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Title: Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature - 1. The Emigrant Literature
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
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MAIN CURRENTS IN

NINETEENTH CENTURY LITERATURE

BY

GEORGE BRANDES

IN SIX VOLUMES ILLUSTRATED


I

THE EMIGRANT LITERATURE


NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

MCMVI



To the Memory

of

HANS BRÖCHNER


[Illustration: ROUSSEAU]



INTRODUCTION


It is my intention in the present work to trace the outlines of a
psychology of the first half of the nineteenth century by means of the
study of certain main groups and movements in European literature. The
stormy year 1848, a historical turning-point, and hence a break, is
the limit to which I purpose following the process of development. The
period between the beginning and the middle of the century presents
the spectacle of many scattered and apparently disconnected literary
efforts and phenomena. But he who carefully observes the main currents
of literature perceives that their movements are all conditioned
by one great leading movement with its ebb and flow, namely, the
gradual fading away and disappearance of the ideas and feelings of the
preceding century, and the return of the idea of progress in new, ever
higher-mounting waves.

The central subject of this work is, then, the reaction in the first
decades of the nineteenth century against the literature of the
eighteenth, and the vanquishment of that reaction. This historic
incident is of European interest, and can only be understood by a
comparative study of European literature. Such a study I purpose
attempting by simultaneously tracing the course of the most important
movements in French, German, and English literature. The comparative
view possesses the double advantage of bringing foreign literature so
near to us that we can assimilate it, and of removing our own until
we are enabled to see it in its true perspective. We neither see what
is too near the eye nor what is too far away from it. The scientific
view of literature provides us with a telescope of which the one
end magnifies and the other diminishes; it must be so focussed as to
remedy the illusions of unassisted eyesight. The different nations
have hitherto stood so remote from each other, as far as literature is
concerned, that they have only to a very limited extent been able to
benefit by each other's productions. For an image of the position as it
is, or was, we must go back to the old fable of the fox and the stork.
Every one knows that the fox, having invited the stork to dinner,
arranged all his dainties upon a flat dish from which the stork with
his long bill could pick up little or nothing. We also know how the
stork revenged himself. He served his delicacies in a tall vase with
a long and slender neck, down which it was easy for him to thrust his
bill, but which made it impossible for the fox, with his sharp muzzle,
to get anything. The various nations have long played fox and stork in
this fashion. It has been and is a great literary problem how to place
the contents of the stork's larder upon the fox's table, and _vice
versâ_.

Literary history is, in its profoundest significance, psychology, the
study, the history of the soul. A book which belongs to the literature
of a nation, be it romance, drama, or historical work, is a gallery of
character portraits, a storehouse of feelings and thoughts. The more
momentous the feelings, the greater, clearer, and wider the thoughts,
the more remarkable and at the same time representative the characters,
so much the greater is the historical value of the book, so much the
more clearly does it reveal to us what was really happening in men's
minds in a given country at a given period.

Regarded from the merely æsthetic point of view as a work of art, a
book is a self-contained, self-existent whole, without any connection
with the surrounding world. But looked at from the historical point of
view, a book, even though it may be a perfect, complete work of art,
is only a piece cut out of an endlessly continuous web. Æsthetically
considered, its idea, the main thought inspiring it, may satisfactorily
explain it, without any cognisance taken of its author or its
environment as an organism; but historically considered, it implies,
as the effect implies the cause, the intellectual idiosyncrasy of its
author, which asserts itself in all his productions, which conditions
this particular book, and some understanding of which is indispensable
to its comprehension. The intellectual idiosyncrasy of the author,
again, we cannot comprehend without some acquaintance with the
intellects which influenced his development, the spiritual atmosphere
which he breathed.

The intellectual phenomena which condition, elucidate, and explain each
other, fall of themselves into natural groups.

What I shall describe is a historical movement partaking of the form
and character of a drama. The six different literary groups it is
my intention to represent may be looked on as six acts of a great
play. In the first group, the French Emigrant Literature inspired by
Rousseau, the reaction begins; but here the reactionary are still
everywhere mingled with the revolutionary currents. In the second
group, the semi-Catholic Romantic school of Germany, the reaction
is on the increase; it is more vigorous and holds itself more aloof
from the contemporary struggle for progress and liberty. The third
group, consisting of such men as Joseph de Maistre, Lamennais in his
strictly orthodox period, Lamartine and Victor Hugo when they (after
the restoration of the monarchy) were still mainstays of the Legitimist
and clerical party, represents the militant, triumphant reaction. Byron
and his English contemporaries form the fourth group. It is this one
man, Byron, who produces the revulsion in the great drama. The Greek
war of liberation breaks out, a revivifying breeze blows over Europe,
Byron falls like a hero in the cause of Greece, and his death makes
a tremendous impression on all the productive minds of the Continent.
Shortly before the Revolution of July a change of front occurs among
the great authors of France; they form the French Romantic school,
which is our fifth group, a new Liberal movement on the roll of whose
adherents we find such names as Lamennais, Hugo, Lamartine, Musset,
George Sand, &c. The movement passes from France into Germany, and in
that country also Liberal ideas are victorious. The writers forming the
sixth and last group which I shall depict, Young Germany, are inspired
by the ideas of the Greek war of liberation and the Revolution of July,
and, like the French authors, see in Byron's great shade the leader
of the Liberal movement. The authors of Young Germany, Heine, Börne,
Gutzkow, Ruge, Feuerbach, &c., prepare, together with the contemporary
French writers, the great upheaval of 1848.



      _A household god made of wax, that had been carelessly
      left standing beside a fire in which precious Campanian
      vases were bakings began to melt_.

      _It addressed bitter complaints to the element. "See," it
      said, "how cruelly you treat me! To these things you give
      durability, me you destroy_."

      _But the fire answered: "You have nothing to complain
      of but your own nature. As for my I am fire, always and
      everywhere_."

                                                      _W. HEINSE_.



THE EMIGRANT LITERATURE



CONTENTS

    I. CHATEAUBRIAND
   II. ROUSSEAU
  III. WERTHER
   IV. RENÉ
    V. OBERMANN
   VI. NODIER
  VII. CONSTANT: "ON RELIGION"--"ADOLPHE"
 VIII. MADAME DE STAËL: "DELPHINE"
   IX. EXILE
    X. "CORINNE"
   XI. ATTACK UPON NATIONAL AND PROTESTANT PREJUDICES
  XII. NEW CONCEPTION OF THE ANTIQUE
 XIII. DE L'ALLEMAGNE
  XIV. BARANTE
   XV. CONCLUSION



LIST OF PORTRAITS

    J. J. ROUSSEAU
    DE SÉNANCOUR
    CHARLES NODIER
    BENJAMIN CONSTANT
    MADAME DE STAËL
    WINCKELMANN



THE EMIGRANT LITERATURE


The passage of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century was
accompanied in France by social and political disturbances of hitherto
unknown force and magnitude. The new seed sown by the great ideas
and events of the Revolution at first made little or no growth in
literature. It was unable to shoot up, for, with but brief interval
between, two destroying tyrannies, the dictatorships of the Convention
and of the Empire, passed over France, annihilating all personal
freedom as they went. The first terrorism cowed, exiled, or guillotined
all whose political colouring did not accurately match the then
prevailing shade of popular opinion. Aristocracy, royal family, priests
and Girondists alike succumbed to it, and men fled to the quiet of
Switzerland or the lonely prairies of North America to escape the
fate which had destroyed their nearest and threatened themselves.
The second terrorism persecuted, imprisoned, shot, or exiled all
who would not submit to being silenced (a silence which might only
be broken by cheers for the Emperor). Legitimists and Republicans,
Constitutionalists and Liberals, philosophers and poets were crushed
under the all-levelling roller, unless they preferred, scattered in
every direction, to seek a refuge beyond the boundaries of the empire.
No easy matter in those days, for the empire followed swiftly upon
their heels, rapidly growing, swallowing Germany and Italy in great
gulps, until no place seemed secure from its armies, which overtook
fugitives even in Moscow.

During both these great despotisms it was only far from Paris, in
lonely country places where he lived a life of death-like stillness,
or beyond the frontier, in Switzerland, Germany, England, or North
America, that the French man of letters pursued his calling. Only in
such places could the independent intellects of France exist, and it
is by independent intellects alone that a literature can be founded
or developed. The first French literary group of the present century,
then, a group brought together from all points of the compass, is
distinguished by its oppositionist tendency. I do not mean that its
members are united on certain fundamental principles, for they are
often utterly at variance, but they are all united by their hatred of
the Reign of Terror and the Napoleonic autocracy. Whatever they may
originally have been, and whatever they become after the restoration
of the monarchy, whether literary reformers, reactionary Legitimists,
or members of the Liberal Opposition, they are at the beginning of
the century one and all opposed to the prevailing order of things.
Another thing they all have in common is their difficult position as
heirs of the eighteenth century, whose last bequest to them is that
Empire against which they protest. Some of them would fain renounce
the inheritance and its liabilities, others are ready to accept it if
they can repudiate the liabilities, all feel that the intellectual
development of the new century must be based upon other assumptions
than that of the old. The folding-doors of the nineteenth century open;
they stand gazing in intently; they have a presentiment of what they
are to see, and believe they see it, and the new shapes itself for each
and is interpreted by each according to his gifts and desires. Thus as
a body there is something premonitory, precursory about them: they are
the bearers of the spirit of the new age.

There was a wider sphere for a literary revival in France than in
any other European country, for in France in the eighteenth century
literary art had developed into formalism. Social and academic
culture had laced it in the iron corset of so-called good taste, into
stiff, meagre, regulation proportions. France has long presented
the contradiction of being a country with a feverish desire for
change in all external arrangements, unable, once it determines to
gratify this desire, to keep within the bounds of moderation, and of
being at the same time remarkably stable in everything that regards
literature--acknowledging authority, maintaining an academy, and
placing rule and regularity above everything. Frenchmen had instituted
a Republic and overturned Christianity before it occurred to them
to dispute the authority of Boileau. Voltaire, who turns tradition
upside down and uses tragedy as a weapon against the very powers whose
chief support it had been, namely the autocracy and the Church, never
ventures to allow his action to last more than twenty-four hours, or
to pass in two different places in the same play. He, who has little
respect for anything in heaven or earth, respects the uniform caesura
of the Alexandrine.

It was another people than the French, a people to whom Voltaire
had scornfully wished more wit and fewer consonants, who remodelled
literature and re-created poetry, while Frenchmen were overturning
political systems and customs. The Germans of that day, of whom the
French scarcely knew more than that, in humble, patriarchal submission
to their petty princes, they drank their beer, smoked their pipes, and
ate their _sauer-kraut_ in the corner by the stove, made far greater
conquests in the intellectual world than Frenchmen achieved in the
geographical. Of all the nations of Europe none save the Germans had
had their literary blossoming time in the eighteenth century. It was
the second half of that century which witnessed the notable development
of poetry between Lessing and Goethe, and the energetic progress of
metaphysics between Kant and Schelling. For in Germany nothing had been
free save thought.

The French literature of the beginning of the century is, naturally,
influenced by Germany, the more so as the nations now first begin to
enter into unbroken intellectual communion. The great upheavals, the
wars of the Republic and the Empire, jostled the peoples of Europe
together, and made them acquainted with each other. But the men most
profoundly influenced by foreign surroundings were those for whom
these great events meant long, in some cases life-long, exile. The
influence of the foreign spirit, only fleeting as far as the soldier
was concerned, was lasting and momentous in the case of the _émigré_.
Exiled Frenchmen were obliged to acquire a more than superficial
acquaintance with foreign tongues, if for no other reason, in order to
be able to give French lessons in the country of their adoption. It
was the intelligent _émigré_ who diffused knowledge of the character
and culture of other lands throughout France, and in seeking a general
designation for the literary phenomena of this period, it would
scarcely be possible to find a better than the one I have adopted: "The
Emigrant Literature."

The name must not be taken for more than it is--a name--for it would be
foolish not to class along with the works of _émigrés_ proper, kindred
writings by authors who, though they did not live in Paris, perhaps
not even in France, yet were not exiles; and, on the other hand, some
of the works written by _émigrés_ are distinctly not products of
the renovating and fertilising literary movement, but belong to the
anti-liberal literature of the Restoration period.

Nevertheless the name may fitly be applied to the first group of
French books which ushers in the century. The émigré\ as already
remarked, inevitably belongs to the opposition. But the character of
his opposition varies, according to whether it is the Reign of Terror
or the Empire to which he objects, and from the tyranny of which he has
escaped. Frequently he has fled from both, in which case the motive
of his opposition is of a compound nature. He possibly sympathised
with the Revolution in its early stage as curtailing the power of the
monarchy, and his desire may be a moderate republic; in this case he
will be inspired by a more passionate ill-will towards the Empire than
towards the old Reign of Terror. Whatever the nature of the compound, a
double current is discernible in the emigrant literature.

Its direct reaction is against certain mental characteristics of the
eighteenth century, its dry rationalism, its taboo of emotion and
fancy, its misunderstanding of history, its ignoring of legitimate
national peculiarities, its colourless view of nature, and its mistaken
conception of religions as being conscious frauds. But there is also
an unmistakable undercurrent in the direction of the main stream
of the eighteenth century; all the authors carry on the great war
against petrified tradition, some only in the domain of literature,
others in each and every intellectual domain. They are all daring,
enterprising natures, and for none of them has the word Liberty lost
its electrifying power. Even Chateaubriand, who in politics and
religion represents the extreme Right of the group, and who in some of
his writings is positively reactionary, takes "_Liberty_ and Honour"
as his motto; which explains his finally going over to the Opposition.
The double current is everywhere discernible, in Chateaubriand, in
Sénancour, in Constant, in Mme. de Staël, in Barante, Nodier, &c.,
and to this subtle correlation of reaction and progress I shall draw
attention from the first.

In speaking of the spirit of the eighteenth century it is generally
Voltaire's name which rises to our lips. It is he who in most men's
minds embodies and represents the whole period; and in as far as the
_émigrés_ bring about a revulsion against him, they may certainly
be said to represent the reaction against the preceding century.
Even those among them who are closely related to him intellectually,
compulsorily join in the reaction against him, compelled, that is to
say, by the spirit of the age; as, for instance, Constant in his book
_On Religion_. But among the writers of the eighteenth century there
is one who was Voltaire's rival, who is almost his equal, and whose
works, moreover, in a much higher degree than Voltaire's, point to an
age far ahead of that in which they were written. This man in many
ways inspires the Emigrant Literature, and in as far as it descends
from Rousseau, and to a certain extent perpetuates his influence, it
may be said to perpetuate the preceding century and the Revolution. It
is astonishing to what an extent the great literary movements in all
the principal countries of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth
century were influenced by Rousseau. Among his spiritual progeny in
France in the eighteenth century had been men so unlike each other as
St. Pierre, Diderot, and Robespierre, and in Germany geniuses and men
of talent like Herder, Kant, Fichte, Jacobi, Goethe, Schiller, and Jean
Paul. In the rising age he influences, among others, Chateaubriand,
Mme. de Staël, and later, George Sand, in France; in Germany, Tieck;
and in England, Byron. Voltaire influences minds in general, Rousseau
has a special power over productive talents, over authors. These two
great men exercised an alternating influence upon posterity well-nigh
into our own day, when both have been supplanted by Diderot. At the
close of last century, Voltaire yielded his sceptre to Rousseau; fifty
years later his name returned to honour in France; and now in some
of the most eminent writers of that country--take Ernest Renan as an
instance--a twofold intellectual tendency is discernible, something
of Rousseau's spirit combined with something of Voltaire's. But it is
in the writings of Rousseau alone that the great spiritual streams
which flow from other countries into France at the beginning of the
nineteenth century have their source, and to Rousseau is it due that
the literature produced by Frenchmen living in remote provinces or
foreign countries, in spite of its antagonism to the spirit which
produced and upheld the imperial despotism, remained in touch with the
eighteenth century, and was based upon originally French theories.



I


CHATEAUBRIAND


The year 1800 was the first to produce a book bearing the imprint of
the new era, a work small in size, but great in significance and mighty
in the impression it made. _Atala_ took the French public by storm in
a way which no book had done since the days of _Paul and Virginia_. It
was a romance of the plains and mysterious forests of North America,
with a strong, strange aroma of the untilled soil from which it
sprang; it glowed with rich foreign colouring, and with the fiercer
glow of consuming passion. The history of a repressed, and therefore
overpowering and fatal love, was depicted upon a background of wild
Indian life, the effect of the whole being heightened by a varnish of
Roman Catholic piety.

This story of the love and death of a Christian Indian girl was so
admired that its principal characters were soon to be seen adorning
the walls of French inns in the form of coloured prints, while their
waxen images were sold on the quays of Paris, as those of Christ and
the Virgin usually are in Catholic countries. At one of the suburban
theatres the heroine figured in savage attire with cock's feathers
in her hair, and a farce was given at the _Théâtre des Variétés_ in
which a school girl and boy, who had eloped, talked of nothing but
alligators, storks, and virgin forests in the style of _Atala_. A
parody published under the title of "_Ah! là! là_!" substituted for the
long, gorgeous description of Mississippi scenery an equally lengthy
and detailed description of a potato patch--so strange did it seem at
that day that an author should devote several pages to the description
of natural scenery. But though parodies, jests, and caricatures rained
upon the author, he was not to be pitied, such things being symptoms
of fame. With one bound he had risen from complete obscurity to the
rank of a celebrity. His name was upon all lips, the name of François
René de Chateaubriand.

The youngest of ten children, he was born of an ancient and noble house
in St. Malo, Brittany. His father was a stern, dry, unsociable and
silent man, whose one passion was his pride of race; while his mother,
a little, plain, restless, discontented woman, was God-fearing to the
highest degree, a church-goer and a patroness of priests. The son
inherited a mixture of both natures.

Sternly brought up in a home where, as he himself expressed it, the
father was the terror and the mother the scourge of the household, he
was reserved and shy, an obstinate, excitable, melancholy child, early
familiar with the unrest of the sea and the music of its storms, never
reconciled to the discomfort and coldness of his home. His sister
Lucile, the nearest him in age, was his one friend and confidante. Like
him, she was of a morbid and passionate temperament, year by year more
prone, like Rousseau, to suspect every one of conspiracy against her,
and to regard herself as persecuted. In her childhood it was to her
brother, in later life to religion, that she turned for protection in
these troubles and dangers. At first plain and shy, like her brother,
she afterwards became very beautiful; with her pale face and dark
hair she was like a lovely angel of death. She passed the greater
part of her life in convents; was passionate in her sisterly love,
and passionately Catholic; she had considerable poetic talent, and in
shyness and romantic excitability she seems to have been the feminine
counterpart of her brother. Another sister, Julie, having passed her
youth as a gay woman of the world, ended her life in the most saintly
self-renunciation. The tendency towards Catholicism seems to have run
in the blood of the whole family.

The great constraint of young Chateaubriand's upbringing induced in
him a wild longing to be free and his own master, while the perpetual
surveillance under which he suffered created an overwhelming,
misanthropic desire for solitude. When he ran alone down the stairs of
the old manor-house, or went out with his gun, he felt all the passions
boiling and seething within him in wild ecstasy at being able to dream
and long unrestrainedly. Ill at ease in the society of others, he
plunged when alone into dreams of happiness and ambition, the dreams of
a poet. In this half-sensuous, half-spiritual dreaming and longing, he
created the image of a supernaturally charming woman, a youthful queen,
bedecked with flowers and jewels, whom he loved and by whom he was
beloved in the balmy, moonlit nights of Naples or Sicily. To awake from
these dreams and realise the insignificant little Breton that he was,
awkward, unknown, poor and possibly without talent, was torture to him.
The contrast between what he was and what he longed to be overwhelmed
him.

He was at first intended for the navy, but his unconquerable aversion
to discipline proved an insurmountable obstacle, and his thoughts
turned to the Church, from which, however, a conviction of his
unfitness for a life of renunciation made him draw back. In the depth
of his despondency he attempted to commit suicide. An irrevocable
family decision put an end to his vacillation; he was given a
commission as sub-lieutenant in the army, and found the life to his
liking. As a cadet of a noble family he was presented to Louis XVI.,
at whose court he witnessed the last glimmer of the old splendour and
ceremony of royalty. Two years later the Revolution broke out, and in
1790 rank, titles, and feudal rights were abolished. Chateaubriand
gave up his commission, and, as no occupation offered itself under the
new order, or disorder, he conceived the fantastic plan of travelling
to America to discover the North-West Passage. Without any of the
requisite information, without interest or money, he was inevitably
soon obliged to abandon this project. But if he did not find the
North-West Passage, he did discover a new race, fresh conditions,
and new scenery. In his early youth, after reading Rousseau, he had
conceived the idea of writing the Epic of Primitive Man, a description
of the ways of the savages of whom he knew nothing. Now he was upon
their own soil, in their world, and though they were not as untouched
by civilisation as he had imagined, it was not difficult to reconstruct
their original condition. The first impression he received of them
was undeniably a strange one. On the way from Albany to Niagara, when
his guide led him for the first time into the virgin forest, he was
seized by one of those transports of delight in his independence which
he had felt in his early youth when he went hunting in Brittany. He
wandered from tree to tree, to right and left, saying to himself:
"Here are no roads, no towns, no monarchies, no republics, no men."
Imagining himself to be alone in the forest, he suddenly came upon a
score of half-naked, painted savages with ravens' feathers in their
hair and rings in their noses, who--marvellous to relate!--were dancing
quadrilles to the sounds of a violin played by a little powdered and
frizzed Frenchman, once kitchen-boy to a French general, now retained
as dancing-master by these savages for a consideration of beaver-skins
and bear-hams. What a humiliating introduction to primitive life for a
pupil of Rousseau! Subsequent impressions were, fortunately, simpler
and more beautiful than this. Chateaubriand purchased clothes and
weapons from the Indians, and lived their life for some weeks at least.
He was presented to the Sachem, or chief, of the Onondagas (as Byron
at a later period was presented to Ali Pasha); he rode through the
country, coming here and there upon little European houses, with their
pianos and mirrors, close to the huts of the Iroquois; he saw the Falls
of Niagara; and in two charming Florida girls found the models for his
famous characters, Atala and Celuta.

It was in America that Chateaubriand planned his two brilliant short
tales, _Atala_ and _René_, and also the long, somewhat slovenly work
of which they form part, _Les Natchez_, a great romance dealing with
the destruction of an Indian tribe in its struggle with the whites.
_Atala_ was the first to be completed. After a brief stay in France,
where he arrived in January 1792, recalled by the news of the fall
of the monarchy and the dangerous position of Louis XVI., he again
emigrated, this time to London. He made the first rough drafts of
_Atala_ and _René_ sitting under the trees in Kensington Gardens, and
when he joined the emigrant army on the Rhine, his knapsack contained
more manuscript than linen. _Atala_ was revised during the halts of
the army, and repacked in his knapsack when the march was resumed,
his comrades teasing him by tearing the protruding leaves. In the
action in which he was wounded in the thigh by a splinter of shell,
_Atala_ proved the means of saving his life, for two spent bullets
glanced off his knapsack. He arrived at Brussels after the destruction
of the emigrant army, wounded, emaciated, and ill with fever; his
brother, with wife and father-in-law, having meanwhile perished on
the scaffold in Paris. His mother and two sisters, of whom Lucile was
one, had been imprisoned for a time after his flight. In London, in
1797, he published his _Essai historique sur les Revolutions_, which
was written in a comparatively liberal and, as regards religion, a
distinctly sceptical spirit. It was the death of his mother, he tells
us, which led him back to Christianity, but the reactionary spirit of
the times probably contributed quite as much to his change of attitude,
and when he returned to France in 1800, after Bonaparte had quelled
the Revolution, he carried with him his great work, _Le Génie du
Christianisme_, in which _René_ was included, and the publication of
which coincided with Bonaparte's restoration of Christian worship in
France. The book harmonised too well with the plans of the First Consul
not to bring its author into favour with that autocrat; Chateaubriand,
however, broke with his government after the judicial murder of the Duc
d'Enghien in 1804.

These are the principal incidents in the youthful career of the man
who became famous in 1800 as the author of _Atala_. His character
was even more remarkable than his career. High-spirited, ambitious,
vain, and shy, perpetually wavering in his faith in his own powers,
he was not only endowed with the self-consciousness of genius, but
with an egotism which ignored with absolute indifference all that did
not immediately concern himself. He came too late into the world, and
was educated under too peculiar circumstances, to have faith in the
Revolution or the eighteenth century philosophy which partly inspired
it. He came into the world too soon to make acquaintance with the
science of the nineteenth century, and through it to win a new faith
and a new standpoint. He therefore became a kind of Nihilist in the
service of the past, a spirit who, as he repeatedly observes, believed
in nothing. He adds, when he remembers to do so, "except religion"; but
a man is, according to his nature, either a believer or a sceptic, and
the idea that it is possible to be a believer in the matter of religion
when one believes in nothing else, is a mere delusion, to which the
half-educated are specially liable.

Chateaubriand's _Mémoires_ are full of the sort of tirade on the
vanity of name and fame which we so often meet with in Byron. There is
undoubtedly a good deal of affectation in these outbreaks, but they
nevertheless betray genuine ennui and persistent melancholy.

"Unable to believe in anything except religion, I am distrustful of
all else.... The trivial and ridiculous side of things is always the
first to show itself to me. In reality neither great geniuses nor great
deeds exist for me.... In politics the warmth of my conviction does not
outlast my speech or pamphlet.... In the whole history of the world I
do not know a fame that could tempt me. If the greatest honour in the
world lay at my feet and I had but to stoop and take it up, I would not
take the trouble. If I had been my own creator, I should probably have
made myself a woman, out of passion for the sex; or if I had chosen to
be a man, I would first of all have bestowed beauty upon myself; then,
to provide against ennui, my worst enemy, I would have been a great
but unknown artist, using my talent for myself alone. If we set aside
all humbug and examine into what it is that gives life real worth, we
find only two things of value, religion in combination with talent,
and love in combination with youth, that is to say the future and the
present; all the rest is not worth the trouble of thinking about.... I
have no belief in anything except religion. If I had been a shepherd or
a king, what should I have done with my staff or sceptre? I should have
been equally weary of glory and genius, work and rest, prosperity and
adversity. Everything irks me. I drag my weariness painfully after me
all day long, and yawn my life away (_et je vais partout bâillant ma
vie_)."[1]

How much passion had he not wasted upon fantastic imaginings and poetic
dreams before he was reduced to this utter boredom! In _Atala_ the
passion still wells up like a hot spring, and its spray stings and
scalds.

The old Indian, Chactas, tells the story of his youth to a young
Frenchman to whom Chateaubriand has given his own second name, René.
Chactas, taken captive by a hostile tribe, is condemned to death upon
the pyre. The daughter of the chief of the tribe takes a fancy to him
and approaches the place where he lies bound. He mistakes her for
the maiden whose part it is to solace the prisoner in the last hour
before the consummation of the death sentence; but her intention is to
release, not to console. He conceives a sudden passion for her, and
entreats her to fly with him and be his; she refuses, and, delayed by
her opposition, he is recaptured. He is already adorned for the pyre,
crowned with flowers, his face painted blue and red, and beads attached
to his ears, when Atala delivers him for the second time and escapes
with him. The greater part of the book describes this flight, Chactas's
desire, and the mingling of passion and reserve in Atala which makes
her constantly vacillate between resistance and surrender. Her
behaviour is explained when she tells Chactas that her mother, who was
seduced by a white man, had her baptized and made her swear to remain
unwed. In her anguish at the vow and her despair of being able to keep
it, she takes poison, and dies in her lover's arms, comforted by the
old missionary in whose hut the pair have taken shelter.

A full impression of the burning passion and lyrical exaltation of
the book can only be gained by reading it, nor can we obtain any idea
from descriptions and quotations of the power with which the wonderful
scenery is described. It is an easy matter, however, to show how much
and how instinctively Chateaubriand relied upon a mingling of the
terrible with the erotic to obtain his effects. In the principal love
scene we have not only a lavish musical accompaniment of the rattle
of snakes, the howling of wolves, the roaring of bears and jaguars,
but also a storm which shatters the trees, and impenetrable darkness,
torn by flash upon flash of the lightning which finally sets fire to
the forest. Round about the lovers the pines are blazing like wedding
torches, and Atala is about to yield when a warning flash strikes
the ground at her feet. It is after this she takes poison, and the
burning passion of her last words to Chactas are in harmony with the
conflagration of the forest:

"What torture to see thee at my side, far from all mankind, in these
profound solitudes, and to feel an invincible barrier between thee
and me! To pass my life at thy feet, to wait upon thee as thy slave,
to prepare thy repast and thy couch in some forgotten corner of the
universe would have been my supreme happiness. This bliss I had
actually attained to, but could not enjoy. What plans have I not
planned! what dreams have I not dreamed! Sometimes, looking upon thee,
I have been tempted to form desires as wild as they were guilty. I have
sometimes wished that thou and I were the only living creatures on
earth; sometimes, conscious of a divinity which arrested my horrible
transports, I have wished that divinity annihilated, that, clasped in
thy arms, I might fall from abyss to abyss amid the ruins of God and
the world."

Remarkable as these outbursts of irresistible passion are, and novel as
is the scenery which throws them into relief, we feel that both would
have been impossible if Rousseau had never lived, and if his literary
work had not been carried on by another and greater intellect of
another nationality.


[1] _Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe_, vol. i. p. 207-451; vol. ii. p. 129.



II


ROUSSEAU


Rousseau's chief work as an imaginative writer is _La Nouvelle Héloïse_.

The novelty of the book lay, in the first instance, in the fact that it
gave the death-blow to gallantry, and, consequently, to the theory of
the French classical period on the subject of the emotions. This theory
was that all noble, fine emotions, and chief among them love, were the
products of civilisation. It is obvious enough that a certain degree of
civilisation was necessary before such a sentiment as love could arise.
Until they wore womanly garb women did not exist, but only females, and
until there were women there was no love. From this perfectly correct
idea had resulted (in the pre-Rousseau period) the belief that the
veiling of passion ennobled it and made it worthy. The more it could be
shrouded in circumlocutions, hints, and suggestions, the less coarse it
was. The morality and the literature of that period were the products
of social culture, a culture confined to the highest circles. We need
but read Marivaux's plays to find literary evidence of the extent to
which courtly formality and refined sentiment were preferred to nature
and passion. Marivaux's lovers are always each other's equals in
culture, and, what is of still greater importance, in rank. We never
find, as in the dramas of our century, the aristocratic lady who loves
a man of lower social station, nor such a character, for instance,
as Ruy Blas, the lackey who finds favour in the eyes of a Queen. In
Marivaux, if a gentleman is disguised as a lackey, or a young lady as
a waiting-maid, they always divine each other immediately in spite of
their disguise. Their conversation is an incessant pursuit and flight,
advance and retreat; it is full of ambiguities and hints and evasions,
masked confessions and suppressed sighs, love-sickness expressed in a
becomingly conventional manner. In Rousseau's eyes these mannerisms are
as ridiculous as they are artificial. He prefers love, like everything
else, in its natural state, and to him love in its natural state is a
violent, irresistible passion. In his books we are very far removed
from those scenes in Marivaux in which the kneeling lover never forgets
to preserve a graceful attitude while pressing the tips of a glove to
his lips. For all his chivalry and virtue, St. Preux is an electric
battery charged with passion; the first kiss in the Grove of Clarens
produces the shock, the conflagration of a thunderbolt; and when
Julie, bending towards St. Preux and kissing him, swoons away, it is
no coquettish faint of the days of the periwig, but the effect of the
overwhelming might of passion upon a young and healthy child of nature.

The second novelty in the book is the inequality in station of the hero
and heroine. Julie is the daughter of a nobleman, St. Preux is a poor
tutor, a plebeian. Here, as in the _Sorrows of Werther_, the passion
of love is connected with the equality-loving plebeian's determination
to make a name for himself. This is no chance connection, for passion
creates equality, whereas love in fashionable society has a tendency to
develop into gallantry.

A third significant feature in _La Nouvelle Héloïse_ is that, just as
we have passion in place of gallantry and inequality of station in
place of similarity of rank, we have also the moral conviction of the
sanctity of marriage in place of that honour grounded on aristocratic
pride and self-respect, which stood for virtue in fashionable
literature. This word, Virtue, little in vogue until now, became with
Rousseau and his school a watchword which was in perfect harmony with
their other watchword, Nature; for to Rousseau virtue was a natural
condition. Following the example of society, French literature had
been making merry at the expense of marriage; Rousseau, therefore,
defied the spirit of the times by writing a book in its honour. His
heroine returns the passion of her lover, but marries another, to
whom she remains faithful. Here, as in _Werther_, the lover proper
loses the maiden, who is wedded to a Monsieur Wolmar (the Albert of
_Werther_ and the Edward of Kierkegaard's _Diary of a Seducer_), a man
as irreproachable as he is uninteresting. The moral conviction which
is vindicated and glorified in Rousseau as Virtue, is the same as that
which in Chateaubriand, under the influence of the religious reaction,
takes the form of a binding religious vow.

Note, finally, that the watchword Nature is to be taken in its literal
meaning. For the first time, out of England, we have the genuine
feeling for nature in fiction, superseding love-making in drawing-rooms
and gardens. Under Louis XV. and the Regency, people passed their
time (in real life as well as in books) in boudoirs, where light
conversation and light morals were in place. The rooms, like the verses
of Voltaire's _Poesies Fugitives_, were adorned with endless multitudes
of Cupids and Graces. In the gardens goat-footed Pans embraced slender
white nymphs by the side of artificial fountains. In their pictures
of the _fêtes-champêtres_ of those days, Watteau and the less-gifted
Boucher and Lancret have preserved for us these gardens with their
shady walks and quiet corners, where courtly gentlemen and gay ladies,
clad as Pierrots and Columbines, coquetted and whispered, conscious of
being on the right stage for such free and frivolous masquerading. Turn
from these to the scenery of _La Nouvelle Héloïse_.

Rousseau's statue stands at this day on a little island lying in the
Lake of Geneva, at its narrow southern extremity. The spot is one of
the loveliest in the world. Pass the island and cross another bridge
and you see the Rhone rush, impetuous and foaming white, out of the
lake. A few steps further and you can see its white stream joined by
the grey snow waters of the Arve. The rivers flow side by side, each
retaining its colour. Far away between two mighty ridges you discern
the white snow-caps of Mont Blanc. Towards evening, as those mountain
ridges darken, the snows of Mont Blanc glow like pale roses. It would
seem as if Nature had gathered together all her contrasts here. Even in
the warmest season as you approach the grey, foaming mountain torrents,
the air becomes icy cold. In the course of a short stroll you may feel
the heat of summer in some sheltered nook, and a few steps farther
on encounter harsh autumn with its cutting winds. One can form no
conception of the cool freshness and strength of the air here. Only the
sun and the brilliant shimmer of the stars at night recall the south.
The latter are not the bright points in a distant sky which they appear
to be in the north; they seem to hang loose in the air; and the air
itself, as one inhales it, feels like a strong massive substance.

Sail up the lake to Vevey. Behind that town the Alpine slopes are clad
with the trees and vineyards of southern lands. On the farther side of
the lake rise great walls of blue rock, solemn and threatening, and
the sun plays in light and shade down the mountain-side. No waters
are so blue as those of the Lake of Geneva. As you sail down it on a
beautiful summer day, it shines like blue satin shot with gold. It is
a fairyland, a dreamland, where mighty mountains cast their blue-black
shadows down into the azure waters and a brilliant sun saturates the
air with colour. Sail a little farther up the lake to Montreux, where
the rock fortress of Chillon, the prison in which mediæval cruelty
collected all its instruments of torture, projects into the water. This
witness to wild and terrible passions lies in the midst of scenery
which may well be called enchanted. The lake is more open here, the
view less peculiar, and the climate more southern than at Vevey.
One sees sky, Alps, and lake, all melting together in a mysterious
blue light. From Montreux walk to Clärens and pause in the chestnut
grove which is still called the _Bosquet de Julie_. It is situated
on a height from which you look down upon Montreux, lying sheltered
and hidden in its bay; look round and you will understand how it was
from this spot that the love of nature spread throughout Europe. We
are standing in Rousseau's country, upon the scene of his _Nouvelle
Héloïse_. This was the scenery which supplanted that of the Regency.

It is not difficult to trace the relation between Chateaubriand's first
work and Rousseau's famous romance. First and foremost Chateaubriand
inherits the love of nature; his strongly coloured pictures of North
American scenery have their progenitors in those descriptions of
Swiss nature. But there is this difference between Rousseau's and
Chateaubriand's landscapes, that the latter's are much more dependent
upon the mood of the hero and heroine. If stormy passions rage in their
hearts, the storm rages without also; the characters are blent with
their natural surroundings, which they permeate with their passions and
moods in a manner quite unknown to the literature of the eighteenth
century.

The hero and heroine themselves, being savages, have even less
suspicion of gallantry about them, are far more the children of nature
than Rousseau's lovers; and although expressions occur again and again
which are absurd coming from the lips of a Red Indian, yet many of
the love-speeches have a touch of primitive poetry in them, a genus
of literature which was entirely unknown in France in the eighteenth
century. Take for an example the warrior's love-song beginning with the
words: "I will fly so fast that before the day has touched the mountain
tops I shall have come to my white dove among the oaks of the forest. I
have bound a necklace of beads about her neck--three red beads to speak
of my love, three violet beads to speak of my fear, and three blue
beads to speak my hope," &c.

The inequality of position between Rousseau's lovers, so typical
of that revolutionary time, finds its equivalent in _Atala_ in the
difference of religion, a matter which in the new century, with its
reaction against Voltaire, acquires new importance. The religious
reaction also explains the fact that a Catholic vow to remain unwed
plays the same rôle in Chateaubriand's story which the dictate of
morality does in Rousseau's. We have, then, progress in colouring,
in the development of character, in the comprehension of the spirit
and racial peculiarities of an uncivilised people, but we have also a
deliberate step backward, in the substitution of Catholic conventual
piety, with its unnatural renunciation, for morality. Passion is
whetted, so to speak, on the altar of Catholicism, and its unnatural
suppression creates that unnatural frenzy which causes Atala, the
charming young Indian girl, who has so long held the desire of her
heathen lover in check, to die with a wish on her lips for the
annihilation of God and the world, if at that price she can be clasped
for ever to his heart.



III


WERTHER


_La Nouvelle Héloïse_ appeared in 1761. Thirteen years later, in
another country and in very different environments, a youthful genius,
who possessed little in common with Rousseau, but who wrote under
the influence of his romance and his ideas, published a little book
which contained all the merits and none of the defects of _La Nouvelle
Héloïse_, a book which stirred thousands upon thousands of minds, which
awoke lively enthusiasm and a morbid longing for death in a whole
generation, which in not a few cases induced hysterical sentimentality,
idleness, despair, and suicide, and which was honoured by being
proscribed by a fatherly Danish government as "irreligious." This book
was _Werther_. St. Preux has changed his costume, has donned the famous
Werther garb, the blue coat and yellow waistcoat, and Rousseau's _belle
âme_ has passed into German literature as _die schöne Seele_.

And what is _Werther_? No definitions can give any real idea of the
infinite wealth of an imaginative masterpiece, but we may briefly
say that the great importance of this story of ardent, unhappy love,
lies in its being so treated that it gives expression not merely to
the isolated passion and suffering of a single individual, but to
the passions, longings, and sufferings of a whole age. The hero is a
young man of the burgher class; he is artistically gifted, and paints
for pleasure, but by profession he is Secretary to a Legation. Goethe
has involuntarily made this young man see, and feel, and think as he
himself did in his youth, has endowed him with all his own rich and
brilliant genius. This transforms Werther into a great symbolic figure;
he is more than the spirit of the new era, he is its genius. He is
almost too rich and great for his destiny. There is, perhaps, actually
a certain discrepancy between the first part of the book, in which
Werther's mind manifests itself in its energetic, youthful health and
strength, and the second part, in which he succumbs to circumstances.
In the first half there is in Werther more of Goethe himself, who
certainly did not commit suicide; in the second, more of that young
Jerusalem whose unhappy death inspired the book. But such as he is,
Werther is a type. He is not only the child of nature in his passion,
he is nature in one of its highest developments, genius. Losing himself
in nature, he feels its whole infinite life within himself, and feels
himself "deified" thereby. Turn, for instance, to that wonderful entry
in his journal written on August 18, 1771. It is as powerful and full
of genius as a _Faust_ monologue. Read that description of how "the
inner, glowing, holy life of nature" opens before him, of how he
perceives the "unfathomable powers working and creating in the depths
of the earth," of how he yearns to "drink the surging joy of life
from the foaming cup of infinity, in order that, as far as his narrow
limitations permit, he may taste one drop of the bliss of that being
which produces everything in and by itself," and you will understand
how it is that, when he begins to feel like a prisoner who sees no way
of escape, he is seized by a burning, so to speak, pantheistic, desire
to fling his human life away, that he may "rend the clouds asunder with
the storm-wind and grasp the billows;" you will feel the justification
for his dying exclamation: "Nature! thy son, thy friend, thy lover,
approaches his end."

A soul which demands so much room must inevitably be an offence to
society, especially when society is hedged in by as many rules as it
was at the close of the most social of all centuries. Werther abhors
all rules. At a time when poetry was fettered by them, he reduces all
its laws to one: "Know what is good and dare to put it into words." An
artist, his views on painting are as heretical as his views on poetry.
He meets a young brother artist, fresh from the schools, who deafens
him with the doctrines of all the famous theorists, Winckelmann and
Sulzer amongst others. This fellow is a perfect terror to him. "Nature
alone," he writes, "fashions the great artist. Much may be said in
favour of the laws of art, about as much as may be said in praise of
the laws of society. The artist who observes them will never produce
anything bad or absolutely valueless, just as the man who submits to
the control of convention and decorum will never be an unbearable
neighbour or a remarkable scoundrel; nevertheless, every rule, say
what you will, tends to destroy true feeling for nature and to prevent
its sincere expression." Werther's detestation of rules explains his
abhorrence for all technical and conventional expressions. He gnashes
his teeth with annoyance when the prince, who has no artistic taste,
brings out some æsthetic platitude in reply to an eager remark he
himself has let fall on the subject of art, and he is enraged by the
string of ready-made social judgments which Albert has at his fingers'
ends. "Why," he cries, "must you people, when you speak of a thing,
immediately say, 'it is stupid' or 'it is clever,' 'it is good' or
'it is bad'? What do you mean? Have you investigated into the inner
significance of the action? Have you traced its causes, divined its
inevitability? If you had, you would not be so ready to pass judgment!"
He revolts against the pedantry of the ambassador who cavils at the
style of his secretary's despatches, he wishes misfortune may befall
the theological blue-stocking who has cut down the pretty hazels in the
rectory garden, and he is unreasonably embittered by the arrogance of
antiquated erudition, by all lifeless, solemn ceremonial, and by the
claims which those of a certain rank in society make on the submission
and obedience of their inferiors.

He seeks refuge with children, who "of all things upon earth are
nearest to his heart," and with uncultured souls, whose genuine
feelings and genuine passions give them a beauty in his eyes which
nothing can surpass. Watching the girls fetch water from the well
reminds him of patriarchal times, of Rebecca and Eleazer, and when he
cooks his own green peas he lives in thought in those Homeric days
when Penelope's haughty suitors killed and prepared their own food.
Nature enchants and captivates him. If he is not a Christian, if, as
he expresses it, he is not one of those who have been given to the
Son--something in his heart telling him that the Father has reserved
him for Himself--it is because to him that Father is Nature; Nature is
his God.

Wherever he goes in society he offends against its cold and formal
regulations. He is ejected in the most insulting manner from an
aristocratic gathering; he, the plebeian, all unwitting of offence,
having remained in his chief's drawing-room after the arrival of
distinguished guests. Himself ardently, hopelessly in love, he does
what he can to save an unfortunate youth whom an unconquerable and not
unrequited passion has driven to offer violence and to murder a rival.
Werther's petition is not only rejected by the representatives of the
law, but he is himself compelled by the law to bear witness against the
man he would so willingly shield and save.

All this, however, is mere minor detail. The woman he loves, and whom
he could so easily have won, had no plighted word stood between them,
becomes the wife of another; this is the shock that breaks his heart.

This book represents the full heart, right or wrong, in collision
with the conventions of everyday life, its craving for infinity, for
liberty, which makes life seem a prison and all society's partition
walls seem prison walls. "All that society does," says Werther, "is
to paint them for each individual with fair perspectives opening to
a wide horizon. The walls themselves are never broken down." Hence
this dashing of the head against the wall, these long sobs, this deep
despair which nothing but a bullet through the heart can still. On
the occasion of their meeting, Napoleon reproached Goethe for having
mixed up the love-story with the revolt against society; the reproach
was unreasonable, for the two are indissolubly connected; it is only
together that they express the idea of the book.

Unlike _La Nouvelle Héloïse, Werther_ is no glorification of the
triumph of virtue and deistic piety over natural instincts and
passions; it represents passion running its predestined course. In
this tragedy of the human heart, the law-defying being and the lawless
passion meet their inevitable doom. The termination to the story,
however, was not of Goethe's invention; he made use of a manuscript
describing the death of young Jerusalem (_vide_ Kestner's book on
Goethe and Lotte). In its last lines he only altered a single word, as
being too vulgar. The manuscript runs, "Barbiergesellen trugen ihn";
in the book we read, "Handwerker trugen ihn, kein Geistlicher hat ihn
begleitet." This sentence in its cutting brevity intimates that a life
is at an end, that a human being at war with himself and society,
mortally wounded in his deepest sympathies, has succumbed. Mechanics
bore him to the grave, middle-class society held pharisaically aloof;
no priest accompanied him, for he was a suicide, and had defied the
laws of religion; but he had loved the people and had associated with
the uncultured, so they followed him to the grave.

It is well known to what an outburst of sentimental literature
this work gave rise; how its passionate emotion turned into heavy
sentimentality, as in the case of Clauren, Lafontaine, and Rahbek, the
Dane, or was diluted into sickly platonism, as in Ingemann's feeble
imitation, _Varners Vandringer_, But _Werther_ was not responsible for
all this; absorption in feeling and emotions is only one feature of the
book. There wells forth from the very midst of this absorption such a
healthy love of nature and of life, such a hearty, revolutionary ire at
conventional society, its prejudices, its compulsory regulations, its
terror of genius, whose stream might possibly overflow its banks and
flood the "tulip beds and kitchen-gardens," that the main impression
which the work leaves on our minds is that of the impulse towards
originality and poetry which it depicts, arouses, and satisfies.

What an advance we have here upon _La Nouvelle Héloïse_! In the first
place, there is a far deeper and purer feeling for nature than in
Rousseau. The additional fact, that scenery is looked at from a new
point of view, is to be ascribed to the influence of a literary event
which occurred in 1762, and made a great impression; namely, the
publication of Ossian. The Scottish bard so melted even Napoleon's
hard heart that he much preferred him to Homer. At this time the
authenticity of Ossian had not been called in question; at a later
period men turned from these poems with the pique which people who
have been raving about the singing of a nightingale would show if they
discovered that some rascal hidden among the bushes had been imposing
on them. In the hearts of his contemporaries, Macpherson succeeded in
supplanting Homer. Among others he influenced Goethe, which accounts
for our finding the healthy Homeric view of nature which prevails
in the first half of _Werther_, superseded in the second by the
Ossianic mist pictures which harmonise with the increasing morbidity,
restlessness, and lyrical passion of the tale.

Rousseau's chief female figure is drawn with uncertain touch. Like most
French heroines, she is wanting in womanly simplicity. In genuineness
and sincerity of passion she falls far short of her namesake, the real
Héloïse, whose every word comes from the heart. Julie's utterances are
cold; she perpetually relapses into lectures on Virtue and the Supreme
Being. She makes such observations as the following: "To such a degree
are all human affairs naught, that with the exception of the being
which exists by itself, there is no beauty except in that which is
not." She means in our illusions. Julie dissects feelings, and reasons
in high-flown language. In contrast with her how naïve and natural
is the vigorous Charlotte! Think of the latter, for instance, in the
famous scene where she is cutting bread and butter for her little
sisters and brothers. If she offends it is not by declamation, but by
a touch of sentimentality, as, for instance, in the scene where her
thoughts and Werther's meet, when, looking out into the rain through
the wet window-pane, she utters the word: "Klopstock!"

From St. Preux to Werther the advance is equally great In the former
there was, as his name implies, some reminiscence of the ideal knight.
It is Goethe, the poet of the modern era, who finally disposes of this
ideal. In his heroes, physical courage, which never fails in its effect
on naïve readers, is almost too much ignored. It is so in the case of
Wilhelm Meister and Faust. And Werther too is no knight, but a thinking
and feeling microcosm. From his limited point in space he embraces
the whole of existence, and the trouble in his soul is the trouble
which heralds and accompanies the birth of a new era. His most enduring
mood is one of limitless longing. He belongs to an age of anticipation
and inauguration, not to one of abandonment and despair. We shall see
his antithesis in Chateaubriand's René. The main source of Werther's
unhappiness is to be found in the disparity between the limitations
of society and the infinity of the heart. In early days the heroes of
literature were kings and princes; their worldly position harmonised
with their spiritual greatness; the contrast between desire and power
was unknown. And even after literature had widened its bounds, it still
admitted only those whose birth and wealth raised them above the low
toils and troubles of life. In Wilhelm Meister Goethe indicates the
cause. "O thrice happy," he cries, "are they who are placed by birth
on the heights of humanity, and who have never dwelt in, have never
even travelled through, the valley of humiliation in which so many
an honest soul spends a miserable life. They have scarcely entered
existence before they step on board a ship to take the great common
journey; they profit by every favourable breath of wind, while the
others, left to their own resources, swim painfully after, deriving
but small benefit from the favouring breeze, and often sink when their
strength is exhausted to a miserable death beneath the waves." Here we
have one of the blessings of life, namely, wealth, praised in eloquent
terms, and what may be said of wealth, the lowest in order of life's
outward advantages, may be said with still more reason of all the other
external forms of happiness and power.

It is at the change of the century that we first come upon this strange
incongruity, a personality who is a sort of god and ruler in the
spiritual world, whose capacity of feeling is such that by means of it
he draws into his own life the whole life of the universe, the demand
of whose heart is a demand for omnipotence (for omnipotence he must
have in order to transform the cold, hard world into a world after
his own heart), and who, along with all this, is--what? A Secretary
of Legation, perhaps, like Werther, with a few hundred thalers a
year, a man who is so needy that he is glad when the Hereditary Prince
makes him a present of twenty-five ducats, who is confined half the
day to his office, who is debarred from all except bourgeois society,
and looks for the fulfilment of all his desires of happiness in the
possession of a girl who is carried off from under his nose by a
commonplace prig. Would he cultivate a talent, there are obstacles in
his way; would he gratify a desire, some conventional rule restrains
him; in his longing to follow his ardent impulses, to quench his
burning spiritual thirst, he passionately stretches out his hands, but
society peremptorily says: No. It seemed as if there were a great and
terrible discord between the individual and the general condition of
things, between heart and reason, between the laws of passion and those
of society. The impression that this was so had taken deep hold of that
generation. It appeared to them that there was something wrong with
the great machinery of existence, and that it would soon collapse. Nor
was it long before they heard the crash, before that time came when
all barriers were broken down and all forms done away with; when the
established order was overthrown and distinctions of class suddenly
disappeared; when the air was filled with the smoke of gunpowder and
the notes of the "Marseillaise" when the ancient boundaries of kingdoms
were changed and re-changed, kings were dethroned and beheaded, and the
religion of a thousand years was abolished; when a Corsican lieutenant
of artillery proclaimed himself the heir of the Revolution and declared
all careers open to the man of talent, the son of a French innkeeper
ascended the throne of Naples, and a quondam grenadier grasped the
sceptres of Sweden and Norway.

It is the longing and the vague unrest of anticipation that distinguish
Werther. A revolution lies between him and the next great type, the
Frenchman, René. In René the poetry of prophecy is superseded by
that of disillusionment. In place of pre-revolutionary discontent we
have anti-revolutionary dissatisfaction. All those great changes had
been powerless to bring man's actual condition into harmony with
the cravings of his spirit. The struggle for the human rights of the
individual appeared to have resulted solely in a new tyranny. Once
again we meet the young man of the age in literature. How changed
he is! The fresh colour has gone from his cheek, the ingenuousness
from his mind; his forehead is lined, his life is empty, his hand is
clenched. Expelled from a society which he anathematises because he can
find no place in it, he roams through a new world, through primeval
forests inhabited by savage tribes. A new element, not to be found
in Werther, has entered into his soul--the element of melancholy.
Werther declares again and again that nothing is so obnoxious to him
as ill-humour and despondency; he is unhappy, but never melancholy.
René, on the other hand, is lost in an idle grief which he is unable
to control. He is heavy-hearted and misanthropical. He is a transition
figure, standing midway between Goethe's Werther and Byron's Giaour and
Corsair.



IV


RENÉ


Chateaubriand was not, like Goethe, a man of peace. A star of
destruction stood above his cradle; he was born in the same year as
Napoleon, and the cruel and dark spirit of that age of the sword is
apparent in his writings, and imparts to them a peculiar, wild poetry.

But, it may be objected, has he really anything at all in common with
Goethe and Rousseau? Did he actually learn anything from them? I regard
it as certain that not only he but the whole age was moulded by the
books we have just criticised. A species of proof can be adduced. When
Chateaubriand reproaches Byron for never mentioning his name, for
ignoring all that Childe Harold owes to René, he emphasises the fact
that it is not so with himself, that he will never deny the influence
which Ossian, Werther, and St. Preux have exercised upon his mind.
Again, describing Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, he writes: "The library
he carried with him contained _Ossian, Werther, La Nouvelle Héloïse_,
and the Old Testament; sufficient indication of the chaos reigning in
his brain. He mixed realistic thought with romantic feeling, systems
with dreams, serious studies with fantasies, and wisdom with madness.
It was out of the heterogeneous productions of this century that he
fashioned the empire."[1] I give this pronouncement for what it is
worth, but so much is clear, that if Rousseau's _Héloïse_, Goethe's
_Werther_, and Ossian's poems were so much in the air that they seemed
to a contemporary to be important factors in the creation of the
empire, they must indubitably have had part and lot in the epoch-making
literary works which appeared at the same period.

Comparing Chateaubriand's talent with the contemporary genius of
Napoleon, it seems to us as if the new century had concentrated all its
energy and spirit of enterprise in its great general and conqueror,
leaving none to spare for the young contemporaries who did not follow
him on his warlike path. The procession of men of action and warriors
passes them by and leaves them standing irresolute and dissatisfied.

René is supposed to live in the days of Louis XV., but the description
given of that period would apply equally well to the time of
Chateaubriand's youth. It was, says René, a time when people had
relapsed from the reverence for religion and the austere morality which
had hitherto prevailed, into a condition of impiety and corruption,
when genius had degenerated into mere nimbleness of wit, and the
serious and right-minded felt ill at ease and lonely. All this applies
very accurately to the close of the eighteenth century as it would be
seen by Chateaubriand.

In _Atala_ Chactas had told René the story of his life; now René in
return relates his past history to Chactas. He describes his childhood
in the old manor-house of the remote province, he tells how ill at ease
and repressed he felt in the presence of his father, and how he was
only happy in the society of his sister Amélie. Brother and sister,
both by nature melancholy, and both poetically inclined, are early
left orphans and obliged to quit their home. René's great longing is
for the peace of the cloister; but he is changeable in his longings;
they presently take the form of a desire to travel. This desire he
gratifies. He finds food for his melancholy among the ruins of Greece
and Rome, and discovers as much forgetfulness of the dead among living
peoples as upon the soil of past nations; the workmen whom he questions
in the streets of London know nothing of that Charles the Second at
the foot of whose statue they stand. What, then, is the value of fame?
He travels to Scotland to live in the memory of the heroes of Morven,
and finds herds of cattle grazing on the spots where Ossian sang and
Fingal conquered. He returns to Italy and studies its monuments of
art, but finds that for all his pains he has learned nothing. Past and
Present are two incomplete statues; the one has been dug up from the
earth in a mutilated condition, the other stands unfinished, and can
only be completed by the Future. Nature has as little power as history
to soothe his disordered soul. He climbs Mount Etna, and, standing on
its summit, sees on one side the sun rise above the horizon, with the
whole of Sicily spread out far beneath, surrounded by the great sea,
and looking so small that its rivers resemble the lines on a map; on
the other side he looks down into the crater of the volcano, with its
burning glow and its black smoke. This situation he considers to be
exactly typical of his own character and life. "All my life long," he
says, "I have had a widespread and yet insignificantly small world
before my eyes, and at my side a yawning abyss."

So volcanic and pretentious a nature was, naturally, out of place in
the land that had given it birth. It is in vain that Chateaubriand
attempts to conform in his modes of expression to the standards of
that society to which he considers himself, spiritually, infinitely
superior; he is invariably treated and spoken of as an _esprit
romanesque_ for whom life has no use. Here we come for the first
time on the term which in a slightly different form was to become
so familiar in France as the denomination of a whole school. There
is, undoubtedly, something of the Romanticist before the days of
Romanticism in this mysterious suffering, which is so conscious of
being interesting. From all these half-forgotten memories of vanished
grandeur, all these impressions of the vanity of name and fame, these
transports of indignation at the baseness and littleness of mankind,
René has distilled an obstinate conviction that there is no such thing
as happiness, and a persuasion of the weariness and emptiness of
life even while he feels its healthy glow tingling in his veins. His
favourite expressions are: "La folie de croire au bonheur; dégoût de la
vie; profond sentiment d'ennui," &c.

In all this misery, the thought of his sister is his only solace, but
on his return to France he notices with surprise and grief that she
avoids him; she repeatedly declares that she is unable to meet him,
and has apparently forgotten all his love for her. Once only, when she
divines that he is contemplating suicide, does she draw near to him
again for a moment. He has already added this coldness of his beloved
sister to the list of his bitter experiences of the faithlessness of
mankind, when news of her intention of entering a convent makes him
hasten to her. He arrives just in time to take part in the dreary
ceremony, to see Amélie's hair fall under the scissors, and to kneel
by her side, while she, as the ceremony prescribes, lies prostrate
like a corpse on the marble floor of the church. He hears her murmur a
prayer for forgiveness for the "criminal passion she has felt for her
brother," and, grasping the reason of his sister's conduct towards him,
falls in a swoon. As soon as he recovers consciousness he determines to
leave Europe and travel to the New World. The night he quits the French
coast a terrible storm rages. "Did Heaven," he asks, "mean to warn
me that tempests must always attend my steps?" One thing is certain,
that to Chateaubriand René's career was as unimaginable without an
accompaniment of thunder and lightning as Atala's love tale had been.

We have here an exceptional character encountering an exceptional
destiny. And it is from this character that the melancholy and
misanthropy of the new literature may be said to emanate. This
melancholy and this misanthropy differ from any previously known.
Molière's Alceste, for instance, the finest and most profound of his
masculine characters, is only misanthropical in so far that he is
troubled to the depths of his being by the meanness, the servility,
the frivolous or cowardly duplicity which prevail at a corrupt and
worldly court; but he is not melancholy, there is nothing morbid in his
temperament, he does not bear the mark of Cain upon his brow.

The melancholy of the early nineteenth century partakes of the nature
of a disease; and it is not a disease which attacks a single individual
or a single nation only, it is an epidemic which spreads from people to
people, in the manner of those religious manias which so often spread
over Europe in the Middle Ages. René's is merely the first and most
marked case of the disease in the form in which it attacked the most
gifted intellects.

René bears that mark of Cain already alluded to, which is, withal, the
mark of the ruler. The seal of genius, invisible to himself, has been
set on his brow. Behind the mournful self-accusations of which his
confession consists, lies the proud feeling of superiority which filled
the writer's breast. If we read Chateaubriand's _Mémoires_ attentively,
we cannot resist the impression that the fiction of Amélie's love for
René veils a kind of confession, an admission of the passionate love
his sister Lucile cherished for her remarkable brother. How much in the
way of confession may not the remainder of the book contain?

René's sufferings are the birth-throes of genius in the modern soul. He
is the moment in which the chosen spirit, like the Hebrew prophet of
old, hears the voice that calls him, and timidly draws back, shrinking
despairingly from the task, and saying: "Choose not me, O Lord; choose
another, my brother; I am too weak, too slow of speech." René is this
first stage, the stage of unrest, of election. The chosen waits to
see another follow the call; he looks around but sees none arise, and
the voice continues to call. He sees all that he loathes and scorns
triumph, and all that worsted for which he would so willingly sacrifice
everything if another would but lead the way. With amazement and dread
he realises that there is not one who feels as he does; he wanders
about seeking a leader and finding none, until at last the certainty
is borne in upon him that, as none appears, as he can discover no
helper, no guide, it must be because it is he himself who is destined
to be the guide and support of weaker souls. At last he follows the
call; he sees that the time for dreaming and doubting is past, that
the time to act has come. The crisis leaves him, not, like Werther,
prepared to commit suicide, but with a firm resolve and a higher
opinion of himself. Genius, however, is always a curse as well as a
blessing. Even the greatest and most harmoniously constituted natures
have, all their lives, been aware of the curse it carries with it. In
René, Chateaubriand has shown us the curse alone. His own nature and
the position in which he stood to the ideas of his time caused genius,
as _he_ knew it, to seem merely a source of lonely suffering, or of
wild, egotistical pleasure, marred by the feeling of its emptiness and
worthlessness.

Chateaubriand, the inaugurator of the religious reaction of the
nineteenth century, himself possessed no faith, no enthusiasm, no
real devotion to an idea. The ideas of the eighteenth century were
beginning to suffer an eclipse, to look like fallacies; the great
ideas of the nineteenth had not as yet taken scientific shape, and,
placed and constituted as he was, Chateaubriand was incapable of
anticipating them. Hence he became the leader of the reaction, the
champion of Catholicism and the Bourbons. With the genius's instinctive
inclination to seize on the great principle of the new age, but without
the genius's infallible prevision of its real nature and faith in its
final victory, he took hold of the ideas which a temporary revulsion
in men's mood and sympathies had brought to light, and championed them
with obstinacy, with magnificent but often hollow eloquence, with great
talent but without warmth, without that conviction which permeates
the whole individual and makes of him the enthusiastic, indefatigable
organ of the idea. Whilst Voltaire, with all his restlessness and all
his faults, sustained his life's battle freshly, unweariedly, and
invincibly to the last, because he never for a moment wavered in his
faith in his ideals, Chateaubriand was consumed by ennui, incredulity,
and cynicism. In one direction only, namely as a poet, and more
especially a colourist, did he break new ground; and hence it was only
his youthful poetical efforts that satisfied and inwardly rewarded him.
But of all his creations, René, the picture of the intellectual type to
which he himself belonged, was the most successful.

A genius of René's type may employ religious phraseology, but he never
truly merges himself in a higher being; his melancholy in its inmost
essence is only the egoist's unsatisfied craving for enjoyment. As a
genius René knows that the Deity is with and within him, and he can
scarcely distinguish between himself and the Deity. He feels that
his thought and his words are inspired, and where is the boundary
between that which is of him and that which is not of him? He demands
everything--the homage of the public, the love of women, all the
laurels and roses of life--and it never occurs to him that he is in
duty bound to make any return. He accepts love without loving again.
Is not his a privileged nature? is not he a prophet hastening through
life like a fugitive, a fleeting fire which illuminates, consumes, and
vanishes?

In these traits the author has simply described his own nature.
Chateaubriand's _Mémoires_ contain, especially in their silences,
sufficient witness to the studied coldness with which he accepted love
and admiration. Some of his private letters to which Sainte-Beuve had
access show with what icy egotism he at times attempted to enveigle
with promises of a consuming passion. Even at the age of sixty-four
he wrote to a young lady from whom he was soliciting a rendezvous in
Switzerland: "My life is merely an incident; of that incident take
the passion, the perturbation and the suffering; I shall give you
more of these in one day than others in long years." One looks back
and remembers the touching tenderness shown by Voltaire to his Emilie
even after he knew that he was being grossly deceived by her, and the
so-called Lucifer of the last century seems as innocent as a child in
comparison.

The picture of René was not finished in the book which bears his name;
he plays an important part in _Les Natchez_, a romance written about
the same time, but published later. His behaviour in it completes the
portrayal of the character. Conforming to Indian custom, he takes to
himself a wife, Celuta, who is passionately devoted to him. But it
goes without saying that life with her does not heal the wounds of his
heart. "René," we read, "had longed for an uninhabited country, a wife,
and liberty; he had got what he longed for, but something marred his
enjoyment of it. He would have blessed the hand that at one blow freed
him from his past suffering and present felicity, if felicity indeed
it were. He tried to realise his old dreams. What woman could be more
beautiful than Celuta? He carried her into the heart of the forest,
and strove to strengthen the impression of his freedom by exchanging
one lonely dwelling-place for another, but whether he pressed his
young wife to his heart in the depths of the forest or high on the
mountaintop, he did not experience the happiness he had hoped for. The
vacuum that had formed deep down in his soul could not be filled. A
divine judgment had fallen upon René--which is the explanation both
of his suffering and his genius. He troubled by his presence; passion
emanated from him but could not enter into him; he weighed heavy on the
earth over which he impatiently wandered, and which bore him against
his will." Such is the author's description of René as the married man.

These experiments of the hero with his young bride, these attempts
to enhance the attraction of her love by the added zest of peculiar
natural surroundings, are extremely characteristic. But it is all
in vain! The unnatural passion he had once inspired, and to which
the very fact of its being unnatural, and, according to human laws,
criminal, communicated a strength and a fire which harmonised with the
fiery strength of his own nature, has half infected him, has, in any
case, made it impossible for him to love again. In his very remarkable
farewell letter to Celuta he says that it is this misfortune which has
made him what he is; he has been loved, too deeply loved, and that
mysterious passion has sealed the fountains of his being although it
has not dried them up. "All love," he says, "became a horror to me.
I had the image of a woman before my eyes whom none could approach.
Although consumed by passion in my inmost soul, I have been in some
inexplicable fashion frozen by the hand of misfortune...." "There
are," he continues, "some existences so miserable that they seem an
accusation against Providence, and should surely cure any one of the
mania for life."

Even the innate desire to live, the deeply-rooted natural love of life
itself, is scorned by him half affectedly, half weariedly, as a _mama_,
and is supplanted by a wild Satanic lust of destruction. "I take it,"
he continues to Celuta, "that René's heart now lies open before you. Do
you see what a strange world it is? Flames issue from it, which lack
nourishment, and which could consume creation without being satiated,
yea, could even consume thee!"

In the next breath he is religious again, humble again, trembling at
God's wrath. In the solitude he hears the Almighty cry to him as to
Cain: "René! René! what hast thou done with thy sister? The one wrong
which he accuses himself of having done to Celuta is, that he has
united her destiny with his. The deepest sorrow this connection has
caused him lies in the fact that Celuta has made him a father; it is
with a species of horror that he sees his life thus extended beyond
its limits. He bids Celuta burn his papers, burn the hut built by him
in which they have lived, and return home to her brother. He wishes
to leave no traces of his existence upon earth. It is evident that he
would fain also require her, after the manner of Indian widows, to
lay herself upon his funeral pile; for the same species of jealousy
inspires him which prompted many a mediæval knight to kill his
favourite horse. This last letter to his wife ends with the following
characteristic farewell:--

"If I die, Celuta, you may after my death unite yourself with a more
tranquil soul than mine. But do not believe that you can accept with
impunity the caresses of another man, or that weaker embraces can
efface those of René from your soul. I have pressed you to my heart
in the midst of the desert and in the hurricane; the day when I bore
you across the stream, it was in my mind to plunge my dagger into your
heart in order to secure that heart's happiness, and to punish myself
for having given you this happiness. It is thou, O supreme Being, the
source of love and happiness, it is thou alone who hast made me what I
am, and only thou canst understand me! Oh, why did I not fling myself
into the foaming waters of the torrent! I should then have returned to
the bosom of nature with all my energies unimpaired.

"Yes, Celuta, if you lose me you will remain a widow. Who else could
surround you with the flame which radiates from me even when I do not
love? The lonely spots to which I imparted the warmth of love, would
seem icy cold to you by the side of another mate. What would you
seek in the shades of the forest? For you there is no rapture, no
intoxication, no delirium left. I robbed you of all this in giving you
it all, or rather in giving nothing, for an incurable wound burned in
my inmost soul.... I am weary of life, a weariness which has always
consumed me. I am left untouched by all that interests other men.
If I had been a shepherd or a king, what should I have done with my
shepherd's crook or my crown? Glory and genius, work and leisure,
prosperity and adversity, would weary me alike. I have found society
and nature irksome in Europe as in America. I take no pleasure in my
virtue, and should feel no remorse were I a criminal. I would that I
had never been born, or that I were eternally forgotten."[2]

Thus powerfully was the dissonance first sounded which was afterwards
repeated with so many variations by the authors of the "Satanic"
school. Not satisfied with depicting, with a sure hand and in the grand
style, a self-idolatry bordering upon insanity, Chateaubriand throws
it into relief on the dark background of a sister's guilty passion. So
impelled is he to make René irresistibly seductive, that he does not
rest until he has inspired his own sister with an unnatural love for
him. This criminal attachment between brother and sister was a subject
which occupied men's minds considerably at that time. Not many years
previously, Goethe, in his _Wilhelm Meister_, had made Mignon the fruit
of a sinister union between brother and sister; and both Shelley and
Byron treated the same subject in Rosalind and _Helen, The Revolt of
Islam, Cain_, and _Manfred_. It was a favourite theory with the young
revolutionary school that the horror of incest between brother and
sister was merely based upon prejudice.

But René's melancholy is too innate and profound to be caused by
Amélie's unhappy passion alone. The reader feels all the time that this
passion only provides an occasion for the outburst of the melancholy.
René's despondency, his egotism, his outward coldness and suppressed
inward fire, are to be found independently of this external cause in
many of the gifted authors of that period, and in a number of their
best-known characters--Tieck's _William Lovell_, Frederick Schlegel's
_Julius_, Byron's _Corsair_, Kierkegaard's _Johannes Forföreren_,
and Lermontov's _Hero of our Own Time_. They constitute the European
hall-mark with which the heroes of literature are stamped in the early
years of the nineteenth century.

But what marks _René_ as being more especially a product of the nascent
reaction is the aim of the story--an aim which it has in common
with only one of the above-mentioned works, Kierkegaard's _Johannes
Forföreren_. Forming part of a greater whole which has a distinctly
moral and religious tendency, it professes to be written for the
express purpose of warning against the mental condition it portrays, of
showing the glory and the indispensability of Christianity as a refuge
for the disordered soul, and more particularly of proving by means of
Amélie's example that the re-establishment of convents is imperative,
because salvation from certain errors is only to be found in the
cloister. The pious intention of the book and its very profane matter
conflict in a manner which is not particularly edifying. But this too
is a typical trait of the reaction; we find it again, for instance,
in the first parts of Kierkegaard's _Enten-Eller_ and _Stadier_. The
prevailing tone is a wild longing of genius for enjoyment, which
satisfies itself by mingling the idea of death and destruction, a
sort of Satanic frenzy, with what would otherwise be mild and natural
feelings of enjoyment and happiness. It avails little that this work,
like _Atala_, has an avowedly Catholic, even clerical, tendency; its
undercurrent is anything but Christian, is not even religious.

But this undercurrent, however impure and diluted it may be in the
individual writer, springs from a spiritual condition which is the
result of the great revolution in men's minds. All the spiritual
maladies which make their appearance at this time may be regarded as
products of two great events--the emancipation of the individual, and
the emancipation of thought.

The individual has been emancipated. No longer satisfied with the
place assigned to him, no longer content to follow the plough across
his father's field, the young man released from serfdom, freed from
villenage, for the first time sees the whole world lie open before
him. Everything seems to have become suddenly possible; the word
impossible has lost its meaning now that the drumstick in the soldier's
hand may, by a series of rapid changes, turn into a marshal's baton or
even a sceptre. The powers of the individual, however, have not kept
pace with his possibilities; of the hundred thousand to whom the road
is suddenly thrown open, only one can reach the desired goal, and who
is to assure the individual that he is that one? Inordinate desire is
necessarily accompanied by inordinate melancholy. Nor is it every one,
without exception, that can take part in the great wild race. Those who
for some reason or other feel themselves bound up with the old order
of things, and the finer, less thick-skinned natures, the men who are
rather dreamers than workers, find that they are excluded; they stand
aside or emigrate, they are thrown back upon themselves, and their
self-communings increase their self-centredness and thereby augment
their capacity for suffering. It is the most highly developed organisms
which suffer most.

Add to this, that the collapse of the old order releases the individual
from a wholesome pressure which has kept him within certain social
bounds and prevented his thinking himself of too much importance. Now
self-idolatry is possible, wherever the power of self-restraint is not
as strong as the control formerly exercised by society. And at the same
time that everything has become possible, it seems as if everything had
become permissible. All the power which the individual had given up,
had voluntarily transferred to his God or his king, he now reclaims.
Just as he no longer raises his hat to the gilded chariot for whose
gilding he himself has paid, so he no longer bows to any prohibition
whose human origin he can plainly discern. To all such he has an answer
ready, an answer which is a question, a terrible question, one that
is the beginning of all human knowledge and all human freedom, the
question "Why?" It is plain that even these aberrations of fancy upon
which we have just dwelt, these excursions into the domain of unnatural
passions and unnatural crimes, are only a symptom; they are one of the
mistakes made in the great, momentous struggle of the individual to
assert himself.

Thought has been emancipated. The individual, released from tutelage,
no longer feels himself part of a whole; he feels himself to be a
little world which reflects, on a diminished scale, the whole of
the great world. So many individuals, so many mirrors, in each of
which the universe is reflected. But though thought has gradually
acquired courage to understand, not fragmentarily, but in this
universally comprehensive manner, its capacity has not grown along
with its courage; humanity stumbles on in the dark as before. To
the old questions, Why is man born? Why does he live? To what end
does it all lead? the answer, as far as it can be made out, seems
unsatisfying, discouraging, a pessimistic answer. In times gone by
men had been born into a distinct, unquestioned creed, which provided
them with answers believed to have been supernaturally communicated,
full of comfort and promise. In the eighteenth century, this creed
having been abandoned, they were born into an almost equally
dogmatic, at any rate equally inspiring, belief in the saving power
of civilisation and enlightenment; they lived on the promises of the
happiness and harmony which should spread over the earth when the
doctrines of their philosophers were universally accepted. In the
beginning of the nineteenth century this ground of confidence also was
undermined. History seemed to teach that this path also led nowhere,
and the confusion in men's minds was like the confusion of an army
which receives contradictory orders in the midst of a battle. The
standpoint even of those who try to turn thought back into the old
religious grooves is not the standpoint of the old religion, for they
themselves were but a few years ago either Voltaireans or adherents of
Rousseau's deism; their new piety has been painfully reasoned out and
struggled for. This explains the cribbed, constrained character of the
intellectual movement among the writers who usher in the new century.
In a very striking image Alfred de Musset has expressed the impression
they produce. "Eternity," he says, "is like an eyrie from which the
centuries fly forth like young eaglets to skim through the universe
each in his turn. Now it is our century which has come to the edge of
the nest. It stands there glaring, but its wings have been clipped, and
it awaits its death gazing into the infinite space out into which it is
incapable of flying."


[1] Mémoires d'Outre Tombe, ii. 190; iii. 78.

[2] Les Natchez. Chateaubriand, _Oeuvres complètes_, vol. v. pp.
353-463. In his _Mémoires_ the author has, in expressing his own
sentiments, unconsciously repeated one of these sentences. It has
already been quoted.



V


OBERMANN


A striking contrast to René, egotistical and imperious as he is despite
his weariness of life, is presented by the next remarkable variant of
the type of the age.

_Obermann_, a work produced in the same year as René, was also written
in exile. Its author, Étienne Pierre de Sénancour, was born in Paris in
1770, but emigrated in the early days of the Revolution to Switzerland,
where a long illness and various other circumstances compelled him to
remain. In his quality of émigré he was banished from France, and could
only now and again venture secretly over its frontiers to visit his
mother. Under the Consulate he returned to Paris without permission,
and for the first three years lived the life of an absolute hermit in
order not to attract the attention of the authorities. He afterwards
gained a scanty livelihood by writing for Liberal newspapers and
editing historical handbooks. His was a lonely, quiet life--the life of
a deeply-feeling stoic.

Sénancour's first work, the title of which, _Meditations on the
Original Nature of Man_, proclaims the pupil of Rousseau, appeared in
1799. His psychological romance, _Obermann_, was published early in
1804. This book created no particular stir on its first appearance,
but at a later period it passed through many editions; successive
generations perused its pages, and in France it was long classed with
_Werther_ and _Ossian_. It was studied by Nodier and Ballanche, and was
Sainte-Beuve's favourite work, he and George Sand doing much to bring
it into public notice.

_Obermann_ in France, like _Werther_ in Germany, has been in the hands
of many a suicide; it was constantly read by Victor Hugo's unhappy
friend, Rabbe, known to the public through Hugo's life and poems,
and a certain clique of young men, Bastide, Sautelet (who committed
suicide), Ampère, Stapfer, made a regular cult of the book. As René is
the elect, Obermann is the passed by. Some of the ruling spirits of
the century recognised themselves in René, Obermann was understood and
appreciated by highly-gifted, deeply-agitated spirits of the finest
temper. The book begins as follows: "In these letters are to be found
the utterances of a spirit that feels, not of a spirit that acts."
Here we have the kernel of the matter. Why does he not act? Because
he is unhappy. Why is he unhappy? Because he is too sensitive, too
impressionable. He is all heart, and the heart does not work.

It was the age of rule, discipline, military despotism, the age in
which mathematics was the most esteemed of all the sciences, and
energy, accompanied by a capacity for unqualified submission, the
most esteemed of all the virtues. By no single fibre of his being
does Obermann belong to this period; he abhors both discipline and
mathematics as heartily as could any future Romanticist. He despises
the Philistines who take the same walk every day, turning daily at
the same place. He does not wish to know beforehand how his feelings
will be affected. "Let the mind," he says, "strive to give a certain
symmetry to its productions; the heart does not work, and can only
produce when we exempt it from the labour of fashioning." We feel that
this unreasonable principle is applied in his letters, which form a
heavy, diffuse, serious, badly written book; they produce the effect of
improvisations, to which the author, regarding them as the children of
his heart, has not chosen or else not been able to impart an attractive
form. It is true that nuggets of gold are hidden in the ponderous ore,
but they must be laboriously sought for; a man with real literary
talent would have gilded the whole mass with them.

[Illustration: DE SÉNANCOUR]

The hero of the book is one of those unhappy souls who seem created
for the shady side of life and never succeed in getting out into its
sunshine. There is, as Hamlet says, along with many excellent qualities
some "one defect" in their nature which prevents the harmonious
interplay of its parts. In the delicately balanced works of a watch
some little spring, some little wheel breaks, and the whole mechanism
comes to a standstill. Obermann has no settled occupation, no sphere
of activity, no profession; it is only in the last pages of the book
that he makes up his mind that he will be an author; the reader feels
no assurance, however, that success awaits him upon this path. The
author who has been successful with ever so small a work sees, on
looking back, what an almost incredible variety of circumstances have
favoured him, what an extraordinary number of obstacles, great and
small, have had to be overcome; he remembers how carefully he had
to watch his time, how eagerly to seize the opportune moment, how
often he was on the point of giving it all up, how many paroxysms of
despair he lived through, all to attain this paltry end. The most
insignificant book which is born alive speaks of ten thousand triumphs.
And what a combination of favourable circumstances is demanded to
prevent its dying immediately after birth! As many as in the case of a
living organism. The book must find some unoccupied space into which
it fits, the interest awakened by it must not be interfered with by
other, stronger, interests, or the talent displayed in it outshone by
greater talent. It must not recall any previous work, must not even
accidentally resemble anything else, and yet must, in one way or other,
be associated with something already familiar, must follow a path
already struck out. It is of special importance that it should appear
at the right moment. There are works which are not actually weak,
but which appear so in the light of some contemporaneous event or in
comparison with some contemporaneous production; they are made to seem
old-fashioned, poor, pale, as it were.

It is probable that Obermann, as an author, will belong to the same
class of writers as his creator, Sénancour, namely those who believe
that there is something of a magical nature in the secret of success.

His letters provide us with full particulars of his spiritual life and
history. The latter is epitomised in the following words: "Oh! how
great one is, so long as one is inexperienced! how rich and productive
one would be if only the cold looks of one's neighbours and the chill
blast of injustice did not shrivel up one's heart! I needed happiness;
I was created to suffer. Who does not know those dark days towards
the coming of winter, when even the morning brings dense mists and
the only light is in some burning bars of colour in the clouded sky?
Think of those veils of mist, that wan light, those hurricane gusts
whistling among bending, trembling trees, that steady howl, interrupted
by terrific shrieks; such was the morning of my life. At midday the
colder, steadier storms; towards evening gathering darkness; and man's
day is at an end."

To so morose a temperament a regularly ordered life is insupportable.
The most difficult, distressing moment in a young man's life, that in
which he must choose a profession, is one which Obermann cannot face.
For to choose a calling means to exchange complete liberty and the full
privileges of humanity for confinement resembling that of the beast in
its stall. It is to their freedom from the stamp of any calling that
women owe part of their beauty and of the poetry of their sex. The
stamp of a calling is a restraint, a limitation, a ridiculous thing.
How then could a man with a nature like Obermann's possibly choose a
profession? At once too intense and too weak for real life, he hates
nothing more than dependence! The whole constitution of society is
repellent to him: "Thus much is certain; I will not drag myself up
step by step, take a place in society, be compelled to show respect to
superiors in return for the privilege of despising inferiors. Nothing
is so imbecile as these degrees of contempt reaching down through
society from the prince, who claims to be inferior to God alone, to the
poorest rag-picker who must be servile to the woman from whom he hires
a straw mattress for the night."

He will not purchase the right to command at the price of obedience. To
him a clock represents the quintessence of torture. To bind himself to
tear his mood into fragments when the clock strikes, as the labourer,
the man of business, and the official must, is to him to deprive
himself of the one good thing which life with all its tribulations
offers, namely, independence.

He is a stranger among his fellow-men; they do not feel as he feels,
he does not believe what they believe. They appear to him so tainted
with superstition, prejudices, hypocrisy, and social untruthfulness,
that he shrinks from contact with them. At the close of the eighteenth
century France was not orthodox, but it had not emancipated itself from
the belief in God and in a future existence. Obermann does not share
these beliefs; his is an essentially modern spirit; his philosophy is
the scientific philosophy of the nineteenth century; he is a warm,
convinced humanitarian, and has as little belief in a happier existence
after death as in a personal God.

The question of religion is discussed from various points of view in
his letters. We already find the indignant refutation of the theory
that atheism is the result of wickedness. They who believe in the
Bible, says Obermann, maintain that it is only men's evil passions
which prevent them from being Christians; the atheist might with equal
justice assert that only the bad man is a Christian, since it is only
the Christian who requires the help of phantasms to restrain him from
stealing, lying, and murdering, and who endorses the theory that it
would not be worth while leading an upright life if there were no
hell. He attempts to explain the psychical origin of the belief in the
immortality of the individual. The majority of human beings, restless
and unhappy, live in hope that next hour, that to-morrow, and, finally,
that in a life to come, they may attain the happiness they desire.
To the argument that this belief is, at any rate, a consolation, he
replies, that its being a consolation to the unhappy, is but one reason
the more for doubting its truth. Men so readily credit what they wish
to believe. Suppose one of the old sophists to have succeeded in making
a pupil believe that by following certain directions for ten days he
would be assured of invulnerability, eternal youth, &c.--the belief
would doubtless be very agreeable to the pupil in question, but none
the better founded for that. When asked what becomes of motion, mind,
and soul, which are incorruptible, Obermann replies: "When the fire
on your hearth goes out, its light, its warmth, its force forsake it,
and it passes into another world, where it will be eternally rewarded
if it has warmed your feet and eternally punished if it has burned your
slippers."

He also attacks the theory, as often urged in our own as in those days,
that those who do not believe in the dogmas of religion should hold
their peace and not deprive others of the mainstay of their lives. He
argues warmly, passionately, asserting that the cultivated classes and
the town populations no longer believe in dogma (we must remember that
he is writing of 1801-2), and as regards the lower classes, putting the
matter thus: Even if we take for granted that it is both impossible and
inadvisable to cure the masses of their delusions, does this justify
deceit, does this make it a crime to speak the truth, or an evil that
truth should be told? As a matter of fact, however, the masses now
universally display a desire to learn the truth; it is clear that faith
is everywhere undermined; and our first endeavour ought to be to prove
clearly to all and sundry that the obligation to do right is quite
independent of the belief in a future life.

Obermann, then, maintains that the laws of morality are natural, not
supernatural, and are consequently unaffected by the collapse of
belief. He repeatedly emphasises the disastrous practical results of
silence in matters of religion; it is the system of silence which makes
it possible for the education of woman to be still carried on upon the
old lines, keeping her, as a rule, in a state of ignorance that makes
her the enemy of progress, and too often delivers her, body and soul,
into the power of her father confessor. A comparison between love as a
happiness-producing power and love in the rôle it plays in marriage,
leads him on to express some very strong opinions regarding the then
prevailing ideas on the relations between the sexes, and the principles
according to which a woman's conduct is judged in civilised society.

On these points Obermann is quite modern--he here follows the line of
thought indicated by the preceding century; but in all that regards
the emotions he is less modern, although he heralds something new,
something that is on the way, namely Romanticism. He reflects much
on the subject of the romantic; a portion of his book bears the
significant title, "De l'expression romantique et du Ranz des Vaches."
He defines the idea much as contemporary German writers do, although
he does not systematise to the same extent. He declares the romantic
conception of things to be the only one that harmonises with profound,
true feeling: In all wild countries like Switzerland nature is full
of romance, but romance vanishes when the hand of man is discernible
everywhere; romantic effects resemble isolated words of man's original
speech, which is not remembered by all, &c., &c.; nature is more
romantic in her sounds than in her sights; the ear is more romantically
impressionable than the eye; the voice of the woman we love affects
us more romantically than her features, the Alpine horn expresses the
romance of the Alps more forcibly than any painting; for we admire what
we see, but we feel what we hear.

It is interesting to note how Obermann unconsciously takes up the tone
of the German Romanticists whom he has never read. They also exalt
music as the art of arts. Sénancour declares elsewhere that he cares
almost more for the songs whose words he does not understand than
for those of which he can follow the words as well as the melody. He
remarks this _à propos_ of the German songs he hears in Switzerland,
naïvely adding: "Besides, there is something more romantic about the
German accent." It is remarkable that we should find already suggested
in Sénancour even that conception of language as simply musical sound
which was subsequently characteristic of the German Romantic School.
But his senses are too highly developed for him to rest content with
music as the best means of intercourse between man and nature. In
two separate passages in his book he declares that a succession of
different fragrances contains as rich a melody as any succession of
tones, and can, like music, call up pictures of far-away places and
things.[1] Among the late French Romanticists we do not find such
another highly developed, ultra-refined sense of smell until we
come to Baudelaire. But whereas in Baudelaire it is a symptom of
over-developed sensuousness, in Sénancour it is only an indication of
the purely romantic cult of the Ego; it is one element in an emotional
revel, for Sénancour believes that by means of the sense of smell as
well as by means of the sense of hearing he can distinguish the hidden
harmonies of existence. It also implies a shrinking from reality,
with the corresponding intensified self-centredness; for it is only a
volatilised essence of things that one inhales through the medium of
perfumes and tones.

In his repugnance for realities, no solitude is too complete for
Obermann. He lives alone, avoiding both cities and villages. There
is in him the strangest mixture of love for mankind in general and
complete indifference in all the relations of real life. So sensitive
is he, that he is afflicted by scruples about his addiction to the
mild dissipation of tea-drinking (tea being very characteristically
his favourite beverage). He finds that it distracts his melancholy (le
thé est d'un grand secours pour s'ennuyer d'une manière calme), but he
despises all external excitement and stimulant. He is aware that he
is far from being French in this respect, for, he aptly remarks, if
Frenchmen inhabited Naples, they would build a ball-room in the crater
of Vesuvius. He does not truly live except when he is entirely alone,
in mist-veiled forests which recall the inevitable Ossian, or at night
by the silent shores of a Swiss lake. Like his contemporary Novalis, he
feels that darkness, by veiling visible nature, forces man's Ego back
into itself.

Speaking of a night he passed alone with nature, he says:

"In that one night I experienced all that mortal heart can know of
unutterable longing, unutterable woe. In it I consumed ten years of my
life." And he attains to an even more profound self-consciousness by
day, in the snow-fields of the Alps, where all surrounding life is not
only veiled, as by night, but is frozen and apparently at a standstill.

He is most himself when he climbs from the Swiss valley in which he
lives up to the desolate wilds of the highest mountains. With an
indescribable, almost boyish gladness, he watches the form of his guide
disappearing in the distance; revelling in loneliness, he becomes
oblivious of time and humanity. Note him in these surroundings:
"The day was hot, the horizon misty, and the valleys full of vapour.
The lower atmosphere was lighted up by bright reflections from the
glaciers, but absolute purity seemed the essential quality of the air
I breathed. At this height no exhalation from the lower regions, no
earthly light, troubled the dark, infinite depths of the sky. It had
no longer the pale, clear, soft blue colour of the vault we look up to
from the plains; no, the ether permitted the sight to lose itself in
boundless infinity, and, heedless of the glare of sun and glacier, to
seek other worlds and other suns as it does by night. Imperceptibly,
the vapours of the glaciers rose and formed clouds under my feet. My
eyes were no longer wearied by the sparkle of the snow, and the heavens
grew darker and deeper still. The snowy dome of Mont Blanc lifted its
immovable mass above the moving grey sea of piled-up mist which the
wind raised into enormous billows. A black speck showed far down in
their abysses; swiftly rising, it advanced directly towards me. It was
a great Alpine eagle; its wings were wet and its eyes were fierce;
it was seeking prey. But at the sight of a human being it uttered a
sinister cry, precipitated itself into the mist and disappeared. This
cry was echoed twenty times, but the echoes were dry sounds, without
resonance, like so many isolated cries in the universal silence. Then
all sank back into absolute stillness, as though sound itself had
ceased to exist, as though the reverberating property of bodies had
been universally suspended. Silence is unknown in the noisy valleys,
it is only on these cold heights that this immobility reigns, this
perpetual solemnity which no tongue can express, no imagination conjure
up. Were it not for the memories he brings from the plains, man would
believe up here that, leaving himself out of the question, movement
did not exist; the motion of the stars would be inexplicable to him,
even the mists seem to remain the same despite their changes. He knows
that the moments follow each other, but he does not feel it. Everything
seems to be eternally petrified. I could wish I had preserved a more
exact remembrance of my sensations in those silent regions. In the
midst of everyday life the imagination is hardly capable of recalling
a sequence of ideas which present surroundings seem to contradict and
thrust aside. But in such moments of energy one is not in a condition
to think of the future or of other men and take notes for it and them,
or to dwell upon the fame to be acquired by one's thoughts, or even to
take thought of the common good. One is more natural; one is not bent
on making use of the present moment, one does not control one's ideas,
nor require one's mind to examine into things, discover hidden secrets,
or find something to say which has never been said before. Thought is
no longer active and regulated, but passive and free. One dreams, one
abandons one's self, one is profound without _esprit_, great without
enthusiasm, energetic without will."

We can see him, this pupil of Jean Jacques, who has energy without
will (exactly Obermann's case), sitting solitary amidst Jean Jacques's
scenery. _René_ had widened the range of literary landscape. Instead
of the Swiss lake and the woods and groves with which we began in
_La Nouvelle Héloïse_, _René_ and _Atala_ gave us the great primeval
forest, the gigantic Mississippi and its tributaries, and all the
glowing, dazzling colour and fragrant, intoxicating luxuriance of
tropical nature. This was a fitting natural background for a figure
like René's. The exiled Chateaubriand had wandered through such
scenery, and it had left its imprint on him. Obermann is in his proper
place in the desert silence and dumbness of the mountains.

It is where there is no life, where life loses its hold, that he feels
at home. Will he be able to endure life? Or will he, like Werther, some
day cast it from him?

He does not do so. He finds strength in a great resolve. He gives up
once and for all the idea of pleasure and happiness. "Let us," he says,
"look upon all that passes and perishes as of no importance; let us
choose a better part in the great drama of the world. It is from our
determined resolution alone that we can hope for any enduring result."
His determination to live, not to lay violent hands upon himself, is
not engendered by humility but by a spirit of haughty defiance. "It
may be," he says, "that man is created only to perish. If so, let us
perish resisting, and if annihilation is our portion, let us at least
do nothing to justify our fate."

But it is long before Obermann attains to this calm. Many and
impassioned are his arguments in justification of suicide; and this
is not surprising, for the suicide-epidemic in literature is one of
those symptoms of the emancipation of the individual to which I have
already referred. It is one form, the most radical and definite, of the
individual's rejection of and release from the whole social order into
which he was born. And what respect for human life were men likely to
have in the days when Napoleon yearly made a blood-offering of many
thousands to his ambition? "I hear every one declare," says Obermann,
"that it is a crime to put an end to one's life, but the same sophists
who forbid me death, expose me to it, send me to it. It is honourable
to give up life when we cling to it, it is right to kill a man who
desires to live, but that same death which it is an obligation to seek
when dreaded, it is criminal to seek when desired! Under a thousand
pretexts, now sophistical, now ridiculous, you play with my existence,
and I alone have no rights over myself! When I love life, I am to
despise it; when I am happy, you send me to die; and when I wish to
die, you forbid me, and burden me with a life that I loathe."

"If I ought not to take my life, neither ought I to expose myself to
probable death. All your heroes are simply criminals. The command you
give them does not justify them. You have no right to send them to
death if they had no right to give their consent to your order. If I
have no right of decision in the matter of my own death, who has given
this right to society? Have I given what I did not possess? What insane
social principle is this you have invented, which declares that I have
made over to society, for the purpose of my own oppression, a right I
did not possess to escape from oppression."

Once, many years ago, in an essay on the tragedy of fate, I put similar
words into the mouth of a suicide: "He who groans under the burden of
existence may reasonably turn and accuse destiny, saying, 'Why was I
born? Why are we not consulted? If I had been asked and had known what
it was to live, I would never have consented.' We are like men who
have been pressed as sailors and forced on board a ship: such sailors
do not consider themselves obliged to stay on the ship if they see an
opportunity of deserting. If it is argued that, having enjoyed the good
of life I am bound to accept the evil, I reply: 'The good of life, the
happiness of childhood, for example, which I enjoyed and my acceptance
of which you say implied my consent to live, I accepted in absolute
ignorance of the fact that it was earnest-money, therefore I am not
bound by such earnest-money. I will not violate the ship's discipline,
will not murder my comrades or anything of that sort; I will only take
the one thing I have a right to, my liberty; for I never bound myself
to remain.'"

This is obviously not the place to discourse at length on the
permissibility of suicide. I leave that task to the moralists, only
remarking that, although I do not believe anything reasonable can
be urged against its permissibility except our obligations to our
fellow-men, I consider these obligations in numberless cases an
entirely sufficient and conclusive argument. At present I am only
depicting from a purely historical point of view an actual psychical
condition which is one of the phenomena of the literature under
consideration. For _Werther_ and _Obermann_ are not the only books of
this period in which suicide is represented or discussed. Atala kills
herself. René is only prevented from doing so by his sister Amélie, and
at one time, with a contempt of life almost as great as Schopenhauer's,
he sneers at the love of life as a "mania." Their attitude towards
suicide, then, forms a point of resemblance between two such different
writers as Chateaubriand and Sénancour, and stamps their work with the
impress of the period.

The author of _Obermann_ made his hero in his own image, which perhaps
explains why he makes him finally resolve to be an author. "What
chance have I of success?" says Obermann. "If to say something true
and to endeavour to say it convincingly be not enough, it is certain
that I shall not succeed. Take the first place, ye who desire the
fame of the moment, the admiration of society, ye who are rich in
ideas which last a day, in books which serve a party, in effective
tricks and mannerisms! Take the first place, seducers and seduced; it
is nothing to me; ye will soon be forgotten, so it is well that ye
should have your day. For my own part, I do not consider it necessary
to be appreciated in one's lifetime, unless one is condemned to the
misfortune of having to live by one's pen."

In these words Sénancour expressed his own literary faith and predicted
his own destiny. His own generation overlooked him; he was not
appreciated while he lived, although he was in the unhappy position
of possessing no source of income but his pen. But in the days of the
Romantic School he attained renown; the Romantic critics bound his
simple field flowers into garlands along with the passion-flowers and
roses of Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël. And he deserved the fame he
attained. For he is one of the most remarkable authors of the Emigrant
Literature-a worshipper of Nature, as becomes a pupil of Rousseau,
melancholy, as befits a genuine admirer of Ossian, weary of life, as
befits a contemporary of Chateaubriand. He is thoroughly modern in his
theories on religion, morality, education, and the position of women in
society; he is the regular German Romanticist in his sentimentality,
his indolence, and his dread of contact with reality, as if it were
something that would burn him; and he is the French Romanticist in
his mixture of liberal-mindedness with excessive scrupulosity and of
enthusiasm with refined sensuousness, a combination which reappears
in French literature twenty years later in Sainte-Beuve's _Joseph
Delorme_. Everything stamps him as a herald or forerunner of the long
train of greater intellects who at this moment begin their progress
through the century; his weak voice announces them and he prepares
their way.


[1] Obermann, 1833, vol. i. p. 262; vol. ii. p. 90.



VI


NODIER


Simultaneously with _Obermann_ there appeared in the French book market
a little romance which was a product of intellectual tendencies akin to
those of Sénancour. Though its author too is a forerunner of greater
men than himself, his remarkable and versatile talent, his sense of the
fantastic (exceptionally strong for a French author), and his courage
in striking out new paths, make of him not a mere precursor but a
pioneeer. This writer was Charles Nodier, and the name of his book, _Le
Peintre de Saltzbourg_.

Charles Nodier, who belongs only by virtue of a couple of early works
to the period with which we are dealing, and who, except for these,
must be classed as a French Romanticist prior to the existence of
the French Romantic School, was born at Besançon in 1780. His father
was a magistrate, a gifted and honourable man, severe in his public
capacity and amiable in his home; he was a declared adherent of the
eighteenth-century philosophy, and educated his son according to the
principles laid down in Rousseau's _Émile_. Charles early showed
an astonishing aptitude for learning, and much talent in various
directions. At seventeen years of age he was so capable a philologist
as to have compiled a dictionary of French onomatopoeic words, a work
which the Minister of Education considered worthy of a place in the
school libraries. By the time he was eighteen he was so accomplished a
naturalist that he brought out a work on the antennae of insects and
their organs of hearing. His first romance was given to the press about
the same time.

[Illustration: NODIER]

Nodier's was a stirring childhood and early youth. At the age of
thirteen he had some experience of the horrors of the Reign of
Terror, for his father was head of the revolutionary tribunal at
Besançon. In 1793 the warmhearted and determined little boy saved a
woman's life. A lady of the town was accused of sending money to an
émigré relation in the Royalist army of the Rhine. The charge was
proved beyond a doubt, and the provisions of the law in such a case
being unmistakable, the lady's fate was apparently sealed. A mutual
friend of his family and the lady told the whole story to young Nodier,
who first vainly attempted to move his father by entreaties, and then
declared that he would kill himself if the death sentence were passed.
He was so much in earnest, and seemed so resolved to carry out his
threat, that at the last moment the father, in dread of losing his son,
did violence to his Roman virtue, and acquitted the offender. In the
same year, Besançon not offering sufficient educational advantages,
young Nodier was sent to Strasburg. It so happened that he was boarded
there in the house of the notorious Eulogius Schneider, the cruel
governor of Alsace, who shortly afterwards perished on the scaffold in
Paris. The scenes he saw in Strasburg were well adapted to quicken the
imagination of a future writer of romance. As a youth in Paris he was
a witness of the frivolity and pleasure-seeking that prevailed under
the Directory, and after his return to Besançon in 1799 he interested
himself in the cause of the state prisoners and suspected persons in
that town. This led to his being denounced as dangerous to society;
one night his door was broken open and his papers were examined, but
nothing more incriminating was found than his works on the antennae
of insects and the roots of words. The excitement of the situation
satisfied his romantic love of adventure; it pleased him to be at war
with the authorities, to run risks, to know he was spied upon, &c. He
had no political convictions then or later, but he was an enthusiast in
the cause of liberty, and always belonged to the Opposition, whatever
the Government of the moment might be; he was religious under the
Republic, a freethinker under the Empire, &c., &c. The despotism of
the First Consul so exasperated him that at the age of twenty he
wrote an ode against him entitled _La Napoléone_. Arrests were made
right and left in the hope of finding the author, and when at last the
printer was imprisoned, Nodier gave himself up. After several months'
imprisonment in Paris he was sent back to his native town, where he was
placed under the surveillance of the police.

This was the beginning of a long series of persecutions and annoyances
on the part of the Government, which, although certainly exaggerated by
the young poet's lively and always active imagination, must have been
anything but pleasant to him. He went from one hiding-place to another
in the Jura Mountains, living and writing in unfrequented spots, and
never staying long enough in any one place to complete the work begun
there. Thus, in addition to all the impressions of the period already
received, he had experience, at a very early age, of the emotions of
the exile and the mood of the _émigré_. It is these moods and emotions
which form the background of his first literary attempt. _Le Peintre de
Saltzbourg_ was written during his incessant changes of abode among the
Jura Mountains.

_Le Peintre de Saltzbourg, journal des émotions d'un coeur souffrant,
suivi des Méditations du Cloître_, is the title of the first edition,
published in Paris, 1803. The _Méditations du Cloître_, a sort of
appendix to this edition of the romance, possesses a certain interest
as the expression of one of the ideas prevailing among the young
generation. It is written with the same intention as _René_, being,
namely, a plea for the restoration of monasteries. It is a monologue,
spoken by a being peculiarly unhappy in his own estimation, who bewails
the absence of any monastery wherein to take refuge, and naïvely seeks
to prove his vocation for the life of a Trappist by a perfect torrent
of complaint. "I, who am still so young and yet so unhappy, who have
too early gauged life and society, and am completely estranged from
the fellow-men who have wounded my heart, I, bereft of every hope
which has hitherto deluded me, have sought a haven in my misery and
found none." Hereon follows a long panegyric on monks and nuns, those
"angels of peace, who did nought but pray, console the wretched,
educate the young, tend the sick, help the needy, follow the condemned
to the scaffold, and bind up the wounds of heroes." How explain the
fact that these devout men and women have brought down on themselves a
fury of persecution unequalled in the annals of fanaticism? How can the
legislators of the eighteenth century have had so little knowledge of
the human heart as not to understand, not to divine the existence of
those needs, to supply which religion founded monasteries?

"To the present generation political circumstances have given the
education that fell to the lot of Achilles. We have been fed on the
blood and the marrow of lions; and now that a government which leaves
nothing to chance and which determines the future has set limits to the
dangerous development of the powers of youth, saying to them: 'Thus far
and no farther!'--do they understand now what melancholy occurrences
result from so much suppressed passion and unemployed strength,
how many temptations to crime exist in a passionate, melancholy,
world-weary heart? With bitterness, with horror, I set it down:
Werther's pistol and the executioner's axe have already made a clearing
amongst us. The present generation rises up and demands the cloisters
of old."

Assuredly a humble and sentimental desire for a generation nourished on
the marrow of lions! But we discern defiance behind the meekness, and
the demand is not to be taken literally. It is impatient despondency
grasping at random at any means of alleviating its woe.

In a preface which Nodier added to his book in 1840, he speaks of
the circumstances which produced it. Under the Directory, he says,
emotionalism was very much out of fashion; the language of reverie
and passion, to which thirty years before Rousseau had lent a passing
vogue, was considered ridiculous at the close of the century. But it
was quite otherwise in Germany, "that wonderful Germany, the final
refuge of poetry in Europe, the cradle of the society of the future (if
a society can still come into being in Europe). And we were beginning
to feel the influence of Germany.... We read _Werther, Goetz von
Berlichingen_, and _Die Räuber_."

The hero of Nodier's book is fashioned after the pattern of Werther; he
is twenty years of age, a painter, a poet, and, above all, a German.
But he is a weak imitation, decidedly inferior to the original.
Charles (Nodier's own name) is an exile, banished from Bavaria for
political offences. For two years he has roamed through Europe, a
restless fugitive, for two years has lived Nodier's own life. One
feeling alone has sustained him, his love for a young girl who bears
the poetical name of Eulalia. He returns to Bavaria, and learns--hear
it, ye heavens!--that Eulalia is faithless! Eulalia is wedded to
another! The betrayed lover cannot resist his desire to haunt the
place of her abode. One day they meet, and--O Destiny!--Eulalia tells
him that, never hearing from him, and being told he was dead, she
had sorrowfully, and solely out of obedience to her mother, at last
consented to marry a young Herr Spronck, whose fancied resemblance to
Charles touched her, and who is, it appears, the noblest of men. On
this follow lamentations and descriptions of feeling of the Werther
type, but all in a much more dejected key. Charles abandons himself
to melancholy retrospect. Here it was that he saw her for the first
time; there that he had the first dark forebodings of the future; in
this other place, in his ecstasy at beholding her, he forgot his paper,
his pencils, and his "Ossian"; yonder, where the trees are now hewn
down, he had determined to bury his dear Werther; now it is his own
grave that he would fain dig. Werther has been Charles's friend, the
friend on whom he has obviously formed himself. On one occasion only is
Charles more energetic and manly than Werther, namely in his outburst
of indignation at the obstacles which interpose themselves between him
and his beloved.

"Why did I not take her in my arms, seize her like a prey, carry her
far from the abodes of man, and proclaim her my wife in the sight of
heaven! Oh, if even this desire be a crime, why is it so intimately
entwined with every fibre of my being that I cannot renounce it
and live? A crime, did I say I In uncivilised times, in the days of
ignorance and of slavery, some one or other of the barbarous horde took
it into his head to write down his personal prejudices and say: 'There
are laws for you!' How easily deluded men are! What a contemptible
comedy to see so many generations ruled by the prejudices and whims of
a dead past!"

Immediately upon this follows, quaintly enough, a long, solemn
panegyric on Klopstock's _Messiah_, obviously inspired by other, but
very dissimilar, reminiscences of Werther. "O divine Klopstock!" cries
Charles, "how magnificently you present the assembled miracles of
poetry to our eyes, whether you introduce us into the presence-chamber
of the Most High, where the first-born among the angels hymn the
mysteries of heaven, or show us the cherubims in holy adoration
covering their faces with their golden wings!" The transition from
revolutionary sentiments to pious ecstasy is somewhat abrupt, but the
mixture of revolutionary with romantic tendencies which would seem
extraordinary in any other age, does not surprise in the Emigrant
Literature. It is to be found in all its authors. We have it in
Chateaubriand as Satanic Catholicism; in Sénancour as sentimental and
romantic atheism; here it is revolt against social laws in combination
with enthusiasm for the _Messiah_--different developments of the same
phenomenon.

It presently appears that Eulalia's husband is no happier than her
unfortunate lover. He has been deprived by death of the love of his
youth and cannot forget his bereavement even by the side of Eulalia.
He observes the attachment existing between his wife and Charles,
and, not wishing to stand in their way, takes poison and dies, after
begging them to forgive the suffering he has involuntarily caused them
"by his hapless existence." It would be impossible to imagine a more
considerate husband. The lovers, however, are not a whit less noble.
Eulalia especially is too high-minded to profit by so melancholy a
death. She retires to a convent, and Charles drowns himself in the
Danube. Two suicides and a retreat to a nunnery was the regulation
ending in those days.

To us, nowadays, this romance is a very insignificant intellectual
production, but a very interesting piece of historical evidence. Its
author soon passed into another phase of development. We shall find
Nodier again upon a higher plane of the evolution of French literature;
no one changed form more frequently than he--and the butterfly is more
beautiful than the grub.



VII


CONSTANT: "ON RELIGION"--"ADOLPHE"


The literary critic passing from one variety to another of the type
of a certain period in a manner resembles the scientist tracking
some structure through its metamorphoses in the different zoological
species. The next variant of our main type who seems to me worthy of
study, is Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_, the hero of the only romance
written by that famous political author. Adolphe is less brilliant
than René, less melancholy than Obermann, but he is a representative
of the same restless and unsatisfied generation. He too is related to
Werther, but, like René, he is the child of the age of disillusionment.
It was not until after the fall of the Empire that the book appeared,
but it was written, or at any rate projected, in the first years of the
century. Like those other books which on their emotional side are in
touch with Rousseau, and which perpetuate his tradition, it conflicted
sharply with the prevailing sentiments of the day. In Paris figures and
the sword held sway, in literature the classic ode and science were
in vogue, whereas in Constant's book emotions and psychical analysis
predominated.

Benjamin Constant de Rebecque was born at Lausanne in 1767, of
Protestant parents. His mother died in childbirth; his father, a
cold-hearted, worldly-wise man, was much such another as the father
in _Adolphe_. Constant was an exceptionally gifted being. If, in
reading _Adolphe_, we find it a little difficult to understand the
extraordinary fascination exercised by the hero, the explanation is,
that, having employed so many reminiscences of his own life in the
making of the book, Constant seems to have shrunk from dwelling too
strongly on his hero's attractive qualities. Adolphe is so distinctly
Constant himself, that we can only, so to speak, understand how the
type originated, by studying the author's youth.

Constant was refined and charming, early addicted to a sort of sportive
self-mockery, excitably impressionable, and, curiously enough, at the
same time slightly blasé. To a craving for strong emotions was added
a gift of putting himself entirely outside his own emotions. Even as
a youth he was able to halve himself, to double himself, and to mock
at himself. He could say: "I am as amused by the embarrassments in
which I find myself as though they were another's," and his favourite
expressions when angry were such as this: "I storm, I am beside myself
with fury, and yet at the bottom of it all I am indifferent."

No pains were spared to give this brilliant, intellectual youth an
education suited to his gifts. He was first sent to the University of
Edinburgh, where he formed friendships with several distinguished young
Englishmen and Scotchmen, almost all of whom were destined to become
famous. From Edinburgh he went to the small, peaceful University of
Erlangen, where the foundation was laid of his acquaintance with German
literature and German affairs in general. Here, as in Edinburgh, he
displayed more interest in the politics of the old Greek republics than
in their poetry.

We gain the most trustworthy information on the subject of Constant's
youthful character and development from his letters to Mme. de
Charrière, a gifted, free-thinking Swiss authoress, Dutch by birth but
completely Gallicised, who was over forty years of age when Constant,
then in his twentieth year, first made her acquaintance. It was in
this lady's house, sitting beside her while she wrote, that, at the
age of nineteen, he began the great book on religion at which he was
to work almost all his life, making perpetual alterations as his views
changed and took more definite form. He finished it thirty years later,
in the hours which he could spare from the Chamber and the Paris
gambling-tables. But it was begun at Mme. de Charrière's; and there
was a curious significance in the fact that the first instalment was
written on the backs of a pack of playing cards, each card, as it was
filled, being handed to his mentor. Constant expresses himself with
absolute frankness in his letters to this faithful and devoted friend;
from them we learn how he felt and thought as a youth. The feelings and
thoughts are those of the eighteenth century, minus its enthusiasm for
certain ideas, and plus a good deal of doubt. He writes:--

[Illustration: BENJAMIN CONSTANT]

"I feel the emptiness of everything more than ever; it is all
promise and no fulfilment. I feel how superior our powers are to our
circumstances, and how wretched this incongruity must inevitably make
us. I wonder if God, who created us and our environment, did not die
before He finished His work, if the world is not an _opus posthumum_?
He had the grandest and most beautiful intentions, and all the means
for carrying them out. He had begun to use these means, the scaffolding
for the building was erected, but in the midst of His work He died.
Everything is constructed with an aim which has ceased to exist; we,
in particular, feel ourselves destined for something of which we can
form no conception. We are like clocks without dials or hands, whose
wheels, which are not without understanding, revolve until they are
worn out, without knowing why, but saying, 'I revolve, therefore I have
an aim.'--Farewell, you dear, clever wheel, who have the misfortune to
be so superior to the clock-work of which you are a part and which you
disturb! Without too much self-praise I may say that I am in the same
predicament."

In another place he writes: "Oh, how generous, how magnanimous are our
princes! They have again issued a pardon from which none are excluded
save those who have rebelled against them. It reminds me of a psalm
in praise of the exploits of the Hebrew God. He has slain this one
and that, for His mercy endureth for ever; He has drowned Pharaoh and
all his hosts, for His mercy endureth for ever; He has smitten the
first-born of Egypt with death, for His mercy endureth for ever, &c.
&c."

"You do not appear to be democratic. Like you, I believe fraud and
frenzy to be at the bottom of the Revolutionist's heart. But I prefer
the fraud and frenzy which pulls down prisons, abolishes titles and
such like imbecilities, and places all religious day-dreams upon
the same footing, to the fraud and madness which would maintain and
consecrate that monstrosity produced by grafting the barbaric stupidity
of the Hebrew upon the barbaric ignorance of the Vandal."

"The more one thinks it over, the less is one able to imagine any
possible good reason for the existence of this foolish thing we call
the world. I understand neither the intention, nor the master-builder,
nor the artist, nor the figures in this _Laterna Magica_ of which I
have the honour to form a part. Shall I understand any better when I
have disappeared from the small, dark globe on which it amuses I know
not what unseen power to have me dance, whether I will or no? I cannot
say. But I fear the secret will prove, like that of the Freemasons, to
be a thing of no value except in the estimation of the uninitiated."

Having read these extracts, it does not surprise us to know that the
book _On Religion_, planned at the close of the century to effect the
same object from a Protestant standpoint that Chateaubriand aimed
at from a Catholic, namely, the revival of the religious spirit in
France, had originally a very different character from that which it
finally acquired. If the first part were published as it was originally
written, entirely in the eighteenth-century manner, it would indicate
in its author exactly the stage of mental development indicated in
Chateaubriand by his book on the Revolutions. In the form in which it
has taken its place in French literature the work is remarkable for its
calm, passionless style, its unprejudiced views, and an erudition not
common at that period. Its weaknesses are its total lack of warmth and
the general indecision of its principles.

The main idea is as follows: All the earlier conceptions of the nature
of religion have been imperfect. One school of writers, who regard
religion as inaccessible by the path of reason, and who believe it to
have been imparted to man once for all by divine revelation, seek to
restore it to its original form. Another school, rightly appalled by
the evils resulting from intolerance and fanaticism, have rejected
religion as a delusion, and have sought to base an ethical system
upon a purely earthly foundation. A third have believed themselves
able to steer a middle course; they accept something which they call
natural religion, or the religion of reason, and which consists only
of the purest dogmas and the simplest fundamental principles. But
the adherents of this school, like those of the first two, believe
that mankind can attain to absolute truth--that truth, therefore,
is one and unchangeable; they stigmatise all who believe less than
themselves as ungodly, and all who believe more as priest-ridden and
superstitious. In opposition to all these three schools, Constant
regards religion as progressive; he starts from the premise that the
religious feeling is a fundamental element of the human soul, that
it is only the forms it assumes which differ, and that these are
capable of ever-increasing perfection. He has obviously read Lessing's
_Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts_; but he is more in sympathy with
his own contemporaries, Kreuzer and Görres, than with Lessing. He
either does not understand or does not appreciate the latter's delicate
and yet profound irony; he is captivated by the Romantic-Protestant
revival ideas, and assimilates as much of them as a French Liberal
politician and converted Voltairean can. He strongly objects to the
spirit of intolerance and persecution which makes itself felt so
strongly in Lamennais' book on "Indifference in Matters of Religion"
unlike Chateaubriand and De Maistre, he objects to the temporal power
of the Papacy, or to any other combination of spiritual and temporal
power; but he imagines that in his _sentiment religieux_ he has
discovered a kind of spiritual primary element, incapable of further
resolution, an element which is unalterable and universal, i.e.
diffused over the whole earth and unaffected by time; and upon this
theory, which is incompatible with the data of psychology, he bases his
whole conservative system. As far as possible he evades troublesome
questions: he refuses, for example, to decide whether mankind came
into being in a savage or in a paradisaically perfect condition; and
he expressly states that he begins with a delineation of the lowest
fetish worship only for the sake of order, that he by no means denies
that this pitiable stage may have been the result of a fall, this
hypothesis, indeed, seeming to him a very probable one.--Few books have
more rapidly grown old-fashioned than this of Constant's, which is now
merely of historical interest as typical of the half-heartedness and
indecision of the period in which it was written.

In the early years of the French Revolution, Constant was appointed
gentleman-in-waiting to the Duchess of Brunswick. In this position he
heard the Revolution spoken of with that mixture of fear and abhorrence
of which we have an example in the dialogue of Goethe's play, _Der
Bürgergeneral_; but he had no difficulty in forming an independent
and unprejudiced estimate of the significance of the great movement.
In Brunswick, as elsewhere, much of his time seems to have been spent
in amours, one following on the other in rapid succession. He himself
jestingly assumed _Sola inconstantia constans_ as his motto. He
married, solely out of ennui, it would appear, divorced his wife after
the honeymoon, and presently fell in love with a lady who was at the
time sueing for a divorce from her husband. For this lady's sake he
returned at a later period to Brunswick. Her maiden name was Charlotte
von Hardenberg, and many years afterwards she became his second wife.
In the letters of this Brunswick period to Mme. de Charrière, Constant
appears as aimless and bored as he is sagacious and witty. He makes
merry over his stupid, little-minded associates, and for a time even
over his feeling for the lady of his heart, until it suddenly occurs
to him that jesting on this latter subject is scarcely seemly, and he
decides to forego it. So far there was neither a centre nor an object
in his life.

Towards the close of 1774, however, a decisive change took place.
He met Mme. de Staël, and it became apparent that neither of these
two minds could produce the best of which it was capable without the
assistance of the other. Constant was then twenty-seven years of age,
Mme. de Staël twenty-eight. He had just arrived in Paris, the city to
which his ambition had long attracted him, but which he now saw for
the first time. He was introduced into the best society, frequented
the houses of Mme. Tallien, Mme. Beauharnais, and Mme. de Staël, and
made an impression both by his personal beauty and his intellectual
gifts. With his fresh complexion and fair hair he resembled a young
Northerner, but in mind he was the acute Frenchman, and in culture the
cosmopolitan. He made an impression on the most gifted Frenchwoman of
the day that was never effaced, even when the circumstances of life
estranged and separated them, and it was soon no secret that Mme.
de Staël's admiration had become passionate love. She imparted to
the rising states man her faith in political liberty, her enthusiasm
for the rights of the individual, and for a government which should
assure them; and her fiery ardour inspired him with her spirit of
enterprise and with her confidence in the power of words and of deeds
to influence, to re-mould life in spite of destiny. In return for this,
her relation to him seems, by setting her at variance with society, to
have supplied her with the greater part of the passions, emotions, and
rebellious thoughts which form the kernel of her imaginative writings.

At Mme. de Staël's house Constant met a whole host of foreign
diplomatists, disaffected journalists, and plotting women, who for the
moment influenced him against the Convention. He soon, however, arrived
at convictions of his own, refuted his first newspaper articles, and,
more radical than his friend, joined the "Patriot" party in opposing
the so-called Moderates, in whom he perceived no moderation. The year
1795 he spent, on the invitation of Mme. de Staël, at her country-house
of Coppet, in Switzerland; the following year she was separated from
her husband.

When, as First Consul, in 1799, Napoleon gave France a constitution,
in which autocracy was veiled by a slight pretence of freedom,
he nominated-Constant, formerly his ardent admirer, a member of
the Tribunate. In this capacity Constant, supported by some few
sympathisers, carried on an honourable struggle against the Napoleonic
absolutism, a struggle which attracted the attention of all Europe, and
highly exasperated the First Consul. In 1802 the latter made the famous
remark about the five or six metaphysicians among the Tribunes who
deserved to be drowned, and not long after, these five or six, namely
Constant and his friends, were expelled by the votes of a servile
majority. Mme. de Staël and her father, the famous Necker, showing
themselves actively antagonistic to Napoleon's autocratic policy, were
both banished from France. Constant, who followed Mme. de Staël to
Coppet, was forbidden to return. In May 1802, Mme. de Staël became a
widow. In 1803-4 she and Constant travelled together in Germany. She,
loving him devotedly, evidently seems to have expected that he would
marry her; but it is plain that he did not reciprocate her feeling; it
was only out of weakness and compassion that he concealed from her his
constant correspondence with Charlotte von Hardenberg. Having probably
invented some pretext for leaving her, he went to Weimar alone. There,
in 1804, he translated Schiller's _Wallenstein_ into French. It was
not Constant but A. W. Schlegel who accompanied Mme. de Staël to Italy
in 1805 (as tutor to her children), on the journey immortalised in
_Corinne_. Constant was privately married to his Charlotte in the
summer of 1808, and so little was Madame de Staël resigned to his
defection, that terrible scenes occurred when she unexpectedly met the
newly married pair in the neighbourhood of Geneva. Charlotte, driven to
despair by her rival's furious jealousy, made an unsuccessful attempt
to commit suicide. So great was Madame de Staël's influence over
Constant, that she actually persuaded him to leave his wife and return
for a time with her to Coppet.

For some years after this episode Benjamin Constant lived in quiet
retirement at Göttingen, occupied with collecting material for his
work on the origin and development of religion. The defeat of Napoleon
in 1813 brought him and his friend Madame de Staël once more into
the political arena. Her influence at the courts of Russia, Germany,
and Sweden gave him a voice in the proceedings against the defeated
autocrat. He went to Paris in Bernadotte's train, and, although he was
in favour of the restoration of the monarchy, he strove ardently to
save all that could be saved of constitutional liberty. He published
masterly pamphlets on the liberty of the press, on ministerial
responsibility, &c. It is well known that immediately after this,
his blind infatuation for Mme. Récamier caused him to take such
violent action against Napoleon on the latter's return from Elba, that
there seems something traitorous in his acceptance of a post in the
Council of State during the Hundred Days, and his collaboration in the
Emperor's attempt to give France a species of constitution.

We must not judge Constant as a politician by this unfortunate episode.
Under the Bourbons, and even during the first years of the reign of
Louis Philippe, he was the determined and eloquent leader of the
Liberal Opposition. Though never remarkable for purity of character,
he had noble impulses. When in 1830 he received a letter from one of
his friends in Paris saying, "A terrible game is being played here;
our heads are in danger; come and add yours!" he did not hesitate for
a moment, but came and undauntedly sided with the revolutionists. A
few months later, however, although he was at the time leader of the
Opposition, he accepted 100,000 francs from Louis Philippe for the
purpose of paying his gambling debts. Constant was an accomplished
dialectician. No truth, he was accustomed to observe, is complete
unless it includes its antithesis. He succeeded in completing many
truths. The imprint set upon him by the period in which his youth had
fallen was never effaced. The doubleness which in the other notable men
of the same generation is only a secondary quality, is in Constant's
character the essential, distinguishing, and, at the same time,
disturbing trait.

_Adolphe_, the chief work of this man's youth, deserves some study.
In it we find the following utterance: "What surprises me is, not
that humanity should feel the need of a religion, but that it should
in any age fancy itself strong enough, and sufficiently secure from
disaster, to venture to reject anyone religion. It seems to me as if in
its weakness it should rather be prone to invoke the aid of them all.
Is there, in the dense darkness which surrounds us, any ray of light
that we can afford to reject? Does there float on the whirling torrent
which carries us along with it any branch to which we dare refuse to
cling?" We feel that the author is more certain of the existence of
the whirling torrent than of the branch. His manner of recommending
religion reveals his own lack of it, and a profound depth of melancholy.

The explanation is simple. There was a reaction against Voltaire in the
air at that time, a reaction practically inaugurated by Rousseau--the
rebound of repressed, unconsulted, ignored feeling. A half-unconscious
effort was going on in men's minds to restore the balance between
the demands and the possibilities of the human soul which had been
disturbed during the autocratic reign of critical intellect; and this
half-conscious tendency was plainly perceptible even in men whose
natures were really akin to Voltaire's, and who, had they been born
thirty years earlier, would have been his eager sympathisers and
fellow-workers. Voltaire had not only criticised, he had been forced
by the evils of the times and by his unruly wit into an attitude of
aggression. With all available weapons, even poisoned ones, he had
attacked those purely external, palpable forms of authority, which in
his time stood in the way of honourable human conditions, nay, made
them impossible. Now all these powers had fallen, and the times once
more craved authority. There are inner, spiritual authorities. The
Right, the Good, the True are such. But the enthusiastic attempts to
introduce and establish a free form of government which should realise
these ideals without the invocation of any authority unexplainable
by reason, had resulted in the savage excesses of lawlessness. What
wonder, then, that not only many ordinary individuals began to grope
after planks from the wreck of the once powerful political and
religious systems, but that also a majority of the most highly gifted
came forward as the champions of some authority, either temporal or
spiritual, which they supported for the sake of the principle, but with
no real belief or confidence in it.

They had no real confidence, for the simple reason that for them, as
genuine and intelligent sons of the young nineteenth century, it was
impossible to believe in the strength of a stem which their fathers had
sawn through. Chateaubriand's faith in legitimacy was as faint-hearted
as Constant's in religion in general. Men were uneasy in their minds.
The old house was burned down. The new was not even begun. And, instead
of boldly beginning to erect a new building, events led them to seek
refuge among the ruins of the old, the half-burned materials of which
they built up as best they could. During this performance they were
perpetually tempted to try experiments not planned from the first.
After some vain attempts to give solidity to the building by the
addition of new material, they would in despair give a kick at the
shaky, newly built walls, which brought them down again. No group of
writers whose aim was to preserve society ever brought such passionate
accusations against it as the authors of the Emigrant Literature. It is
one of these accusations of society which forms the basis of Benjamin
Constant's _Adolphe_.

Adolphe is a love story which, in its presentment of the relations
of the individual to society, takes a quite different point of view
from _Werther_. In _Werther_ outward, and, by reason of these, also
inward, obstacles prevent the union of a couple obviously made for
each other. In _Adolphe_ outward, and because of them, also inward,
reasons part two beings who are united. _Werther_ represents the power
of society, and of once-accepted social responsibilities, to hinder
a love match. _Adolphe_ describes the power of society and of public
opinion to absolve from accepted personal responsibilities and to sever
a long-united pair. The books, taken together, form a double picture of
the pope-like power of society to bind and loose. But whereas _Werther_
depicts the feelings of the pre-revolutionary, enthusiastic, energetic
generation to which its author belonged, the feelings described in
_Adolphe_ are those of the first French generation of the new century.

Unlike former love stories, _Adolphe_ does not delineate love only
in its first awakening in the dawn of delusive hopes, but follows it
through its whole existence, depicts its growth, its strength, its
decay, its death, and even pursues it to the other side of the grave
and shows the feelings into which it is transformed. Hence _Adolphe_,
even more than _René_, is the story of the individual's rude awakening
from delusion, the representation of the anguish of disappointment.
It is the flower of life which is here stripped of its petals one by
one and carefully dissected. In this point, too, the book is a great
contrast to _Werther, Werther_ is naïve in comparison. It is the same
flower, the perfume of which is a deadly poison to Werther, that is
calmly dissected by Adolphe. The change is expressed in the very
costume; the blue coat and yellow waistcoat have made way for our dull,
funereal black.

But the flame which is extinguished in the man's breast now burns in
the woman's. _Adolphe_ is woman's _Werther_. The passion and melancholy
of the new age have advanced another step; they have spread to the
other sex. In _Werther_ it was the man who loved, suffered, stormed,
and despaired; in comparison with him the woman was sound, strong, and
unharmed--perhaps a trifle cold and insignificant. But now it is her
turn, now it is she who loves and despairs. In _Werther_ it was the
woman who submitted to the laws of society, in _Adolphe_ it is the man
who does so. The selfsame war waged by Werther in the name of his love
is now waged by Eléonore, and with equally tragic result.

It is scarcely an exaggeration to call this romance the prototype of a
whole new species of fiction, namely that which occupies itself with
psychical analysis. It is its treatment of love that is new. Far behind
us now lies the time when Amor was represented as the charming child we
all know from Thorwaldsen's bas-reliefs. To Voltaire Amor was the god
of pleasure. "Les ris, les jeux et les plaisirs" were his attendants.
To Rousseau he is the god of passion. With Goethe he has ceased to be a
beneficent spirit; we understand when we read Goethe what Schopenhauer
meant when he wrote that Amor pursues his way, indifferent to the
misery of the individual. In Faust, the first poem of the new era,
he is transformed from a roguish boy into a criminal. Faust seduces
Gretchen and deserts her; Gretchen's love-story means the death of
her mother, her brother, her infant, and herself. She, the innocent,
loving girl, kills her mother with the sleeping-draught she administers
in order that Faust may visit her by night; Faust and Mephistopheles
together slay the brother who attempts to avenge his sister's disgrace;
from fear of shame Gretchen kills her new-born child, for which she is
thrown into prison and finally executed. Goethe's passion for truth
impelled him to paint a very different picture of Amor from that which
represents him as the rose-crowned boy. And in Goethe it is not only in
its consequences but in its very nature that love is fraught with fate.
In _Elective Affinities_ he has made a study of the mysterious and
irresistible attraction and repulsion by which the mutual relations of
souls are determined, as if they were chemical substances. The book is
a kind of study of passion from the point of view of natural philosophy;
Goethe shows us its rise, its magic power as a mysterious natural
force, its foundation in the unfathomed depths of our soul.

An attempt had thus been made to explain the attraction to which we
give the name of love by instituting a parallel between it and the
attraction with which we are familiar in inanimate nature. But there
was yet another step to be taken, namely, to dissociate love from
everything with which it had hitherto been connected, and analyse it.
This task fell to the lot of the unsettled, unsatisfied generation
to which Constant belongs. However much men had differed in their
conception of love, its causes and its consequences, they had all
agreed in accepting the emotion itself as something understood,
something simple. They now for the first time began to treat it as
something composite, and to attempt to resolve it into its elements.
In _Adolphe_, and the fiction which follows in its steps, an accurate
calculation is made of how many parts, how many grains, of friendship,
how many of devotion, of vanity, ambition, admiration, respect, sensual
attraction, hope, imagination, disappointment, hatred, weariness,
enthusiasm, calculation, &c. on the part of each, go to make up the
compound which the two concerned call their love. With all this
analysis the emotion lost its supernatural character, and the worship
of it ceased. Instead of its poetry, its psychology was offered to
the reader. What happened resembled that which happens when we look
at a star through a telescope; its bright rays disappear, only the
astronomical body remains: before, in the bright full moon we saw only
a clear, shining disc with an unchanging face; now, we distinguish a
multitude of mountains and valleys.

From the moment when men began to desire really to understand, they
necessarily fixed their attention less upon that first awakening of
the emotion, which poets had sung and celebrated from time immemorial,
than upon its later development, its duration and its cessation. In
those tragedies which are to be found in the literature of all races,
which are, as it were, their hymns to love, the death of the lovers
follows close upon the blossoming time of their love. Romeo sees
Juliet; they adore one another; after a few days and nights passed in
the seventh heaven, both lie dead. The question of constancy does not
occur. Our Danish love-tragedy, _Axel and Valborg_, seems, indeed, to
deal with nothing but constancy; the whole plot turns on the prolonged
engagement of the lovers, a characteristically national pivot--but _in
Axel and Valborg_ constancy is glorified as a virtue, not explained
as a product, for the play is a lyrical tragedy, not a psychological
analysis.

It is the question of the conditions of constancy which is treated of
in _Adolphe_--under what conditions is passion lasting or otherwise?
And it is the answer to this question which is really an impeachment
of society. For it is maintained that while society, in this case
represented by public opinion, upholds those unions which are of its
own institution, it at the same time basely strives to destroy all
possibilities of faithfulness in any union it has not sanctioned, even
if that union be to the full as honourable, to the full as unselfish,
as any of those which it fences round and supports.

Constant prefers his accusation in a story which could hardly be
less pretentious. It contains but two characters, no scenery, and
there is not a single fortuitous incident in the whole course of its
action. Everything occurs according to the natural laws indicated by
the relations of the couple to each other and to society in general.
The reader follows this history of two souls to its close much as a
student of chemistry watches the fermentation of two substances in an
inexplosible phial and observes the results. Who, then, are these two
characters?

In the first place, who is _he_? He is a very young man, who (like
the author) has been given an appointment at one of the little German
courts, after completing his studies at a small German university.
He has been tolerably dissipated, but has also gone through a course
of serious and laborious study. His relations with his father, an
outwardly cold, ironical man, who represents the culture of the
eighteenth century, have increased the hero's youthful taste for
powerful, passionate emotions, and his leaning to the unusual, the
extravagant. His father's severe discipline has inspired him with an
impatient longing for freedom from the bonds which gall him, and a
strong disinclination to let himself be trammelled by new ones.

At this stage of his development he comes to a court where monotony
and formality reign. To him, who from his earliest youth has felt an
unconquerable aversion to dogmatism and formalism, it is positive
suffering to be obliged to listen to his companions' eternal
platitudes. "The self-satisfied chatter of mediocrity about absolutely
unquestionable and unshakable religious, moral, or social principles,
all considered of equal importance, drove me to contradict, not so much
because I was of a different opinion as because I had no patience with
such clumsy, stolid certainty. I was involuntarily on the alert against
all these general maxims which are considered universally applicable,
without restriction or modification. The blockheads knead their
morality into such an indivisible mass that it cannot possibly permeate
their actions and be applicable in individual cases."

He revenges himself for the boredom which his associates inflict
on him by jesting at them and their ideals, and soon acquires a
character for ill-natured frivolity. He does not himself approve of
his own contradictory, mocking spirit. "But," he says, "I may urge in
self-defence that it takes time to accustom one's self to such beings,
to that which selfishness, affectation, vanity, and cowardice have
made of them. The astonishment a man in his early youth feels at such
an artificial, arbitrarily regulated state of society witnesses rather
to the naturalness of his character than to depraved tendencies.
Besides, this society has nothing to fear from such as us; it weighs us
down, its foolish influence is so strong that it quickly moulds us to
the general pattern. Then we only wonder that we were ever astonished.
We become accustomed to the new life as men become accustomed to the
air in a room full of people, where at first they feel as if they could
not breathe."

These skirmishes with his narrow surroundings were not sufficient
to satisfy the gifted young man; his discontent is perpetually with
him, he drags it about as a man drags a weight attached to his leg.
Like René and Obermann, he belongs to a generation of sons to whom
their fathers did not appear to have left anything to do worth doing.
The future has no interest for him, for he has anticipated it in
imagination, and the past has made him old, for he has lived in thought
through many a century. He has desired much, but willed nothing, and
the more lacking in will he feels himself, the vainer does he become;
for vanity is the invariable stop-gap with which those in whom will
or ability is defective, attempt to fill the lacunae in their will
or ability. He wishes to love and to be loved, looking on love in
the light of a tonic for his self-esteem. He expects to attain to a
stronger persuasion of his own worth, to be raised in his own and other
people's eyes, by some great triumph and scandal. The happiness that
love is to bring to him is the happiness of feeling for once that his
will is strong, because he is able to bend another's to it. He is not
by nature more faithless than other men. It is in him to love more
tenderly, to act more unselfishly than many do, but for him to love
faithfully many circumstances would need to be altered. He is still so
young that there is more of curiosity and of the spirit of adventure
in his feeling for a woman than of real love; and even if he loved
deeply, he is too weak, too little of the man, to be able to love on
in spite of society's disapproval of his passion; above all, in spite
of his unlikeness to his father, he is too much his son to be able,
without despising or deceiving himself, to stake his whole existence
on one card. He differs from and yet resembles his father, just as the
beginning of the nineteenth century differed from and yet resembled the
eighteenth.

And who is _she_? She is carefully described by the author as being
such that Adolphe's love for her, however strong, is certain sooner
or later to be affected by social considerations. In the first place,
Adolphe is not the only man she has loved, and the verdict of society
has been passed upon her before they meet; she is not his equal in
its eyes, although she is so by birth. In the second place, she is
considerably older than he; and in the third, hers is a passionate,
power-loving nature, which could only be fused with his if social
conditions favoured the process, and which must make both unhappy if
they harden him against her.

When Adolphe makes her acquaintance, Eléonore is no young,
inexperienced girl, who learns for the first time what love is;
she is a woman, whose new emotions stand out upon a background of
sad, harrowing experience. The mark which this experience has set
upon her is the first noticeable trait in her personality. Eléonore
has relinquished her right to all the privileges and pleasures of
a safe-guarded, peaceful life. Although of good family and born to
wealth, she has left home and family to follow the man she loves,
as his mistress. She has chosen between the world and him, and has
ennobled her action by entirely, unconditionally sacrificing herself
for his sake. She has done him the greatest services, has saved his
fortune, and been as faithful as any wife could be, endeavouring by
this absolute fidelity to solace the pride wounded by the reprobation
and scorn of the world. Strength of will is the second noticeable
feature of the character.

When the first doubt of her friend's constancy assails her, the whole
edifice that she has raised crumbles to pieces. Does he love her, or
does he only treat her as a man of honour must? is he faithful, or is
he only too proud and too well-bred to show himself ungrateful and
indifferent? With tears she puts the question to herself, with anguish
answers it. It is at this moment that she meets Adolphe. He is drawn to
her with a desire in which his whole thirst for life and all that life
contains is concentrated, drawn as to one in whom he mysteriously feels
treasures of passion, tenderness, enthusiasm, intellect, and experience
to be accumulated, buried, as it were. And his longing and her regret,
his vanity and her despair, his youth and her disappointment take hold
of each other like two wheels in the works of a watch.

It is easy to foresee with what a fiery flame this passion will blaze
at first, to foretell what a full and mighty chord, what a joyful paean
will resound, as though both had won complete and lasting victory
and salvation. There is a new and strange mixture in her feeling--an
enthusiasm which is almost fanatical, because it must be equal to the
task of stifling his constantly recurring jealousy of the past; a faith
which is almost convulsive, because it is not based upon sound, natural
confidence, but upon a determination to believe in spite of everything,
even in spite of having already been deceived; and a fidelity which
suffers tortures from being constantly called upon to demonstrate its
existence, because it is the offspring of faithlessness towards the
past. This redoublement of passion constitutes the third marked feature
in Eléonore's character. "One regarded her," says Adolphe, "with the
same interest and admiration with which one gazes on a magnificent
thunderstorm."

It is in reality an entirely new female type which is here presented to
us, a type which many years later Balzac appropriates, styles "la femme
de trente ans," and varies with such genius that he may be said to be
its second creator, and which George Sand too developed and embellished
in a whole series of her novels. Under the treatment of these two
authors this type proved to be a whole, hitherto unknown, world, in
which every feeling, passion, and thought was infinitely stronger than
in the world of the girlish heart. In time the type passed from the
novel into the drama, and long usurped the French stage. In it the
early literature of the century found its queen, as in René it found
its king.[1]

The strong, Promethean generation to which Goethe belonged had produced
its type in Faust, the fully developed man, with the powerful,
cultivated intellect, who, having studied in all the schools and toiled
through all the sciences, becomes conscious in his manhood's prime of
a void in his heart, a thirst for youth, freshness, and simplicity.
Casting himself into the whirl of life, he falls in love with a child.
It is her simplicity and innocence that win and intoxicate him, and
arouse the desire of possession.

The unhappy generation of the homeless and exiled, the young and yet
old, the believers who were at the same time unbelievers, to which
Constant belongs, has its type in Adolphe, who, blasé in thought,
though a mere child in years and experience, seeks in love strong
sensations, violent emotion, knowledge of life, of passion, and of
the heart of woman, difficulties and dangers to overcome--in a word,
mastery over woman. The young girl brought up under her mother's eye
in an ordinary middle-class home does not attract him; it would not be
a sufficient triumph to master her. But with the superiority of years
and experience on the woman's side, the feeling and the relation change
character. The passion uniting two such dissimilar beings is something
less ordinary, less conventional, less happy, but more transient than
the love which we know as a social power. It is no longer the prelude
to a bourgeois wedding. It seems to come into existence when, under
certain conditions, the paths of two beings of a certain complex type
cross or intersect each other; but the result is not harmony.

It is not until considerably later that this new type of woman really
takes possession of French literature. Saint Simon, the Revolution
of July, and George Sand had to pave the way--Saint Simon with his
doctrine of the emancipation of woman, and his theory that humanity
can only be perfected in man and woman together, not in man alone; the
Revolution of July by destroying many of the arbitrary restrictions to
which woman had been subjected; and George Sand by carrying on, almost
alone, the same struggle for the liberation of woman, which for man
had been begun by the great Revolution. The fact that the type, and
with it the conflict of woman with society, appears in literature so
long before George Sand, is to be explained by the circumstance that
Eléonore is modelled from the strongest woman of the day, the woman who
ventured to oppose Napoleon himself--Mme. de Staël.

This new type forms a strong contrast to those female characters of
Goethe's in which German poetry attained its highest level, and in
which the characteristically Teutonic spiritual quality is expressed
more perfectly than it ever had been before. Although Gretchen and
Clärchen are the antitheses of each other, the one being mild and
submissive, the other fiery and daring, both are children, both are
absorbed by a single feeling, both have perfectly simple, single-minded
natures, Both love for the first and only time. Both give themselves
to the man they love without thought of marriage, with entire trust,
without any resistance, without even the wish to resist; the one from
deep womanly devotion, the other from lofty womanly enthusiasm. They
do not understand that they are doing wrong, they do not think at all.
Their whole being, their will, their thoughts pass out of their own
possession, they themselves do not know how. Their hearts are soft as
wax to receive an impression, but once received it is ineffaceable,
it is as though it were stamped in gold. Their innocence, purity, and
integrity are beyond compare. They are faithful by instinct, and do
not dream of the possibility of being anything else. They possess no
morality, but all the virtues; for human beings are moral consciously,
but good by nature. They do not consider themselves the equals of their
lovers, but look up to them, as if the old legend had been realised
and the sons of God had come down to the daughters of men. Gretchen is
amazed and overpowered by Faust's knowledge, Clärchen kneels like a
child before Egmont when he appears in his full splendour. They lose
themselves, they, as it were, disappear in their lovers. What we have
here is not two equals, who take each other's hands, and plight their
faith to each other, but a bewildered, admiring child clinging to a
man. He is her life, while she is but an episode in his. At a glance he
grasps and comprehends her whole nature; she is incapable of grasping
his from any point, incapable of penetrating and judging. She can see
neither his limits nor his faults. Whichever way she turns, she sees
him as something gigantic, looming on every side. Hence there is in
this love no criticism, no emancipation of the spirit, no employment
of the understanding. He is the great, the glorious one--like Faust,
who can talk of everything and has an answer for all questions, or like
Egmont, whose name as a hero and a saviour is upon every tongue and who
is known to the whole city. The reason why this love brings with it no
spiritual emancipation is that the young girl has no spirit, in the
sense of intellect; she is pure soul. When she performs actions which
would seem to require a certain amount of will or firm determination,
when Clärchen, for example, astonished and indignant that the citizens
of Brussels are indifferent and cowardly enough to allow their hero to
be carried off to prison and probable death, makes a public appearance
in the market-place, and vainly attempts to rouse their dull souls
with fiery words, the motive of the action is to be found in the
young girl's naïve belief that her lover's life must be of as great
importance to others as it is to her; as she sees nothing in the world
but him, she cannot imagine how others can think of anything else.
These young girls are genuine daughters of the great family to which
Ophelia and Desdemona belong.

A sharp contrast confronts us in the new type of Frenchwoman; instead
of sweetness, clinging affection, naturalness, we have passion, will,
energy, and conscious intelligence. For it was in the most remarkable
and intellectual woman of the day, a woman who had given up country,
peace, and prosperity, rather than submit to the petty tyranny with
which Napoleon's despotism pursued the unsubmissive, that Constant
found the new type.

The appearance of woman in literature as conscious intelligence is a
first step towards her appearance as genius. We already see Mme. de
Staël's turban appearing on the horizon. The woman who shares man's
passions and struggles will soon share his genius and his renown.
Yet a little while and the struggle ends in victory, the same woman
who succumbs under the name of Eléonore is crowned at the Capitol as
Corinne.

It only now remains to direct attention to the accurate psychological
observation in _Adolphe_, and to show the results arrived at. The hero
starts, as we have seen, with the idea that the conquest of Eléonore
is a task worthy of him; he imagines that he will be able coldly to
study her character, and calmly to lay his plan of campaign; but, his
susceptibility being quite as great as his egoism, he soon succumbs
to a fascination which completely overmasters him, and which so
increases his natural timidity that he cannot summon up courage to make
the declaration which he had promised his vanity to arrive at very
speedily. He writes, but Eléonore will have nothing to say to him, and
avoids him. Her resistance and coldness produce in him a submission
and devotion which soon become a species of worship. Never before has
Eléonore been thus loved, for however much true devotion her protector
has shown her, there has always been a touch of condescension in it. He
could have made a more honourable alliance; he has never said so, but
what is unsaid may quite well make itself felt. It is this reverence of
Adolphe for her which wins Eléonore. She gives herself to him, and he
is almost dazed with rapture and happiness. What first jars upon him is
her not being able (when the Count has gone from home for a day or two)
to let him out of her sight even for a few hours. She detains him when
he attempts to leave her; when he goes, she asks when he will return.
Pleased and flattered at first by this boundless devotion, he soon
finds that his time is so absorbed by her that he has not an hour at
his own disposal. He is compelled to refuse all invitations and break
off with all his acquaintances. This is no great loss to him, but he
would prefer being able to come and go as he pleases to being obliged
to put in an appearance at the stroke of the clock. She who had been
his aim and object in life is now a tie upon him.

Where are ye now, O touching romances, in which the lover never had
anything to do but to love, in which he rose up early to love, loved
all day, and for love passed sleepless nights! It is a wonderfully
naturalistic touch in _Adolphe_ that the lover feels his loss of time
to be indeed a loss.

It avails not that he asserts his right to dispose of his time as
he will, for the thought of the grief she endures when he fails to
appear, prevents his making any satisfactory use of the time gained,
especially as he is also tormented by a feeling of shame that another
human being should have such an ascendency over him. Then when he
returns to her, annoyed with himself for having come back much sooner
than was prudent for the sake of her reputation or his own work, he
finds her miserable because he has stayed away so long. For two hours
he has been suffering from the knowledge that she is longing, and now
he must suffer two more before he can pacify her. In spite of all this
he feels happy; he tells himself that it is sweet to be thus loved;
nevertheless, he is unconsciously consoling himself with the thought
that the peculiarities of their position must, sooner or later, put an
end to the situation.

The Count returns, and Adolphe first suffers from being compelled to
deceive him, and then endures the torture of seeing Eléonore sacrifice
everything for his own sake, give up at one and the same time her home
and her fortune. It is a double grief, partly selfish, for he mourns
over the inevitable restriction of his own liberty by the sacrifice she
is so happy in making for him, and partly compassionate, for he knows
with what hyena-like fury society will tear her reputation to pieces.
All she has won by years of irreproachable behaviour she loses in one
day. Her pride suffers agonies, and his devotion becomes a duty. From
henceforth each has a secret suffering which is not confided to the
other.

Adolphe's character begins to deteriorate. He fights a duel with a man
who has spoken slightingly of Eléonore, but himself unintentionally
injures her reputation by the incessant mockery of women and the
men who live in subjection to them in which he indulges as a kind
of relief from the feeling of his own dependence; men put their own
interpretation on his jests and jeers. He who cannot resist a tear,
makes a point of speaking of women with callous contempt.

Many have suffered the misery of loving without return; Adolphe's
torment consists in being loved after he has ceased to love. Eléonore
sees through his efforts to appear overjoyed when they meet, and one
of those terrible scenes ensues with which Mme. de Staël had made
Constant familiar; the exasperation of her passionate nature resembles
hatred. An attempt is made by Adolphe's relations, who disapprove of
his wasting his youth on such a connection, to get rid of Eléonore.
Adolphe's chivalrous feeling impels him to run away with her, and for a
time their tender feeling towards each other resembles love. Eléonore
makes fresh sacrifices which it galls Adolphe to accept. At one time
she suffers as much from not being loved as he from not loving; at
another she so intoxicates herself with her own passion that she sees
it double and believes that it is returned. Both live in the memory
of their former happiness, which is vivid enough to make parting seem
painful, even impossible, but not strong enough to impart any happiness
to their daily life. The tender but faint protestations of love made
now and again by Adolphe to Eléonore resemble the weak, colourless
leaves put forth from the branches of some uprooted tree.

He fails to make the being happy who is the cause of so much
unhappiness to himself. Every time she feels that she has won new
rights, he feels that he is bound by new fetters. Her passionateness
makes their daily life one incessant storm. In a biography of Constant
we find the following significant sentence: "This year Constant was
happy; Mme. de Staël was in Russia."

Eléonore inherits her father's fortune and is no longer dependent upon
Adolphe's protection. The world now suspects him of deriving pecuniary
advantage from the friendship; he is blamed for injuring her reputation
by being always in her company, and it is of course impossible for him
to explain that it is she who will not live without him.

His life is slipping away between his fingers; he is fulfilling none of
the promises of his youth; for, as he is not allowed to forget, there
is an insurmountable barrier between him and any possible future, and
that barrier is Eléonore. He determines to break off with her, but this
very determination makes his position more hopeless, for the moment he
resolves upon the death sentence (which he is too weak not to postpone)
all bitterness leaves him, and he feels such tender compassion for her
that she misunderstands and believes that all is well.

She makes a final violent effort to win him by rousing his jealousy;
but nothing now has any effect; on all sides the rupture is represented
to him as the most natural thing in the world, as a duty to his father,
to his own future, even to the unhappy being to whom he is chained, and
whom he is tormenting. She receives a letter which throws light on
his intentions, and soon after is attacked by a fatal fever and dies,
proclaiming her devotion to her lover with her last breath.

The moment Adolphe is free he realises that freedom is now useless
to him; he no longer knows what to do with it, and longs for the old
fetters.

Constant himself thus expresses the moral of the book: "The strongest
passion cannot survive the struggle with the established order of
things. Society is too powerful. It makes that love too bitter which
it has not recognised and stamped with the seal of its approval. Woe,
then, to the woman who rests her hope of happiness upon a feeling which
all things combine to poison, and against which society, when it is not
obliged to respect it as legal, enlists all that is basest in the human
heart, with the aim of destroying all that is good."


[1] The day came when criticism uplifted its voice against this
dethronement of youth and beauty. Jules Janin in his light way prefers
this complaint in the form of an attack on Balzac:--

"Formerly," he writes, "as far as the novel and the drama were
concerned, the woman of thirty to forty was regarded as past all
possibilities in the way of passion, but now, thanks to the discovery
of this new wide and smiling domain, she reigns supreme in both drama
and novel. A new world has superseded the old, the woman of forty has
suppressed the girl of sixteen.

"'Who knocks?' shouts drama in its deep voice. 'Who is there?' cries
the novel in gentler tones. 'It is I,' answers tremblingly the girl of
sixteen, with the pearly teeth, the snowy bosom, the soft outlines, the
bright smile, and the gentle glance. 'It is I! I am the same age as
Racine's Julie, Shakespeare's Desdemona, Molière's Agnès, Voltaire's
Zaire, Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut, Saint-Pierre's Virginie. It is I!
I am the same charming, volatile, delightful age as the young girls in
Ariosto, Lesage, Byron, and Sir Walter Scott. It is I! I am innocent
youth, with its hopes, with its divinely beautiful, fearless attitude
towards the future. I am the age of chaste desires, of noble instincts,
of pride, and of innocence. Make room for me, dear sirs!' Thus speaks
the charming girl of sixteen to the novelists and the dramatists. But
the novelists and the dramatists at once reply: 'We are busy with your
mother, child; come again twenty years hence, and we shall see if we
can make something out of you.'

"In the novel and the drama of to-day, we have no one but the woman
of thirty, who will be forty to-morrow. She alone can love, she alone
can suffer. She is so much more dramatic, because she cannot afford
to wait. What can we make out of a little girl who can do nothing but
weep, love, sigh, smile, hope, tremble? The woman of thirty does not
weep, she sobs; she does not sigh, she utters anguished cries; she
does not love, she is consumed with passion; she does not smile, she
shrieks; she does not dream, she acts! This is drama, this is romance,
this is life. Thus speak, act, and reply our great playwrights and our
famous writers of fiction."

The intelligent, refined Madame Émile de Girardin defended Balzac,
answering very justly: "Is it Balzac's fault that thirty is now the
age of love? Balzac is obliged to paint passion where he finds it, and
nowadays it is not to be found in the heart of sixteen."



VIII


MADAME DE STAËL: "DELPHINE"


In one of his letters Byron writes of _Adolphe_: "The book contains
some melancholy truths, though I believe that it is too triste a work
ever to have been popular. The first time I ever read it was at the
desire of Mme. de Staël." Mme. de Staël herself says somewhere: "I do
not believe all men resemble Adolphe, but only vain men." Simple as the
observation is, we feel that it is written by a woman in self-defence;
for _Adolphe_ had struck home to Necker's daughter personally, had
bared her deepest heart wound.

Anne Marie Germaine Necker was born in Paris in 1766. Her father, the
great Genevese financier, became First Minister of France shortly
before the outbreak of the Revolution, and his name was at that time
the watchword of liberal France. Her mother was a highly gifted
woman, but stiff, reserved, and the slave of duty; she believed that
education did everything, nature little, and she laid pedantic stress
upon trifles, being of opinion that nothing is trifling from the moral
point of view. To this lady Rousseau's educational theories were
naturally highly antipathetic, and the consequence was that Rousseau,
with his belief in nature and in innate virtues, became her daughter's
ideal. This daughter, a frank, lively child, developed into a bright,
intelligent brunette, whose dark eyes sparkled with wit and beamed
with kind-heartedness. While Mme. Necker chiefly appreciated common
sense and the habit of self-examination, the daughter, who suffered
from the strict control under which she was kept, and whose great
gifts roused her mother's jealousy, grew to love all the qualities
and virtues which spring without cultivation from Nature's own health
and wealth. In her father's house she was from childhood brought
into contact with the most famous men of the day, who were amused and
attracted by her quick repartee and surprising originality. The lively,
marvellously intelligent child was her father's pride, and she returned
his affection with a boundless love and admiration which lasted all her
life and can be traced in most of her writings.

At fifteen years of age she began to write essays, novels, and
tragedies. One of her tragedies, entitled _Montmorency_, marks the
time when she began to feel attracted by the young Vicomte Mathieu
de Montmorency, who had distinguished himself in the American War
of Independence. Her parents being opposed to her marriage with a
Catholic, she was obliged to refuse his hand, but to the end of their
lives they remained faithful friends. Yielding to her mother's wishes,
Germaine Necker married in 1786 the Swedish Ambassador in Paris, Baron
Erik Magnus Staël Holstein, a favourite of Gustavus the Third. In order
to assist him to this wealthy and influential connection, Gustavus
confirmed the Baron in his post of ambassador in Paris for a certain
number of years. The bridegroom, who was double the age of his bride,
promised her parents that he would never take her to Sweden against
her will. He seems to have been the ordinary northern nobleman of the
period, very simple, polished in manner, but only half educated, a
spendthrift and a gambler. It was said of him that he would never have
found out how to boil a potato, much less have invented gunpowder.
Curiously enough, he sympathised with the Revolution.

Mme. de Staël's first book, _Lettres sur Jean-Jacques Rousseau_, was
published immediately before the Revolution. It is a panegyric and
a defence. At the close of the third letter she seeks to interweave
Rousseau's fame with that of her father, who, at the time she wrote,
had just been called to the head of affairs; at the end of the
fourth she hails the assembling of the States-General with youthful
enthusiasm, and expresses the hope that the great French nation
will attain by the path of enlightenment, reason, and peace, to the
possession of those blessings which other peoples had gained by the
shedding of streams of blood. She calls upon the nation to make it
a matter of honour not to go beyond the point which all are united in
regarding as their aim, and she closes with an apostrophe to Rousseau,
in which she laments that he did not live long enough to see the
approaching awe-inspiring spectacle, nor to encourage that patriot,
Necker, who merited a judge, admirer, and fellow-citizen such as he.

[Illustration: MADAME DE STAËL]

The Revolution broke out, and would not be stayed in its career at
what was the limit of her hopes and wishes, i.e. the acquisition of
a constitution after the English pattern. Necker was soon compelled
to flee, but his daughter remained in Paris, and, protected by her
husband's position, rescued many an innocent victim of the Reign of
Terror. With the assistance of the courageous German, Justus Erich
Bollmann, she saved the life of the man who was her lover at that
time, Narbonne, the former Minister of War. Bollmann got him safely
to London in 1792.[1] She had even laid a plan for the flight of the
royal family. The hatred of the revolutionary leaders was roused by her
behaviour; and it was with difficulty she escaped the mob's thirst for
revenge. She fled to Coppet, accompanied by her friend Montmorency,
who, as an aristocrat, was also in danger, and who disguised himself
as her lackey. Afterwards she went to England, where she published
a pamphlet in defence of Marie Antoinette, whom she did not know
personally, but by whose fate she had been deeply affected. This
pamphlet was soon followed by another, also called forth by current
events, entitled _De l'Influence des Passions sur le Bonheur des
Individus et des Nations_, a piece of declamatory writing, in which the
authoress exhibits no knowledge of life except when she treats of love,
and no political acumen except when she is writing of the Revolution.
There is a hollow, insincere ring in what she says on the subject of
ambition.

Though not formally banished by the Directory, Mme. de Staël was placed
under the surveillance of the police, and would have been arrested
if she had entered France without permission. As soon, however, as
Sweden had acknowledged the French Republic, she returned to Paris and
busied herself actively with politics. Her aim was a Parliamentary
constitution and peace with Europe. It was through her influence that
Talleyrand was made Foreign Minister. Her house was a great political
rendezvous, more especially of the Moderates, and it was not long
before Benjamin Constant played the leading part among the politicians
who assembled there, as well as occupied the first place in the good
graces of the mistress of the house.

When Bonaparte came to Paris as a conqueror towards the end of 1797,
after the campaign in Italy, he made an extraordinary impression upon
Madame de Staël. She sought every opportunity of approaching him, felt
herself alike attracted and overpowered by him. Whenever she tried to
interest him, it seemed as if she were struck dumb, she, the incessant
talker. The feeling of his unapproachableness tortured her. There is
no doubt that for a short time she nourished the hope of becoming the
friend of this Caesar, and it was a grievous disappointment to have
to relinquish the idea. From the moment she did so, she joined the
ranks of his political adversaries, continuing, however, for a time
to display a sort of coquetry as far as he was personally concerned.
Not till she was definitely repulsed, did her feeling change to pure
hatred. In the book which she published in the intermediate stage,
we have satirical allusions to Bonaparte's government along with
flattering allusions to himself personally. In conversation she openly
and constantly expressed her desire that he (and consequently the army
of her country under his command) might suffer defeat, in order that a
stop might be put to his tyranny.

It was in the year 1800 that she published her first large book, _De
la Littérature, considérée dans ses Rapports avec les Institutions
Sociales_, a work which, from its general purport, must be classified
as belonging to that great body of writings in which, ever since the
days of the Renaissance, the relative merits of ancient and modern
literature have been discussed. Chateaubriand dealt with the same
problem very soon afterwards in his _Génie du Christianisme_. Mme.
de Staël and he both declare themselves in favour of the modern
literatures, but upon different grounds. He bases their superiority
upon the fact that they deal with Christian themes, of which the
ancient authors had no knowledge; Mme. de Staël bases it upon
progressing civilisation. She believes in the capacity of humanity
to improve, and in the gradual perfecting of social institutions,
and on this belief grounds her assurance that literature will
contain a steadily increasing treasure of experience and insight. At
this stage of her development there is no question of any profound
and systematic literary psychology; she calmly, for instance,
excludes imagination from the list of faculties which are capable
of development--why?--because in spite of all her enthusiasm for
Ossian, she cannot deny that Homer's is the fuller, richer, poetry.
The merit of her book, however, does not depend upon what it proves,
but upon what it proclaims and urges, namely the necessity for a new
literature, new science, and a new religion. She draws attention to
the literatures of England and Germany, to the Icelandic sagas, and
the old Scandinavian epics; but Ossian is to her the great type of all
that is splendid in the poetry of the North. She loves his seriousness
and melancholy, for, she says, "melancholy poetry is the poetry which
accords best with philosophy."[2] Writing of the Germans, she remarks:
"The most important book the Germans possess, and the only one that can
compare with the masterpieces of other languages, is _Werther_. Because
it calls itself a novel, many do not realise that it is a truly great
work.... The author of _Werther_ has been reproached for making his
hero suffer from other sorrows besides those of love, for allowing him
to be made so unhappy by a humiliation, and so resentful by the social
inequalities which were the cause of the humiliation; but to my mind
the author shows his genius in this quite as much as in anything else
in the book."

The fundamental idea of her book is, that free social conditions must
inevitably lead to a new development of literature, that it would be
absurd if a society which had won political liberty for itself were to
own only a literature shackled by rules. "Oh, if we could but find,"
she cries with youthful ardour, "a system of philosophy, an enthusiasm
for all that is good, a strong and righteous code of laws, which
should be to us what the Christian religion has been to the past!"

Jealous of her growing fame, and on the alert as the champion of
religion, Chateaubriand reviewed her book. Other critics had twitted
her with her enthusiasm for everything melancholy, and had inquired
what she thought of the Greeks, who were certainly not melancholy.
Chateaubriand seized the opportunity to strike a blow on behalf of
revealed religion. "Mme. de Staël," he says, "attributes that to
philosophy which I attribute to religion "; and addressing her, he
continues: "Your talent is but half developed; it is smothered by
philosophy. You seem to be unhappy, and how, indeed, should philosophy
heal the sorrow of your soul? Is it possible to fertilise one desert by
means of another desert?" He exhausts himself in mere phrases.

It was about this time that antagonism to Bonaparte, who was soon to
banish her again, this time for ten years, became the ruling idea in
Mme. de Staël's life. After the Italian campaign she had seen in him
the champion of freedom, had written him enthusiastic letters, and had
prevailed upon him to erase her father's name from the list of exiles.
But in the First Consul she saw only "a Robespierre on horseback," and
Bonaparte complained with reason that she inflamed men's minds against
him.

Her former enthusiasm had turned into passionate hatred. From her
salon she carried on a regular war against him. She and Constant were
unwearied in their satire of his associates, his person, his behaviour.
She scoffed at his little body and big head, at his arrogance and
his awkwardness. He was the _bourgeois gentilhomme_ on the throne,
annoyed by the wit of cultivated women, incapable of expressing
himself coherently, eloquent only when abusive. His genius was mere
charlatanism. He was not even a great general, for at Marengo he had
lost his head, and might have lost the battle if Desaix had not come to
his aid. There was something essentially vulgar about the man, which
even his tremendous power of imagination could not always conceal.

She entered into all sorts of intrigues with the generals who were
opposed to Bonaparte, either from principle, like Moreau, or from pure
envy, like Bernadotte. So far did she carry her hatred, that she was
beside herself with rage when she heard of the humiliation of England
by the Peace of Amiens, and kept away from Paris at the time of the
festivities held in honour of this peace.

The foreign diplomatists in Paris, to use Madame de Staël's own words,
"spent their lives with her." She conversed every day with numbers
of influential people, conversation being her greatest pleasure; and
Bonaparte is reported to have said that every one thought less of
him after having talked with her. He sent to inquire what it was she
really wanted, and if she would be satisfied if he paid her the two
millions which Necker had given in trust to the Treasury, and which
were being wrongfully kept back; she only answered that it was not a
question of what she wanted, but of what she thought. From the day when
Benjamin Constant first raised his voice in the Tribunate against one
of Bonaparte's proposals, her house in Paris was deserted, and all her
invitations were declined; and immediately after the publication of her
father's book, _Les dernières Vues de Politique et de Finances_, she
was banished from Paris by express command of the First Consul.

No heavier blow could have fallen upon Mme. de Staël. She herself
likened the sentence to one of death; for to her, who only really
lived when she was in the capital, and who could so ill dispense with
friends, intellectual intercourse, and a certain participation in the
great events of the day, it was misery to be thus torn from home and
country. "Every step the post-horses took caused me suffering, and when
the postillions inquired if they had not done well, I could not refrain
from bursting into tears at the thought of the sorry service they had
rendered me."[3] She was accompanied by Benjamin Constant; but when she
heard of her husband's illness she went to him, and nursed him till he
died.

In the following year, 1803, she published Delphine, a tale written
in five parts and in the form of letters, after the pattern of _La
Nouvelle Héloïse_. It is easy to trace the personal impressions and
reminiscences which form the groundwork of this novel. The story is the
story of a woman's dutiful renunciation of a happy marriage, and for
this the authoress's own refusal of Montmorency supplied a background
of fact. But the real theme of the book is the loving woman's conflict
with society, and the cruel, cold destruction by society of the
happiness of the individual. Looking at it in this light, we feel that
it was the fresh impressions of her later years, her relations with
her husband and Benjamin Constant, that gave the book its tone. Her
reputation had been injured by her separation from her husband, her
relations with Constant were no secret, and he was undoubtedly the
father of her daughter Albertine, born in 1797, the future Duchesse
de Broglie. When Mme. de Staël wrote _Delphine_ it had never occurred
to her to doubt that Constant would legitimise this daughter by a
speedy marriage; but, in spite of the great allowance always made by
public opinion for people of wealth and position, and her consequent
comparative independence of action, she bitterly felt both the covert
persecution of slander and the deliberate attempts at defamation made
by the pharisaical.

The spiritless, resigned motto of _Delphine_: "A man should be able
to defy public opinion, a woman to submit to it," almost betrays its
authoress, Madame de Staël's mother. The actual story harmonises
with the motto, but the spirit of the book and the very fact of its
publication contradict it. For the book is a justification of divorce,
and it appeared in the same year that Napoleon concluded the Concordat
with the Pope; it attacked indissoluble wedlock and the religious
sacrament of marriage, at the very moment when the marriage laws were
being made more stringent, and a portion of its old power was being
restored to the Church.

The book answers to its motto in so far that it teaches, through
the fate of its heroine, that if a woman, even after a generous and
prolonged sacrifice of her own well-being, transgress the rules of
society, though it may be only to prevent the ruin of her lover, she
is lost. It contradicts its motto in so far that the crying injustice
of such a fate speaks more powerfully than any declamation, of the
imperfection of the social organism and of the preposterousness of that
power to coerce and make unhappy, which man's short-sightedness and
pusillanimity have entrusted to the antiquated institutions under the
pressure of which Delphine is crushed. She is depicted from the very
first as a superior being, pure, benevolent, spirited, elevated by the
very fact of her purity above the pharisaical morality of society. Her
character is nowhere more charmingly suggested than in the scene where
an unfortunate and maligned woman enters the salon of the Tuileries,
and the other ladies immediately rise from their seats and move away,
leaving a great open space round the poor, marked creature; upon which
Delphine walks across the room and seats herself by her at whom all the
other women have vied in casting the first stone.

By a series of astoundingly base devices and intrigues, one of the
principal characters of the book, a female Talleyrand, succeeds in
separating Delphine from her lover, and uniting him to her antipodes,
the cold, orthodoxly pious Mathilde, who privately accepts from the
deserted Delphine the enormous dowry without which the marriage cannot
be arranged. By the time all the various deceptions are detected, the
totally unsuitable, unnatural pair, Mathilde and Léonce, are united.
Other equally odious marriages and equally unhappy love affairs are
grouped round this central couple, in order that the main idea of the
book may be made sufficiently clear. Henri de Lebensei, who is an
embellished edition of Constant, cannot be united to the woman he loves
until she has obtained a divorce from her husband, with whom she cannot
live, she declares, without destroying all that is good and noble in
her nature. M. de Serbeliane stands in the same hopeless position to
Thérèse d'Ervins as Delphine does to Mathilde's husband.

Delphine is represented as of so pure and self-sacrificing a nature
that she not only peremptorily rejects the idea of a union with
Léonce, which would necessarily destroy his wife's happiness, but will
not permit him to dwell upon the thought. She calms him; she points
him to a profounder morality and religion than that in which he, as a
child of the eighteenth century, has been brought up: "Léonce, I did
not expect to find such an indifference to religious ideas in you. I
take it upon me to reproach you for it. Your morality is only based
upon honour; you would have been much happier if you had given your
homage to those simple and true principles which teach us to submit our
actions to the dictates of our conscience, and free us from all other
yokes. You know that my education, far from enslaving my mind, has
made it if anything too independent. It is possible that superstition
is as yet more suitable for a woman than freedom of thought; weak and
wavering beings that we are, we need support on every side, and love is
a kind of credulity which is perhaps apt to ally itself with all the
other kinds of credulity and superstition. But the noble guardian of my
youth esteemed my character sufficiently to wish to develop my reason,
and never did he require of me to accept any opinion without examining
into it. I can therefore speak to you of the religion I love, as I can
speak on any other subject which my heart and mind have freely tested,
and you cannot attribute what I say to you to inculcated habit or the
unweighed impressions of childhood.... Do not, Léonce, refuse the
comfort which is offered to us by natural religion." We distinguish an
echo of Rousseau, and the influence of the reaction against Voltaire,
in this sermon which Necker's daughter places in the mouth of her
second self.

The plot develops; soon it becomes impossible any longer to maintain
the unnatural union, to endure the unnatural misery. Henri de Lebensei
writes the letter advising a divorce, which brought ill-fortune to
the book, and which fell like a firebrand into the clerical camp. He
writes to Délphine: "The man you love is worthy of you, madame, but
neither his nor your feeling is of any avail to alter the situation in
which an unhappy destiny has placed you. One thing alone can restore
your reputation and procure your happiness. Collect all your strength
to hear me. Léonce is not irrevocably bound to Mathilde; he can still
become your husband; in a month from now divorce will be legalised by
the Legislative Assembly." We must remember that the book appeared just
at the time of the reinstitution of Catholic marriage in France.

Here are more extracts from his letter: "You, who reprobate divorce,
believe your view to be the more moral. If it were so, it ought to be
the view taken by all sincere thinkers; for the first aim of thinking
man is to determine his duties to their full extent. But let us go
into the matter together; let us inquire whether the principles which
induce me to approve of divorce do not harmonise with the nature of man
and with the beneficent intentions which we ought to attribute to the
Divinity. The indissolubility of unhappy marriages makes life one long
succession of hopeless miseries. Some men say, indeed, that it is only
necessary to repress youthful inclinations, but they forget that the
repressed inclinations of youth become the lasting griefs of age. I do
not deny all the disadvantages connected with divorce, or rather, the
imperfections of human nature which make divorce necessary; but in a
civilised society which urges nothing against marriages of convenience,
or against marriages at an age when it is impossible to foretell the
future, a society whose law can neither punish the parents who misuse
their authority, nor the husband or wife who behaves badly--in such
a society the law which prohibits divorce is only harsh towards the
victims whose fetters it takes upon itself to rivet more firmly,
without in the least affecting the circumstances which make these
fetters easy or terrible to bear. It seems to say: 'I cannot ensure
your happiness, but I can at least vouch for the continuance of your
unhappiness'."

In such involved and eloquent periods is couched what has been called
Mme. de Staël's attack upon marriage. In reality it is, as we see,
only an attack upon the binding, oppressing power with which society
(itself first moulded into shape by the Church in the days when the
Church was the only spiritual power) has invested the first attachment
of youth--in Catholic countries by legislation, in Protestant by means
of public opinion, which metes out as stern justice as any marriage
laws. Her argument is based on the assumption that marriage can only
be considered that which it is maintained to be, namely an ideally
moral relation, when the two beings, who at a given moment of their
lives promise to live together and be faithful to one another for the
rest of their days, really know and love one another, and she points
out how exceedingly difficult it is for any human being thoroughly to
know himself and another human being. If marriage requires this mutual
knowledge as its foundation, then a union in which it is lacking is
not marriage. What kind of life can be based upon a sudden fancy, or
upon a lie, or upon a Yes wrung from a woman by fear? In every case in
which marriage does not rest upon a better foundation, its sanctity is
imaginary, is derived from a confusion of the real relation with the
ideal.

Delphine does not allow herself to be persuaded. Faithful to the
motto of the book, that a woman must bow to public opinion, she even
determines to place another obstacle between herself and Léonce. By the
time his wife dies, Delphine has taken the veil. Once more, though in
another form, we have strong opposition to a vow generally regarded as
sacred. Again it is Henri who is spokesman, but this time he appeals to
Léonce: "Are you able to listen to bold, salutary advice, the following
of which would save you from an abyss of misery? Are you capable of
taking a step which would offend what you have been accustomed all your
life to defer to, public opinion and established custom, but which
would be consonant with morality, reason, and humanity? I was born a
Protestant, and have, I grant, not been brought up in awe of those
insane and barbarous institutions of society which demand of so many
innocent beings the sacrifice of all natural inclinations; but ought
you to have less confidence in my judgment because it is uninfluenced
by prejudice? A proud and high-minded man should only obey the dictates
of universal morality. Of what signification are those duties which are
merely the outcome of accidental circumstances, and depend upon the
caprices of law or the will of a priest? duties that subject a man's
conscience to the judgment of other men, of men, too, who have long
bent their necks under the yoke of the prejudices and self-interest of
their order? The laws of France will release Delphine from the vows
unhappy circumstances have forced from her. Come and live with her upon
our native soil! What is it that keeps you apart? A vow she has made
to God? Believe me, the Supreme Being knows our nature too well ever
to accept irrevocable vows from us. Possibly something in your heart
rebels against profiting by laws which are the outcome of a Revolution
to which you are antagonistic? My friend, this Revolution, which has
unfortunately been soiled by so many violent deeds, will be extolled by
posterity because of the freedom it has bestowed upon France. If it is
followed only by fresh forms of slavery, this period of slavery will be
the most ignominious period in the history of the world; but if freedom
is its result, then happiness, honour, virtue, all that is noble in
humanity, is so inseparably bound up with freedom, that centuries to
come will be lenient in their judgment of the events which prepared the
way for the age of freedom."

Besides attacking to this extent certain definite social institutions,
the book makes protest throughout against the great mass of received
opinions, the prejudices with which most men are clad as it were in a
coat of triple mail, the beliefs which must not even be approached,
because the very ground around them is holy within a circumference of
so and so many square miles. It cannot be too plainly asserted that,
in this particular, _Delphine_ is a more vigorous, remarkable work
than most of the other productions of the Emigrant Literature. For
a nation has a literature in order that its horizon may be widened
and its theories of life confronted with life. In his early youth
society offers the individual an extraordinary, patched-together suit
of prejudices which it expects him to wear. "Am I really obliged,"
asks the man, "to wear this tattered cloak? Can I not dispense with
these old rags? Is it absolutely necessary for me either to blacken
my face or hide it under this sheep's mask? Am I compelled to swear
that Polichinelle has no hump, to believe that Pierrot is an eminently
honourable, and Harlequin a particularly serious man? May I not look
up into any of their faces, or write on any hand, 'I know you, fair
mask!'? Is there no help?" There is no help, unless you are prepared to
be beaten by Polichinelle, kicked by Pierrot, and whacked by Harlequin.
But literature is, or should be, the territory where officialism
ceases, established customs are disregarded, masks are torn off, and
that terrible thing, the truth, is told.

_Delphine_ met with much disapprobation. The most famous critic of the
day wrote: "One cannot conceive more dangerous and immoral doctrines
than those which are disseminated by this book. The authoress would
seem to have forgotten the ideas with which she, as Necker's daughter,
was brought up. Regardless of the Protestant faith of her family, she
expresses her contempt for revealed religion; and in this pernicious
book, which, it must be confessed, is written with no small ability,
she presents us with a long vindication of divorce. Delphine speaks
of love like a Bacchante, of God like a Quakeress, of death like a
grenadier, and of morality like a sophist." High-sounding words these,
but just the high-sounding words which the future must always listen
to from the toothless past, whose heavy artillery is charged to the
muzzle with the wet powder of orthodox belief and the paper balls of
narrow-mindedness.

Whereas Mme. de Staël's contemporaries lavishly praised the style
of the book and the literary ability of its authoress, in order to
be the better able to reprobate her views of life and her aims, the
modern critic has little to say for the loose and diffuse style which
the novel has in common with almost all others written in the form of
letters; but, as regards the ideas of the book, they hold good to-day;
they have actually not yet penetrated into all the countries of Europe,
although the present century has striven to realise them ever more and
more fully.

The breach between society and the individual depicted in _Delphine_
is entirely in the spirit of the Emigrant Literature. The same bold
revolt followed by the same despair in view of the uselessness of the
struggle, is to be found throughout the whole group of writings. In
the present case the revolt is a spirited, desperate attempt to hold
fast one of the gains of the Revolution at the moment when it is being
wrested away by the reaction. The despair is due to the sorrowful
feeling that no remonstrance will avail, that the retrograde movement
must run its course, must exceed all reasonable limits, before a better
condition of things can be looked for. Was a woman's novel likely to
prevail against an autocrat's compact with a Pope!

The "war with society" which she depicts is less a conflict with the
state or the law than with the jumble of conventions and beliefs, old
and new, artificial and natural, reasonable and unreasonable, hurtful
and beneficial, which, fused together into a cohesive and apparently
homogeneous mass, constitute the stuff whereof public opinion is made.
Just as the so-called sound common sense, which is always ready to set
itself in opposition to any new philosophy, is at any given time to a
great extent simply the congealed remains of a philosophy of earlier
date, so the rules of society and the verdicts pronounced by society in
accordance with these rules, verdicts always unfavourable in the case
of new ideas, are to a great extent founded upon ideas which in their
day had a hard struggle to assert themselves in face of the opposition
of the then prevailing public opinion. That which was once an original,
living idea, stiffens in time into the corpse of an idea. Social laws
are universal laws, the same for all, and, like everything that is
universal, they in numberless cases victimise. No matter how singular
the individual may be, he is treated like every one else. The genius
is in much the position of the clever head-boy in a stupid class; he
has to listen to the same old lessons over and over again because of
the dunces who have not learned them and yet must learn them. The
verdict of society is an irresponsible verdict; while the judgments of
the individual, as such, must always to a certain extent be a natural
product, those of society are in most cases a manufactured article,
provided wholesale by those whose business it is to concoct public
opinion; and no responsibility is felt by the individual in giving his
adherence to them. The natural course would be for the individual to
form his own views and principles, make his own rules of conduct, and,
according to his powers, search for the truth with his own brains; but
instead of this, in modern society the individual finds a ready-made
religion, a different one in each country, the religion of his parents,
with which he is inoculated long before he is capable of religious
thought or feeling. The result is that his religion-producing powers
are nipped in the bud, or if they are not, then woe be to him! His
essays are a gauntlet flung in the face of society. And in the same way
all originality of moral feeling is, in the majority of men, crushed
or checked by the ready-made moral code of society and ready-made
public opinion. The verdicts of society, which are the outcome of all
the pious and moral doctrines accepted by it on trust, are necessarily
untrustworthy, often extremely narrow-minded, not infrequently cruel.

It was Mme. de Staël's lot to be brought face to face with more
prejudices than the generality of authors are. She was a Protestant in
a Catholic country, and in sympathy with Catholics although brought
up in a Protestant family. In France she was the daughter of a Swiss
citizen, and in Switzerland she felt herself a Parisian. As a woman
of intellect and strong passions, she was predestined to collision
with public opinion, as the authoress, the woman of genius, to war,
offensive and defensive, with a social order which relegates woman to
the sphere of private life. But that she saw through the prejudices by
which she was surrounded, more clearly than did any other contemporary
writer, was principally due to the fact that, as a political refugee,
she was obliged to travel in one foreign country after another; this
gave her ever-active, inquiring mind the opportunity of comparing the
spirit and the ideals of one people with those of another.


[1] Friedrich Kapp: "Justus Erich Bollmann."

[2] _De la Littérature_, p. 257. Paris, 1820.

[3] _Dix Années d'Exil_, 1820, p. 84.



IX


EXILE


When the edict banishing Mme. de Staël from Paris was made known to
her, she inquired through Joseph Bonaparte, who was among the number
of her friends, whether she would be permitted to travel in Germany or
would be brought back from there. After some delay a passport was sent
her, and she set out for Weimar. There she made the acquaintance of the
ducal family, had long conversations with Schiller on the reciprocal
relations of French and German literature, and pestered Goethe with
questions upon every subject in heaven and earth. The eager discussion
of problematical questions was, he says, her special passion. But
what surprised both Goethe and the other German celebrities most was,
that she not only wished to make their acquaintance, but to influence
affairs generally; she always talked as if the moment for action had
come, and they must all be up and doing. She went on from Weimar to
Berlin, made acquaintance with Prince Louis Ferdinand, was taken up by
the Fichte, Jacobi, and Henriette Herz circles, and carried off A. W.
Schlegel as tutor to her children.

The following year she travelled in Italy, studied its ancient
monuments, its art, the southern manners and customs of its people, and
absorbed impressions of Italian nature at every pore. Then she returned
to Coppet and wrote _Corinne, ou l'Italie_.

Her longing for France, however, gave her no peace. She had been
forbidden to come within forty leagues of Paris, but she took up
her abode just outside that limit, first at Auxerre, then at Rouen.
(The prefect of this latter town was suspended for having shown her
some courteous attention.) She eventually received permission to
superintend the publishing of _Corinne_ from a country house only
twelve leagues from Paris. But the book was barely published before
a new edict banished her from France altogether. _Corinne_ was a
grand success, and Napoleon could not endure any success in which
he had no share. Mme. de Staël returned to Coppet, and, like the
Emperor, continued to extend her realm. It grew as her emotional
nature expanded, her intellectual grasp widened, and the number of her
friendships increased. She held a regular court at Coppet. Remarkable
men from all parts of Europe gathered round her there. In her house
were to be met statesmen like Constant--whom in her infatuation she
calls the cleverest man in the world--historians like Sismondi, poets
like Zacharias Werner and Oehlenschläger, German princes, Polish
princes and princesses, the flower of the aristocracy of birth and of
intellect. Since her visit to Germany she had steadily continued to
study the German language and literature, but she found that it would
be necessary for her to make another sojourn in that country if she
desired to present to her countrymen a complete picture of the new
world which had revealed itself to her. She had been in North Germany,
now she spent a year in Vienna, and upon her return to Switzerland set
to work upon her great three-volume book, _De l'Allemagne_. It was
completed in 1810. The next thing was to get it published in Paris.

A law had been passed which forbade the publication of any book until
it had been approved of by the Censors; on this followed another
regulation, specially aimed at Mme. de Staël, which gave the Chief of
the Police authority to suppress a book if he saw fit, even though it
had been published with the approval of the Censors. This was a law
which did away with all law. Having again received permission to take
up her abode at a distance of forty leagues from Paris to superintend
the publication of her book, Mme. de Staël went to Blois, lived first
at the château of Chaumont-sur-Loire, then at Fossé, and afterwards
at the country-houses of friends in the neighbourhood; she fluttered
round her beloved Paris at the required distance, as a moth flutters
round a candle. Once she even ventured into the capital. Meanwhile the
Censors examined her book, corrected, deleted, and gave the mangled
remains their _imprimatur_. Ten thousand copies were printed. But on
the day on which they were to be issued, the Chief of the Police sent
his gendarmes into the publisher's shop, after placing a sentinel at
every exit, and, by order of the Government, performed the heroic feat
of hacking the ten thousand copies to pieces. The mass was kneaded into
a dough, and the publisher received twenty louis d'or in compensation.
Mme. de Staël was at the same time ordered to deliver up her manuscript
(representing the labours and hopes of six years) and to leave France
in the course of twenty-four hours. In the letter which she received
from the Chief of the Police on this occasion occur the following
sentences: "You are not to seek the reason of the command I have
communicated to you in your omission of all reference to the Emperor in
your last work; that would be a mistake; no place could be found for
him in it that would be worthy of him: your banishment is the natural
consequence of the course you have persistently pursued for some years
past. It appears to me that the air of this country does not suit you;
as for us, we are, fortunately, not yet reduced to seeking models
amongst the people you so much admire. Your last work is not French."

That was what doomed her--it was _not French_. And to think that it
was the epoch-making book, _De l'Allemagne_, epoch-making in French
literature, because, not accidentally but on principle, it broke
with all antiquated literary traditions and indicated new sources of
life--to think that it was this book which the spiritual policeman
of the nation presumed to condemn as _not French_! And the cruelly
ironical attempt to assume a tone of gallantry! "It appears to me that
the air of this country does not suit you "--therefore be kind enough
to betake yourself elsewhere! We seem to hear the intoxicated vanity
of France itself speak: "Because you have ventured to love liberty
even now, when the rest of us are happy under tyranny; because, whilst
we have been sunning ourselves in the beams of Napoleon's glory, you
have dared to depict in Corinne the sovereign independence of genius,
and, yourself banished from Paris, have crowned your ideal at the
Capitol; because, at the moment when the eagles of France are shining
resplendent with the glory of a thousand victories, and foreign nations
have become our lieges, you, a weak woman, have had the audacity to
represent to us our sources of spiritual life as almost dried up,
and to point us to the despised Germany as a land whose poetry far
outshines our own, to hated England, perfidious Albion, as a country
whose love of liberty is more persistent and genuine than ours, and
to dying Italy, the subjugated province of France, as a country whose
simple manners and customs and vast superiority in art are worthy of
imitation--because of all these things, you shall be stigmatised as
unpatriotic, the cockade of your country shall be torn from your brow,
your books shall be destroyed, even your manuscripts shall be torn into
fragments, and you yourself, with a couple of spies at your heels,
shall be chased like a wild animal across the frontier of France before
twenty-four hours have passed."

The Prefect of the department was sent to demand the manuscript of
the book; Mme. de Staël succeeded in saving it by giving him a rough
copy. But anxiety about her book was for the moment the least of
her anxieties. She had hoped to cross to England, but, expressly to
prevent this, the Chief of the Police had added a postscript to his
letter, forbidding her to embark at any northern port. She was half
inclined to sail in a French ship bound for America, on the chance of
the ship being captured by the English, but abandoned this plan as too
adventurous. Despondent and sorrowful, she retired once more to Coppet.

Here fresh persecutions of every description awaited her. The Prefect
of Geneva, on the strength of the first order he received, gave her
two sons to understand that they also were forbidden ever to return to
France, and this merely because they had made a fruitless attempt to
obtain an audience of Napoleon on behalf of their mother. A few days
later Mme. de Staël received a letter from the Prefect, in which he,
in the name of the Chief of the Police, demanded the proof-sheets of
her book on Germany. It had been ascertained by means of spies that
the proofs must be in existence, and the French Government had no
intention of resting contented with half measures, with the destruction
of the printed book; the work was to be completely annihilated, any
future edition of it made impossible. The authoress replied that the
proofs had already been sent abroad, but that she would willingly
promise never again to print any of her works on the Continent of
Europe. "There was no great merit in such a promise," she remarks in
her _Dix Années d'Exil_, "for of course no Continental government would
have sanctioned the publication of a book which had been interdicted
by Napoleon." Not long after this, the Prefect of Geneva, Barante,
the father of the historian, was banished for having shown too great
leniency towards Mme. de Staël. Her son falling ill, Mme. de Staël
accompanied him by the advice of the doctors to the baths of Aix in
Savoy, some twenty leagues from Coppet. Scarcely had she arrived
there when she received, by special messenger, an intimation from
the Prefect of the Department of Mont Blanc that she was not only
forbidden to leave Switzerland on any pretext whatever, but even to
travel in Switzerland itself; two leagues from Coppet was indicated
as the distance beyond which she might not go. Not satisfied with
transforming her sojourn upon her own estate into an imprisonment, the
Government took care that she should suffer not only from the loss of
freedom, but from that special curse of prison life, solitude--doubly
painful to one of her peculiarly social disposition. Schlegel, who
had lived in her house as tutor to her children for eight years, was
ordered to leave, on the foolish pretext that he influenced her against
France. To the inquiry how he did this, the answer was returned, that
in the comparison which he, as literary critic, had instituted between
Racine's Phèdre and the Phædra of Euripides, he had pronounced himself
in favour of the latter. Montmorency was exiled for having spent a few
days at Coppet, and Mme. Récamier, whom Mme. de Staël had not time to
warn of the punishment attending even a brief visit, was forbidden
to return to France, because on her way through Switzerland she had
gone to cheer her old friend with a little conversation. Even a man
of seventy-eight, St.-Priest, an old ministerial colleague of her
father's, was exiled for having paid a polite call at Coppet.

The isolation which is the lot of those who set themselves in
opposition to despotic power was not new to her. For long no man
of rank or fame, no politician who wished to stand well with the
Government, had dared to visit her at Coppet. They were all prevented
by business or illness. "Ah!" she said once, "how weary I am of all
this cowardice which calls itself consumption!" But now, to the pain
of seeing herself abandoned by so many former friends was added that
of seeing her real friends punished with exile for the slightest
expression of good-will towards her. She complained that she spread
misfortune round her like an infectious disease.

It stood in her power even now, after years of exile, persecution, and
practical imprisonment, to obtain liberty, and permission once more
to write and publish; it was privately intimated to her that a slight
change of opinion or attitude would procure her the right to return
to France; but she would not purchase liberty at this price. And when
it was said to her later in more definite terms: "Speak or write one
little word about the King of Rome, and all the capitals of Europe will
be open to you;" all she replied was: "I wish him a good nurse."

Isolated and closely confined, she came to the decision to make a
determined attempt to escape from Coppet. It was her desire to go to
America, but that was impossible without a passport, and how was she
to procure one? She feared, besides, that she might be arrested on her
way to the port she must sail from, on the pretext that she intended to
go to England, which was forbidden her under penalty of imprisonment.
And she was well aware that when the first scandal had blown over,
there would be nothing to prevent the Government quietly leaving her
in prison; she would soon be completely forgotten. She contemplated
the possibility of reaching Sweden by way of Russia, the whole of
North Germany being under the control of the French. She believed she
could manage to escape through the Tyrol without being delivered up by
Austria, but a passport to Russia must be procured from St. Petersburg,
and she feared that if she wrote for this from Coppet, she might be
denounced to the French Ambassador; she must get to Vienna first and
write from there. For six months she pored over the map of Europe,
studying it to find a way of escape as eagerly as Napoleon studied it
to find the paths by which he was to proceed on his conquest of the
world. When, after a month's delay, a last petition for a passport
to America was refused (although Mme. de Staël had pledged herself,
if it were granted, to publish nothing there), the weak, brave woman
determined upon a decisive attempt to escape. One day in 1812, she and
her daughter drove away from Coppet, with their fans in their hands,
and not a single box or package in the carriage. They arrived safely
at Vienna, and wrote to St. Petersburg for Russian passports. But the
Austrian Government was so anxious to avoid complications with France
that Mme. de Staël was detained upon the frontier of Galicia, and
was followed by spies through the whole of Austrian Poland. When she
stopped on her journey to spend a single day at Prince Lubomirski's,
the Prince was obliged to give an Austrian detective a seat at his
table, and it was only by threats that Mme. de Staël's son prevented
the man taking up his position at night in her bedroom. Not till she
had passed the Russian frontier did she breathe freely again. But
the feeling of freedom did not last long, for she had barely reached
Moscow before rumours that the French army was approaching the city
compelled her to take flight again, and it was not until she reached
St. Petersburg that she could consider herself in safety.

The year before her flight from Coppet, Mme. de Staël, then forty-five
years of age, had been privately married to a young French officer of
twenty-three, Albert de Rocca, who had been severely wounded, and had
come to Switzerland a complete invalid, exhausted by loss of blood. The
sympathy which Mme. de Staël showed him roused a passionate devotion
in the young soldier, and this led to a secret union. Rocca joined Mme.
de Staël upon the Russian frontier.

Her intention was to travel to Constantinople and Greece, in search
of the correct local colouring for a poem she was planning on Richard
Coeur de Lion. Reading Byron seems to have inspired her with the
idea of this poem, which was, she said, to be a _Lara_, though not a
reflection of Byron's. The fear, however, that the fatigues of the
journey might be too great for her young daughter and De Rocca, decided
her to go to Stockholm instead. There she renewed her friendship with
Bernadotte and met her old friend, Schlegel, whom Bernadotte had made
a Swedish noble and his own private secretary. Through Schlegel,
Bernadotte also made the acquaintance of Constant, whom he created a
Knight of the Northern Star, and whom he vainly attempted to persuade
into concurrence in his ambitious designs on the French throne. As
far as Bernadotte's character was concerned, Mme. de Staël was less
keen-sighted than Constant; she always speaks of him with warmth; their
common hatred of Napoleon was, doubtless, a bond of union. In her case
it became a dumb hatred from the moment that the allied armies marched
against France. She laments the necessity of wishing Napoleon success,
but she can no longer separate his interests from those of France.
Possessed of more strength of character than Constant, she rejected the
overtures made to her by Napoleon during the Hundred Days. She survived
his final downfall, and saw with sorrow the return of the Bourbons,
more virulent enemies of freedom than the autocrat they displaced.
She foregathered once more with Constant in Paris in 1816; and in the
following year she died.

This brief summary of the life of a remarkable woman and of the
life-conflict of her maturer years, is a sufficient groundwork for
the elaboration of a complete picture of her character as a woman and
a writer. Innate warmth of heart and intelligence were her original
gifts; her warm-heartedness developed into broad-minded philanthropy,
and her intelligence into a power of receptivity and reproduction which
was akin to genius.

She possessed in a marked degree several of the characteristics of the
eighteenth century--sociability, for instance, and love of conversation
accompanied by remarkable conversational powers. Whereas George Sand,
the great authoress of the nineteenth century, was reserved and
silent in company, and only revealed her inner self when she wrote,
Mme. de Staël was a lively improvisatrice. She possessed the gift of
electrifying; her words shed a stream of light upon the subject of
which she spoke. All who knew her personally said that her books were
as nothing in comparison with her conversation. One of her critics ends
a review thus: "When one listens to her, it is impossible not to agree
with her; if she had said all this instead of writing it, I should not
have been able to criticise;" and a great lady said jestingly: "If I
were Queen I should command Mme. de Staël to talk to me constantly."
The countless sayings which have been preserved give us, in spite
of the chilling influence of print, some idea of the sparkle and
originality of her conversation. One day when she was discoursing on
the unnaturalness of parents arranging marriages instead of doing the
only right thing, allowing the young girl to choose for herself, she
cried laughingly: "I shall _compel_ my daughter to marry for love." One
of Napoleon's friends having informed her that the Emperor would pay
her the two millions her father had entrusted to the Bank of France
if he were certain of her attachment, she replied: "I knew that a
certificate of birth would be required before I could obtain my money,
but I did not expect to be asked for a declaration of love."

But behind the ready wit and the facility of expression which are the
qualities developed by a social age, lay much of the fervour and the
soul which the nineteenth century has not failed to appreciate. The
much admired châtelaine of Coppet, the fêted, fascinating leader of
society, was a genuine, natural woman. The want of sympathy between her
and her mother had, as already noted, early strengthened her tendency
to believe in and love human nature. The idea of duty as conflicting
with nature rather than guiding it was repulsive to her. In her work
_De l'Influence des Passions_, she considers the passions in their
relation, not to the idea of duty, but to the idea of happiness,
investigating into the proportionate infringement of each upon our
happiness. In Corinne she says: "Nothing is easier than to make a
grand pretence of morality while condemning all that is noble and
great. The idea of duty ... can be turned into a weapon of offence,
which the mediocre, perfectly satisfied with their mediocrity and
narrow-mindedness, employ to impose silence upon the gifted, and to rid
themselves of enthusiasm, of genius, in short, of all their enemies."

The temperamental foundation upon which Mme. de Staël built was
genuinely feminine. The final ideal of this undeniably ambitious woman
was a purely personal, purely idyllic one--happiness in love. It is
upon this that her two great novels, _Delphine_ and _Corinne_, turn;
the improbability of finding it in marriage as ordained by society, and
the impossibility of finding it outside marriage, are her fundamental
ideas; and the perpetual conflict between domestic happiness and noble
ambitions or free love, is merely the expression of her constant
complaint, that neither genius nor passion is compatible with that
domestic happiness which is her heart's eternal desire. In her books
the woman only seeks the path of fame when she has been disappointed
in all her dearest hopes. To Mme. de Staël the heart is everything;
even fame was to her only a means of conquering hearts. Corinne says:
"When I sought glory, I always had the hope that it would make people
love me," and Mme. de Staël herself exclaims: "Do not let us give our
unjust enemies and our ungrateful friends the triumph of crushing,
of suppressing our powers. It is they who force those who would so
willingly have been content with feeling, to seek fame."

It is this warm-heartedness, one might almost say motherliness, which,
in her case, gives the melancholy of the age a peculiar imprint. Hers
is not only that universal human melancholy that arises from the
certainty with which two human beings who love one another can say:
"The day is coming when I shall lay you in the grave, or you me." Still
less is it the egotistical despondency to be found in so many of the
male writers of the day. It is a depression connected with the struggle
for ideal equality and liberty of those revolutionary times, it is the
sadness of the enthusiastic reformer.

From her youth she had been such an enthusiast on the subject of
equality that even in the matter of ability she regarded all men as
essentially equal, assuming only the most trifling difference between
the genius and the ordinary man. From the time she sat upon her
father's knee she had cherished the strongest faith in the power of
liberty to make men happy and to call forth all that is good in them,
and her faith did not waver even on the September day when she was
compelled to flee from that Reign of Terror which was the result of an
experiment in equality, or when, under the Consulate, she was banished
by the dictatorship into which liberty had resolved itself. But it is
small wonder that a veil woven of sadness and despondency early dimmed
the brightness of her spirit. At the close of a letter to Talleyrand,
whom in the days of her power she had saved from banishment, but who
was not sufficiently grateful to attempt to make her any return, she
writes: "Farewell! Are you happy? with so superior an intellect do you
not penetrate to what is at the core of everything--unhappiness?" And
in _Corinne_ the heroine repeats what Mme. de Staël herself often said:
"Of all the capacities with which nature endowed me, the capacity of
suffering is the only one I have developed to its full extent."

Healthy-minded as she was, she came in time to take a brighter view of
life. A relative who knew her well writes: "Possibly there was a time
when life, death, melancholy, and passionate self-sacrifice played too
great a part in her conversation; but when these words spread like a
contagion throughout her whole circle, and actually began to be heard
amongst the servants, she took a deadly loathing to them."[1] She
succeeded in advancing beyond the intellectual stage at which so many
of her French contemporaries stopped short.

It is, indeed, one of the most noticeable things about her, this
development of her critical faculty in the spirit and direction of
the nineteenth century. Originally she was a true Parisian, with no
real appreciation of the beauties of nature. When, after her first
flight from Paris, she saw the Lake of Geneva for the first time, she
exclaimed in her home-sickness: "How much more beautiful were the
gutters of the Rue du Bac!" Not many years later she described the
scenery of Italy, in _Corinne_, in truly glowing language. In her
earlier years she was in love with, infatuated with, Paris, which to
her represented civilisation, yet it was she who first taught the
Frenchman to appreciate the characteristic and the good qualities of
the other European nations. For she possessed the true critical gift,
that is, she had the power of steadily enlarging her mind, increasing
her receptivity, and destroying her prejudices in the bud, thereby
holding herself in constant preparedness to understand.

It is to this we must ascribe her marvellous power of attraction; and
this explains how, banished and disgraced as she was, she enjoyed the
power and influence of a queen at Coppet. Although our countryman
Oehlenschläger does not seem to have had any clear appreciation of
the real greatness of the woman whose guest he was, he gives a very
charming description of Mme. de Staël and his visit to her in 1808.
"How intellectual, witty, and amiable Mme. de Staël was," he says,
"the whole world knows. I have never met a woman possessed of so
much genius; but, probably on that very account, there was something
masculine about her. She was square built, with marked features. Pretty
she was not, but there was something most attractive in her bright
brown eyes, and she possessed in a very high degree the womanly gift of
winning, subtly ruling, and bringing together men of the most different
characters. That in matters of the heart she was the true woman, she
has shown us in _Delphine_ and _Corinne_. Rousseau himself has not
depicted love with more fire. Wherever she appeared she collected round
her all the men of intellect, drawing them away even from young and
beautiful women. When one remembers that in addition to all this she
was very rich and very hospitable, giving magnificent entertainments
every day, one does not marvel that, like some queen or fairy, she
drew men to her enchanted castle. One is almost tempted to believe
that it was to indicate this dominion of hers that she always had a
little leafy branch by her at meals, which she took in her hand and
played with. The servants had to lay one beside her plate every day,
for it was as necessary to her as knife, fork, and spoon."

Men made their way to Coppet, as some fifty years earlier they had
made their way to the adjacent Ferney, where Voltaire, also an exile
dwelling as close to the frontiers of France as possible, gathered the
picked men of Europe round him in the last years of his life. One is
irresistibly tempted to compare the influence which emanated from the
aged man at Ferney with that exercised by the owner of Coppet. The
years spent at Ferney are in every respect the most glorious period of
Voltaire's life. It was from there that he, as the champion of justice
and toleration, compassed achievements which no one could have believed
to be within the power of a private individual whose only weapon was
his pen.

Three years of his life at Ferney were devoted to litigation on behalf
of Jean Calas. Calas was a merchant of Toulouse, aged sixty-eight,
a Protestant. His youngest son had become converted to Catholicism,
and was completely estranged from his family. The eldest son, a
wild, dissipated young man, committed suicide. The Catholic clergy
immediately spread a rumour among the people that the father had
strangled his son out of hatred for the Romish faith, which the
latter, it was said, had intended to embrace on the following day. The
whole family was imprisoned. The suicide's corpse lay in state, and
performed one miracle after another. The bi-centenary of the massacre
of St. Bartholomew in Toulouse occurred at the time of the trial, and
in their fanatical excitement, thirteen judges, despite all proofs
of his innocence, and without a shadow of evidence of his guilt,
condemned Calas to be broken on the wheel. The sentence was carried
out, the old man protesting his innocence to the last. His children,
under the pretext of a reprieve, were shut up in a monastery and
forced to adopt the Catholic faith. Then Voltaire at Ferney wrote his
celebrated treatise on tolerance, and moved heaven and earth to get
the case tried over again. He appealed to the public opinion of the
whole of Europe. He compelled the Council of State in Paris to demand
the minutes of the trial from the Parliament of Toulouse. They were
refused; there were delays of every kind; but in the end, after three
years of unwearied fighting, Voltaire gained his point. The Toulouse
sentence was pronounced unjust, the dead man's honour was cleared, and
an indemnification was paid to his family. All who desire to be just
to Voltaire ought to remember that it is during this period that the
phrase, _Écrasez l'infâme_, perpetually recurs in his letters.

It was at Ferney that Voltaire gave shelter to the Sirven family. The
father was a Calvinist, but one of his daughters had been forced into
a convent. Upon her becoming insane, she was released, whereupon she
drowned herself in a well not far from her father's house. The father,
mother, and sister are accused of murdering the nun, are tried, and
all condemned to death. The unhappy family, knowing of no sanctuary
in the whole of Europe except Voltaire's house, escape to Ferney, the
mother dying of grief upon the way. Voltaire, the banished man, by his
eloquence and his ardour compels the French courts to try this case
also again, and the family is acquitted.

Three years later Étalonde found refuge at Ferney. Two young men, De
la Barre and Étalonde, were accused in 1765 of having passed a church
procession without taking off their hats, which was a true accusation,
and of having thrown a crucifix into the water, which was a false one.
They were both examined under torture, and afterwards De la Barre was
broken on the wheel. He went bravely to his death, his only words
being: "I could not have believed that they would kill a young man for
such a trifle." Étalonde, who was condemned to lose his right hand and
have his tongue cut out, escaped to Ferney, and no one dared to lay
hands on him in Voltaire's house.

Yet another human life did Voltaire succeed in saving while he lived
at Ferney. A young married couple named Montbailli were condemned to
death on a false accusation of murder. The man was first broken on
the wheel and then burned, but the burning of the woman was deferred
because she was pregnant. Voltaire hears of the case, sees through
the infamous charge with his lightning glance, appeals to the French
ministry, proves that an innocent man has been put to death, and saves
the woman from the stake.

Besides protecting the life of the accused, he defended the honour of
the dead. One of the last pieces of news that he received on his own
deathbed was, that his appeal against the unjust sentence which had
cost General Lally his life had been successful, that the sentence was
reversed, the dead man acquitted. During these years Voltaire also
found time to transform Ferney from a poor village into a prosperous
town, to labour zealously for the abolition of serfdom in France, and
to write a number of his most important books, in all of which his one
aim was to undermine the dogmas of Christianity, which appeared to him
to be at the root of the power of the priesthood and all the evils
resulting therefrom. Nor did he neglect the claims of polite society;
he built a private theatre, and engaged the best actors to play in it;
and he was visited at Ferney by the most gifted and able men of the day.

The renown of Coppet cannot be compared with that of Ferney, but none
the less it is a fair renown. From this place of banishment also,
emanated the ardent desire for justice, the love of freedom and the
love of truth.

Somewhat later in the nineteenth century each of the three principal
countries of Europe sent its greatest author into exile; England sent
Byron; Germany, Heinrich Heine; and France, Victor Hugo; and not one
of these men lost any of his literary influence from the fact of his
exile. But with the beginning of the century the time had gone by when
men of letters were a great power. Even a genius of Voltaire's calibre
would hardly have exercised the powerful, tangible influence in this
century which he did in his own. And Mme. de Staël was far from being
Voltaire's equal in genius. Moreover, her task was of an entirely
different nature. The outward power of the Church was temporarily
broken, and in any case her mind was far too religious ever to have
permitted her following in Voltaire's steps. The political despotism
was so pronounced, that merely to omit the French Emperor's name from a
work on Germany was regarded as a political demonstration and punished
accordingly. But there was a task left undone by the Revolution with
all its great outward reforms, a task the doing of which could not
be forbidden by Imperial edict, and that was, the undermining of the
mountain of religious, moral, social, national, and artistic prejudices
which weighed upon Europe with an even heavier pressure than did the
dominion of Napoleon, and which indeed had alone made that dominion
possible. Voltaire himself had been entangled in many of these
prejudices, especially the artistic and national. From Coppet, Mme. de
Staël waged war upon them all. And none the less she, like Voltaire,
found time to fulfil all social duties; she too had her own theatre,
and she both wrote plays for it, and acted in them. The châtelaine of
Coppet was as untrammelled intellectually and as noble in her aims
as was the philosopher of Ferney; she was less fortunate and less
powerful, but on account of her sex and her sufferings she is even more
interesting. Voltaire succeeded in doing much for others. Mme. de Staël
barely succeeded in defending herself.


[1] Mme. Necker de Saussure: _Notice sur le Caractère et les Écrits de
Mme. de Staël_, p. 358.



X


"CORINNE"


In her book, _Essai sur les Fictions_, Mme. de Staël makes the first
attempt to define her literary ideal. Her motto is: Avoid legend and
symbol, avoid the fantastic and the supernatural; it is nature, it is
reality, that must reign in poetry. She does not as yet seem to have
apprehended the fundamental difference between poetry as psychical
delineation, and poetry as the free play of the imagination, the
difference which later became so clear to her that we may call the
apprehension of it one of her most important deserts as an authoress;
for it was by means of this clear apprehension that she assisted her
countrymen to an understanding of the relative position of their
national poetic art. The French are, namely, accustomed to regard
knowledge of human nature founded upon observation as the substance,
the essence of poetry--such knowledge as is displayed in Molière's
_Tartuffe_ and _Misanthrope_. And just as Frenchmen as a rule seek
the essence of poetry in observation, Germans seek it in intensity of
feeling, and Englishmen in an exuberance of imagination which refuses
to be restricted by rules, and leaps at a bound from the horrible to
the ideal, and from the serious to the comic, not limiting itself to
the natural, but also not employing the supernatural otherwise than as
a profound symbol.

The poetry which radiates from the Italian soil and the Italian
people is something different again from all these. In Corinne, the
improvisatrice, Mme. de Staël seeks to personify poetical poetry as
opposed to psychological poetry, i.e. poetry as understood by Ariosto,
as opposed to the poetry of Shakespeare, Molière, and Goethe. In spite
of her intention, however, she unconsciously makes Corinne half
northern. No one who has not laboured painfully to attain to a real,
thorough understanding of the point of view of an entirely foreign
race can know how difficult it is to shake off one's innate national
prejudices. To do so it is necessary to breathe the same air, to live
for some time in the same natural environments, as the foreign race.
But for the foreign travel made obligatory by her banishment, Mme. de
Staël could not have expanded her power of apprehension as she did.

In all modesty I lay claim to be able to speak on this matter from
experience. It was during lonely walks in the neighbourhood of Sorrento
that I first succeeded in seeing Shakespeare at such a distance
that I could get a full view of him and really understand him and,
consequently, his antithesis. I remember one day in particular which
was in this respect to me very momentous.--I had been spending three
days in Pompeii. Of all its temples, that of Isis had interested me
most. Here, thought I, stood that goddess whose head (now in the
National Museum) has open lips and a hole in the back of the neck. I
went down to the underground passage behind the altar, from which the
priests, by means of a neatly adjusted reed, enabled the goddess to
deliver oracles. The reflection involuntarily occurred to me that, in
spite of the craft of the priests and the credulity of the people, it
must have been extremely difficult to produce any effect of mystery
in this climate. The temple is a pretty little house standing in the
bright sunshine; there is no abyss, no darkness, no horror; even at
night its outlines must have stood clearly defined in the moonlight or
the starlight. The landscape, in combination with the sober sense of
the Roman people, prevented any development of mysticism or romance.

I went on to Sorrento. The road, hewn in the mountain side, follows the
sea, now projecting into it, now receding from it; where it recedes one
looks down upon a great ravine, filled with olive trees. The aspect of
the country is at once grand and smiling, wild and peaceful. The bare
rocks lose their austerity, illuminated by such a brilliant sun, and in
every ravine lie white cottages, or villas, or whole villages, framed
in the shining green foliage of the orange trees or the soft velvety
grey of the olives. Upon the other side the white towns lie strewn, as
if scattered by a sugar-sifter, on the wooded sides of the mountains,
right up to the topmost ridge. The sea was indigo blue, in some places
steel blue, the sky without a cloud; and in the distance lay the
enchantingly beautiful rocky island of Capri. Nowhere else is to be
found such a glorious harmony of line and colour. Elsewhere, even in
the most beautiful spots, there is always something to take exception
to--the lines of Vesuvius, for example, melt almost too softly into
the air. But Capri! The contours of its jagged rocks are like rhythmic
music. What balance in all its lines! How grand and yet how delicate,
how bold and yet how charming it all is! This is Greek beauty--nothing
gigantic, nothing that appeals to the vulgar, but absolute harmony
within clearly defined bounds. From Capri one sees the islands of the
sirens, past which Ulysses sailed. Homer's Ithaca was like this, only
perhaps less beautiful; for Greek-peopled Southern Italy is the only
living evidence of what the climate of Greece was in ancient days; the
land of Greece itself is now but the corpse of what it was.

It began to grow dark; Venus shone brilliantly, and the great flanks
and clefts of the mountains gradually assumed the fantastic appearances
which darkness imparts. But the general impression was not what a
Northerner calls romantic. The sea still glimmered through the delicate
foliage of the olives, its deep blue broken by branch and leaf. Then
it was I realised that there is a world, the world of which the Bay
of Naples is an image, of which Shakespeare knew nothing; because it
is great without being terrible, and enchanting without the aid of
romantic mists and fairy glamour. I now for the first time rightly
understood such painters as Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin;
I comprehended that their classic art is the expression of classic
nature; and by force of contrast I understood better than ever before
such a work as Rembrandt's etching of "The Three Trees"--which stand
like sentient beings, like types of northern humanity, on the swampy
field in the pouring rain. I understood how natural it is that a
land such as this should not have produced a Shakespeare, or needed a
Shakespeare, because here Nature has taken upon herself the task which
falls to the lot of the poet in the North. Poetry of the profound,
psychological species is, like artificial heat, a necessity of life
where nature is ungentle. Here in the South, from the days of Homer
to the days of Ariosto, poetry has been able to rest content with
mirroring, clearly and simply, the clearness and simplicity of nature.
It has not sought to probe the depths of the human heart, has not
plunged into caverns and abysses in search of the precious stones which
Aladdin sought, which Shakespeare found, but which the sun-god here
scatters in lavish profusion over the surface of the earth.

_Corinne, ou l'Italie_ is Mme. de Staël's best tale. In Italy, that
natural paradise, her eyes were opened to the charms of nature. She no
longer preferred the gutters of Paris to the Lake of Nemi. And it was
in this country, where a square yard of such a place, for instance,
as the Forum, has a grander history than the whole Russian empire,
that her modern, rebellious, melancholy soul opened to the influence
of history, the influence of antiquity with its simple, austere
calm. In Italy too, in Rome, that house of call for all Europe, the
characteristics and limitations of the different nations were first
clearly revealed to her. Through her, her own countrymen for the first
time became conscious of their peculiarities and limitations. In her
book, England, France, and Italy meet, and are understood, not by each
other, but by the authoress and her heroine, who is half English and
half Italian. Corinne is, in the world of fiction, like a prophecy of
what Elizabeth Barrett Browning was to be in the world of reality. One
thinks of Corinne when one reads that Italian inscription upon a house
in Florence: "Here lived Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose poems are a
golden thread binding Italy to England."

The plot of _Corinne_ is as follows: A young Englishman, Oswald, Lord
Nelvil, who has lost the father he loved above everything on earth, and
whose grief is the more poignant because he reproaches himself for
having embittered the last years of that father's life, attempts to
distract his thoughts by travel in Italy. He arrives in Rome just as
the poetess, Corinne, is borne in triumph to the Capitol, and, although
public appearances and public triumphs do not harmonise with his ideal
of womanhood, he is quickly attracted by, and soon passionately in love
with, Corinne, who is as frank and natural as she is intellectual.
But though intercourse with her reveals all her beautiful and rare
qualities to him, he never loses the fear that she is not a suitable
wife for a highly born Englishman. She is not the weak, timid woman,
absorbed in her duties and her feelings, whom he would choose for his
wife in England, where the domestic virtues are a woman's glory and
happiness. He entertains morbid scruples as to whether his dead father
would have desired such a daughter-in-law as Corinne, a question which,
as time goes on, he plainly perceives must be answered in the negative.

Corinne, whose love is far deeper and fuller than his, is alarmed
by his vacillation, and, fearing that he may suddenly leave Italy,
endeavours to keep him there by rousing his interest in the history
and antiquities of the country, its art, its poetry, and its music.
Oswald is especially perturbed by the mystery attaching to Corinne's
life; her real name and her parentage are unknown; she speaks many
languages; she has no relatives; he fears something discreditable in
the circumstances which have thrust her out into the world alone. As a
matter of fact, Corinne is the daughter of an Englishman and a Roman
lady. After her father's second marriage she had been brought up by her
stepmother, in a little narrow-minded English country town. Tortured
by the petty restrictions which were designed to crush her spirit,
she had left England after her father's death, and had since lived
an independent, but absolutely blameless life as a poetess. She is
aware that her family and Oswald's are acquainted, that his father had
chosen her for his daughter-in-law, and that a match is now projected
between Oswald and her younger sister, Lucile. This not remarkably
probable complication provides a pretext for description of Italy.
Whenever Oswald entreats Corinne to tell him her past history, she
endeavours to postpone the moment of explanation; and she can find
no better means of diverting his thoughts than constituting herself
his cicerone, showing him ruins, galleries, and churches, and finally
carrying him off on a tour through the most famous parts of Italy.
Like a second Scheherazade, she strives to prolong her life and ward
off the threatening danger by daily showing him new splendours, in
comparison with which those of the _Thousand and One Nights_ pale; and
these splendours she provides with an accompaniment of subtle, profound
comment.

In this manner the description of Rome, the delineation of Neapolitan
scenery, and that of the tragic beauty of Venice, present themselves
naturally, one after the other. It is in Rome that Corinne's great
passion comes into being; so Rome provides the scenery for the first
act of this love story; its solemn grandeur and wide horizon harmonise
with these profound emotions and serious thoughts. In Naples her
love rises to its highest lyrical expression; here the volcano and
the smiling splendour of the bay are her background, and music upon
the sea accompanies her passionately sorrowful improvisation on the
subject of woman's love and woman's destiny. In Venice, where one is so
perpetually forced to reflect on the decay and annihilation of beauty,
Oswald leaves Corinne for ever.

The news that his regiment is ordered to India recalls him to England.
He considers himself betrothed to Corinne, and hastens to find her
stepmother and secure the restoration of the fugitive to her family
rights. But at Lady Edgermond's he meets Corinne's half-sister, Lucile,
and her modest, womanly loveliness by slow degrees obliterates the
impression made by the elder sister, whose brilliant gifts do not seem
so alluring from a distance, and whose independent, bold appearance
in the full sunshine of public life does not augur well for wedded
happiness in a country where the subdued light of home (with which
Lucile's subdued character is in admirable keeping) is the only one
in which a woman can show herself with advantage. Marriage with
Corinne would be a challenge to society; and he feels that it would,
consequently, be a slight to his father's memory. Marriage with Lucile,
on the other hand, would be unanimously approved of by society. In
Corinne, he would wed the foreign, the far off, that which would
be irreconcilable in the long run with the spirit of his country;
in Lucile, he would wed as it were England itself. Corinne, who in
agonising anxiety has followed him to England, learns his state of
mind, and sends him back his ring. Oswald believes that she has ceased
to love him, and marries Lucile. He learns of the wrong he has done
her, and the story ends tragically with his remorse, and Corinne's
death.

We have little difficulty in determining which of the events and
circumstances of the book had their counterparts in real life.
Oswald's melancholy brooding over the memory of his father, reminds
us that the authoress at the time she wrote was mourning Necker's
death. Another trait in Oswald borrowed from her own character, is
his very feminine fear of taking a step to which the sole objection
offered by his conscience is, that it would scarcely have won his dead
father's approbation. Possibly, too, his grief that the last years of
his father's life had been troubled by his conduct, had a point of
correspondence in the authoress's own history. In all else, Oswald's
personality is obviously a free rendering of that of Benjamin Constant.
Many small details betray that Mme. de Staël clearly had Constant
in her mind. Oswald comes from Edinburgh, where Constant spent part
of his youth; and it is stated that he is exactly eighteen months
younger than Corinne (Mme. de Staël was born on the 22nd of April,
1766, and Constant on the 25th of October, 1767); but far weightier
evidence is to be found in the whole cast of the character, in the
blending of chivalrous courage, displayed towards the outer world, with
unchivalrous cowardice, displayed towards the loving and long-loved
woman whom he abandons in order to escape from her superiority. But
remark that Mme. de Staël has created a typical Englishman out of these
and many added elements.

In Corinne the authoress has depicted for us her own ideal. She
has borrowed the chief characteristics of her heroine from her own
individuality. Corinne is not, like Delphine, the woman who is confined
to the sphere of private life; she is the woman who has overstepped
the allotted limits, the poetess whose name is upon all lips. The
authoress has given her her own exterior, only idealised, her own eyes,
even her own picturesque dress, with the Indian shawl wound about her
head. She has endowed her with her own clear, active intellect; but it
is with Corinne, as with herself--the moment passion grips her with
its eagle's talon, her intellect avails her nothing, she becomes its
defenceless prey. Like Mme. de Staël, Corinne is an exile, with all
the thoughts and sorrows of the exile. For in Italy she is severed
from the land of her birth, in England banished from the home of her
heart and its sunshine. Hence when Corinne sings of Dante, she dwells
sorrowfully on his banishment, and declares her belief that his real
hell must have been exile. Hence, too, when giving Oswald an account of
her life, she says that for a being full of life and feeling, exile is
a punishment worse than death; for residence in one's native country
implies a thousand joys which one first realises when bereft of them.
She speaks of all the manifold interests which one has in common with
one's fellow-countrymen, that are incomprehensible to a foreigner, and
of that necessity for constant explanation which takes the place of
rapid, easy communication, in which half a word does duty for a long
exposition. Corinne, too, like her creator, hopes that her growing
fame will bring about her recall to her native land, and reinstatement
in her rights. Finally, Mme. de Staël has endowed Corinne with her
own culture. It is expressly stated that it was her knowledge of the
literatures and understanding of the characters of foreign nations that
gave Corinne so high a place in the literary ranks of her own country;
her charm as a poet lay in her combination of the southern gift of
colour with the northern gift of observation. Employing all these
borrowed characteristics, and inventing many others, the authoress has,
it is to be observed, succeeded in producing a distinctly Italian type
of female character.

Mme. de Staël's literary activity divides itself, as it were, into two
activities--a masculine and a feminine, the expression of thoughts and
the dwelling upon emotions. We can trace this duality in _Corinne_. The
book has, unquestionably, more merit as an effort of the intellect than
as a work of creative imagination. A peculiar fervour and a certain
tenderness in the treatment of the emotions betray that the author is
a woman. Psychology is still in such a backward condition that as yet
only the merest attempt has been made to define the characteristic
qualities of woman's mind, of woman's soul, as distinguished from
man's; when the day comes for making the attempt in good earnest,
Mme. de Staël's works will be one of the most valuable sources of
enlightenment.

The woman's hand is, perhaps, most perceptible in the delineation
of the hero. The authoress supplies us with the reasons for each of
his distinguishing qualities. His sense of honour is explained by
his distinguished birth, his melancholy by his English "spleen" and
by his unhappy relations with the father whom he worshipped, as Mme.
de Staël worshipped hers, and by whose memory he allowed himself to
be influenced in a manner which reminds us of the way in which Sören
Kierkegaard was influenced by the memory of his father. Only one thing
does the writer leave unexplained in a person whose moral courage is
so extremely slight, and that is the recklessness with which he risks
his life. Female novelists almost invariably equip their heroes with a
courage which has no particular connection with their character, while
at the same time, in modern society, it is generally women who prevent
men from doing deeds of daring, and who also as a rule admire and
pay hysterical homage to essentially cowardly public characters--the
priests who carefully protect their own lives in epidemics, the
warriors who attack the enemy upon paper. The explanation would seem to
be that masculine courage is a quality which, regarded as the highest
attribute of man, becomes to woman a sort of ideal, but an ideal which
she does not understand, which she does not recognise in real life, and
which perhaps for this very reason she chooses to portray--and portrays
badly.

These remarks apply more particularly to Oswald's heroic behaviour on
the occasion of the fire at Ancona, where he saves the entire town
under the most terrible circumstances. He alone, with his English
followers, makes an attempt to extinguish the conflagration, an attempt
which is crowned with success. He rescues the Jews, who are shut up
in the Ghetto, where the people in their religious frenzy have left
them to be burned as a propitiatory offering. He ventures into the
burning asylum, into the room in which the most dangerous lunatics
are confined; these maniacs he controls and rescues from the flames
by which they are already surrounded; he loosens their chains, and
will not leave one recalcitrant behind. The whole scene is excellently
described, but, as already said, the psychology is weak. Mme. de
Staël makes full amends for this, however, in her description of the
impression made by these deeds upon Corinne's womanly heart. Oswald,
by leaving the town at once, manages to escape from all expressions
of gratitude; but on the return journey they come to Ancona again, he
is recognised, and Corinne is awakened in the morning by shouts of:
"Long live Lord Nelvil! long live our benefactor!" She goes out on the
piazza, is recognised as the poetess whose name is famous all over
Italy, and is received with acclamation. The crowd beseech her to be
their spokeswoman, and interpret their gratitude to Oswald. When he in
his turn appears on the piazza, he is amazed to see that the crowd is
led by Corinne. "She thanked Lord Nelvil in the name of the people, and
did it with such grace and nobility that all the inhabitants of Ancona
were enraptured." And, adds the authoress with feminine subtlety, she
said we in speaking for them. "You have saved us." "_We_ owe you our
lives." This _we_ makes the more impression because of the authoress,
earlier in the book, having dwelt upon the moment when Corinne and
Oswald first used the word we, in arranging a walk in Rome, feeling all
the happiness of the timid declaration of love therein implied. Now
Corinne dissolves that _we_, that she may range herself on the side
of those who owe him everything. And the story goes on to tell that
when she approached to offer Lord Nelvil in the name of the people
the wreath of oak and laurel leaves which they had woven for him, she
was overcome by an indescribable emotion, and felt almost afraid as
she drew near him. At the moment of her offering the wreath, the whole
populace, in Italy so susceptible and so ready to worship, fell on
their knees, and Corinne involuntarily followed their example. It is
in the delineation of feminine emotions that Mme. de Staël excels, the
emotions of a gifted woman who pays dearly for her gifts.

Domestic happiness and feminine purity are what touch Corinne most
deeply. She, the Sibyl, is moved when she reads the inscription on a
Roman woman's sarcophagus: "No stain has soiled my life from wedding
festival to funeral pyre. I have lived chastely between the two
torches." But wedded happiness was not to be hers. It was not for
Corinne as it was not for Mignon, the two children of longing who, the
one in French, the other in German literature, as it were personify
enthusiasm for Italy. Corinne herself says that only through suffering
can our poor human nature attain to an understanding of the infinite;
and she is as if created to suffer. But before she perishes as the last
victim in the ancient arena, she is adorned for the sacrifice and led
in triumphal procession.

When we first meet her, on her progress to the Capitol, she is simply
but picturesquely clad, with antique cameos in her hair, and a fine
red shawl wound turbanwise about her head, as in Gérard's well-known
portrait of Mme. de Staël. The costume suits Corinne: she is the
child of the land of colour, and she has not lost her love of colour;
even in stiff conventional England she has retained her fresh natural
tastes, her joy in what Gautier has called the trinity of beautiful
things--gold, purple, and marble.

Like all the other great types of the period, she must be seen in the
surroundings with which she harmonises, among which she is at home,
as René is in the primeval forest, Obermann upon the heights of the
Alps, and Saint-Preux by the Lake of Geneva. Her appearance has been
preserved to posterity in the painting which engravings have made so
familiar: Corinne improvising at Cape Miseno.

Her volcanic, glowing nature is at home in this volcanic, glowing
region. The Bay of Naples appears to be a great sunken crater,
surrounded by fair towns and forest-clad mountains. Encircling a sea
which is even bluer than the sky, it resembles an emerald goblet filled
with foaming wine, its rims and its sides adorned with vine leaves
and tendrils. Near land the sea is a deep azure blue; farther out it
is, as Homer said, wine-coloured; and above it shines a sky which is
not, as is generally believed, bluer than ours, but really paler, only
that its blue is underlaid by a white fire, which glows with a shimmer
that is both blue and white. It was in this region that the ancients
imagined hell to lie; the descent to it being through the cave of the
Lake of Avernus. They called it hell, this paradise. Its volcanic
origin and surroundings made them feel as if Tartarus were not far off.
Volcanic formations everywhere! One great mountain has a side which
looks as if it had been cut with a knife; half of that mountain fell
in an earthquake. Cape Miseno, the farthest-out point of land on one
side of the bay, with the little rocky island of Nisida in front of
it, and Procida and Ischia behind it, did not always consist, as now,
of two separate heights--long ago there was only one. The two craters
of Vesuvius were formed by the eruption which overwhelmed Pompeii.
Fertility and fire everywhere! A few steps from where the sulphureous
fumes of Solfatara force their way up into the air through the
crumbling lava, lie fields, some one mass of bright-red poppies, others
full of great blue flowers, of powerfully scented downy mints and other
herbs growing waist-high in such thronging profusion, such fruitfulness
and luxuriance, that one feels as if all this billowing fulness would
shoot up again in a single night, were it all cut down. And then
the overpowering perfume! a spicy fragrance unknown in the north, a
stupendous symphony of the scents of millions of different plants!

It is towards evening that Corinne and her friends find their way out
to Cape Miseno. From there one looks back upon the great town, and
one hears a dull sound, which is like the beat of its heart. After
sunset lights become visible everywhere; they are lying even in the
ruts of the roads; across the path and away up the mountain sides
bright flames leap and flit through the air; those which fly highest
resemble moving stars. These flames, which move with long leaps and are
extinguished for a moment after each leap, are the fire-flies of the
South. The myriads of lights flashing through the darkness transport
one in thought to fairyland. Right opposite, looking from Cape Miseno,
the fiery lava glows with a ruddy glare as it streams down the side of
Vesuvius.

It is here that they bring Corinne her lyre, and that she sings of the
glories of the scenery, and of the many memories of this land--of Cumæ,
where the Sibyl dwelt; of Gaeta, close to the spot where the tyrant's
dagger was plunged into Cicero's heart; of Capri and Baiæ, where men
recall the deeds of darkness of Tiberius and Nero; of Nisida, where
Brutus and Portia bade each other a last farewell; of Sorrento, where
Tasso, just escaped from a mad-house, a miserable, hunted creature,
ragged and unshaven, knocked at the door of the sister, who first did
not recognise him, and then could not speak for tears. It is here that
she ends her song with an elegy on all the suffering of this earthly
life and all its happiness.

Listen to the inspired words uttered by Corinne in these surroundings,
where beauty is based upon ruin, where happiness reveals itself
as a flitting, quickly extinguished flame, and where fertility is
perpetually endangered by a volcano.

She says: "Jesus permitted a frail and perhaps repentant woman to
anoint His feet with the most precious ointment; He rebuked those who
counselled her to keep it for a more useful purpose. 'Let her alone,'
He said; 'Me ye have not always with you.' Alas! all that is good
and great is with us upon this earth only for a short time. Old age,
infirmities, and death soon dry up the dewdrop which falls from heaven
and rests upon the flower. Let us then blend everything together--love,
religion, genius, sunshine and perfumes, music and poetry; the only
true atheism is coldness, selfishness, and baseness. It is said: 'Where
two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst
of them.' And what is it, O God, to be gathered together in Thy name,
if it be not to enjoy the wondrous gifts of Thy-fair nature, to render
homage to Thee for them, to thank Thee for life, and to thank Thee
most of all when another heart also created by Thee fully and entirely
responds to our own!"

Thus she speaks under the influence of her dual inspiration, in her
life's meridian, when she is attempting to interweave the happiness of
genius with the happiness of love, as the myrtle and the laurel were
interwoven in the wreath with which she was crowned at the Capitol. It
may not be; they untwist, they recoil from each other; and Corinne, the
inspired Sibyl, becomes one of the many crushed, despairing spirits
through whom the genius of the century utters its protest against
that society which, like these apparently safe towns, is undermined
by volcanic flames, flames which are never at rest, but find vent in
one outburst after another, throughout the whole of the restless and
unhappy nineteenth century.



XI


ATTACK UPON NATIONAL AND PROTESTANT PREJUDICES


One might call _Corinne_ a work on national prejudices. Oswald
represents all those of England; his travelling companion, Count
d'Erfeuil, all those of France; and it is against the prejudices
of these two nations, at that time the most powerful and the most
self-reliant in Europe, that the heroine does battle with her whole
soul. It is no coldblooded, impersonal warfare, for Corinne's future
depends upon whether she can succeed in freeing Oswald from his
national prejudices to such an extent as to enable him to be happy
with a woman like herself, whose life conflicts at every turn with
the English conception of what is becoming in woman. But while she is
attempting to widen Oswald's view of life and to impart pliancy to his
rigid mind, which always starts back again into its accustomed grooves,
she is at the same time carrying on the education of the reader. Mme.
de Staël continues in the domain of the emotions the task with which
we have seen her occupied in the domain of thought. She sketches the
first outlines of _national_ psychology, shows how there is a colouring
of nationality even in men's most private, personal feelings. Her
countrymen were then, much in the manner of the Germans of to-day,
attempting to blot out the national colours of neighbouring countries
in the complacent persuasion that they themselves had a monopoly of
civilisation. Her inmost desire is to show them that their conception
of life is but one among many conceptions that are equally justifiable,
some of them possibly more justifiable.

When we remember how powerful is the prejudice which, in every country
without exception, makes it a crime for the individual to deny that
his nation is in possession of all the virtues which it ascribes to
itself, and which so many a sanctimonious Jack-in-the-box finds it to
his advantage to assure it daily that it possesses, we shall understand
what courage Mme. de Staël displayed in attacking French national
vanity at such a period.

There is one great idea that is more fatal than any other to the
coercive power wielded by the established beliefs and customs of any
given society. It has nothing to do with the logic of the matter. One
would imagine that logic, let loose among the whole stock of prejudices
ruling in any given country at any given time, would work the same
havoc as a bull in a china-shop; but such is not the case; pure logic
does not affect the majority of mankind at all I No! if you would
really awaken and astound the generality of men, you must succeed
in making it plain to them that what they consider absolute is only
relative--that is to say, must show them that the standards which they
believe to be universally recognised, are only accepted as standards by
so and so many similarly constituted minds; whereas other nations and
other races have an entirely different conception of the befitting and
the beautiful. In this manner the general public of a country learn for
the first time that the art and poetry which they despise are regarded
by whole races as the highest, while their own, which to them seem the
finest in the world, are held in slight esteem by other nations; learn,
moreover, that it is vain to take refuge in the thought that all other
nations are mistaken in their judgment, seeing that each one of these
other nations believes that all the rest are mistaken. If I were asked
to define in one word the service rendered by Mme. de Staël to French
society, to its culture and literature, and through these to Europe in
general, I should express myself thus: By means of her writings, more
particularly her great works on Italy and Germany, she enabled the
French, English, and German peoples to take a _comparative_ view of
their own social and literary ideas and theories.

Count d'Erfeuil, in _Corinne_, is a cleverly drawn type of French
superficiality and vanity in combination with some of the most
charming and characteristic of French virtues. One does not really
appreciate the character until one has repeatedly reflected on the
amount of courage that was required to introduce into a circle of
foreigners, as the sole, and properly accredited, representative of
France, such an extremely narrow-minded personage as D'Erfeuil. He is
a young French _émigré_, who has fought with singular gallantry in the
war, has submitted to the confiscation of his large estates not merely
with serenity, but with cheerfulness, and has with great self-sacrifice
tended and supported the old uncle who brought him up, who like himself
is an _émigré_ and who without him would be absolutely helpless--in
short, there is a foundation of chivalry and unselfishness in his
character. When one talks to him, however, one feels it impossible to
believe that he is a man of much and sad experience, for he positively
seems to have forgotten all that has happened to him. He talks of the
loss of his fortune with admirable frivolity, and with equal, if less
admirable, frivolity on all other subjects.

Oswald meets him in Germany, where he is nearly bored to death; he
has lived there for several years, but it has never occurred to him
to learn a word of the language. He intends to go to Italy, but
anticipates no pleasure from travelling in that country; he is certain
that any French provincial town has more agreeable society and a better
theatre than Rome. "Do you not mean to learn Italian?" asks Oswald.
"No," he replies; "that is not part of my plan of study;" and he looks
as serious when giving this answer as if something very important
had led him to the determination. In Italy he does not vouchsafe the
landscape so much as a glance. His conversation turns neither on
outward objects nor on feelings; it hovers between reflection and
observation as between two poles, neither of which it touches;
its topics are always society topics; it is garnished with puns and
anecdotes, is chiefly about his numberless acquaintances, is indeed in
its essence nothing but society gossip. Oswald is astonished by this
strange mixture of courage and superficiality. D'Erfeuil's contempt
for danger and misfortune would have seemed admirable to him if it
had cost more effort, and heroic if it had not been the outcome of the
very qualities which render him incapable of deep feeling. As it is, he
finds it tiresome.

When D'Erfeuil for the first time sees St. Peter's in the distance,
he likens it to the dome of the Invalides in Paris--a comparison more
patriotic than apt; when he sees Corinne at the Capitol he feels a
desire to make her acquaintance, but no reverence for her. He is not
surprised that her heart has remained untouched in a country where
he finds no good qualities in the men, but he cannot help flattering
himself with the hope that she will be unable to resist the charms of a
well-bred young Frenchman. When she speaks to others in his presence in
Italian or English (languages he does not understand), he says to her:
"Speak French. You know the language and are worthy to speak it."

When he sees that Corinne loves Oswald he does not take it amiss,
though his vanity is wounded; but he thinks her passion foolish,
because of the improbability of its bringing her happiness. At the same
time he most strongly advises Oswald not to enter into a life-long
union with an unpresentable woman like Corinne. With all his daring,
he bows to the supreme authority of established custom. "If you will
be foolish," he says to Oswald, "at least do nothing irreparable;"
reckoning among irreparable follies marriage with Corinne. His ideas
on literary, correspond to his ideas on social subjects. In Corinne's
house the conversation frequently turns upon Italian and English
poetry. D'Erfeuil, starting from the premise that French poetry from
the time of Louis XV. onwards forms the unquestioned standard, is
naturally very severe in his judgment of all foreign productions.
To him the Germans are barbarians, the Italians are corrupters of
style, and "the taste and elegance of French style" are law-giving in
literature. "Our stage literature," he remarks, "is admittedly the
finest in Europe, and I do not think that it occurs even to the English
themselves to compare Shakespeare with our dramatists." In a company
of Italians he shrewdly enough, if without much delicacy, defines
Italian drama as consisting of ballets, silly tragedies, and wearisome
harlequinades; to him the Greek drama is coarse, Shakespeare formless.
"Our drama," he says, "is a model of refinement and beauty of form. To
introduce foreign ideas among us would be to plunge us into barbarism."

D'Erfeuil considers the antiquities of Rome altogether overrated. He is
not going to fatigue himself, he says, by toiling through all these old
ruins. He makes his way northwards, but is as bored by Alpine scenery
as he was by Rome. In the end he goes to England, where he assists
Corinne in her misfortunes; his deeds have ever been nobler than his
words. He cannot, however, when he sees how miserable her love for
Oswald has made her, deny his vanity the satisfaction of ringing the
changes upon "I told you so;" and he considers it a duty to himself not
to let the opportunity slip of offering himself as Oswald's successor.
For all this, it is true and unselfish devotion that he displays, and
Corinne is distressed by her inability to be more truly grateful to
him; but he is so careless and scatterbrained that she is constantly
tempted to forget his generous deeds just as he himself forgets them.
"It is very charming, no doubt," observes the authoress, "to set little
value on one's own good deeds, but it may be that the indifference with
which some men regard their own noble actions has its origin in their
superficiality." Without regard for anything but what she considers the
truth, she thus derives some of the most conspicuous virtues of her
countrymen from weaknesses in their character.

By means of this typical character of D'Erfeuil, Mme. de Staël shows
how in France all good feelings are held in check by one vice, that
fear of society which has its origin in vanity. It seems to her as if
all feeling, the whole of life, indeed, were ruled by _esprit_, by the
desire to appear to advantage, and by a fear which may be expressed
in the words, "What will people say?" An author who writes not long
after Mme. de Staël, the acute and original Henri Beyle, is of the same
opinion. His name for Frenchmen is _les vainvifs_ and he asserts that
all their actions are dictated by the consideration, _Qu'en dira-t-on_?
the fear, that is to say, of the unbecoming or ridiculous. The French
were then, what the Danes are still, very proud of their keen sense
of the comical; it was this which led them to describe themselves
modestly as the wittiest nation in the world. Corinne maintains that
this sense of the ridiculous, with the corresponding fear of being
ridiculous, destroys all originality in manners, in dress, and in
speech, prevents all free play of imagination, and stifles natural
expression of feeling. She maintains that feeling, that every kind of
intellectuality, is obliged to take the form of wit instead of the form
of poetry, in a country where the fear of becoming the victim of wit or
mockery makes each man try to be the first to seize those weapons. "Are
we," she asks D'Erfeuil, "only to live for what society may say of us?
Is what others think and feel always to be our guiding star? If this be
so, if we are intended to imitate each other for ever and ever, why has
each one of us been given a soul? Providence might have spared itself
this unnecessary outlay."

The national prejudices of France are typified in D'Erfeuil; in Oswald
we have a personification of all the prejudices which have been part
of England's strength and England's weakness throughout the centuries.
Powerful nations are always unjust, and their injustice both adds to
their power and limits it. It was upon this injustice that Mme. de
Staël considered it her mission to throw a very strong light.

The story of the book turns upon the attempt of a woman to regain,
by means of a man's love, that place in English society which she
has forfeited by too great independence, by entering the arena of
public life; consequently what the authoress chiefly dwells upon in
her delineation of English character is the narrowness of the English
conception of ideal womanhood. From this conception, with which he
has been brought up, Oswald makes sincere but fruitless efforts to
free himself. When, in Italy, he sees Corinne admired and loved for
her great gifts, without a thought being given to her sex or her
enigmatical past, he is greatly perplexed. There is something repulsive
to him in a woman's leading this public life. He is accustomed to look
upon woman as a sort of higher domestic animal, and for long cannot
reconcile himself to the idea of society forgiving her the crime of
having talent. He feels himself as it were humiliated and exasperated
by the thought; he regards it as impossible that a woman with such a
well-developed, independent mind should be capable of binding herself
faithfully to one man and living contentedly for him alone. And though,
in spite of everything, Corinne loves him, loves him with a passion
beside which all that he has seen or heard of pales, and which is so
unselfish that it leads her to risk her reputation for his sake without
demanding anything whatever in return, he forgets her, her great gifts,
her nobility of mind and soul, the moment he stands once again upon
English soil, inhales English mists and prejudices, and meets a fresh
young girl of sixteen, the very perfection of a wife after the English
recipe, reserved, ignorant, innocent, silent, a fair-haired, blue-eyed
incarnation of domestic duty.

The authoress tracks the prejudice which explains Oswald's conduct
to its source, which she finds to be the English conception of home.
Oswald's principal difficulty in coming to a decision about Corinne
is expressed in the words: "Of what use would all that be at home?"
"And home is everything to us--to the women, at least," remarks an
Englishman to Oswald; and the authoress herself remarks elsewhere:
"Though it is possible for an Englishman to find pleasure for a time
in foreign ways and customs, his heart invariably returns to the
impressions of his childhood. If you ask the Englishman you meet on
board ship in foreign climes whither he is bound, he answers, if he is
upon the return journey: '_Home_.'"[1] It is to this English love of
home that she attributes both the superstition that the independent
intellectual development of woman is absolutely incompatible with
the domestic virtues, and the English idolatry of these virtues.
And, strange as it may seem to us to see the Italian woman, nowadays
so indifferent to everything intellectual, set up as a model of
independence, there is no doubt that Mme. de Staël is right. The
ideal of well-being conveyed by the word home, is a genuine Northern,
Teutonic conception, originally so foreign to the Latin races that the
English word _home_ has passed into the Latin languages, because these
possess no equivalent. To this conception of home corresponds the word
"cosiness" (untranslatable into any Latin language), which was created
to express the pleasure of being able to sit warm and comfortable
within four walls. We have not far to seek for the origin of this
ideal. The inhabitant of Northern Europe, living in a raw climate,
amidst cold, harsh natural surroundings, finds the same pleasure in
the thought of sitting by a warm hearth whilst snow and rain beat
impotently on the window pane, which a Neapolitan feels in the thought
of sleeping under the warm, glorious, starry sky, or passing the cool
night in dance, play, and song, in the open air. But to each of these
different ideals of well-being and happiness corresponds a different
conception of virtues and duties, which the nation that possesses or
enforces them regards as the universal conception. It considers itself
the first among nations because it exacts the fulfilment of these
particular duties and possesses these particular virtues (which is not
surprising, seeing that both are naturally entailed by the national
character), and it moreover censures all the nations whose conceptions
differ from its own.

Speaking of England, Oswald asks Corinne: "How could you leave the home
of chastity and morality and make fallen Italy the country of your
adoption?" "In this country," Corinne replies, "we are modest; neither
proud of ourselves like the English, nor pleased with ourselves like
the French." It gratifies her to put both the Puritanic arrogance of
the Northerner and the vain Frenchman's fear of ridicule to shame, by
comparing them with the frank naturalness which the people of Italy
even in their humiliation have preserved. She describes, delicately and
truthfully, the touching naïveté with which the latter display their
emotions. There is no stiff reserve, as in England, no coquetry, as in
France; here the woman simply desires to please the man she loves, and
cares not who knows it. One of Corinne's friends, returning to Rome
after an absence of some duration, calls upon a distinguished lady.
He is informed by the servant that "the Princess does not receive
to-day; she is out of spirits, she is _innamorata_." Corinne tells
how indulgently a woman is judged in Italy, and how frankly she owns
her feelings. A poor girl dictates a love-letter to a writer in the
open streets, and the man writes it with the utmost seriousness,
never omitting to add all the polite forms which it is his business
to know; hence some poor soldier or labourer receives a letter in
which many tender assurances occupy the space between "Most honoured
contemporary!" and "Yours with reverential respect." _Corinne_ is
perfectly correct. I have myself seen such letters. And, on the other
hand, it seems as if learning had not been at all unusual among the
Italian women of those days. A Frenchman in _Corinne_ who calls a
learned woman a pedant, receives the reply: "What harm is there in a
woman's knowing Greek?"

Neither does Corinne fail to perceive that the official recognition
and support of duty and morality in the North is accompanied by the
greatest brutality in all cases in which the laws of society have once
been transgressed. She shows how the Englishman respects no promise
or relation which has not been legally registered, and how in strict
England the sanctity of marriage and an irreproachable home life
exist side by side with the most shameless and bestial prostitution,
just as the personal devil exists side by side with the personal God.
She remarks, with womanly circumspection and modesty, but yet quite
plainly: "In England it is the domestic virtues which constitute
woman's glory and happiness; but, granted that there are countries
in which love is to be met with outside the bonds of holy matrimony,
then undoubtedly among all these countries Italy is the one in which
most regard is shown to woman's happiness. The men of that country
have a code of morality for the regulation of those relations which
are without the pale of morality--a tribunal of the heart." It is the
same tribunal as that of the mediæval Courts of Love. Byron is greatly
impressed when he comes to Italy and finds this complete moral code,
exactly the opposite of the English. Mme. de Staël as usual tries
to explain the milder morality by the milder climatic conditions;
she says: "The aberrations of the heart inspire a more indulgent
compassion here than in any other country. Jesus said of the Magdalen:
'Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.' Those
words were spoken under a sky as beautiful as ours. The same sky
invokes for us the same Divine mercy."

Corinne, who is herself a Catholic, teaches the Scottish Protestant
who loves her, to understand Italian Catholicism. "In this country,
Catholicism, having had no other religion to combat, has become milder
and more indulgent than it is anywhere else; in England, on the
other hand, Protestantism, in order to annihilate Catholicism, has
been obliged to arm itself with the utmost severity of principle and
morality. Our religion, like the religion of the ancients, inspires the
artist and the poet; is a part, so to speak, of all the pleasures of
our life; while yours, which has had to adapt itself to a country where
reason plays a much more important part than imagination, has received
an imprint of moral severity which it will always retain. Ours speaks
in the name of love, yours in the name of duty. Although our dogmas
are absolute, our principles are liberal, and our orthodox despotism
adapts itself to the circumstances of life, while your religious heresy
insists upon obedience to its laws without making any allowance for
exceptional cases."

She shows how, in consequence of this, there is always a certain dread
of genius, of intellectual superiority, in Protestant countries. "It
is a mistaken fear," she says; "for it is very moral, this superiority
of mind and soul. He who understands everything becomes very
compassionate, and he who feels deeply becomes good."

"Why are great powers a misfortune? Why have they prevented my being
loved? Will he find in another woman more mind, more soul, more
tenderness than in me? No, he will find less; but he will be content,
because he will feel himself more in harmony with society. What
fictitious pleasures, what fictitious sorrows are those we owe to
society! Under the sun and the starry heavens all that human beings
need is to love and to feel worthy of each other; but society! society!
how hard it makes the heart, how frivolous the mind! how it leads us to
live only for what others will say of us! If human beings could but
meet freed from that influence which all collectively exercise upon
each, how pure the air that would penetrate into the soul! how many
new ideas, how many genuine emotions would refresh it!"--"Receive my
last salutation, O land of my birth!" cries Corinne in her swan song
in praise of Rome--and one feels the bitterness of the exile and the
thrust at Napoleon in the words that follow: "You have not grudged
me fame, O liberal-minded people that do not banish women from your
temples, that do not sacrifice immortal talent to passing jealousies!
You welcome genius wherever you recognise it; for you know that it is
a victor without victims, a conqueror that does not plunder, but takes
from eternity wherewith to enrich time."

This sketch of the contrast between the emotional life of Catholicism
and that of Protestantism prepares for a digression on the contrast
between their respective views of art. On this latter point the
book makes a decided attack on Protestant arrogance and want of all
understanding of art, as exhibited by Oswald, who represents the
narrowest English ideas.

In the midst of this plastic and musical people, who are so
good-natured, so childlike, so careless of their dignity, and,
according to English ideas, so immoral, Oswald, who is accustomed to
regard it as the aim and end of existence to live up to certain insular
conceptions of duty and dignity, feels himself very ill at ease.
Devoid of all artistic feeling, he judges art now by a literary, now
by a moral, now by a religious standard; his prejudices are constantly
offended; he understands nothing. He notices some reliefs on the doors
of St. Peter's, and great is his amazement to find that they represent
scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Leda with the swan, and the like!
What is this but pure paganism! Corinne takes him to the Colosseum, and
(in this resembling his contemporary Oehlenschläger) his one thought is
that he is standing in a gigantic place of execution, his one feeling,
moral indignation at the crimes here perpetrated against the early
Christians. He enters the Sistine Chapel and, ignorant of the history
of art, is greatly outraged that Michael Angelo has ventured to portray
God the Father in ordinary human form, as though he were a Jupiter
or a Zeus. He is equally scandalised on finding in Michael Angelo's
prophets and sibyls none of that humble Christian spirit which he had
looked for in a Christian chapel.

All this the authoress has drawn from life. Italy presupposes in her
visitors a certain amount of artistic, or æsthetic, taste. There are
three ways of looking at everything--the practical, the theoretical,
and the æsthetic. The forest is seen from the practical point of view
by the man who inquires if it conduces to the healthiness of the
district, or the owner who calculates its value as firewood; from
the theoretical, by the botanist who makes a scientific study of its
plant life; from the æsthetic or artistic, by the man who has no
thought but for its appearance, its effect as part of the landscape.
It is this last, the artistic, æsthetic view, that Oswald is unable
to take. He has no eyes; his reasoning power and his morality have
deprived his senses of their freshness. Therefore he cannot lose sight
of the substance in the form, therefore the Colosseum awakens in him
only the remembrance of all the blood so wickedly spilled there. In
Corinne's vindication of the æsthetic view we feel the influence of
Germany, more particularly of A. W. Schlegel, the first exponent of the
awakening romantic spirit in that country. For, however differently
Romanticism may develop in different countries, one thing which it
invariably maintains is, that the beautiful is its own aim and end, or
Selbstzweck, as it was called in Germany; an idea borrowed from Kant's
_Kritik der Urtheilskraft_; the vindication of beauty as the standard
and true aim of art. In France this theory was expressed by the formula
_l'art pour l'art_, and it makes its appearance for the first time in
Denmark in certain of Oehlenschläger's poems.

But it is not only the art, but the people and the life of Italy, that
must be seen with the artist's eye to be understood and appreciated.
Nothing is more common than to meet in Italy, Englishmen, Germans or
Frenchmen, who, seeing everything from their national point of view,
have nothing but blame for everything. In the eyes of the Germans
the women lack that timid modesty, that maidenliness, which is their
ideal; Englishmen are shocked by the want of cleanliness and order;
Frenchmen are dissatisfied with the social intercourse, the absence
of conversational ability, and express contempt for the Italian prose
style.

Corinne points out that the beauty of Italian women is not of a moral,
but of a plastic and picturesque kind; that to appreciate it we must
have an eye susceptible to colour and form, not dulled by too much
poring over printed books. She contrasts Italian improvisation with
French conversation, and finds it equally admirable.

A sensible people like the English cultivate and appreciate practical
business qualities; an emotional people like the Germans cultivate and
love music; a witty people like the French cultivate conversation--that
is to say, the best in them is brought out in intercourse, in converse
with others; an imaginative people like the Italians improvise--that
is to say, rise naturally from their ordinary feelings into poetry.
Corinne says: "I feel myself a poet whenever my spirit is exalted; when
I am conscious of more than usual scorn for selfishness and meanness,
and when I feel that a beautiful action would be easy to me--then it
is that my verses are best. I am a poet when I admire, when I scorn,
when I hate, not from personal motives, but on behalf of the whole
of humanity." And she does not rest content with defending the light
nightingale-song which was what the Italians at that time understood
by lyrical poetry; she also accounts for the exaggerated importance
attached to style and rhetorical pomp in Italian prose. She explains
it partly by the love of the South for form, partly by the fact that
men lived under an ecclesiastical despotism which forbade the serious
treatment of any theme; they knew that it was not possible for them to
influence the course of events by their books, and so they wrote to
show their skill in writing, to excite admiration by the elegance of
their composition--and the means became the end.

Another of the things which had shocked Oswald was Michael Angelo's
representation of the Divinity and the prophets in the Sistine
Chapel. In the mighty human form of Jehovah he does not recognise
that invisible, spiritual divinity into which the passionate national
God of the old Hebrews has been transformed by the Protestantism of
the North; and where among all these proud forms with which Michael
Angelo has covered the ceiling in his Promethean desire to create human
beings, where among those defiant, enthusiastic, despairing, struggling
figures, is to be found the humility, the meekness he expected to
see? Corinne reads her countrymen a lesson, a lesson needed in other
countries at this day, and especially in one like ours, where so much
unintelligent talk is to be heard on the subject of Christian art and
Christian æsthetics.

The passionately violent attack made by Sören Kierkegaard towards the
end of his life upon so-called Christian art does not surprise us,
coming as it did from a man destitute of all artistic culture. He first
invests the painters of the Renaissance with his Protestant, nay, his
personal, conception of religion, and is then shocked because, with
this conception in the background of their consciousness, they could
paint as they did. Oswald behaves in much the same way. He does not
realise that the painters of the Renaissance stood in a different
relation to their subjects from the painters of our day; that whereas
the artists of to-day seek to gain a real understanding of their
subject, and study it either from the antiquarian, the ethnological,
or the psychological point of view, the artist of the Renaissance took
his subject as he found it, and made of it what he fancied--that is
to say, what harmonised with his character. Herein is to be found the
explanation of what surprises and shocks the North--ener in the old
masters. For, just as a small selection of themes taken from the Iliad
and the Odyssey provided the whole of Greek art--sculpture, painting,
and drama--with its subjects (it is always the same story, of Paris
and Helen, of Atreus and Thyestes, or of Iphigenia and Orestes), so
a score of themes from the Old and New Testament (the Fall, Lot and
his Daughters, the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt, the Passion) keep
brush and chisel at work in Italy for three centuries. It is such
subjects alone which artists are commissioned to paint, and for long it
is only for the purpose of painting such subjects that study from the
nude is permitted. Men's minds develop, the subjects remain the same.
The pious, naïve faith of old days is superseded by the enthusiastic
humanism and reviving paganism of the Renaissance; but it is still
Madonnas and Magdalens that are painted, with this difference, that
the stiff Queen of Heaven of Byzantine art is transformed into an
idealised peasant girl of Albano, and the woefully emaciated and
remorseful sinner of Andrea del Verocchio into the voluptuous Magdalen
of Correggio; the apostles and martyrs too are still depicted, but the
stoned and crucified saints of olden times, painted for the purpose
of exciting compassion and devotional feeling, are transformed into
the St. Sebastians of Titian and Guido Reni, the beautiful young page
glowing with health and beauty, the dazzling white of whose flesh is
thrown into relief by one or two drops of blood which drip from an
arrow-head inserted becomingly between the ribs.

Oswald is taught by Corinne to admire the liberal spirit of Italian
Catholicism, which in the days of the Renaissance permitted each
artist to develop his talent or genius with perfect independence, even
when he only made his Christian or Jewish subject a pretext for the
representation of his own personal ideal of man or woman. This brings
us to another of Oswald's stumbling-blocks, namely, that blending of
the Christian and the pagan which so offended him in the reliefs by
Antonio Filarete on the doors of St. Peter's. The same thing is to be
observed everywhere; everywhere the pagan material has been preserved
and employed. The old basilicas and churches are built with the pillars
of antique temples. A simple cross superficially christianises the
obelisks, the Colosseum, and the interior of the Pantheon. The statues
of Menander and Posidippos were prayed to as saints all through the
Middle Ages.

Corinne shows Oswald that it is to this often childish, but always
unprejudiced position towards the pagan and the human, that Catholicism
owes the artistic glory with which it will always shine in history,
a glory which will never be dimmed by the artistic performances of
Protestantism. Protestantism tears down from above its altars the
beautiful Albano peasant women with smiling babes at their breasts,
tinder the pretext that they are Madonnas, whitewashes all the glowing
pictures, and glories in bare walls.

The Italy of the Renaissance divested Christianity of its spirit of
self-renunciation, of its Jewish-Asiatic character, and transformed it
into a mythology, fragrant of incense, wreathed with flowers. Italian
Catholicism allied itself with the civic spirit in the cities, and
with all the fine arts when art was born again. Thus its interests
were quite as often promoted from patriotic as from religious motives.
It was in Tuscany that the Renaissance began. There humanity was
born again after its fall, its renegation of Nature. There the first
Italian republics were founded. There men once more willed; houses
congregated and formed small, proud, indomitably liberal states, each
a town with its surrounding district. Towers and spires rose into the
air, erect and proud as the bearing of a free man; fortified palaces
were begun, churches were completed; but the church was far more a
state treasure-house, a witness to wealth, perseverance, and artistic
taste, a valuable item in the rivalry between state and state, between
Siena and Florence, than a dwelling-place of "Our Most Blessed Lady."
Much more was done in honour of Siena than in honour of God. A Tuscan
church, such as that of Orvieto, with its mosaics inlaid in gold, or
that of Siena, with its façade of sculptured marble resembling the lace
robe of some youthful beauty, is to us much more of a jewel-casket than
a church.

Or think of the Church of St. Mark in Venice. The first time one sees
it, one feels momentarily surprised by its oriental façade, its bright
cupolas, its peculiar arches resting on pile upon pile of short,
clustered pillars of red and green marble. After casting a glance
from the piazza at the mosaics of the outside walls, rich colours on
a golden ground, one enters, and one's first thought is: Why, this
is all gold, golden vaulting, golden walls! The minute gilt tesseræ
composing the mosaic background of all the pictures form one great
plane of gold. A sunbeam falling upon it produces sparkling flecks
upon the darker ground, and the whole church seems aflame. The floor,
undulating with age, is composed of a mosaic of red, green, white,
and black marble. The pillars, which are of reddish marble, have
capitals of gilded bronze. The small arched windows are of white,
not stained glass; coloured windows would be unsuitable with all this
magnificence; they are for less gorgeous churches. The pillars are
alternated with enormous square columns of greenish marble, at least
six yards in diameter, which support gilded half-arches; each cupola
rests upon four such half-arches. The smaller pillars which support
altars, &c., are, some of green and red speckled marble, some of
transparent alabaster. All the lower-lying marble, that, for instance,
of the seats and benches running along the sides of the church and
surrounding the columns, is of a bright red colour. The whole church,
as seems only natural in a town whose school of painting so entirely
subordinated form to colour, impresses by its picturesqueness, not
by its architectural grandeur. With its gilded ornaments, its inlaid
stalls, its lovely bronzes, its golden statues, candelabra, and
capitals, San Marco lies there like some luxurious Byzantine beauty,
heavily laden with gold and pearls and sparkling diamonds, the richest
brocade covering her oriental couch.

Such a church as this was undoubtedly originally an expression of
religious enthusiasm, but in the palmy days of the Renaissance, as the
building became ever more and more richly ornamented, religious feeling
was entirely supplanted by love of art. Very significant of this is the
one inscription in the church, which is to be found above the principal
entrance: "_Ubi diligenter inspexeris artemque ac laborem Francisci et
Valerii Zucati Venetorum fratrum agnoveris tum tandem judicato_." (When
you have diligently studied and considered all the art and all the
labour which we two Venetian brothers, Francesco and Valerio Zucati,
have expended here, then judge us.) A caution by the artists against
hasty criticism.

The brothers Zucati were the masters in their art who in the sixteenth
century executed most of the mosaics in the church, entirely, or
principally, after designs by Titian. Such an inscription, which,
instead of being an invitation to worship, a greeting to the faithful,
a benediction, or a text of Scripture, is an appeal to the beholder
to examine carefully and seriously the artistic work executed in the
service of religion, would be an impossibility in or on a Protestant
church.

When the Catholic faith disappears, as it is doing to-day in Italy,
from the Catholic Church, when Inquisition and fanaticism become a
legend, when the ugly animal in the snail-shell dies, the beautifully
whorled shell will still remain. There will still remain the
magnificent churches, statues, and paintings; there will still remain
Michael Angelo's Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Sistine Madonna, St. Peter's
at Rome, the cathedrals of Milan, Siena, and Pisa. Protestantism has
shown itself incapable of producing any great religious architecture;
and, though iconoclasm has long been a thing of the past, Rembrandt
remains the one great master in whose pictures it has shown capacity to
give artistic expression to its religious sentiments.

It has been necessary to dwell a little upon the fact that Corinne,
the art-loving poetess, always takes the part of Catholicism against
Protestant Oswald, because here again the influence upon Mme. de Staël
of her intercourse with Germans may be clearly traced. Here again we
feel, and this time more forcibly, the approach of Romanticism, with
its loathing of Protestantism, as unimaginative, uncultured, dry,
and cold, and its steadily increasing affection for Catholicism, a
faith whose æsthetic proclivities, and close and warm relations with
imagination and art, gave it an unexpected new lease of life and
power in the beginning of the nineteenth century, after the prosaic
reasonableness of the "enlightenment" period. We have here a most
distinct attack upon the France of the eighteenth century, which,
with Voltaire at its head, had persecuted and scorned Catholicism,
and which, without any love for Protestant dogma, had yet expressed a
distinct preference for Protestantism, with its independence of Papal
authority, its married clergy, and its hatred of the real or pretended
renunciations of conventual life.


[1] Corinne. 1807. I. 291; II. 21.



XII


NEW CONCEPTION OF THE ANTIQUE


There is another part of this book on Italy where the influence of
Germany makes itself profoundly felt, and where we are also sensible of
the transition from the creative mood which produced _Corinne_ to that
which produced the book on Germany. I refer to Corinne's conception of
the antique and of the position in which modern art stands towards it.
Reflections on this subject naturally suggested themselves when she was
acting as Oswald's guide in Rome.

For Rome is the one place in the world where history is, as it were,
visible. There successive ages have deposited their records in distinct
layers. One sometimes comes upon a single building (one of the houses
in the vicinity of the Temple of Vesta for example) in which the
foundation belongs to one period of history, and each of the three
superimposed stories to another--ancient Rome, imperial Rome, the
Renaissance, and our own day. It is to the most ancient period that
Corinne first introduces her friend. It must be confessed that while
she looks at the ruins, he looks at her. But the significance of this
part of the book lies in the fact that it introduces a new view of the
antique into French literature.

Of the two great classic peoples, it was really only the Romans that
were understood in France. Some Roman blood flows in Frenchmen's veins.
A true Roman spirit breathes in Corneille's tragedies. It was, thus,
not surprising that the great Revolution revived Roman customs, names,
and costumes. Charlotte Corday, of the race of the great Corneille, is
penetrated by the Roman spirit. Madame Roland moulded her mind by the
study of Tacitus; and David, the painter of the Revolution, reproduced
ancient Rome in his art--Brutus and Manlius are his heroes.

But the Greeks had never been rightly understood. The French, indeed,
still flattered themselves that their classical literature continued
the tradition of Greek literature, and actually surpassed it; but since
Lessing had written his _Hamburgische Dramaturgie_ it had been no
secret to the rest of Europe that Racine's Greeks were neither more nor
less than so many Frenchmen; it had been discovered that Agamemnon's
immortal family consisted of disguised marquises and marchionesses.
It was of no avail that the costume had been altered in the Théâtre
Français, that since Talma's day its Greeks had appeared in classic
draperies instead of with perukes, powder, and small-swords; from the
moment that the critical spirit awoke in Germany, the French conception
of the antique became the jest of Europe.

It is Mme. de Staël who has the honour of being the first to introduce
her fellow-countrymen, in her book on Germany, to the bold scoffer,
Lessing, who had dared to make the arch-mocker himself, his own teacher
and master, Voltaire, the butt of his wit, in this case sharpened by a
personal grudge. She paves the way for doing so in _Corinne_, by making
her heroine's conversation with Oswald a _résumé_ of all the results
produced in the mind of Germany by the new study of the antique, and by
the doctrines propounded in _Laokoon_ on the subject of the relation
between poetry and sculpture.

[Illustration: WINCKELMANN]

In Germany too, a thoroughly French conception of Hellenism had
prevailed, the conception apparent in Wieland's clever, frivolous
romances, _Agathon_ and _Aristippos_, and in his poems, _Endymion,
Musarion, &c_., which are severely handled by Mme. de Staël in her book
on Germany. But a new era had dawned. A poor German school-master,
Winckelmann, inspired by genuine, pure enthusiasm, succeeded, after
encountering innumerable difficulties, in making his way to Rome
to study the antique. Against his convictions, and in spite of the
opposition of his friends, he adopted the Catholic religion to
facilitate his stay there. He eventually fell a victim to his love
of art, for he was foully murdered by a scoundrel who wished to
obtain possession of his collection of valuable coins and precious
stones. It was this Winckelmann who, in a long series of writings,
beginning with the appeal to the German nobility and ending with the
great history of art, opened the eyes of his fellow-countrymen to the
harmony of Greek art. His whole work as an author is one great hymn
to the re-discovered, the recovered antique. All who are acquainted
with his writings are aware that the Apollo Belvedere, the Venus of
Medici, and the Laocoon group represented to him the supreme glory of
Greek art; nor could it be otherwise, seeing that no work of art of
the great style had as yet been discovered. The Teutonic neo-Hellenic
development took place prior to the discovery of the Venus of Milo.
Even Thorwaldsen was an old man when he first saw this statue. But
in spite of this one great deficiency and of his many historical
inaccuracies, it was from Winckelmann that the mighty influence went
forth which inspired Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe. Lessing's work is
a continuation of Winckelmann's. Endowed with an unrivalled critical
faculty, he sketched the first plan of a science of art and poetry
with Winckelmann's theory of art as a foundation. All who are familiar
with Goethe's life know how great an influence these twin spirits,
Winckelmann and Lessing, had upon his artistic development. The new,
grand, genial conception of the antique finds its first expression in
Goethe's sparkling little masterpiece, _Götter, Helden und Wieland_. I
give a few specimen speeches. Wieland's ghost stands, nightcap on head,
and is being utterly crushed in an argument with Admetus and Alcestis
when Hercules appears.

H. Where is Wieland?

A. There he stands.

H. That he? He is small enough, certainly. Just what I had pictured him
to myself. Are you the man that is always prating about Hercules?

W. (_shrinking away_). I have nothing to do with you, Colossus I

H. Eh! What? Don't go away.

W. I imagined Hercules to be a fine man of middle height.

H. Of middle height! I?

W. If you are Hercules, it was not you I meant.

H. That is my name and I am proud of it. I know very well that when a
blockhead cannot find a suitable bear or griffin or boar to hold his
scutcheon, he takes a Hercules. It is plain that my godhead has never
revealed itself to you in a vision.

W. I confess this is the first vision of the kind that I have ever
had.

H. Then take thought, and ask pardon of the gods for your notes to
Homer, who makes us too tall for you.

W. In truth you are enormous; I never imagined anything like it.

H. Is it my fault, man, that you have such a narrow-chested
imagination? What sort of a Hercules is the one you are for ever
prating about, and what is it he fights for? For virtue? What's the
motto again? Have you ever seen virtue, Wieland? I have been a good
deal about in the world too, and I never yet met such a thing.

W. What! You do not know that virtue for which my Hercules does
everything, ventures all?

H. Virtue! I heard the word for the first time down here from a couple
of silly fellows who couldn't tell me what they meant by it.

W. No more could I. But don't let us waste words upon that I wish you
had read my poems; if you had, you would see that at bottom I don't
care so very much about virtue myself--it is an ambiguous sort of thing.

H. It is a monstrosity, like every other phantasy which cannot exist
in the world as we know it. Your virtue reminds me of a centaur. So
long as it prances about in your imagination, how splendid it is, how
strong! and when the sculptor represents it for you, what a superhuman
form! But anatomise it, and you find four lungs, two hearts, and two
stomachs. It dies at the moment of birth like any other monstrosity,
or, to be more correct, it never existed anywhere but in your brain.[1]

W. But virtue must be something, must be somewhere.

By the eternal beard of my father, who doubted it? Meseems it dwelt
with us, in demigods and heroes. Do you suppose we lived like brute
beasts? We had splendid fellows among us.

W. What do you call splendid fellows?

H. Those who share what they have with others. And the richest was the
best If he had more muscular strength than he needed, he gave another
man a good thrashing; and of course no good man and true will have
anything to do with a weaker man than himself, only with his equals, or
his superiors. If he had a superfluity of sap and vigour, he provided
the women with as many children as they might wish for--I myself begot
fifty men-children in a single night. And if Heaven had given him goods
and gold enough for a thousand, he opened his doors and bade a thousand
welcome to enjoy it with him.

W. Most of this would be considered vice in our day.

H. Vice? that is another of your fine words I The very reason why
everything is so poor and small with you is, that you represent virtue
and vice as two extremes between which you oscillate, instead of
thinking the middle course the ordained and best, as do your peasants
and your men-servants and maid-servants.

W. Let me tell you that in my century you would be stoned for such
opinions. See how they have denounced me for my little attack on virtue
and religion.

H. And what had you to do attacking them? I have fought with horses,
cannibals, and dragons, to the best of my ability, but never with
clouds, what shape soever it pleased them to take. A sensible man
leaves it to the winds that have blown them together to sweep them away
again.

W. You are a monster, a blasphemer.

H. And you can't understand. Your Hercules stands like a beardless
simpleton, hesitating between virtue and vice. If the two jades had met
_me_ on the way--see! one under this arm, one under that, off I'd have
gone with them both.

Here we have Goethe's early and vigorous new conception of the antique
contrasted with Wieland's Frenchified one; and we have at the same time
the poetical confession of faith of the man whom his contemporaries
called the Great Pagan. This is the philosophy of Spinoza in the form
of a daring jest. But Goethe did not retain this bold, naturalistic
view of the antique. When his youthful ardour had exhausted itself
in _Werther_, in _Götz_, and in his enthusiastic treatise on Gothic
architecture, he abruptly turned his back upon the Gothic and upon
enthusiasm; and when he returns to the Greeks, it is their serenity
and their lucidity, their simple harmonies and their sound common
sense which captivate him. All that was passionate, full of colour,
and realistic, he put aside and ignored; what was popular, burlesque,
sensational, he only admitted in his allegorical farces, such as _Die
klassische Walpurgisnacht_ in Faust; and for what was wildly bacchantic
or darkly mystical his eyes were closed.

With an increasing aversion for Christianity, which finds its chief
expression in the Venetian Epigrams, was associated such a repugnance
for the Gothic and all Christian art, that when he was at Assisi,
a place so rich in famous Christian mementoes, Goethe did not even
visit the beautiful Church of St. Francis, but devoted his attention
exclusively to the insignificant ruins of the Temple of Minerva. It
was in this frame of mind that he wrote his Iphigenia, a work which
may be looked upon as typical of the whole Germanic-Gothic renaissance
of the antique, and which played an important part in the formation of
the art theories of the nineteenth century. It was regarded by German
æstheticism under the leadership of Hegel, and by French æstheticism
under the leadership of Taine, as a species of model work of art.
Hegel considered that only the _Antigone_ of Sophocles was worthy to
be compared with it. The spirit by which it is inspired is the same
spirit which inspired all Schiller's neo-Hellenic poems, _Die Götter
Griechenlands, Die Künstler, Die Ideale, Das Ideal und das Leben_. Men
were actually inclined at that time to accept, as representative of the
life of the Greeks, Schiller's description of the life of the gods:

    "Ewig klar und spiegelrein und eben
    Fliesst das zephyrleichte Leben
    Im Olymp den Seligen dahin."

It is this entirely one-sided conception of the antique which is
gradually evolved from that expressed in _Götter, Helden und Wieland_,
and which finally leads Goethe to write Homeric poems like _Achilleïs_.
Thorvaldsen's position to the antique is influenced by the same ideas
and presents a succession of almost parallel movements. In some of his
earliest bas-reliefs--Achilles and Briseïs, for example--we observe
that greater daring in the rendering of the antique with which Goethe
started; but all his later representations of Greek subjects have been
inspired by the ideal of peaceful, subdued harmony which superseded the
vigorous tendency.

This new, Germanic-Gothic conception of Hellas is that with which all
my (Danish) readers have been brought up, which they have imbibed from
conversation, from newspapers, from German and Danish poetry, and from
the Thorvaldsen sculptures. It is the conception which with us is not
only regarded as the Danish and German, but as the only, the absolutely
correct one.

The view which I venture to express here for the first time is,
that the Greece of Winckelmann, Goethe, and Thorvaldsen is _almost_
as un-Greek as that of Racine and that of Barthélemy in _Le Jeune
Anacharse_. Racine's style has too strong a flavour of the drawing-room
and the court to be Greek; Goethe's and Thorvaldsen's (framed on
Winckelmann's theories) is, in spite of the surpassing genius of these
two great men, too chastened, too limpid, and too cold to be Greek.

I believe that the time will come when Goethe's Iphigenia will not
be considered appreciably more Greek than Racine's, when it will be
discovered that the German Iphigenia's dignified morality is as German
as the French Iphigenia's graceful refinement is French. The only
question that remains is, whether one is more Greek when one is German
or when one is French. I am perfectly aware that I am dashing my head
against a wall of Germanic-Gothic prejudice when I declare myself
on the side of the French. I am not ignorant of the firmly-rooted
conviction that of the two European streams of culture one is Latin,
Spanish, French, the other Greek, German, Northern. I know of the
plausible arguments, that German poetry with Goethe at its head has an
antique bias, and is more or less Hellenic; that Germany has produced
Winckelmann, the re-discoverer of the antique, and the philologists who
have interpreted Greece to us; while France has only produced Racine,
who turned the Greek demigods and heroes into French courtiers, and
Voltaire, who considered Aristophanes a charlatan.

And yet, when in comparing the two Iphigenias I asked myself the
question: Which of the two, the Frenchman's or the German's, more
resembles the Greek? the answer I gave myself was--The Frenchman's.

The spirit of the French people resembles the Greek spirit in its
absolute freedom from awkwardness, its love of lightness, elegance,
form and colour, passion and dramatic life. No reasonable person would
dream of ranking the French with the Greeks. The distance between them
is so great as to be practically immeasurable. Still one must maintain
their right to the place of honour against those who assert that the
Germans stand nearer to the Greeks.

The Germans who more immediately influenced Mme. de Staël, the leaders
of the Romantic School, cherished a firm conviction of the vanity of
literary and artistic attempts to reproduce the antique. A. W. Schlegel
perpetuated Lessing's antagonism to the so-called classical poetry of
France, exalting at its expense the poetry of the Troubadours, which
did not depend for support on Greek or Latin literature; and he was
very much colder in his criticism of Goethe's neo-Hellenic poems than
of those which dealt with more home-like and more varied themes. To
such influence is to be ascribed Corinne's dictum (i. 321) that, since
we cannot make our own either the religious feelings of the Greeks
and Romans or their intellectual tendencies, it is impossible for us
to produce anything in their spirit, to invent, so to speak, anything
in their domain. We do not need the footnote referring to an essay
by Fr. Schlegel to tell us whose suggestion the authoress has here
followed. And we almost feel as if we were reading the work of one
of the Romantic critics when, in _De l'Allemagne_, we come upon the
following development of the same thought: "Even if the artists of our
day were restricted to the simplicity of the ancients, it would be
impossible for us to attain to the original vigour which distinguishes
them, and we should lose that intensity and complexity of emotion which
is only found with us. Simplicity in art is apt with us moderns to
become coldness and unreality, whereas with the ancients it was full of
life."[2]

I believe that this utterance hits the mark. And just as the German
reproduction of the antique is German, so the Danish renaissance of
the antique is Danish and not Greek; that is to say, it is too Danish
to be properly Greek, and too Greek to be genuinely Danish and really
modern. One is never more conscious of this than when one sees a work
of Thorvaldsen's side by side with an antique bas-relief; when, for
instance, one compares the Christiansborg medallions with the metopes
of the Parthenon, or, as in the Naples Museum, sees a bas-relief of
the most vigorous Greek period beside Thorvaldsen's most beautiful
bas-relief, his "Night."

Thorvaldsen's "Night" is only the stillness of night, the night in
which men sleep. Night, as a Greek would conceive of it, the night
in which men love, in which they murder, the night which hides under
its mantle voluptuousness and crime, it certainly is not. It is a
mild summer night in the country. And it is this idyllic spirit and
sweet serenity which is the specially Danish characteristic of this
production of the Northern renaissance of the antique. The peculiar
rustic beauty of the charming figure is as essentially Danish as the
severe grandeur and nobility of Goethe's Iphigenia are German.

Like Goethe's, Thorvaldsen's revival of the antique is the expression
of a reaction against the French-Italian rococo style, which, in spite
of its justifiableness, was not a successful reaction. For, even where
the rococo style is most ridiculous, there is always this to be said
for it, that it has the strongest objection to repeat the old, to do
over again what has already been done, and that, though its attempts
frequently result in ugliness and distortion, they nevertheless evince
a passionate, personal endeavour to find something new, something that
shall be its own. Hence Bernini, in spite of his sins against truth and
beauty, is really great in his best works, such as his St. Theresa in
Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, and his St. Benedict at Subiaco--so
great that we understand the enthusiasm he aroused, and feel that he
far excels many modern sculptors, who never produce anything distorted,
but also never produce anything original.

By his abrupt return to the antique, Thorvaldsen as it were ignored
the whole development of art since the days of the Greeks. It would
be impossible to divine from his work that such a sculptor as Michael
Angelo had ever lived. He was drawn to the antique by precisely the
same qualities which attracted Goethe--its serenity and quiet grandeur.

It is possible to share Mme. de Staël's and the Romanticists' view
that the neo-Hellenic style in modern art (that offspring of a
disinclination to be one's self, i.e. modern, and an attempt to be
the impossible, i.e. antique) is in itself an abortion--exactly as
the Romanticists' own medieval hieratic style was one--and at the
same time, without any self-contradiction, warmly to admire Goethe's
_Iphigenia_ and Thorvaldsen's finest works. This is, indeed, only what
the German Romanticists and Mme. de Staël herself did. But Mme. de
Staël has failed to observe, that in every case in which a work that
is the result of the study of the antique is a work of real, lasting
importance, it is so because the artist's or poet's national character
and personal peculiarities show distinctly through the more refined,
but less robust, classicism which is the result of his endeavour.

The attacks made in _Corinne_ and _De l'Allemagne_ upon spurious
classicism were an expression, in the first instance, of the reaction
against the eighteenth century; but, so far as France was concerned,
they applied also to an earlier period, were attacks upon the great
names of the seventeenth century, of the classic period of Louis XIV.,
which A. W. Schlegel, following in Lessing's steps, had so severely
criticised. Here, where Mme. de Staël was running the risk of wounding
French national pride, she shows all possible circumspection, only
repeats the remarks of others, and qualifies where she can. She justly
maintains, however, that the spirit of this criticism is not un-French,
since it is the same as that which inspires Rousseau's Letter on French
Music, the same accusation of having supplanted natural expression of
the emotions by a certain pompous affectation.

When the Germans of those days desired to give a tangible example of
the French conception of the antique, they pointed to the portraits
of Louis XIV., in which he is represented now as Jupiter, now as
Hercules, naked or with a lion's hide thrown over his shoulders, but
never without his great wig. But when Madame de Staël, following
their example, praises German Hellenism at the expense of French, she
scarcely does her countrymen justice. The art of David had already
proved that Frenchmen were capable of discarding the periwig without
foreign suggestion. Besides, she over-estimates German neo-Hellenism.
There is no doubt that the Germans, whose literature is so critical,
whose modern poetry is actually an offspring of criticism and
æstheticism, have understood the Greeks far better than the French have
done, and that this understanding has been of value in their imitation
of them. But one never resembles an original nature less than when
one imitates it. The Germans favour restriction and moderation in all
practical matters, but are opposed to the restriction of either thought
or imagination. Therefore they triumph where plastic form vanishes--in
metaphysics, in lyrical poetry, and in music; but therefore also there
are conjectures in their science, their art is formless, colour is
their weak point in painting, and the drama in poetry. In other words,
they lack exactly that plastic talent which the Greeks possessed in the
highest degree. If France is far from being a Greece in art, Germany
is still farther. Of all the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, the
Germans have only succeeded in acclimatising one--Pallas Athene, and
in Germany she wears spectacles. Mme. de Staël might have observed to
Schlegel that an Athene with spectacles is not much more beautiful than
a Jupiter with a wig.


[1] It cannot be denied that this scientific, anti-mythological simile
does not come well from Hercules. But the rest atones for it.

[2] Madame de Staël: _Oeuvres complètes_, x. 273.



XIII


DE L'ALLEMAGNE


The strongly opposed and long suppressed book on Germany is the most
mature production of Mme. de Staël's culture and intellect. It is the
first of her longer works in which she so entirely loses herself in
her subject as to have apparently forgotten her own personality. In
it she gives up describing herself, and only appears to the extent
that she gives an account of her travels in Germany and reproduces
her conversations with the most remarkable men of that country. In
place of self-defence and self-exaltation, she offers her countrymen
a comprehensive view of a whole new world. The last information
Frenchmen had received regarding the intellectual life of Germany was,
that there was a king in Berlin who dined every day in the company of
French savants and poets, who sent, his indifferent French verse to be
corrected by Voltaire, and who refused to acknowledge the existence of
a German literature. And now, not so many years later, they learned
that this same country, which their conquering armies were in the act
of treading under foot, had, in the course of a single generation,
produced, as if by magic, a great and instructive literature, which
some had the audacity to rank with the French, if not above it.
The book gave a complete, comprehensive picture of this foreign
intellectual life and literary production. It began with a description
of the appearance of the country and its towns; it noted the contrasts
between the character of Northern and of Southern Germany, between
the tone and morals of Berlin and of Vienna; it gave information on
the subject of German university education, and of the new life which
Pestalozzi had imparted to the training of children. From this it
passed on to a general survey of contemporary German poetry, made
doubly intelligible by many translations of poems and fragments of
drama; and the authoress did not even flinch from putting the climax to
her work by giving a sketch of the evolution of German philosophy from
Kant to Schelling.

The impressions of German naïveté, good-nature, and straightforwardness
which prevailed in France until 1870 were due to Mme. de Staël's
book. She made the acquaintance of the people who had caused Europe
to resound with the clash of their arms throughout the Thirty Years'
War and during the reign of Frederick the Great, at the moment of
its deepest political and military degradation, and this led her to
conclude that the national character was peaceful and idyllic. It
seemed to her that the warmth of the stoves and the fumes of ale and
tobacco gave the atmosphere in which this people moved a peculiar,
heavy, dull quality; and it was her opinion that their strength
lay exclusively in their earnest morality and their intellectual
independence.

She never wearies of praising the integrity and truthfulness of the
German men, and only very occasionally does she hint at a pretty
general lack of refinement and tact. We feel that their conversation
often wearied her, but for this she blames the social customs and the
language. It is impossible, she says, to express one's self neatly in
a language in which one's meaning as a rule only becomes intelligible
at the end of the sentence, in which, consequently, the interruptions
which give life to a conversation are almost impossible, it being also
impossible always to reserve the pith of the sentence for the end. It
is natural, she thinks, that a foreigner should sometimes be bored by
the conversation in a society where the listeners are so unexacting
and so patient; where no one consequently has that dread of boring
which prevents circumlocution and repetitions. Even the custom of
perpetually repeating insignificant and lengthy titles necessarily
makes conversation formal and cumbersome.

The German women she describes with warm sympathy, but not without a
touch of sarcasm, as follows:--

"They have an attraction peculiarly their own, touching voices, fair
hair, dazzling complexions; they are modest, but less timid than
Englishwomen; one can see that they less frequently meet men who are
their superiors. They seek to please by their sensibility, to interest
by their imagination, and are familiar with the language of poetry and
of the fine arts. They play the coquette with their enthusiasms as
Frenchwomen do with their _esprit_ and merry wit. The perfect loyalty
distinctive of the German character makes love less dangerous to
women's happiness, and possibly they approach the feeling with more
confidence because it has been invested for them with romantic colours,
and because slights and infidelity are less to be dreaded here than
elsewhere. Love is a religion in Germany, but a poetic religion, which
only too readily permits all that the heart can find excuse for.

"One may fairly laugh at the ridiculous airs of some German women, who
are so habitually enthusiastic that enthusiasm has with them become
mere affectation, their mawkish utterances effacing any piquancy
or originality of character they may possess. They are not frankly
straightforward like Frenchwomen, which by no means implies that they
are false; but they are not capable of seeing and judging things as
they really are; actual events pass like a phantasmagoria before their
eyes. Even when, as occasionally happens, they are frivolous, they
still preserve a touch of that sentimentality which in their country is
held in high esteem. A German lady said to me one day with a melancholy
expression: 'I do not know how it is, but the absent pass out of my
soul.' A Frenchwoman would have expressed the idea more gaily, but the
meaning would have been the same.

"Their careful education and their natural purity of soul render the
dominion they exercise gentle and abiding. But that intellectual
agility which animates conversation and sets ideas in motion is rare
among German women."

Mme. de Staël was necessarily much impressed by the intellectual life
of Germany. In her own country everything had stiffened into rule and
custom. There, a decrepit poetry and philosophy were at the point of
death; here, everything was in a state of fermentation, full of new
movement, life, and hope.

The first difference between the French and the German spirit which
struck her was their different attitude to society. In France the
dominion exercised by society was absolute; the French people were
by nature so social that every individual at all times felt bound to
act, to think, to write like every one else. The Revolution of 1789
was spread from district to district merely by sending couriers with
the intelligence that the nearest town or village had taken up arms.
In Germany, on the contrary, there was no society; there existed no
universally accepted rules of conduct, no desire to resemble every
one else, no tyrannical laws of language or poetry. Each author wrote
as he pleased, for his own satisfaction, paying little heed to that
reading world around which all the thoughts of the French writer
revolved. In Germany the author created his public, whereas in France
the public, the fashion of the moment, moulded the author. In Germany
it was possible for the thought of the individual to exercise that
power over men's minds which in France is exercised exclusively by
public opinion. At the time when the French philosopher was a society
man, whose great aim was to present his ideas in clear and attractive
language, a German thinker, living isolated from the culture of his
time at far-away Königsberg, revolutionised contemporary thought by a
couple of thick volumes written in a language saturated with the most
difficult technical terms. A woman who had suffered all her life from
the oppression of a narrow-minded social spirit could not but feel
enthusiasm for such conditions as these.

The next great contrast with French intellectual life that struck
Mme. de Staël was the prevailing idealism of German literature. The
philosophy which had reigned in France during the last half of the
eighteenth century was one which derived all human ideas and thoughts
from the impressions of the senses, which, consequently, asserted
the human mind to be dependent upon and conditioned by its material
surroundings. It was certainly not in Mme. de Staël's power to
estimate the nature and the bearing of this philosophy, but, like
a genuine child of the new century, she loathed it. She judged it
like a woman, with her heart rather than her head, and ascribed to
it all the materialism she objected to in French morals, and all the
servile submission to authority she objected to in French men. Taking
Condillac's sensationalism in combination with the utilitarianism of
Helvetius, she pronounced the opinion that no doctrine was more adapted
to paralyse the soul in its ardent, upward endeavour than this, which
derived all good from properly understood self-interest. With genuine
delight she saw the opposite doctrine universally accepted in Germany.
The ethics of Kant and Fichte and the poetry of Schiller proclaimed
exactly that sovereignty of the spirit in which she had believed all
her life. These great thinkers demonstrated, that inspired poet in
each of his poems proved, the spirit's independence of the world of
matter, its power to rise above it, to rule it, to remould it. They
expressed the most cherished convictions of her heart; and it was in
her enthusiasm for these doctrines, for German high-mindedness and
loftiness of aspiration, that she set to work to write her book _De
l'Allemagne_ (as Tacitus in his day had written _De Germania_), for
the purpose of placing before her fellow-countrymen a great example of
moral purity and intellectual vigour.

Mme. de Staël had always looked upon enthusiasm as a saving power. She
had said in _Corinne_ that she only recognised two really distinct
classes of men--those who are capable of enthusiasm and those who
despise enthusiasts. It seemed to her that in the Germany of that day
she had found the native land of enthusiasm, the country in which it
was a religion, where it was more highly honoured than anywhere else
on earth. Hence it is that she ends her book with a dissertation on
enthusiasm. But this belief in enthusiasm, in the power of imagination
and the purely spiritual faculties, led her to many rash and narrow
conclusions. In her delight in the philosophic idealism of Germany, she
treats experimental natural science with the most naïve superiority--is
of opinion that it leads to nothing but a mechanical accumulation
of facts. Naturphilosophie, on the other hand, which has made the
discovery that the human mind can derive all knowledge from itself by
the conclusions of reason--which, in other words, regards all things as
formed after the pattern of the human mind--seems to her the wisdom of
Solomon. "It is a beautiful conception," she says, "that which finds a
resemblance between the laws of the human mind and the laws of nature,
and which looks upon the material world as an image of the spiritual."
In her pleasure in the beauty of this idea she fails to perceive how
untruthful it is, to foresee how barren of all result it is soon to
prove. She extols Franz Baader and Steffens at the expense of the great
English scientists, and, following the example of her Romantic friends,
has a good word to say for clairvoyance and astrology--for every
phenomenon, in short, which seems to prove the prevailing power of the
spirit.

Many years before this a French pamphlet written against Mme. de Staël
had been entitled _L'Antiromantique_. Her Romantic tendency had in the
interval become more and more marked. Spiritualism, as such, seemed to
her the good, the beautiful, the true, both in art and in philosophy.
This explains both her over-indulgence towards the abortions of the
Romantic school, especially the dramas of her friend Zacharias Werner,
and her misunderstanding of Goethe, whose greatness rather alarms than
delights her, and whom she now excuses, now quotes with the remark
that she cannot defend the spirit of his works. She prefaces her prose
translation of _Die Braut von Corinth_ with the words: "I can certainly
neither defend the aim of the poem nor the poem itself, but it seems
to me that no one can fail to be impressed by its fantastic power;"
and she concludes her otherwise excellent criticism of the first part
of Faust with these words: "This drama of 'Faust' is certainly not a
model work. Whether we look upon it as the outcome of a poetic frenzy
or of the life-weariness of the worshipper of reason, _our hope is
that such productions will not repeat themselves_;" adding only by
way of compensation a remark on Goethe's genius and the wealth of
thought displayed in the work. Thus irresistibly was even such a mind
as hers affected by the spirit of the day in her native country,
with its tendency to religious reaction. In the intellectual life of
Germany she had perception and sympathy for Romanticism alone; German
pantheism she neither sympathised with nor understood; it alarmed
her; the daring spirit which had sounded so many abysses, recoiled
tremblingly from the verge of this one.

And yet here lay the key to the whole new intellectual development in
Germany. Behind Lessing's brilliant attack upon ecclesiastical dogma
there had lain, unperceived by his contemporaries, the philosophy of
Spinoza. Immediately after the great critic's death the literary world
received a double surprise. The controversy between Mendelssohn and
Jacobi elicited the appalling fact that Lessing had lived and died a
Spinozist, and also showed that even Jacobi himself was of the opinion
that all philosophy logically carried out must inevitably lead to
Spinozism and pantheism. He endeavoured to extricate himself from the
difficulty by pointing out that there is another way of arriving at
knowledge of the truth than by conclusive argument, namely, the way of
direct intuitive perception. But from this time onwards pantheism was
in the air, and from the moment that Goethe, enraptured by his first
reading of Spinoza, declares himself a Spinozist (a faith from which
he never wavered to the end of his long life), it reigns in German
literature; and this spirit of the new age, with its rich dower of
poetry and philosophic thought, weds that antique beauty which has been
brought to life again; as Faust, in the most famous poetical work of
the period, weds Helen of Troy, who symbolises ancient Greece.

The great pagan renaissance which had been inaugurated in Italy by
such men as Leonardo and Giordano Bruno, and in England by such men
as Shakespeare and Bacon, now finds its way to Germany, and the new
intellectual tendency is strengthened by the enthusiasm for pagan-Greek
antiquity awakened by Winckelmann and Lessing. Schiller writes _Die
Götter Griechenlands_, Goethe, _Die Diana der Epheser_ and _Die Braut
von Corinth_. After the glory of Greece had departed, a mariner,
voyaging along her coast by night, heard from the woods the cry: "Great
Pan is dead!" But Pan was not dead; he had only fallen asleep. He awoke
again in Italy at the time of the Renaissance; he was acknowledged and
worshipped as a living god in the Germany of Schelling, Goethe, and
Hegel.

The new German spirit was even more pantheistic than the antique
spirit. When the ancient Greek stood by some beautiful waterfall, like
that of Tibur near Rome, he endowed what he saw with personality. His
eye traced the contours of beautiful naked women, the nymphs of the
place, in the falling waters of the cascade; the wreathing spray was
their waving hair; he heard their merry splashing and laughter in the
rush of the stream and the dashing of the foam against the rocks. In
other words, impersonal nature became personal to the antique mind. The
poet of old did not understand nature; his own personality stood in the
way; he saw it reflected everywhere, saw _persons_ wherever he looked.

Precisely the opposite is the case with a great modern poet like Goethe
or Tieck, whose whole emotional life is pantheistic. He, as it were,
strips himself of his personality in order to understand nature. When
he in his turn stands by the waterfall, he bursts the narrow bonds
of _self_. He feels himself glide and fall and spin round with the
whirling waters. His whole being streams out of the narrow confines of
the Ego and flows away with the stream he is gazing on. His elastic
consciousness widens, he absorbs unconscious nature into his being;
he forgets himself in what he sees, as those who listen to a symphony
are lost in what they hear. It is the same with everything. As his
being flows with the waves, so it flies and moans with the winds, sails
with the moon through the heavens, feels itself one with the formless
universal life.

This was the pantheism which Goethe indicated in the biting epigram:--

    "Was soll mir euer Hohn
    Ueber das All und Eine?
    Der Professor ist eine Person,
    Gott ist keine."

This was the pantheism to which he gave expression in _Faust_, and
which lies so deeply rooted in the German nature that even the Romantic
school, with its antagonism to the revival of the antique and its
secret leaning to Catholicism, is as pantheistic as Hölderlin and
Goethe. The worship of the universe is the unchecked undercurrent which
forces its way through all the embankments and between all the stones
with which an attempt is made to stay it.

Mme. de Staël did not perceive this. Her German acquaintances drew her
with them into the movement that was going on upon the surface, and
she saw and felt nothing else. This surface movement was the Romantic
reaction.

The violent attempt to be that which was really unnatural in the
modern German, namely antique and classical, produced a violent
counter-movement. Goethe's and Schiller's ever more determined and
strict adherence to the antique ideal in art led them at last, in their
attachment to severity and regularity of style, to take a step in the
direction of that school against which they had been the first to
rebel, namely French classical tragedy. Goethe translated Voltaire's
_Mahomet_, and Schiller, Racine's _Phèdre_; and thus, through the
action of these two greatest of German poets, the French and the German
conception of the classical entered into league with one another. But
this alliance, as was inevitable, gave the signal for revolt. The
antique was so severe; men longed for colour and variety. It was so
plastic; they longed for something fervent and musical. The antique was
so Greek, so cold, so foreign; who had the patience to read Goethe's
_Achilleïs_, or Schiller's _Die Braut von Messina_, with its solemn
antique chorus? Had they not a past of their own? They longed for
something national, something German. The antique was so aristocratic;
enthusiasm for the classical had actually led to the revival of the old
court poetry of the period of Louis XIV. But surely art should be for
all classes, should unite high and low? Men wanted something simple,
something popular.

These classical efforts were, in the last place, so very dull.
Lessing's genial rational religion had, under the treatment of Nicolai
the bookseller, turned into the same sort of insipid rationalism
which was in favour in Denmark at the close of the century. Goethe's
pantheism could not warm the hearts of the masses. Schiller's _Die
Sendung Moses_ could not but be an offence to every believer. And
after all, the word "poetic" did not necessarily mean "dull." Men
wanted to be roused, to be intoxicated, to be inspired; they wanted
once again to believe like children, to feel the enthusiasm of the
knight, the rapture of the monk, the frenzy of the poet, to dream
melodious dreams, to bathe in moonlight and hold mystic communion with
the spirits of the Milky Way; they wanted to hear the grass grow and
to understand what the birds sang, to penetrate into the depths of the
moonlit night, and into the loneliness of the forest.

It was something simple that was wanted. Weary of ancient culture, men
took refuge in the strange, rich, long-neglected world of the Middle
Ages. A thirst for the fantastic and marvellous took possession of
their souls, and fairy-tale and myth became the fashion. All the old,
popular fairy-tales and legends were collected, and were re-written
and imitated, often as excellently as by Tieck in his Fair Eckbert
and Story of the Beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence,
but also often with a childish magnification of the poetical value
of superstitions which in reality possess only scientific value as
distorted remains of ancient myths. Novalis, in a spirited poem,
prophesied that the time would come when man would no longer look to
science to solve the riddles of life, but would find the explanation
of all in fairy tale and poetry; and when that time came, when the
mystic word was spoken, all perversity and foolishness and wrong would
vanish. All foolishness and wrong, all that the French Revolution in
its foolhardiness had sought to put an end to by wild destruction and
bloody wars, was to vanish as in a dream or a fairy-tale, at the sound
of a spoken word, when men had become children again! They were to be
regenerated by turning from ideas that were redolent of powder and
blood to ideas redolent of the nursery.

It was something popular that was wanted. The seed was sown of the
same popular movement which was started in Denmark by Grundtvig, after
he, like so many others, had been powerfully impressed by the youthful
ardour with which the doctrines of the new Romantic School were
proclaimed by Steffens and received by the rising generation, in those
days when there was still youth in Denmark. Men rightly regretted the
great gulf which had been fixed between the educated and the uneducated
by the extremely rapid advance of the vanguard and the exclusion of the
poorer classes from culture, and rightly appealed to the man of science
and the artist to clothe their thoughts and feelings in the simplest
and most easily comprehensible form. But the movement went astray, by
making the insane attempt to recall the advanced guard for the sake of
the laggards; they would hardly have minded sabring the foremost for
the sake of keeping the army together.

With the renunciation of the mainspring of action--belief in
progress--the fatalistic tragedy, with its follies and superstitions,
came into vogue. In Werner's tragedy, _The Twenty-Fourth of February_,
whatever happens on that particular day reminds the heroine of a
terrible crime and curse. This is carried so far that when a hen is
killed that day, she cries: "It seemed to scream a curse at me; it
reminded me of my father with the death-rattle in his throat." Yet this
play is praised by that usually discerning critic, the authoress of _De
l'Allemagne_! The affectedly childlike tone of the satirical dramas
gave them the character of puppet plays; naïveté became more and more
the fashion; in their terror of the salons of the eighteenth century
men took refuge in the nursery.

The leaders of the school were Protestants by birth, but their bias
towards the pious simplicity of the Middle Ages of necessity brought
about a movement in the direction of Catholicism.

In that essay on the difference between neo-classical and popular art
by which Mme. de Staël showed herself influenced both in _Corinne_
and _De l'Allemagne_, Friedrich Schlegel, after demonstrating that it
is impossible for genius to preserve its freshness, its impetuosity,
when it chooses subjects the treatment of which demands erudition and
exercise of the memory, observes: "It is not so with the subjects which
belong to our own religion. From them artists receive inspiration; they
feel what they paint; they paint what they have seen; life itself is
their model when they represent life. But when they attempt to return
to the antique, they must seek what they are to reproduce, not in the
life they see around them, but in books and pictures."

The false implication lies in the words "our own religion." Which was
"our own religion"? Protestantism had developed into an idealistic
philosophy that had long made common cause with the Revolution. In
the year 1795, two young men, whose names were to attain world-wide
celebrity, had gone out to a lonely field and, in their naïve
enthusiasm for the Revolution, planted a Tree of Liberty. These two
were Schelling and Hegel.

There was, then, a return to Catholicism. But the spirit of Italian
Catholicism was still too classic, too antique. A huge, light church
like St. Peter's at Rome was not sufficiently mysterious; it was, as
Lamartine observed, fitted, when all dogmatic religion should have
disappeared from Europe, to become the temple of humanity. In Italy it
was with the pre-Raphaelite painters alone that the Romanticists felt
themselves akin; in Spain they found a kindred spirit in Calderon,
whose mysticism they soon set high above their earlier favourite,
Shakespeare's, realism and liberal-mindedness. Even Heiberg ranks
Calderon above Shakespeare. There is a regular cult of the Gothic
in art. Men turn with renewed admiration to the great monuments of
their native land, to that style begotten of the deep feeling and the
superstitious terrors of northern barbarians--Frenchmen, however.
Albert Dürer, genuinely German, popular, simple-minded, but above all
(with his stags bearing crosses between their antlers, and all the
rest of his symbolical fancies) mystic, was canonised by the German
Romanticists; even with us, Oehlenschläger and his sister persisted in
seeing more in Dürer than other people could see. The infection was
so universal that even the poet of the Gulnares, Alis, and Gulhyndis
imagined himself a devotee of mysticism. Men's hearts were certainly
not agitated by the religious agonies and hopes of the old pious
times; but the strangeness of the Gothic style, and the extravagance
which betrays itself in its artistic symbolism, harmonised with the
unnaturalness and restlessness of their morbid modern imaginations. It
may be related, as not without significance, that when Oehlenschläger
first came into the presence of the leaders of the Romantic School,
in whom he had naïvely expected to find a set of eager, emaciated
ascetics, he was somewhat taken aback by the sight of Friedrich
Schlegel's "satirical fat face shining cheerfully at him."

It was, however, in the course of the ardent struggle against the
neo-classical tendency that Friedrich Schlegel rendered his one
true, and also really great, service to science: he introduced the
study of Sanscrit, and thereby opened up to Europeans an entirely
new intellectual domain. He laid the foundation, first of one new
linguistic science, the Indo-Oriental, which henceforth developed
alongside of the Greco-Roman, and then of a second, namely, comparative
philology.

For the moment it was Hindu indolence, the contemplative life, the
plant life, that was the ideal. It is this ideal which is extolled
in Schlegel's _Lucinde_ and which somewhat later is appropriated by
the French Romanticists, re-appearing with variations in Théophile
Gautier's _Fortunio_. We trace it in Oehlenschläger's inspired idler,
Aladdin, and it is the ideal always present to the mind of the æsthete
in _Enten-Eller_, who, like Kierkegaard himself, was brought up on the
German Romanticists. Note his words: "I divide my time thus: half the
time I sleep, the other half I dream. When I sleep I never dream, for
to sleep is the highest achievement of genius."

Goethe, as an old man, sought refuge in the East from the turmoil of
the day, and wrote his _West-östlicher Divan_. The Romanticists did
but follow in his track. Presently, however, their doctrines were
placed on a philosophical basis by Schelling, who had been alarmed and
converted by the religious and political aberrations of the French.
As Goethe had sought refuge in far-off Asia, Schelling sought refuge
from discordant surroundings in the far-off past, and discovered there
the sources of life and truth. In contradiction to the belief of the
"enlightenment" period that humanity had laboriously raised itself from
barbarism to culture, from instinct to reason, he maintained that it
had fallen--fallen, that is to say, from a higher state in which its
education had been superintended by higher beings, spiritual powers.
There was a fall; and in the degenerate times following upon that
fall, there appeared but few of those teachers, those higher beings,
prophets, geniuses of the Schelling type, who strove to lead men back
to the old, perfect life. We of to-day know that science has justified
the pre-Revolutionists and proved Schelling wrong; we, who live in the
age of Charles Darwin, no longer accept the possibility of an original
state of perfection and a fall. There is no doubt that the teaching of
Darwin means the downfall of orthodox ethics, exactly as the teaching
of Copernicus meant the downfall of orthodox dogma. The system of
Copernicus deprived the heaven of the Church of its "local habitation";
the Darwinian system will despoil the Church of its Paradisaic Eden.

But in those days this was not recognised, and Schelling directed men
back to that primeval world whose myths of gods and demigods were to
him historical facts; he ended by extolling mythology as the greatest
of all works of art, one which was capable of infinite interpretation;
and infinite in this context means arbitrary. We have here the
germ of Grundtvig's myth-interpretation--with its unscientific and
untrustworthy presentment of Scandinavian mythology.

But the loss of all interest in the life of the day is still more
markedly shown in Schelling's absorption in nature. As the mystics held
that it was the working of the imagination of God which created the
world, so Schelling held that it was the corresponding power in man
which alone gave ideal reality to the productions of his intellect.

It is, then, this essentially artistic force, the so-called
"intellectual intuition" (which may be defined as the entire
imagination working according to the laws of reason), of which
Schelling, clearly influenced by the æsthetic criticism of the day,
maintains that it alone opens the door to philosophy, to the perception
of the identity of thought and reality. Nay, this "intellectual
intuition" was not only the means, it was the end. This confusing of
the tool with the work marks the beginning of a general, complete
confusion in Romantic poetry and philosophy. Philosophy begins to
encroach on the domain of art; instead of research we have fancy and
conjecture; poetry and the fine arts, on the other hand, invade the
domain of philosophy and religion; poems become rhymed discussions
and their heroes booted and spurred ideas; works of art seek vainly
to disguise their lack of corporeal form by a cloak of Catholic piety
and love. Men imagined that the new Naturphilosophie was to make all
experimental study of nature superfluous henceforth and for ever; but
we, who have seen the absolute impotence of the _Naturphilosophie_,
and who live in an age in which experimental science has changed the
aspect of the earth and enriched human life by unparalleled discoveries
and inventions--we know that in this case also reactionary endeavours
led to defeat, and that life itself undertook the refutation of the
fallacy. The interest of the above doctrine to us Danes lies especially
in its energetic vindication of the divine imagination as the source of
creation, and of the human imagination as the source of all artistic
production; for here we have the idea that gave birth to Aladdin, and
feel the heart-beat which in 1803 drove the blood straight to that
extremity of the great Germanic-Gothic body which is known by the name
of Copenhagen.

It is easy to understand how inevitable it was that these new theories
should make a strong impression on Oehlenschläger. The Romanticists
exalted imagination above everything in the world--it was the
peculiarly divine gift. Whom could this impress more than the man
through whom inventive power had in Danish literature supplanted the
clever manipulation of language which had distinguished Baggesen and
the eighteenth century? The Romanticists looked upon the world of
myth as the highest, as the real world; there he was, with a whole new
mythology, the Scandinavian, ready to his hand, waiting to be used. Fr.
Schlegel and Novalis had cried in chorus: "We must find a mythology
which can be to us what the mythology of the Greeks and Romans was to
them!" But they sought in vain, or found only the old Catholic legends.
Oehlenschläger alone had no need to seek; "the orange fell into his
turban." The Romanticists believed in a greater past from which the
race had fallen; and he dwelt among a people whose past far outshone
its present, a people that desired to forget the darkness of to-day
and to see itself glorified in the glorification of the dreams of its
childhood and the achievements of its youth. Thus it was that it only
needed a word from Steffens to break (to the surprise of Steffens and
every one else) the spell by which his tongue was tied.

It was one of the unmistakable deserts of the Romantic School that
it endeavoured to widen the narrow circle of subjects provided
by classical literature, and to teach men to appreciate what was
admirable and characteristic in modern foreign nations as well as
in their own country. This made the school a patriotic school, and
patriotic in every country. It is to be observed that there already
existed in Germany that inclination to make excursions into foreign
regions which characterised French Romanticism in the days of Victor
Hugo. We notice it first in Herder, with his admirable appreciation
of the characteristically national intellectual productions of
different countries. Then came A. W. Schlegel, with his criticism
and translations. Schlegels famous lectures on dramatic literature,
published just before the entry of the Powers into Paris, expound the
Greek, English, and Spanish drama sympathetically, but contain the
most violent, bitter attacks upon French taste and the French drama.
Not content with attacking the tragedians, he treats even Molière with
foolish contempt. It is instructive to compare this book with Mme. de
Staël's _De l'Allemagne_. Schlegel's misunderstanding and dislike of
France are as great as Mme. de Staël's understanding and appreciation
of Germany. He makes amends by expounding both Shakespeare and his own
discovery, Calderon, with profound and subtle sympathy. His criticism
of these two poets has, however, along with one great merit, one great
defect.

The merit is, that every characteristic, however small, has justice
done to it. Schlegel's own masterly translations of many of
Shakespeare's and some of Calderon's plays show what progress has been
made in the comprehension of foreign poetry since Schiller, in his
translation of _Macbeth_, cut up the play to suit the classical fancies
of the day, and in so doing cut away all its boldness and realism.

The defect, which is the defect of the whole school (and in Denmark
does not pass away with the school, but is to be observed in the
following period too), lies in the conception of poetry, which, marked
by German one-sidedness, is so sweepingly transcendental that it quite
shuts out the historical interpretation. One model, unquestioned,
absolute, follows the other. The French had found their models in
the Greeks and Aristotle; now it is, say, Shakespeare who is alone
absolutely worthy of imitation in poetry, Mozart (as Kierkegaard
maintains in _Enten-Eller_) who is the perfect model in music. The
sober, trustworthy, historical view of the matter, which recognises no
perfect models, is entirely disregarded. The great work is the model
for a whole new style, is in itself a code of laws. To our Heiberg, for
instance, _St. Hansaften-Spil_ is "the perfect realisation of the drama
proper in lyrical form." Instead of studying poetry in connection with
history, with the whole of life, men evolve systems in which schools
of poetry and poetic works grow out of each other like branches on a
tree. They believe, for instance, that English tragedy is descended
in a direct line from Greek tragedy, not perceiving that the tragedy
of one nation is not the offspring of that of other nations, but the
production of the environment, the civilisation, the intellectual life
in the midst of which it comes into being.

But, in the meantime, barriers were broken down, the world lay open to
the poet's gaze, and he was free to choose his subject wherever his
fancy led him. We have in our own literature a spirited confession of
this new faith in Oehlenschläger's beautiful poem, _Digterens Hjem_
(_The Home of the Poet_)--

    "Det strækker sig fra Spitzbergs hvide Klipper,
    For Syndflods ældste Lig en heilig Grav,
    Til hvor den sidste Tange slipper
    I Söndrepolens öde Hav."[1]

This was the emancipating watchword sounded by the Romantic critic.

The brief résumé here given of the aims of the school which was
flourishing in Germany at the time _De l'Allemagne_ was written, has
already indicated to the reader the points upon which Mme. de Staël
was in sympathy with this school, and how far it may be said to have
influenced the direction of her later literary career. The strenuous
opposition of the Romanticists to the philosophy of the eighteenth
century had her full sympathy; Schelling himself had called his whole
system a reaction against the enlightening, clarifying processes of
the age of reason. Their profound respect for poetic inspiration
and their broad-mindedness harmonised with her own tendencies and
prejudices. The Romantic doctrine of the all-importance of imagination
won her approbation, but the Romanticists' conception of the nature
of imagination was incomprehensible to her. They started from the
hypothesis that at the foundation of everything lay a perpetually
producing imagination, a species of juggling imagination, which with
divine irony perpetually destroyed its own creations as the sea engulfs
its own billows; and they held that the poet, that creator on a small
scale, should take up the same ironical position towards the creatures
of his imagining, towards his whole work, and deliberately destroy the
illusion of it. Mme. de Staël had too practical a mind to be able to
accept this far-fetched theory, on the subject of which she had many
hot arguments with her Romantic friends. But on another very important
point she was in harmony with them:

Like all the authors involved in the first reaction against the
eighteenth century, she became as time went on more and more positively
religious. The philosophical ideas of the revolutionary times were
gradually effaced in her mind, and their place was supplied by ever
more serious attempts to imbue herself with the new pious ideas of the
day. She, who in her youth had eagerly controverted Chateaubriand's
theory of the superiority of Christian subjects in art, now becomes a
convert to his æsthetic views. She accepts unreservedly the Romanticist
doctrine that modern poetry and art must build upon Christianity, as
the antique had built upon the Greco-Roman mythology; and, living,
listening, talking herself into ever greater certainty that the
eighteenth century was completely astray, and constantly meeting men
who have returned to the pious belief of the past, she finally herself
comes to believe that idealism in philosophy, which to her, as a woman,
is the good principle, and inspiration in poetry, which to her, as an
authoress, is the saving, emancipating principle, must necessarily
restore its authority to revealed religion, seeing that sensationalism,
the principles of which in both philosophy and art are antipathetic
to her, has opposed religion as an enemy. Thus it is that in her book
on Germany she actually comes to range herself on the side of that
passionate, prejudiced, and often painfully narrow reaction against the
eighteenth-century spirit of intellectual liberty, which had broken out
on the other side of the Rhine, and was to reach its climax in France
itself.


[1] It stretches from the white cliffs of Spitzbergen, the grave
of that which walked the earth before the flood, to where the last
sea-wrack vanishes in the dreary waters round the Southern Pole.



XIV


BARANTE


Mme. de Staël's book on Germany was a glance into the future, a glimpse
of what was going on beyond the frontiers of France; it was in many
ways a prophecy of the nature of the literature of the nineteenth
century. But the group of writers to which she belonged would have left
its task unfulfilled, if it had not supplemented its prognostications
by a backward glance over the intellectual life of the eighteenth
century.

This retrospect was supplied by Barante (1809) in his remarkable book,
_Tableau de la Littérature Française au Dix-huitième Siècle_.

Prosper de Barante, born in 1782 of an old and distinguished bureaucrat
family of Auvergne, is the one member of our group who cannot be
described as an _émigré_; for he took office under the Empire as
Prefect in La Vendée. His book, however, partakes of the general
character of the Emigrant Literature; nor is this surprising, for he
lived far from Paris, was on intimate terms with the exiles, especially
with Mme. de Staël, and in disfavour with the Government on account
of his frequent visits to Coppet. He also shared Mme. de Staël's
partiality for foreign, more particularly German, literature, which was
another offence in the days of the Empire. He translated all Schiller's
plays. After the restoration of the monarchy, he acquired political
influence as a member of the moderate Liberal party.

The work on France in the eighteenth century with which, at the age of
twenty-seven, Barante made his début in literature, reveals a maturity
and moderation surprising in so young an author, but which may be
explained, partly by a certain lack of warmth in his nature, partly by
his official position. In all the books which we have just glanced
at, there lay an implicit judgment of the eighteenth century; in this
we have the first connected survey and estimate of it. The survey is
a brief but excellent one; the general conception of the period is
philosophically based; the presentment is clear and passionless; but
the estimate is very faulty, on every side conditioned and hampered
by those limits beyond which the authors of the Emigrant Literature
were incapable of seeing. This settlement with the past century, in
which the new generation renounces all connection with the old, is
not a final settlement, and is far from being as unprejudiced as it
is passionless. Barante has the honest desire to judge impartially,
and emphasises the fact that he is the better qualified to do so since
he does not belong to the generation which took immediate part in the
Revolution as destroyers or defenders of the old social order; but his
intellect is not as unbiassed as his will; his whole development is,
though he does not know it, conditioned by the reaction against that
century the character of which he, as observer and thinker, undertakes
to explain.

Barante's standpoint is a suggestive, and was in those days an uncommon
one. He hears it constantly asserted that the authors of the eighteenth
century were responsible for the revolution which at the close of that
century shook France to its very foundations, and this assertion he
considers a baseless one. It contains an injustice to those authors,
from the fact that it attributes too much significance to them. If
the building had not been ready to fall, that literary puff of wind
would not have sufficed to blow it over. Contemporaneously with Nodier
and Mme. de Staël, he formulates and interprets the proposition:
Literature is the expression of the state of society, not its cause.
In his opinion, the Seven Years' War had a great deal more to do with
the weakening of authority in France than had the Encyclopedia, and
the profanity which prevailed at the court of old Louis XIV., at the
time when he was cruelly persecuting both the Protestants and the
Jansenists, did more to undermine reverence for religion than the
attacks and jeers of the philosophers. He is very far from ascribing
any particular merit to the literature of the preceding century, but
he regards it as merely "a symptom of the general disease." With
historical penetration he searches for the omens of the collapse of
monarchy, and finds them much further back, in the results of the
conflict between Mazarin and the Fronde. Held down by the iron hand of
Richelieu, princes, nobles, and officials, all the great in turn, had
made a bid for popular support, and by so doing had lost in dignity and
consideration. The power of royalty alone remained totally unaffected.
The waves of opposition rolled to the steps of the throne, but stopped
there; during the first half of Louis XIV.'s reign the throne stood in
more solitary elevation than ever over the general level. Richelieu's
work was accomplished; every power in the land, except that of the
throne, was destroyed. If this one remaining authority were undermined,
then all the powers of society would stand bereft of the veneration
which had constituted their strength; and this was very sufficiently
done during Louis XIV.'s miserable old age, the insolent rule of the
Regency, and the wanton, foolish rule of Louis XV.

The philosophy of the eighteenth century, then, according to Barante,
was not the conscious work of any individual or individuals, but
represented the general bent of the mind of the people; it was
written, so to speak, at their dictation. This did not add to its
value; to his thinking, all that this philosophy accomplished was
to overturn an immoral and inequitable government in an immoral and
inequitable manner. But what thus happened, happened of necessity.
The soul of Barante's book is the firmest faith in historical laws.
"The human mind," he says, "seems as irrevocably appointed to run a
prescribed course as are the stars." He knows that there is at all
times a necessary connection between literature and the condition of
society; but whereas this connection is at times indistinct, requiring
penetration to detect it, and careful demonstration to prove it
plainly, in the period under consideration it seems to him so plain
that no nice observation is required to discover it.

The first reason for this he finds in the relation of the writers to
their readers. In earlier times the number of the former had been very
small; thinly scattered over the whole of Europe, they had written in a
dead language. In those days there was no social life, and conversation
had not become a power. Authors did not write for society but for each
other, and society in return looked upon them as uninteresting pedants.
In time culture and enlightenment spread among the higher classes,
and writers entered into relation with them; they wrote for princes
and courtiers, for the little class which did not need to work. In
the days of Louis XIV. authors tried to please this class, and were
flattered by its approbation. But by degrees civilisation spread until
a real reading public came into existence, a public which made the
author independent of the great. Frederick the Second of Prussia, who,
to shed lustre upon his reign, called Voltaire to his court, did not
treat him with the condescension shown by Louis XIV. to Molière, but
seemed to place him by his side as an equal. The greatest political and
the greatest intellectual powers of the age stood for a moment upon an
equal footing, without any one discerning that the time was approaching
when these two powers were to declare war upon each other. And in the
last half of the century there was unintermitted reciprocity between
men of letters and society in general.

In the olden times a philosopher had been a severe, systematic
thinker, who, careless of approbation, developed a connected system.
The word had changed its meaning now; the philosopher was no longer a
solitary thinker, but a man of the world, who conversed more than he
wrote or taught, who invariably sought to please society and win its
approbation, and who did this by making himself its organ. Barante
sees an evidence of the powerful influence exercised by the spirit of
the times upon individual writers in the circumstance that authors,
such, for instance, as the Abbé de Mably, who had the strongest
antipathy to the philosophers of the fashionable school, nevertheless
resembled the very men they opposed, and arrived at the same results by
different means. And he finds in the unpatriotic classical education
of the upper classes the explanation of the fact that the public
forestalled the men of letters in neglecting and slighting their own
historical traditions and national memories for the sake of laboriously
appropriated exotic ideals. At school the child learned to spell the
names of Epaminondas and Leonidas long before he heard of Bayard or Du
Guesclin; he was encouraged to take a deep interest in the Trojan wars,
but no one dreamt of interesting him in the Crusades. Roman law, the
principles of which are the outcome of autocratic rule, had gradually
superseded those Germanic laws, which were the outcome of the life of
a free people. What wonder then, that when authors turned to antiquity
for their subject-matter, and grew enthusiastic on the subject of
Greece and Rome, they found a ready audience in French society! What
wonder that in literature also, national tradition was slighted and
broken!

Having thus in advance laid the blame on society of all the mistakes
made by literature in the eighteenth century (and its achievements
appear to him to be one and all mistakes), Barante has provided himself
with the basis for a calm appraisement of the individual eminent
writers. In his appreciations we have the views scattered throughout
the Emigrant Literature concentrated and, as it were, brought to a
focus.

Voltaire, whose reputation had, since his death, been made the subject
of as much hot dispute as the body of Patroclus, he criticises coldly,
but without animosity. He admires his natural gifts, the easily
stirred, impetuous feeling that produced his pathos, the irresistible
fascination of his eloquence and his wit, and the charm that lies in
his genial facility in shaping and expressing thoughts. But he sees
the use Voltaire made of his talents, sees how he allowed himself
to be led by the opinions of the time, by the desire to succeed, to
please. He laments the tendency to shameless, irreverent mockery, which
characterised Voltaire even as an old man. And this is all. For what
was just, for what was great in Voltaire's life-warfare he has no eyes,
no word. He professes to criticise Voltaire impartially, and yet he,
as it were, juggles away the indignation that was in his soul, that
which was the very breath of life in him; he calls the persecutions of
Voltaire stupid, but never once wicked; he excuses, not the blots on
Voltaire's greatness, but, as it were, the greatness itself--and it is
evident that he really desires to be impartial, since he excuses.

Of all the great authors of the past century, Montesquieu is the only
one for whom Barante expresses any really warm admiration. This is
natural enough, for in him he recognised some of his own qualities.
Montesquieu was not the ordinary author who could let his pen run away
with him; he was, like Barante himself, an official, a high official, a
famous lawyer, who was obliged to consider the dignity of his position
and the effect of his example. "President Montesquieu," says Barante,
"was not in that position of independence which men of letters prize so
highly, and which is possibly injurious both to their talents and their
characters." One is sensible of the cautious attempt at selfvindication
made in this ingenious paradox by the imperial official who was at
enmity with the Emperor. But whatever the cause, Barante made no
mistake in rating Montesquieu very highly. Other authors of his period
had more genius, but Montesquieu's accurate knowledge of practical
life, of administration and government, gave him an insight which the
others lacked, and a moderation on which high value was set at the
beginning of this century. In Montesquieu Barante approves of things
which he censures bitterly in others. He invites the reader to compare
Montesquieu's work, _De l'Esprit des Lois_, with an older work by
Domat on the same subject, in order to see the progress in philosophy
made by Montesquieu, who, treating religion with all due reverence,
nevertheless regards it as a subordinate matter.[1]

Diderot is the author against whom Barante is most biassed; in judging
him he shows himself extremely narrow-minded; he allows Diderot's
precipitancy and violence to blind him to his genius. A genius whose
recklessness ever and again reminds one of the recklessness of an
elemental force, was as little comprehensible to Barante as to the rest
of the alarmed, disillusioned generation to which he belongs. Diderot
was better calculated to please the Germans, who were unprejudiced in
intellectual matters, than his own over-sensitive countrymen of this
period. Goethe himself translated _Le Neveu de Rameau_, and Hegel
treated of it exhaustively in his _Phänomenologie des Geistes_. But
Barante, passionately condemning Diderot's incessant and unbridled
attacks upon religion, sums him up in these words: "His inner man was
ardent and disorderly, his mind was a fire without fuel, and the talent
of which he showed _some gleams_ was never put to any systematic use."
It was but natural that the eighteenth-century writer who had the
profoundest understanding of nature, should be held in lowest esteem by
the young idealists.

Rousseau, the last of the writers of the eighteenth century cited
before the bar of the nineteenth, had characteristics which
necessarily appealed to Barante. He was the only sentimentalist
among these writers, and the new century had begun sentimentally. He
was the most solitary of them, and the new century appreciated the
isolated personality. He stood quite apart from the philosophers and
Encyclopedists; his character had been formed by a strange and unhappy
life; he was uninfluenced by society or public opinion. Without family,
friends, position, or country, he had wandered about the world, and,
on his first appearance as an author, he had condemned society instead
of flattering it; instead of giving in to public opinion, he tried
to alter it; his attempt was successful, and where others pleased,
he roused enthusiasm. All this was certain to appeal to Barante. But
one has only to compare Barante's pronouncement on Rousseau with that
published twenty years earlier by his friend Mme. de Staël, to see
what progress the reaction against the spirit of the previous century
has made. That he dwells at length on the impurity of Rousseau's life
and the bad points in his character is in itself quite justifiable,
and in this matter his criticism only presents the natural contrast to
Mme. de Staël's warm apologetics. His severe judgment of Rousseau's
political doctrines is the result of more critical, mature reflection
than Mme. de Staël's woman-like attempt to vindicate them up to a
certain point. But in his appreciation of Rousseau's attempts at
religious reform, he is far from reaching her level. His principal
objection to the famous Confession of Faith, to the so-called natural
religion, is that it is a religion without public worship. "Nor can
we wonder at this," he says, "for to a morality without deeds, like
Rousseau's, a religion without worship is the inevitable corollary."
His bias towards inference-drawing in favour of the existing, actually
led this free-thinking critic to defend the traditional usages of the
Church against Rousseau.

At the bottom of all this narrow-mindedness and injustice of Barante's,
lay what lay at the root of much that was false and perverted in
other Liberal writers during the two following decades, namely, that
spiritualistic philosophy which was now making its way into France, and
which, after encountering much resistance, became dominant; nay, was
actually, under Cousin and his school, elevated to the rank of State
philosophy. Had this philosophy been content to develop its principles
and ideas as clearly and convincingly as possible, it would have been
a philosophy like any other, would have roused opposition, but never
enmity and detestation. But its champions, from the very beginning,
and in almost every country into which it found its way, displayed
unscientific and ill-omened tendencies. They were less anxious to prove
their theories than to vindicate the moral and religious tendency of
these theories. They were far less bent upon refuting their opponents
than upon denying them feeling for what is noble, high enthusiasms,
sense of duty, and ardour.

Mme. de Staël's dread of sensationalism was not a dread of the
philosophy in itself, but of its consequences. The noble-hearted woman,
who, with all her love of truth, was never anything but a dilettante
in philosophy, was possessed by a naïve fear that sensationalistic
psychology would lead men to submit unresistingly to the tyranny of
Napoleon; so, out of love for liberty, she took up arms against it.
Barante, as a man, has not her excuse. To him also, however, Descartes
and Leibnitz are not only great thinkers, but represent the principle
of good in metaphysics; as if there were any place for moral principles
in metaphysics. "Possibly," he observes, "they at times lost themselves
in misty regions, but at least they pursued an upward direction; their
teaching harmonises with the thoughts which move us when we reflect
profoundly on ourselves; and this path necessarily led to the noblest
of sciences, to religion and morality." He goes on to describe how
men grew weary of following them, and turned to follow in the path of
Locke and Hume, whose doctrine he describes, not as a contradictory
though equally justifiable one-sidedness, but as a degradation of human
nature, a prostitution of science. He thinks it natural that Spinoza
(whom he couples with Hobbes) should be opposed not only with reasons,
but "with indignation."[2]

He confronts the empiricists with Kant's famous doctrine that the pure
notions of the understanding have their sources in the nature of the
soul, and that an innate fundamental conception of religion is to be
found at all times and in all races. Always and everywhere, he says,
there is to be found the belief in a life after death, reverence for
the dead, burial of the dead in the certainty that life has not ended
for them, and, finally, the belief that the universe had a beginning
and will have an end. These are to him, much as they were to Benjamin
Constant, the spiritual elements which constitute the firm foundation
of religion. He does not realise that they may be resolved into still
simpler elements, which are to be found unconnected with religious
feeling. For he does not investigate freely, independently, but esteems
it an honour to succeed to what he calls "le glorieux héritage de la
haute philosophie."

In a precisely similar manner he inveighs against attempts to place
morality upon an empirical basis. "Instead," he says, "of starting
from the feeling of justice and sympathy which dwells in the hearts
of all men, people have tried to base morality upon the instinct
of self-preservation and utility." He clearly has no comprehension
whatever of the profound philosophic instinct which has led the
thinkers of the opposite school to resolve the idea of justice into
its first elements, and show how it originates and takes shape. He
merely writes bombastically and indignantly of the impossibility of
arriving by such processes at revealed religion, "the divine proofs of
which unbelief had rejected."[3] The same man who praises Montesquieu's
_Lettres Persanes_, and approves of that author's qualification of
religion as a secondary matter, is, with the half-heartedness of the
period, horrified by the attempt of the empirical philosophers to
discover the elements which go to the construction of the idea of
justice. Hence it is that we find in Barante the beginnings of that
foolish play upon the double meaning of the word sensualism, which was
to be throughout the century a weapon in the hands of hypocrisy and
baseness--the word being used at one time as the appellation of the
particular philosophy sometimes known by that name, at another as the
equivalent for sensuality, or yet again for the doctrine that sensual
pleasures are the aim of life. Barante, like Cousin, defends the
superficial and unscientific spiritualism which flourished in France
in the first decades of this century as a philosophy which encouraged
virtue and morality.

Mme. de Staël wrote a notice of Barante's book for one of the
newspapers of the day, the _Mercure de France_. The censor forbade
it to be printed at the time, but it was published later, without
alterations. It is only three pages long, but a critic needs no further
evidence to convince him of the genius of the writer. She begins with
some warm words of admiration for the maturity and rare moderation of
the young author, only regretting that he does not more frequently
abandon himself to his impressions, and reminding him that restraint
does not always imply strength. Then, as if in a flash, she perceives
beneath the incidental and personal merits and defects of the book
the intellectual character of the new century. The consideration of
this work seems to have suddenly and forcibly revealed to her to
what an extent she herself, with her cheerful, reformatory energy,
was a product of the preceding century with its firm faith in
progress. Barante's book is to her an intimation that the period of
transition is at an end; she is amazed by the despondent resignation
to circumstances, the fatalism, the reverence for the accomplished
fact, which meet her in its pages. She divines that this despondent
resignation to the pressure of circumstance will be one of the features
of the new period; she has the presentiment that its philosophy will
to a great extent consist of demonstrations that the real is the
rational; and she seems, with the far-sightedness of genius, to discern
how ambiguous that word "the real" will prove to be, and how much
irreflective acquiescence in the existing the maxim will entail. She
closes her review with these words of prophetic wisdom:--

"The eighteenth century proclaimed principles in a too unconditional
manner; possibly the nineteenth century will explain facts in a
spirit of too great resignation to them. The eighteenth believed in
the nature of things, the nineteenth will only believe in the force
of circumstances. The eighteenth desired to control the future, the
nineteenth confines itself to the attempt to understand mankind. The
author of this book is perhaps the first who is very distinctly tinged
with the colour of the new century."

The style and the matter of this utterance are equally striking. Of
all the notable men with whom Mme. de Staël was acquainted, not one
had so distinctly separated himself from the preceding century as this
youngest among them, Barante. The others, one after the other, had
left the sinking ship of the eighteenth century, and gone on board the
ship of the nineteenth, loading it by degrees with all the goods and
seed-corn that it was to carry; but it still lay side by side with the
wreck, made fast to it. It was Barante who cut the cables and sent the
vessel out into the wide ocean.


[1] Alors on pourra distinguer, comment la religion, respectée par
Montesquieu, était pourtant jugée par lui, tandis que Domat l'avait
seulement adorée, et en avait fait tout découler au lieu de la
considérer comme accessoire.

[2] On arriva bientôt à tout nier; déjà l'incrédulité avait rejeté les
preuves divines de la révélation et avait abjuré les devoirs et les
souvenirs chrétiens.

[3] _De la Litt. Française_, p. 213.



XV


CONCLUSION


The literary group the formation and development of which we have been
following, produces the impression of an interwoven whole. Multitudes
of threads that cross and recross each other stretch from the one work
to the other; this exposition has only made the connection clear; it
has not taken separate entities and arbitrarily woven them together. It
is to be noted that this collection of writings, this set of writers,
form a group, not a school. A group is the result of the natural,
unintentional connection between minds and works which have a common
tendency; a school is the result of the conscious fellowship of authors
who have submitted themselves to the guidance of some more or less
distinctly formulated conviction.

The Emigrant Literature, although French, develops beyond the frontiers
of France. In order to understand it, we must keep before our minds
that short and violently agitated period in which the old order was
abolished, the principle of legitimacy was discarded, the ruling
classes were humiliated and ruined, and positive religion was set aside
by men who had freed themselves from its yoke rather by the help of a
pugnacious philosophy than by scientific culture--men whose ruthless
and not always honourable mode of warfare had irritated all those who
were more or less dimly sensible of injustice in the charges directed
against the old order of things, and whose intellectual, moral, and
emotional cravings found no satisfaction in the new. The more unreal
and impracticable the ideas of the rights and the progress of humanity
proved themselves to be, the more certain did it become that an
intellectual rebound must be at hand. It came; the reaction began. I
have shown how at first it was only a partial reaction, how the ideas
of the Revolution were invariably blended with the ideas which inspire
the revulsion against Voltaire; we have seen that the intellectual
point of departure of all its leaders lay in the eighteenth century,
and that they were all liable to be affected by reminiscences, and
subject to relapse. They all proceed, so to speak, from Rousseau. Their
first step is simply to take his weapons and direct them against his
antagonist Voltaire. Only the youngest of them, Barante, can with truth
deny kinship with Rousseau.

These men are followed by a second set of authors whose aim is the
preservation of society. They also are for the most part émigrés, and
they advocate unconditional reaction. Their writings, along with single
works of authors like Chateaubriand, who are progressive in art but
reactionary in their attitude towards Church and State, and certain
youthful reactionary works of future Liberal and even Radical writers
like Lamartine and Hugo, form a group characterised by unconditional
adherence to the old--the ruling idea in them being the principle of
authority. Amongst the leading men of this set are Joseph de Maistre,
Bonald, and Lamennais.

But under the title "Emigrant Literature," I have gathered together
and drawn attention to the more healthy literary productions, in which
the reaction has not as yet become subjection to authority, but is the
natural and justifiable defence of feeling, soul, passion, and poetry,
against frigid intellectuality, exact calculation, and a literature
stifled by rules and dead traditions, like that which continued to
prolong its feeble and bloodless existence in France under the Empire.
The following group, more closely united in its submission to one
dominant principle, has necessarily a clearer, sharper outline; but the
one at present in question has more life, more feeling, more restless
power.

We see the writers and writings of the Emigrant Literature as it were
in a tremulous light. It is in the dawn of the new century that they
stand, these men; the first beams of the morning sun of the nineteenth
century fall upon them, and slowly disperse the veil of Ossianic mist
and Wertherian melancholy which envelops them. One feels that a
night of terror and bloodshed lies behind them; their faces are pale
and serious. But their grief is poetical, their melancholy awakes
sympathy, and one is conscious of fermenting forces in the passionate
outbursts which betray their mortification at being obliged, instead
of continuing the work of the day before, to regard the foundation
laid that day with suspicion, and to gather together laboriously the
fragments left by the havoc of the night.

The Emigrant Literature is a profoundly agitated literature.
Chateaubriand leads the way with the stormy passion and the powerful,
brilliant landscape-painting of his novels. In them everything glows
and flames with Catholic ecstasy and Satanic passion; but in the
midst of the flames stands, like a figure hewn in stone, the modern
personality, the egoistic, solitary genius, René.

Sénancour produces a work in which, in a peculiarly soulful manner,
modern liberal thought is fused with Romantic yearnings, Teutonic
sentimentality and idealism with Latin refined sensuousness, the
rebellious inclination to sift every question to the bottom with the
despondency that dreams of suicide.

Nodier mingles his voice in the chorus. Subtle, versatile, fantastic,
possessed by the spirit of opposition, he attacks Napoleon and the
existing state of society, and panegyrises Klopstock and conventual
life. Naive as a child and learned as an old man, he seeks martyrdom
for the pleasure of being persecuted and for the sake of being able to
pursue his studies in solitude. Constantly progressing, he makes belief
in progress the subject of incessant satire.

Constant makes his appearance as a politician, and also as a dilettante
in fiction who puts masters to shame. His mind sways like a pendulum
between the ideas of two periods. By nature he is the child of the
eighteenth century, but his culture and his aims are those of the
period of the syntheses and the constitutions. In his one imaginative
work he presents his contemporaries with a model of psychological
character-drawing, and directs their attention to all the good feelings
and energies that are sacrificed to the laws of modern society.

But it is in Mme. de Staël that the Emigrant Literature first becomes
conscious of its aims and its best tendencies. It is this woman whose
figure dominates the group. In her writings there is collected the best
of that which is valid in the productions of the exiles. The tendency
to return to the past, and the tendency to press onwards to the future,
which produce discordancy in the actions and writings of the other
members of the group, in her case combine to produce an endeavour
which is neither reactionary nor revolutionary, but reformatory. Like
the others, she draws her first inspiration from Rousseau, like the
others, she deplores the excesses of the Revolution, but better than
any of the others, she loves personal and political freedom. She
wages war with absolutism in the State and hypocrisy in society, with
national arrogance and religious prejudice. She teaches her countrymen
to appreciate the characteristics and literature of the neighbouring
nations; she breaks down with her own hand the wall of self-sufficiency
with which victorious France had surrounded itself. Barante, with his
perspective view of eighteenth-century France, only continues and
completes her work.

Naturally connected with the Emigrant Literature is that German
Romanticism by which Mme. de Staël was influenced in the last period
of her activity, and the influence of which is also to be traced in
Barante. The whole group of books to which I have given the common
name Emigrant Literature may be described as a species of Romanticism
anticipating more especially the great Romantic School of France. But
it is also in touch with the German spirit and its Romanticism, often
from unconscious sympathy, at times directly influenced by it. Hence it
is that in her book on Germany Mme. de Staël calls Rousseau, Bernardin
de Saint Pierre, and Chateaubriand unconscious Germans, and hence it is
that we find the men and women of the Emigrant Literature every now and
again showing a tendency to Romanticism, or interesting themselves in
the word and the idea.

But they not only herald the great authors who are to succeed them;
they are in a very remarkable manner their prototypes. As a Romantic
colourist Chateaubriand anticipates Victor Hugo, in his melancholy
ennui he anticipates Byron. Long before the days of the Romantic
School, Sénancour touches the chords which are afterwards sounded
by Sainte-Beuve. Nodier, with his philological and archaeological
erudition, his pure, austere prose, his fantastic and unpleasant
themes, is the precursor of Mérimée. Long before the time of the great
French novelists, Constant gives us Balzac's heroines; as a politician,
although liberal and anti-clerical, he has some points of resemblance
with an emphatically Romantic politician, the German, Gentz. Barante,
with his spiritualistic and yet fatalistic literary philosophy,
prepares the way for the criticism and æstheticism which were to be
enthroned in high places in the days of Victor Cousin. Mme. de Staël
seems to announce the greatest authoress of the century, a woman who
possessed less elevation of mind than herself, but more genius and
fecundity, the poetess and philosopher, George Sand.

The literary history of a whole continent during half a century
obviously does not begin at any one single point. The point of
departure chosen by the historian may always be described as arbitrary
and fortuitous; he must trust to his instinct and critical faculty, or
he will never make a beginning at all. To me the Emigrant Literature
seemed the natural starting-point indicated by history itself. Looked
at from one point of view, this group prepares the way for the later
religious and political reaction in French literature; looked at from
another, it prepares the way for the Romantic School in France. It
is the best of introductions to the study and understanding of the
Romantic School in Germany; it has even points of contact with such
remote phenomena as Byron and Balzac.

In a word, the Emigrant Literature constitutes the prologue to the
great literary drama of the century.



MAIN CURRENTS IN

NINETEENTH CENTURY LITERATURE

By GEORGE BRANDES

In Six Vols, illustrated

    I. THE EMIGRANT LITERATURE.
   II. THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL IN GERMANY.
  III. THE REACTION IN FRANCE.
   IV. NATURALISM IN ENGLAND.
    V. THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL IN FRANCE.
   VI. YOUNG GERMANY.





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