vote
against Hugo. M. Molé was elected. In 1840 a third vacancy occurred, and
although Hugo was again a candidate, the Academicians elected M.
Flourens.

At length, in 1841, on the occasion of his fourth candidature, Victor
Hugo was successful. Amongst the distinguished men who voted for him
were Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Villemain, Mignet, Cousin, and Thiers. In
the list of those who opposed him were the names of only two men of real
note, Delavigne and Scribe. One, M. Viennet, voted for Hugo, though the
amusing anecdote is told concerning him that when the poet was made a
Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, he said he should like to claim 'the
cross of a chevalier for everyone who had the courage to read right
through any work of a romantic, and the cross of an officer for everyone
who had the wit to understand it!' Amidst much that is paltry in the
jealousies of literary men, it deserves to be stated to the honour of
Balzac that this eminent writer declined to become a candidate against
Victor Hugo.

The new Academician, who was by no means universally congratulated upon
his success, was received on the 3rd of June, 1841. According to custom
he was called on to pronounce a eulogium upon his predecessor, M.
Népomucène Lemercier. His oration began with a description of the
splendour and power of Napoleon. Before his greatness, said the speaker,
the whole universe bowed down, with the exception of six contemplative
poets. 'Those poets were Ducis, Delille, Madame de Staël, Benjamin
Constant, Chateaubriand, and Lemercier. But what did their resistance
mean? Europe was dazzled, and lay, as it were, vanquished and absorbed
in the glory of France. What did these six resentful spirits represent?
Why, they represented for Europe the only thing in which Europe had
failed--they represented independence; and they represented for France
the only thing in which France was wanting--they represented liberty.'
Alluding still more directly to M. Lemercier, Hugo related that he was
on brotherly terms with Bonaparte the consul, but that when the consul
became an emperor he was no longer his friend. Finally, the orator
declared with much eloquence that it was the mission of every author to
diffuse civilization; and avowed that for his own part it had ever been
his aim to devote his abilities to the development of good fellowship,
feeling it his duty to be unawed by the mob, but to respect the people;
and although he could not always sympathize with every form of liberty
which was advocated, he was yet ever ready to hold out the hand of
encouragement to all who were languishing through want of air and space,
and whose future seemed to promise only gloom and despair. To ameliorate
the condition of the masses he would have every generous and thinking
mind lay itself out by devising fresh schemes of improvement; and
libraries, studies, and schools should be multiplied, as all tending to
the advancement of the human race, and to the propagation of the love of
law and liberty.

Victor Hugo's address was enthusiastically received by the bulk of the
members of the Academy, and the press generally commented upon it in
flattering terms. Times had changed since the poet had first called upon
M. Royer-Collard to solicit his vote, when the latter professed his
entire ignorance of Victor Hugo's name, and the following conversation
took place:

'I am the author of _Notre-Dame de Paris_, _Bug Jargal_, _Le Dernier
Jour dun Condamné_, _Marion Delorme_, etc.'

'I never heard of any of them.'

'Will you do me the honour of accepting a copy of my works?'

'I never read new books.'

The later relations of Hugo with the Academy are of considerable
interest. A generous forgetfulness of offence characterized him. When
Casimir Delavigne died, and it fell upon Hugo to deliver the funeral
oration over one who had been his enemy, he testified to the fine
talents of Delavigne, and magnanimously exclaimed: 'Let all the petty
jealousies that follow high renown, let all disputes of the conflicting
schools, let all the turmoil of party feeling and literary rivalry be
forgotten. Let them pass into the silence into which the departed poet
has gone to take his long repose!' In January, 1845, Hugo had to reply
to the speech of M. Saint Marc Girardin, and shortly afterwards--which
was a much more difficult and delicate matter--to the opening address
of M. Sainte-Beuve. In the early stage of the poet's career,
Sainte-Beuve, as we have seen, warmly hailed his advent, but he
afterwards became his enemy, turning his back upon all his old literary
beliefs. By way of covering his retreat, he advocated in the _Revue des
Deux Mondes_ a union between the classics and romanticists; and while he
did justice to every other writer whom he named, he arrested his praise
when he came to the name of Victor Hugo. He remarked that all signs of
magnificent promise were forgotten, 'as soon as we think of his numerous
stubborn relapses, or consider the way in which he holds to theories
which public opinion has already condemned. Sentiments of humanizing
art, which might easily enough be praised, are utterly ignored, and M.
Hugo clings with a steadfast persistence to his own peculiar style.' The
public were naturally curious to know how Hugo would speak of one who
had acted treacherously towards him, but with his usual high-minded
courtesy, the speaker uttered not one word of a personal character
against the man who had been so unjust towards himself.

The Academy had few members who were so regular in attendance, or were
so useful to that august body, as Victor Hugo. He brought into all his
relations with it the same energy and conscientiousness which marked his
course in connection with literature and the drama. His association with
the Academy was virtually the first stage of a new departure in his
career.



CHAPTER IX.

PERSONAL AND POLITICAL.


Amongst all Victor Hugo's contemporaries there was no greater admirer of
the poet than Balzac. There mingled with his admiration a feeling which
amounted almost to reverence; and probably the proudest moment in the
novelist's life was that in which he received Hugo at the Jardies. Léon
Grozlan tells us that he awaited his arrival with eagerness; indeed, so
great was his anxiety that he could not remain for an instant in one
place.

These distinguished men of letters were noticeable in their attire,
which was certainly far from Solomon-like in its splendour. 'Balzac was
picturesque in rags. His pantaloons, without braces, receded from his
ample waistcoat _à la financière_; his shoes, trodden down, receded from
his pantaloons; the knot of his cravat darted its points close to his
ear; his beard was in a state of four days' high vegetation. As to
Victor Hugo, he wore a grey hat of a rather doubtful shade; a faded blue
coat with gilt buttons, and a frayed black cravat, the whole set off by
green spectacles of a shape and form to rejoice a rural bailiff.' During
breakfast, in speaking of literature and the drama, Hugo incidentally
mentioned his large profits as a dramatist. 'Balzac listened with the
air of a martyr listening to an angel, while he heard Hugo recount the
enormous sums which had accrued to him from his magnificent dramas. This
_coup de soleil_ was likely to excite Balzac's brain for a long time to
come.' At that period the author of the _Comédie Humaine_ was a personal
authority on the bitterness of poverty. The talk proceeded to royalty,
to the patronage of talent, and such like matters. Balzac spoke
eloquently upon the lustre which men of genius have shed upon their own
times. 'The pen alone,' he said, 'can save kings and their reigns from
oblivion. Without Virgil, Horace, Livy, Ovid, who would recognise
Augustus in the midst of so many of his name?... Without Shakespeare the
reign of Elizabeth would gradually disappear from the history of
England. Without Boileau, without Racine, without Corneille, without
Pascal, without La Bruyère, without Molière, Louis XIV., reduced to his
mistresses and his wigs, is but a crowned goat, like the sign of an inn.
Without the pen, Philippe le Roi would leave behind him a name less
known than that of Philippe the eating-house keeper of the Rue
Montorgueil, or of Philippe the famous pilferer and juggler. Some day it
will be said (at least, I hope so, for his Majesty's sake), "Once upon a
time there lived a king called Louis Philippe, who, by the grace of
Victor Hugo, Lamartine, etc."' French rulers were emphatically destined
to live in the pages of Victor Hugo, but in the case of at least one
sovereign it was to be by the immortality of contempt.

At the residence of Hugo in the Place Royale, whither he had moved on
leaving the Rue Jean Goujon, there was a frequent visitor in the person
of one Auguste Vacquerie. This young poetic enthusiast was born at
Villequier, in La Seine Inférieure, in the year 1820. He was educated
first at Rouen, but having an unconquerable longing to see and be near
Victor Hugo, he went to complete his studies at the Pension Favart,
Paris, within a few doors of Hugo's house. In one of his poems he
confessed that though he ardently sighed for Paris, that city meant to
him Hugo and nothing beside--it was the shrine of the poet's fame. Like
his friend Paul Meurice, he lived in the inspiration of Victor Hugo's
name, and the two youths became constant and intimate visitors at the
house in the Place Royale. Vacquerie fell seriously ill, and he was
nursed with all the devotion of a mother by Madame Hugo. After his
recovery, and in acknowledgment of the care bestowed on his son, M.
Vacquerie, senior, invited Madame Hugo to occupy his château at
Villequier during the summer vacation. The offer was gladly accepted,
and Madame Hugo and her four children left Paris for Normandy on this
pleasurable excursion. In the course of this visit, Auguste Vacquerie's
brother Charles was introduced to Léopoldine Hugo, and these
impressionable natures at once fell in love. An engagement of no long
duration followed, for the young couple were married in the following
spring of 1843. The wedded life of the poet's daughter was unfortunately
as brief as it was happy and joyous. After a period of five months only
it came to a sad and tragic termination. The catastrophe with which it
closed is thus described: 'The Vacquerie family property at Yillequier
is on the banks of the Seine, which is tidal as far as Rouen; but the
periodical rising of the water was a matter of no uneasiness to the
family, who were accustomed to make excursions almost daily from
Villequier to Caudebec. One of these excursions was arranged for the 4th
of September, when M. Charles Vacquerie, with his wife, his uncle, and
cousin, started to make a trial trip in a large new boat. They all set
out in high spirits upon what was quite an ordinary outing; but a sudden
squall came on, and the boat capsized. Léopoldine had always been taught
that in the event of being upset, the safest thing to do was to cling to
the boat, and accordingly she now instinctively grasped its side amidst
convulsions of alarm; her husband was a good swimmer, and, anxious to
carry her off, did his utmost to make her relax her hold. But all his
efforts were unavailing; in her agony she seemed to have embedded her
finger-nails in the wood; his very attempt to break her fingers proved
ineffectual. He was but a few yards from the shore, but finding it was
impossible to save her, he determined not to survive her, and, taking
her into his embrace, sank with her in the stream. The two bodies were
recovered a few hours afterwards.'

One can well understand the accession of melancholy which would come
over the poet and his wife in consequence of such a disaster as this.
Gloom fell upon the house in the Place Royale, but Victor Hugo found
consolation in the affection of the partner of his youth, whose devotion
had seemed thus far to increase with the lapse of years. Again and again
she animated his lyre, and gave his verse much of its sweetest and
noblest inspiration. She entered fully into his high aspirations, and
received with grace and _bonhomie_ visitors like Lamartine and Madame de
Girardin, who came to exchange the courtesies of friendship and genius.

Victor Hugo was given to silent wanderings by night in the Champs
Élysées and the vicinity, and he has stated that many of his finest
thoughts occurred to him during these midnight walks. On one occasion
this habit nearly proved of serious import to him, for as he was passing
along near the Rue des Tournelles, wrapped in meditation, he was
attacked and knocked down by a band of pickpockets, and would in all
probability have suffered severe injury had not some passers-by caused
his assailants to take precipitate flight. The incident caused no
modification in the poet's custom, for of physical or moral fear he had
scant knowledge.

Notwithstanding his advanced political views in later life, Victor Hugo,
as I have already had occasion to observe, moved forward towards a
republic by gradual stages. He had no faith in the stability of a
government which was merely the result of revolt, and in 1832, when
there appeared considerable danger of insurrectionary bloodshed, he
wrote: 'Some day we shall have a republic, and it will be a good one.
But we must not gather in May the fruit which will only be ripe in
August. We must learn to be patient, and the republic proclaimed by
France will be the crown of our hoary heads.' His political honesty
impressed his contemporaries. Louis Blanc saw a noble unity in his
political progressiveness; and another critic, M. Spuller, in eulogizing
the three great French poets of the nineteenth century, Chateaubriand,
Lamartine, and Hugo, observed that although they were all born outside
the pale of the Revolution, they proved to be the very men to help
forward and to glorify the democracy, Hugo especially being a noble
exponent of the new social truths.

There naturally came a time, therefore, when Hugo desired actual contact
with political life. At first, as I have remarked, he formed the design
of getting returned for the Chamber of Deputies, but this idea had to be
abandoned. Then he was sent for by Louis Philippe. This monarch, though
generally immovable on social and literary questions, and caring little
for the conciliation of the democracy, was much impressed by the power
he recognised in Victor Hugo. Stories are told of interviews, prolonged
into the night, between the King and the poet. The result was that on
the 13th of April, 1845, Hugo was created a peer--an event which was
warmly applauded by the bulk of the people. In taking his seat in the
Upper Chamber the new peer was by profession an independent
Conservative, but there was in him already a large Republican leaven.
His maiden speech was delivered in defence of artists and their
copyright, and this was followed in March, 1846, by a vigorous address
on Poland. As was the case with many other literary men, Victor Hugo
sympathized deeply with the Poles. He denounced the avowed policy of M.
Guizot, that France could do nothing towards re-establishing the Polish
nationality. 'He maintained that it was not a material but a moral
intervention that was required, and that such intervention ought to be
made in the name of European civilization, of which the French were the
missionaries and the Poles the champions. He reminded his audience how
Sobieski had been to Poland what Leonidas had been to Greece, and he
claimed the gratitude and moral support of France for a people who had
done their part in the noble defence of freedom.' But, apart from the
fact that Poland had few friends, the ideas of freedom expounded by Hugo
excited little sympathy in the breasts of the French aristocracy.

In 1847 the new peer showed his catholicity of spirit by supporting the
petition of Prince Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, praying that his family
might be allowed to return to France. His chief arguments were: that the
Chamber would evidence its strength by its generosity; that it was
repugnant to his feelings for any Frenchman to be an exile or an outlaw;
that any pretender must be harmless in the midst of a nation where
there was freedom of work and of thought; and that by mercifulness the
Chamber would consolidate its power with the people. Louis Philippe was
so impressed by these views that he allowed the Bonapartes to return.

That momentous revolutionary year, 1848, did not come upon Victor Hugo
altogether as a surprise. That which astonished him was not the
character, but the strength of the new movement. He had long before seen
that the stability of any French Government would depend upon its
attitude towards the people and the pressing social and political
questions of the time. If a Government ignored, or attempted to crush
the forces which were at work in society, then it was inevitably doomed
to fall before them. He had indulged some hope that the Government of
Louis Philippe would inaugurate an enlightened policy; but it failed to
do this, while it perpetuated abuses which had long been obnoxious. That
which the far-seeing predicted actually occurred; the monarchy was swept
away. Hugo thought for a moment that a compromise might be effected by
constituting the Duchess of Orleans regent; but he speedily saw that
the popular movement was against all Royalty and its forms, and he gave
in his adhesion to the Republic. The Provisional Government having fixed
the elections for the 23rd of April, Hugo was nominated as a candidate
for Paris; but he was unsuccessful. Shortly afterwards, however, he was
returned to the National Assembly, on the occasion of the supplementary
elections rendered necessary in Paris. He took an independent part in
the debates in the Assembly, voting now with the Right and now with the
Left. His socialistic views found expression during the discussion upon
the national factories, which had borne such lamentable results.
'Admitting the necessity which might seem to justify their
establishment, he insisted that practically they had had a most
disastrous influence upon business, and pointed out the serious danger
which they threatened, not alone to the finances, but to the population
of Paris. As a socialist, he addressed himself to socialists, and
invoked them to labour in behalf of the perishing, but to labour without
causing alarm to the world at large; he implored them to bestow upon the
disendowed classes, as they were called, all the benefits of
civilization, to provide them with education, with the means of cheap
living; and, in short, to put them in the way of accumulating wealth
instead of multiplying misery.' From the point of view of the social
reformer, his utterances were wise and conciliatory. During the
sanguinary days of June he went from place to place, striving to avert
bloodshed; and after the outbreak he was instrumental in saving the
lives of several of the insurgents. He advocated mercy, and in the
Assembly proposed that an entire amnesty should be proclaimed. A deputy
rose and embraced him, and with this deputy, who was none other than
Victor Schoelcher, a close friendship was formed. Hugo would have no
part in the proceedings against Louis Blanc, and he declined to assent
to the vote that Cavaignac deserved the gratitude of his country. He
opposed the project of having but one Chamber, and it has been pointed
out that the existence of a second Chamber would in all probability have
saved France from the _Coup d'État_. From his place in the Assembly he
spoke strongly in favour of the liberty of the press and of the
abolition of capital punishment. In April, 1848, he started the journal
_L'Évènement_, which had for its motto 'Intense hatred to anarchy,
tender love for the people,' and which included amongst its contributors
Charles Hugo, Paul Meurice, Auguste Vitu, Théophile Gautier, and Auguste
Vacquerie. This journal, which supported the cause of the Revolution,
was for a time, but a brief one only, successful.

In January, 1849, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, and a
Legislative Assembly summoned in its stead a few months afterwards. Hugo
was elected one of the twenty-eight deputies for Paris, his name
standing tenth on the list. He has left it on record in _Le Droit et la
Loi_ that this year formed an epoch in his life. He became at this time
a thorough Republican. 'An inanimate body was lying on the ground; he
was told that that lifeless thing was the Republic; he drew near and
gazed, and lo! it was Liberty; he bent over it and raised it to his
bosom. Before him might be ruin, insult, banishment, and scorn, but he
took it unto him as a wife! From that moment there existed within his
very soul the union between Liberty and the Republic.' The
uncompromising attitude he now assumed seems to have alarmed some
persons, who charged him with apostasy; but they must have been
superficial students of his career. The poet had long been drifting
towards this end. With the advance in his political views there seems to
have come an expansion in his eloquence; and the tribune witnessed many
impassioned speeches from the deputy--speeches which moved his auditors
to the utmost depths of emotion. When he defended Italy at the time the
French entered Rome--and in doing so strongly attacked the abuses
attendant upon ecclesiastical domination--he incurred the anger of his
former friend Montalembert. Replying to the Comte he said: 'There was a
time when he employed his noble talents better. He defended Poland as
now I defend Italy. I was with him then; he is against me now. The
explanation is not far to seek. He has gone over to the side of the
oppressors: I have remained on the side of the oppressed.'

Presiding at the Peace Congress of Paris, held on the 21st of August,
1849, and addressing Richard Cobden and his fellow-delegates from
various parts of the world, Hugo gave expression to his sanguine
humanitarian sentiments. 'You have come,' he observed to these
representatives of peace, 'to turn over, if it may be, the last and
most august page of the Gospel, the page that ordains peace amongst the
children of the one Creator; and here in this city, which has rejoiced
to proclaim fraternity to its own citizens, you have assembled to
proclaim fraternity to all men.' The orator expressed his conviction
that universal peace was attainable, and at the closing sitting of the
Congress, held on the 24th, the anniversary of St. Bartholomew, he spoke
in this impassioned strain: 'On this very day, 277 years ago, this city
of Paris was aroused in terror amidst the darkness of the night. The
bell, known as the silver bell, chimed from the Palais de Justice, and a
bloody deed, unprecedented in the annals of crime, was perpetrated; and
now, on that self-same date, in that self-same city, God has brought
together into one general concourse the representatives of that old
antagonism, and has bidden them transform their sentiments into
sentiments of love. The sad significance of this mournful anniversary is
removed; each drop of blood is replaced by a ray of light. Well-nigh
beneath the shadow of that tower whence tolled the fatal vespers of St.
Bartholomew, not only Englishmen and Frenchmen, Germans and Italians,
Europeans and Americans, but actually Papists and Huguenots have been
content to meet, happy, nay proud, to unite themselves together in an
embrace alike honourable and indissoluble.' These words excited a
strange fervour and enthusiasm in the audience, and amidst the waving of
hats and handkerchiefs, and other demonstrations of applause, a Roman
Catholic abbé and a Protestant pastor might have been seen embracing,
overcome by the power of the orator's language.

During the debate on the new Education Bill, introduced by M. de Falloux
in January, 1850, Victor Hugo adversely criticized the measure as
placing too much power in the hands of the clergy. He announced that he
should oppose any scheme which entrusted the education of youth to the
clerical party, who were always seeking to fetter the human mind. Church
and State must pursue independent courses. 'Your law,' he exclaimed,
directly addressing the Minister, 'is a law with a mask. It says one
thing, it does another. It may bear the aspect of liberty, but it means
thraldom. It is practically confiscation under the name of a deed of
gift. But it is all one with your usual policy. Every time that you
forge a new chain you cry, "See, here is freedom!"' During the same
session Hugo appealed for mercy for the political criminals, and
condemned the law of transportation, by which they were not only
banished but liable to be shut up in citadels. His speech on this
occasion created such a profound impression that it was afterwards
printed and distributed throughout the country, and a medal was struck
in honour of the orator.

Troublous times were again looming over France. The protestations of
Louis Napoleon that he desired to rank as a patriot only, and not as a
Bonaparte, had been accepted by Victor Hugo, Louis Blanc, and others, in
good faith. In his prison at Ham, he had been visited by several staunch
Republicans, who believed his asseverations that he had no other end in
view than the welfare of France and the consolidation of her liberties.
Indeed, when the exile returned to Paris he sought out Victor Hugo, and
in the most frank and unambiguous language said to him, 'What would it
be for me to be Napoleon over again? Why, it would not simply be an
ambition, it would be a crime. Why should you suppose me a fool? I am
not a great man, and when the Republic is made I shall never follow the
steps of Napoleon. As for me, I am honest; and I shall follow in the way
of Washington.' It never struck the poet that his visitor protested too
much. Upright and sincere himself, he liked to believe in the integrity
of others, and he little dreamt that Louis Napoleon, who had sworn
fidelity to the Constitution, and again and again declared himself bound
by his oath, would in a short time strangle the Republic with his own
hands.

But, alas! it was not long before the poet and his friends were
disillusioned, for, as Proudhon remarked, 'Citizen Bonaparte, who but
yesterday was a mere speck in the fiery heavens, has become an ominous
cloud, bearing storm and tempest in its bosom.' Hugo, seeing what was
advancing, bore himself courageously, and from his place in the tribune
never ceased to advocate the cause of freedom, while he bade the people
repose securely in their own strength. The reactionary policy began with
the curtailment of the liberty of the press, and culminated in the _Coup
d'État_ of the 2nd December, 1851. On that date the Legislative Assembly
was dissolved; universal suffrage was established, and Paris was
declared to be in a state of siege. Thiers, Cavaignac, and others were
arrested and sent to the Castle of Vincennes. About 180 members of the
Assembly, with M. Berryer at their head, on endeavouring to meet, were
also arrested, and Paris was occupied by troops. Sanguinary conflicts
ensued between the people and the soldiery, but the troops were
victorious. Napoleon put a pistol at the head of Paris, and ultimately,
by means which will be condemned in history to all ages, the Empire was
established.

Victor Hugo did all in his power for the maintenance of the rights of
the people, but in vain. In the tribune he indignantly inveighed against
the tyranny of Napoleon, and was in consequence placed at the head of
the list of the proscribed. He supported the Committee of Resistance in
their efforts to depose the Prince; but the people were paralyzed by the
display of power, and he was obliged to fly from Paris. A sum of 25,000
francs was offered to anyone who would either kill or arrest him, and so
great was the terror of the populace that no one could be found who
would give the friend of freedom an asylum. At length he secured
temporary shelter beneath the roof of a relation, remaining here until
the 12th of December, when he left Paris, completely disguised, by the
Northern Railway Station. The expatriated poet reached Brussels in
safety, but his sons and the rest of the staff of _L'Évènement_ had been
cast into prison. It was a momentous time for the friends of Victor
Hugo, who were naturally anxious for his safety when so many of the
friends of the Republic had been seized and incarcerated.

In his retreat the great patriot found himself confronted by a new task.
He resolved to compile a history of the infamous events which had driven
him into exile. 'His lashes should reach to the faces of Napoleon and
his acolytes at the Tuileries; he became at once the Tacitus and Juvenal
of his time, only his accents were mightier than theirs, because his
indignation was greater and his wrath more just.' Napoleon had
triumphed, but the scourge was soon to descend which should leave him
exposed to the derision and contempt of the world to the end of time.
The sword is powerful; but the pen, which is the stronger weapon, has
always overtaken it, and adjusted the historical balance in the
interests of humanity.



CHAPTER X.

THE POET IN EXILE.


In Brussels Victor Hugo came upon friends, amongst them being the
novelist, Alexandre Dumas. The latter was living in this city because he
was the better able to pursue his literary work there, undistracted by
the myriad claims which such a centre as Paris presents. He had never
mixed ardently in politics, but he was so chagrined at the banishment of
Hugo that he chivalrously resolved never to visit Louis Napoleon or the
Tuileries again; and he resolutely adhered to this decision. Victor
Schoelcher followed Hugo to Brussels, having escaped from his pursuers
in the disguise of a priest. Towards the close of December, 1851, the
poet began to write his stirring narrative, _L'Histoire d'un Crime_, and
the work was completed by the following May. It was not published until
1877, and I shall make some references to it in a later chapter. Amongst
other exiles in Brussels were the ill-assorted couple Émile de Girardin
and General Lamoricière. But Belgium also sheltered in this hour of
peril Ledru Rollin, the sculptor David, Barbès, Louis Blanc, Edgar
Quinet, and Eugène Sue. Indeed, many of the finest and choicest spirits
of France had been driven from their native soil.

The sons of Victor Hugo joined their father in January, 1852, and the
poet determined to remain in Brussels so long as Napoleon III. reigned
at the Tuileries. Fate, nevertheless, decreed otherwise. The Belgian
Government, though favourable to Hugo, was still more anxious to
maintain friendly relations with the new French Empire. Victor Hugo soon
made it impossible, however, for the Belgian rulers to run with the hare
and hunt with the hounds. The publication of his _Napoléon le Petit_
fell like a thunderbolt over both Paris and Brussels. That scathing work
made the Dictator writhe amid the splendours of his palace. It was
charged with wit, pathos, sarcasm, and invective. Amongst the many
personal passages denunciatory of Louis Napoleon was the following: 'He
will never be other than the nocturnal strangler of liberty; he will
never be other than the man who has intoxicated his soldiers, not with
glory, like the first Napoleon, but with wine; he will never be other
than the pigmy tyrant of a great people. Grandeur, even in infamy, is
utterly inconsistent with the character and calibre of the man. As
Dictator, he is a buffoon; let him make himself Emperor, he would be
grotesque. That would at once put an end to him. His destiny is to make
mankind shrug their shoulders. Will he be less severely punished for
that reason? Not at all: contempt does not in his case mitigate anger.
He will be hideous, and he will remain ridiculous. That's all. History
laughs, and crushes. What would you have the historian do with this
fellow? He can only lead him to posterity by the ear. The man once
stripped of success, the pedestal removed, the dust fallen, the lace and
spangles and the great sabre taken away, the poor little skeleton laid
bare and shivering--can anyone imagine anything meaner and more
miserable?' This powerful satire closed with a vision of vengeance: 'You
do not perceive that the 2nd of December is nothing but an immense
illusion, a pause, a stop, a sort of working curtain, behind which the
Deity, that marvellous machinist, is preparing and constructing the last
act, the final and triumphant scene of the French Revolution! You look
stupefied upon the curtain, upon the things painted upon the coarse
canvas, this one's nose, that one's epaulettes, the great sabre of a
third, those embroidered vendors of _eau-de-Cologne_ whom you call
generals, those _poussahs_ that you call magistrates, those worthy men
that you call senators, this mixture of caricatures and spectres--and
you take them all for realities. You do not hear yonder in the shade
that hollow sound! You do not hear some one going backwards and
forwards! You do not see that curtain shaken by the breath of Him who is
behind!'

The excitement caused by this work proved too much for the Belgian
Government, and, desirous of keeping well with Napoleon III., it
reluctantly decided that the author must be expelled. As there was no
law bearing upon Hugo's case, the Belgian Chamber passed one to meet it,
and Hugo was cast out from what he deemed to be a secure asylum. He
embarked for England, but only on his way to Jersey, which he had
decided upon as his next place of habitation. He landed at St. Helier on
the 5th of August, 1852, and was received by a body of French
compatriots and exiles.

Hugo was now somewhat straitened in means, as he derived nothing from
his dramas and his various works. From his very ability and genius, he
was singled out as a special object of disapprobation on the part of the
French rulers. The poet first settled down in a small house on the
Marine Terrace, and the money he received from the sale of his effects
in Paris was a very welcome addition to his small store. But he had
passed through too many periods of hardship and vicissitude to repine
over these altered circumstances--he rather rejoiced to suffer for
conscience' sake. He now gave himself up to intellectual labour, and
found much happiness in his leisure hours in the bosom of his family,
every member of which was deeply attached to him; and in the interchange
of affectionate confidences with his intimate friends, Vacquerie, Paul
Meurice, and others. He was treated with great distinction by the
islanders, not (as he himself said) because he was Victor Hugo the poet,
but because he was a peer of France. In consequence of his rank,
observes one writer, 'he enjoyed certain privileges, one of which was
that he was exempt from the obligation of sweeping his doorstep and
clearing away the grass from the front of his house!' But he was obliged
to supply the suzerain of the Duchy of Normandy with two fowls every
year, a tax that was religiously exacted from 'his lordship.'

Yet even in the little island home of their adoption the exiles were not
permitted to rest in peace. Spies were sent amongst them, who
endeavoured to gather evidence of sedition, and although Jersey had its
own laws, as Napoleon was now the ally of England the situation was not
without its dangers. One Imperial spy, named Hubert, was discovered; and
when the exiles determined that he should die for his treachery, Hugo,
with his usual large-hearted magnanimity, came forward and saved his
life.

Another terrible denunciation of Napoleon and his satellites was penned
by Hugo during his stay in Jersey. _Les Châtiments_, this new satire,
was even more powerful and telling than _Napoléon le Petit_. Its verse
burned with indignation. The poet spared no one who was in any degree
responsible for the crime of the 2nd December. 'Sometimes he is full of
pity for the victims of the dastardly aggression, pouring out his
sympathy for those whom the convict-ships were conveying to the deadly
climates of Cayenne and Lambessa, to receive for political offences the
fate of the worst of felons; sometimes he sounds forth their virtues in
brilliant strophes; and sometimes he rises into grandeur as he scourges
the great men of the Second Empire, whilst at others he uses the lash of
satire, and depicts them all as circus grooms and mountebanks. Page
after page seems to bind his victim to an eternal pillory.' The work
showed, in its various divisions, how society was 'saved,' order
re-established, the dynasty restored, religion glorified, authority
consecrated, stability assured, and the deliverers themselves delivered.
It was first published in Brussels, but only in a mutilated form, the
Belgian Government dreading the effects of some of its bitter attacks
upon the ruler of France. In vain the poet protested against this
infringement of liberty. A complete edition of the work, however, soon
appeared at St. Helier, and it speedily got into circulation in all the
European capitals, ingeniously defying every effort to suppress it. 'The
more it was hunted down the more thoroughly it penetrated France. It
had as many disguises as an outlaw. Sometimes it was enclosed in a
sardine-box, or rolled up in a hank of wool; sometimes it crossed the
frontier entire, sometimes in fragments; concealed occasionally in
plaster busts or clocks, laid in the folds of ladies' dresses, or even
sewn in between the double soles of men's boots.'

Matters were thus rendered righteously unpleasant for Napoleon, who
dreaded these attacks upon his person and power. A man of genius
fighting for liberty is sometimes stronger than a throne; and it was
possible that this might be the issue between the poet and the Dictator.
The work brought no profit to its author, but he had the far higher
reward of seeing it carry terror into the midst of the Tuileries, while
it at the same time stirred the slumbering conscience of the French
nation. For two or three years the Jersey exiles remained unmolested,
but Napoleon, feeling insecure, determined that they should 'move on.'
Victor Hugo on several occasions delivered funeral orations over
departed patriots. He never spared the French rulers, and invariably
expressed sympathy with 'the heartrending cry of humanity which made
the crowned criminal turn pale upon his throne.'

At the obsequies of one Félix Bony, who had been a victim of Imperial
tyranny, the poet referred to the British alliance with the Emperor of
the French as a degradation to England. Upon this, Sir Robert Peel
intimated in the House of Commons that he should feel it his duty to put
an end to this kind of language on the part of French refugees as soon
as possible. Ribeyrolles, the editor of _L'Homme_, the French newspaper
in Jersey, retorted that England was England no longer, and Victor Hugo
returned the following answer: 'M. Bonaparte has driven me from France
because I have acted on my rights as a citizen, and as a representative
of the people; he has driven me from Belgium because I have written
_Napoléon le Petit_, and he will probably drive me from England because
of the protests that I have made and shall continue to make. Be it so.
That concerns England more than it concerns me. America is open to me,
and America is sufficiently after my heart. But I warn him, that whether
it be from France, from Belgium, from England, or from America, my voice
shall never cease to declare that sooner or later he will have to
expiate the crime of the 2nd of December. What is said is true: there
_is_ a personal quarrel between him and me; there is the old quarrel of
the judge upon the bench and the prisoner at the bar.'

The tension became too great when Félix Pyat published in _L'Homme_ a
'Letter to Queen Victoria,' commenting in sarcastic but foolish terms
upon her Majesty's visit to the Emperor and Empress of the French. Some
of the personal portions of the pamphlet affecting the Queen were
perfectly unjustifiable, and the result was a serious agitation in
Jersey for the expulsion of the exiles. At one moment their lives were
in danger. Hugo confessed that he did not care for this, but he should
greatly regret the destruction of his manuscripts. His compositions,
which represented thirty years' labour, and included _Les
Contemplations_, _La Légende des Siècles_, and the first portion of _Les
Misérables_, were accordingly secured in a strong iron-bound chest.
Madame Hugo, though warned of her danger, resolutely remained by the
side of her husband.

The conductors of _L'Homme_ were at once expelled from Jersey, whereupon
Victor Hugo drew up a protest on behalf of the exiles. 'The _Coup
d'État_,' said this document, 'has penetrated into English liberty.
England has reached this point that she now banishes exiles.' It then
went onto inveigh against the crimes of 'treason, perjury, spoliation,
and murder,' committed by Napoleon III., for which he had been legally
condemned by the French Court of Assize, and morally by the bulk of the
English press. The protest received thirty-seven signatures, amongst
them being those of Louis Blanc and Victor Schoelcher. After a period
of uncertainty, the English Government consented to the expulsion of the
refugees.

On the 27th of October, 1855, the news was communicated to Victor Hugo
that he must quit the island by the 2nd of November. The poet said to
the constable of St. Clément, the bearer of the tidings, 'I do not await
the expiration of the respite that is given me. I hasten to quit a land
where honour has no place, and which burns my feet.' After paying a
farewell visit to the graves of their dead comrades, the exiles
dispersed, leaving Jersey for various destinations; and on the 31st of
October, Hugo and his family embarked for Guernsey.



CHAPTER XI.

IN GUERNSEY.--'LES MISÉRABLES.'


Though harassed in mind and in person, Victor Hugo had reserved to
himself, during his troubled stay in Jersey, leisure in which to devote
himself to the Muses pure and simple. As the result of these periods of
meditation, there appeared in Paris in 1856 _Les Contemplations_. This
work, which speedily went through several editions, was the lyrical
record of twenty-five years. According to the author himself, it holds,
more than any other of the numerous collections of his poetry, 'as in a
rocky chalice, the gathered waters of his life.' And, again, he observed
that 'the author has allowed this book to form itself, so to speak,
within him. Life, filtering drop by drop, through events and sufferings,
has deposited it in his heart.'

Divided into two parts, the earlier division of the work dealt with
other times, the second with 'to-day.' From the trials and the joys
through which the poet had passed he endeavoured to extract the
philosophy of life. Everything is tinged with deep feeling, for it would
be superfluous to say that Hugo was ever the subject of profound
emotions. He felt more deeply and strongly than other men, and this
gives that intense personal realism to his work which distinguished it
from the first recorded utterance to the last. Virulently attacked in
some quarters, this series of poems was as warmly welcomed in others.
With the public it found ready favour, and speedily ran through numerous
editions. It may safely be affirmed that criticism which is merely
captious has never yet permanently injured any work. Wherever there is
genius, it will force its way through such obstacles, and find an honest
public appreciation. If Hugo had not himself had faith in the poetic
seed in such works as _Les Contemplations_, he must have despaired; but
with that egotism of talent which is never offensive, he left his work
confidently to the judgment of minds which could think and souls which
could feel. Of that gigantic work, _La Légende des Siècles_, the first
part of which appeared in 1859, I shall speak in greater detail when
referring to its completion.

Expelled from Jersey, the poet found a home in Guernsey; for although
the islands are geographically near, the sentiments of the islanders
differed greatly on the subject of political refugees. At Hauteville
House, which, as its name implies, occupied a commanding elevation,
Victor Hugo found a home which is now peculiarly linked with his name.
The re-arrangement of the place was a work of time. Writing to Jules
Janin, Hugo announced his getting into new quarters: 'England has hardly
been a better guardian of my fireside than France. My poor fireside!
France broke it up, Belgium broke it up, Jersey broke it up; and now I
am beginning, with all the patience of an ant, to build it up anew. If
ever I am driven away again I shall turn to England, and see whether
that worthy prude Albion can help me to find myself _at home_.... I have
taken a house in Guernsey. It has three stories, a flat roof, a fine
flight of steps, a courtyard, a crypt, and a look-out; but it is all
being paid for by the proceeds of _Les Contemplations_.'

Innumerable are the pilgrimages which have been made to Hauteville
House, with consequent descriptions of the residence. A brief sketch of
the leading features of the poet's home, for which I am indebted to an
account written by one of such visitors, will not be unacceptable.
Hauteville House, which overlooks the city and fort beneath, and
commands a vast expanse of sea, is likewise famed for its interior
treasures. The visitor finds carvings of the Renaissance and the Middle
Ages, and porcelain, enamels, and glass, the work of Venetian and
Florentine masters. Entering the house by a vestibule, there is first
perceived on the upper lintel a _basso-relievo_ representing the chief
subject in _Notre-Dame de Paris_. On the right and left, in carved oak,
are two medallions, by David, of Victor Hugo and his second daughter. A
fine Renaissance column supports the whole. Passing on, the monumental
door of the dining-room is reached. Upon one of the panels is written
'Love and Believe;' and over one of the doors, and below a statuette of
the Virgin, is the word of welcome to the visitor, '_Ave_.' In the
billiard-saloon are hung the poet's designs, framed in varnished fir. To
his other evidences of ability Hugo adds that of a graphic artist. Many
of his sketches have a breadth and power which strongly recall the
pencil of Rembrandt, though in the matter of drawing and some other
points they will not, of course, sustain comparison with the work of
that wonderful master.

The tapestry-parlour is an apartment of special interest, the
mantelpiece particularly fixing the attention. Imagine a cathedral of
carved oak, which, rising vigorously from the floor, springs up to the
ceiling, where its upper carving touches the tapestry. The doorway
corresponds to the fireplace; the rosace is a convex mirror, placed
above the mantelpiece; the central gable is a firm entablature covered
with fantastic foliage, and decorated by arches of exquisite taste, in
which the Byzantine mingles with the rococo; the two towers are two
counterforts, which repeat all the ornamentation of the entire mass. The
coping, very imposing in its effect, recalls the fronts of the houses in
Antwerp and Bruges. A face appears amid the woodwork, vigorously thrown
out. It is that of a bishop, whose crosier alone is gilded. On each side
of it is a shield, with the witty motto:


     'Crosier of wood, bishop of gold:
     Crosier of gold, bishop of wood.'


On two scrolls, representing rolled parchment, are inscribed the names
of those whom Victor Hugo looks upon as the principal poets of
humanity--Job, Isaiah, Homer, Æschylus, Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare,
Molière. On the opposite side are the names of Moses, Socrates, Christ,
Columbus, Luther, Washington. Two oaken statues lean from the double
entablature of the chimney-piece. One represents St. Paul reading, with
an inscription on the pedestal--'The Book;' the other shows a monk in
ecstasy, with his eyes uplifted, and on the pedestal is written
'Heaven.' The working-room contains another fine monumental piece of
work, bearing a motto taken from the fourth act of _Hernani_, '_Ad
augusta per angusta_.' The dining-room walls are covered with splendid
Dutch delf of the seventeenth century, and the room has also a
magnificent mirror and a piece of Gobelin tapestry representing the
riches of Summer. Vases and statuettes are to be met with everywhere;
and on panels are carved various legends--'Man,' 'God,' 'My country,'
'Life is exile.' An armchair of carved oak, which was regarded by the
poet as the ancestral seat at his table, is closed by a chain, and
bears the inscription, 'The absent are here.' The galleries and rooms
of the first story are likewise rich in Renaissance work, and in Chinese
and Japanese treasures. The Oak Gallery, which is a kind of
guest-chamber, has six windows looking out upon Fort St. George, which
distribute the light through a perfect forest of carved oak. The
mantelpiece--a marvellous piece of work, represents the sacrifice of
Isaac. A state bed and a massive candelabrum in oak, surmounted by a
figure carved by Victor Hugo, are also noticeable objects; but they are
almost eclipsed by the splendid door of entrance, which, as seen from
the interior, is as brilliant as a church window. Two spiral columns
sustain a pediment of oak with Renaissance grotesques, surrounded by
arabesques and monsters; it advances with two folds, which are
resplendent with paintings, among which are eight large figures of the
martyrs, attired in gold and purple, the principal being St. Peter.
There is inscribed on the lintel, '_Surge, perge_,' and close by the
words of Lucan, 'The conquerors have the gods, with the conquered Cato
remains.' There are also numerous maxims, poetic and otherwise. Hugo's
own room was the look-out--a little belvedere open in all directions,
but very small in extent. It contains the poet's writing-table and an
iron bed. Whether regarded from the point of view of its noble
situation, or from that of the artistic treasures which find a lodgment
in its interior, Hauteville House is a place to inspire a poet of a far
less expansive imagination than Victor Hugo.

While the author of _Notre-Dame_ pursued his studies and compositions in
the belvedere, the other inmates of Hauteville House were generally
engaged in a variety of pursuits beneath. The elder son, Charles,
devoted himself to the writing of dramas and romances, while the second
son, Victor François, undertook with much spirit and success a
translation of Shakespeare. Adèle, the one daughter now remaining,
composed music; Auguste Vacquerie plunged into a series of curious
literary studies, which resulted in the production of _Les Mielles de
l'Histoire_ and _Profils et Grimaces_; and Madame Victor Hugo busied
herself in collecting notes for her husband's _Life_. Unfortunately,
owing to her death, her task was never completed, a portion only of her
labour of love seeing the light in 1863. The whole family ever
cordially welcomed any Frenchmen who sought a refuge at Hauteville
House, and Gérard de Nerval, Balzac, and many others occupied in turns a
room specially set apart for the use of such visitors.

Two or three years after Hugo established himself in Guernsey, an
amnesty was announced by the Emperor of the French. The proclamation was
dated the 15th of August, 1859. The poet refused to avail himself of the
act of grace, and in conjunction with Louis Blanc, Edgar Quinet, and
others, replied to the Imperial pardon by a counter manifesto. He was
blamed by some for this step, it being urged that it was his duty to
return to France during the days of the Second Empire, and to use every
effort to procure that amelioration of the condition of the people, and
the fruition of their hopes, which he and other patriots desired. But
Victor Hugo was very depressed at this time, and saw little prospect of
the realization of his own aspirations and of those who felt and acted
with him. But an idea of the vast personal influence attributed to the
poet may be gathered from such language as the following which was used
concerning him at this time: 'Had Victor Hugo stood forward, as he was
morally bound to do, the fatal day of Sadowa might never have happened,
the disastrous Ministry of M. Émile Ollivier would have been impossible,
and France could have been spared the overwhelming ruin which fell upon
her when absolutely abandoned to the counsels and government of the
feeblest mediocrity.' It is impossible, of course, to say that these
sanguine expectations would have been justified; but they will at least
serve to show the high esteem in which the poet was held, and the weight
attached to his individual will and example.

Another epoch in the literary career of Victor Hugo was reached in 1862
by the publication of the celebrated romance, _Les Misérables_. This
work had been begun many years before, and was to have been published in
1848. Its original conception was vastly extended in course of time,
until what was at first meant to occupy only two octavo volumes
ultimately spread over ten. The work appeared simultaneously in Paris,
London, Brussels, New York, Madrid, Berlin, Turin, St. Petersburg,
Leipzig, Milan, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Pesth, and Rio de Janeiro. The first
Paris edition amounted to 15,000 copies, the first Brussels edition to
12,000, and the first Leipzig edition to 3,000. No fewer than 150,000
copies were sold in one year, and altogether, in various forms and
editions, more than three times this immense number of copies were
disposed of. The book was found everywhere, from the Steppes of Russia
to the battlefields of the United States, where it solaced many a
soldier during the Civil War.

This stupendous work is divided into five parts, entitled respectively
'Fantine,' 'Cosette,' 'Marius,' 'L'Idylle Rue Plumet et l'Épopée Rue St.
Denis,' and 'Jean Valjean.' Each of these parts consists of eight or
more books, which are again divided into chapters. It was complained
that the book was partly the offspring of a poet, and partly the
offspring of a social philosopher, and that while the poetry was noble
the philosophy was detestable. At the same time it was admitted that the
writer had stamped upon every page the hall-mark of genius, and the
loving patience and conscientious labour of a true artist. The romance
opens with a finely-sketched portrait of a worthy bishop, called by the
people Monseigneur Bienvenu, a noble creation, which surprised those
who looked upon Hugo merely as a curser of the Church and all its works.
A scene of strong dramatic power occurs in Chapter X., which deals with
an interview between the bishop and a dying conventionnel, who had all
but voted for the death of the King. Victor Hugo's unequalled command of
language and his terse and vigorous emphasis come here into full play.
'All French writers of mark,' says a writer in the _Quarterly Review_,
'are divisible into two schools; the one is characterized by the polish
and smoothness to which the romance element is carried in a Racine, or,
in more modern times, a Lamartine; the other is full of a _viel esprit
Gaulois_, a Molière or a La Fontaine. For this rugged force of speech,
all knots, the bark still on, M. Hugo is very remarkable. The terseness
with which he throws into a word the compressed power which a feebler
but more elegant writer would draw out into a whole sentence, indicates
an amount of genius which belongs only to the kinglier spirits of an
age, and which in French literature has only been matched by Rabelais,
in Italian by Dante.'

The real hero of the story is Jean Valjean, the son of a woodcutter of
Faverolles. Losing his father and mother when a child, he grew up to
carry on the former's craft, supporting thereby an elder sister (left a
widow) and her seven children. One night, in that terrible year of
famine, 1795, Jean Valjean broke into a baker's shop to steal a loaf for
the starving children at home. He was arrested for the theft, and
condemned to five years at the galleys. Frequent attempts to escape
added fourteen years more to his punishment. At length, after nineteen
years, he was liberated; but, while now free, his lot was as hard as
though he were still in confinement. No one will recognise or aid this
pariah of civilization, and he enters the episcopal town of D---- in
despair. The good bishop alone will receive the outcast, and he
entertains him, and has a bed provided for him. In the middle of the
night Valjean is overcome by wild impulses. He steals the spoons from
the cupboard over the bed of the sleeping bishop, and escapes through
the garden. In the morning he is caught and brought back, but the bishop
only heaps coals of fire upon his head in return for his perfidy.
Valjean is allowed to go out into the world, but there is a terrible
struggle between the good and the evil nature within him. The
psychological power of this part of the novel is marvellous. The
conflict between right and wrong is renewed periodically in Valjean's
breast all through the romance, and it is the influence of the Christian
bishop which prevents the miserable man from becoming dead to all his
better instincts. The third book of the first part is devoted to the
episode of Fantine, an unhappy being who is more sinned against than
sinning, and whose sorrows are vividly and painfully described, with
some few delicate lights thrown in upon child-life. A striking portrait
of Javert, a severe French _agent de police_, testifies once more to
Victor Hugo's power of human analysis; but the most thrilling scenes
still centre round Valjean. The ex-convict becomes a respectable
provincial mayor under an assumed name, and when a man is arrested in
his old name of Valjean, after a tremendous struggle, in which he sees
the dead bishop calling upon him to be true to his conscience, he
resolves to deliver himself up and save the innocent man. I cannot
follow all the ramifications of this extraordinary work, which
absolutely teems with exciting incidents, all graphically told, and
having for their central and cardinal motive the trials of Valjean and
the revolt against society. In the last volume we have the marriage of
Cosette, daughter of Fantine, with one Marius, both of whom owed their
lives to Valjean. Marius and Cosette shrink from Valjean when they hear
his confession that he is a liberated convict. But when Marius learns
further that Valjean had saved his life and conveyed him from the
barricades to his grandfather's house, and that he had also secured for
him his wife's dowry of 600,000 francs, remorse overcomes him for his
ingratitude. He and Cosette seek out Valjean at his lodgings, but only
arrive in time to witness the death of the suffering, sinning,
struggling convict, and to receive his last blessing.

This romance contains passages which, for grandeur of conception and
skill in execution, have never been equalled by any other French writer.
At the same time the work is not without its defects, chief of which is
the frequent recurrence of prolix digressions. For example, at a very
critical point in the story, when Jean Valjean has effected his escape
with Marius in his arms from the pursuit of the soldiery, the reader is
treated to some hundred pages of speculation on the valuable uses to
which the sewage of large towns may be put. Other eccentricities might
be pointed out, but high and above them all burns the light of the
original genius of the author, which transforms the book for us into a
veritable wizard's spell. Hugo, even with his perversities and his
literary contradictions, can move us as no other man can. Writing to
Lamartine, who had been considerably exercised by the social views
promulgated in this book, the author said: 'A society that admits
misery, a humanity that admits war, seem to me an inferior society and a
debased humanity; it is a higher society, and a more elevated humanity
at which I am aiming--a society without kings, a humanity without
barriers. I want to universalize property, not to abolish it; I would
suppress parasitism; I want to see every man a proprietor, and no man a
master. This is my idea of true social economy. The goal may be far
distant, but is that a reason for not striving to advance towards it?
Yes, as much as a man can long for anything I long to destroy human
fatality. I condemn slavery; I chase away misery; I instruct ignorance;
I illumine darkness; I discard malice. Hence it is that I have written
_Les Misérables_.' So much for one side of the work; but if its social
and political philosophy be condemned to the exclusion of its manifold
excellences and beauties, then I can only pity the mole-like blindness
of those who, in their haste to be critical, have lost that key-note of
human sympathy which alone can unlock the treasures of _Les Misérables_.



CHAPTER XII.

LITERARY AND DRAMATIC.


Utopian as some of Victor Hugo's social theories might be, his
aspirations after the perfection of the race were unquestionably noble.
What is more, he furnished practical evidence of the sincerity of his
desire to bridge over the gulf which separates humanity into classes. At
his house in Guernsey he entertained periodically the children of the
poor, frequently to the number of forty, at his own table. They would be
accompanied by their mothers, and would sit down to an excellent repast,
the hospitable board being presided over by the poet himself. In this
fraternal spirit he endeavoured to carry out his democratic ideas. At
one of his Christmas feasts at Hauteville House, Hugo remarked: 'My idea
of providing a substantial dinner for the destitute has been well
received almost everywhere; as an institution of fraternity it is
accepted with a cordial welcome--accepted by Christians as being in
conformity with the Gospel, and by democrats as being agreeable to the
principles of the Revolution.' He also advocated the education of
children, as well in the principles of justice and real happiness as in
the various branches of knowledge; for by elevating the child they would
elevate the people of the future.

The good work thus initiated in Guernsey was imitated by humanitarians
in London, who provided acceptable meals for the poor in the Ragged
Schools, and for the neglected and the outcast. Hugo's example was
therefore not barren of results, though systematic care for the poor was
still a dream of the future.

A strangely interesting scene took place at Brussels, when Victor Hugo's
publishers in that city, Messrs. Lacroix and Verboeckhoven, gave a grand
banquet to the author in celebration of the success of _Les Misérables_.
Distinguished representatives of the English, French, Italian, Spanish
and Belgian press attended, and amongst the chief guests were the
Burgomaster of Brussels, the President of the Chamber of
Representatives, MM. Eugène Pelletan, De Banville, Champfleury, and
Louis Blanc. The illustrious exile was much moved as he listened to
speeches breathing sympathy and affection for himself as a man, and
admiration for him as a writer. 'Eleven years ago, my friends,' he said
in reply, 'you saw me departing from among you comparatively young. You
see me now grown old. But though my hair has changed, my heart remains
the same. I thank you for coming here to-day, and beg you to accept my
best and warmest acknowledgments. In the midst of you I seem to be
breathing my native air again; every Frenchman seems to bring me a
fragment of France; and while thus I find myself in contact with your
spirits, a beautiful glamour appears to encircle my soul, and to charm
me like the smile of my mother-country.' The Empire had made this
gathering impossible in Paris, the city where it should naturally have
been held.

A pleasant act of reparation for past injustice was performed when, on
the 18th of May, 1860, the inhabitants of Jersey once more welcomed Hugo
to their island. He went over upon the requisition of five hundred
sympathizers with liberty, who invited him to speak on behalf of the
subscription which was being raised to assist Garibaldi in the
liberation of Italy. The occasion was pre-eminently one to unseal the
fount of eloquence in the exile and the poet. His own deep love for
France led him to feel profoundly with the noble patriot who was
struggling for a united Italy. Hugo spoke with great energy, first
depicting Italy in her bondage, then pleading for her freedom and
independence, and prophesying the near approach of the time when, with
the sword of Garibaldi, aided by the support of France and England,
Italy would rise victorious in the struggle for liberty.

A few years later, and we have some glimpses of the domestic relations
of the poet. His son Charles was married in 1866, at Brussels, to the
ward of M. Jules Simon. In April, 1867, Victor Hugo became a
grandfather, and amongst the many evidences of his affection for
children this little letter, written upon his grandson's birth, is well
worthy of preservation: 'Georges,--Be born to duty, grow up for liberty,
live for progress, die in light! Bear in thy veins the gentleness of thy
mother, the nobleness of thy father. Be good, be brave, be just, be
honourable! With thy grandmother's kiss, receive thy father's
blessing.' The child had scarcely come, however, to gladden the
household before he was taken away again. He lived a twelvemonth only;
but in his place there soon came another Georges, and he was followed by
a sister Jeanne--offshoots of humanity which twined themselves round the
heart of the grandfather, and on more than one occasion inspired his
pen.

In the summer of 1866, the poet and his two sons, with a party of
friends, went upon a tour of pleasure through Zealand. But the journey,
which was intended to be pursued strictly incognito, became in reality a
kind of progress. The principal traveller was recognised at Antwerp, and
Charles Hugo, who afterwards published a work entitled _Victor Hugo en
Zélande_, remarked that though his father had come to discover Zealand,
Zealand had discovered him instead. Many pleasant incidents marked the
journey, not the least gratifying being a reception at Ziericsee, when,
in addition to being welcomed by the municipal authorities, two little
girls, dressed in white, came forward and presented Hugo with
magnificent bouquets. On leaving Dordrecht, the farewell was one that
might have been tendered to a sovereign.

Shortly before making this tour Hugo had issued _Les Chansons des Rues
et des Bois_. In these songs of the streets and the woods will be
discovered the amusing recreations of a great spirit and the
representations of its lighter moods. Applying to the volume a
standpoint quite out of keeping with its scope and motive, some of the
reviewers saw in it a decadence of genius. They had no ear for its music
or for its more delicate undertones. It was so different from the work
they expected from such a writer that it must be bad. Charles Monselet
thought there were some passages in this book which, in pure musical
quality, were worthy of Rossini or Hérold.

But those who complained of the poems had no reason to complain of the
work which followed it in 1866, _Les Travailleurs de la Mer_. This was
another of the great romances by which the name of Victor Hugo will
live. In announcing the completion of the work the author wrote, 'In
these volumes I have desired to glorify work, will, devotion, and
whatever makes man great. I have made it a point to demonstrate how the
most insatiable abyss is the human heart, and that what escapes the
sea, does not escape a woman.' In the work itself was the inscription,
'I dedicate this book to the rock of hospitality and liberty, to that
portion of old Norman ground inhabited by the noble little people of the
sea: to the island of Guernsey, severe yet kind, my present refuge, and
probably my grave.' This powerful story dealt with the last of three
great forces which Victor Hugo had now illumined by his
genius--religion, society, and Nature. In these forces were to be seen
the three struggles of man. They constitute at the same time, said the
writer, his three needs. Man has need of a faith; hence the temple. He
must create; hence the city. He must live; hence the plough and the
ship. But these three solutions comprise three perpetual conflicts. The
mysterious difficulty of life results from all three. Man strives with
obstacles under the form of superstition, under the form of prejudice,
and under the form of the elements. He is weighed down by a triple kind
of fatality or necessity. First, there is the fatality of dogmas, then
the oppression of human laws, and finally the inexorability of nature.
The author had denounced the first of these fatalities in _Notre-Dame de
Paris_; the second was fully exemplified in _Les Misérables_; and the
third was indicated in _Les Travailleurs de la Mer_. But with all these
fatalities there also mingled that inward fatality, the supreme
agonizing power, the human heart.

This book on the toilers of the sea has been compared with the
_Prometheus_ of Æschylus. The story or plot is very subordinate, the
author having devoted himself to the great contest between his hero and
the powers of Nature. In the whole range of literature there is probably
nothing more graphic than the account of Gilliatt's battle with the
devil-fish. 'This is St. George and the Dragon over again,' remarked a
critic in the _British Quarterly Review_; 'and you might as well blame
Ariosto or Dante, or great mediæval painters and sculptors, for their
innumerable elaborate creations of such monstrous objects, as blame the
modern who has, by his study of modern science, seen and restored much
that our ancestors conceived. The Pieuvre, moreover, is an ugly symbol
of the evil spiritual powers with which man contends. For the rest, Hugo
may revel in his strength of creation in this region, as Ariosto and
Dante revelled before him, as the builders, too, of our great Gothic
cathedrals revelled in their gargoyles and hobgoblins. But before we
quit this romance, observe the perfect unity of it as a work of art.'

The career of Gilliatt, the hero of this romance, is important from
certain social and philosophical aspects, as well as from the individual
point of view. The work is a dissertation upon the dignity, duty, and
power of labour, the French writer thus endorsing the dictum of Carlyle
on this great question. Gilliatt, hand to hand with the elements,
grapples with the last form of external force that is brought against
him. It has been well observed that the artistic and moral lesson are
worked out together, and are, indeed, one. Gilliatt, alone upon the reef
at his herculean task, offers a type of human industry in the midst of
the vague 'diffusion of forces into the illimitable' and the visionary
development of 'wasted labour' in the sea, and the winds, and the
clouds. It is man harassed and disappointed, and yet unconquered.

In 1869 appeared a fourth important romance by Victor Hugo, the strange
and grotesque _L'Homme qui Rit_. In this book there is a good deal to
make the reader restive, for in some parts it is unquestionably
repulsive. But when this has been borne with, there is still much
invested with that peculiar interest which only the author can weave
round his creations. The movement of life plays a subordinate part in
the story, and the real purpose of the work is seen to be a description
of the battle waged in the individual breast, first with Fate, and then
with those ancient enemies of man, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.
Criticizing this book, Mr. Swinburne remarked: 'Has it not been steeped
in the tears and the fire of live emotion? If the style be overcharged
and overshining with bright sharp strokes and points, these are no
fireworks of any mechanic's fashion; these are the phosphoric flashes of
the sea-fire moving in the depths of the limitless and living sea.
Enough that the book is great and heroic, tender and strong, full from
end to end of divine and passionate love, of holy and ardent pity for
men that suffer wrong at the hands of men; full, not less, of lyric
loveliness and lyric force; and I, for one, am content to be simply glad
and grateful: content in that simplicity of spirit to accept it as one
more benefit at the hands of the Supreme singer now living among us the
beautiful and lofty life of one loving the race of men he serves, and of
them in all time to be beloved.' Yet, notwithstanding its evidences of
power, _L'Homme qui Rit_ failed to obtain that deep hold upon the public
mind which was secured by its predecessors.

A writer in the _Cornhill_ pointed out that it was Hugo's object in this
romance to denounce the aristocratic principle as it is exhibited in
England. Satire plays a conspicuous part, but the constructive ingenuity
exhibited throughout is almost morbid. 'Nothing could be more happily
imagined, as a _reductio ad absurdum_ of the aristocratic principle,
than the adventures of Gwynplaine, the itinerant mountebank, snatched
suddenly out of his little way of life, and installed without
preparation as one of the hereditary legislators of a great country. It
is with a very bitter irony that the paper, on which all this depends,
is left to float for years at the will of wind and tide.' There are also
other striking contrasts. 'What can be finer in conception than that
voice from the people heard suddenly in the House of Lords, in solemn
arraignment of the pleasures and privileges of its splendid occupants?
The horrible laughter, stamped for ever "by order of the King" upon the
face of this strange spokesman of Democracy, adds yet another feature
of justice to the scene; in all time, travesty has been the argument of
oppression; and, in all time, the oppressed might have made this answer:
"If I am vile, is it not your system that has made me so?" This ghastly
laughter gives occasion, moreover, for the one strain of tenderness
running through the web of this unpleasant story: the love of the blind
girl Dea for the monster. It is a most benignant providence that thus
harmoniously brings together these two misfortunes; it is one of these
compensations, one of these after-thoughts of a relenting destiny, that
reconcile us from time to time to the evil that is in the world; the
atmosphere of the book is purified by the presence of this pathetic
love; it seems to be above the story somehow, and not of it, as the full
moon over the night of some foul and feverish city.' This last sentence
exhibits a misapprehension of Victor Hugo's method. It is part of his
plan to discover that which would be accounted as the most vile, the
most contemptible, the most loathsome in human nature, and to show that
it has some point of contact with the most educated, the most refined,
the most beautiful. Critics may complain that he sacrifices art
sometimes in doing so, but his reply would be that there can be no
sacrifice of art where truth is concerned. Falsehood alone is
destructive of art.

I must pause here to note some interesting dramatic reproductions which
took place in Paris in connection with the Exhibition of 1867. Existing
dramatic literature was at a very low ebb, when the Emperor felt that
this important international occasion ought to be further distinguished
by the production of some new dramas. The managers were nonplussed, for
they had nothing worth producing, and the Minister of Fine Arts ventured
to hint as much to his Majesty. Ultimately the name of Victor Hugo was
brought forward, and it was decided to bring out _Hernani_ at the
Théâtre Français, and _Ruy Blas_ at the Odéon. On the 20th of June,
accordingly, _Hernani_ was produced, and performed by a brilliant
company, including Delaunay, Bressant, and Mademoiselle Favart. Twenty
thousand applications had been made for tickets for the first
performance. The audience was a very mixed one, and as it was feared
that political disturbances might occur, the most rigid precautions were
taken by the authorities. But there was no need for this--the piece was
received with a favour that was practically unanimous; and although M.
Francisque Sarcey (who was not then numbered amongst Hugo's admirers)
hinted that the applause was not precisely genuine, his insinuations
were soon rudely scattered to the winds. On the next night, and for
eighty succeeding nights, this remarkable play drew forth the most
genuine and vociferous applause.

A number of young authors, including François Coppée, Armand Silvestre,
and Sully Prudhomme, were so delighted with the success of _Hernani_
that they addressed the following letter to the poet: 'Master most dear
and most illustrious, we hail with enthusiastic delight the reproduction
of _Hernani_. The fresh triumph of the greatest of French poets fills us
with transports. The night of the 20th of June is an era in our
existence. Yet sorrow mingles with our joy. Your absence was felt by
your associates of 1830; still more was it bewailed by us younger men,
who never yet have shaken hands with the author of _La Légende des
Siècles_. At least they cannot resist sending you this tribute of their
regard and unbounded admiration.' Writing from Brussels, Hugo thus
replied: 'Dear poets, the literary revolution of 1830 was the corollary
of the Revolution of 1789; it is the speciality of our century. I am the
humble soldier of the advance. I fight for revolution in every form,
literary as well as social. Liberty is my principle, progress my law,
the ideal my type. I ask you, my young brethren, to accept my
acknowledgments. At my time of life, the end, that is to say the
infinite, seems very near. The approaching hour of departure from this
world leaves little time for other than serious meditations; but while I
am thus preparing to depart, your eloquent letter is very precious to
me; it makes me dream of being among you, and the illusion bears to the
reality the sweet resemblance of the sunset to the sunrise. You bid me
welcome whilst I am making ready for a long farewell. Thanks; I am
absent because it is my duty; my resolution is not to be shaken; but my
heart is with you. I am proud to have my name encircled by yours, which
are to me a crown of stars.' The writer who thus contemplated an early
departure from the stage of human life was to accomplish much more
before that event, and to witness many startling changes in his beloved
France.

The third Napoleon seems to have been inspired by a bitter jealousy of
the genius of Victor Hugo, whose great influence he dreaded; and the
poet answered this by an unconquerable distrust of the Emperor. After
the representations to which I have drawn attention, Hugo declined to
allow his play to be acted, and it was only at the close of Napoleon's
reign that he could be prevailed upon to allow the production of
_Lucrèce Borgia_ at the Porte St. Martin. George Sand was present on
this occasion, and thus wrote to the dramatist: 'I was present
thirty-seven years ago at the first representation of _Lucrèce_, and I
shed tears of grief; with a heart full of joy I leave the performance of
this day. I still hear the acclamations of the crowd as they shout,
"Vive Victor Hugo!" as though you were really coming to hear them.'

Hugo's sympathy with Garibaldi--for whom he had a profound
admiration--found vent in 1867, in a poem entitled _La Voix de
Guernesey_. It severely condemned the Mentana Expedition, and encouraged
Garibaldi under the check he had sustained at the hands of the Pope and
Napoleon III. Garibaldi replied with some verses styled 'Mentana,' and
this interchange of friendship and goodwill between the two patriots
stirred the worst blood of the French clerical party. The poems were
circulated by some means throughout France in considerable numbers, the
result being an Imperial order to stop the representations of _Hernani_,
while the following letter was also despatched to the poet in Guernsey:
'The manager of the Imperial Théâtre de l'Odéon has the honour to inform
M. Victor Hugo that the reproduction of _Ruy Blas_ is
forbidden.--CHILLY.' From Guernsey came this pithy reply, addressed to
the Tuileries: 'To M. Louis Bonaparte.--Sir, it is you that I hold
responsible for the letter which I have just received signed
Chilly.--VICTOR HUGO.'

The Emperor would doubtless have given much could he have quenched the
genius and subdued the patriotism of the exile. But though the former
affected security in his power, and the latter looked for the triumph of
the people, neither could anticipate the dawning of that day of
humiliation and blood which in the course of a few years was to break
over unhappy France.



CHAPTER XIII.

PARIS AND THE SIEGE.


Having vowed never again to visit the land that was 'the resting-place
of his ancestors and the birthplace of his love' until she had been
restored to liberty, it is not surprising that Victor Hugo rejected the
renewed amnesty offered him by Napoleon in 1869. The past ten years had
wrought in him no signs of relenting, and when he was urged by his
friend M. Félix Pyat to accept this new offer of a truce, he replied,
'_S'il n'en reste qu'un, je serai celui-là_' ('If there remain only one,
I will be that one'). When the Republican journal _Le Rappel_ was
started, with Charles and François Hugo, Auguste Vacquerie, and Paul
Meurice as its principal contributors (joined subsequently by M.
Rochefort), he wrote for the opening number a congratulatory manifesto
addressed to the editors. By every means in his power, indeed, he
endeavoured to advance Republican principles.

Early in 1870 Napoleon was so impressed by the spread of Republican
feeling that he resolved to test the stability of his power and the
magic of his name by a _plébiscite_. This step was condemned by Hugo,
who asked why the people should be invited to participate in another
electoral crime. He thus gave vent to his burning indignation at the
proposal: 'While the author of the _Coup d'État_ wants to put a question
to the people, we would ask him to put this question to himself, "Ought
I, Napoleon, to quit the Tuileries for the Conciergerie, and to put
myself at the disposal of justice?" "Yes!"' This bold and stinging
retort led to the prosecution of the journal and the writer for inciting
to hatred and contempt of the Imperial Government. But the poet went on
his course unmoved, now engaged in writing his study of _Shakespeare_,
and now in responding to the appeals made to him from various quarters,
including those from the insurgents of Cuba, the Irish Fenians who had
just been convicted, and the friends of peace at the Lausanne Congress.
He had suffered another domestic grief in 1868 by the death of his
wife, his unfailing sympathizer and consoler in his early struggles,
and other sorrows were impending.

The war with Prussia in 1870 led to the disaster of Sedan, and the
collapse of the Empire. Hugo at once hastened to France, where he was
welcomed with heartfelt enthusiasm by his friends of the Revolutionary
Government formed on the 4th of September. M. Jules Claretie, who
accompanied the poet on the journey from Brussels to Paris, has written
a graphic account of his return to the beloved city. At Landrecies Hugo
saw evidences of the rout and the ruin which had overtaken France. 'In
the presence of the great disaster, whereby the whole French army seemed
vanquished and dispersed, tears rolled down his cheeks, and his whole
frame quivered with sobs. He bought up all the bread that could be
secured, and distributed it among the famished troops.' The scene in
Paris on Hugo's arrival was a memorable one. 'Through the midst of the
vast populace,' continues the narrator, 'I followed him with my gaze. I
looked with admiration on that man, now advancing in years, but faithful
still in vindicating right, and never now do I behold him greeted with
the salutations of a grateful people without recalling the scene of
that momentous night, when with weeping eyes he returned to see his
country as she lay soiled and dishonoured and well-nigh dead.'
Concerning this scene, M. Alphonse Daudet also wrote: 'He arrived just
as the circle of investment was closing in around the city; he came by
the last train, bringing with him the last breath of the air of freedom.
He had come to be a guardian of Paris; and what an ovation was that
which he received outside the station from those tumultuous throngs
already revolutionized, who were prepared to do great things, and
infinitely more rejoiced at the liberty they had regained than terrified
by the cannon that were thundering against their ramparts! Never can we
forget the spectacle as the carriage passed along the Rue Lafayette,
Victor Hugo standing up, and being literally borne along by the teeming
multitudes.' At one point, in acknowledging his enthusiastic reception,
Hugo said: 'I thank you for your acclamations. But I attribute them all
to your sense of the anguish that is rending all hearts, and to the
peril that is threatening our land. I have but one thing to demand of
you. I invite you to union. By union you will conquer. Subdue all
ill-will; check all resentment. Be united, and you shall be invincible.
Rally round the Republic. Hold fast, brother to brother. Victory is in
our keeping. Fraternity is the saviour of liberty!' Addressing also the
crowd assembled in the Avenue Frochot, the place of his destination, the
poet assured them that that single hour had compensated him for all his
nineteen years of exile.

Installed at the house of his friend Paul Meurice, Hugo remained in
Paris all through the siege. The Empire having fallen, the cause of
strife had ceased, and Hugo addressed a manifesto to the Germans, in
which he said: 'This war does not proceed from us. It was the Empire
that willed the war; it was the Empire that prosecuted it. But now the
Empire is dead, and an excellent thing too. We have nothing to do with
its corpse; it is all the past, we are the future. The Empire was
hatred, we are sympathy; that was treason, we are loyalty. The Empire
was Capua, nay, it was Gomorrha; we are France. Our motto is "Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity;" on our banner we inscribe, "The United States of
Europe." Whence, then, this onslaught? Pause a while before you present
to the world the spectacle of Germans becoming Vandals, and of barbarism
decapitating civilization.' But the victorious Germans did not share the
peaceful sentiments of the writer, and it would have gone ill with him
if, like his manifesto, he had fallen into the hands of the Prussian
Generals.

The siege went on, and the poet laid the funds from his works at the
feet of the Republic. Readings were given of _Les Châtiments_, and other
poems, and the proceeds expended in ammunition. It was a brave struggle
on the part of the Parisians. Gambetta called on Hugo to thank him for
his services to the country, when the latter replied: 'Make use of me in
any way you can for the public good. Distribute me as you would dispense
water. My books are even as myself; they are all the property of France.
With them, with me, do just as you think best.' The poet kept up a brave
heart during the privations of hunger, and cheered many of the younger
spirits at his table by his pleasantry and wit, which relieved the gloom
that pressed so heavily over all. When the great and terrible time of
peril and suffering was past, he left it on record: 'Never did city
exhibit such fortitude. Not a soul gave way to despair, and courage
increased in proportion as misery grew deeper. Not a crime was
committed. Paris earned the admiration of the world. Her struggle was
noble, and she would not give in. Her women were as brave as her men.
Surrendered and betrayed she was; but she was not conquered.' One can
scarcely wonder that men who loved Paris as a woman loves her child can
never forget the humiliation she was called upon to pass through.

In the list of the Committee of Public Safety, which was responsible for
the insurrectionary movement of the 31st of October, the name of Victor
Hugo appeared; but he disavowed its use, and on the ensuing 5th of
November he declined to become a candidate at the general election of
the mayors of Paris. Nevertheless, 4,029 suffrages were accorded him in
the 15th arrondissement. In the elections of February, 1871, he was
returned second on the list with 214,000 votes, Louis Blanc coming first
with 216,000, and Garibaldi third with 200,000 votes. Speaking on the
1st of March in the National Assembly--which met at Bordeaux--Hugo
strongly denounced the preliminaries of peace. The treaty, however, was
ratified. Interposing in the debate which subsequently took place on the
election of Garibaldi, he said: 'France has met with nothing but
cowardice from Europe. Not a Power, not a single King rose to assist us.
One man alone intervened in our favour; that man had an idea and a
sword. With his idea he delivered one people; with his sword he
delivered another. Of all the Generals who fought for France, Garibaldi
is the only one who was not beaten.' A strange scene of tumult arose
upon this speech, many members of the Right gesticulating and
threatening violently. Rising in the midst of an uproar that was
indescribable, Hugo announced that he should send in his resignation.
This he accordingly did, and remained firm, notwithstanding the earnest
entreaties to withdraw it on the part of the President, M. Grévy. Next
day, in consequence, there was nothing for the President to do but to
announce the resignation, which was couched in these terms: 'Three weeks
ago the Assembly refused to hear Garibaldi; now it refuses to hear me. I
resign my seat.' Louis Blanc expressed his profound grief at the
resignation; it was, he said, adding another drop of sorrow to a cup
that seemed already over-full; and he grieved that a voice so powerful
should be hushed just at an emergency when the country should be showing
its gratitude to all its benefactors. Garibaldi thus wrote to Hugo: 'It
needs no writing to show that we are of one accord; we understand each
other; the deeds that you have done, and the affection that I have borne
for you make a bond of union between us. What you have testified for me
at Bordeaux is a pledge of a life devoted to humanity.'

It was at this juncture that the poet was called upon to mourn the loss
of his son Charles, who died suddenly from congestion of the brain.
There had been an unusually close bond between the two, and the shock
came with great force upon the father. The body of the deceased was
brought to Paris for interment, Hugo following the hearse on foot to the
family vault at Père la Chaise. Funeral orations were delivered by
Auguste Vacquerie and Louis Mie.

From Brussels, whither he had gone after his son's death, the poet
protested against the horrors of the Commune. He also vainly tried to
preserve the column in the Place Vendôme from destruction. He wrote his
poem, _Les deux Trophées_, referring to the column and the Arc de
Triomphe, with the object of staying the hands of the destroyers, but
the mad work went forward. Nevertheless, it was characteristic of him
that after the insurrection was at an end, he pleaded for mercy towards
the offenders. In his house at Brussels many fugitives found shelter,
until the Belgian Government banished them from the country. In reply to
this edict Hugo published an article in _L'Indépendance_. He declared
that although Belgium by law might refuse an asylum to the refugees, his
own conscience could not approve that law. The Church of the Middle Ages
had offered sanctuary even to parricides, and such sanctuary the
fugitives should find at his home; it was his privilege to open his door
if he would to his foe, and it ought to be Belgium's glory to be a place
of refuge. England did not surrender the refugees, and why should
Belgium be behindhand in magnanimity? But these arguments were of no
avail with the exasperated Belgians. A few of the more ruffianly spirits
of Brussels actually made an attack upon the poet's house, which they
assaulted with stones, to the great danger of Madame Charles Hugo and
her children. Defeated in their attempts to break in the door or to
scale the house, the assailants at length made off. So far at first from
any redress being granted to Hugo for this outrageous assault, or any
punishment being meted out to the offenders, the poet himself was
ordered to quit the kingdom immediately, and forbidden to return under
penalties of the law of 1865. A debate took place in the Chamber, and as
the result of this debate and various protests, the Government did not
order the indiscriminate expulsion of all exiles, as they had
contemplated. They also made some show of satisfaction to Hugo by
ordering a judicial inquiry into the attack upon his residence. In the
end a son of the Minister of the Interior was fined a nominal sum of 100
francs for being concerned in the outrage.

Hugo now made a tour through Luxemburg, and afterwards visited London,
returning to Paris at the close of the year 1871. After the trial of the
Communists he pleaded earnestly, but in vain, for the lives of Rossel,
Lullier, Ferré, Crémieux, and Maroteau. In the elections of January,
1872, he got into a difficulty with the Radicals of Paris in consequence
of his refusal to accept the _mandat impératif_. This, he explained,
was contrary to his principles, for conscience might not take orders. He
was willing to accept a _mandat contractuel_, by which there could be a
more open discussion between the elector and the elected. Hugo was
defeated, receiving only 95,900 votes, as against 122,435 given to his
opponent, M. Vautrain, a result partly accounted for by Hugo's amnesty
proposals. The poet published, in September, 1873, _La Libération du
Territoire_, a poem which was sold for the benefit of the inhabitants of
Alsace and Lorraine. In it the writer strongly condemned the adulation
poured upon the Shah of Persia, then on a visit to France, and
respecting whose cruelty and barbarism many anecdotes were current.

On the morning following Christmas Day, 1873, the poet was again called
upon to bear a great loss by the death of his only remaining son,
François Victor. At the funeral Louis Blanc delivered a short address,
in which he extolled the literary ability, the integrity, and the
virtues of the deceased. To the shouts of '_Vive Victor Hugo! Vive la
République!_' the weeping poet was led away from the grave-side.

During the siege of Paris, Hugo kept a diary of this lurid history, and
upon this he constructed his poem _L'Année Terrible_--the events
celebrated extending from August, 1870, to July, 1871. Speaking of this
work, a writer whom I have already quoted remarked that 'the poems of
the siege at once demand and defy commentary; they should be studied in
their order as parts of one tragic symphony. From the overture, which
tells of the old glory of Germany before turning to France with a cry of
inarticulate love, to the sad majestic epilogue which seals up the
sorrowful record of the days of capitulation, the various and continuous
harmony flows forward through light and shadow, with bursts of thunder
and tempest, and interludes of sunshine and sweet air.' The variety of
note in these tragic poems has also been well insisted upon. 'There is
an echo of all emotions in turn that the great spirit of a patriot and a
poet could suffer and express by translation of suffering into song; the
bitter cry of invective and satire, the clear trumpet-call to defence,
the triumphal wail for those who fell for France, the passionate sob of
a son on the stricken bosom of a mother, the deep note of thought that
slowly opens into flower of speech; and through all and after all, the
sweet unspeakable music of natural and simple love. After the voice
which reproaches the priest-like soldier, we hear the voice which
rebukes the militant priest; and a fire, as the fire of Juvenal, is
outshone by a light as the light of Lucretius.' Mr. Dowden sees in these
poems the work of a Frenchman throughout, not a man of the Commune, nor
a man of Versailles. 'The most precious poems of the book are those
which keep close to facts rather than concern themselves with ideas. The
sunset seen from the ramparts; the floating bodies of the Prussians
borne onward by the Seine, caressed and kissed and still swayed on by
the eddying water; the bomb which fell near the old man's feet while he
sat where had been the Convent of the Feuillantines, and where he had
walked in under the trees in Aprils long ago, holding his mother's hand;
the petroleuse, dragged like a chained beast through the scorching
streets of Paris; the gallant boy who came to confront death by the side
of his friends--memories of these it is which haunt us when we have
closed the book--of these, and of the little limbs and transparent
fingers, and baby-smile, and murmur like the murmur of bees, and the
face changed from rosy health to a pathetic paleness of the one-year-old
grandchild, too soon to become an orphan.' But other critics, while
acknowledging the force of the writing and the noble aspirations of the
author, place the work on a considerably lower level as a whole. Yet no
one who knows the work can surely deny that the poet has thrown a halo
of glory round the concrete facts of a disastrous and momentous period.

While the language of despair was held by many of his friends at this
dark crisis in French history, Victor Hugo never once wavered in his
hopes for the future of his country. So far from being annihilated, he
predicted that France would rise to enjoy a greater height of
prosperity, and a more durable peace, than she had ever enjoyed under
the Empire.



CHAPTER XIV.

'QUATRE-VINGT-TREIZE.'--POLITICS, ETC.


In 1874 appeared the last of Victor Hugo's great romances,
_Quatre-Vingt-Treize_. It was published on the same day in ten
languages. This grand historical and political novel was a fitting close
to a series of works unexampled in scope and breadth of conception. A
great prose epic upon that terrible year in French history, 1793, it
excited the liveliest interest throughout Europe, and critics of all
shades of opinion hastened to do justice to its extraordinary merits.
Even those warm admirers of the author's superb imaginative genius, who
had looked forward with misgiving to this daring excursion into the
historic field, admitted that his complete success had justified the
effort. They extolled the work as 'a monument of its author's finest
gifts; and while those who are, happily, endowed with the capacity of
taking delight in nobility and beauty of imaginative work will find
themselves in possession of a new treasure, the lover of historic truth,
who hates to see abstractions passed off for actualities, and legend
erected in the place of fact, escapes with his praiseworthy
sensibilities unwounded.'

The work is on a colossal scale, exhibiting great breadth of touch,
while the style has now the power of the lightning, and now the calm and
the depth of the measureless sea. 'With La Vendée for background, and
some savage incidents of the bloody Vendean war for external machinery,
Victor Hugo has realized his conception of '93 in three types of
character--Lantenac, the Royalist marquis; Cimourdain, the Puritan
turned Jacobin; and Gauvain, for whom one can as yet find no short name,
he belonging to the Millenarian times.' It was said that there is
nothing more magnificent in literature than the last volume of this
work, and while its author had no rival in the sombre, mysterious
heights of imaginative effect, he was equally a master in strokes of
tenderness and the most delicate human sympathy. Rapidity and profusion
are the pre-eminent characteristics of this work--'a profusion as of
starry worlds, a style resembling waves of the sea, sometimes indeed
weltering dark and massive, but ever and anon flashing with the foamy
lightning of genius. The finish and rich accurate perfection of our own
great living poet Tennyson are absent. Hugo is far more akin to Byron;
but his range is vaster than Byron's. He has Byron's fierce satire, and
more than Byron's humour, though it is the fashion to generalize and say
that the French have none. He is both a lyrical and epic poet. He is a
greater dramatist than Byron; and whether in the dramas or prose
romances, he shows that vast sympathy with, and knowledge of, human
nature which neither Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, nor Wordsworth had.
Scott could be his only rival. In France they had lived dramatic lives
for the last ninety years; we have lived much more quietly in England,
and in France there is a real living drama.'

As this book, full-hearted in its passion, and deeply-veined with human
emotion, is the last of Victor Hugo's prose romances, some brief general
allusions to him as a novelist will be appropriate. Taking the five
books (which have been referred to in the order of their publication)
alone, viz., _Notre-Dame_, _Les Misérables_, _Les Travailleurs_,
_L'Homme qui Rit_, and _Quatre-Vingt-Treize_--they would have made the
fame of any writer; and yet, it has been justly remarked, they are but
one façade of the splendid monument that Victor Hugo has erected to his
own genius. I am not one of those who would contend that Hugo's style is
everywhere immaculate. On the contrary, he sometimes sins greatly; but
these occasions are rare compared with his mighty triumphs. Still,
justice must not be extinguished in admiration. My own view of Hugo's
literary gifts, as expressed more especially in his romances, has been
so fairly put by another writer that I shall transfer, and at the same
time in the main adopt, his language: 'Everywhere we find somewhat the
same greatness, somewhat the same infirmities. In his poems and plays
there are the same unaccountable protervities that have already
astonished us in the romances; there, too, is the same feverish
strength, welding the fiery iron of his idea under forge-hammer
repetitions; an emphasis that is somehow akin to weakness; a strength
that is a little epileptic. He stands so far above all his
contemporaries, and so incomparably excels them in richness, breadth,
variety, and moral earnestness, that we almost feel as if he had a sort
of right to fall oftener and more heavily than others; but this does not
reconcile us to seeing him profit by the privilege so freely. We like to
have in our great men something that is above question; we like to place
an implicit faith in them, and see them always on the platform of their
greatness: and this, unhappily, cannot be with Hugo. As Heine said long
ago, his is a genius somewhat deformed; but, deformed as it is, we
accept it gladly; we shall have the wisdom to see where his foot slips,
but we shall have the justice also to recognise in him the greatest
artist of our generation, and, in many ways, one of the greatest artists
of all time. If we look back, yet once, upon these five romances, we see
blemishes such as we can lay to the charge of no other man in the number
of the famous; but to what other man can we attribute such sweeping
innovations, such a new and significant view of life and man, such an
amount, if we think of the amount merely, of equally consummate
performance?' It is in the nature of the human intellect, finite as it
is, to relax sometimes from its highest strain, and if Victor Hugo
failed at times to scale his loftiest note of thought or expression, it
may be remembered also that even Shakespeare was not always in the mood
for producing _Hamlets_.

There appeared, in 1874, Hugo's pathetic sketch 'Mes Fils,' containing a
tribute of affection to his own dead children; and in 1875-6 was
published his _Actes et Paroles_. This justificatory work was in three
parts, which dealt respectively with the period before exile, the period
of exile, and the period since exile. 'The trilogy is not mine,' said
the author, 'but the Emperor Napoleon's; he it is who has divided my
life; to him the honour of it is due. That which is Bonaparte's we must
render to Cæsar.' Although he first strongly countenanced resistance,
the writer concluded with an exhortation to clemency, holding that
resistance to tyrants should not be deemed inconsistent with mercy to
the vanquished. We have here a complete collection of Hugo's addresses,
orations, and confessions of faith, etc., during the preceding thirty
years. _Pour un Soldat_, a little brochure written in favour of an
obscure soldier, appeared in 1875. Its publication not only resulted in
saving the life of the soldier, who had been condemned for a venial
crime, but the sufferers in Alsace and Lorraine reaped the pecuniary
fruits of its popularity. The second part of _La Légende des Siècles_
was published in 1877. At this time the poet was living in the Rue de
Clichy, No. 21, sharing part of the house with Madame Charles Hugo, who,
after a widowhood of some years, married M. Charles Lockroy, deputy for
the Seine, and also known as a man of letters. Madame Drouet, who had
befriended the poet when he was proscribed in 1851, placed her salon in
this house at the poet's disposal for the reception of his friends. M.
Barbou, who saw much of Hugo in this residence, thus describes the man
and his habits: 'The hand, no doubt, is too slow for the gigantic work
that the poet conceives. And yet no moment is ever lost. Generally up
with the sun, he writes until mid-day, and often until two o'clock.
Then, after a light luncheon, he goes to the Senate, where, during
intervals of debate, he despatches all his correspondence. He finds his
recreation generally by taking a walk, although not unfrequently he will
mount to the top of an omnibus just for the sake of finding himself in
the society of the people, with whom he has shown his boundless
sympathy. At eight o'clock he dines, making it his habit to invite not
only his nearest friends, but such as he thinks stand in need of
encouragement, to join him and his grandchildren at their social meal.
At table Victor Hugo relaxes entirely from his seriousness. The powerful
orator, the earnest pleader, becomes the charming and attractive host,
full of anecdote, censuring whatever is vile, but ever ready to make
merry over what is grotesque.... Hale and vigorous in his appearance,
precise and elegant in his attire, with unbowed head, and with thick,
white hair crowning his unfurrowed brow, he commands involuntary
admiration. Round his face is a close white beard, which he has worn
since the later period of his sojourn in Guernsey as a safeguard against
sore throat; but he shows no token of infirmity. His countenance may be
said to have in it something both of the lion and the eagle, yet his
voice is grave, and his manner singularly gentle.'

The same writer devotes a chapter to Hugo's love of children, _à propos_
of his _L'Art d'être Grand-père_. It is perfectly true that women, and
children also, stirred in the poet an element of chivalrous devotion.
He also strove to exalt woman as something far beyond the mere passion
and plaything of man; while as to children, 'he is pathetic over an
infant's cradle, he is delighted at childhood's prattle, and to him the
fair-haired head of innocence is as full of interest as the glory of a
man.' Nor was there anything derogatory to his genius in this, or in his
making Georges and Jeanne, his two grandchildren, the hero and heroine
of the work above named. When the wisdom of his indulgence was
questioned, he replied that he agreed with M. Gaucher, who held that 'a
father's duties are by no means light; he has to instruct, to correct,
to chastise; but with the grandfather it is different, he is privileged
to love and to spoil.' But he taught the oneness of humanity even to his
grandchildren; and once, when they were about to enjoy the good and
pleasant things of this life, he bade the children fetch in some
houseless orphans who were crouching under the window, in order to share
their appetizing dishes. Unconquered by his opponents, Hugo confessed
himself a captive to the children, and he defined Paradise as 'a place
where children are always little, and parents are always young.'

Towards the close of his eighth decade, the poet seemed to have almost
abandoned political life, but he had not forgotten his friends and the
electors of Paris. Innumerable letters published in the public press
proved this, as well as his presence as chairman at a number of
Democratic conventions, and the delivery of a number of public
discourses, such as those pronounced at the obsequies of M. Edgar Quinet
and Madame Louis Blanc. Preparatory to the first Senatorial elections,
M. Clémenceau, President of the Municipal Council of Paris, waited upon
the poet, and in the name of the majority of his colleagues offered him
the function of delegate. Hugo accepted, and at once issued his
manifesto, entitled 'The Delegate of Paris to the Delegates of the
36,000 Communes of France,' in which he reiterated, with redoubled
energy, his old idea of the abolition of monarchy by the federation of
the peoples. On the 30th of January, 1876, he was elected Senator of
Paris, but only after a keen struggle. He was fourth out of five, and
was not returned until after a second scrutiny, when it was found that
he had secured 114 votes out of a total of 216.

Soon after his election, Hugo introduced a proposal in the Senate for
granting an amnesty to all those condemned for the events of March,
1871, and to all those then undergoing punishment for political crimes
or offences in Paris, including the assassins of the hostages. On the
22nd of May he delivered an eloquent oration in support of his motion.
Towards the close of his address, he described the state of the
prisoners in New Caledonia. Having painted their agony, and deplored the
continuation of the prosecutions and the last transport of convicts, he
said: 'That is how the 18th of March has been atoned for. As for the 2nd
of December, it has been glorified, it has been adored and venerated, it
has become a legal crime. The priests have prayed for it, the judges
have judged by it, and the representatives of the people, at whom the
blows were dealt by this crime, not only received them, but accepted and
submitted to them, acting with all rigour against the people and all
baseness before the Emperor. It is time to put a stop to the
astonishment of the human conscience; it is time to renounce that double
shame of two weights and two measures. I ask a full amnesty for the
events of the 18th of March.' The motion was rejected, only about seven
hands being held up for the amnesty. The poet-orator again pleaded the
same cause in January, 1879, but his proposal was coldly received.
Nevertheless, in the following month an Amnesty Bill was passed by the
Chamber of Deputies.

Early in 1877 appeared the second part of the _Légende des Siècles_; and
it is pleasant to recall an interchange of courtesies which took place
in this year between Victor Hugo and our own greatly-honoured poet, Lord
Tennyson. In the month of June, 1877, there appeared in the _Nineteenth
Century_ the following sonnet, addressed to Hugo by the Poet Laureate:


     'Victor in Poesy, Victor in Romance,
       Cloud-weaver of phantasmal hopes and fears,
       French of the French, and lord of human tears;
     Child-lover; Bard whose fame-lit laurels glance,
     Darkening the wreaths of all that would advance,
       Beyond our strait, their claim to be thy peers;
       Weird Titan, by the winter-weight of years
     As yet unbroken, stormy voice of France;
       Who dost not love our England--so they say;
     I know not--England, France, all man to be
     Will make one people ere man's race be run:
       And I, desiring that diviner day,
     Yield thee full thanks for thy full courtesy
     To younger England in the boy, my son.'


To this sonnet the French poet returned a reply which I may translate
as follows: 'My dear and eminent _confrère_, I read with emotion your
superb lines. It is a reflection of your own glory that you send me. How
shall I not love that England which produces such men as you! The
England of Wilberforce, the England of Milton and of Newton! The England
of Shakespeare! France and England are for me one people only, as Truth
and Liberty are one light only. I believe in the unity of humanity, as I
believe in the Divine unity. I love all peoples and all men. I admire
your noble verses. Receive the cordial grasp of my hand. It made me
happy to know your charming son, for it seemed to me that while clasping
his hand I was pressing yours.'

In 1877-78 appeared Hugo's _L'Histoire d'un Crime_. It possessed special
interest from its autobiographical character, and, like many of its
predecessors, it was instinct with energy and passion. By way of preface
to this history, the author remarked, 'This work is more than opportune;
it is imperative. I publish it.' Then came the following explanatory
note: 'This work was written twenty-six years ago at Brussels, during
the first months of exile. It was begun on the 14th of December, 1851,
and on the day succeeding the author's arrival in Belgium, and was
finished on the 5th of May, 1852, as though chance had willed that the
anniversary of the death of the first Bonaparte should be countersigned
by the condemnation of the third. It is also chance which, through a
combination of work, of cares, and of bereavements, has delayed the
publication of this history until this extraordinary year, 1877. In
causing the recital of events of the past to coincide with the events of
to-day, has chance had any purpose? We hope not. As we have just said,
the story of the _Coup d'État_ was written by a hand still hot from the
combat against the _Coup d'État_. The exile immediately became an
historian. He carried away this crime in his angered memory, and he was
resolved to lose nothing of it: hence this book. The manuscript of 1851
has been very little revised. It remains what it was, abounding in
details, and living, it might be said bleeding, with real facts. The
author constituted himself an interrogating judge; all his companions of
the struggle and of exile came to give evidence before him. He has
added his testimony to theirs. Now history is in possession of it; it
will judge. If God wills, the publication of this book will shortly be
terminated. The continuation and conclusion will appear on the 2nd of
December. An appropriate date.'

When the second part of the work was issued at the beginning of 1878,
France had fortunately passed through a time of great political
excitement without those fearful consequences which have frequently
followed such periods in her history. The continuation of Victor Hugo's
work did not consequently create such popular fervour as it might
otherwise have done. But the author was as scathing as ever in his
invectives, and no one knew such strong depths of bitterness and
indignation as he. The satellites of Louis Napoleon were sketched with
the pen of a Swift, and in the delineation of their master we find such
touches as this: 'Louis Napoleon laid claim to a knowledge of men, and
his claim was justified. He prided himself on it, and from one point of
view he was right. Others possess discrimination; he had a nose. 'Twas
bestial, but infallible.' As for the members of his court, 'they lived
for pleasure. They lived by the public death. They breathed an
atmosphere of shame, and throve on what kills honest people.' There are
many interesting episodes in a momentous period dealt with throughout
this work, which, like everything else by its author, is instinct with
his strong personality.



CHAPTER XV.

POEMS ON RELIGION.


Victor Hugo's attitude on religion was the subject of frequent comment.
It is now known that so far from being a sceptic, as was frequently
declared, he had a firm belief in God and immortality. When a
rationalist on one occasion said to him that though he himself had a dim
belief in immortality, he doubted whether the outcasts of society could
have any belief in their own immortality, the poet replied, 'Perhaps
they believe in it more than you do.'

Arsène Houssaye has left an interesting sketch of certain religious
confidences with which Hugo favoured him some years before his last
illness. 'I am conscious within myself of the certainty of a future
life,' the poet expressly said. 'The nearer I approach my end the
clearer do I hear the immortal symphonies of worlds that call me to
themselves. For half a century I have been outpouring my volumes of
thought in prose and in verse, in history, philosophy, drama, romance,
ode, and ballad, yet I appear to myself not to have said a thousandth
part of what is within me; and when I am laid in the tomb I shall not
reckon that my life is finished; the grave is not a _cul-de-sac_, it is
an avenue; death is the sublime prolongation of life, not its dreary
finish; it closes in the twilight, it opens in the dawn. My work is only
begun; I yearn for it to become brighter and nobler; and this craving
for the infinite demonstrates that there is an infinity.' He denied that
there were any occult forces responsible for the creation of man and
nature; there was a luminous force, and that was God. Continuing the
thought as to his own future existence, he added, 'I am nothing, a
passing echo, an evanescent cloud; but let me only live on through my
future existences, let me continue the work I have begun, let me
surmount the perils, the passions, the agonies, that age after age may
be before me, and who shall tell whether I may not rise to have a place
in the council-chamber of the Ruler that controls all, and whom we own
as God?'

If his creed had not many doctrines, it was at least very clear upon
those which he did hold. He set against the God of the Papists, as he
conceived him, another being whom he regarded as the personification of
the true, the just, and the beautiful, who made his influence everywhere
felt, but nowhere more deeply or more permanently than in the human
conscience. In April, 1878, Hugo gave a concrete form to some of his
religious ideas in his poem entitled _Le Pape_. It represented the
Pope--though not the existing or any particular Pontiff--as having a
long dream. He finds himself treading in the steps of Christ, mixing
with and succouring the poor and the afflicted, eschewing all pomp,
interposing between two hostile armies and preventing bloodshed, saving
the malefactor from the scaffold, and finally leaving Rome for
Jerusalem. All this, of course, is a fearful mistake; his Holiness wakes
up, declares that he has had a frightful dream, and clings to the
Syllabus and worldly state more firmly than ever. The contrast was very
sharply drawn between the good, ideal pastor, and the worldly and
sensual father too often met with. Hugo's evolvement of his own ideas
led to much controversy, and his book was severely attacked. By way of
reply he issued _La Pitié Suprême_. For those who sinned through
ignorance and defective education, he inculcated pity and forgiveness;
and the work generally furnished but another illustration to many which
had gone before of the liberality of his mind, and his support of the
doctrine of universal toleration. At a still later date, in his _L'Âne_,
he once more denounced false teachers. Desiring, like Rabelais, to lash
his kind, the poet put his denunciations into the mouth of an ass, which
animal was taken to be the type of unsophisticated man. In the pages of
this satire, observed Louis Ulbach, 'the poet at the climax of his life,
dazzled though he is by the nearness of the dawn beyond, glances back at
those whom he has left behind, addresses them with raillery keen enough
to stimulate them, but not stern enough to discourage them, and from the
standpoint of his severity, puts a fool's cap upon all false science,
false wisdom, and false piety.' Nevertheless, the work was regarded as a
failure, in spite of its scintillations of genius, the satiric power of
Victor Hugo being one rather of fierce denunciation than that which
consists in the perception of the incongruous in humanity.

Another work in which Hugo endeavoured to place the false and the true
in religion side by side, was his _Religions et Religion_, issued in
1880. 'This book,' said the author in a prefatory note, 'was commenced
in 1870, and completed in 1880. The year 1870 gave infallibility to the
Papacy, and Sedan to the Empire. What is the year 1880 to bring forth?'
_Religions et Religion_ was an attack not only upon various systems of
religion, but also upon those who attack all religion. The writer made
an assault upon the system of Milton, and established a system of
religion of his own, which in its catholicity should embrace all spirits
who love the good. The work was regarded as part of the great epic _Le
Fin de Satan_, which had been foreshadowed many years before. But, as
one of his critics remarked, if Hugo had fallen into the mistake of
thinking that this book was not only a poem full of the loveliest
sayings and the noblest aspirations, but a valuable treatise on theology
and philosophy, it was but a mistake which he had been making ever since
he began to write. Hugo's new poem 'is an emphatic, not to say a
violent, answer to two different systems of poetic religion, each of
which is itself at war with the other--the system of Dante and the
system of Milton. Without Hell, Dante would never have been able to
write a line of the Inferno; and without the Devil, Milton would have
been in a condition equally forlorn. Yet M. Hugo's book is an attack
upon both these venerable beliefs, and also upon the positivists who are
trying to undermine them.' Hugo, in short, gave his support to the
unconscious humourist who complained of _Paradise Lost_ that it proved
nothing.

As a polemic in verse, the poet was not very successful; but no one
would turn to the poems of Victor Hugo in order to find the successful
controversial theologian. No doubt he made the mistake of believing that
he was eminently fitted for grappling with abstruse religious theories,
and he was not the first literary genius who has done so. But if he
failed in polemics in the work at which I have just glanced, there still
remained, in all his energy and fulness, Hugo the poet and the
philanthropist.



CHAPTER XVI.

PUBLIC ADDRESSES, ETC.


Victor Hugo was unquestionably a great orator, or rather I ought perhaps
to say he exhibited the powers of a great orator on special occasions.
If eloquence is to be measured by the effect which it has upon the
audience, he had the electrical force of the orator in no small degree;
for in connection with certain persons and topics he was successful in
enkindling an enthusiasm in his hearers which was almost unparalleled.
But his oratory was not of that even kind which, if it never passes
beyond a given elevation, never sinks on the other hand into bathos or
commonplace. Hugo had a wonderful gift of language, and he was an orator
when his heart was thrown into his subject, and he pressed into its
service all the wealth of rhetoric he had at command. Nevertheless, some
of his public utterances were far from being successful--a result due
in some instances to extravagance of language and quixotism of idea, and
in others to the absence of that 'sweet reasonableness' which
dispassionately weighs and considers the opinions of others, and judges
righteous judgment.

At the celebration of the Voltaire centenary in Paris in May, 1878, Hugo
was the chief speaker. The great meeting was held in the Gaîté Theatre,
which was crowded to suffocation. One who was present stated that while
all the speakers at the demonstration were warmly applauded, it was only
when Victor Hugo arose that the full tempest of acclamation burst forth.
'Can a grander, a more striking, a more exaggerated scene be conceived
than this association of Victor Hugo and Voltaire, of the most eloquent
and the most touching of French orators exhausting his mines of highly
coloured epithets and colossal antitheses on the ironical head of
Voltaire? A report of his speech does not suffice; the white head and
apostle's beard, the inspired eye, the solemn voice, rolling as if it
would sound in the ears of posterity; the involuntarily haughty attitude
in vain striving to seem modest; the imperturbable seriousness with
which he piles antithesis upon antithesis--all this must be realized.'
Hugo was enthusiastically cheered on taking the chair. Waving his arm he
exclaimed, '_Vive la République!_'--a cry which was then taken up with
equal fervour by every person in the audience. After the other speakers
had been heard, the distinguished chairman delivered his oration. He
rapidly sketched the work accomplished by Voltaire, and concluded thus:
'Alas! the present moment, worthy as it is of admiration and respect,
has still its dark side. There are still clouds on the horizon; the
tragedy of peoples is not played out; war still raises its head over
this august festival of peace; princes for two years have persisted in a
fatal misunderstanding; their discord is an obstacle to our concord, and
they are ill-inspired in condemning us to witness the contrast. This
contrast brings us back to Voltaire. Amid these threatening events let
us be more peaceful than ever. Let us bow before this great dead, this
great living spirit. Let us bend before the venerated sepulchre. Let us
ask counsel of him whose life, useful to men, expired a hundred years
ago, but whose work is immortal. Let us ask counsel of other mighty
thinkers and auxiliaries of this glorious Voltaire--of Jean Jacques,
Diderot, Montesquieu. Let us stop the shedding of human blood. Enough,
despots. Barbarism still exists. Let philosophy protest. Let the
eighteenth century succour the nineteenth. The philosophers, our
predecessors, are the apostles of truth. Let us invoke these illustrious
phantoms that, face to face with monarchies thinking of war, they may
proclaim the right of man to life, the right of conscience to liberty,
the sovereignty of reason, the sacredness of labour, the blessedness of
peace. And as night issues from thrones, let light emanate from the
tombs.' There are probably no two great French writers who present more
marked points of contrast than Voltaire and Victor Hugo; yet the latter,
not only in praising his predecessor, but on many other occasions,
gloried in being grandly inconsistent if he could thereby, as he
believed, advance the interests of humanity.

Victor Hugo presided at the International Literary Congress held in
Paris in June, 1878. His speech on that occasion, though by no means
confined to business details, was accepted by the Congress as forming
the basis of its decisions. The speaker urged that a book once published
becomes in part the property of society, and that after its author's
death his family have no right to prevent its reissue. He held that a
publisher should be required to declare the cost and the selling price
of any book he intended to bring out; that the author's heirs should be
entitled to 5 or 10 per cent. of the profit, and that in default of
heirs the profit should revert to the State, to be applied to the
encouragement of young writers.

Passing to more general questions, and dwelling on the memorableness of
the year 1878, Hugo defined the Exhibition as the alliance of industry,
the Voltaire Centenary as the alliance of philosophy, and the Congress
then sitting as the alliance of literature. 'Industry seeks the useful,
philosophy seeks the true, literature seeks the beautiful--the triple
aim of all human forces.' He welcomed the foreign delegates as the
ambassadors of the human mind, citizens of a universal city, the
constituent assembly of literature. Peoples, he remarked, were estimated
by their literature; Greece, small in territory, thereby earning
greatness, the name of England suggesting that of Shakespeare, and
France being at a certain period personified in Voltaire. He next showed
that copyright was in the interest of the public, by securing the
independence of the writer; and, glancing at the former dependent
position of men of letters, he remarked that paternal government
resulted in this--the people without bread and Corneille without a sou.
Deriding the alleged dangerousness of books, and urging the real dangers
of ignorance, he described schools as the luminous points of
civilization. He ridiculed as harmless archæological curiosities those
who wished mankind to be kept in perpetual leading-strings, and who
anathematized 1789, liberty of conscience, free speech, and a free
tribune. He exhorted men of letters to recognise as their mission
conciliation for ideas and reconciliation for men. They should war
against war. 'Love one another' signified universal disarmament, the
restoration to health of the human race, the true redemption of mankind.
An enemy was better disarmed by offering him your hand than by shaking
your fist. In lieu of _Delenda est Carthago_, he proposed the
destruction of hatred, which was best effected by pardon. After showing
her industry and hospitality, France should show her clemency, for a
festival should be fraternal, and a festival which did not forgive
somebody was not a real festival. The symbol of public joy was the
Amnesty, and let this be the crowning of the Paris Exhibition.

In the August following this Congress, a great working-men's conference
was held in the French capital in favour of International Arbitration.
Victor Hugo being unable to attend and preside at the gathering, as
originally announced, sent a communication expressing his approbation of
the objects of the meeting. 'I demand what you demand,' he wrote. 'I
want what you want. Our alliance is the commencement of unity. Let us be
calm; without us, Governments attempt something, but nothing of what
they try to do will succeed against your decision, against your liberty,
against your sovereignty. Look on at what they do without uneasiness,
always with serenity, sometimes with a smile. The supreme future is with
you. All that is done, even against you, will serve you. Continue to
march, labour, and think. You are a single people; Europe and you want a
single thing--peace.' Two or three months subsequent to this meeting,
the English Working-men's Peace Association waited upon Victor Hugo in
Paris, and presented him with an address, magnificently illuminated and
framed, as a token of admiration for the services he had rendered to the
cause of humanity and peace. In reply, Hugo said: 'As long as I live I
shall oppose war, and defend the cause which is dear and common to us
all--the cause of labour and peace.'

As honorary president of a secular education congress in 1879, Victor
Hugo thus addressed that body: 'Youth is the future. You teach youth,
you prepare the future. This preparation is useful, this teaching is
necessary to make the man of to-morrow. The man of to-morrow is the
universal Republic. The Republic is unity, harmony, light, industry,
creating comfort; it is the abolition of conflicts between man and man,
nation and nation, the abolition of the law of death, and establishment
of the law of life. The time of sanguinary and terrible revolutionary
necessities is past. For what remains to be done the unconquerable law
of progress suffices. Great battles we have still to fight--battles the
evident necessity of which does not disturb the serenity of thinkers;
battles in which revolutionary energy will equal monarchical obstinacy;
battles in which force joined with right will overthrow violence allied
with usurpation--superb, glorious, enthusiastic, decisive battles, the
issue of which is not doubtful, and which will be the Hastings and the
Austerlitz of humanity. Citizens, the time of the dissolution of the old
world has arrived. The old despotisms are condemned by the Providential
law. Every day which passes buries them still deeper in annihilation.
The Republic is the future.'

Another address, in which Hugo expounded his views of the future of
humanity, of labour and progress, etc., was delivered at Château d'Eau,
on behalf of the Workmen's Congress at Marseilles. Differentiating the
achievements of the centuries, he remarked that 'for four hundred years
the human race has not made a step but what has left its plain vestige
behind. We enter now upon great centuries. The sixteenth century will be
known as the age of painters; the seventeenth will be termed the age of
writers; the eighteenth, the age of philosophers; the nineteenth, the
age of apostles and prophets. To satisfy the nineteenth century it is
necessary to be the painter of the sixteenth, the writer of the
seventeenth, the philosopher of the eighteenth; and it is also
necessary, like Louis Blanc, to have the innate and holy love of
humanity which constitutes an apostolate, and opens up a prophetic vista
into the future. In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold
will be dead, animosity will be dead, royalty will be dead, and dogmas
will be dead; but man will live. For all there will be but one
country--that country the whole earth; for all there will be but one
hope--that hope the whole heaven.'

It will be seen that there was a sweeping breadth and magnificence about
Victor Hugo's prophecies for the twentieth century. But that epoch is so
near that we may well doubt whether the seer's extensive programme will
so speedily be realized. Still, the prophecy is lofty, generous, noble,
and I will not attempt to destroy the horoscope. Passing on to the great
question of the day, that of labour, the orator observed: 'The political
question is solved. The Republic is made, and nothing can unmake it. The
social question remains; terrible as it is, it is quite simple; it is a
question between those who have, and those who have not. The latter of
these two classes must disappear, and for this there is work enough.
Think a moment! Man is beginning to be master of the earth. If you want
to cut through an isthmus, you have Lesseps; if you want to create a
sea, you have Roudaire. Look you; there is a people and there is a
world; and yet the people have no inheritance, and the world is a
desert. Give them to each other, and you make them happy at once.
Astonish the universe by heroic deeds that are better than wars. Does
the world want conquering? No, it is yours already; it is the property
of civilization; it is already waiting for you; no one disputes your
title. Go on, then, and colonize.'

This is no doubt grand, but it is vague. However, the men of highest
aspiration have frequently proved themselves ill-fitted for the
practical development of their own theories. It is the penalty which the
brain has to pay for being stronger than the hand that it must often
call in the services and co-operation of the latter. Hugo was
exceedingly happy in dealing with cavillers at material progress. He
showed that those who make the worst mistakes are those who ought to be
the least mistaken. 'Forty-five years ago M. Thiers declared that the
railway would be a mere toy between Paris and St. Germain; another
distinguished man, M. Pouillet, confidently predicted that the apparatus
of the electric telegraph would be consigned to a cabinet of
curiosities. And yet these two playthings have changed the course of the
world. Have faith, then; and let us realize our equality as citizens,
our fraternity as men, our liberty in intellectual power. Let us love
not only those who love us, but those who love us not. Let us learn to
wish to benefit all men. Then everything will be changed; truth will
reveal itself; the beautiful will arise; the supreme law will be
fulfilled, and the world shall enter upon a perpetual fête-day. I say,
therefore, have faith! Look down at your feet, and you see the insect
moving in the grass; look upwards, and you will see the star resplendent
in the firmament: yet what are they doing? They are both at their work;
the insect is doing its work upon the ground, and the star is doing its
work in the sky. It is an infinite distance that separates them, and yet
while it separates, unites. They follow their law. And why should not
their law be ours? Man, too, has to submit to universal force, and
inasmuch as he submits in body and in soul, he submits doubly. His hand
grasps the earth, but his soul embraces heaven; like the insect he is a
thing of dust, but like the star he partakes of the empyrean. He labours
and he thinks. Labour is life, and thought is light!'

Some idea of Victor Hugo's social and humanitarian ideas may be gained
from these addresses. In the course of a conversation with M. Barbou,
however, he supplemented these views and theories by explicit statements
upon various questions. France, he said, was in possession of a
_bourgeoise_ Republic, which was not an ideal one, but which would
undergo a slow and gradual transformation. He regarded himself and his
contemporaries as having been pioneers and monitors, whose advice was
worth obtaining, because they had gained their knowledge by experience,
having lived through the struggles of the past; but whose theories could
not be put into practice by themselves. The future solution of the
social question belonged to younger men, and to the twentieth century.
That solution, he maintained, would be found in nothing less than the
universal spread of instruction; it would follow the formation of
schools where salutary knowledge should be imparted. By educating the
child they would endow the man, and when that had been accomplished,
society might proceed to exercise severe repression upon anyone who
resisted what was right, because he would have been already so trained
that he could not plead ignorance in his own behalf.

But Hugo was careful to add that he did not expect a Utopia to follow
this universal dissemination of knowledge. When man had proceeded well
on the path of advancement, he would require land to cultivate. He would
go out and colonize, and the whole interior of Africa was destined, he
believed, before long to be conquered by civilization. Frontiers would
disappear, for the idea of fraternity was making its way throughout the
world. As the whole earth belonged to man, men must go forth and reclaim
it. For the whole race he saw a brighter future, and his watchwords in
this respect would seem to have been--Labour, progress, peace,
happiness, and enlightenment.



CHAPTER XVII.

'LA LÉGENDE DES SIÈCLES,' ETC.


I have reserved this poem for somewhat fuller mention than I have been
able to accord to Victor Hugo's other works. This is called for by
reason of the inherent grandeur of the work, and because upon this noble
achievement the greatness of the poet's fame must ultimately rest. Mr.
Swinburne holds it to be the greatest work of the century, and many
critics who have not his _perfervidum ingenium_ incline to the same
view. When the first part of the _Légende_ appeared, in 1859, it excited
so much interest that every poet of any note in France wrote warm
letters of congratulation to the author. To one of these, penned by
Baudelaire, and typical of the rest, Hugo characteristically replied.

Regarding humanity in two aspects--the historical and the legendary, and
maintaining that the latter was in one sense as true as the former,
Hugo took up the legendary side of the question in this Legend of the
Ages. It was intended to be followed by two other sections under the
respective titles of 'The End of Satan' and 'God.' The first part of
this great trilogy was far more striking than any of its author's
previous poems. Its brilliancy and energy, its literary skill and its
powerful conceptions, enchained the attention. The poet divided his work
into sixteen cycles, extending from the Creation to the Trump of
Judgment. A full and on the whole discriminating criticism of this
remarkable poem has been given by the Bishop of Derry, who also, with
some success, has translated passages from it. But Victor Hugo's French
is too peculiar and impassioned to be brought within the trammels of
English verse. Nevertheless, I will quote from the Bishop the last three
stanzas of that beautiful poem, _Booz Endormi_, one of the first set of
poems, all of which are devoted to Scriptural subjects. The rich man
Boaz sleeps, quite unconscious of the Moabitess Ruth, who lies expectant
at his feet:


     'Asphodel scents did Gilgal's breezes bring--
       Through nuptial shadows, questionless, full fast
       The angels sped, for momently there pass'd
     A something blue which seem'd to be a wing.

     'Silent was all in Jezreel and in Ur--
       The stars were glittering in the heaven's dusk meadows.
       Far west among those flowers of the shadows,
     The thin clear crescent, lustrous over her,

     'Made Ruth raise question, looking through the bars
       Of Heaven, with eyes half-oped, what God, what comer
       Unto the harvest of the eternal summer,
     Had flung his golden hook down on the field of stars.'


The second section deals with the Decadence of Rome, and here the poet's
imagination has full sway. The well-known story of Androcles and the
Lion is the subject of a beautiful poem. The third section is Islam, and
then come the Heroic Christian Cycle, the Day of Kings, etc. But perhaps
the most important composition in the work is Eviradnus, a poem in
praise of the true and gentle knight. The Thrones of the East, Ratbert,
Sultan Mourad, the Twentieth Century, and some other sections, all bear
evidence of intense poetic realism, and show the mastery of the author
over pictorial and dramatic effects.

The Bishop of Derry raises a question upon which a good deal might be
said, when he propounds a theory to the effect that Victor Hugo
possesses fancy rather than imagination. It may not be possible to
produce passages from Hugo which, for sustained grandeur and breadth of
conception, would be equal to isolated passages that could be cited from
Dante and Milton; yet there are as unquestionably scores of other
passages in the works of Victor Hugo in describing which it would be
wholly inadequate to use the term fancy. They are either grandly and
powerfully imaginative, or they are nothing. This writer no doubt too
frequently distorts his conceptions, while his treatment sometimes falls
from sublimity into caricature; but it is incontestable, I think, that
in spite of all _bizarrerie_, and every other exception or
qualification, he possesses a mobile and an impressive imagination.

In 1877 appeared the second part of _La Légende des Siècles_. Although
it scarcely rose to the level of the first part, it was not without
those exalted passages which gave supremacy to the poet. 'Once again the
seer surveys the cycle of humanity from the days of Paradise to the
future which he anticipates; he takes his themes alike from the legends
of the heroic age of Greece, and from the domains of actual history, and
after singing of the achievements of the great, he dedicates his lay to
the little ones, and in a charming poem entitled _Petit Paul_ he
depicts with fascinating pathos all the tenderness and all the sorrows
of childhood.'

The third and final part of the work was published in 1883. Discussing
the unity of tone which entitles this strange work, with its multitude
of separate characters and incidents, to be called a poem, a writer in
the _Athenæum_ observed: 'It is an apprehension, at once profound and
tender, of the pathos of man's mysterious life on the earth; a pity such
as has never before been expressed by any poet; a beautiful faith in God
such as, in these days, can only find an echo in rare and noble souls;
and an aspiration for justice and the final emancipation of man such as
seems an anachronism, indeed, in a time which has given birth to Gautier
and to Baudelaire on the one hand, and to Zola and his followers on the
other.' Yet, notwithstanding its unity, it is not a little curious that
the Legend was as finished a work at the end of the first instalment as
it was at the end of the whole. As to the poetic qualities of the
closing part of the work, there was no decadence of true poetic impulse,
nor any subsidence of that marvellous brilliance which dazzled Europe
when the first part of the poem appeared. But neither was there any
growth of those highest poetic characteristics 'in which Hugo's
magnificent poetry was always weak--such as self-dominance, serenity,
and that wise sweetness of a balancing judgment, equitable alike to the
slave in the field and to the king on his throne, which belongs to the
mind we call dramatic, whether the dramatist be the writer of
_Oedipus_ or the writer of _Hamlet_.'

The _Légende des Siècles_ offers a bewildering maze of things, sweet,
beautiful, and sublime. It scintillates with the brilliant lights of
genius as the vault of heaven is fretted with the glittering stars. Yet
what is perhaps nobler still, as Mr. Swinburne has said, 'Over and
within this book faith shines as a kindling torch, hope breathes as a
quickening wind, love burns as a changing fire. It is tragic, not with
the hopeless tragedy of Dante, or the all but hopeless tragedy of
Shakespeare. Whether we can or cannot share the infinite hope and
inviolable faith to which the whole active and suffering life of the
poet has borne such unbroken and imperishable witness, we cannot in any
case but recognise the greatness and heroism of his love for mankind.
As in the case of Æschylus, it is the hunger and thirst after
righteousness, the deep desire for perfect justice in heaven as on
earth, which would seem to assure the prophet's inmost heart of its
final triumph by the prevalence of wisdom and of light over all claims
and all pleas established or asserted by the children of darkness, so in
the case of Victor Hugo is it the hunger and thirst after
reconciliation, the love of loving-kindness, the master-passion of
mercy, which persists in hope and insists on faith, even in face of the
hardest and darkest experience through which a nation or a man can pass.
Hugo's poetic masterpiece, to translate his own language concerning it,
had its rise in the past, in the tomb, in the darkness and the night of
the ages; but permeating all is the regenerating light of a mighty
hope.'

The poet published in 1881 _Les Quatre Vents de l'Esprit_. The work
which bore this fanciful title of the four winds of the Spirit was
divided into four distinct sections--the Book Satiric, the Book
Dramatic, the Book Lyric, and the Book Epic. The wind of Victor Hugo,
however, is chiefly of the lyric kind. It 'is like a fine sou'wester,
warm and bright, but deeply charged with tears. Over the bitter and
eager wind of satire, for instance, he has no real command, and none
over that bracing north wind of masculine thought and intellectual
strength which is necessary to vitalize epic and drama.' So it was
complained, and not without force or reason, that while it would be
impossible to praise the lyrical portions of his work too highly, the
satirical lacked subtlety and delicacy to make it effective; the epic
wanted a larger freedom of natural growth; while situations intended to
be dramatic rarely rose above the merely theatrical. The play in which
these situations occur is concerned with the absolute equality of all
men in regard to the great human passions. Cynicism or conventionality
may for a long period encrust a man, but there comes a time when the
heart will have its way. Hugo's latest illustrator of this truth, Duc
Gallus, rescues a peasant girl from a proposed marriage with a brutal
fellow whom she loathes, but rescues her with the deliberate intention
of making her his mistress. Though surrounded with splendour, the girl
soon pines and breaks her heart through sheer loneliness, and at last in
despair she kills herself by means of a poisoned ring. The Nemesis of
remorse now overtakes the Duc. Beneath this pretended cynicism there has
been all the while smouldering a real passion, which, now that it is too
late, breaks out into a fierce and inextinguishable flame; it was in
depicting these heights and depths of emotion that Hugo found his
keenest delight.

The Book Epic deals with the great French Revolution, but it is in the
Book Lyric that the poet achieves his finest triumph. In considering the
substance and variety of Hugo's lyrical efforts, every reader will agree
with the judgment that amongst poets of energy, as distinguished from
the poets of art and culture, Shelley's is the only name in
nineteenth-century literature which can stand beside that of Victor
Hugo.

In 1882 was published _Torquemada_, a drama written chiefly during
Victor Hugo's exile in Guernsey. The poet himself regarded it as one of
his best efforts, and it certainly exhibits his glowing imagination and
his power of depicting human misery at their highest. The great
Inquisitor is drawn as a single-minded enthusiast who, following
relentlessly to their conclusion the doctrines upon which he has been
nourished from childhood, burns and tortures people out of pure love of
their souls--that is, fastens their bodies to the stake for the purpose
of saving from the everlasting fires of hell both their souls and their
bodies. The poet shows how the idea gradually mastered him until it
became irresistible as fate. The chief point in the plot well
illustrates this. Torquemada having been condemned as a fanatic by the
Bishop of Urgel, is ordered to be bricked up alive in a vault. He is
rescued from his living tomb by two lovers, Don Sanche and Donna Rosa.
Torquemada swears to be their eternal friend, and subsequently saves
them from the wrath of the King. Sanche and Rosa are just being freed
when the former relates the manner of the deliverance of Torquemada from
his tomb. Sanche had used as a lever on that occasion an iron cross
which hung upon the tottering wall. 'O ciel! ils sont damnés!' exclaims
Torquemada, when he hears this. In his view the lovers are now condemned
to eternal perdition, but in order to save their souls he sends their
bodies to the stake. It need scarcely be said that the author, in
ascribing honesty and other characteristics to the bloodthirsty
Inquisitor, gives a more exalted view of him than is taken by impartial
history. But the play must be read for its poetry and its scenic
effects, which are magnificent.

A prose work by Hugo, to which considerable interest attaches, was
published in 1883, under the title of _L'Archipel de la Manche_. As its
title implies, it deals with the Channel Islands, in one of which the
author found for so long a time his home. From the literary aspect, the
work suffers when compared with its author's verse, which alone can be
grandly descriptive--at least since the production of his earlier
romances. But for its glimpses of the inhabitants of Guernsey, and its
occasional touches of rich local colour, this work may be turned to with
pleasure and advantage.



CHAPTER XVIII.

HONOURS TO VICTOR HUGO.


Unlike many other great men, Victor Hugo was not compelled to wait for a
posthumous recognition of his powers. His genius was incontestable; he
towered far above all his contemporaries; and the universal
acknowledgment of his talents left no room for jealousy. Hence writers
and artists of all classes, and of varying eminence, combined with their
less distinguished fellow-countrymen in paying homage to one who has
shed undying lustre upon the French name.

The chief ovations accorded to the poet I must briefly pass in review.
Several revivals of his best-known dramas have taken place of recent
years, but the most striking of these celebrations was undoubtedly that
at the Théâtre Français, on the 25th of February, 1880. It was the
fiftieth anniversary of the original representation of _Hernani_, and
that play was again produced to mark 'the golden wedding of Hugo's
genius and his glory.' After the termination of the play the curtain was
lifted, when a bust of the dramatist was seen elevated on a pedestal
profusely decorated with wreaths and palm-leaves. The stage was filled
with actors dressed to represent the leading characters in Hugo's
various plays. Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt came forward in the
character of Doña Sol, and recited with much feeling and energy some
laudatory verses by M. François Coppée, which roused anew the enthusiasm
of the audience. In response to the call of M. Francisque Sarcey, the
vast assembly rose, and filled the air with their congratulatory
vociferations. '_Ad multos annos!_ long live Victor Hugo!' Such were the
cries from all parts of the house, which so affected the venerable poet
that he was compelled to retire.

A few days subsequent to this performance the members of the Parisian
press gave a grand banquet to Victor Hugo at the Hôtel Continental. The
speech of welcome and honour to the poet was delivered by M. Émile
Augier, himself a writer of considerable reputation. After referring to
the marvellous vitality of Victor Hugo's poems and romances, the
speaker said: 'Time, O glorious master, takes no hold upon you; you know
nothing of decline; you pass through every stage of life without
diminishing your virility; for more than half a century your genius has
covered the world with the unceasing flow of its tide. The resistance of
the first period, the rebellion of the second, have melted away into
universal admiration, and the last refractory spirits have yielded to
your power.... When La Bruyère before the Academy hailed Bossuet as
father of the Church, he was speaking the language of posterity, and it
is posterity itself, noble master, that surrounds you here, and hails
you as our father.'

At the word 'father' the whole audience rose, and took up the
salutation. When quiet was restored M. Delaunay suggested that the poet
should be solicited for a new dramatic work. The enthusiasm was renewed
at this suggestion, and it may well be imagined that the acclamations
reached their culminating point when Sarah Bernhardt rose and embraced
the aged author of _Hernani_. On this occasion Victor Hugo read his
address of thanks, which was brief and pregnant in its allusions.
'Before me I see the press of France,' said Hugo. 'The worthies who
represent it here have endeavoured to prove its sovereign concord, and
to demonstrate its indestructible unity. You have assembled to grasp the
hand of an old campaigner, who began life with the century, and lives
with it still. I am deeply touched. I tender you all my thanks. All the
noble words that we have just been hearing only add to my emotion. There
are dates that seem to be periodically repeated with marked
significance. The 26th of February, 1802, was my birthday; in 1830 it
was the time of the first appearance of _Hernani_; and this again is the
26th of February, 1880. Fifty years ago, I, who am now here speaking to
you, was hated, hooted, slandered, cursed. Today, to-day--but the date
is enough. Gentlemen, the French press is one of the mistresses of the
human intellect; it has its daily task, and that task is gigantic. In
every minute of every hour it has its influence upon every portion of
the civilized world; its struggles, its disputes, its wrath resolve
themselves into progress, harmony, and peace. In its premeditations it
aims at truth; from its polemics it flashes forth light. I propose as my
toast the prosperity of the French press, the institution that fosters
such noble designs, and renders such noble services.'

On the 27th of December, 1880, there was a grand festival at Besançon in
honour of the poet, its most illustrious son. The chief inhabitants of
the town, and the visitors from Paris, assembled at the Mairie, and
proceeded thence to the Place St. Quentin. The Mayor was accompanied by
M. Rambaud, chief secretary to the Minister of Public Instruction, and
General Wolff, commander of the _Corps d'Armée_. There were also present
deputations from the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, officers,
university professors, a representative of the President of the
Republic, the Rector of the Academy, the Prefect, the Municipal
Councillors, and a large body of members of the press. The poet was
represented by M. Paul Meurice. The whole of Besançon was _en fête_. In
a street facing the Place St. Quentin a large platform had been erected,
and here the proceedings took place. A beautiful medallion affixed to a
house near the platform was uncovered by the Mayor. This medallion
represented a five-stringed lyre with two laurel branches of gold, and
there was an inscription which, by the poet's express desire, consisted
simply of his name and the date of his birth--'Victor Hugo: 26th of
February, 1802.' The lyre was surmounted by a head typical of the
Republic, encircled by rays. The procession adjourned from the Place St.
Quentin to the stage at the Besançon Theatre, in the centre of which had
been placed David's bust of Victor Hugo. At the request of the Mayor, M.
Rambaud delivered an address upon the poet's character and genius. He
recited the history of his struggles and of his literary conflicts, and
of the gradual attainment of victory over thought and intellect;
descanted upon his ever-increasing influence, his development as a
politician, his internal conflicts, and his final triumph; described his
prolonged duel with the Empire, and his ultimate success; reviewed the
leading characteristics of his lyrical, dramatic, and historical
writings; and finally demonstrated how, after a life fraught with
conflicts, trials, and sorrows, he found his reward in the revival of
France, in the progress of democracy; and last, though not least, in the
peaceful joys of domestic life and the society of his grandchildren.

To this address M. Paul Meurice responded, and read the following letter
from Victor Hugo himself: 'It is with deep emotion that I tender my
thanks to my compatriots. I am a stone on the road that is trodden by
humanity; but that road is a good one. Man is master neither of his life
nor of his death. He can but offer to his fellow-citizens his efforts to
diminish human suffering; he can but offer to God his indomitable faith
in the growth of liberty.' The marble bust of the poet was crowned with
a wreath of golden laurel, and while the whole audience stood, a band of
one hundred and fifty musicians performed the _Marseillaise_. Cries of
'_Vive Victor Hugo! Vive la République!_' were heard as the audience
left the theatre.

An ovation such as few sovereigns have ever received was accorded to
Victor Hugo by the City of Paris on the 27th of February, 1881. The day
before, the poet had completed his seventy-ninth year, and by the French
people this is regarded as entitling to octogenarian honours. A
celebration took place which was compared with the reception of Voltaire
in 1788. The Avenue d'Eylau, where Victor Hugo resided, was densely
thronged, and the poet, being recognised with his children and
grandchildren at an upper window of his house, was cheered by a vast
multitude, estimated by unsympathetic observers at 100,000. The
Municipality had erected at the entrance to the Avenue lofty flagstaffs
decorated with shields bearing the titles of his works, and supporting a
large drapery inscribed '1802, Victor Hugo, 1881.' Early in the morning
the Avenue was thronged with processions consisting of collegians,
trades unions, musical and benefit societies, deputations from the
districts of Paris and from the provinces, etc. A deputation of
children, bearing a blue and red banner with the inscription, '_L'Art
d'être Grand-père_,' and headed by a little girl in white, arrived at
the house, and was received by Victor Hugo in the drawing-room. The
little maiden, who recited some lines by M. Mendès, was blessed by the
venerable poet. Among other incidents of the day, the Paris Municipality
drew up in front of the house, and Victor Hugo read to them the
following speech: 'I greet Paris, I greet the city. I greet it not in my
name, for I am naught, but in the name of all that lives, reasons,
thinks, loves, and hopes on earth. Cities are blessed places; they are
the workshops of Divine labour. Divine labour is human labour. It
remains human so long as it is individual; as soon as it is collective,
as its object is greater than its worker, it becomes Divine. The labour
of the fields is human; the labour of the towns is Divine. From time to
time history places a sign upon a city. That sign is unique. History in
4,000 years has thus marked three cities, which sum up the whole effort
of civilization. What Athens did for Greek antiquity, what Rome did for
Roman antiquity, Paris is doing to-day for Europe, for America, for the
civilized universe. It is the city of the world. Who addresses Paris
addresses the whole world, _urbi et orbi_. I, a humble passer-by, who
have but my share in your rights, in the name of all cities, of the
cities of Europe, of America, of the civilized world, from Athens to New
York, from London to Moscow; in thy name, Rome; in thine, Berlin--I
praise, with love I hail, the hallowed city, Paris.'

A stream of processions then filed past the house, many of them bearing
imposing bouquets, which were deposited in front of Hugo's residence.
The musical societies alone exceeded 100; strains of the _Marseillaise_
were now and again audible, and the entire Avenue, nearly a mile long,
was thickly lined with spectators, while that part of it commanding a
view of the poet's house was densely packed, except for a passage-way
for the processions. Medals and photographs of the hero of the day were
to be seen everywhere, and the behaviour of the enormous assemblage was
most exemplary. Victor Hugo, whose love of the fresh air always made him
careless of exposure, remained at the open window for several hours
bareheaded, acknowledging the greetings of the successive deputations
and of the multitude. At the Trocadéro a musical and literary festival
was held, when selections from Victor Hugo's works were sung or recited
by some of the leading Paris _artistes_, and the _Marseillaise_ was
performed by a military band. M. Louis Blanc, who presided, said that
few great men had entered in their lifetime into their immortality.
Voltaire and Victor Hugo had both deserved this, one for stigmatizing
religious intolerance, the other for having, with incomparable lustre,
served humanity. He commended the committee for inviting the
co-operation of men of different opinions, for genius united in a common
admiration men otherwise at discord, and the idea of union was
inseparable from a grand festival. 'There were enough days in the year
given to what separated men. It was well to give a few hours to what
brought them together, and there could be no better opportunity than the
festival of an unrivalled poet, an eloquent apostle of human
brotherhood, whose use of his genius was greater than his genius itself,
the oneness of his life consisting in the constant ascent of his spirit
towards the light.' In the evening of the day there was a Victor Hugo
concert at the Conservatoire, and at many of the theatres verses were
recited in his honour. On the night of the 25th a special performance
was given at the Gaîté of _Lucrèce Borgia_, which had not been produced
for ten years. The house was filled, all the notabilities of Paris being
present, while the poet himself also appeared for a short time. The
celebration generally was one triumphant success.

In honour of Hugo's eightieth birthday, on the 26th of February, 1882,
the French Government ordered a free performance of _Hernani_ at the
Théâtre Français. Crowds stood outside for hours waiting for admission,
and 2,300 persons managed to squeeze themselves into seats intended to
accommodate only 1,500. The poet and his grandchildren were present
during the last act, and were loudly applauded. Hugo's bust was placed
on the stage at the close of the piece, and verses in his honour by M.
Coppée were recited. On the preceding evening 5,000 persons had attended
his reception, when the committee of the previous year's grand
celebration presented him with a bronze miniature of Michael Angelo's
'Moses.' In acknowledging the gift, the poet said, 'I accept your
present, and I await a still better one, the greatest a man can receive:
I mean death--death, that recompense for the good done on earth. I shall
live in my descendants, my grandchildren, Jeanne and Georges. If,
indeed, I have a narrow-minded thought it is for them. I wish to ensure
their future, and I confide them to the protection of all the loyal and
devoted hearts here present.'

Yet one more celebration I must notice. On the 22nd of November, 1882,
the Théâtre Français gave a brilliant performance of Victor Hugo's _Le
Roi s'Amuse_. It has already been seen that this piece was first
produced on the 22nd of November, 1832, amid such a scene of disorder
and tumult that the Government forbade its further representation. From
that time forward it had never been produced until this fiftieth
anniversary in 1882. It was the subject of preliminary conversation for
weeks in Paris, and great anxiety was manifested on the subject of
seats. It was stated that if the house, which had only provision for
1,500 persons, could have been made to accommodate 10,000, there would
still have been an insufficiency of places to satisfy all the
supplications with which the Théâtre Français was besieged. The
intrinsic value of the work, however, was not the first thought of those
who engaged in the feverish quest for seats, which for a full month
possessed all fashionable, artistic, literary, political, diplomatic,
and financial Paris. It was chiefly the desire to do honour to the
veteran poet. With regard to the representation itself, the splendour of
the mounting, the beauty of the accessories, and the historical fidelity
of the costumes, transcended all expectation. Never was a piece placed
on the stage with greater, or indeed probably equal, art.



CHAPTER XIX.

PERSONAL AND MISCELLANEOUS.


In private life and character, it is well known that Victor Hugo was one
of the noblest and most unselfish of men. Numberless are the anecdotes
related of his generosity and kindliness of disposition. His children's
repasts at Hauteville House, Guernsey, and his hospitality to the
suffering and distressed in Paris, I have already alluded to. He had a
special talent for organizing Christmas parties, and was never happier
than when surrounded by his grandchildren. He mingled in all their
games, and even shared their troubles and their punishments. When his
favourite little grandchild was put on dry bread for bad conduct, the
grandfather was so unhappy that he would take no dessert. His pleasures
were as simple as his mind was great. The writer who furnishes me with
these details warmly contradicted the statement that Victor Hugo was an
infidel; on the contrary, he was a firm believer in God and in a future
state; and this, as we have seen, the poet himself confirmed. Even when
in his octogenarian period it was the poet's habit to rise with the day,
summer and winter, and to work until nine. He then allowed himself an
hour's rest for breakfast and his morning constitutional, after which he
again sat at his desk, mostly pursuing his intellectual labours, till
five in the afternoon. Work being concluded, he dined at half-past six,
and invariably retired to rest at ten. On one occasion, speaking of his
future works, the poet said, 'I shall have more to do than I have
already done. One would think that with age the mind weakens; with me it
appears, on the contrary, to grow stronger. The horizon gets larger, and
I shall pass away without having finished my task.'

On one occasion, a poor old woman was so delighted with the poetry of
her grandson, aged eighteen, that in the fulness of her heart she sent
his verses to Victor Hugo. The poet thus spoke of this incident to a
friend--'In spite of myself, I must hurt this worthy woman's feelings
by not replying to her letter; the verses of her grandson are simply
mine, taken from _Les Contemplations_. I can't anyhow write to say I
find my own verses beautiful--I can't encourage plagiarism; and I won't
tell the grandmother that her grandson is a liar.'

Much has been written concerning Hugo's skill as a draughtsman. It
appears that this own discovery of his powers in this direction was made
in a little village near Meulan, where he stopped to change horses, when
travelling with a lady in a diligence. He went inside the village
church, and was so struck by the graceful beauty of the apse that he
made an attempt to copy some of the details, using his hat as an easel.
He obtained a fair _souvenir_ of the place, and for the first time
realized how beneficially copying from nature might be combined with his
literary pursuits. After that he always delighted in sketching
architectural peculiarities of fabrics which remained in the original
design, and had not been 'improved' by modern handling.

He never took artistic lessons, but by constant practice he acquired
considerable facility in representing a certain class of subjects,
ruined castles with deep shadows, gloomy landscapes, stormy skies, etc.
M. Ph. Burty and several writers and artists of the first class have
expressed their admiration of his artistic work, and its striking
effects. His drawings were chiefly illustrative of his own thoughts.
They were employed either to develop his poems, or to serve as pictorial
commentaries upon his own literary creations. Théophile Gautier wrote:
'M. Hugo is not only a poet, he is a painter, and a painter whom Louis
Boulanger, C. Roqueplan, or Paul Huet would not refuse to own as a
brother in art. Whenever he travels he makes sketches of everything that
strikes the eye. The outline of the hill, a break in the horizon, an old
belfry--any of these will suffice for the subject of a rough drawing,
which the same evening will see worked up well-nigh to the finish of an
engraving, and the object of unbounded surprise even to the most
accomplished artists.' M. Castel collected many of Hugo's early drawings
into an album, and published them with the object of furthering the
poet's work among poor children. Théophile Gautier supplied an
introduction to the album, and it had an excellent sale. A number of
land and sea pieces, bearing Hugo's signature, passed into the
possession of M. Auguste Vacquerie. The poet prepared a set of
illustrations for his _Les Travailleurs de la Mer_, and a second album,
consisting of miscellaneous illustrations by Hugo, has also been
prepared. Many of his sketches were left in Hauteville House, and M.
Paul Meurice, Madame Lockroy, and Madame Drouet came into possession of
others. Victor Hugo himself sat for a great number of portraits between
his twenty-fifth and his seventy-seventh year, and he was likewise the
subject of numerous caricatures. These portraits and caricatures were
edited and published by M. Bouvenne. A very sumptuous volume is M.
Blémont's _Livre d'Or_ of Victor Hugo, containing beautiful
illustrations by eminent artists, suggested by his poems and romances.

During the latter years of his life Victor Hugo resided in the quarter
already mentioned, the Avenue d'Eylau (near the Bois de Boulogne), whose
name, out of compliment to the poet, has been changed by the
Municipality of Paris into the Avenue Victor Hugo. The house is
semi-detached, and adjoins that occupied by M. and Madame Lockroy and
Georges and Jeanne. A communication between the two residences,
however, brought the whole of the family practically under the same
roof. The house is three stories high, and the poet's study was on the
first floor, where he lived in a kind of bower, looking out upon one
side in the direction of the Avenue, and on the other towards a pleasant
garden, with a lawn surrounded by flowers and shaded by noble trees. The
daily post to Hugo's house was an important matter, for he had a stream
of communications from all parts of the world. If a poetaster in America
or Australia thought he possessed immortal genius he could not rest
content until he had received, or at least attempted to obtain, Victor
Hugo's imprimatur. There were many things the kindly veteran would
smooth over in order not to wound sensitive minds bitten with the
_cacoëthes scribendi_. The poet was also very accessible to personal
callers, so much so that it was said you had only to put on a black
coat, pull at his bell, and there you were. Sometimes his good-nature
was imposed upon, as will happen with all men, little or great. An
amusing story is told of a cabman who, after driving the poet one day,
refused to take the fare, on the ground that the honour of having Victor
Hugo in his vehicle was a sufficient reward. The author of _Notre-Dame_
asked his admiring Jehu to dinner; but when the meal was over, and Hugo
might naturally have thought they could cry quits, the guest drew a
manuscript from his pocket with the ominous words, 'I also am a poet!'
Greatness is thus not without its penalties.

A good deal of interest attaches to Victor Hugo's manuscripts. Madame
Drouet was the poet's literary secretary for thirty years, and during
all that period she copied with her own hand the manuscripts of his
various works as he wrote them. This was done to guard against the
danger of the originals being lost, or mangled by printers. A writer in
the _Pall Mall Gazette_ has furnished some interesting details
respecting the manuscripts, which will be valuable as showing how the
poet worked. What he effaced, he says, was so covered with ink, applied
in a horizontal direction, that nobody will ever be able to make it out.
When he wanted to get a subject well into his mind's eye he drew it
sometimes with great finish of detail on the margin. There is something
in several of the manuscripts reminding one of Doré's illustrations of
the _Contes Drôlatiques_; while others bring to mind Albert Dürer's
orfèvrerie. All Victor Hugo's important manuscripts have been bequeathed
to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The writer to whom I have just referred further adds these personal
details respecting the poet and his habits: 'Victor Hugo occupied the
room looking on the garden in which he died. The window of his chamber
is framed with ivy, and opens on an ivy-clad balcony. A vast
old-fashioned four-post bed, with a flat, short drapery of antique
brocade round the roof, stands in an alcove. The poet's body lay on it
after death. A dressing-room is at the head, and a small closet used as
a wardrobe at the foot. The desk is massive, and made with shelves, on
which precious books are placed. One of them is the volume of the
_Contemplations_, paid for by public subscription when Victor Hugo was
in exile, and presented to Madame Victor Hugo. The vignettes and other
illustrated portion of the work were done by the artists who had known,
admired, and loved her husband. Between every second page there was a
blank sheet, upon which a literary celebrity wrote a thought, good wish,
or sentiment. Michelet led off; Louis Blanc, Jules Janin, Théophile
Gautier, Dumas père, and other celebrities of the time filled blank
pages. Lamartine shines by his absence. He was always jealous of Victor
Hugo, and querulously attacked _Les Misérables_ soon after that strange
_chef d'oeuvre_ was published. There is also a tall desk in Victor
Hugo's bedroom. It was the one that he most used. He was up every
morning at six, when he washed in cold water, and then took a cup of
black coffee and a raw egg. This refection kept up strength and did not
draw blood from the brain, as must a less easily digested one. If ideas
did not come rapidly he went to the window, which was all day open,
winter and summer, sought inspiration by gazing thence, returned to the
desk, sketched, and then wrote. If his "go" slacked, he walked about,
and again looked out and drew. At eleven he breakfasted. His Pegasus, he
used to say, was the knifeboard (impérial) of an omnibus, and he
generally mounted it early in the afternoon. If he had nothing
particular to do he did not get down till he had been to the terminus
and back again. The objective faculties were not more active in these
rides than the subjective. He used to observe, reflect, and dream
simultaneously.' When not riding, Hugo was equally fond of walking
about Paris, revisiting old sites associated with personal or historic
events.

It will have been seen in the course of this volume that Victor Hugo was
much tried by domestic affliction. Both his sons died young, Charles
leaving the two children, Georges and Jeanne, of whom their grandfather
was so fond. Madame Charles Hugo, the mother of these children, married
afterwards, as already stated, M. Lockroy, the Extremist Deputy and
journalist. The poet's second daughter, Adèle Hugo, fifty years of age,
is in an asylum in the neighbourhood of Paris; and from the Paris
correspondent of the _Times_, and other sources, I glean the following
information concerning her: Thirty years ago she married an officer of
the English Navy, while her father was living at Guernsey. The marriage
was contrary to the wishes of Victor Hugo, who refused to have further
intercourse with his daughter. She went to India with her husband. Some
years afterwards she came back to Europe insane, under the care of a
negro woman, who had become attached to her. Her father secured her
admission to an asylum, and visited her there every week. On these
journeys to St. Mandé to see his daughter, he would take the
Muette-Belville omnibus, with a correspondence to Vincennes, and every
Christmas he sent 500 francs to the conductors of these lines. His
pockets were stuffed with bonbons and little articles of finery which it
gave Adèle pleasure to receive. It is stated that her madness takes the
gentle and childish form. She would always know Victor Hugo, but did not
understand why he did not take her to live with him. He placed her under
the guardianship of his and her old friend Vacquerie, and made no
attempt to evade the law, in virtue of which she comes, as alleged, into
a fortune of £120,000, and half the income which may be derived from the
copyright of Victor Hugo's works. The poet is said to have regretted
during his later years his harshness in connection with his daughter's
marriage, and her melancholy history cast over him one of the few
sorrowful shadows that visited his life.

Hugo possessed one valuable piece of landed property, a plot of ground
bought by him for 337,365 francs in the Avenue which bears his name. It
is covered with trees, which surround a bright patch of lawn, and throw
deep shadows over the ground, grateful to the eyes of those accustomed
to the dusty streets of Paris. It says not a little for his vigour and
apparent hold upon life, that after he had passed his eighty-second year
he intended to superintend the erection of his new house, which was to
be built entirely from his own designs. A large portion of Hugo's
fortune--which was estimated altogether at about four million
francs--was invested in Belgian National Bank shares, English Consols,
and French Rentes.

For several years before his death Victor Hugo had renounced public
speaking, his latest efforts in this direction having brought on an
indisposition which obliged him to go to Guernsey for rest and quiet. He
had also ceased to issue political appeals and manifestoes, though
agitators of all shades of opinion (including the Irish Nationalists)
endeavoured to enlist his sympathies. Occasionally he would give the
weight of his name to a movement with whose ramifications he was not
very familiar; but it was only for a time that he yielded to such
blandishments. He attended the Senate periodically until the very last,
although his deafness prevented him from following the course of the
discussions.

The relation of the poet's life begun by Madame Hugo, has been
completed by M. Paul Meurice, who includes in his work reprints of early
poems and criticisms by Hugo, which are useful as strengthening the view
taken in the earlier part of this narrative of his youthful political
opinions. The poet is stated to have bequeathed his theatrical
copyrights to M. Meurice, and the copyrights of his other works to M.
Vacquerie. A magnificent national edition of the whole of Victor Hugo's
works is now being issued in Paris. When completed, the work will
contain etchings executed from original designs by fifty-seven of the
chief French painters of the day, including Bonnat, Boulanger, Baudry,
Cabanel, Constant, Comerre, Cormon, Gérôme, Harpignies, Henner, Moreau,
and Rochegrosse. There will also be no fewer than 2,500 ordinary
illustrations. The edition, which will extend to forty volumes, will
contain unpublished, as well as all the published, works of the poet,
and it will be completed by the opening day of the Universal Exhibition
of 1889. No other monument could more fitly, or more worthily,
commemorate this distinguished writer.



CHAPTER XX.

THE POET'S DEATH AND BURIAL.


When the news that Victor Hugo had been seized with a serious illness
was made known on the 17th of May, it excited a painful sensation not
only in Paris and throughout France, but also in London, Vienna, and
other European capitals. The great age of the sufferer caused the
gravest apprehensions, notwithstanding his well-known vigour and
robustness of constitution.

The last public act of the poet was to stand sponsor to M. de Lesseps at
the Academy reception, held towards the close of April, 1885. In
accordance with his customary practice he was thinly clad, although the
weather was inclement, and the rain fell while he stood for a
considerable time in the quadrangle. His friends dreaded the result of
this exposure. It seems that the spectators, as if with the
presentiment that they would not see him again, gave him a prolonged
cheer, 'which he acknowledged with the seriousness of a man already
looking back, as from a distance, on the world's transient
satisfactions. He then sat down, apparently absorbed in listening to
what he called the inner voices, scarcely raising his head to respond to
the plaudits evoked by the passage in his honour.' A fortnight after
this incident, Hugo received his friend Lesseps and his family to
dinner, according to his weekly custom. It was noticed by the poet's
relatives, though it escaped the attention of his godson of the Academy,
that the host was far from being in his usual health. Nevertheless, he
exerted himself with his wonted courtesy, and remained with his guests
until they departed at a late hour. He was already suffering from a
cold, caught, it is said, on the 13th of May, when he took one of those
omnibus rides to which, as we have seen, he was very partial. Overtaxed
by his exertions in entertaining his friends, and unable to shake off
the effects of the cold, serious symptoms began to develop themselves.
In addition to an affection of the heart, congestion of the lungs set
in. Although for some time he battled heroically with the disease, he at
length looked for and anticipated death.

A correspondent of the _Daily News_, reporting a conversation with an
intimate friend of the Hugo family upon the poet's last illness, said:
'He tells me that he never heard of a more terrible struggle between
organic vitality and the morbid causes that are at work. Victor Hugo
would like to die, so that it cannot be said it is his strength of will
that enables him to resist the disease from which he is suffering.
Contrary to what some of the journals have said, he is a very bad
patient. Last night, when after straining his whole body to breathe, he
had fallen into a prostrate state, a strong blister was prescribed, and
the three doctors agreed to stay and watch its effects. As one of them
was going to apply it, Victor Hugo jumped up and not only pushed him
away but the others also, with a muscular force that astounded them. He
rushed to and fro, convulsively throwing up his arms, and clutching the
furniture. In the intervals between the crises, the poet likes to have
his granddaughter near him. He feels that death has come to summon him,
and that medical help is impotent to save him. He chafes at having to
lie in bed. His voice is very weak, but remains audible to those near
him. He was greatly affected on hearing that numbers of working people
come in the evening to stand mutely and respectfully at a short distance
from his house, so as to hear from those who call, as they are walking
away, how he is. With his characteristic politeness, he has ordered that
a direct notification is to be made to the humble watchers in the street
of his decease, and wishes it to be known that his last thoughts have
been about his friends the poor of Paris, with whom he has long been in
brotherhood by feeling.'

On hearing of Victor Hugo's alarming illness, Cardinal Guibert, the
Archbishop of Paris, wrote to Madame Lockroy: 'I have the deepest
sympathy with the sufferings of M. Victor Hugo and with the anxieties of
his family. I have prayed much at the Holy Sacrifice of Mass for the
illustrious patient. Should he desire to see a minister of our holy
religion, although I am myself still weak, and in a state of
convalescence from a disease much resembling his, I should make it my
very pleasing duty to bring him the succour and consolation so much
needed in these cruel ordeals.' M. Lockroy at once replied as follows:
'Madame Lockroy, who cannot leave the bedside of her father-in-law, begs
me to thank you for the sentiments which you have expressed with so much
eloquence and kindness. As regards M. Victor Hugo, he has again said,
within the last few days, that he had no wish during his illness to be
attended by a priest of any persuasion. We should be wanting in our duty
if we did not respect his resolution.' As the correspondent of the
_Times_ observed, the Archbishop could scarcely have expected an
acceptance of his offer, for Victor Hugo was not the man to play the
revolting death-bed farce of Talleyrand; and to have died a Catholic
would not even have been a reversion to the creed of his childhood, for,
strictly speaking, he was not brought up a Catholic. His mother, though
a Vendéan Royalist, was a Voltairian; and when she entered her sons at
the monastic college of Madrid, she declared them Protestants in order
to exempt them from the confessional. But all through life Hugo was a
Theist, and ran the gauntlet of much criticism from sceptical friends in
consequence of his firm belief in the Deity.

There seemed at one time a possibility of the poet's recovery, though
he did not himself share this view. 'I only wish that death may come
quickly,' he exclaimed the day before his death; and again, in passing
through a severe spasmodic fit, he said: 'It is the struggle between day
and night.' The patient's sufferings were very great, and those about
him could desire nothing but his release. For several days he was kept
alive only by injections of morphia. On the evening of the 21st he
rallied sufficiently from his lethargy to embrace his two grandchildren,
both in their 'teens, and to utter a few words. His breathing was
temporarily easier, though the action of the heart continued to be very
feeble. At five o'clock on the following morning the last agony
commenced. Almost his last words, addressed to his granddaughter, were,
'Adieu, Jeanne, adieu!' His final movement of consciousness was to grasp
his grandson's hand. The pulse gradually grew weaker and weaker, and at
half-past one o'clock he raised his head, made a gesture as if bowing,
and fell back lifeless.

In the afternoon M. Nadar attended, to photograph the death-bed. M.
Bonnat, whose striking portrait of Hugo was one of the features of the
Salon a few years ago, took a sketch, and M. Dalou, the sculptor, made a
cast of the head. M. and Madame Jules Simon were the first amongst a
long list of notabilities to pay a visit of condolence to the family.
Early on the morning of the poet's death a crowd had assembled in the
Avenue Victor Hugo, and the painful news of his decease rapidly spread
through their midst, and was soon known throughout Paris.

When the Senate met, shortly after the melancholy event, the President,
M. Le Royer (a Protestant), said: 'Victor Hugo is dead. He who for more
than sixty years has excited the admiration of the world and the
legitimate pride of France has entered into immortality. I will not
sketch his life; everyone knows it. His glory is the property of no
party or opinion; it is the appanage and inheritance of all. I have only
to express the deep and painful emotion of the Senate, and the unanimity
of its regret. In sign of mourning, I have the honour to ask the Senate
to adjourn.' M. Brisson then said: 'The Government joins in the noble
words of the President of the Senate. To-morrow the Government will
have the honour of submitting to the Chamber a Bill for a national
funeral to Victor Hugo.' The Senate then rose. The Municipal Council
paid similar homage to the man whose name was imperishably associated
with that of Paris. The Council also resolved upon attending the funeral
in a body.

For some days the poet's death was the only subject of conversation in
Paris. Foreign visitors delayed their departure in order to be able to
say that they had witnessed his funeral. The Mayor of the 46th
arrondissement declared the house where he died to be sacred, and the
property of the city of Paris, and it was decided to give his name to
new streets in the capital. For the first time, it was said, since
Lafayette's death--and even this comparison proved to be
inadequate--France was to celebrate a truly national funeral. The
funerals of Thiers and Gambetta, though the most striking in France for
at least a generation, aroused sympathy in one section of the people,
and drew forth protests from the rest; but all France felt that it could
bow the head with unanimous respect and veneration before the remains of
Victor Hugo.

A doubt which had troubled all persons holding religious beliefs in
France was set at rest by the publication of the following unsealed
memorandum handed by the poet to M. Vacquerie on the 2nd of August,
1883:--'I give 50,000 francs to the poor. I wish to be carried to the
cemetery in their hearse. I refuse the prayers (_oraisons_) of all
churches: I ask for a prayer (_prière_) from all souls. I believe in
God.--VICTOR HUGO.' Though rejecting creeds, it was seen that the
illustrious departed had not rejected belief. On one point M. Renan
expressed the universal feeling when he wrote as follows:--'M. Victor
Hugo was one of the evidences of the unity of our French conscience. The
admiration which enveloped his last years has shown that there are still
points upon which we are agreed. Without distinction of class, party,
sect, or literary opinion, the public, for some days past, has hung upon
the heartrending narratives of his agony; and now there is nobody who
does not perceive a great void in the heart of the country. He was an
essential member of the church in whose communion we dwell--one might
say that the spire of that old cathedral has crumbled into dust with the
noble existence which has carried the banner of the ideal highest in our
century.'

At the opening of the French Chamber on the 23rd, M. Floquet pronounced
an eloquent eulogium upon Victor Hugo. He spoke of France as having lost
one of her best citizens, who had enriched the treasure of national
glory, had restored courage in adversity, and after having suffered
everything for the Republic had inculcated concord and tolerance. He
described him as a hero of humanity, who for sixty years had been the
champion of the poor, the weak, the humble, the woman, and the child,
and as the advocate of inviolable respect for life, and of mercy to
those who had gone astray. His name ought to be proclaimed, not only in
the academies of artists, poets, and philosophers, but in all
legislative assemblies, on which he had sought to impress the
inspirations of his all-powerful and benevolent genius.

In proposing a vote of 20,000 francs for a national funeral, M. Henri
Brisson said:--'Victor Hugo is no more. While living he became immortal.
Death itself, which often adds to the reputation of men, could not add
to his glory. His genius dominates our century. Through him France
irradiated the world. It is not letters alone that mourn, but our
country and humanity--every reading and thinking man in the whole
world. As regards us Frenchmen, for the last sixty-five years his voice
has entered into our inner moral life and our national existence,
bringing into them all that is sweetest and brightest, most touching and
most elevated, in the private and public history of that long series of
generations which he has charmed, consoled, kindled with pity or
indignation, enlightened, and warmed with his own fire. What man of our
time is not indebted to him? Our democracy laments his loss. He has sung
all its grandeurs; he has wept over all its miseries. The weak and lowly
cherished and venerated his name. They knew that this great man had
their cause in his heart. It is a whole people that will follow him to
the grave.'

Loud acclamations followed this speech, and the proposal was adopted by
415 votes to 3.

The news of the poet's death excited as much emotion in the French
provinces as in the capital. The Municipal Councils of Lyons,
Marseilles, and Toulon closed their sittings as a mark of grief, after
having appointed delegates to represent them at the funeral. The
Municipal Council of Besançon sent the following address to the Hugo
family:--'The native town of Victor Hugo, through the Council, places at
the feet of the departed its sentiments of profound grief. The glory of
the greatest of her children will for ever irradiate her and the whole
world. By his genius he was foremost among men of letters and poets. By
his love of his country and of liberty he was the enemy of usurpers and
despots, and the power of his heart and his zeal for the welfare of
humanity place him at the head of the protectors of the oppressed, the
humble, and the weak.' The Mayor of Nancy addressed the following letter
to M. Lockroy:--'The town of Nancy has always felt proud of having been
the birthplace of General Hugo, the father of the man of genius for whom
France mourns. She claimed as a glory for the blood of Lorraine, which
ran in his veins, the renown of the great poet. I am an inadequate but
sincere interpreter of the general grief.' At Algiers the Municipal
Council closed its sittings, and from London, Vienna, and St. Petersburg
messages of sympathy were despatched. On the day following the poet's
death it was computed that at least ten thousand letters and messages of
condolence reached the Avenue Victor Hugo.

A desire having been expressed that Victor Hugo should be buried in the
Panthéon, the feeling spread rapidly through almost all classes. In
pursuance of this wish, M. Anatole de la Forge moved in the Chamber of
Deputies that the Panthéon, known as the Church of St. Geneviève, should
be secularized, in order that Victor Hugo's remains might be buried
there. Urgency was voted for the motion by 229 against 114 votes, but
the Minister of the Interior requested the House to postpone the vote
upon it until the next sitting.

It may be here stated that the Panthéon was commenced in 1764 as a
church, completed in 1790 as a Walhalla, was a church from 1822 to 1830,
and again from 1851 until 1885. The interments in it of Mirabeau,
Voltaire, Rousseau, and Marat are matters of history, as are also the
expulsions which followed. Mirabeau's body was publicly expelled by the
Terrorists; Marat's by the Anti-Terrorists; and Voltaire's and
Rousseau's clandestinely by the Legitimists. In 1881 the last French
Chamber passed a Bill secularizing it; but this did not pass through the
Senate.

Two days after the discussion upon M. de la Forge's motion, the
_Journal Officiel_ published a series of documents which summarily
disposed of the matter. Ministers having advised President Grévy that an
opportune moment had arrived for accomplishing the wish expressed by the
Chamber in 1881, and for restoring the building to its original
destination as a burial-place for illustrious Frenchmen, two
Presidential Decrees were made, one declaring the Panthéon to be
henceforth a mausoleum for great men who should have merited the
gratitude of the nation, and the other directing that the body of Victor
Hugo should be laid there. In the Chamber an order of the day was
proposed by the Comte de Mun, condemning the Presidential Decree as a
provocation to Catholics and as an act of feebleness; but this was
rejected by 388 to 83. Another motion expressing the Chamber's entire
approval of the letter and spirit of the Decree was then submitted, and
carried by 338 to 90. Hugo's family consented to the body being taken to
the Panthéon, but insisted on its being carried in a pauper's hearse
from the Arc de Triomphe, where it was to lie in state, to the national
mausoleum.

At six o'clock on the morning of the 31st of May the remains of the
poet were transferred to the Arc de Triomphe, where waggon-loads of
flowers and memorial wreaths had been constantly arriving. All the
shops, cafés, and restaurants in the Avenue Victor Hugo, and near the
Triumphal Arch, had remained open all night. 'There was nothing
disorderly,' wrote a correspondent, 'and the impression everything gave
was one of sadness, though all day the aspect of the Place de l'Étoile
had been really festive. The cenotaph was visible from the Tuileries.
The coffin was covered with a silver-spangled pall, which rose from a
base covered with black and violet cloth, violet being regal mourning,
and Victor Hugo having attained an intellectual and moral sovereignty
over France.' Early in the day the crowds of human beings in all the
avenues leading to the Place de l'Étoile were very dense. As evening
drew on the aspect was like that of some great fair. Medals bearing _Les
Châtiments, Napoléon le Petit_, and other legends, were offered for
sale, as well as medallions and numberless other memorials of the dead.
The display of flowers was wholly unparalleled. At night a flood of
electric light poured upon the Place de l'Étoile, revealing the coffin
with Dalou's powerfully modelled bust at the foot, and bringing out the
flowers and the names of Victor Hugo's works on shields. The effect of
the Horse Guards with torches and veiled lamps was very striking. Twelve
schoolboys, relieved every hour, formed a picket in front of the
cenotaph, round which there was an outer circle of juvenile guards, and
an inner one of Hugo's intimate friends. English literature and the fine
arts were worthily represented in the votive offerings laid at the feet
of the great poet. Wreaths, flowers, and memorial cards were sent in
great abundance. Lord Tennyson wrote under his name the word 'Homage,'
and at the top of his card, '_In Memoriam celeberrimi Poetæ_.' Mr.
Browning also was represented, as well as Sir Frederick Leighton, the
President of the Royal Academy. Archdeacon Farrar sent the message, 'In
honour of one who honoured man as man.' Sir F. Burton, director of the
National Gallery, wrote, 'Honour to the memory of the great master;' and
similar tributes were paid by many men of letters, poets, Royal
Academicians, and others.

The funeral ceremony took place on the 1st of June, and it was of such a
character as to live in the memory of all who witnessed it. What
distinguished the procession in honour of Victor Hugo from the only one
comparable with it, that of Gambetta, observed the correspondent of the
_Times_, was not only its vast size, which was without precedent, but
also the distinct sentiment which dominated both its members and the
crowd. It was at once the triumph of the democracy and an illustration
of its power. In the case of Gambetta, France beheld a statesman cut off
in his prime, with all the dreams of hope and ambition before him. In
the case of Victor Hugo, it was a veteran in letters entering into his
rest. 'At the tidings of his death, all France, all parties, seemed to
claim him; and it was the loss of the poet, the thinker, the
humanitarian, which was first deplored. Then, by degrees, party claims
were put forth. The poet and thinker disappeared, and this made his
funeral less sublime. The crowd paid homage to the political weaknesses
of his latter years, to the democratic philanthropist, to the Extremist
Senator, to a Hugo, in fact, whom posterity will ignore, while honouring
him with a place among great literary geniuses.' The struggle over his
remains ended by other parties giving way, and the people for whom he
had laboured claiming him as their especial champion and prophet. But
certainly, whether for king, priest, statesman, or man of letters, Paris
and the provinces never before turned out in such vast multitudes.

The wreaths arriving from all parts were placed on twelve cars, drawn by
four or six horses each, and they formed a brilliant spectacle. Before
six o'clock in the morning there were already four rows of spectators
assembled on each side of the Champs Élysées. 'The authorities, with
considerable skill and foresight, had directed most of the societies
likely to bear what might be qualified as seditious banners to meet in
the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. Here accordingly, at a little before
nine o'clock, were massed various free-thought societies, nearly all of
them bearing red flags or banners, from Boulogne, Asnières, Argenteuil,
Suresne, Bicêtre, Sèvres, Puteaux, and other places. Some of the banners
were ornamented with Phrygian caps. Close by, in the Avenue de la Grande
Armée, the proscripts of 1851-52 had also a red banner. By ten o'clock
there were fifteen red flags close to the Arc de Triomphe. At the corner
of the Rue Brunel M. Lissagaray, M. Martin, and some thirty well-known
anarchists had responded to the call of the Revolutionary Committee.
They seemed, however, lost in the crowd. Twice this little group of
anarchists tried to unfurl a red flag, but being so closely watched,
they had not time to hoist the colour in the air before flag-bearer and
flag were both captured. By half-past ten the anarchists, having already
lost two flags, abandoned the Rue Brunel. A little before eleven o'clock
a Commissioner of Police, in plain clothes, accompanied by half-a-dozen
policemen and a company of Republican Guards, marched down the Avenue du
Bois de Boulogne, and, accosting the bearer of every red flag that
seemed at all objectionable, lifted his hat, and demanded that the
emblem should be covered over.' Although disturbances had been feared
none occurred. The Red Republicans and anarchists (whom Victor Hugo had
more than once condemned) were but as a drop in the bucket, compared
with the myriads of other citizens assembled to do honour to the dead.
Although some arrests were made, the greatness of the whole occasion
dwarfed their significance, and the most imposing spectacle within
living memory became a veritable popular triumph, and one reflecting
credit upon the French nation.

Vivid descriptions were penned of the ceremony. According to one of
these, by eleven o'clock the sight at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe
became more and more impressive. The dull, grey sky, the roll of the
muffled drums, the mournful strains of Chopin's _Funeral March_,
combined with the hushed tones of conversation, helped to impress the
numerous audience gathered round. The bright red robes of the judges and
the sombre gowns of the barristers made a picturesque contrast with the
very plain, unpretending dress of the members of the Government and of
the Foreign Diplomatic Corps, who sat in the most favoured places at the
foot of the Arc. In the background the glitter of cuirassier armour and
the gold braiding of the representatives of the army gave tone and
vivacity to the scene. Much interest was manifested at the presence of
the French Cabinet, of both Houses, and of the English Ambassador,
sitting side by side with M. de Mohrenheim, the Russian Ambassador.

When the mourning family had taken their places, Ministers went to pay
them their condolences. The funeral addresses were then delivered from
a tribune erected on the left of the catafalque. The first speaker, M.
Le Royer, President of the Senate, described Victor Hugo as the most
illustrious senator, whose Olympian forehead, bowed on his breast in an
anticipated posture of immortality, always attracted respectful homage
from all his colleagues. He never mounted the tribune but to support a
cause always dear to him--the Amnesty. Amidst apparent hesitations, he
had all his life consistently pursued a high ideal of justice and
humanity, and his moral action on France was immense. He unmasked the
sophisms of crowned crime, comforted weak hearts, and restored to honest
men right notions of moral law, which had been momentarily obscured.

The speech of the day, however, was delivered by M. Floquet, President
of the Chamber of Deputies. In tones which could be distinctly heard
throughout the vast arena, and with much eloquence of gesture, the
orator said: 'What can equal the grandeur of the spectacle before us,
which history will record! Under this arch, constellated with the
legendary names of so many heroes, who have made France free, and wished
to render her glorious, we see to-day the mortal remains, or rather, I
should say, the still serene image, of the great man who so long sang
the glory of our country and struggled for her liberty. We see here
around us the most eminent men in arts and sciences, the representatives
of the French people, the delegates of our departments and communes,
voluntary and spontaneous ambassadors, and missionaries from the
civilized universe, piously bending the knee before him who was a
sovereign of thought, an exile for crushed right and a betrayed
Republic, a persevering protector of all the weak and oppressed, and the
chosen defender of humanity in our century. In the name of the nation we
salute him, not in the humble attitude of mourning, but with all the
pride of glorification. This is not a funeral, but an apotheosis. We
weep for the man who is gone, but we acclaim the imperishable apostle
whose word remains with us, and, surviving from age to age, will conduct
the world to the definite conquest of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
This immortal giant would have been ill at ease in the solitude and
obscurity of subterranean crypts. We have elevated him there, exposed to
the judgment of men and Nature, under the grand sun which illuminated
his august conscience. Whole peoples realize the poetical dream of this
sweet genius. May this coffin, covered with the flowers of the grateful
inhabitants of Paris, which Victor Hugo loved to call the _Cité Mère_,
and of which he was the respectful son and faithful servant, teach the
admiring multitude duty, concord, and peace.'

M. Floquet concluded by reciting the verses beginning '_Je hais
l'oppression d'une haine profonde_' ('I hate oppression with a profound
hatred'). This address, which elicited enthusiastic approval, was
followed by one from M. Goblet, Minister of Public Instruction. The
Minister said that Victor Hugo, while living, figured in the glorious
pleiad of great poets--with Corneille, Molière, Racine, and Voltaire. He
would always remain the highest personification of the nineteenth
century, the history of which, with its contradictions, its doubts, its
ideas, and aspirations, had been best reflected in his works. The
speaker laid stress upon the profoundly human character of Victor Hugo,
who represented in France the spirit of toleration and peace. M. Émile
Augier, who appeared in the uniform of the Academy, said: 'The great
poet that France has lost vouchsafed me a place in his friendship.
Hence the honour I have to be chosen by the Academy to express our
grief, which is as nothing to that of the whole nation. To the sovereign
poet France renders sovereign honours. She is not prodigal of the
surname Great. Hitherto it has been almost the exclusive appanage of
conquerors; but one preceding poet was universally called the Great
Corneille, and henceforth we shall say the Great Victor Hugo. His
long-acquired renown is now called glory, and posterity commences. We
are not celebrating a funeral, but a coronation.' M. Michelin, President
of the Municipal Council of Paris, delivered the last speech of the day.

On the conclusion of the addresses, the drums beat the salute, and then
the band of the Republican Guard struck up the _Marseillaise_. Just as
they had reached the chorus of the stirring French national anthem, the
coffin was brought out from the catafalque, and at that precise moment
the sun, bursting through the grey clouds, threw a ray of brilliant
light on the mountain of flowers whence the remains of Victor Hugo had
emerged. Now the march commenced, the school battalions and the
representatives of the Press taking the lead, amid clapping of hands.
Chopin's _Marche Funèbre_ was the music played at the opening of the
ceremonial. After this came in slow movement the strains of the
_Marseillaise_, which were soon followed by the _Chant du Départ_, and
then by the Girondins' celebrated chant, _Mourir pour la Patrie_.
Faithful to the stipulation of his will, Victor Hugo's body was conveyed
to its last resting-place in the poor man's hearse--that is to say, the
cheapest hearse which the Pompes Funèbres provide. As the corpse was
being removed from the cenotaph every head was uncovered. The artillery
of the Invalides and of Mont Valérian boomed out a farewell salute. 'The
procession,' wrote a correspondent of the _Daily News_, 'had for
vanguard a squadron of mounted gendarmes, followed by General Saussier,
the Governor of Paris, and the Cuirassiers, with band playing; twelve
crown-laden cars, the band of the Republican Guard, the delegates of
Besançon carrying a white crown, the French and foreign journalists, the
Society of Dramatic Authors, and the delegates of the National and other
theatres. The cars were surrounded by the children of the school
battalion. There was no crown on the pauper's hearse. The friends of
the deceased held the cords of the pall, and Georges Hugo walked alone,
behind. He was in evening dress, and looked a young man. His face is
handsome, and his air distinguished. His mother, sister, and different
ladies and other friends of the family walked at a short distance behind
him. The crowd of people was astounding round the Arch of Triumph, and
in the Champs Élysées' side-ways the windows, balconies, house-roofs,
and even the chimney-tops were crowded.'

The very trees seemed to bud with human beings; and the crowd of
spectators in the streets was so deep and serried that it was impossible
for any wearied senator, savant, or other venerable person to get out if
once imprisoned. All along the route of the procession heads were
religiously uncovered as the hearse passed. The school battalion guarded
it, and then came many companies of boyish militia. Gymnastic societies
in white, blue, and red flannel shirts, with white trousers, gaiters,
and caps; delegations of the learned societies, political clubs,
printers, publishers, newspapers, foreign Radicals, literati,
philanthropical societies, fire brigades, humane societies, trades
unions, came in processional order. Each group was distinctly separated
from the other. Down the broad Champs Élysées the procession moved with
great facility, as all carriages had been cleared away before eight
o'clock in the morning. All the available standing-room of the broad
causeway was filled with an eager throng; but the most sublime sight was
presented at the Place de la Concorde. The corner from the Champs
Élysées to the bridge was walled off by the troops, so that an
innumerable multitude was able to collect at this point. Not content
with this, the banks of the Seine, down to the water's edge, on both
sides of the bridge, were thickly studded with people, and every
floating barge or boat was dangerously loaded with spectators. Far up
the broad stretch of the Avenue the procession, with its thousand crowns
and banners, could be seen slowly descending. Many groups had not yet
left the Arc de Triomphe when the head of the procession reached the
Panthéon. A dense mass of spectators had gathered in and around the
Place de la Concorde; but perhaps no portion of the route was so crowded
as the Rue Soufflot, which leads from the Boulevard St. Michel to the
Panthéon. Windows, ladders, roofs, and chimneys were all utilized by
those eager to witness the passing of the procession. Shortly after
half-past one the head of the procession reached the steps of the
Panthéon, and at two o'clock the coffin was brought up the front steps,
and placed on the catafalque. The representatives of the family, of
Government, and the various authorities took their places on either side
of the main entrance. Once more a grand spectacle was offered by the
artistic grouping of crowns, flowers, uniforms, and colours under the
majestic pillars of the Panthéon. Speeches were again delivered, and
these continued while the procession, with, bands and banners, filed
past. The working-class corporations followed in their various order,
and these were succeeded by the Secular Technical School for Girls, the
Republican Socialist Alliance, the Comedians of Paris, the Montmartre
Choral Society, the Women's Suffrage Society, the Radical Socialist
Club, and many other bodies. 'A few minutes after six o'clock,' remarked
the _Times_ correspondent, 'the last crowns and banners passed by, and
after a short interval the troops representing the Army of Paris
commenced their march-past. Dragoons, Republican Guard, and Line were
in their turn acclaimed by the multitude, pleased by their martial
appearance and their light tread after the fatigues of the day. Then
came the blare of the Artillery trumpets, followed by those of the
Dragoons, and at precisely a quarter to seven the last soldier made the
last salute to the remains of Victor Hugo. A statue of Hugo in his
famous posture of reverie fronted the Panthéon. This papier-mâché statue
represented Victor Hugo watching the long procession that did him
honour. It was a trifle; but there was a touch of tender thoughtfulness
in this reminder to the surging multitude that they must not forget the
man who was being borne to the grave.'

Thus ended a funeral pageant worthy, on the whole, of the poet and the
nation--a pageant in which were to be found representatives of all
classes of the French community. Victor Hugo, whose genius recalled the
elder glory of French literature, now sleeps in the Panthéon. While he
differed from the illustrious men of the past, having neither the wit of
Rabelais nor Molière, the classic dignity of Corneille, nor the
philosophic depth of Voltaire, he had a greatness, though of a
different kind, equal to their own. He therefore joins them as an equal.
He has given to French literature a new departure; for every book he has
written, while wet with human tears, is yet stamped with the terrible
earnestness which possessed his spirit, and made immutable by the
Herculean strength of his genius.



CHAPTER XXI.

GENIUS AND CHARACTERISTICS.


Victor Hugo, though simple in nature, was many-sided in intellect. As I
approach the conclusion of my task, I feel how truly great the sum of
this man's work was, notwithstanding the flaws which disfigured it. And
in proportion to its greatness is the difficulty of appraising, or even
of approximately appraising, its value. This task belongs to a writer or
writers yet unborn; for neither in his own nor even in the next
generation does such a man of genius as Hugo--an author _sui generis_,
one utterly unlike all others--assume his distinctive niche in the
Walhalla of literature. But there are some suggestions of a general
character which may be offered respecting his work, and these will
naturally fall under four headings--political, social, moral or
religious, and literary.

It has been said that Hugo failed in politics; but as he never posed
for being a practical politician, the charge does not possess the
significance that would have attached to it had he come forward as a
political saviour--of whom France has had so many. For the sinuosities
and compromises of party politics, however wise and necessary at times,
he had no aptitude. He had no political creed; or, if he had, it might
be summed up in one article. He individualized humanity, and declared it
to be miserable. The whole of his creed, therefore, consisted in the
destruction of monopolies and abuses, and the uplifting of the masses.
But he was certainly unfitted for the debates of such a body as the
French Chamber, and it was probably one of the best things he ever did
in his life when he shook the dust from under his feet, and bade the
Assembly an indignant farewell. Yet he was more successful than scores
of other politicians who have set up a claim to superior political
wisdom. The French Chamber has been too frequently suggestive of a
_maison d'aliénés_. The modern Gallic politician is about the most
impulsive creature of which we have any knowledge. He lacks the
phlegmatic nature of the German and the logical hardheadedness of the
Briton. He is hypersensitive and emotional, not argumentative and
judicial. He only knows that he has ideas, and that every man who
opposes those ideas is an enemy of the human species, and must be put
out of the way. This was proved again and again in that terrible year of
Revolution, 1793, when the friends of Reason sent each other to the
block as they successively gained the upper hand. One would think that
this was a sufficient baptism of blood; but it was not so; the tale has
been renewed at intervals, and the communistic horrors of 1871 added
another fearful page to the grim catalogue. French politics are a
succession of storms; the lightning breaks, the thunder rolls, and the
deluge follows; then, for a time, the sky clears and the sun shines
brilliantly: but the clouds return after the rain; the barometer becomes
demoralized; and electrical disturbance is once more the order of the
day.

But in the intervals of sanity in the French political world--I use the
word 'sanity' in its larger sense--great and noble work is done, work
worthy of the world's admiration. When the French mind conceives
projects of amelioration, it conceives them with boldness and
generosity. In this lies the safety-valve of the people, and also the
best hope for the future of the race. Men like Hugo are the men to
suggest and to push forward these great conceptions for the national
welfare. They may have few political principles as such, but the
political sympathies of such a man as Victor Hugo have more force and
weight than the most orthodox and irreproachable doctrines of a hundred
smaller men. While politicians may be struggling for unimportant
details, men of great sympathies are mighty to the moving of mountains.
As a practical politician, then, let it be frankly admitted that Hugo
was a failure; that in his speeches he was frequently rhapsodical; and
that he could take no initiative in practical legislation. All these are
matters in which lesser intellects might, could, should, would, and do
succeed. But in that higher region where the eternal principles of
justice come into play, where sublime benevolence holds her seat, where
by a quick and living sympathy universal humanity is made to feel a
universal brotherhood, then Victor Hugo had a political illumination to
which none other of his contemporaries could lay claim.

From the political to the social is but a step, and that a natural one.
It cannot be said of Hugo that he was liberal in his social theories and
aristocratic in his practice. He had a courteousness of nature that made
him equally esteemed, and had in reverence, by such an one as a king or
an emperor, and the meanest of his compatriots who called upon him for
advice or aid. If he endeavoured to teach the higher social life to
others, he at least led the way by setting before himself only such aims
as were noble and humane. He was the very soul of truth in all his
relations, and if he were not the equal of Rousseau as a great social
teacher, he far transcended the author of the _Contrat Social_ in his
irreproachable life and his deep personal sympathies. One writer has
said that 'Victor Hugo's own strongest influence is but a breath of the
influence of Rousseau.' This is a deliverance as unhappy as it is
dogmatic. There is neither necessity nor appositeness in placing the two
writers in such juxtaposition. France before Rousseau was not the France
of Victor Hugo; the former had work of an originative character to do in
the social sphere, as Victor Hugo had in that of literature. But while
Hugo was not the creator of a new social system, one of the primary
causes of his influence was of a social character. His intense and
genuine sympathy with the humble and the poor and the suffering gave him
a place in the affection of thousands who knew little of social
theories. The key, indeed, to Hugo's personal character and influence,
as distinguished from the literary, was that human sympathy which led to
his untiring efforts to protect the weak against the strong. He would
have no parleying with oppression and violence, and notwithstanding his
passionateness he really exercised a salutary and calming influence in
the main, and one which told for goodness. To him the orphan's rags, the
shame of woman, and the anguish of the toiler never appealed in vain. I
can imagine him doing what sturdy old Samuel Johnson did when he rescued
the outcast woman in the Strand, and himself bore her away to a place of
safety. Hugo had a clear enough insight into those social reforms which
are still a necessity even in this enlightened age. He did not believe
in the perfection of the poor, though he did believe in the absolute
imperfection of kings and priests. By setting the latter in the full
blaze of publicity, he believed he was doing a great social work, and
helping on that golden age of happiness for which he laboured. In his
earnestness and enthusiasm, he might commit, and doubtless did commit,
errors of judgment; but then without these very qualities of earnestness
and enthusiasm all the great things associated with his name could have
had no birth. Where we gain much, we can easily forgive a little. Victor
Hugo had a conscience, and as a man amongst men, pleading for men, he
threw it all into his social work. In Jean Valjean he will never cease
to plead, though he himself is dead. He has given to the sufferings of
humanity a voice which will continue to speak in tones of pathos and of
sadness until the last of those sufferings and social wrongs shall have
passed away. Of many devastating spirits has the world been called upon
to say that they made a solitude and called it peace; but of Victor Hugo
we may say that he found humanity a bleak and cheerless wilderness, and
endeavoured to make it blossom as the rose.

Yet loving the world and humanity as he did, and feeling that the earth
was 'bound by gold chains about the feet of God,' Hugo, as I have
before said, has been claimed by some as an unbeliever. As though any
great poet who had come to years of discretion could be a materialist or
an infidel. So far from seeing no God in the universe, the poet as a
rule is God-intoxicated. I shall be reminded, perhaps, of Lucretius and
Shelley, but even these, as the exceptions, would only serve to prove
the rule. The Roman, however, was philosopher first, and poet
afterwards; while as for the atheism of Shelley, it was a spasmodic
experience due to a revolt against authority--not a deep-settled
conviction--and an experience out of which he was rapidly growing at the
time of his death. No poet of the first order has ever been an atheist,
and Victor Hugo was no exception to the rule. While discarding religious
systems, he was, in fact, profoundly religious. He never swerved in this
matter from the position he held in 1850, and which he thus explained at
the close of a speech on public instruction, 'God will be found at the
end of all. Let us not forget Him; and let us teach Him to all. There
would otherwise be no dignity in living, and it would be better to die
entirely. What soothes suffering, what sanctifies labour, what makes
man good, strong, wise, patient, benevolent, just, and at the same time
humble and great, worthy of liberty, is to have before him the perpetual
vision of a better world throwing its rays through the darkness of this
life. As regards myself, I believe profoundly in this better world, and
I declare it in this place to be the supreme certainty of my soul. I
wish, then, sincerely, or, to speak more strongly, I wish ardently for
religious instruction.' There is surely nothing vague or nebulous about
this. No man could express himself more clearly or emphatically if
directly questioned upon the great and momentous topics of God and
immortality. As a religious teacher, then, Hugo may be justly claimed;
for the whole weight of his name and influence was thrown upon the side
of those profound religious convictions which have been the consolation
of the human race, and which have knit man in indissoluble bonds to the
Divine.

What shall I say of Victor Hugo from the literary point of view? His
true glory is that he revivified French literature--created it afresh,
as it were--and was himself the best representative of its new
excellences. But this subject is so great that I scarcely dare venture
upon it. The poet carried out in his own person and work the advice he
once gave to some younger spirits, 'Act so that your conscience will
approve, and your works praise you; and, like those great unknown, you
will leave the world better than you found it; while, in virtue of the
justice which I believe to be the law of the universe, you will rise
high elsewhere in the scale of creation. A man is splendidly praised
when he is praised by his works.' Of course, he had his detractors--such
men as Charles Maurice, who believed himself to be a greater writer than
Victor Hugo, and who only perceived in _Hernani_ the effects of 'an
intolerable system of style destructive of all poesy.' The world has
since regulated this matter adversely to Maurice. Then there were others
not so unjust as this writer, but men who were so strongly impressed by
the defects of Hugo that they scarcely gave him due credit for his
manifest powers of literary expression. Heine and Amiel may be taken to
represent this type. To set against these are the Hugolâtres, as
Théophile Gautier called them. In England the most enthusiastic admirer
of the poet is undoubtedly Mr. Swinburne, and from his numerous
tributes I may select one passage that is a kind of triumphant summary
of the rest. It is the last stanza from his New-Year Ode to Hugo, in the
_Midsummer Holiday, and other Poems_:


       'Life, everlasting while the worlds endure,
         Death, self-abased before a power more high,
       Shall bear one witness, and their word stand sure,
         That not till time be dead shall this man die.
       Love, like a bird, comes loyal to his lure;
         Fame flies before him, wingless else to fly.
         A child's heart toward his kind is not more pure,
         An eagle's toward the sun no lordlier eye.
             Awe sweet as love and proud
             As fame, though hushed and bowed,
         Yearns toward him silent as his face goes by;
             All crowns before his crown
             Triumphantly bow down,
         For pride that one more great than all draws nigh:
             All souls applaud, all hearts acclaim,
     One heart benign, one soul supreme, one conquering name.'


Making allowance for the fervour which a peculiarly fervid singer throws
into his admiration, there is much truth in this metrical tribute to the
literary and personal worth of the great poet. Substantially the same
high view of Hugo is held by Lord Tennyson and other literary men in
this country. But, with regard to criticism in particular, the writer
from whom I have just quoted was even happier still in his prose
comparisons. He remarked in his essay on _La Légende des Siècles_ that
'Hugo, for all his dramatic and narrative mastery of effect, will always
probably remind men rather of such poets as Dante or Isaiah than of such
poets as Sophocles or Shakspeare. We cannot, of course, imagine the
Florentine or the Hebrew endowed with his infinite variety of
sympathies, of interests, and of powers; but as little can we imagine in
the Athenian such height and depth of passion, in the Englishman such
unquenchable and sleepless fire of moral and prophetic faith. And hardly
in any one of these, though Shakspeare perhaps may be excepted, can we
recognise the same buoyant and childlike exultation in such things as
are the delight of a high-hearted child--in free glory of adventure and
ideal daring, in the triumph and rapture of reinless imagination, which
gives now and then some excess of godlike empire and superhuman kinship
to their hands whom his hands have created, and the lips whose life is
breathed into them from his own.' And again, 'In his love of light and
freedom, reason and justice, he not of Jerusalem, but of Athens; but in
the bent of his imagination, in the form and colour of his dreams, in
the scope and sweep of his wide-winged spiritual flight, he is nearer
akin to the great insurgent prophets of deliverance and restoration than
to any poet of Athens, except only their kinsman Æschylus.' Even the
most superficial reading of Hugo must leave an impression of magnificent
powers, of powers which in given circumstances might have produced many
and different forms of greatness. He had that exaltation of the
intellect and imagination, that lofty range of mental force, which
moulds centuries and moves the world.

But there are special literary qualities in Hugo which should be
noticed. First among them is his extreme conscientiousness. His natural
eloquence has sometimes been regarded as a snare to him, and yet in all
the details of his work he was rigidly exact, so far as the most minute
search could enable him to be. This was apparent in _Notre-Dame_, and
especially so in _Les Misérables_, where he devoted a volume to a
description of the battle of Waterloo, or Mont St. Jean, as the French
designate it. Before writing on this, he lived for some time in the
vicinity of the scene, and closely noted every item in connection with
the fight on that great battlefield. He wrote to a correspondent, 'I
have studied Waterloo profoundly; I am the only historian who has passed
two months on the field of battle.' This same feeling of
conscientiousness he also carried into other matters.

Another point which must be borne in mind in endeavouring to get at the
source of Victor Hugo's influence upon literature is the extent and
flexibility of his vocabulary. 'No one,' wrote M. Edmond About, shortly
after the appearance of _Quatre-Vingt-Treize_, 'can fail to recognise
the power of Hugo's invention, the wealth of his ideas, the grandeur of
his oratorical flights, and that sublimity which is the mark of a man of
genius; but it is not known in Europe, nor even in France, that Victor
Hugo is the most learned of men of letters. He possesses an enormous
vocabulary. Out of the 27,000 words which the dictionary of the Academy
contains, and 6,000 of which have an individuality of their own, the
language of common life employs at most about a thousand. I could
mention illustrious publicists, popular dramatists, novelists, whose
books are much read and much liked, none of whom has more than 1,500
words at his disposal. Théophile Gautier, a studious man and a
dilettante, used to boast to his friends of possessing 3,000. "But," he
used to add, "I might toil to the last day of my life without attaining
to the vocabulary of Hugo." Genius apart, merely by his knowledge and
use of his mother-tongue, Hugo is the Rabelais of modern days. This is
the minor side of his glory, I allow; but critics ought not to neglect
it, or they will lead people to form false ideas.'

As to Hugo's human passion, it agonizes in almost every page of his
writings. He is nothing if not intensely human. And his weird and
powerful effects are heightened by that undertone, that minor chord of
music which he touches more often than the more jubilant major notes.
'The still sad music of humanity' is for ever beating in his ear, and he
translates its moving pathos into words. A mind of this stamp feels that
it can rarely turn to the humorous, and accordingly it is objected that
he has no sense of humour. The charge is true in the main, for the grim
humour of some of his situations may be better expressed by the epithet
of grotesque. He lacked just this saving sense of humour to place him
on a level with the greatest writers--or rather with those writers who
are greatest in the delineation of human nature and its passions; for we
have great writers, such as Dante and Milton, who are equal strangers
with Hugo to the humour which plays about the pages of Shakspeare.

But Hugo is pre-eminent in other qualities. He is firmly and
uncompromisingly veracious. No special correspondent who ever described
a battlefield could be more vivid and telling in his reminiscences.
There is the stamp of reality and truthfulness upon all that he has
written. With a gloomy magnificence of imagery he has described scenes
and events that are now immortal in literature. There is a grand
spontaneity in his utterances--an eloquence that springs from the heart
as much as from the head; while over all his poems and romances a noble
halo has been thrown which is the reflex of the innate nobility of the
man.

M. Émile Montégut has observed that Hugo is master of all that is
colossal and fearful. His imagination prefers sublime and terrible
spectacles: war, shipwreck, death, and primitive civilizations, with
their babels and convulsions--these attract him. How well, also, can he
imitate the plaintive cries of the ocean under the tempest which
torments it! Let him but paint a feudal ruin and you will be made to
feel all its imposing horrors; or a palace of Babylon, and you will
realize its massive splendours. He knows the secrets of the Sphinx, and
of the monstrous idols; he is familiar with the burning deserts of
Africa, and the horrors of hyperborean countries. In the domain of the
weird he is sovereign king, and no one will dispute with him. In other
fields he may have rivals, but in the region where the fantastic mingles
with the superhuman he has no equal.

But there is yet another side to Hugo which English critics have been
just to note--it is that concerned with his human creations. While he
may revel in the scenes which M. Montégut depicts, his heart is mostly
in his human creations. And with regard to his treatment of these, it
has been observed that the spectator is put outside the scene, and can
do nothing but look on breathless, while amid mist and cloud, with
illuminations fiery or genial, as the case may be, the great picture
rises before him, each actor detached and separate, some in boldest
relief, with a force which is often tremendous, and always forcibly
dramatic. The giant and the child are treated with equal care and
conscientiousness. Though first in massive effects, in deep broad lines,
Hugo is also first in the most delicate shades of tenderness. 'The babes
are as distinct as the heroes, every pearly curve of them tender and
sweet as rose-leaves, yet complete creatures, nowhere blurred or
indefinite, even in the most delicious softness of execution.' I quote
from a writer in _Blackwood_, who had the candour (not always displayed
by critics) to acknowledge that neither in France nor upon our own side
of the Channel is there a contemporary writer who can with any show of
justice be placed by the side of Victor Hugo. 'His genius is too
national, his workmanship too characteristic, to be contrasted with the
calmer inspiration of any Englishman.... His subject, the character he
is unfolding, possesses the writer: he throws himself upon it with a
glow and fervour of knowledge, with a certainty of delineation which is
not the mere exercise of practised powers, but with that something
indescribable, something indefinable, added to it, swelling in every
line, and transforming every paragraph. The workmanship is often
wonderful; but it is not the workmanship which strikes us most--it is
the abundant, often wild, sometimes unguided and undisciplined touch of
genius which inspires and expands and exaggerates and dilates the words
it is constrained to make use of--almost forcing a new meaning upon them
by way of fiery compulsion, to blazon its own meaning upon brain and
sense, whether they will or not. We know no literary work of the age--we
had almost said no intellectual work of any kind--so possessed and
quivering with this indescribable but extraordinary power.'

Hugo's works are undoubtedly in parts eccentric, and all too frequently
extravagant; but this is the nodding of Homer. His conceptions are
gigantic, and his figures truly dramatic; and these are the chief things
with which we have to do. In his superb excellences he stands alone--he
is unique. His table is weighted with intellectual sustenance; so great
is his abundance that a myriad writers could be fed from the crumbs
which fall from his table. From the literary point of view we must not
forget his chief distinction--that he effected the most brilliant and
complete revolution that has been witnessed in the history of French
literature. He changed the whole face of art in French poetry, and
destroyed for ever the poetry of conventionality. He has endowed his
native language with new nerve and sensibility; he has given it a fresh
and vital force, and the effects of his influence upon the nation and
literature of which he was the brightest ornament must be radical and
abiding.

One quality only, or so it seems to me, Hugo lacked to place him on a
level with the few great master spirits of the world. He wanted the
universality of Homer and Shakspeare. Whenever the _Iliad_ is read, the
power of that mighty story is felt, and methinks that had I been born of
any other than that English nationality of which I can boast, there is
still something in Shakspeare which would have moved me as no other
writer does. It is that secret power which draws all hearts to
him--'that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin,' and unites
all men in admiration of his singular genius. Hugo is great also, but he
has not that Shakspearean greatness which compels the tribute of all
other peoples, as it receives the willing homage of his own. His noble
poems and romances, with their sonorous eloquence, their rapid changes,
their varied effects, remind me of Nature on an autumn day. The gloomy
cloud gathers in the heavens, the lurid lightning darts from its bosom,
the thunder rolls and reverberates in the mountains; but anon the
tempest passes, the heavens open, and the glorious and beneficent sun
once more smiles upon the world. So Hugo is a mixture of thunder and
sunshine; of smiles and tears. No man had ever a greater
heart--Shakspeare, and few others only, a more expansive intellect. He
lacks the grand impartiality and the majestic calm of the author of
_Hamlet_; but his soul is filled with the same love of his species, and
it is large enough to embrace all the sons of humanity. His is a name
which any nation, might well hold in everlasting honour. Though his life
be ended, the splendour of his fame has but just begun; for the works
infused and moulded by his genius, and into which he threw so much of
passionate energy, of a noble idealism, of radiant hope, of moral
fervour, and of human sympathy, will assuredly confer upon him glory and
immortality.

BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Victor Hugo: His Life and Works" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home