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Title: William Shakespeare
Author: Hugo, Victor
Language: English
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[Illustration: _Portrait of Victor Hugo._ Photogravure
by Goupil et Cie.--From Painting by Pannemaker.]



                         I Dedicate this Book,

                    THE GLORIFICATION OF HER POET.

                              I LOVE HER.

                                               VICTOR HUGO.

         Hauteville House, 1864.


The true title of this work should be, "Apropos to Shakespeare." The
desire of introducing, as they say in England, before the public,
the new translation of Shakespeare, has been the first motive of the
author. The feeling which interests him so profoundly in the translator
should not deprive him of the right to recommend the translation.
However, his conscience has been solicited on the other part, and
in a more binding way still, by the subject itself. In reference to
Shakespeare all questions which touch art are presented to his mind.
To treat these questions, is to explain the mission of art; to treat
these questions, is to explain the duty of human thought toward
man. Such an occasion for speaking truths imposes a duty, and he is
not permitted, above all at such an epoch as ours, to evade it. The
author has comprehended this. He has not hesitated to turn the complex
questions of art and civilization on their several faces, multiplying
the horizons every time that the perspective has displaced itself, and
accepting every indication that the subject, in its rigorous necessity,
has offered to him. This expansion of the point of view has given rise
to this book.

Hauteville House, 1864.




I. Shakespeare.--His Life 1

II. Men of Genius.--Homer, Job, Æschylus, Isaiah,
Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Tacitus, St. John,
St. Paul, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare 28

III. Art and Science 78

IV. The Ancient Shakespeare 102

V. The Souls 146


I. Shakespeare.--His Genius 161

II. Shakespeare.--His Work.--The Culminating Points 187

III. Zoilus as Eternal as Homer 215

IV. Criticism 238

V. The Minds and the Masses 256

VI. The Beautiful tub Servant of the True  274


I. After Death.--Shakespeare.--England 298

II. The Nineteenth Century 325

III. True History.--Every one put in his Right Place 337


Portrait op Victor Hugo Frontispiece

"In order to gain a Livelihood, he sought to take Care
of Horses at the Doors of the Theatres"

Shakespeare in his Garden

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Portrait of Shakespeare [not included]





Twelve years ago, in an island adjoining the coast of France, a house,
with a melancholy aspect in every season, became particularly sombre
because winter had commenced. The west wind, blowing then in full
liberty, made thicker yet round this abode those coats of fog that
November places between earthly life and the sun. Evening comes quickly
in autumn; the smallness of the windows added to the shortness of the
days, and deepened the sad twilight in which the house was wrapped.

The house, which had a terrace for a roof, was rectilinear, correct,
square, newly whitewashed,--a true Methodist structure. Nothing is
so glacial as that English whiteness; it seems to offer you the
hospitality of snow. One dreams with a seared heart of the old huts of
the French peasants, built of wood, cheerful and dark, surrounded with

To the house was attached a garden of a quarter of an acre, on an
inclined plane, surrounded with walls, cut in steps of granite, and
with parapets, without trees, naked, where one could see more stones
than leaves. This little uncultivated domain abounded in tufts of
marigold, which flourish in autumn, and which the poor people of the
country eat baked with the eel. The neighbouring seashore was hid from
this garden by a rise in the ground; on this rise there was a field of
short grass, where some nettles and a big hemlock flourished.

From the house you might perceive, on the right, in the horizon, on an
elevation, and in a little wood, a tower, which passed for haunted; on
the left you might see the dyke. The dyke was a row of big trunks of
trees, leaning against a wall, planted upright in the sand, dried up,
gaunt, with knots, ankylosès, and patellas, which looked like a row of
tibias. Revery, which readily accepts dreams for the sake of proposing
enigmas, might ask to what men these tibias of three fathoms in height
had belonged.

The south façade of the house looked on the garden, the north façade on
a deserted road.

A corridor at the entrance to the ground-floor, a kitchen, a
greenhouse, and a courtyard, with a little parlour, having a view of
the lonely road, and a pretty large study, scarcely lighted; on the
first and second floors, chambers, neat, cold, scantily furnished,
newly repainted, with white blinds to the window,--such was this
lodging, with the noise of the sea ever resounding.

This house, a heavy, right-angled white cube, chosen by those who
inhabited it apparently by chance, perhaps by intentional destiny, had
the form of a tomb.

Those who inhabited this abode were a group,--to speak more properly,
a family; they were proscribed ones. The most aged was one of those men
who, at a given moment, are _de trop_ in their own country. He had come
from an assembly; the others, who were young, had come from a prison.
To have written, that is sufficient motive for bars. Where shall
thought conduct except to a dungeon?

The prison had set them free into banishment.

The oldest, the father, had in that place all his own except his eldest
daughter, who could not follow him. His son-in-law was with her. Often
were they leaning round a table or seated on a bench, silent, grave,
thinking, all of them, and without saying it, of those two absent ones.

Why was this group installed in this lodging, so little suitable? For
reasons of haste, and from a desire to be as soon as possible anywhere
but at the inn. Doubtless, also, because it was the first house to let
that they had met with, and because proscribed people are not lucky.

This house,--which it is time to rehabilitate a little and console, for
who knows if in its loneliness it is not sad at what we have just said
about it; a home has a soul,--this house was called Marine Terrace. The
arrival was mournful; but after all, we declare, the stay in it was
agreeable, and Marine Terrace has not left to those who then inhabited
it anything but affectionate and dear remembrances. And what we say
of that house, Marine Terrace, we say also of that island of Jersey.
Places of suffering and trial end by having a kind of bitter sweetness
which, later on, causes them to be regretted. They have a stern
hospitality which pleases the conscience.

There had been, before them, other exiles in that island. This is not
the time to speak of them. We mention only that the most ancient of
whom tradition, a legend, perhaps, has kept the remembrance, was a
Roman, Vipsanius Minator, who employed his exile in augmenting, for
the benefit of his country's dominion, the Roman wall of which you
may still see some parts, like bits of hillock, near a bay named, I
think, St. Catherine's Bay. This Vipsanius Minator was a consular
personage,--an old Roman so infatuated with Rome that he stood in the
way of the Empire. Tiberius exiled him into this Cimmerian island,
Cæsarea; according to others, to one of the Orkneys. Tiberius did more;
not content with exile, he ordained oblivion. It was forbidden to the
orators of the senate and the forum to pronounce the name of Vipsanius
Minator. The orators of the forum and the senate, and history, have
obeyed; about which Tiberius, of course, did not have a doubt. That
arrogance in commanding, which proceeded so far as to give orders to
men's thoughts, characterized certain ancient governments newly arrived
at one of those firm situations where the greatest amount of crime
produces the greatest amount of security.

Let us return to Marine Terrace.

One morning at the end of November, two of the inhabitants of the
place, the father and the youngest of the sons, were seated in the
lower parlour. They were silent, like shipwrecked ones who meditate.
Without, it rained; the wind blew. The house was as if deafened by
the outer roaring. Both went on thinking, absorbed perhaps by this
coincidence between a beginning of winter and a beginning of exile.

All at once the son raised his voice and asked the father,--

"What thinkest thou of this exile?"

"That it will be long."

"How dost thou reckon to fill it up?"

The father answered,--

"I shall look on the ocean."

There was a silence. The father resumed the conversation:--

"And you?"

"I," said the son,--"I shall translate Shakespeare."


There are men, oceans in reality.

These waves; this ebb and flow; this terrible go-and-come; this noise
of every gust; these lights and shadows; these vegetations belonging
to the gulf; this democracy of clouds in full hurricane; these eagles
in the foam; these wonderful gatherings of stars reflected in one
knows not what mysterious crowd by millions of luminous specks, heads
confused with the innumerable; those grand errant lightnings which seem
to watch; these huge sobs; these monsters glimpsed at; this roaring,
disturbing these nights of darkness; these furies, these frenzies,
these tempests, these rocks, these shipwrecks, these fleets crushing
each other, these human thunders mixed with divine thunders, this blood
in the abyss; then these graces, these sweetnesses, these _fêtes_ these
gay white veils, these fishing-boats, these songs in the uproar, these
splendid ports, this smoke of the earth, these towns in the horizon,
this deep blue of water and sky, this useful sharpness, this bitterness
which renders the universe wholesome, this rough salt without which
all would putrefy, these angers and assuagings, this whole in one,
this unexpected in the immutable, this vast marvel of monotony
inexhaustibly varied, this level after that earthquake, these hells and
these paradises of immensity eternally agitated, this infinite, this
unfathomable,--all this can exist in one spirit; and then this spirit
is called genius, and you have Æschylus, you have Isaiah, you have
Juvenal, you have Dante, you have Michael Angelo, you have Shakespeare;
and looking at these minds is the same thing as to look at the ocean.


William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon, in a house under
the tiles of which was concealed a profession of the Catholic faith
beginning with these words, "I, John Shakespeare." John was the
father of William. The house, situate in Henley Street, was humble;
the chamber in which Shakespeare came into the world, wretched,--the
walls whitewashed, the black rafters laid crosswise; at the farther
end a tolerably large window with two small panes, where you may read
to-day, among other names, that of Walter Scott. This poor lodging
sheltered a decayed family. The father of William Shakespeare had been
alderman; his grand-father had been bailiff. Shakespeare signifies
"shake-lance;" the family had for coat-of-arms an arm holding a
lance,--allusive arms, which were confirmed, they say, by Queen
Elizabeth in 1595, and apparent, at the time we write, on Shakespeare's
tomb in the church of Stratford-on-Avon. There is little agreement
on the orthography of the word Shake-speare, as a family name; it is
written variously,--Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakespeare, Shakspeare.
In the eighteenth century it was habitually written Shakespear; the
actual translator has adopted the spelling Shakespeare, as the only
true method, and gives for it unanswerable reasons. The only objection
that can be made is that Shakspeare is more easily pronounced than
Shakespeare, that cutting off the _e_ mute is perhaps useful, and
that for their own sake, and in the interests of literary currency,
posterity has, as regards surnames, a claim to euphony. It is evident,
for example, that in French poetry the orthography Shakspeare is
necessary. However, in prose, and convinced by the translator, we write

2. The Shakespeare family had some original draw-back, probably its
Catholicism, which caused it to fall. A little after the birth of
William, Alderman Shakespeare was no more than "butcher John." William
Shakespeare made his _début_ in a slaughter-house. At fifteen years
of age, with sleeves tucked up, in his father's shambles, he killed
the sheep and calves "pompously," says Aubrey. At eighteen he married.
Between the days of the slaughter-house and the marriage he composed a
quatrain. This quatrain, directed against the neighbouring villages,
is his _début_ in poetry. He there says that Hillbrough is illustrious
for its ghosts and Bidford for its drunken fellows. He made this
quatrain (being tipsy himself), in the open air, under an apple-tree
still celebrated in the country in consequence of this Midsummer
Night's Dream. In this night and in this dream where there were
lads and lasses, in this drunken fit, and under this apple-tree, he
discovered that Anne Hathaway was a pretty girl. The wedding followed.
He espoused this Anne Hathaway, older than himself by eight years,
had a daughter by her, then twins, boy and girl, and left her; and
this wife, vanished from Shakespeare's life, appears again only in his
will, where he leaves her the worst of his two beds, "having probably,"
says a biographer, "employed the best with others." Shakespeare, like
La Fontaine, did but sip at a married life. His wife put aside, he
was a schoolmaster, then clerk to an attorney, then a poacher. This
poaching has been made use of since then to justify the statement
that Shakespeare had been a thief. One day he was caught poaching in
Sir Thomas Lucy's park. They threw him in prison; they commenced
proceedings. These being spitefully followed up, he saved himself by
flight to London. In order to gain a livelihood, he sought to take care
of horses at the doors of the theatres. Plautus had turned a millstone.
This business of taking care of horses at the doors existed in London
in the last century, and it formed then a kind of small band or corps
that they called "Shakespeare's boys."

[Illustration: "_In order to gain a livelihood, he sought to take care
of horses at the doors of the theatres._"

Photogravure.--From A. Mongin's etching of painting by François

3. You may call London the black Babylon,--gloomy the day, magnificent
the night To see London is a sensation; it is uproar under smoke.
Mysterious analogy! The uproar is the smoke of noise. Paris is the
capital of one side of humanity. London is the capital of the opposite
side,--splendid and melancholy town! Life there is a tumult; the people
there are an ant-hill; they are free, and yet dove-tailed. London is an
orderly chaos. The London of the sixteenth century did not resemble the
London of our day; but it was already a town without bounds. Cheapside
was the high-street; St Paul's, which is a dome, was a spire. The
plague was nearly as much at home in London as at Constantinople. It
is true that there was not much difference between Henry VIII. and a
sultan. Fires, also, as at Constantinople, were frequent in London,
on account of the populous parts of the town being built entirely of
wood. In the streets there was but one carriage,--the carriage of her
Majesty. Not a cross-road where they did not cudgel some pickpocket
with that drotsch-block which is still retained at Groningen for
thrashing the wheat. Manners were rough, almost ferocious; a fine lady
rose at six, and went to bed at nine. Lady Geraldine Kildare, to whom
Lord Surrey inscribed verses, breakfasted off a pound of bacon and a
pot of beer. Queens, the wives of Henry VIII., knitted mittens, and did
not even object to their being of coarse red wool. In this London,
the Duchess of Suffolk took care of her hen-house, and with her dress
tucked up to her knees, threw corn to the ducks in the court below. To
dine at midday was a late dinner. The pleasures of the upper classes
were to go and play at "hot cockles" with my Lord Leicester. Anne
Boleyn played there; she knelt down, with eyes bandaged, rehearsing
this game, without knowing it, in the posture of the scaffold. This
same Anne Boleyn, destined to the throne, from whence she was to
go farther, was perfectly dazzled when her mother bought her three
linen chemises at sixpence the ell, and promised her for the Duke of
Norfolk's ball a pair of new shoes worth five shillings.

4. Under Elizabeth, in spite of the anger of the Puritans, there were
in London eight companies of comedians, those of Newington Butts, Earl
Pembroke's company. Lord Strange's retainers, the Lord-Chamberlain's
troop, the Lord High-Admiral's troop, the company of Blackfriars,
the children of St. Paul's, and, in the first rank, the Showmen of
Bears. Lord Southampton went to the play every evening. Nearly all the
theatres were situate on the banks of the Thames, which increased the
number of water-men. The play-rooms were of two kinds: some merely
open tavern-yards, a trestle leaning against a wall, no ceiling, rows
of benches placed on the ground, for boxes the windows of the tavern.
The performance took place in the broad daylight and in the open air.
The principal of those theatres was the Globe; the others, which were
mostly closed play-rooms, lighted with lamps, were used at night. The
most frequented was Blackfriars. The best actor of Lord Pembroke's
troop was called Henslowe; the best actor at Blackfriars was Burbage.
The Globe was situate on Bank Side. This is known by a document at
Stationers' Hall, dated 26th November, 1607:--

    "His Majesty's servants playing usually at the Globe on the
    Bank Side."

The scenery was simple. Two swords laid crosswise, sometimes two laths,
signified a battle; a shirt over the coat signified a knight; the
petticoat of one of the comedians' wives on a broom-handle, signified a
palfrey caparisoned. A rich theatre, which made its inventory in 1598,
possessed "the limbs of Moors, a dragon, a big horse with his legs, a
cage, a rock, four Turks' heads, and that of the ancient Mahomet, a
wheel for the siege of London, and a _bouche d'enfer._" Another had
"a sun, a target, the three feathers of the Prince of Wales, with the
device _Ich Dien_, besides six devils, and the Pope on his mule." An
actor besmeared with plaster and immovable, signified a wall; if he
spread his fingers, it meant that the wall had crevices. A man laden
with a fagot, followed by a dog, and carrying a lantern, meant the
moon; his lantern represented the moonshine. People may laugh at this
_mise en scène_ of moonlight, become famous by the "Midsummer Night's
Dream," without imagining that there is in it a gloomy anticipation
of Dante.[1] The robing-room of these theatres, where the comedians
dressed themselves pell-mell, was a corner separated from the stage by
a rag of some kind stretched on a cord. The robing-room at Blackfriars
was shut off by an ancient piece of tapestry which had belonged to one
of the guilds, and represented a blacksmith's workshop; through the
holes in this partition, flying in rags and tatters, the public saw the
actors redden their cheeks with brick-dust, or make their mustaches
with a cork burned at a tallow-candle. From time to time, through an
occasional opening of the curtain, you might see a face grinning in a
mask, peeping to see if the time for going on the stage had arrived,
or the smooth chin of a comedian, who was to play the part of a woman.
"Glabri histriones," said Plautus. These theatres were frequented by
noblemen, scholars, soldiers, and sailors. They acted there the tragedy
of "Lord Buckhurst," "Gorbuduc," or "Ferrex and Porrex," "Mother
Bombic," by Lilly, in which the phip-phip of sparrows was heard; "The
Libertine," an imitation of the "Convivado de Piedra," which had a
European fame; "Felix and Philomena," a fashionable comedy, performed
for the first time at Greenwich, before "Queen Bess;" "Promos and
Cassandra," a comedy dedicated by the author, George Whetstone, to
William Fleetwood, recorder of London; "Tamerlane," and the "Jew of
Malta," by Christopher Marlowe; farces and pieces by Robert Greene,
George Peele, Thomas Lodge, and Thomas Kid; and lastly, mediæval
comedies. For just as France has her "L'Avocat Pathelin," so England
has her "Gossip Gurton's Needle." While the actors gesticulated and
ranted, the noblemen and officers, with their plumes and band of gold
lace, standing or squatting on the stage, turning their backs, haughty
and easy in the midst of the constrained comedians, laughed, shouted,
played at cards, threw them at each other's heads, or played at post
and pair; and below in the shade, on the pavement, among pots of beer
and pipes, you might see the "stinkards" (the mob). It was by that very
theatre that Shakespeare entered on the drama. From being the guardian
of horses, he became the shepherd of men.

5. Such was the theatre in London about the year 1580, under "the
great queen." It was not much less wretched, a century later, at
Paris, under "the great king;" and Molière, at his debut, had, like
Shakespeare, to make shift with rather miserable playhouses. There is
in the archives of the Comédie Française an unpublished manuscript of
four hundred pages, bound in parchment and tied with a band of white
leather. It is the diary of Lagrange, a comrade of Molière. Lagrange
describes also the theatre where Molière's company played by order of
Mr. Rateban, superintendent of the king's buildings: "Three beams,
the frames rotten and shored up, and half the room roofless and in
ruins." In another place, by date Sunday, 15th March, 1671, he says,
"The company have resolved to make a large ceiling over the whole
room, which, up to the said date (15th) has not been covered, save by
a large blue cloth suspended by cords." As for lighting and heating
this room, particularly on the occasion of the extraordinary expenses
necessary for the performance of "Psyche," which was by Molière and
Corneille, we read: "Candles, thirty livres; door-keeper, for wood,
three livres." This was the style of playhouse which "the great king"
placed at the disposal of Molière. These bounties to literature did
not impoverish Louis XIV. so much as to deprive him of the pleasure of
giving, for example, at one and the same time, two hundred thousand
livres to Lavardin, and the same to D'Epernon; two hundred thousand
livres, besides the regiment of France, to the Count de Médavid; four
hundred thousand livres to the Bishop of Noyon, because this bishop was
Clermont-Tonnerre, a family that had two patents of count and peer of
France,--one for Clermont and one for Tonnerre; five hundred thousand
livres to the Duke of Vivonne; and seven hundred thousand livres to
the Duke of Quintin-Lorges, besides eight hundred thousand livres to
Monseigneur Clement de Bavière, Prince-Bishop of Liége. Let us add that
he gave a thousand livres pension to Molière. We find in Lagrange's
journal in the month of April, 1663, this remark:--

    "About the same time, M. de Molière received, as a great
    wit, a pension from the king, and has been placed on the
    civil list for the sum of a thousand livres."

Later, when Molière was dead and interred at St. Joseph, "Chapel of
ease to the parish of St. Eustache," the king pushed patronage so far
as to permit his tomb to be "raised a foot out of the ground."

6. Shakespeare, as we see, remained as an outsider a long time on the
threshold of theatrical life. At length he entered. He passed the
door and got behind the scenes. He succeeded in becoming call-boy,
vulgarly, a "barker." About 1586 Shakespeare was barking with Greene at
Blackfriars. In 1587 he gained a step. In the piece called "The Giant
Agrapardo, King of Nubia, worse than his late brother, Angulafer,"
Shakespeare was intrusted with carrying the turban to the giant. Then
from a supernumerary he became actor, thanks to Burbage, to whom, by
an interlineation in his will, he left thirty-six shillings, to buy
a gold ring. He was the friend of Condell and Hemynge,--his comrades
whilst alive, his publishers after his death. He was handsome; he had
a high forehead, a brown beard, a mild countenance, a sweet mouth, a
deep look. He took delight in reading Montaigne, translated by Florio.
He frequented the Apollo tavern, where he would see and keep company
with two _habitués_ of his theatre,--Decker, author of the "Gull's
Hornbook," in which a chapter is specially devoted to "the way a
man of fashion ought to behave at the play," and Dr. Symon Forman,
who has left a manuscript journal, containing reports of the first
representations of the "Merchant of Venice," and "A Winter's Tale." He
used to meet Sir Walter Raleigh at the Siren Club. Somewhere about that
time, Maturin Régnier met Philippe de Béthune at la Pomme de Pin. The
great lords and fine gentlemen of the day were rather prone to lend
their names in order to start new taverns. At Paris the Viscount de
Montauban, who was a Créqui, founded Le Tripot des Onze Mille Diables.
At Madrid, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the unfortunate admiral of the
"Invincible," founded the Puño-en-rostro, and in London Sir Walter
Raleigh founded the Siren. There you found drunkenness and wit.

7. In 1589, when James VI. of Scotland, looking to the throne of
England, paid his respects to Elizabeth, who, two years before, on the
8th February, 1587, had beheaded Mary Stuart, mother of this James,
Shakespeare composed his first drama, "Pericles." In 1591, while the
Catholic king was dreaming, after a scheme of the Marquis d'Astorga,
of a second Armada, more lucky than the first, inasmuch as it never
put to sea, he composed "Henry VI." In 1593, when the Jesuits obtained
from the Pope express permission to paint "the pains and torments of
hell," on the walls of "the chamber of meditation" of Clermont College,
where they often shut up a poor youth, who the year after, became
famous under the name of Jean Châtel, he composed "Taming the Shrew."
In 1594, when, looking daggers at each other and ready for battle,
the King of Spain, the Queen of England, and even the King of France,
all three said "my good city of Paris," he continued and completed
"Henry VI." In 1595, while Clement VIII. at Rome was solemnly aiming
a blow at Henry IV. by laying his crosier on the backs of Cardinals
du Perron and d'Ossat, he wrote "Timon of Athens." In 1596, the year
when Elizabeth published an edict against the long points of bucklers,
and when Philip II. drove from his presence a woman who laughed when
blowing her nose, he composed "Macbeth." In 1597, when this same Philip
II. said to the Duke of Alba, "You deserve the axe," not because the
Duke of Alba had put the Low Countries to fire and sword, but because
he had entered into the king's presence without being announced, he
composed "Cymbeline" and "Richard III." In 1598, when the Earl of Essex
ravaged Ireland, bearing on his headdress the glove of the virgin Queen
Elizabeth, he composed the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "King John,"
"Love's Labour's Lost," "The Comedy of Errors," "All's Well that Ends
Well," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "The Merchant of Venice." In
1599, when the Privy Council, at her Majesty's request, deliberated
on the proposal to put Dr. Hayward to the rack for having stolen some
of the ideas of Tacitus, he composed "Romeo and Juliet." In 1600,
while the Emperor Rudolph was waging war against his rebel brother
and sentencing his son, murderer of a woman, to be bled to death, he
composed "As You Like It," "Henry IV.," "Henry V.," and "Much Ado about
Nothing." In 1601, when Bacon published the eulogy on the execution
of the Earl of Essex, just as Leibnitz, eighty years afterward, was
to find out good reasons for the murder of Monaldeschi, with this
difference however, that Monaldeschi was nothing to Leibnitz, and that
Essex had been the benefactor of Bacon, he composed "Twelfth Night;
or, What you Will." In 1602, while in obedience to the Pope, the King
of France, styled "Renard de Béarn" by Cardinal Aldobrandini, was
counting his beads every day, reciting the litanies on Wednesday, and
the rosary of the Virgin Mary on Saturday, while fifteen cardinals,
assisted by the heads of the chapter, opened the discussion on Molinism
at Rome, and while the Holy See, at the request of the crown of
Spain, "was saving Christianity and the world" by the institution of
the congregation "de Auxiliis," he composed "Othello." In 1603, when
the death of Elizabeth made Henry IV. say, "She was a virgin just as
I am a Catholic," he composed "Hamlet." In 1604, while Philip III.
was losing his last footing in the Low Countries, he wrote "Julius
Cæsar" and "Measure for Measure." In 1606, at the time when James I.
of England, the former James VI. of Scotland, wrote against Bellarmin
the "Tortura Forti" and faithless to Carr began to look sweetly on
Villiers, who was afterward to honour him with the title of "Your
Filthiness," he composed "Coriolanus." In 1607, when the University of
York received the little Prince of Wales as doctor, according to the
account of Father St. Romuald "with all the ceremonies and the usual
fur gowns," he wrote "King Lear." In 1609, when the magistracy of
France, placing the scaffold at the disposition of the king, gave upon
trust a _carte blanche_ for the sentence of the Prince de Condé "to
such punishment as it might please his Majesty to order," Shakespeare
composed "Troilus and Cressida." In 1610, when Ravaillac assassinated
Henry IV. by the dagger, and the French parliament assassinated
Ravaillac by the process of quartering his body, Shakespeare composed
"Antony and Cleopatra." In 1611, while the Moors, driven out by Philip
III., and in the pangs of death, were crawling out of Spain, he wrote
the "Winter's Tale," "Henry VIII.," and "The Tempest."

8. He used to write on flying sheets, like nearly all poets. Malherbe
and Boileau are almost the only ones who have written on quires of
paper. Racan said to Mlle. de Gournay:--

    "I have seen this morning M. de Malherbe sewing with coarse
    gray thread a bundle of white papers, on which will soon
    appear some sonnets."

Each of Shakespeare's dramas, composed according to the wants of his
company, was in all probability learned and rehearsed in haste by
the actors from the original itself, as they had not time to copy it;
hence, in his case as in Molière's, the mislaying of manuscripts which
were cut into parts. Few or no entry-books in those almost itinerant
theatres; no coincidence between the time of representation and the
publication of the plays; sometimes not even a printed copy,--the
stage the sole publication. When the pieces by chance are printed,
they bear titles which bewilder us. The second part of Henry VI. is
entitled "The First Part of the War between York and Lancaster." The
third part is called "The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York."
All this enables us to understand why so much obscurity rests on the
dates when Shakespeare composed his dramas, and why it is difficult
to fix them with precision. The dates that we have just given, and
which are here brought together for the first time, are pretty nearly
certain; notwithstanding, some doubt still exists as to the years when
the following were written, or indeed played,--"Timon of Athens,"
"Cymbeline," "Julius Cæsar," "Antony and Cleopatra," "Coriolanus,"
and "Macbeth." Here and there we meet with barren years; others there
are of which the fertility seems excessive. It is, for instance,
on a simple note by Meres, author of the "Treasure of Wit," that
we are compelled to attribute to the year 1598 the creation of six
pieces,--"The Two Gentlemen of Verona," the "Comedy of Errors," "King
John," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Merchant of Venice," and "All's
Well that Ends Well," which Meres calls "Love's Labour Gained." The
date of "Henry VI." is fixed, for the first part at least, by an
allusion which Nash makes to this play in "Pierce Penniless." The year
1604 is given as that of "Measure for Measure," inasmuch as this piece
had been represented on Stephen's Day of that year, of which Hemynge
makes a special note; and the year 1611 for "Henry VIII." inasmuch as
"Henry VIII." was played at the time of the fire of the Globe Theatre.
Various circumstances--a disagreement with his company, a whim of the
lord-chamberlain--sometimes compelled Shakespeare to change from one
theatre to another. "Taming the Shrew" was played for the first time in
1593, at Henslowe's theatre; "Twelfth Night" in 1601, at Middle Temple
Hall; "Othello" in 1602, at Harefield Castle. "King Lear" was played
at Whitehall during Christmas (1607) before James I. Burbage created
the part of Lear. Lord Southampton, recently set free from the Tower of
London, was present at this performance. This Lord Southampton was an
old _habitué_ of Blackfriars; and Shakespeare, in 1589, had dedicated
the poem of "Adonis" to him. Adonis was the fashion at that time;
twenty-five years after Shakespeare, the Chevalier Marini wrote a poem
on Adonis which he dedicated to Louis XIII.

9. In 1597 Shakespeare lost his son, who has left as his only
trace on earth one line in the death-register of the parish of
Stratford-on-Avon: "1597. August 17. Hamnet. Filius William
Shakespeare." On the 6th September, 1601, his father, John Shakespeare,
died. He was now the head of his company of comedians. James I. had
given him, in 1607, the lease of Blackfriars, and afterward that
of the Globe. In 1613 Madame Elizabeth, daughter of James, and the
Elector-palatine, King of Bohemia, whose statue may be seen in the ivy
at the angle of a big tower at Heidelberg, came to the Globe to see the
"Tempest" performed. These royal attendances did not save him from the
censure of the lord-chamberlain. A certain interdict weighed on his
pieces, the representation of which was tolerated, and the printing now
and then forbidden. On the second volume of the register at Stationers'
Hall you may read to-day on the margin of the title of three pieces,
"As You Like It," "Henry V.," "Much Ado about Nothing," the words "4
Augt. to suspend." The motives for these interdictions escape us.
Shakespeare was able, for instance without raising objection, to place
on the stage his former poaching adventure and make Sir Thomas Lucy
a buffoon (Judge Shallow), show the public Falstaff killing the buck
and belabouring Shallow's people, and push the likeness so far as to
give to Shallow the arms of Sir Thomas Lucy,--an outrageous piece of
Aristophanism by a man who did not know Aristophanes. Falstaff, in
Shakespeare's manuscripts, was written Falstaffe. In the mean time his
circumstances had improved, as later they did with Molière. Toward
the end of the century he was rich enough for a certain Ryc-Quiney
to ask, on the 8th October, 1598, his assistance in a letter which
bears the inscription: "To my amiable friend and countryman William
Shakespeare." He refused the assistance, as it appears, and returned
the letter, found since among Fletcher's papers, and on the reverse of
which this same Ryc-Quiney had written: "_Histrio! Mima!_" He loved
Stratford-on-Avon, where he was born, where his father had died, where
his son was buried. He there purchased or built a house, which he
christened "New Place." We say, bought or built a house, for he bought
it, according to Whiterill, and he built it according to Forbes, and on
this point Forbes disputes with Whiterill. These cavils of the learned
about trifles are not worth being searched into, particularly when we
see Father Hardouin, for instance, completely upset a whole passage of
Pliny by replacing _nos pridem_ by _non pridem._

[Illustration: _Shakespeare in his Garden._

Photogravure.--From R. de Los Rios' etching of painting by François

10. Shakespeare went from time to time to pass some days at New Place.
In these short journeys he met half-way Oxford, and at Oxford the
Crown Hotel, and in the hotel the hostess, a beautiful, intelligent
creature, wife of the worthy innkeeper, Davenant. In 1606 Mrs. Davenant
was brought to bed of a son whom they named William, and in 1644
Sir William Davenant, created knight by Charles I., wrote to Lord
Rochester: "Know this, which does honour to my mother, I am the son
of Shakespeare," thus allying himself to Shakespeare in the same way
that in our days M. Lucas Montigny claimed relationship with Mirabeau.
Shakespeare had married off his two daughters,--Susan to a doctor,
Judith to a merchant; Susan had wit, Judith knew not how to read or
write, and signed her name with a cross. In 1613 it happened that
Shakespeare, having come to Stratford-on-Avon, had no further desire
to return to London. Perhaps he was in difficulties. He had just been
compelled to mortgage his house. The contract deed of this mortgage,
dated 11th March, 1613, and indorsed with Shakespeare's signature,
was up to the last century in the hands of an attorney, who gave it
to Garrick, who lost it. Garrick lost likewise (it is Miss Violetti,
his wife, who tells the story), Forbes's manuscript, with his letters
in Latin. From 1613 Shakespeare remained at his house at New Place,
occupied with his garden, forgetting his plays, wrapped up in his
flowers. He planted in this garden of New Place the first mulberry-tree
that was grown at Stratford, just as Queen Elizabeth wore, in 1561, the
first silk stockings seen in England. On the 25th March, 1616, feeling
ill, he made his will. His will, dictated by him, is written on three
pages; he signed each of them; his hand trembled. On the first page
he signed only his Christian name, "William;" on the second, "Willm.
Shaspr.;" on the third, "William Shasp." On the 23d April, he died.
He had reached that day exactly fifty-two years, being born on the
23d April, 1564. On that same day, 23d April, 1616, died Cervantes, a
genius of like growth. When Shakespeare died, Milton was eight years,
Corneille ten years of age; Charles I. and Cromwell were two youths,
the one sixteen, the other seventeen years old.

[Footnote 1: See L'Inferno, Chant xx.]


Shakespeare's life was greatly imbittered. He lived perpetually
slighted; he states it himself. Posterity may read this to-day in his
own verses:--

    "Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
     And almost thence my nature is subdu'd.
     Pity me, then,
     Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
     Potions of eysel."[1]

    "Your love and pity doth th' impression fill
     Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow."[2]

    "Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
     Unless thou take that honour from thy name."[3]

    "Or on my frailty why are frailer spies."[4]

Shakespeare had permanently near him one envious person, Ben
Jonson,--an indifferent comic poet, whose _début_ he assisted.
Shakespeare was thirty-nine when Elizabeth died. This queen had not
paid attention to him; she managed to reign forty-four years without
seeing that Shakespeare was there. She is not the least qualified,
historically, to be called the "protectress of arts and letters,"
etc. The historians of the old school gave these certificates to all
princes, whether they knew how to read or not.

Shakespeare, persecuted like Molière at a later date, sought, as
Molière, to lean on the master. Shakespeare and Molière would in our
days have had a loftier spirit. The master, it was Elizabeth,--"King
Elizabeth," as the English called her. Shakespeare glorified Elizabeth:
he called her the "Virgin Star," "Star of the West," and "Diana,"--a
name of a goddess which pleased the queen,--but in vain. The queen took
no notice of it; less sensitive to the praises in which Shakespeare
called her Diana than to the insults of Scipio Gentilis, who, taking
the pretensions of Elizabeth on the bad side, called her "Hecate," and
applied to her the ancient triple curse, "Mormo! Bombo! Gorgo!" As for
James I., whom Henry IV. called Master James, he gave, as we have seen,
the lease of the Globe to Shakespeare, but he willingly forbade the
publication of his pieces. Some contemporaries, Dr. Symon Forman among
others, so far took notice of Shakespeare as to make a note of the
occupation of an evening passed at the performance of the "Merchant of
Venice!" That was all which he knew of glory. Shakespeare, once dead,
entered into oblivion.

From 1640 to 1660 the Puritans abolished art, and shut up the
playhouses. All theatricals were under a funeral shroud. With Charles
II. the drama revived without Shakespeare. The false taste of Louis
XIV. had invaded England. Charles II. belonged rather to Versailles
than London. He had as mistress a French girl, the Duchess of
Portsmouth, and as an intimate friend the privy purse of the King of
France. Clifford, his favourite, who never entered the parliament-house
without spitting, said: "It is better for my master to be viceroy under
a great monarch like Louis XIV. than the slave of five hundred insolent
English subjects." These were not the days of the republic,--the time
when Cromwell took the title of "Protector of England and France," and
forced this same Louis XIV. to accept the title of "King of the French."

Under this restoration of the Stuarts, Shakespeare completed his
eclipse. He was so thoroughly dead that Davenant, possibly his son,
re-composed his pieces. There was no longer any "Macbeth" but the
"Macbeth" of Davenant. Dryden speaks of Shakespeare on one occasion in
order to say that he is "out of date." Lord Shaftesbury calls him "a
wit out of fashion." Dryden and Shaftesbury were two oracles. Dryden,
a converted Catholic, had two sons, ushers in the Chamber of Clément
XI., made tragedies worth putting into Latin verse, as Atterbury's
hexameters prove; and he was the servant of that James II. who, before
being king on his own account, had asked of his brother, Charles II.,
"Why don't you hang Milton?" The Earl of Shaftesbury, a friend of
Locke, was the man who wrote an "Essay on Sprightliness in Important
Conversations," and who, by the manner in which Chancellor Hyde helped
his daughter to the wing of a chicken, divined that she was secretly
married to the Duke of York.

These two men having condemned Shakespeare, the oracle had spoken.
England, a country more obedient to conventional opinion than is
generally believed, forgot Shakespeare. Some purchaser pulled down
his house, New Place. A Rev. Dr. Cartrell cut down and burned his
mulberry-tree. At the commencement of the eighteenth century the
eclipse was total. In 1707, one called Nahum Tate published a "King
Lear," warning his readers "that he had borrowed the idea of it from a
play which he had read by chance,--the work of some nameless author."
This "nameless author" was Shakespeare.

[Footnote 1: Sonnet 111.]

[Footnote 2: Sonnet 112.]

[Footnote 3: Sonnet 36.]

[Footnote 4: Sonnet 121.]


In 1728 Voltaire imported from England to France the name of Will
Shakespeare. Only in place of Will, he pronounced it _Gilles._

Jeering began in France, and oblivion continued in England. What
the Irishman Nahum Tate had done for "King Lear," others did for
other pieces. "All's Well that Ends Well" had successively two
arrangers,--Pilon for the Haymarket, and Kemble for Drury Lane.
Shakespeare existed no more, and counted no more. "Much Ado about
Nothing" served likewise as a rough draft twice,--for Davenant in
1673, for James Miller in 1737. "Cymbeline" was recast four times:
under James II., at the Theatre Royal, by Thomas Dursey; in 1695 by
Charles Marsh; in 1759 by W. Hawkins; in 1761 by Garrick. "Coriolanus"
was recast four times: in 1682, for the Theatre Royal, by Tates; in
1720, for Drury Lane, by John Dennis; in 1755, for Covent Garden, by
Thomas Sheridan; in 1801, for Drury Lane, by Kemble. "Timon of Athens"
was recast four times: at the Duke's Theatre, in 1678, by Shadwell;
in 1768, at the Theatre of Richmond Green, by James Love; in 1771, at
Drury Lane, by Cumberland; in 1786, at Covent Garden, by Hull.

In the eighteenth century the persistent raillery of Voltaire ended in
producing in England a certain waking up. Garrick, while correcting
Shakespeare, played him, and acknowledged that it was Shakespeare that
he played. They reprinted him at Glasgow. An imbecile, Malone, made
commentaries on his plays, and as a logical sequence, whitewashed his
tomb. There was on this tomb a little bust, of a doubtful resemblance,
and moderate as a work of art; but, what made it a subject of
reverence, contemporaneous with Shakespeare. It is after this bust that
all the portraits of Shakespeare have been made that we now see. The
bust was whitewashed. Malone, critic and whitewasher of Shakespeare,
spread a coat of plaster on his face, of idiotic nonsense on his work.




Great Art, using this word in its arbitrary sense, is the region of

Before going farther, let us fix the value of this expression, Art,
which often recurs in our writing.

We speak of Art as we speak of Nature; here are two terms of an
almost unlimited signification. To pronounce the one or the other of
these words, Nature, Art, is to make a conjuration, to extract from
the depths the ideal, to draw aside one of the two grand curtains of
a divine creation. God manifests himself to us in the first degree
through the life of the universe, and in the second through the thought
of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The
first is named Nature, the second is named Art. Hence this reality: the
poet is a priest

There is here below a pontiff,--it is genius.

_Sacerdos Magnus._

Art is the second branch of Nature.

Art is as natural as Nature.

By the word _God_--let us fix the sense of this word--we mean the
Living Infinite.

The I latent of the Infinite patent, that is God.

God is the Invisible seen.

The world concentrated is God. God expanded, is the world.

We, who are speaking, we believe in nothing out of God.

That being said, let us proceed. God creates art by man. He has for a
tool the human intellect. This tool the Workman has made for himself;
he has no other.

Forbes, in the curious little work perused by Warburton and lost by
Garrick, affirms that Shakespeare devoted himself to the practice of
magic, that magic was in his family, and that what little good there
was in his pieces was dictated to him by one "Alleur," a spirit.

Let us say on this point, for we must not avoid any of the questions
about to arise, that it is a wretched error of all ages to desire to
give the human intellect assistance from without,--_antrum adjuvat
vatem._ To the work which seems superhuman, people wish to bring the
intervention of the extra-human,--in antiquity, the tripod; in our
days, the table. The table is nothing but the tripod come back. To
accept _au pied de la lettre_ the demon that Socrates talks of, the
thicket of Moses, the nymph of Numa, the spirit of Plotinus, and
Mahomet's dove, is to be the victim of a metaphor.

On the other hand, the table, turning or talking, has been very much
laughed at; to speak the truth, this raillery is out of place. To
replace inquiry by mockery is convenient, but not very scientific.
For our part, we think that the strict duty of science is to test all
phenomena. Science is ignorant, and has no right to laugh; a savant
who laughs at the possible is very near being an idiot. The unexpected
ought always to be expected by science. Her duty is to stop it in
its course and search it, rejecting the chimerical, establishing the
real. Science has but the right to put a visa on facts; she should
verify and distinguish. All human knowledge is but picking and culling.
Because the false mixes with the true, it is no excuse for rejecting
the mass. When was the tare an excuse for refusing the corn? Hoe the
weed, error, but reap the fact, and place it beside others. Knowledge
is the sheaf of facts.

The mission of science,--to study and try the depth of everything. All
of us, according to our degree, are the creditors of investigation;
we are its debtors also. It is owed to us, and we owe it to others.
To avoid a phenomenon, to refuse to pay it that attention to which it
has a right, to lead it out, to shut to the door, to turn our back on
it laughing, is to make truth a bankrupt, and to leave the draft of
science to be protested. The phenomenon of the tripod of old, and of
the table of to-day, is entitled, like anything else, to observation.
Psychic science will gain by it, without doubt. Let us add that to
abandon phenomena to credulity is to commit treason against human

Homer affirms that the tripods of Delphi walked of their own accord;
and he explains the fact[1] by saying that Vulcan forged invisible
wheels for them. The explanation does not much simplify the phenomenon.
Plato relates that the statues of Dædalus gesticulated in the darkness,
had a will of their own, and resisted their master; and that he was
obliged to tie them up, so that they might not walk off. Strange dogs
at the end of a chain! Fléchier mentions, at page 52 of his "Histoire
de Thédodose"--referring to the great conspiracy of the magicians of
the fourth century against the emperor--a table-turning of which,
perhaps, we shall speak elsewhere, in order to say what Fléchier
did not say, and seemed to ignore. This table was covered with a
round plating of several metals, _ex diversis metallicis materiis
fabrefacta_, like the plates of copper and zinc actually employed in
biology. So you may see that the phenomenon, always rejected and always
reappearing, is not a matter of yesterday.

Besides, whatever credulity has said or thought about it, this
phenomenon of the tripods and tables is without any connection, and
it is the very thing we want to come to, with the inspiration of the
poets,--an inspiration entirely direct. The sibyl has a tripod, the
poet none. The poet is himself a tripod. He is a tripod of God. God has
not made this marvellous distillery of thought, the brain of man, not
to be made use of. Genius has all that it wants in its brain; every
thought passes by there. Thought ascends and buds from the brain, as
the fruit from the root. Thought is man's consequence; the root plunges
into earth, the brain into God,--that is to say, into the Infinite.

Those who imagine (there are such, witness Forbes) that a poem like "Le
Médecin de son Honneur," or "King Lear," can be dictated by a tripod or
a table, err in a strange fashion; these works are the works of man.
God has no need to make a piece of wood aid Shakespeare or Calderon.

Then let us dispose of the tripod. Poetry is the poet's own. Let us be
respectful before the possible of which no one knows the limit; let us
be attentive and serious before the extra-human, out of which we come,
and which awaits us; but let us not diminish the great workers of earth
by hypotheses of mysterious assistance, which is not necessary. Let us
leave to the brain what belongs to it, and agree that the work of the
men of genius is of the superhuman, the offspring of man.

[Footnote 1: Song XVIII of the Iliad.]


Supreme Art is the region of Equals.

The _chef d'œuvre_ is adequate to the _chef d'œuvre._

As water, when heated to 100° C., is incapable of calorific increase,
and can rise no higher, so human thought attains in certain men its
maximum intensity. Æschylus, Job, Phidias, Isaiah, Saint Paul, Juvenal,
Dante, Michael Angelo, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Rembrandt,
Beethoven, with some others, mark the 100° of genius.

The human mind has a summit.

This summit is the Ideal.

God descends, man rises to it.

In each age three or four men of genius undertake the ascent. From
below, the world follow them with their eyes. These men go up the
mountain, enter into the clouds, disappear, re-appear. People watch
them, mark them. They walk by the side of precipices. A false step does
not displease certain of the lookers-on. They daringly pursue their
road. See them aloft, see them in the distance; they are but black
specks. "How small they are!" says the crowd. They are giants. On they
go. The road is uneven, its difficulties constant. At each step a wall,
at each step a trap. As they rise, the cold increases. They must make
their ladder, cut the ice, and walk on it, hewing the steps in haste.
Every storm is raging. Nevertheless, they go forward in their madness.
The air becomes difficult to breathe. The abyss increases around them.
Some fall. It is well done. Others stop and retrace their steps; there
is sad weariness.

The bold ones continue; those predestined persist. The dreadful
declivity sinks beneath them and tries to draw them in; glory is
traitorous. They are eyed by the eagles; the lightning plays about
them; the hurricane is furious. No matter, they persevere. They ascend.
He who arrives at the summit is thy equal, Homer!

Those names that we have mentioned, and those which we might have
added, repeat them again. To choose between these men is impossible.
There is no method for striking the balance between Rembrandt and
Michael Angelo.

And, to confine ourselves solely to the authors and poets, examine them
one after the other. Which is the greatest? Every one.

1. One, Homer, is the huge poet-child. The world is born, Homer sings.
He is the bird of this aurora. Homer has the holy sincerity of the
early dawn. He almost ignores shadow. Chaos, heaven, earth; Geo and
Ceto; Jove, god of gods; Agamemnon, king of kings; peoples; flocks
from the beginning; temples, towns, battles, harvests; the ocean;
Diomedes fighting; Ulysses wandering; the windings of a sail seeking
its home; Cyclops; dwarfs; a map of the world crowned by the gods of
Olympus; and here and there a glimmer of the furnace permitting a
sight of hell; priests, virgins, mothers; little children frightened
by the plumes; the dog who remembers; great words which fall from
gray-beards; friendships, loves, passions, and the hydras; Vulcan for
the laugh of the gods, Thersites for the laugh of men; two aspects of
married life summed up for the benefit of ages in Helen and Penelope;
the Styx; Destiny; the heel of Achilles, without which Destiny would
be vanquished by the Styx; monsters, heroes, men; thousands of
landscapes seen in perspective in the cloud of the old world,--this
immensity, this is Homer. Troy coveted, Ithaca desired. Homer is war
and travel,--the first two methods for the meeting of mankind. The
camp attacks the fortress, the ship sounds the unknown, which is
also an attack; around war every passion; around travels every kind
of adventure,--two gigantic groups; the first, bloody, is called the
Iliad; the second, luminous, is called the Odyssey. Homer makes men
greater than Nature; they hurl at each other rocks which twelve pairs
of oxen could not move. The gods hardly care to come in contact with
them. Minerva takes Achilles by the hair; he turns round in anger:
"What do you want with me, goddess?" No monotony in these puissant
figures. These giants are graduated. After each hero, Homer breaks the
mould. Ajax, son of Oïleus, is less high in stature than Ajax, son of
Telamon. Homer is one of the men of genius who resolve that beautiful
problem of art (the most beautiful of all, perhaps),--the true picture
of humanity obtained by aggrandizing man; that is to say, the creation
of the real in the ideal. Fable and history, hypothesis and tradition,
the chimera and knowledge, make up Homer. He is fathomless, and he
is cheerful. All the depth of ancient days moves happily radiant and
luminous in the vast azure of this spirit. Lycurgus, that peevish
sage, half way between a Solon and a Draco, was conquered by Homer.
He turned out of the way, while travelling, to go and read, at the
house of Cleophilus, Homer's poems, placed there in remembrance of
the hospitality that Homer, it is said, had formerly received in that
house. Homer, to the Greeks, was a god; he had priests,--the Homerides.
Alcibiades gave a bombastic orator a cuff for boasting that he had
never read Homer. The divinity of Homer has survived Paganism. Michael
Angelo said, "When I read Homer, I look at myself to see if I am not
twenty feet in height." Tradition will have it that the first verse of
the Iliad should be a verse of Orpheus. This doubling Homer by Orpheus,
increased in Greece the religion of Homer. The shield of Achilles[1]
was commented on in the temples by Damo, daughter of Pythagoras.
Homer, as the sun, has planets. Virgil, who writes the Æneid, Lucan,
who writes "Pharsalia," Tasso, who writes "Jerusalem," Ariosto, who
composes "Roland," Milton, who writes "Paradise Lost," Camoëns, who
writes the "Lusiades," Klopstock, who wrote the "Messiah," Voltaire,
who wrote the "Henriade," gravitate toward Homer, and sending back
to their own moons his light reflected in different degrees, move at
unequal distances in his boundless orbit. This is Homer. Such is the
beginning of the epic poem.

2. Another, Job, began the drama. This embryo is a colossus. Job begins
the drama, and it is forty centuries ago, by placing Jehovah and
Satan in presence of each other; the evil defies the good, and behold
the action is begun. The earth is the place for the scene, and man
the field of battle; the plagues are the actors. One of the wildest
grandeurs of this poem is that in it the sun is inauspicious. The sun
is in Job as in Homer; but it is no longer the dawn, it is midday. The
mournful heaviness of the brazen ray falling perpendicularly on the
desert pervades this poem, heated to a white heat. Job sweats on his
dunghill. The shadow of Job is small and black, and hidden under him,
as the snake under the rock. Tropical flies buzz on his sores. Job has
above his head the frightful Arabian sun,--a bringer-up of monsters, an
amplifier of plagues, who changes the cat into the tiger, the lizard
into the crocodile, the pig into the rhinoceros, the snake into the
boa, the nettle into the cactus, the wind into the simoon, the miasma
into the plague. Job is anterior to Moses. Far into ages, by the side
of Abraham, the Hebrew patriarch, there is Job, the Arabian patriarch.
Before being proved, he had been happy,--"the greatest man in all
the East," says his poem. This was the labourer-king. He exercised
the immense priesthood of solitude; he sacrificed and sanctified.
Toward evening he gave the earth the blessing,--the "berac." He was
learned; he knew rhythm; his poem, of which the Arabian text is lost,
was written in verse,--this, at least, is certain as regards from
verse 3 of chap. III. to the end. He was good; he did not meet a poor
child without throwing him the small coin kesitha; he was "the foot
of the lame man, and the eye of the blind." It is from that that he
was precipitated; fallen, he became gigantic. The whole poem of "Job"
is the development of this idea,--the greatness that may be found at
the bottom of the abyss. Job is more majestic when unfortunate than
when prosperous. His leprosy is a purple cloth. His misery terrifies
those who are there; they speak not to him until after a silence of
seven days and seven nights. His lamentation is marked by they know
not what quiet and sad sorcery. As he is crushing the vermin on his
ulcers, he calls on the stars. He addresses Orion, the Hyades, which he
names the Pleiades, and the signs that are at noonday. He says, "God
has put an end to darkness." He calls the diamond which is hidden,
"the stone of obscurity." He mixes with his distress the misfortune of
others, and has tragic words that freeze,--"The widow is desolate." He
smiles also, and is then more frightful yet. He has around him Eliphaz,
Bildad, Zophar,--three implacable types of the friendly busybody,
of whom he says, "You play on me as on a tambourine." His language,
submissive toward God, is bitter toward kings: "The kings of the earth
build solitudes," leaving our wit to find out whether he speaks of
their tomb or their kingdom. Tacitus says, "Solitudinem faciunt." As
to Jehovah, he adores him; and under the furious scourging of the
plagues, all his resistance is confined to asking of God, "Wilt thou
not permit me to swallow my spittle?" That dates four thousand years
ago. At the same hour, perhaps, when the enigmatical astronomer of
Denderah carves in the granite his mysterious zodiac, Job engraves
his on human thought; and his zodiac is not made of stars, but of
miseries. This zodiac turns yet above our heads. We have of Job only
the Hebrew version, written by Moses. Such a poet, followed by such
a translator, makes us dream! The man of the dunghill is translated
by the man of Sinai. It is that, in reality, Job is a minister and a
prophet. Job extracts from his drama a dogma. Job suffers, and draws an
inference. Now, to suffer and draw an inference is to teach; sorrow,
when logical, leads to God. Job teaches. Job, after having touched the
summit of the drama, stirs up the depths of philosophy. He shows first
that sublime madness of wisdom which, two thousand years later, by
resignation making itself a sacrifice, will be the foolishness of the
cross,--_stultitiam crucis._ The dunghill of Job, transfigured, will
become the Calvary of Jesus.

3. Another, Æschylus, enlightened by the unconscious divination of
genius, without suspecting that he has behind him, in the East, the
resignation of Job, completes it, unwittingly, by the revolt of
Prometheus; so that the lesson may be complete, and that the human
race, to whom Job has taught but duty, shall feel in Prometheus Right
dawning. There is something ghastly in Æschylus from one end to the
other; there is a vague outline of an extraordinary Medusa behind the
figures in the foreground. Æschylus is magnificent and powerful,--as
though you saw him knitting his brows beyond the sun. He has two
Cains,--Eteocles and Polynices; Genesis has but one. His swarm of
sea-monsters come and go in the dark sky, as a flock of driven birds.
Æschylus has none of the known proportions. He is rough, abrupt,
immoderate, incapable of smoothing the way, almost ferocious, with
a grace of his own which resembles the flowers in wild places, less
haunted by nymphs than by the Eumenides, of the faction of the Titans;
among goddesses choosing the sombre ones, and smiling darkly at the
Gorgons; a son of the earth like Othryx and Briareus, and ready to
attempt again the scaling of heaven against that _parvenu Jupiter._
Æschylus is ancient mystery made man,--something like a Pagan prophet.
His work, if we had it all, would be a kind of Greek bible. Poet
hundred-handed, having an Orestes more fatal than Ulysses and a Thebes
grander than Troy, hard as a rock, raging like the foam, full of
steeps, torrents, and precipices, and such a giant that at times you
might suppose that he becomes mountain. Coming later than the Iliad, he
has the appearance of an elder son of Homer.

4. Another, Isaiah, seems, above humanity, as a roaring of continual
thunder. He is the great censure. His style, a kind of nocturnal
cloud, lightens up unceasingly with images which suddenly empurple
all the depths of this dark mind, and makes us exclaim, "He gives
light!" Isaiah takes hand-to-hand the evil which, in civilization,
makes its appearance before the good. He cries "Silence!" at the
noise of chariots, of _fêtes_, of triumphs. The foam of his prophecy
surges even on Nature. He denounces Babylon to the moles and bats,
promises Nineveh briers, Tyre ashes, Jerusalem night, fixes a date for
the wrong-doers, warns the powers of their approaching end, assigns
a day against idols, high citadels, the fleets of Tarsus, the cedars
of Lebanon, the oaks of Basan. He is standing on the threshold of
civilization, and he refuses to enter. He is a kind of mouthpiece of
the desert speaking to multitudes, and claiming for quicksands, briers,
and breezes the place where towns are, because it is just; because the
tyrant and the slave--that is to say, pride and shame--exist wherever
there are walled enclosures; because evil is there incarnate in man;
because in solitude there is but the beast, while in the city there is
the monster. That which Isaiah made a reproach of in his day--idolatry,
pride, war, prostitution, ignorance--still exists. Isaiah is the
eternal contemporary of vices which turn valets, and crimes which exalt
themselves into kings.

5. Another, Ezekiel, is the wild soothsayer,--the genius of the
cavern; thought which the roar suits. But listen. This savage makes
a prophecy to the world,--Progress. Nothing more astonishing. Ah,
Isaiah overthrows? Very well! Ezekiel will reconstruct. Isaiah refuses
civilization. Ezekiel accepts, but transforms it. Nature and humanity
blend together in that softened howl which Ezekiel throws forth. The
idea of duty is in Job; of right, in Æschylus. Ezekiel brings before
us the resulting third idea,--the human race ameliorated, posterity
more and more free. That posterity may be a rising instead of a setting
star is man's consolation. Time present works for time to come. Work,
then, and hope. Such is Ezekiel's cry. Ezekiel is in Chaldæa; and
from Chaldæa he sees distinctly Judæa, as from oppression you may
see liberty. He declares peace as others declare war. He prophesies
harmony, goodness, sweetness, union, the blending of races, love.
Notwithstanding, he is terrible. He is the austere benefactor. He is
the universal kind-hearted grumbler at the human race. He scolds, he
almost gnashes his teeth; and people fear and hate him. The men about
are thorns to him. "I live among the briers," he says. He condemns
himself to be a symbol, and makes in his person, become hideous, a sign
of human misery and popular degradation. He is a kind of voluntary
Job. In his town, in his house, he causes himself to be bound with
cords, and rests mute: behold the slave. In the public place he eats
dung: behold the courtier. This makes Voltaire burst into laughter,
and causes our tears to flow. Ah, Ezekiel, so far does your devotion
go! You render shame visible by horror; you compel ignominy to turn
the head when recognizing herself in the dirt; you show that to
accept a man for master is to eat dung; you cause a shudder to the
cowards who follow the prince, by putting into your stomach what
they put into their souls; you preach deliverance by vomiting; be
reverenced! This man, this being, this figure, this swine-prophet, is
sublime. And the transfiguration that he announces he proves. How? By
transfiguring himself. From this horrible and soiled lip comes forth
the blaze of poetry. Never has grander language been spoken, never more

    "I saw the vision of God. A whirlwind comes from the north,
    and a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself. I saw a
    chariot and a likeness of four animals. Above the creatures
    and the chariot was a space like a terrible crystal. The
    wheels of the chariot were made of eyes, and so high that
    they were dreadful. The noise of the wings of the four
    angels was as the noise of the All-Powerful, and when they
    stopped they lowered their wings. And I saw a likeness which
    was as fire, and which put forth a hand. And a voice said,
    'The kings and the judges have in their souls gods of dung.
    I will take from their breasts the heart of stone, and I
    will give them a heart of flesh.' I went to them that dwelt
    by the river of Chebar, and I remained there astonished
    among them seven days."

And again:--

    "There was a plain and dry bones; and I said, 'Bones, rise
    up,' and I looked, and there came nerves on these bones, and
    flesh on these nerves, and a skin above; but the spirit was
    not there. And I cried, 'Spirit, come from the four winds,
    breathe, so that these dead revive.' The spirit came. The
    breath entered into them, and they rose up, and it was an
    army, and it was a people. Then the voice said, 'You shall
    be one nation, you shall have no king or judge but me; and
    I will be the God who has one people, and you shall be the
    people who have one God.'"

Is not everything there? Search for a higher formula, you will not
find it. A free man under a sovereign God. This visionary eater of
dung is a resuscitator. Ezekiel has mud on the lips and sun in the
eyes. Among the Jews the reading of Ezekiel was dreaded. It was not
permitted before the age of thirty years. Priests, disturbed, put a
seal on this poet. People could not call him an impostor. His terror
as a prophet was incontestable. He had evidently seen what he related.
Thence his authority. His very enigmas made him an oracle. They could
not tell which it was, these women sitting toward the north weeping for
Tammuz. Impossible to divine what was the "hasmal," this metal which he
pictured as in fusion in the furnace of the dream; but nothing was more
clear than his vision of Progress. Ezekiel saw the quadruple man,--man,
ox, lion, and eagle; that is to say, the master of thought, the master
of the field, the master of the desert, the master of the air. Nothing
forgotten. It is posterity complete, from Aristotle to Christopher
Columbus, from Triptolemus to Montgolfier. Later on, the Gospel also
will become quadruple in the four Evangelists, making Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John subservient to man, the ox, the lion, and the eagle,
and, remarkable fact, to symbolize progress will take the four faces
of Ezekiel. At all events, Ezekiel, like Christ, calls himself the
"Son of Man." Jesus often in his parables invokes and cites Ezekiel;
and this kind of first Messiah paves the way for the second. There are
in Ezekiel three constructions,--man, in whom he places progress; the
temple, where he puts a light that he calls glory; the city, where
he puts God. He cries to the temple,--no priest here, neither they,
nor their kings, nor the carcasses of their kings.[2] One cannot help
thinking that this Ezekiel, a species of biblical demagogue, would help
'93 in the terrible sweeping of St. Denis. As for the city built by
him, he mutters above it this mysterious name, Jehovah Schammah, which
signifies "the Eternal is there." Then he is silent and thoughtful in
the darkness, pointing at humanity; farther on, in the depth of the
horizon, a continued increase of azure.

6. Another, Lucretius, is that vast obscure thing, All. Jupiter is
in Homer; Jehovah is in Job; in Lucretius Pan appears. Such is Pan's
greatness that he has under him Destiny, which is above Jupiter.
Lucretius has travelled and he has mused, which is another voyage.
He has been at Athens; he has been in the haunts of philosophers; he
has studied Greece and made out India. Democritus has made him dream
on matter, and Anaximander on space. His dreams have become doctrine.
Nothing is known of the incidents of his life. Like Pythagoras, he
frequented the two mysterious schools on the Euphrates,--Neharda and
Pombeditha; and he may have met there the Jewish doctors. He spelt
the papyri of Sepphoris, which, at his time, was not yet transformed
into Diocæsarea. He lived with the pearl-fishers of the isle of Tylos.
We may find in the Apocrypha traces of an ancient strange itinerary
recommended, according to some, to the philosophers by Empedocles, the
magician, of Agrigentum, and, according to others, to the rabbis by
the high-priest Eleazer who corresponded with Ptolemy Philadelphus.
This itinerary would have served at a later time as a standard for the
travels of the Apostles. The traveller who followed this itinerary went
through the five satrapies of the country of the Philistines, visited
the people who charm serpents and suck poisonous sores,--the Psylli;
drank of the torrent Bosor, which marks the frontier of Arabia Deserta;
then touched and handled the bronze _carcan_ of Andromeda, still
sealed to the rock of Joppa; Balbec in Syria; Apamea, on the Orontes,
where Nicanor nourished his elephants; the harbour of Eziongeber,
where the vessels of Ophir, laden with gold, stopped; Segher, which
produced white incense, preferred to that of Hadramauth; the two
Syrtes, the mountain of Emerald Smaragdus; the Nasamones, who pillaged
the shipwrecked; the black nation, Agysimba; Adribe, the town of
crocodiles; Cynopolis, town of aloes; the wonderful cities of Comagena,
Claudia, and Barsalium; perhaps even Tadmor, the town of Solomon,--such
were the stages of this almost fabulous pilgrimage of the thinkers.
This pilgrimage, did Lucretius make it? One cannot tell. His numerous
travels are beyond doubt He had seen so many men that at the end they
were all mixed up in his eye, and this multitude had become to him
shadows. He is arrived at that excess of simplification of the universe
which is almost its entire fading away. He has sounded until he feels
the plummet float He has questioned the vague spectres of Byblos; he
has conversed with the severed tree of Chyteron, who is Juno-Thespia.
Perhaps he has spoken in the reeds to Oannes, the man-fish of Chaldæa,
who had two heads,--at the top the head of a man, below the head of
a hydra, and who, drinking chaos by his lower orifice, re-vomited it
on the earth by his upper lip; in knowledge awful. Lucretius has this
knowledge. Isaiah borders on the archangels, Lucretius on larvas.
Lucretius twists the ancient veil of Isis, steeped in the waters of
darkness, and expresses out of it sometimes in torrents, sometimes
drop by drop, a sombre poetry. The boundless is in Lucretius. At times
there passes a powerful spondaic verse almost terrible, and full of
shadow: "Circum se foliis ac frondibus involventes." Here and there a
vast image is sketched in the forest,--"Tunc Venus in sylvis jungebat
corpora amantum;" and the forest is Nature. These verses are impossible
with Virgil. Lucretius turns his back on humanity, and looks fixedly on
the Enigma. Lucretius's spirit, working to the very deeps, is placed
between this reality, the atom, and this impossibility, the vacuum; by
turns attracted by these two precipices. Religious when he contemplates
the atom, sceptical when he sees the void; thence his two aspects,
equally profound, whether he denies, whether he affirms. One day this
traveller commits suicide. This is his last departure. He puts himself
_en route_ for Death. He departs to see. He has embarked successively
on all the pinnaces,--on the galley of Trevirium for Sanastrea in
Macedonia; on the trireme of Carystus for Metapon in Greece; on the
skiff of Cyllenus for the island of Samothrace; on the sandal of
Samothrace for Naxos, where is Bacchus; on the _ceroscaph_ of Naxos for
Syria; on the vessel of Syria for Egypt, and on the ship of the Red
Sea for India. It remains for him to make one voyage. He is curious
about the dark country; he takes his passage on the coffin, and himself
unfastening the mooring, pushes with foot into space this dark vessel
that floats on the unknown wave.

7. Another, Juvenal, has everything in which Lucretius
fails,--passion, emotion, fever, tragic flame, passion for honesty,
avenging sneer, personality, humanity. He dwells in a certain given
point in creation, and he contents himself with it, finding there what
may nourish and swell his heart with justice and anger. Lucretius is
the universe, Juvenal the locality. And what a locality! Rome. Between
the two they are the double voice which speaks to land and town,--_urbi
et orbi._ Juvenal has, above the Roman Empire, the enormous flapping
of wings of the griffin above the rest of the reptiles. He pounces
upon this swarm and takes them, one after the other, in his terrible
beak,--from the adder who is emperor and calls himself Nero, to the
earthworm who is a bad poet and calls himself Codrus. Isaiah and
Juvenal have each their harlot; but there is something more gloomy than
the shadow of Babel,--it is the crashing of the bed of the Cæsars; and
Babylon is less formidable than Messalina. Juvenal is the ancient free
spirit of the dead republics; in him there is a Rome, in the bronze
of which Athens and Sparta are cast. Thence in his poetry something
of Aristophanes and something of Lycurgus. Take care of him; he is
severe. Not a cord is wanting to his lyre or to the lash he uses. He is
lofty, rigid, austere, thundering, violent, grave, just, inexhaustible
in imagery, harshly gracious when he chooses. His cynicism is the
indignation of modesty. His grace, thoroughly independent and a true
figure of liberty, has talons; it appears all at once, enlivening, by
we cannot tell what supple and spirited undulations, the well-formed
majesty of his hexameter. You may imagine that you see the Cat of
Corinth roaming on the frieze of the Parthenon. There is the epic in
this satire; that which Juvenal has in his hand is the sceptre of gold
with which Ulysses beat Thersites. "Bombast, declamation, exaggeration,
hyperbole," cry the slaughtered deformities; and these cries, stupidly
repeated by rhetoricians, are a noise of glory. "Crime is quite equal
to committing things or relating them," say Tillemont, Marc Muret,
Garasse, etc.,--fools, who, like Muret, are sometimes knaves. Juvenal's
invective blazes since two thousand years ago,--a fearful flash of
poetry which still burns Rome in the presence of centuries. This
splendid fire breaks out and, far from diminishing with time, increases
under the whirl of its mournful smoke. From it proceed rays in behalf
of liberty, probity, heroism; and it may be said that it throws even
into our civilization minds full of his light. What is Régnier? what
D'Aubigné? what Corneille?--scintillations of Juvenal.

8. Another, Tacitus, is the historian. Liberty is incarnate in him
as in Juvenal, and rises, dead, to the judgment-seat, having for a
toga its winding-shroud, and summons to his bar tyrants. The soul of
a people become the soul of man, is Juvenal, as we have just said:
thus it is with Tacitus. By the side of the poet who condemns stands
the historian who punishes. Tacitus, seated on the curule chair of
genius, summons and seizes _in flagante delicto_ these guilty ones,
the Cæsars. The Roman Empire is a long crime. This crime commences
by four demons,--Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero. Tiberius, the
emperor's spy; the eye which watches the world; the first dictator who
dared to twist for himself the law of power made for the Roman people;
knowing Greek, intellectual, sagacious, sarcastic, eloquent, terrible;
loved by informers; the murderer of citizens, of knights, of the
senate, of his wife, of his family; having rather the air of stabbing
people than massacring them; humble before the barbarians; a traitor
with Archelaus, a coward with Artabanes; having two thrones,--Rome
for his ferocity, Caprea for his baseness; an inventor of vices and
names for vices; an old man with a seraglio of children; gaunt, bald,
crooked, bandy-legged, sour-smelling, eaten up with leprosy, covered
with suppurations, masked with plasters, crowned with laurels; having
ulcers like Job, and the sceptre as well; surrounded by an oppressive
silence; seeking a successor; smelling out Caligula, and finding him
good; a viper who selects a tiger. Caligula, the man who has known
fear, the slave become master, trembling under Tiberius, terrible
after Tiberius, vomiting his fright of yesterday in atrocity. Nothing
comes up to this mad fool. An executioner makes a mistake and kills,
instead of the condemned one, an innocent man; Caligula smiles, and
says, "The condemned had not more deserved it." He gets a woman eaten
alive by dogs, for the sake of seeing it. He lies publicly with his
three sisters, stark naked. One of them dies,--Drusilla. He says,
"Behead those who do not bewail her, for she is my sister; and crucify
those who bewail her, for she is a goddess." He makes his horse a
pontiff, as, later on, Nero made his monkey god. He offers to the
universe this wretched spectacle: the annihilation of intellect by
power. Prostitute, sharper, a robber, breaking the busts of Homer and
Virgil, his head dressed as Apollo with rays, and booted with wings
like Mercury; franticly master of the world, desiring incest with his
mother, a plague to his empire, famine to his people, rout to his
army, resemblance to the gods, and one sole head to the human race
that he might cut it off,--such is Caius Caligula. He forces the son
to assist at the torment of his father and the husband the violation
of his wife, and to laugh. Claudius is a mere sketch of a ruler. He is
nearly a man made a tyrant, a noodle-head crowned. He hides himself;
they discover him, they drag him from his hole, and they throw him
terrified on the throne. Emperor, he still trembles, having the crown
but not sure that he has his head. He feels for his head at times, as
if he searched for it. Then he gets more confident, and decrees three
new letters to be added to the alphabet. He is a learned man, this
idiot. They strangle a senator. He says, "I did not order it but since
it is done, it is well." His wife prostitutes herself before him. He
looks at her, and says, "Who is this woman?" He scarcely exists: he
is a shadow; but this shadow crushes the world. At length the hour
for his departure arrives: his wife poisons him, his doctor finishes
him. He says, "I am saved," and dies. After his death they come to
see his corpse. While alive they had seen his ghost. Nero is the most
formidable figure of _ennui_ that has ever appeared among men. The
yawning monster that the ancients called Livor and the moderns call
Spleen, gives us this enigma to divine,--Nero. Nero seeks simply a
distraction. Poet, comedian, singer, coachman, exhausting ferocity to
find voluptuousness, trying a change of sex, the husband of the eunuch
Sporus, and bride of the slave Pythagoras, and promenading the streets
of Rome between his husband and wife. Having two pleasures--one to
see the people clutching pieces of gold, diamonds and pearls, and the
other to see the lions clutch the people; an incendiary for curiosity's
sake, and a parricide for want of employment. It is to these four that
Tacitus dedicates his four first pillories. He hangs their reign to
their necks: he fastens that _carcan_ to theirs. His book of Caligula
is lost. Nothing easier to comprehend than the loss and obliteration
of these kinds of books. To read them was a crime. A man having been
caught reading the history of Caligula by Suetonius, Com modus had him
thrown to the wild beasts. "Feris objici jussit," says Lampridius. The
horror of those days is wonderful. Manners, below and above stairs,
are ferocious. You may judge of the cruelty of the Romans by the
atrocity of the Gauls. A row breaks out in Gaul: the peasants place
the Roman ladies, naked and still alive, on harrows whose points enter
here and there into the body; then they cut their breasts from them
and sew them in their mouths, as though they had the appearance of
eating them. "These are scarcely reprisals" (_Vix vindicta est_), says
the Roman general, Turpilianus. These Roman ladies had the practice,
while chattering with their lovers, of sticking pins of gold in the
breasts of their Persian or Gallic slaves who dressed their hair. Such
is the humanity at which Tacitus is present. This view renders him
terrible. He states the facts, and leaves you to draw your conclusions.
You only meet a Potiphar in Rome. When Agrippina, reduced to her last
resource, seeing her grave in the eyes of her son, offers him her bed,
when her lips seek those of Nero, Tacitus is there, following her with
his eyes, _lasciva oscula et prœnuntias flagitii blanditias_; and he
denounces to the world this effort of a monstrous and trembling mother
to make the parricide miscarry by incest. Whatever Justus Lipsius,
who bequeathed his pen to the Holy Virgin, has said, Domitian exiled
Tacitus, and did well. Men like Tacitus are unhealthy subjects for
authority. Tacitus applies his style to the shoulder of an emperor,
and the marks remain. Tacitus always makes his thrust at the required
spot. A deep thrust. Juvenal, all-powerful poet, deals about him,
scatters, makes a show, falls and rebounds, strikes right and left, a
hundred blows at a time, on laws, manners, bad magistrates, corrupt
verses, libertines and the idle, on Cæsar, on the people,--everywhere.
He is lavish, like hail; he is careless, like the whip. Tacitus has the
conciseness of red iron.

9. Another, John, is the virgin old man. All the ardent sap of man,
become smoke and mysterious shaking, is in his head, as a vision.
One does not escape love. Love, unsatiated and discontented, changes
itself at the end of life into a gloomy overflowing of chimeras. The
woman wants man; otherwise man, instead of human, will have a phantom
poetry. Some beings, however, resist universal procreation, and then
they are in that peculiar state where monstrous inspiration can weaken
itself on them. The Apocalypse is the almost mad _chef-d'œuvre_ of
this wonderful chastity. John, while young, was pleasant and wild. He
loved Jesus; then could love nothing else. There is a deep resemblance
between the Canticle of Canticles and the Apocalypse; the one and
the other are explosions of pent-up virginity. The heart, mighty
volcano, bursts open; there proceeds from it this dove, the Canticle of
Canticles, or this dragon, the Apocalypse. These two poems are the two
poles of ecstasy,--voluptuousness and horror; the two extreme limits
of the soul are attained. In the first poem ecstasy exhausts love; in
the second, terrifies it, and carries to mankind, henceforth forever
disquieted, the dreadful fright of the eternal precipice. Another
resemblance, not less worthy of attention, there is between John and
Daniel. The nearly invisible thread of affinity is carefully followed
by the eye of those who see in the prophetic spirit a human and normal
phenomenon, and who, far from disdaining the question of miracles,
generalize it, and calmly attach it to existing phenomena. Religions
lose, and science gains, by it. It has not been sufficiently remarked
that the seventh chapter of Daniel contains the root of the Apocalypse.
Empires are there represented as beasts. Therefore has the legend
associated the two poets; it makes the one traverse the den of lions,
and the other the caldron of boiling oil. Independently of the legend,
the life of John is fine. An exemplary life which undergoes strange
openings, passing from Golgotha to Patmos, and from the execution of
Messiah to the exile of the prophet. John, after having been present
at the sufferings of Christ, finished by suffering on his own account;
the suffering seen made him an apostle, the suffering endured made him
a magician,--the growth of the spirit was the result of the growth of
the trial. Bishop, he writes the gospel; proscribed, he composes the
Apocalypse,--tragic work, written under the dictation of an eagle, the
poet having above his head we know not what mournful flapping of wings.
The whole Bible is between two visionaries,--Moses and John. This poem
of poems merges out of chaos in Genesis, and finishes in the Apocalypse
by thunders. John was one of the great vagrants of the language of
fire. During the Last Supper his head was on the breast of Jesus, and
he could say, "My ear has heard the beating of God's heart." He went
to relate it to men. He spoke a barbarous Greek, mixed with Hebrew
expressions and Syrian words, harsh and grating, yet charming. He went
to Ephesus, he went to Media, he went among the Parthians. He dared to
enter Ctesiphon, a town of the Parthians, built as a counterpoise to
Babylon. He faced the living idol, Cobaris, king, god, and man, forever
immovable on his block, which serves him as throne and latrine. He
evangelized Persia, which the Gospel calls Paras. When he appeared at
the Council of Jerusalem, they thought they saw a pillar of the Church.
He looked with stupefaction at Cerintus and Ebion, who said that Jesus
was but a man. When they questioned him on the mystery, he answered,
"Love you one another?" He died at the age of ninety-four years, under
Trajan. According to tradition, he is not dead; he is spared, and John
is ever living at Patmos as Barberousse at Kaiserslautern. There are
some waiting-caverns for these mysterious everlasting beings. John,
as a historian, has his equals,--Matthew, Luke, Mark; as a visionary
he is alone. There is no dream approaches his, so deep it is in the
infinite. His metaphors pass out from eternity, distracted; his poetry
has a profound smile of madness; the reverberation of the Most High
is in the eye of this man. It is the sublime going fully astray. Men
do not understand it--scorn it, and laugh. "My dear Thiriot," says
Voltaire, "the Apocalypse is filth." Religions, being in want of this
book, have taken to worshipping it; but, in order not to be thrown to
the common sewer, it must be put on the altar. What does it matter?
John is a spirit. It is in the John of Patmos, among all, that the
communication between certain men of genius and the abyss is apparent.
In all other poets men get a glimpse of this communication; in John
they see it, at times they touch it, and have a shivering fit in
placing, so to speak, the hand on this sombre door. That is the way to
the Deity. It seems, when you read the poem of Patmos, that some one
pushes you from behind; you have a confused outline of the dreadful
opening. It fills you with terror and attraction. If John had only
that, he would be immense.

10. Another, Paul, a saint for the Church, a great man for
humanity, represents this prodigy, at the same time human and
divine,--conversion. He is the one who has had a glimpse of the future.
It leaves him haggard; and nothing can be more magnificent than this
face, forever wondering, of the man conquered by the light. Paul, born
a Pharisee, had been a weaver of camel's-hair for tents, and servant
of one of the judges of Jesus Christ, Gamaliel; then the scribes had
advanced him, trusting to his natural ferocity. He was the man of
the past; he had taken care of the mantles of the stone-throwers. He
aspired, having studied with the priests, to become an executioner; he
was on the road for this. All at once a wave of light emanates from
the darkness, throws him down from his horse, and henceforth there
will be in the history of the human race this wonderful thing,--the
road to Damascus. That day of the metamorphosis of Saint Paul is a
great day; keep the date,--it corresponds to the 25th January in our
Gregorian calendar. The road to Damascus is necessary to the march of
Progress. To fall into the truth and to rise a just man, a fall and
transfiguration, that is sublime. It is the history of Saint Paul.
From his day it will be the history of humanity. The flash of light
is beyond the flash of lightning. Progress will carry itself on by a
series of scintillations. As for Saint Paul, who has been turned aside
by the force of new conviction, this harsh stroke from on high opens
to him genius. Once on his feet again, behold him proceed: he will
no more stop. "Forward!" is his cry. He is a cosmopolite. He loves
the outsiders, whom Paganism calls barbarians, and Christianity calls
Gentiles; he devotes himself to them. He is the apostle of the outer
world. He writes to the nations epistles on behalf of God. Listen to
him speaking to the Galatians: "O insane Galatians! how can you go back
to the yokes to which you were tied? There are no more Jews, or Greeks,
or slaves. Do not carry out your grand ceremonies ordained by your
laws. I declare unto you that all that is nothing. Love each other.
Man must be a new creature. Freedom is awaiting you." There were at
Athens, on the hill of Mars, steps hewn in rock, which may be seen to
this day. On these steps sat the great judges before whom Orestes had
appeared. There Socrates had been judged. Paul went there; and there,
at night (the Areopagus only sat at night), he said to the grave men,
"I come to announce to you the unknown God." The Epistles of Paul to
the Gentiles are simple and profound, with the subtlety so marked in
its influence over savages. There are in these messages gleams of
hallucination; Paul speaks of the Celestials as if he distinctly saw
them. Like John, half-way between life and eternity, it seems that he
had one part of his thought on the earth and one in the Unknown; and
it may be said, at moments, that one of his verses answers to another
from beyond the dark wall of the tomb. This half-possession of death
gives him a personal certainty, and one often distinctly apart from
the dogma, and a mark of conviction on his personal conceptions, which
makes him almost heretical. His humility, bordering on the mysterious,
is lofty. Peter says, "The words of Paul may be taken in a bad sense."
The deacon Hilaire and the Luciferians ascribe their schism to the
Epistles of Paul. Paul is at heart so anti-monarchical that King James
I., very much encouraged by the orthodox University of Oxford, caused
the Epistle to the Romans to be burned by the hand of the common
hangman. It is true it was one with a commentary by David Pareus. Many
of Paul's works are rejected by the Church: they are the finest; and
among them his Epistle to the Laodiceans, and above all his Apocalypse,
erased by the Council of Rome under Gelasius. It would be curious to
compare it with the Apocalypse of John. On the opening that Paul had
made to heaven the Church wrote, "Entrance forbidden." He is not less
holy for it. It is his official consolation. Paul has the restlessness
of the thinker; text and formulary are little for him. The letter does
not suffice; the letter, it is matter. Like all men of progress, he
speaks with reserve of the written law; he prefers grace, as we prefer
justice. What is grace? It is the inspiration from on high; it is the
breath, _flat ubi vult_; it is liberty. Grace is the spirit of law.
This discovery of the spirit of law belongs to Saint Paul; and what
he calls "grace" from a heavenly point of view, we, from an earthly
point, call "right." Such is Paul. The greatness of a spirit by the
irruption of clearness, the beauty of violence done by truth to one
spirit, breaks forth in this man. In that, we insist, lies the virtue
of the road to Damascus. Henceforth, whoever wishes this increase, must
follow the guide-post of Saint Paul. All those to whom justice shall
reveal itself, every blindness desirous of the day, all the cataracts
looking to be healed, all searchers after conviction, all the great
adventurers after virtue, all the holders of good in quest of truth,
shall go by this road. The light that they find there shall change
nature, for the light is always relative to darkness; it shall increase
in intensity. After having been revelation, it shall be rationalism;
but it shall always be light. Voltaire is like Saint Paul on the road
to Damascus. The road to Damascus shall be forever the passage for
great minds. It shall also be the passage for peoples,--for peoples,
these vast individualisms, have like each of us their crisis and their
hour. Paul, after his glorious fall, rose up again armed against
ancient errors, with that flaming sword, Christianity; and two thousand
years after, France, struck by the light, arouses herself, she also
holding in hand this sword of fire, the Revolution.

11. Another, Dante, has mentally conceived the abyss. He has made
the epic poem of spectres. He rends the earth; in the terrible hole
he has made he puts Satan. Then he pushes through purgatory up to
heaven. Where all end Dante begins. Dante is beyond man; beyond,
not without,--a singular proposition, which, however, has nothing
contradictory in it, the soul being a prolongation of man into the
indefinite. Dante twists light and shade into a huge spiral; it
descends, then it ascends. Wonderful architecture! At the threshold is
the sacred mist; across the entrance is stretched the corpse of Hope;
all that you perceive beyond is night. The infinite anguish is sobbing
somewhere in the invisible darkness. You lean over this gulf-poem. Is
it a crater? You hear reports; the verse shoots out narrow and livid,
as from the fissures of a solfatara. It is vapour now, then lava. This
paleness speaks; and then you know that the volcano, of which you have
caught a glimpse, is hell. This is no longer the human medium; you are
in the unknown abyss. In this poem the imponderable submits to the laws
of the ponderable, with which it is mixed, as in the sudden tumbling
down of a building on fire, the smoke, carried down by the ruins, falls
and rolls with them, and seems caught under the timber and the stones;
thence strange effects: the ideas seem to suffer and to be punished in
men. The idea, sufficiently man to undergo expiation, is the phantom
(a form that is shade), impalpable, but not invisible,--an appearance
retaining yet a sufficient amount of reality for the chastisement to
have a hold on it; sin in the abstract state, but having kept the human
figure. It is not only the wicked who grieves in this Apocalypse,
it is the evil; there all possible bad actions are in despair. This
spiritualization of pain gives to the poem a powerful moral import. The
depth of hell once sounded, Dante pierces it, and remounts to the other
side of the infinite. In rising, he becomes idealized; and thought
drops the body as a robe. From Virgil he passes to Beatrice. His guide
to hell, it is the poet; his guide to heaven, it is poetry. The epic
poem continues, and has more grandeur yet; but man comprehends it no
more. Purgatory and paradise are not less extraordinary than gehenna;
but the more he ascends the less interested is man. He was somewhat at
home in hell, but he is no longer so in heaven. He cannot recognize
himself in angels. The human eye is perhaps not made for so much sun;
and when the poem draws happiness, it becomes tedious. It is generally
the case with all happiness. Marry the lovers, or send the souls to
dwell in paradise, it is well; but seek the drama elsewhere than there.
After all, what does it matter to Dante if you no longer follow him? He
goes on without you. He goes alone, this lion. His work is a wonder.
What a philosopher is this visionary! What a sage is this madman! Dante
lays down the law for Montesquieu; the penal divisions of "L'Esprit
des Lois" are an exact copy of the classifications in the hell of the
"Divina Commedia." That which Juvenal does for the Rome of the Cæsars,
Dante does for the Rome of popes; but Dante is a more terrible judge
than Juvenal. Juvenal whips with cutting thongs; Dante scourges with
flames. Juvenal condemns; Dante damns. Woe to the living on whom this
awful traveller fixes the unfathomable glare of his eyes!

12. Another, Rabelais, is the soul of Gaul. And who says Gaul says also
Greece, for the Attic salt and the Gallic jest have at bottom the same
flavour; and if anything, buildings apart, resembles the Piræus, it is
La Rapée. Aristophanes is distanced; Aristophanes is wicked. Rabelais
is good; Rabelais would have defended Socrates. In the order of lofty
genius, Rabelais chronologically follows Dante; after the stem face,
the sneering visage. Rabelais is the wondrous mask of ancient comedy
detached from the Greek proscenium, from bronze made flesh, henceforth
a human living face, remaining enormous, and coming among us to laugh
at us, and with us. Dante and Rabelais spring from the school of the
Franciscan friars, as later Voltaire springs from the Jesuits. Dante
the incarnate sorrow, Rabelais the parody, Voltaire the irony,--they
came from the Church against the Church. Every genius has his invention
or his discovery. Rabelais has made this one: the belly. The serpent is
in man; it is the intestines. It tempts, betrays, and punishes. Man,
single being as a spirit and complex as man, has within himself for his
earthly mission three centres,--the brain, the heart, the stomach. Each
of these centres is august by one great function which is peculiar to
it: the brain has thought, the heart has love, the belly has paternity
and maternity. The belly may be tragic. "Feri ventrem," says Agrippina.
Catherine Sforza, threatened with the death of her children, kept in
hostage, exhibits herself naked to her navel on the battlements of
the citadel of Rimini and says to the enemy, "With this I can give
birth to others." In one of the epic convulsions of Paris a woman of
the people, standing on a barricade, raised her petticoat, showed the
soldiery her naked belly, and cried, "Kill your mothers!" The soldiers
perforated that belly with balls. The belly has its heroism; but it
is from it that flows in life corruption, in art comedy. The breast,
where the heart rests, has for its summit the head; the belly has the
phallus. The belly being the centre of matter, is our gratification
and our danger; it contains appetite, satiety, and putrefaction. The
devotion, the tenderness, which we feel then are subject to death;
egotism replaces them. Easily do the affections become intestines.
That the hymn can become a drunkard's brawl, that the strophe can be
deformed into a couplet, is sad. That comes from the beast that is
in man. The belly is essentially this beast. Degradation seems to be
its law. The ladder of sensual poetry has for its topmost round the
Canticle of Canticles, and for its lowest the coarse jest. The belly
god is Silenus; the belly emperor is Vitellius; the belly animal is the
pig. One of those horrid Ptolemies was called the Belly,--_Physcon._
The belly is to humanity a formidable weight: it breaks every moment
the equilibrium between the soul and the body. It fills history. It is
responsible for nearly all crimes. It is the bottle of all vices. It is
the belly which by voluptuousness makes the sultan and by drunkenness
the czar; it is this that shows Tarquin the bed of Lucrece; it is
this that ends by making that senate which had waited for Brennus
and dazzled Jugurtha deliberate on the sauce of a turbot. It is the
belly which counsels the ruined libertine, Cæsar, the passage of the
Rubicon. To pass the Rubicon, how well that pays one's debts! To pass
the Rubicon, how readily that throws women, into one's arms! What good
dinners afterward! And the Roman soldiers enter Rome with the cry,
"Urbani, claudite uxores; mœchum calvum adducimus." The appetite
debauches the intellect. Voluptuousness replaces will. At starting, as
is always the case, there is some nobleness. It is the orgy. There is a
gradation between being fuddled and being dead drunk.

Then the orgy degenerates into bestial gluttony. Where there was
Solomon there is Ramponneau. Man becomes a barrel; an inner sea of dark
ideas drowns thought; conscience submerged cannot warn the drunken
soul. Beastliness is consummated; it is not even any longer cynical,
it is empty and beastly. Diogenes disappears; there remains but the
barrel. We commence by Alcibiades, we finish by Trimalcion. It is
complete; nothing more, neither dignity, nor shame, nor honour, nor
virtue, nor wit,--animal gratification in all its nakedness, thorough
impurity. Thought dissolves itself in satiety; carnal gorging absorbs
everything; nothing survives of the grand sovereign creature inhabited
by the soul. As the word goes, the belly eats the man. Such is the
final state of all societies where the ideal is eclipsed. That passes
for prosperity, and is called aggrandizing one's self. Sometimes even
philosophers thoughtlessly aid this degradation by inserting in their
doctrines the materialism which is in the consciences. This sinking
of man to the level of the human beast is a great calamity. Its first
fruit is the turpitude visible at the summit of all professions,--the
venal judge, the simoniacal priest, the hireling soldier; laws,
manners, and beliefs are a dungheap,--_totus homo fit excrementum._
In the sixteenth century all the institutions of the past are in
that state. Rabelais gets hold of that situation; he proves it; he
authenticates that belly which is the world. Civilization is, then,
but a mass; science is matter; religion is blessed with a stomach;
feudality is digesting; royalty is obese. What is Henry VIII.? A
paunch. Rome is a fat-gutted old woman. Is it health? Is it sickness?
It is perhaps obesity; it is perhaps dropsy-query. Rabelais, doctor
and priest, feels the pulse of Papacy; he shakes his head and bursts
out laughing. Is it because he has found life? No, it is because he
has felt death; it is, in reality, breathing its last. While Luther
reforms, Rabelais jests. Which tends best to the end? Rabelais
ridicules the monk, the bishop, the Pope; laughter and death-rattle
together; fool's bell sounding the tocsin! Well, then, what? I thought
it was a feast; it is agony. One may be deceived by the nature of
the hiccough. Let us laugh all the same. Death is at the table; the
last drop toasts the last sigh. The agony feasting,--it is superb.
The inner colon is king; all that old world feasts and bursts, and
Rabelais enthrones a dynasty of bellies,--Grangousier, Pantagruel, and
Gargantua. Rabelais is the Æschylus of victuals; indeed, it is grand
when we think that eating is devouring. There is something of the
gulf in the glutton. Eat then, my masters, and drink, and come to the
finale. To live is a song, of which to die is the refrain. Others dig
under the depraved human race fearful dungeons. For subterraneous caves
the great Rabelais contents himself with the cellar. This universe,
which Dante put into hell, Rabelais confines in a wine-cask; his book
is nothing else. The seven circles of Alighieri bung and encompass
this extraordinary tun. Look within the monstrous cask, and you see
them there. In Rabelais they are entitled, Idleness, Pride, Envy,
Avarice, Anger, Luxury, Gluttony; and it is thus that you suddenly
meet again the formidable jester. Where?--in church. The seven sins
are this _curé's_ sermon. Rabelais is priest. Castigation, properly
understood, begins at home; it is therefore on the clergy that he
strikes first. It is something, indeed, to be at home! The Papacy dies
of indigestion. Rabelais plays the Papacy a trick,--the trick of a
Titan. The Pantagruelian joy is not less grandiose than the mirth of
a Jupiter,--jaw for jaw. The monarchical and priestly jaw eats; the
Rabelaisian jaw laughs. Whoever has read Rabelais has forever before
his eyes this stem opposition: the mask of Theocritus gazed at fixedly
by the mask of Comedy.

13. Another, Cervantes, is also a form of epic mockery; for as the
writer of these lines said in 1827,[3] there are between the Middle
Ages and the modern times, after the feudal barbarism, and placed
there as it were for a conclusion, two Homeric buffoons,--Rabelais and
Cervantes. To sum up horror by laughter, is not the least terrible
manner of doing it. It is what Rabelais did; it is what Cervantes did.
But the raillery of Cervantes has nothing of the large Rabelaisian
grin. It is the fine humour of the noble after the joviality of the
_curé._ I am the Signor Don Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra, Caballeros,
poet-soldier, and, as a proof, one-armed. No broad, coarse jesting in
Cervantes. Scarcely a flavour of elegant cynicism. The satirist is
fine, sharp-edged, polished, delicate, almost gallant, and would even
run the risk sometimes of diminishing his power with all his affected
ways if he had not the deep poetic spirit of the Renaissance. That
saves his charming grace from becoming prettiness. Like Jean Goujon,
like Jean Cousin, like Germain Pilon, like Primatice, Cervantes has
the chimera within himself. Thence all the unexpected marvels of his
imagination. Add to that a wonderful intuition of the inmost deeds
of the mind, and a philosophy, inexhaustible in aspects, which seems
to possess a new and complete chart of the human heart. Cervantes
sees the inner man. His philosophy blends with the comic and romantic
instinct. Thence does the unexpected break in at each moment in his
characters, in his action, in his style,--the unforeseen, magnificent
adventure. Personages remaining true to themselves, but facts and
ideas whirling around them, with a perpetual renewing of the original
idea, with the unceasing breathing of that wind which carries flashes
of lightning,--such is the law of great works. Cervantes is militant;
he has a thesis; he makes a social book. Such poets are the fighting
champions of the mind. Where have they learned fighting? On the
battle-field itself. Juvenal was a military tribune; Cervantes arrives
from Lepanto, as Dante from Campalbino, as Æschylus from Salamis. After
which they pass to a new trial. Æschylus goes into exile, Juvenal into
exile, Dante into exile, Cervantes into prison. It is just, for they
have served you well. Cervantes, as poet, has the three sovereign
gifts,--creation, which produces types, and clothes ideas with flesh
and bone; invention, which hurls passions against events, makes man
flash brightly over destiny, and brings forth the drama; imagination,
sun of the brain, which throws light and shade everywhere, and, giving
relieve, creates life. Observation, which is acquired, and which, in
consequence, is a quality rather than a gift, is included in creation.
If the miser was not observed, Harpagon would not be created. In
Cervantes, a new-comer, glimpsed at in Rabelais, puts in a decided
appearance; it is common-sense. You have caught sight of it in Panurge;
you see it plainly in Sancho Panza. It arrives like the Silenus of
Plautus; and it may also say, "I am the god mounted on an ass." Wisdom
at once, reason by-and-by; it is indeed the strange history of the
human mind. What more wise than all religions? What less reasonable?
Morals true, dogmas false. Wisdom is in Homer and in Job; reason, such
as it ought to be to overcome prejudices,--that is to say, complete
and armed _cap-à-pie_,--will be found only in Voltaire. Common-sense
is not wisdom and is not reason; it is a little of one and a little
of the other, with a dash of egotism. Cervantes makes it bestride
ignorance; and, at the same time, completing his profound satire, he
gives fatigue as a nag to heroism. Thus he shows one after the other,
one with the other, the two profiles of man, and parodies them, without
more pity for the sublime than for the grotesque. The hippogriff
becomes Rosinante. Behind the equestrian figure, Cervantes creates and
gives movement to the asinine personage. Enthusiasm takes the field,
Irony follows in its footsteps. The wonderful feats of Don Quixote,
his riding and spurring, his big lance, steady in the rest, are judged
by the donkey, a connoisseur in windmills. The invention of Cervantes
is so masterly that there is between the man type and the quadruped
complement statuary adhesion; the reasoner, like the adventurer, is
part of the beast which belongs to him, and you can no more dismount
Sancho Panza than Don Quixote. The Ideal is in Cervantes as in Dante;
but it is called the impossible, and is scoffed at. Beatrice is become
Dulcinea. To rail at the ideal would be the failing of Cervantes; but
this failing is only apparent. Look well! The smile has a tear. In
reality, Cervantes is for Don Quixote what Molière is for Alcestes.
One must learn how to read in a peculiar manner in the books of the
sixteenth century; there is in almost all, on account of the threats
hanging over the liberty of thought, a secret that must be opened, and
the key of which is often lost Rabelais had something unexpressed,
Cervantes had an aside, Machiavelli had a secret recess,--several
perhaps; at all events, the advent of common-sense is the great fact
in Cervantes. Common-sense is not a virtue; it is the eye of interest.
It would have encouraged Themistocles and dissuaded Aristides.
Leonidas has no common-sense; Regulus has no common-sense; but in the
face of egotistical and ferocious monarchies dragging poor peoples
into wars undertaken for themselves, decimating families, making
mothers desolate, and driving men to kill each other with all those
fine words,--military honour, warlike glory, obedience to discipline
etc.,--it is an admirable personification, that common-sense coming all
at once and crying to the human race, "Take care of your skin!"

14. Another, Shakespeare, what is he? You might almost answer, He is
the earth. Lucretius is the sphere; Shakespeare is the globe. There is
more and less in the globe than in the sphere. In the sphere there is
the whole; on the globe there is man. Here the outer, there the inner,
mystery. Lucretius is the being; Shakespeare is the existence. Thence
so much shadow in Lucretius; thence so much movement in Shakespeare.
Space,--_the blue_, as the Germans ay,--is certainly not forbidden
to Shakespeare. The earth sees and surveys heaven; the earth knows
heaven under its two aspects,--darkness and azure, doubt and hope. Life
goes and comes in death. All life is a secret,--a sort of enigmatical
parenthesis between birth and the death-throe, between the eye which
opens and the eye which closes. This secret imparts its restlessness to
Shakespeare. Lucretius is; Shakespeare lives. In Shakespeare the birds
sing, the bushes become verdant, the hearts love, the souls suffer,
the cloud wanders, it is hot, it is cold, night falls, time passes,
forests and crowds speak, the vast eternal dream hovers about. The sap
and the blood, all forms of the fact multiple, the actions and the
ideas, man and humanity, the living and the life, the solitudes, the
cities, the religions, the diamonds and pearls, the dung-hills and the
charnel-houses, the ebb and flow of beings, the steps of the comers and
goers,--all, all are on Shakespeare and in Shakespeare; and this genius
being the earth, the dead emerge from it. Certain sinister sides of
Shakespeare are haunted by spectres. Shakespeare is a brother of Dante.
The one completes the other. Dante incarnates all supernaturalism,
Shakespeare all Nature; and as these two regions, Nature and
supernaturalism, which appear to us so different, are really the same
unity, Dante and Shakespeare, however dissimilar, commingle outwardly,
and are but one innately. There is something of the Alighieri,
something of the ghost in Shakespeare. The skull passes from the hands
of Dante into the hands of Shakespeare. Ugolino gnaws it, Hamlet
questions it; and it shows perhaps even a deeper meaning and a loftier
teaching in the second than in the first. Shakespeare shakes it and
makes stars fall from it The isle of Prospero, the forest of Ardennes,
the heath of Armuyr, the platform of Elsinore, are not less illuminated
than the seven circles of Dante's spiral by the sombre reverberation
of hypothesis. The unknown--half fable, half truth--is outlined there
as well as here. Shakespeare as much as Dante allows us to glimpse at
the crepuscular horizon of conjecture. In the one as in the other there
is the possible,--that window of the dream opening on reality. As for
the real, we insist on it, Shakespeare overflows with it; everywhere
the living flesh. Shakespeare possesses emotion, instinct, the true
cry, the right tone, all the human multitude in his clamour. His poetry
is himself, and at the same time it is you. Like Homer, Shakespeare
is element Men of genius, re-beginners,--it is the right name for
them,--rise at all the decisive crises of humanity; they sum up the
phases and complete the revolutions. In civilization, Homer stamps
the end of Asia and the commencement of Europe; Shakespeare stamps
the end of the Middle Ages. This closing of the Middle Ages, Rabelais
and Cervantes have fixed also; but, being essentially satirists, they
give but a partial aspect Shakespeare's mind is a total; like Homer,
Shakespeare is a cyclic man. These two geniuses, Homer and Shakespeare,
close the two gates of barbarism,--the ancient door and the gothic one.
That was their mission; they have fulfilled it. That was their task;
they have accomplished it. The third great human crisis is the French
Revolution; it is the third huge gate of barbarism, the monarchical
gate, which is closing at this moment. The nineteenth century hears it
rolling on its hinges. Thence for poetry, the drama, and art arises the
actual era, as independent of Shakespeare as of Homer.

[Footnote 1: Song XVII. of the Iliad.]

[Footnote 2: Ezekiel, XLIII. 7.]

[Footnote 3: Preface to "Cromwell."]


Homer, Job, Æschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Saint John,
Saint Paul, Tacitus, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare.

That is the avenue of the immovable giants of the human mind.

The men of genius are a dynasty. Indeed there is no other. They wear
all the crowns,--even that of thorns.

Each of them represents the sum total of absolute that man can realize.

We repeat it, to choose between these men, to prefer one to the other,
to mark with the finger the first among these first, it cannot be. All
are the Mind.

Perhaps, in an extreme case--and yet every objection would be
legitimate--you might mark out as the highest summit among those
summits, Homer, Æschylus, Job, Isaiah, Dante, and Shakespeare.

It is understood that we speak here only in an Art point of view, and
in Art, in the literary point of view.

Two men in this group, Æschylus and Shakespeare, represent specially
the drama.

Æschylus, a kind of genius out of time, worthy to stamp either a
beginning or an end in humanity, does not seem to be placed in his
right turn in the series, and, as we have said, seems an elder son of

If we remember that Æschylus is nearly submerged by the darkness
rising over human memory; if we remember that ninety of his plays have
disappeared, that of that sublime hundred there remain no more than
seven dramas, which are also seven odes, we are stupefied by what we
see of that genius, and almost frightened by what we do not see.

What, then, was Æschylus? What proportions and what forms had he in
all this shadow? Æschylus is up to his shoulders in the ashes of ages.
His head alone remains out of that burying; and, like the giant of the
desert, with his head alone he is as immense as all the neighbouring
gods standing on their pedestals.

Man passes before this insubmergible wreck. Enough remains for an
immense glory. What the darkness has taken adds the unknown to this
greatness. Buried and eternal, his brow projecting from the grave,
Æschylus looks at generations.


To the eyes of the thinker, these men of genius occupy thrones in the

To the individual works that those men have left us, must be
added various vast collective works, the Vedas, the Râmayana, the
Mahâbhârata, the Edda, the Niebelungen, the Heldenbuch, the Romancero.

Some of these works are revealed and sacred. Unknown assistance is
marked on them. The poems of India in particular have the ominous
fulness of the possible imagined by insanity, or related by dreams.
These works seem to have been composed in common with beings to whom
our world is no longer accustomed. Legendary horror covers these epic
poems. _These books have not been composed by man alone_; the Ash-Nagar
inscription says it. Djinns have alighted upon them; polypterian magi
have thought over them; the texts have been interlined by invisible
hands; the demi-gods have been aided by demi-demons; the elephant,
which India calls the sage, has been consulted. Thence a majesty
almost horrible. The great enigmas are in these poems. They are full
of mysterious Asia. Their prominent parts have the supernatural and
hideous outline of chaos. They are a mass in the horizon like the
Himalayas. The distance of the manners, beliefs, ideas, actions,
persons, is extraordinary. One reads these poems with that wondering
stoop of the head which is induced by the profound distance that
there is between the book and the reader. This Holy Writ of Asia has
evidently been yet more difficult to reduce and put into shape than
our own. It is in every part refractory to unity. In vain have the
Brahmins, like our priests, erased and interpolated. Zoroaster is
there; Ized Serosch is there. The Eschem of the Mazdæan traditions
appears under the name of Siva; Manicheism is discernible between
Brahma and Bouddha. All kinds of traces blend, cross, and recross each
other in these poems. One may see in them the mysterious tramp of a
crowd of minds who have worked at them in the mist of ages. Here the
measureless toe of the giant; there the claw of the chimera. Those
poems are the pyramid of a vanished colony of ants.

The Niebelungen, another pyramid of another ant-hill, has the same
greatness. What the dives have done there, the elves have done here.
These powerful epic legends, the testaments of ages, tattooings marked
by races on history, have no other unity than the very unity of the
people. The collective and the successive, combining together, are one.
_Turba fit mens._ These recitals are mists, and wonderful flashes of
light traverse them. As to the Romancero, which creates the Cid after
Achilles, and the chivalric after the heroic, it is the Iliad of many
lost Homers. Count Julian, King Roderigo, Cava, Bernard del Carpio, the
bastard Mudarra, Nuño Salido, the Seven Infantes of Lara, the Constable
Alvar de Luna,--no Oriental or Hellenic type surpasses these figures.
The horse of Campeador is equal to the dog of Ulysses. Between Priam
and Lear you must place Don Arias, the old man of Zamora's tower,
sacrificing his seven sons to his duty, and tearing them from his heart
one after another. There is grandeur in that. In presence of these
sublimities the reader undergoes a sort of insolation.

These works are anonymous, and owing to the great reason of the _homo
sum_, while admiring them, while holding them as the summit of art, we
prefer to them the acknowledged works. With equal beauty, the Râmayana
touches us less than Shakespeare. The "I" of a man is more vast and
profound even than the "I" of a people.

However, these composite myriologies, the great testaments of India
particularly, with a coat of poetry rather than real poems, expression
at the same time sideral and bestial of humanities passed away, derive
from their very deformity an indescribable supernatural air. The "I"
multiple expressed by those myriologies makes them the polypi of
poetry,--vague and wonderful enormities. The strange joinings of the
antediluvian rough outline seem visible there as in the ichthyosaurus
or in the pterodactyl. Any one of these black _chefs-d'œuvre_ with
several heads makes on the horizon of art the silhouette of a hydra.

The Greek genius is not deceived by them, and abhors them. Apollo
would attack them. The Romancero excepted, beyond and above all these
collective and anonymous productions, there are men to represent
peoples. These men we have just named. They give to nations and periods
the human face. They are in art the incarnations of Greece, of Arabia,
of India, of Pagan Rome, of Christian Italy, of Spain, of France, of
England. As for Germany, the matrix, like Asia, of races, hordes, and
nations, she is represented in art by a sublime man, equal, although in
a different category, to all those that we have characterized above.
That man is Beethoven. Beethoven is the German soul.

What a shadow this Germany! She is the India of the West. She holds
everything. There is no formation more colossal. In the sacred mist
where the German spirit breathes, Isidro de Seville places theology;
Albert the Great, scholasticism; Raban Maur, the science of language;
Trithemius, astrology; Ottnit, chivalry; Reuchlin, vast curiosity;
Tutilo, universality; Stadianus, method; Luther, inquiry; Albert Dürer,
art; Leibnitz, science; Puffendorf, law; Kant, philosophy; Fichte,
metaphysics; Winckelmann, archæology; Herder, æsthetics; the Vossiuses,
of whom one, Gerard John, was of the Palatinate, learning; Euler, the
spirit of integration; Humboldt, the spirit of discovery; Niebuhr,
history; Gottfried of Strasburg, fable; Hoffman, dreams; Hegel, doubt;
Ancillon, obedience; Werner, fatalism; Schiller, enthusiasm; Goethe,
indifference; Arminius, liberty.

Kepler gives Germany the heavenly bodies.

Gerard Groot, the founder of the Fratres Communis Vitæ, brings his
first attempt at fraternity in the fourteenth century. Whatever may
have been her infatuation for the indifference of Goethe, do not
consider her impersonal, that Germany. She is a nation, and one of
the most generous; for it is for her that Rückert, the military poet,
forges the "geharnischte Sonnette," and she shudders when Körner hurls
at her the Song of the Sword. She is the German fatherland, the great
beloved land, _Teutonia mater._ Galgacus was to the Germans what
Caractacus was to the Britons.

Germany has everything in herself and at home. She shares Charlemagne
with France and Shakespeare with England; for the Saxon element is
mingled with the British element. She has an Olympus,--the Valhalla.
She must have her own style of writing. Ulfilas, Bishop of Moesia,
composes it for her, and the Gothic mode of caligraphy will henceforth
keep its ground along with the writing of Arabia. The capital letter
of a missal strives to outdo in fancy the signature of a caliph. Like
China, Germany has invented printing. Her Burgraves (this remark has
been already made[1]) are to us what the Titans are to Æschylus. To the
temple of Tanfana, destroyed by Germanicus, she caused the cathedral of
Cologne to succeed. She is the grandmother of our history, the grandam
of our legends. From all parts,--from the Rhine to the Danube, from
the Rauhe-Alp, from the ancient _Sylva Gabresa_, from the Lorraine on
the Moselle, and from the ripuarian Lorraine by the Wigalois and the
Wigamur, with Henry the Fowler, with Samo, King of the Vends, with
the chronicler of Thuringia, Rothe, with the chronicler of Alsace,
Twinger, with the chronicler of Limbourg, Gansbein, with all these
ancient popular songsters, Jean Folz, Jean Viol, Muscatblüt, with the
minnesingers, those rhapsodists,--the tale, that form of dream, reaches
her, and enters into her genius. At the same time, idioms are flowing
from her. From her fissures rush, to the north, the Danish and Swedish,
to the west, the Dutch and Flemish. The German idiom passes the Channel
and becomes the English language. In the order of intellectual facts,
the German genius has other frontiers besides Germany. Such people
resists Germany and yields to Germanism. The German spirit assimilates
to itself the Greeks by Müller, the Serbians by Gerhard, the Russians
by Goethe, the Magyars by Mailath. When Kepler, in the presence of
Rudolph II., was preparing the Rudolphian Tables, it was with the
aid of Tycho Brahé German affinities go far. Without any alteration
in the local and national autonomies, it is with the great Germanic
centre that the Scandinavian spirit in Oehlenschläger, and the Batavian
spirit in Vondel, is connected. Poland unites herself to it, with all
her glory, from Copernicus to Kosciusko, from Sobieski to Mickiewicz.
Germany is the well of nations. They pass out of her like rivers; she
receives them as a sea.

It seems as though one heard through all Europe the wonderful murmur of
the Hercynian forest. The German nature, profound and subtle, distinct
from European nature, but in harmony with it, volatilizes and floats
above nations. The German mind is misty, luminous, scattered. It is a
kind of immense soul-cloud, with stars. Perhaps the highest expression
of Germany can only be given by music. Music, by its very want of
precision, which in this special case is a quality, goes where the
German soul proceeds.

If the German spirit had as much density as expansion,--that is to say,
as much will as power,--she could, at a given moment, lift up and save
the human race. Such as she is, she is sublime.

In poetry she has not said her last word. At this hour, the symptoms
are excellent. Since the jubilee of the noble Schiller, particularly,
there has been an awakening, and a generous awakening. The great
definitive poet of Germany will be necessarily a poet of humanity, of
enthusiasm, and of liberty. Perchance, and some signs give token of it,
we may soon see him arise from the young group of contemporary German

Music, we beg indulgence for this word, is the vapour of art. It is to
poetry what revery is to thought, what the fluid is to the liquid, what
the ocean of clouds is to the ocean of waves. If another description is
required, it is the indefinite of this infinite. The same insufflation
pushes it, carries it, raises it, upsets it, fills it with trouble and
light and with an ineffable sound, saturates it with electricity and
causes it to give suddenly discharges of thunder.

Music is the Verb of Germany. The German race, so much curbed as a
people, so emancipated as thinkers, sing with a sombre love. To sing
resembles a freeing from bondage. Music expresses that which cannot
be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent. Therefore is
Germany all music until she becomes all liberty. Luther's choral is
somewhat a Marseillaise. Everywhere singing clubs and singing tables.
In Swabia every year the fête of song, on the banks of the Neckar, in
the plains of Enslingen. The _Liedermusik_, of which Schubert's "Le Roi
des Aulnes" is the _chef-d'œuvre_, is part of German life. Song is for
Germany a breathing. It is by singing that she respires and conspires.
The note being the syllable of a kind of undefined universal language,
Germany's grand communication with the human race is made through
harmony,--an admirable commencement to unity. It is by the clouds that
the rains which fertilize the earth ascend from the sea; it is by music
that the ideas which go deep into souls pass out of Germany.

Therefore we may say that Germany's greatest poets are her musicians,
of which wonderful family Beethoven is the head.

Homer is the great Pelasgian; Æschylus, the great Hellene; Isaiah,
the great Hebrew; Juvenal, the great Roman; Dante, the great Italian;
Shakespeare, the great Englishman; Beethoven, the great German.

[Footnote 1: Preface of the Burgraves, 1843.]


The Ex-"Good Taste," that other divine law which has for so long a time
weighed on Art, and which had succeeded in suppressing the Beautiful
for the benefit of the Pretty, the ancient criticism, not altogether
dead, like the ancient monarchy, prove, from their own point of view,
the same fault, exaggeration, in those sovereign men of genius whom we
have named above. They are exaggerated.

This is caused by the quantity of the infinite that they have in them.

In fact, they are not circumscribed. They contain something unknown.
Every reproach that is addressed to them might be addressed to
sphinxes. People reproach Homer for the carnage which fills his cavern,
the Iliad; Æschylus, for his monstrousness; Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Saint
Paul, for double meanings; Rabelais, for obscene nudity and venomous
ambiguity; Cervantes, for insidious laughter; Shakespeare, for his
subtlety; Lucretius, Juvenal, Tacitus, for obscurity; John of Patmos
and Dante Alighieri for darkness.

None of those reproaches can be made to other minds very great, but
less great. Hesiod, Æsop, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Thucydides,
Anacreon, Theocritus, Titus Livius, Sallust, Cicero, Terence, Virgil,
Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Ariosto, La Fontaine, Beaumarchais, Voltaire,
have neither exaggeration nor darkness nor obscurity nor monstrousness.
What, then, fails them? _That_ which the others have.

_That_ is the Unknown.

_That_ is the Infinite.

If Corneille had "that," he would be the equal of Æschylus. If Milton
had "that," he would be the equal of Homer. If Molière had "that," he
would be the equal of Shakespeare.

It is the misfortune of Corneille that he mutilated and contracted the
old native tragedy in obedience to fixed rules. It is the misfortune of
Milton that by Puritan melancholy he excluded from his work the vast
Nature, the great Pan. It is Molière's failing that, out of dread of
Boileau, he quickly extinguishes the luminous style of the "Etourdi;"
that, for fear of the priests, he writes too few scenes like "The Poor"
in "Don Juan."

To give no occasion for attack is a negative perfection. It is fine to
be open to attack.

Indeed, dig out the meaning of those words, placed as masks to the
mysterious qualities of geniuses. Under obscurity, subtlety, and
darkness you find depth; under exaggeration, imagination; under
monstrousness, grandeur.

Therefore, in the upper region of poetry and thought there are Homer,
Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Tacitus, John of Patmos, Paul
of Damascus, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare.

These supreme men of genius are not a closed series. The author of All
adds to it a name when the wants of progress require it.




Many people in our day, readily merchants and often lawyers, say and
repeat, "Poetry is gone." It is almost as if they said, "There are no
more roses; spring has breathed its last; the sun has lost the habit
of rising; roam about all the fields of the earth, you will not find
a butterfly; there is no more light in the moon, and the nightingale
sings no more; the lion no longer roars; the eagle no longer soars;
the Alps and the Pyrenees are gone; there are no more lovely girls or
handsome young men; no one thinks any more of the graves; the mother no
longer loves her child; heaven is quenched; the human heart is dead."

If it was permitted to mix the contingent with the eternal, it would be
rather the contrary which would prove true. Never have the faculties of
the human soul, investigated and enriched by the mysterious excavation
of revolutions, been deeper and more lofty.

And wait a little; give time for the realization of the acme of social
salvation,--gratuitous and compulsory education. How long will it
take? A quarter of a century; and then imagine the incalculable sum of
intellectual development that this single word contains: every one can
read! The multiplication of readers is the multiplication of loaves.
On the day when Christ created that symbol, he caught a glimpse of
printing. His miracle is this marvel. Behold a book. I will nourish
with it five thousand souls, a hundred thousand souls, a million
souls,--all humanity. In the action of Christ bringing forth the
loaves, there is Gutenberg bringing forth books. One sower heralds the

What is the human race since the origin of centuries? A reader. For a
long time he has spelt; he spells yet. Soon he will read.

This infant, six thousand years old, has been at school. Where? In
Nature. At the beginning, having no other book, he spelt the universe.
He has had his primary teaching of the clouds, of the firmament, of
meteors, flowers, animals, forests, seasons, phenomena. The fisherman
of Ionia studies the wave; the shepherd of Chaldæa spells the star.
Then the first books came. Sublime progress! The book is vaster yet
than that grand scene, the world; for to the fact it adds the idea. If
anything is greater than God seen in the sun, it is God seen in Homer.

The universe without the book is science taking its first steps; the
universe with the book is the ideal making its appearance,--therefore
immediate modification in the human phenomenon. Where there had been
only force, power reveals itself. The ideal applied to real facts is
civilization. Poetry written and sung begins its work, magnificent and
efficient deduction of the poetry only seen. A striking statement to
make,--science was dreaming; poetry acts. With the sound of the lyre,
the thinker drives away brutality.

We shall return later on to this power of the book; we do not insist on
it at present; that power blazes forth. Now, many writers, few readers;
such has the world been up to this day. But a change is at hand.
Compulsory education is a recruiting of souls for light. Henceforth
every progress of the human race will be accomplished by the literary
legion. The diameter of the moral and ideal good corresponds always to
the opening of intelligences. In proportion to the worth of the brain
is the worth of the heart

The book is the tool to work this transformation. A constant supply of
light, that is what humanity requires. Reading is nutriment. Thence
the importance of the school, everywhere adequate to civilization. The
human race is at last on the point of stretching open the book. The
immense human Bible, composed of all the prophets, of all the poets, of
all the philosophers, is about to shine and blaze under the focus of
this enormous luminous lens, compulsory education.

Humanity reading is humanity knowing.

What, then, is the meaning of that nonsense, "Poetry is gone"? We might
say, on the contrary, "Poetry is coming!" For he who says "poetry"
says "philosophy" and "light." Now, the reign of the book commences;
the school is its purveyor. Increase the reader, you increase the
book,--not, certainly, in intrinsic value; that remains what it was;
but in efficient power: it influences where it had no influence. The
souls become its subjects for good purpose. It was but beautiful; it is

Who would venture to deny this? The circle of readers enlarging, the
circle of books read will increase. Now, the want of reading being a
train of powder, once lighted it will not stop; and this, combined with
the simplification of hand-labour by machinery, and with the increased
leisure of man, the body less fatigued leaving intelligence more free,
vast appetites for thought will spring up in all brains; the insatiable
thirst for knowledge and meditation will become more and more the human
preoccupation; low places will be deserted for high places,--a natural
ascent for every growing intelligence. People will quit Faublas to read
"Orestes." There they will taste greatness; and once they have tasted
it, they will never be satiated. They will devour the beautiful because
the refinement of minds augments in proportion to their force; and a
day will come when the fulness of civilization making itself manifest,
those summits, almost desert for ages, and haunted solely by the
_élite_,--Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare,--will be crowded with souls
seeking their nourishment on the lofty peaks.


There can be but one law; the unity of law results from the unity
of essence. Nature and art are the two sides of the same fact;
and in principle, saving the restriction which we shall indicate
very shortly, the law of one is the law of the other. The angle of
reflection equals the angle of incidence. All being equity in the
moral order and equilibrium in the material order, all is equation
in the intellectual order. The binomial theorem, that marvel fitting
everything, is included in poetry not less than in algebra. Nature
plus humanity, raised to the second power, gives art That is the
intellectual binomial theorem. Now replace this A + B by the number
special to each great artist and each great poet, and you will have,
in its multiple physiognomy and in its strict total, each of the
creations of the human mind. What more beautiful than the variety of
_chefs-d'œuvre_ resulting from the unity of law. Poetry like science
has an abstract root; out of that science evokes the _chef-d'œuvre_ of
metal, wood, fire, or air,--machine, ship, locomotive, æroscaph; out
of that poetry evokes the _chef-d'œuvre_ of flesh and blood,--Iliad,
Canticle of Canticles, Romancero, Divine Comedy, "Macbeth." Nothing so
starts and prolongs the shock felt by the thinker as those mysterious
exfoliations of abstraction into realities in the double region, the
one positive, the other infinite, of human thought. A region double,
and nevertheless one; the infinite is a precision. The profound word
_number_ is at the base of man's thought. It is, to our intelligence,
elemental; it has a harmonious as well as a mathematical signification.
Number reveals itself to art by rhythm, which is the beating of the
heart of the Infinite. In rhythm, law of order, God is felt. A verse is
a gathering like a crowd; its feet take the cadenced step of a legion.
Without number, no science; without number, no poetry. The strophe,
the epic poem, the drama, the riotous palpitation of man, the bursting
forth of love, the irradiation of the imagination, all this cloud with
its flashes, the passion,--all is lorded over by the mysterious word
number, even as geometry and arithmetic. Ajax, Hector, Hecuba, the
seven chiefs before Thebes, Œdipus, Ugolino, Messalina, Lear and
Priam, Romeo, Desdemona, Richard III., Pantagruel, the Cid, Alcestes,
all belong to it, as well as conic sections and the differential and
integral calculus. It starts from two and two make four, and ascends to
the region where the lightning sits.

Yet, between art and science, let us note a radical difference. Science
may be brought to perfection; art, not.



Among human things, and inasmuch as it is a human thing, art is a
strange exception.

The beauty of everything here below lies in the power of reaching
perfection. Everything is endowed with that property. To increase, to
augment, to win strength, to march forward, to be worth more to-day
than yesterday,--that is at once glory and life. The beauty of art lies
in not being susceptible of improvement.

Let us insist on these essential ideas, already touched on in some of
the preceding pages.

A _chef-d'œuvre_ exists once for all. The first poet who arrives,
arrives at the summit. You will ascend after him, as high, not higher.
Ah, you call yourself Dante! well; but that one calls himself Homer.

Progress, goal constantly displaced, halting-place forever varying, has
a shifting horizon. Not so with the ideal.

Now, progress is the motive power of science; the ideal is the
generator of art.

Thus is explained why perfection is the characteristic of science, and
not of art.

A savant may outlustre a savant; a poet never throws a poet into the

Art progresses after its own fashion. It shifts its ground like
science; but its successive creations, containing the immutable, live,
while the admirable attempts of science, which are, and can be nothing
but combinations of the contingent, obliterate each other.

The relative is in science; the positive is in art. The _chef-d'œuvre_
of to-day will be the _chef d'œuvre_ of to-morrow. Does Shakespeare
interfere in any way with Sophocles? Does Molière take anything from
Plautus? Even when he borrows Amphitryon he does not take him from him.
Does Figaro blot out Sancho Panza? Does Cordelia suppress Antigone? No.
Poets do not climb over each other. The one is not the stepping-stone
of the other. They rise up alone, without any other lever than
themselves. They do not tread their equal under foot. Those who are
first in the field respect the old ones. They succeed, they do not
replace each other. The beautiful does not drive away the beautiful.
Neither wolves nor _chefs-d'œuvre_ devour each other.

Saint-Simon says (I quote from memory): "There has been through the
whole winter but one cry of admiration for M. de Cambray's book, when
suddenly appeared M. de Meaux's book, which devoured it." If Fénélon's
book had been Saint-Simon's, the book of Bossuet would not have
devoured it.

Shakespeare is not above Dante, Molière is not above Aristophanes,
Calderon is not above Euripides, the Divine Comedy is not above
Genesis, the Romancero is not above the Odyssey, Sirius is not above
Arcturus. Sublimity is equality.

The human mind is the infinite possible. The _chefs-d'œuvre_, immense
worlds, are hatched within it unceasingly, and last forever. No pushing
one against the other; no recoil. The occlusions, when there are any,
are but apparent, and quickly cease. The expanse of the boundless
admits all creations.

Art, taken as art, and in itself, goes neither forward nor backward.
The transformations of poetry are but the undulations of the
Beautiful, useful to human movement. Human movement,--another side of
the question that we certainly do not overlook, and that we shall
attentively examine farther on. Art is not susceptible of intrinsic
progress. From Phidias to Rembrandt there is onward movement, but not
progress. The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are absolutely nothing to
the metopes of the Parthenon. Retrace your steps as much as you like,
from the palace of Versailles to the castle of Heidelberg, from the
castle of Heidelberg to Notre-Dame of Paris, from Notre-Dame of Paris
to the Alhambra, from the Alhambra to St. Sophia, from St. Sophia to
the Coliseum, from the Coliseum to the Propylæons, from the Propylæons
to the Pyramids; you may recede into ages, you do not recede in art.
The Pyramids and the Iliad stand on the fore plan.

Masterpieces have a level, the same for all,--the absolute.

Once the absolute reached, all is said. That cannot be excelled. The
eye can bear but a certain quantity of dazzling light.

Thence comes the assurance of poets. They lean on posterity with a
lofty confidence. "Exegi monumentum," says Horace. And on that occasion
he insults bronze. "Plaudite, cives," says Plautus. Corneille, at
sixty-five years, wins the love (a tradition in the Escoubleau family)
of the very young Marquise de Contades, by promising her to send her
name down to posterity:--

    "Chez cette race nouvelle,
     Où j'aurai quelque crédit,
     Vous ne passerez pour belle
     Qu'autant que je l'aurai dit."

In the poet and in the artist there is the infinite. It is this
ingredient, the infinite, which gives to this kind of genius the
irreducible grandeur.

This amount of the infinite in art is not inherent to progress. It may
have, and it certainly has, duties to fulfil toward progress, but it is
not dependent on it. It is dependent on no perfections which may result
from the future, on no transformation of language, on no death or birth
of idioms. It has within itself the immeasurable and the innumerable;
it cannot be subdued by any occurrence; it is as pure, as complete,
as sidereal, as divine in the heart of barbarism as in the heart of
civilization. It is the Beautiful, diverse according to the men of
genius, but always equal to itself. Supreme.

Such is the law, scarcely known, of Art.


Science is different.

The relative, which governs it, leaves its mark on it; and these
successive stamps of the relative, more and more resembling the real,
constitute the movable certainty of man.

In science, certain things have been masterpieces which are so no more.
The hydraulic machine of Marly was a _chef-d'œuvre._

Science seeks perpetual movement. She has found it; it is itself
perpetual motion.

Science is continually moving in the benefit it confers.

Everything stirs up in science, everything changes, everything is
constantly renewed. Everything denies, destroys, creates, replaces
everything. That which was accepted yesterday is put again under the
millstone to-day. The colossal machine, Science, never rests. It is
never satisfied; it is everlastingly thirsting for improvement, which
the absolute ignores. Vaccination is a problem, the lightning-rod is a
problem. Jenner may have erred, Franklin may have deceived himself; let
us go on seeking. This agitation is grand. Science is restless around
man; it has its own reasons for this restlessness. Science plays in
progress the part of utility. Let us worship this magnificent servant.

Science makes discoveries, art composes works. Science is an
acquirement of man, science is a ladder; one savant overtops the other.
Poetry is a lofty soaring.

Do you want examples? They abound. Here is one,--the first which occurs
to our mind.

Jacob Metzu, scientifically Metius, discovers the telescope by chance,
as Newton did gravitation and Christopher Columbus, America. Let us
open a parenthesis: there is no chance in the creation of "Orestes"
or of "Paradise Lost." A _chef-d'œuvre_ is the offspring of will.
After Metzu comes Galileo, who improves the discovery of Metzu; then
Kepler, who improves on the improvement of Galileo; then Descartes,
who, although going somewhat astray in taking a concave glass for
eyepiece instead of a convex one, fructifies the improvement of Kepler;
then the Capuchin Reita, who rectifies the reversing of objects; then
Huyghens, who makes a great step by placing the two convex glasses on
the focus of the objective; and in less than fifty years, from 1610 to
1659, during the short interval which separates the "Nuncius Sidereus"
of Galileo from the "Oculus Eliæ et Enoch" of Father Reita, behold the
original inventor, Metzu, obliterated. And it is constantly the same in

Vegetius was Count of Constantinople; but that is no obstacle to his
tactics being forgotten,--forgotten like the strategy of Polybius,
forgotten like the strategy of Folard. The pig's-head of the phalanx
and the pointed order of the legion have for a moment re-appeared,
two hundred years ago, in the wedge of Gustavus Adolphus; but in our
days, when there are no more pikemen as in the fourteenth century,
nor lansquenets as in the seventeenth, the ponderous triangular
attack, which was in other times the base of all tactics, is replaced
by a crowd of Zouaves charging with the bayonet. Some day, sooner
perhaps than people think, the charge with the bayonet will be itself
superseded by peace, at first European, by-and-by universal, and then
a whole science--the military science--will vanish away. For that
science, its improvement lies in its disappearance.

Science goes on unceasingly erasing itself,--fruitful erasures. Who
knows now what is the "Homœomeria" of Anaximenes, which perhaps
belongs in reality to Anaxagoras? Cosmography is notably amended
since the time when this same Anaxagoras told Pericles that the
sun was almost as large as the Peloponnesus. Many planets, and
satellites of planets, have been discovered since the four stars of
Medici. Entomology has made some advance since the time when it was
asserted that the scarabee was somewhat of a god and a cousin of
the sun,--firstly, on account of the thirty toes on its feet, which
correspond to the thirty days of the solar month; secondly, because the
scarabee is without a female, like the sun; and when Saint Clement, of
Alexandria, out-bidding Plutarch, made the remark that the scarabee,
like the sun, passes six months in the earth and six months under it.
Do you wish to have the proof of this?--refer to the "Stromates,"
paragraph IV. Scholasticism itself, chimerical as it is, gives up the
"Holy Meadow" of Moschus, laughs at the "Holy Ladder" of John Climacus,
and is ashamed of the century in which Saint Bernard, adding fuel to
the stake which the Viscounts of Campania wished to put out, called
Arnaud de Bresse "a man with the head of the dove and the tail of the
scorpion." The cardinal virtues are no longer the law in anthropology.
The _steyardes_ of the great Arnauld are decayed. However uncertain is
meteorology, it is far from discussing now, as it did in the twelfth
century, whether a rain which saves an army from dying of thirst is
due to the Christian prayers of the Melitine legion or to the Pagan
intervention of Jupiter Pluvius. The astrologer, Marcian Posthumus,
was for Jupiter; Tertullian was for the Melitine legion. No one stood
in favour of the cloud and of the wind. Locomotion, if we go from the
antique chariot of Laïus to the railway, passing by the _patache_, the
track-boat, the _turgotine_, the diligence, and the mail, has made
some progress indeed. The time is gone by for the famous journey from
Dijon to Paris, lasting a month; and we could not understand to-day
the amazement of Henry IV. asking of Joseph Scaliger, "Is it true,
Monsieur l'Escale, that you have been from Paris to Dijon without
relieving your bowels?" Micrography is now far beyond Leuwenhoeck,
who was himself far beyond Swammerdam. Look at the point to which
spermatology and ovology are arrived to-day, and recollect Mariana
reproaching Arnaud de Villeneuve, who discovered alcohol and the oil
of turpentine, with the strange crime of having tried human generation
in a pumpkin. Grand-Jean de Fouchy, the not over-credulous life
secretary of the Academy of Sciences, a hundred years ago, would have
shaken his head if any one had told him that from the solar spectrum
one would pass to the igneous spectrum, then to the stellar spectrum,
and that by the aid of the spectrum of flames and of the spectrum of
stars, would be discovered an entirely new method of grouping the
heavenly bodies, and what might be called the chemical constellations.
Orffyreus, who destroyed his machine rather than allow the Landgrave
of Hesse to see inside it,--Orffyreus, so admired by S'Gravesande, the
author of the "Matheseos Universalis Elements,"--would be laughed at
by our mechanicians. A village veterinary surgeon would not inflict
on horses the remedy with which Galen treated the indigestions of
Marcus Aurelius. What is the opinion of the eminent specialists of
our times, Desmarres at the head of them, respecting the learned
discoveries of the seventeenth century by the Bishop of Titiopolis in
the nasal chambers? The mummies have got on; M. Gannal makes them
differently, if not better, than the Taricheutes, the Paraschistes,
and the Cholchytes made them in the days of Herodotus,--the first by
washing the body, the second by opening it, and the third by embalming
it. Five hundred years before Jesus Christ it was perfectly scientific,
when a king of Mesopotamia had a daughter possessed by the devil, to
send to Thebes for a god to cure her. It is not exactly our way to
treat epilepsy. In the same way have we given up expecting the kings of
France to cure scrofula.

In 371, under Valens, son of Gratian le Cordier, the judges summoned
to their bar a table accused of sorcery. This table had an accomplice
named Hilarius. Hilarius confessed the crime. Ammianus Marcellinus has
preserved for us his confession, received by Zosimus, count and fiscal

    "Construximus, magnifici judices, ad cortinæ similitudinem
    Delphicæ infaustam hanc mensulam quam videtis; movimus

Hilarius was beheaded. Who was his accuser? A learned geometrician and
magician,--the same who advised Valens to decapitate all those whose
names began with a _Theod._ To-day you may call yourself Theodore, and
even make a table turn, without the fear of a geometrician causing your
head to be cut off.

One would very much astonish Solon the son of Execestidas, Zeno the
stoic, Antipater, Eudoxus, Lysis of Tarentum, Cebes, Menedemus, Plato,
Epicurus, Aristotle, and Epimenides, if one were to tell Solon that
it is not the moon which regulates the year; to Zeno, that it is
not proved that the soul is divided into eight parts; to Antipater,
that the heaven is not formed of five circles; to Eudoxus, that it
is not certain that between the Egyptians embalming the dead, the
Romans burning them, and the Pæonians throwing them into ponds, the
Pæonians are those who are right; to Lysis of Tarentum, that it is not
exact that the sight is a hot vapour; to Cebes, that it is false that
the principle of elements is the oblong triangle and the isosceles
triangle; to Menedemus, that it is not true that in order to know
the secret bad intentions of men it suffices to stick on one's head
an Arcadian hat with the twelve signs of the zodiac; to Plato, that
sea-water does not cure all diseases; to Epicurus, that matter is
divisible _ad infinitum_; to Aristotle, that the fifth element has not
an orbicular movement, for the reason that there is no fifth element;
to Epimenides, that the plague cannot be infallibly got rid of by
letting black and white sheep go at random, and sacrificing to unknown
gods hidden in the places where the sheep happen to stop.

If you should try to hint to Pythagoras how improbable it is that he
should have been wounded at the siege of Troy,--he Pythagoras, by
Menelaus, two hundred and seven years before his birth,--he would reply
that the fact is incontestable, and that it is proved by the fact that
he perfectly recognizes, as having already seen it, the shield of
Menelaus suspended under the statue of Apollo at Branchides, although
entirely rotten, except the ivory face; that at the siege of Troy
his own name was Euphorbus, and that before being Euphorbus he was
Æthalides, son of Mercury, and that after having been Euphorbus, he was
Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus, fisherman at Delos, then Pythagoras; that it
is all evident and clear,--as clear as it is clear that he was present
the same day and the same minute at Metapontum and Crotona, as evident
as it is evident that by writing with blood on a mirror exposed to the
moon, one may see in the moon what he wrote on the mirror; and lastly,
that he is Pythagoras, living at Metapontum, in the Street of the
Muses, the author of the multiplication-table, and of the square of the
hypothenuse, the greatest of all mathematicians, the father of exact
science, and that you, you are an imbecile.

Chrysippus of Tarsus, who lived about the hundred and thirtieth
Olympiad, forms an era in science. This philosopher, the same who
died, literally died, of laughing on seeing a donkey eat figs out
of a silver basin, had studied everything, gone into the depth of
everything, written seven hundred and five volumes, of which three
hundred and eleven were on dialectics, without having dedicated a
single one to a king,--a fact which astounds Diogenes Laërtius. He
condensed in his brain all human knowledge. His contemporaries named
him Light. Chrysippus signifying "golden horse," they said that he had
got detached from the chariot of the sun. He had taken for device "To
Me." He knew innumerable things,--among others these: The earth is
flat. The universe is round and limited. The best food for man is human
flesh. The community of women is the base of the social order. The
father ought to espouse his daughter. There is a word which kills the
serpent, a word which tames the bear, a word which arrests the flight
of eagles, and a word which drives the oxen from the beanfield. By
pronouncing from hour to hour the three names of the Egyptian Trinity,
Amon-Mouth-Khons, Andron of Argos contrived to cross the deserts of
Libya without drinking. Coffins ought not to be manufactured of cypress
wood, the sceptre of Jupiter being made of that wood. Themistoclea,
priestess of Delphi, had given birth to children, and yet had remained
a virgin. The just alone having authority to swear, it is by equity
that Jupiter has received the name of The Swearer. The phœnix of
Arabia lives in the fire. The earth is carried by the air as by a car.
The sun drinks from the ocean, and the moon from the rivers. For these
reasons the Athenians raised a statue to him on the Ceramicus, with
this inscription: "To Chrysippus, who knew everything."

About the same time, Sophocles wrote "Œdipus Rex."

And Aristotle believed in the story about Andron of Argos, and Plato in
the social principle of the community of women, and Gorgisippus in the
earth being flat; and Epicurus admitted as a fact that the earth was
supported by the air, and Hermodamantes that magic words mastered the
ox, the eagle, the bear, and the serpent; and Echecrates believed in
the immaculate maternity of Themistoclea, and Pythagoras in Jupiter's
sceptre made of cypress wood, and Posidonius in the ocean affording
drink to the sun and in the rivers quenching the thirst of the moon,
and Pyrrho in the phœnix existing in fire.

Excepting in this particular, Pyrrho was a sceptic. He made up for his
belief in that phœnix by doubting everything else.

All that long groping is science. Cuvier was mistaken yesterday,
Lagrange the day before yesterday, Leibnitz before Lagrange,
Gassendi before Leibnitz, Cardan before Gassendi, Cornelius Agrippa
before Cardan, Averroes before Agrippa, Plotinus before Averroes,
Artemidorus Daldian before Plotinus, Posidonius before Artemidorus,
Democritus before Posidonius, Empedocles before Democritus, Carneades
before Empedocles, Plato before Carneades, Pherecydes before Plato,
Pittacus before Pherecydes, Thales before Pittacus, and before Thales
Zoroaster, and before Zoroaster Sanchoniathon, and before Sanchoniathon
Hermes,--Hermes, which signifies science, as Orpheus signifies art. Oh,
wonderful marvel, this heap swarming with dreams which engender the
real! Oh, sacred errors, slow, blind, and sainted mothers of truth!

Some savants, such as Kepler, Euler, Geoffroy St. Hilaire, Arago, have
brought into science nothing but light; they are rare.

At times science is an obstacle to science. The savants give way to
scruples and cavil at study. Pliny is scandalized at Hipparchus;
Hipparchus, with the aid of an imperfect astrolabe, tries to count the
stars and to name them,--an impropriety toward God, says Pliny ("Ausus
rem Deo improbam").

To count the stars is to commit a wickedness toward God. This
accusation, started by Pliny against Hipparchus, is continued by the
Inquisition against Campanella.

Science is the asymptote of truth. It approaches unceasingly and never
touches. Nevertheless it has every greatness. It has will, precision,
enthusiasm, profound attention, penetration, shrewdness, strength,
patience by concatenation, permanent watching for phenomena, the ardour
of progress, and even flashes of bravery,--witness La Pérouse; witness
Pilastre des Rosiers; witness John Franklin; witness Victor Jacquemont;
witness Livingstone: witness Mazet; witness, at this very hour, Nadar.

But science is series. It proceeds by tests heaped one above the other,
and the thick obscurity of which rises slowly to the level of truth.

Nothing like it in art. Art is not successive. All art is _ensemble._

Let us sum up these few pages.

Hippocrates is outrun, Archimedes is outrun, Aratus is outrun,
Avicennus is outrun, Paracelsus is outrun, Nicholas Flamel is outrun,
Ambrose Paré is outrun, Vésale is outrun, Copernicus is outrun, Galileo
is outrun, Newton is outrun, Clairaut is outrun, Lavoisier is outrun,
Montgolfier is outrun, Laplace is outrun. Pindar not, Phidias not.

Pascal the savant is outrun; Pascal the writer is not.

We no longer teach the astronomy of Ptolemy, the geography of Strabo,
the climatology of Cleostratus, the zoology of Pliny, the algebra
of Diophantus, the medicine of Tribunus, the surgery of Ronsil, the
dialectics of Sphœrus, the myology of Steno, the uranology of
Tatius, the stenography of Trithemius, the pisciculture of Sebastien
de Medici, the arithmetic of Stifels, the geometry of Tartaglia, the
chronology of Scaliger, the meteorology of Stoffler, the anatomy of
Gassendi, the pathology of Fernel, the jurisprudence of Robert Barmne,
the agriculture of Quesnay, the hydrography of Bouguer, the nautics
of Bourdé de Villehuet, the ballistics of Gribeauval, the veterinary
practice of Garsault, the architectonics of Desgodets, the botany of
Tournefort, the scholasticism of Abailard, the politics of Plato, the
mechanics of Aristotle, the physics of Descartes, the theology of
Stillingfleet. We taught yesterday, we teach to-day, we shall teach
to-morrow, we shall teach forever, the "Sing, goddess, the anger of

Poetry lives a potential life. The sciences may extend its sphere, not
increase its power. Homer had but four winds for his tempests; Virgil
who has twelve, Dante who has twenty-four, Milton who has thirty-two,
do not make their storms grander.

And it is probable that the tempests of Orpheus were as beautiful as
those of Homer, although Orpheus had, to raise the waves, but two
winds, the Phœnicias and the Aparctias,--that is to say, the wind
of the south and the wind of the north (often confounded, let us say
in passing, with the Argestes, westerly summer wind, and the Libs, the
westerly winter wind).

Some religions die away; and when they disappear, they bequeath a great
artist to other religions coming after them. Serpio makes for the Venus
Aversative of Athens a vase that the Holy Virgin accepts from Venus,
and which to-day is used in the baptistery of Notre Dame at Gaëta.

Oh, eternity of art!

A man, a corpse, a shade, from the depth of the past, through the long
ages, lays hold of you.

I remember, when a youth, one day at Romorantin, in an old house we had
there, under a vine arbour open to air and light, I espied a book on
a plank, the only book there was in the house,--"De Rerum Natura," of
Lucretius. My professors of rhetoric had spoken very ill of it, which
was a recommendation to me. I opened the book. It was at that moment
about midday. I came on these powerful and calm lines:--

    "Religion does not consist in turning unceasingly toward
    the veiled stone, nor in approaching all the altars, nor in
    throwing one's self prostrated on the ground, nor in raising
    the hands before the habitations of gods, nor deluging the
    temples with the blood of beasts, nor in heaping vows upon
    vows, but in beholding all with a peaceful soul." [1]

I stopped in thought; then I began to read again. Some moments
afterward I could see nothing, hear nothing; I was immersed in the
poet. At the dinner-hour I made a sign that I was not hungry; and at
night, when the sun set, and when the herds were returning to their
sheds, I was still in the same place reading the wonderful book; and
by my side my father, with his white locks, seated on the door-sill of
the low room, where his sword hung on a nail, indulging my prolonged
reading, was gently calling the sheep; and they came in turn to eat a
little salt in the hollow of his hand.

[Footnote 1:

     Nec pietas ulla est, velatum saepe videri
     Vertier ad lapidem, atque omnes accedere ad aras.
     Nec procumbere humi prostratum, et pandere palmas
     Ante deum delubra, neque aras sanguine multo
     Spargere quadrupedum, nec votis nectere vota;
     Sed mage placata posse omnia mente tueri.


Poetry cannot grow less. Why? Because it cannot grow greater.

These words, so often used, even by the lettered, "decline," "revival,"
show to what an extent the essence of art is ignored. Superficial
intellects, easily becoming pedantic, take for revival and decline some
effects of juxtaposition, some optical mirages, some exigencies of
language, some ebb and flow of ideas, all the vast movement of creation
and thought, the result of which is universal art. This movement is the
very work of the infinite passing through the human brain.

Phenomena are only seen from the culminating point; and seen from the
culminating point, poetry is immovable. There is neither rise nor
decline in art. Human genius is always at its full; all the rain of
heaven adds not a drop of water to the ocean. A tide is an illusion;
water falls on one shore only to rise on another. You take oscillations
for diminutions. To say, "There will be no more poets," is to say,
"There will be no more ebbing."

Poetry is element. It is irreducible, incorruptible, and refractory.
Like the sea, it says each time all it has to say; then it re-begins
with a tranquil majesty, and with the inexhaustible variety which
belongs only to unity. This diversity in what seems monotonous is the
marvel of immensity.

Wave upon wave, billow after billow, foam behind foam, movement and
again movement: the Iliad is moving away, the Romancero comes; the
Bible sinks, the Koran surges up; after the aquilon Pindar comes the
hurricane Dante. Does everlasting poetry repeat itself? No. It is the
same and it is different. Same breath, another sound.

Do you take the Cid for an imitation of Ajax? Do you take Charlemagne
for a plagiary of Agamemnon? "There is nothing new under the sun."
"Your novelty is the repetition of the old," etc. Oh, the strange
process of criticism! Then art is but a series of counterfeits!
Thersites has a thief, Falstaff. Orestes has an imitator, Hamlet. The
Hippogriff is the jay of Pegasus. All these poets! A crew of cheats!
They pillage each other, _voilà tout!_ Inspiration and swindling
compounded. Cervantes plunders Apuleius; Alcestes cheats Timon of
Athens. The Smynthean wood is the forest of Bondy. Out of which pocket
comes the hand of Shakespeare? Out of the pocket of Æschylus.

No! neither decline, nor revival, nor plagiary, nor repetition, nor
imitation: identity of heart, difference of mind,--that is all. Each
great artist (we have said so already) appropriates; stamps art anew
after his own image. Hamlet is Orestes after the effigy of Shakespeare.
Figaro is Scapin, with the effigy of Beaumarchais. Grangousier is
Silenus, after the effigy of Rabelais.

Everything re-begins with the new poet, and at the same time nothing
is interrupted. Each new genius is abyss, yet there is tradition.
Tradition from abyss to abyss,--such is, in art as in the firmament,
the mystery; and men of genius communicate by their effluvia, like the
stars. What have they in common? Nothing,--everything.

From that pit that is called Ezekiel to that precipice that is called
Juvenal, there is no solution of continuity for the thinker. Lean over
this anathema, or over that satire, and the same vertigo is whirling
around both.

The Apocalypse reverberates on the polar sea of ice, and you have that
aurora borealis, the Niebelungen. The Edda replies to the Vedas.

Hence this, our starting-point, to which we are returning: art is not

No possible decline for poetry, no possible improvement. We lose our
time when we say, "Nescio quid majus nascitur Iliade." Art is subject
neither to diminution nor enlarging. Art has its seasons, its clouds,
its eclipses, even its stains, which are splendours, perhaps its
interpositions of sudden opacity for which it is not responsible; but
at the end it is always with the same intensity that it brings light
into the human soul. It remains the same furnace giving the same
brilliancy. Homer does not grow cold.

Let us insist, moreover, on this, inasmuch as the emulation of minds is
the life of the beautiful, O poets, the first rank is ever free. Let
us remove everything which may disconcert daring minds and break their
wings: art is a species of valour. To deny that men of genius yet to
come may be peers with men of genius of the past would be to deny the
ever-working power of God.

Yes, and often do we return, and shall return again, to this necessary
encouragement. Emulation is almost creation. Yes, those men of genius
that cannot be surpassed may be equalled.


By being different.




Æschylus is the ancient Shakespeare. Let us return to Æschylus. He is
the grandsire of the stage.

This book would be incomplete if Æschylus had not his separate place in

A man whom we do not know how to class in his own century, so little
does he belong to it, being at the same time so much behind it and so
much in advance of it, the Marquis de Mirabeau, that queer customer as
a philanthropist, but a very rare thinker after all, had a library,
in the two comers of which he had had carved a dog and a she-goat, in
remembrance of Socrates, who swore by the dog, and of Zeno, who swore
by the goat. His library presented this peculiarity: on one side he had
Hesiod, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pindar,
Theocritus, Anacreon, Theophrastus, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Cicero Titus
Livius, Seneca, Persius, Lucan, Terence, Horace, Ovid, Propertius,
Tibullus, Virgil, and underneath could be read, engraved in letters of
gold, "Amo;" on the other side, he had Æschylus alone, and underneath,
this word, "Timeo."

Æschylus, in reality, is formidable. He cannot be approached without
trembling. He has magnitude and mystery. Barbarous, extravagant,
emphatic, antithetical, bombastic, absurd,--such is the judgment passed
on him by the official rhetoric of the present day. This rhetoric will
be changed. Æschylus is one of those men whom superficial criticism
scoffs at or disdains, but whom the true critic approaches with a sort
of sacred fear. The dread of genius is the first step toward taste.

In the true critic there is always a poet, even when in a latent state.

Whoever does not comprehend Æschylus is irremediably an ordinary mind.
Intellects may be tried on Æschylus.

The Drama is a strange form of art. Its diameter measures from the
"Seven against Thebes" to the "Philosopher Without Knowing it," and
from Brid'oison to Œdipus. Thyestes forms part of it, Turcaret also.
If you wish to define it, put into your definition Electra and Marton.

The drama is disconcerting. It baffles the weak. This comes from
its ubiquity. The drama has every horizon. You may then imagine its
capacity. The epic poem has been blended in the drama, and the result
is this marvellous literary novelty, which is at the same time a social
power,--the romance.

Bronze, amalgamation of the epic, lyric, and dramatic,--such is the
romance. "Don Quixote" is iliad, ode, and comedy.

Such is the expansion possible to the drama.

The drama is the largest recipient of art. God and Satan are there;
witness Job.

To look at art in the absolute point of view, the characteristic of the
epic poem is grandeur; the characteristic of the drama is immensity.
The immense differs from the great in this, that it excludes, if
it chooses, dimension; that "it is beyond measure," as the common
saying is; and that it can, without losing beauty, lose proportion.
It is harmonious as is the Milky Way. It is by this characteristic of
immensity that the drama commences, four thousand years ago, in Job,
whom we have just named again, and two thousand two hundred years
ago, in Æschylus; it is by this characteristic that it continues in
Shakespeare. What personages does Æschylus take? Volcanoes,--one of
his lost tragedies is called "Etna;" then the mountains,--Caucasus,
with Prometheus; then the sea,--the Ocean on its dragon, and the waves,
the Oceanides; then the vast East,--the Persians; then the bottomless
darkness,--the Eumenides. Æschylus proves the man by the giant. In
Shakespeare the drama approaches nearer to humanity, but remains
colossal. Macbeth seems a polar Atrides. You see that the drama opens
Nature, then opens the soul; there is no limit to this horizon. The
drama is life; and life is everything. The epic poem can be only great;
the drama must necessarily be immense.

This immensity, it is Æschylus throughout, and Shakespeare throughout.

The immense, in Æschylus, is a will. It is also a temperament. Æschylus
invents the buskin which makes the man taller, and the mask which
enlarges the voice. His metaphors are enormous. He calls Xerxes "the
man with the dragon eyes." The sea, which is a plain for so many
poets, is for Æschylus "a forest,"--ἄλσος. These magnifying figures,
peculiar to the highest poets, and to them only, are true; they ace
the true emanations of revery. Æschylus excites you to the very brink
of convulsion. His tragical effects are like blows struck at the
spectators. When the furies of Æschylus make their appearance, pregnant
women miscarry. Pollux, the lexicographer, affirms that there were
children taken with epilepsy and who died, on looking at those faces of
serpents and at those torches violently tossed about. That is evidently
"going beyond the aim." Even the grace of Æschylus, that strange and
sovereign grace of which we have spoken, has a Cyclopean look. It is
Polyphemus smiling. At times the smile is formidable, and seems to hide
an obscure rage. Put, by way of example, in the presence of Helen,
those two poets, Homer and Æschylus. Homer is at once conquered and
admires. His admiration is forgiveness. Æschylus is moved, but remains
grave. He calls Helen "fatal flower;" then he adds, "soul as calm as
the tranquil sea." One day Shakespeare will say, "False as the wave."


The theatre is a crucible of civilization. It is a place of human
communion. All its phases require to be studied. It is in the theatre
that the public soul is formed.

We have just seen what the theatre was in the time of Shakespeare and
Molière. Shall we see what it was at the time of Æschylus?

Let us go to that spectacle.

It is no longer the cart of Thespis; it is no longer the scaffold of
Susarion; it is no longer the wooden circus of Chœrilus. Athens,
foreboding, perceiving the coming of Æschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides, has built theatres of stone. No roof, the sky for a ceiling,
the day for lighting, a long platform of stone pierced with doors and
staircases, and secured to a wall, the actors and the chorus going
and coming on this platform, which is the logeum, and performing the
play; in the centre, where in our days is the hole of the prompter,
a small altar to Bacchus, the thymele; in front of the platform a
vast hemicycle of stone steps, five or six thousand men sitting
pell-mell,--such is the laboratory. There it is that the swarming
crowd of the Piræus come to turn Athenians; there it is that the
multitude become the public, until such day when the public will become
the people. The multitude is in reality there,--all the multitude,
including the women, the children, and the slaves, and Plato, who knits
his brows.

If it is a fête-day, if we are at the Panathenæa, at the Lenæa, or at
the great Dionysia, the magistrates form part of the audience; the
proedri, the epistati, and the prytani sit in their place of honour. If
the trilogy is to be a tetralogy, if the representation is to conclude
by a piece with satyrs; if the fauns, the ægipans, the menades, the
goat-footed, and the evantes, are to come at the end to perform their
pranks; if among the comedians, almost priests, and called "the men of
Bacchus," is to appear the favourite actor who excels in the two modes
of declamation, in paralogy as well as in paracatology; if the poet
is sufficiently liked by his rivals to let the public expect to see
some celebrated men, Eupolis, Cratinus, or even Aristophanes figure
in the chorus,--"Eupolis atque Cratinus, Aristophanesque poetæ," as
Horace will one day say; if a play with women is performed, even the
old "Alcestis" of Thespis, the whole place is full; there is a crowd.
The crowd is already to Æschylus what, later on, as the prologue of the
"Bacchides" remarks, it will be to Plautus,--a swarm of men on seats,
coughing, spitting, sneezing, making grimaces and noises with the mouth
and "ore concrepario" and talking of their affairs; what a crowd is

Students scrawl with charcoal on the wall, now in token of admiration,
now in irony, some well-known verses,--for instance, the singular
iambic a Phrynichus in a single word:--

    "Archaiomelesidonophrunicherata." [1]

Of which the famous Alexandrine, in two words, of one of our tragic
poets of the sixteenth century was but a poor imitation:--

    "Métamorphoserait Nabuchodonosor."

There are not only the students to make a row; there are the old men.
Trust to the old men of the "Wasps" of Aristophanes for a noise. Two
schools are in presence,--on one side Thespis, Susarion, Pratinas of
Phlius, Epigenes of Sicyon, Theomis, Auleas, Chœrilus, Phrynichus,
Minos himself; on the other, young Æschylus. Æschylus is twenty-eight
years old. He gives his trilogy of the "Promethei,"--"Prometheus
Lighting Fire;" "Prometheus Bound;" "Prometheus Delivered," followed by
some piece with satyrs,--"The Argians," perhaps, of which Macrobius has
preserved a fragment for us. The ancient quarrel of youth and old age
breaks out; gray beards against black hair. They discuss, they dispute.
The old are for the old school; the young are for Æschylus. The young
defend Æschylus against Thespis, as they will defend Corneille against

The old men are indignant. Listen to the Nestors grumbling. What
is tragedy? It is the song of the he-goat. Where is the he-goat in
this "Prometheus Bound"? Art is in its decline. And they repeat the
celebrated objection: "Quid pro Baccho?" (What is there for Bacchus?)
The graver men, the purists, do not even admit Thespis, and remind
each other that Solon had raised his stick against Thespis, calling
him "liar," for the sole reason that he had detached and isolated in
a play an episode in the life of Bacchus,--the history of Pentheus.
They hate this innovator, Æschylus. They blame all these inventions,
the end of which is to bring about a closer connection between the
drama and Nature, the use of the anapæst for the chorus, of the iambus
for the dialogue, and of the trochee for passion, in the same way
that, later on, Shakespeare was blamed for going from poetry to prose,
and the theatre of the nineteenth century for that which was termed
"broken verse." These are indeed unbearable novelties. And then, the
flute plays too high, and the tetrachord plays too low; and where is
now the ancient sacred division of tragedies into monodies, stasimes,
and exodes? Thespis never put on the stage but one speaking actor;
here is Æschylus putting two. Soon we shall have three. (Sophocles,
indeed, was to come.) Where will they stop? These are impieties.
And how does Æschylus dare to call Jupiter "the prytanus of the
Immortals?" Jupiter was a god, and he is now no more than a magistrate.
Where are we going? The thymele, the ancient altar of sacrifice, is
now a seat for the corypheus! The chorus ought to limit itself to
executing the strophe,--that is to say, the turn to the right; then
the antistrophe,--that is to say, the turn to the left; then the
epode,--that is to say, repose. But what is the meaning of the chorus
arriving in a winged chariot? What is the gad-fly that pursues Io? Why
does the Ocean come mounted on a dragon? This is show, not poetry.
Where is the ancient simplicity? This show is puerile. Your Æschylus
is but a painter, a decorator, a composer of brawls, a charlatan, a
machinist. All for the eyes, nothing for the mind. To the fire with
all those pieces, and let us content ourselves with a recitation of
the ancient pæans of Tynnichus! It is Chœrilus who, by his tetralogy
of the "Curetes," has begun the evil. What are the Curetes, if you
please? Gods forging metal. Well, then, he had simply to show working
on the stage their five families, the Dactyli finding the metal, the
Cabiri inventing the forge, the Corybantes forging the sword and
the plough-share, the Curetes making the shield, and the Telchines
chasing the jewelry. It was sufficiently interesting in that form;
but by allowing poets to blend in it the adventure of Plexippus and
Toxeus, all is lost. How can you expect society to resist such excess?
It is abominable. Æschylus ought to be summoned before justice, and
sentenced to drink hemlock like that old wretch Socrates. You will see
that after all, he will only be exiled. Everything degenerates.

And the young men burst with laughter. They criticise as well, but in
another fashion. What an old brute is that Solon! It is he who has
instituted the eponymous archonship. What do they want with an archon
giving his name to the year? Hoot the eponymous archon who has lately
caused a poet to be elected and crowned by ten generals, instead of
taking ten men from the people! It is true that one of the generals
was Cimon,--an attenuating circumstance in the eyes of some, for Cimon
had beaten the Phœnicians; aggravating in the eyes of others, for
it is this very Cimon who, in order to get out of a prison for debt,
sold his sister Elphinia, and his wife in the bargain, to Callias. If
Æschylus is a bold man, and deserves to be cited before the Areopagus,
has not Phrynichus also been judged and condemned for having shown
on the stage, in the "Taking of Miletus," the Greeks beaten by the
Persians? When will poets be allowed to suit their own fancy? Hurrah
for the liberty of Pericles and down with the censure of Solon! And
then what is the law that has just been promulgated by which the
chorus is reduced from fifty to fifteen? And how are they to play the
"Danaïdes"? and won't they sneer at the line of Æschylus: "Egyptus, the
father of _fifty_ sons"? The fifty will be fifteen. These magistrates
are idiots. Quarrel, uproar all round. One prefers Phrynichus, another
prefers Æschylus, another prefers wine with honey and benzoin. The
speaking-trumpets of the actors compete as well as they can with this
deafening noise, through which is heard from time to time the shrill
cry of the public vendors of phallus and the water-bearers. Such is
Athenian uproar. During that time the play is going on. It is the work
of a living man. The uproar has every reason to be. Later on, after the
death of Æschylus, or after he has been exiled, there will be silence.
It is right to be silent before a god. "Æquum est," it is Plautus who
speaks, "vos deo facere silentium."

[Footnote 1: Αρχηαιομελεσιδονοπηρυνιχηερατα.]


A genius is an accused man. As long as Æschylus lived, his life was a
strife. His genius was contested, then he was persecuted,--a natural
progression. According to Athenian practice, his private life was
unveiled; he was traduced, slandered. A woman whom he had loved,
Planesia, sister of Chrysilla, mistress of Pericles, has dishonoured
herself in the eyes of posterity by the outrages that she publicly
inflicted on Æschylus. People ascribed to him unnatural loves; people
gave him, as well as Shakespeare, a Lord Southampton. His popularity
was knocked to pieces. Then everything was charged to him as a crime,
even his kindness to young poets, who respectfully offered to him
their first laurels. It is curious to see this reproach constantly
re-appearing. Pezay and St. Lambert repeat it in the eighteenth

    "Pourquoi, Voltaire, à ces auteurs
     Qui t'adressent des vers flatteurs,
     Répondre, en toutes tes missives,
     Par des louanges excessives?"

Æschylus, living, was a kind of public target for all haters. Young,
the ancient poets, Thespis and Phrynichus, were preferred to him. Old,
the new ones, Sophocles and Euripides, were placed above him. At last
he was brought before the Areopagus, and, according to Suidas, because
the theatre tumbled down during one of his pieces; according to Ælian,
because he had blasphemed, or, which is the same thing, had related
the mysteries of Eleusis, he was exiled. He died in exile.

Then Lycurgus the orator cried, "We must raise a statue of bronze to

Athens had expelled the man, but raised the statue.

Thus Shakespeare, through death, entered into oblivion; Æschylus into

This glory, which was to have in the course of ages its phases, its
eclipses, its ebbing and rising tides, was then dazzling. Greece
remembered Salamis, where Æschylus had fought. The Areopagus itself
was ashamed. It felt that it had been ungrateful toward the man who,
in the "Orestias," had paid to that tribunal the supreme honour of
bringing before it Minerva and Apollo. Æschylus became, sacred. All
the phratries had his bust, wreathed at first with bandolets, later on
crowned with laurels. Aristophanes made him say in the "Frogs": "I am
dead, but my poetry liveth." In the great Eleusinian days, the herald
of the Areopagus blew the Tyrrhenian trumpet in honour of Æschylus.
An official copy of his ninety-seven dramas was made at the expense
of the republic, and placed under the special care of the recorder of
Athens. The actors who played his pieces were obliged to go and collate
their parts by this perfect and unique copy. Æschylus was made a second
Homer. Æschylus had, likewise, his rhapsodists, who sang his verses at
the festivals, holding in their hands a branch of myrtle.

He had been right, the great and insulted man, to write on his poems
this proud and mournful dedication, "To Time."

There was no more said about his blasphemy: it had caused him to die in
exile; it was well; it was enough; it was as though it had never been.
Besides, one does not know where to find that blasphemy. Palingenes
searched for it in an "Asterope," which, in our opinion, existed
only in imagination. Musgrave sought it in the "Eumenides." Musgrave
probably was right, for the "Eumenides" being a very religious piece,
the priests could not help of course choosing it to accuse him of

Let us point out a whimsical coincidence. The two sons of Æschylus,
Euphorion and Bion, are said to have re-cast the "Orestias," exactly
as, two thousand three hundred years later, Davenant, Shakespeare's
bastard, re-cast "Macbeth." But in the presence of the universal
respect for Æschylus after his death, such impudent tamperings were
impossible; and what is true of Davenant, is evidently untrue of Bion
and Euphorion.

The renown of Æschylus filled the world of those days. Egypt, feeling
with reason that he was a giant and somewhat Egyptian, bestowed on him
the name of Pimander, signifying "Superior Intelligence." In Sicily,
whither he had been banished, and where they sacrificed he-goats before
his tomb at Gela, he was almost an Olympian. Later on, he was almost a
prophet for the Christians, owing to the prediction in "Prometheus,"
which some people thought to apply to Jesus.

Strange thing! it is this very glory which has wrecked his work.

We speak here of the material wreck; for, as we have said, the mighty
name of Æschylus survives!

It is indeed a drama, and an extraordinary drama, the disappearance of
those poems. A king has stupidly robbed the human mind.

Let us relate this robbery.


Here are the facts,--the legend at least; for at such a distance, and
in such a twilight, history is legendary:--

There was a king of Egypt, named Ptolemy Euergetes, brother-in-law to
Antiochus the god.

Let us mention it en passant, all these people were gods:--gods Soters,
gods Euergetes, gods Epiphanes, gods Philometors, gods Philadelphi,
gods Philopators. Translation: Gods saviours, gods beneficent, gods
illustrious, gods loving their mother, gods loving their brothers,
gods loving their father. Cleopatra was goddess Soter. The priests and
priestesses of Ptolemy Soter were at Ptolemais. Ptolemy VI. was called
"God-love-Mother" (Philometor), because he hated his mother, Cleopatra.
Ptolemy IV. was "God-love-Father" (Philopator), because he had poisoned
his father. Ptolemy II. was "God-love-Brothers" (Philadelphus), because
he had killed his two brothers.

Let us return to Ptolemy Euergetes.

He was the son of the Philadelphus who gave golden crowns to the
Roman ambassadors,--the same to whom the pseudo-Aristeus attributes
by mistake the version of the Septuagint. This Philadelphus had much
increased the library of Alexandria, which, during his lifetime,
counted two hundred thousand volumes, and which, in the sixth century,
attained, it is said, the incredible number of seven hundred thousand

This stock of human knowledge, formed under the eyes of Euclid, and
by the care of Callimachus, Diodorus Cronos, Theodorus the Atheist,
Philetas, Apollonius, Aratus, the Egyptian priest Manetho, Lycophron,
and Theocritus, had for its first librarian, according to some,
Zenodotus of Ephesus, according to others, Demetrius of Phalerum, to
whom the Athenians had raised three hundred and sixty statues, which
they took one year to put up and one day to destroy. Now, this library
had no copy of Æschylus. One day the Greek Demetrius said to Euergetes,
"Pharaoh has not Æschylus,"--exactly as, later on, Leidrade, archbishop
of Lyons and librarian of Charlemagne, said to Charlemagne, "The
Emperor has not Scæva Memor."

Ptolemy Euergetes, wishing to complete the work of the Philadelphus
his father, resolved to give Æschylus to the Alexandrian library. He
declared that he would cause a copy to be made. He sent an embassy to
borrow from the Athenians the unique and sacred copy under the care of
the recorder of the republic. Athens, not over-prone to lend, hesitated
and demanded a security. The king of Egypt offered fifteen silver
talents. Now, those who wish to realize the value of fifteen talents,
have but to know that it was three-fourths of the annual tribute of
ransom payed by Judea to Egypt, which was twenty talents, and weighed
so heavily on the Jewish people that the high priest Onias II., founder
of the Onion temple, decided to refuse this tribute at the risk of a
war. Athens accepted the security. The fifteen talents were deposited.
The complete copy of Æschylus was delivered to the king of Egypt. The
king gave up the fifteen talents and kept the book.

Athens, indignant, had some thought of declaring war against Egypt. To
reconquer Æschylus was as good as reconquering Helen. To recommence
Troy, but this time to get back Homer, it was a fine thing. Yet, time
was taken for consideration. Ptolemy was powerful. He had forcibly
taken back from Asia the two thousand five hundred Egyptian gods
formerly carried there by Cambyses, because they were in gold and
silver. He had, besides, conquered Cilicia and Syria, and all the
country from the Euphrates to the Tigris. With Athens it was no longer
the day when she improvised a fleet of two hundred vessels against
Artaxerxes. She left Æschylus a prisoner in Egypt.

A prisoner-god. This time the word _god_ is in its right place. They
paid Æschylus unheard-of honours. The king refused, it is said, to let
a copy be made of it, stupidly bent on possessing a unique copy.

Particular care was taken of this manuscript when the library of
Alexandria, enlarged by the library of Pergamus, which Antony gave to
Cleopatra, was transferred to the temple of Jupiter Serapis. There it
was that Saint Jerome came to read, in the Athenian text, the famous
passage in "Prometheus" prophesying Christ: "Go and tell Jupiter that
nothing shall make me name the one who is to dethrone him."

Other doctors of the Church made, from the same copy, the same
verification. For, at all times, the orthodox asseverations have been
combined with what have been called the testimonies of polytheism,
and great efforts have been resorted to in order to make the
Pagans say Christian things,--_teste David cum Sibylla._ People
came to the Alexandrian library, as on a pilgrimage, to examine
"Prometheus,"--constant visits which deceived the Emperor Adrian, and
made him write to the consul Servianus: "Those who adore Serapis are
Christians: those who profess to be bishops of Christ are at the same
time devotees of Serapis."

Under the Roman dominion the library of Alexandria belonged to
the emperor. Egypt was Cæsar's property. "Augustus," says Tacitus,
"seposuit Ægyptum." It was not every one who could travel there. Egypt
was closed. The Roman knights, and even the senators, could not easily
obtain admission.

It was during this period that the complete copy of Æschylus could be
consulted and perused by Timocharis, Aristarchus, Athenæus, Stobæus,
Diodorus of Sicily, Macrobius, Plotinus, Jamblichus, Sopater, Clement
of Alexandria, Nepotian of Africa, Valerius Maximus, Justin the Martyr,
and even by Ælian, although Ælian left Italy but seldom.

In the seventh century a man entered Alexandria. He was mounted on
a camel and seated between two sacks,--one full of figs, the other
full of corn. These two sacks were, with a wooden platter, all that
he possessed. This man never seated himself except on the ground. He
drank nothing but water and ate nothing but bread. He had conquered
half of Asia and of Africa, taken or burned thirty-six thousand towns,
villages, fortresses, and castles, destroyed four thousand Pagan or
Christian temples, built fourteen hundred mosques, conquered Izdeger,
King of Persia, and Heraclius, Emperor of the East, and he called
himself Omar. He burned the library of Alexandria.

Omar is for that reason celebrated. Louis, called the Great, has not
the same celebrity, which is unjust, for he burned the Rupertine
library at Heidelberg.

[Illustration] _Anne Hathaway's Cottage._

Photogravure.--From Photograph.


Now, is not that incident a complete drama? It might be entitled
"Æschylus Lost." Recital, node, and _dénouement._ After Euergetes,
Omar. The action begins with a robber and ends with an incendiary.

Euergetes (this is his excuse) robbed from enthusiasm,--an unpleasant
instance of the admiration of an imbecile.

As for Omar, he is the fanatic. By the way, we must say that strange
historical rehabilitations have been attempted in our time. We do not
speak of Nero, who is the fashion; but an attempt has been made to
exonerate Omar, as well as to bring a verdict of not guilty for Pius V.
Holy Pius V. personifies the Inquisition; to canonize him was enough,
why declare him innocent? We do not lend ourselves to those attempts
at appeal in trials which have received final judgment. We have no
taste for rendering small services to fanaticism, whether it be caliph
or pope, whether it burn books or men. Omar has had many advocates.
A certain class of historians and biographical critics are readily
moved to pity for the sword,--a victim of slander, this poor sword!
Imagine then the tenderness that is felt for a scimitar! The scimitar
is the ideal sword. It is better than brute,--it is Turk. Omar, then,
has been cleaned as much as possible. A first fire in the Bruchion
district, where the Alexandrian library stood, was used as an argument
to prove how easily such accidents happen. That one was the fault of
Julius Cæsar,--another sword. Then a second argument was found in a
second fire, only partial, of the Serapeum, in order to accuse the
Christians, the demagogues of those days. If the fire at the Serapeum
had destroyed the Alexandrian library in the fourth century, Hypatia
would not have been able, in the fifth century, to give, in that same
library, those lessons in philosophy which caused her to be murdered
with broken pieces of earthen pots. About Omar we willingly believe
the Arabs. Abd-Allatif saw at Alexandria, about 1220, "the column of
pillars supporting a cupola," and said, "There stood the library that
Amrou-ben-Alas burned by permission of Omar." Abulfaradge, in 1260,
relates in his "Dynastic History" that by order of Omar they took the
books from the library, and with them heated the baths of Alexandria
for six months. According to Gibbon, there were at Alexandria four
thousand baths. Ebn-Khaldoun, in his "Historical Prolegomena," relates
another wanton destruction,--the annihilation of the library of the
Medes by Saad, Omar's lieutenant. Now, Omar having caused the burning
of the Median library in Persia by Saad, was logical in causing the
destruction of the Egyptian-Greek library in Egypt by Amrou. His
lieutenants have preserved his orders for us: "If these books contain
falsehoods, to the fire with them. If they contain truths, these truths
are in the Koran; to the fire with them." In place of the Koran, put
the Bible, Veda, Edda, Zend-Avesta, Toldos Jeschut, Talmud, Gospel, and
you have the imperturbable and universal formula of all fanaticisms.
This being said, we do not see any reason to reverse the verdict of
history; we award to the caliph the smoke of the seven hundred thousand
volumes of Alexandria, Æschylus included, and we maintain Omar in
possession of his rights as incendiary.

Euergetes, through his wish for exclusive possession, and treating a
library as a seraglio, has robbed us of Æschylus. Imbecile contempt can
have the same effect as imbecile adoration. Shakespeare was very near
having the fate of Æschylus. He has had, too, his fire. Shakespeare
was so little printed, printing existed so little for him, thanks to
the silly indifference of his immediate posterity, that in 1666 there
was still but one edition of the poet of Stratford-on-Avon (Hemynge
and Condell's edition), three hundred copies of which were printed.
Shakespeare, with this obscure and pitiful edition, waiting in vain for
the public, was a sort of poor wretch ashamed to beg for glory. These
three hundred copies were nearly all stored up in London when the fire
of 1666 broke out. It burned London, and nearly burned Shakespeare. The
whole edition of Hemynge and Condell disappeared, with the exception of
forty-four copies, which had been sold in fifty years. Those forty-four
purchasers saved from death the work of Shakespeare.


The disappearance of Æschylus! Stretch this catastrophe hypothetically
to a few more names, and it seems as though you felt the vacuum
annihilating the human mind.

The work of Æschylus was, by its extent, the greatest, certainly, of
all antiquity. By the seven plays which remain to us, we may judge what
that universe was.

Let us point out what Æschylus lost is.

Fourteen trilogies: the "Promethei," of which "Prometheus Bound" formed
a part; the "Seven Chiefs before Thebes," of which there remains
one piece, "The Danaid," which comprised the "Supplicants," written
in Sicily, and in which the _Sicelism_ of Æschylus is traceable;
"Laius," which comprised "Œdipus;" "Athamas," which ended with the
"Isthmiasts;" "Perseus," the node of which was the "Phorcydes;" "Etna,"
which had as prologue the "Etnean Women;" "Iphigenia," the _dénouement_
of which was the tragedy of the "Priestesses;" the "Ethiopid," the
titles of which are nowhere to be found; "Pentheus," in which were the
"Hydrophores;" "Teucer," which opened with the "Judgment of Arms;"
"Niobe," which commenced with the "Nurses" and ended with the "Men
of the Train;" a trilogy in honour of Achilles, the "Tragic Iliad,"
composed of the "Myridons," the "Nereids," and the "Phrygians;" one
in honour of Bacchus, the "Lycurgia," composed of the "Edons," the
"Bassarides," and the "Young Men."

These fourteen trilogies in themselves alone give a total of fifty-six
plays, if we consider that nearly all were tetralogies,--that is to
say, quadruple dramas,--and ended with a satyride. Thus the "Orestias"
had, as a final satyride, "Proteus," and the "Seven Chiefs before
Thebes," had the "Sphinx."

Add to those fifty-six pieces a probable trilogy of the "Labdacides;"
add the tragedies,--the "Egyptians," the "Ransom of Hector,"
"Memnon," undoubtedly connected with some trilogies; add all the
satyrides,--"Sisyphus the Deserter," the "Heralds," the "Lion," the
"Argians," "Amymone," "Circe," "Cercyon," "Glaucus the Mariner,"
comedies in which was found the mirth of that wild genius.

See all that is lost.

Euergetes and Omar have robbed us of all that.

It is difficult to state precisely the total number of pieces written
by Æschylus. The amount varies. The anonymous biographer speaks of
seventy-five, Suidas of ninety, Jean Deslyons of ninety-seven, Meursius
of one hundred.

Meursius reckons up more than a hundred titles, but some are probably
used twice.

Jean Deslyons, doctor of the Sorbonne, theologal of Senlis, author
of the "Discours ecclesiastique contre le paganisme du Roi boit,"
published in the seventeenth century a work against the custom of
laying coffins one above the other in the cemeteries, in which he took
for his authority the twenty-fifth canon of the Council of Auxerre:
"Non licet mortuum super mortuum mitti." Deslyons, in a note added to
that work, now very scarce, and a copy of which was in the possession
of Charles Nodier, if our memory is faithful, quotes a passage from
the great antiquarian numismatist of Venloo, Hubert Goltzius, in
which, in reference to embalming, Goltzius mentions the "Egyptians,"
of Æschylus, and "The Apotheosis of Orpheus,"--a title omitted in the
enumeration given by Meursius. Goltzius adds that "The Apotheosis of
Orpheus" was recited at the mysteries of the Lycomidians.

This title, "The Apotheosis of Orpheus" opens a field for thought.
Æschylus speaking of Orpheus, the Titan measuring the giant, the god
interpreting the god, what more magnificent, and how one would long to
read that work! Dante, speaking of Virgil and calling him his master,
does not fill up this gap, because Virgil, a noble poet, but without
invention, is less than Dante; it is between equals, from genius to
genius, from sovereign to sovereign, that such homage is splendid.
Æschylus raises to Orpheus a temple of which he might occupy the altar
himself: it is grand.


Æschylus is incommensurate. There is in him something of India. The
wild majesty of his stature recalls those vast poems of the Ganges
which walk through art with the steps of a mammoth, and which have,
among the Iliads and the Odysseys, the appearance of hippopotami among
lions. Æschylus, a thorough Greek, is yet something else besides a
Greek. He has the Oriental immensity.

Saumaise declares that he is full of Hebraisms and Syrianisms.[1]
Æschylus makes the Winds carry Jupiter's throne, as the Bible makes
the Cherubim carry Jehovah's throne, as the Rig-Veda makes the Marouts
carry the throne of Indra. The winds, the cherubim, and the marouts are
the same beings,--the Breezes. Saumaise is right. The double-meaning
words so frequent in the Phœnician language, abound in Æschylus.
He plays, for instance, in reference to Jupiter and Europa, on the
Phœnician word _ilpha_, which has the double meaning of "ship" and
"bull." He loves that language of Tyre and Sidon, and at times he
borrows the strange gleams of its style; the metaphor, "Xerxes with
the dragon eyes," seems an inspiration from the Ninevite dialect, in
which the word _draka_ meant at the same time dragon and clear-sighted.
He has Phœnician heresies. His heifer Io is rather the cow of Isis;
he believes, like the priests of Sidon, that the temple of Delphi was
built by Apollo with a paste made of wax and bees'-wings. In his exile
in Sicily he often drank religiously at the fountain of Arethusa,
and never did the shepherds who watched him hear him name Arethusa
otherwise than by this mysterious name, _Alphaga_,--an Assyrian word
signifying "source surrounded with willows."

Æschylus is, in the whole Hellenic literature, the sole example of
the Athenian mind with a mixture of Egypt and Asia. These depths were
repugnant to the Greek intelligence. Corinth, Epidaurus, Œdepsus,
Gythium, Cheronea, which was to be the birth-place of Plutarch, Thebes,
where Pindar's house was, Mantinea, where the glory of Epaminondas
shone,--all these golden towns repudiated the Unknown, a glimpse of
which was seen like a cloud behind the Caucasus. It seemed as though
the sun was Greek. The sun, used to the Parthenon, was not made
to enter the diluvian forests of Grand Tartary under the gigantic
mouldiness of the monocotyledons under the lofty ferns of five hundred
cubits, where swarmed all the first dreadful models of Nature, and
under whose shadows existed unknown, shapeless cities, such as that
fabulous Anarodgurro, the existence of which was denied until it sent
an embassy to Claudius. Gagasmira, Sambulaca, Maliarpha, Barygaza,
Cavenpatnam Sochoth-Benoth, Theglath-Phalazar, Tana-Serim--all these
almost hideous names affrighted Greece when they came to be reported
by the adventurers on their return first by those with Jason, then by
those of Alexander. Æschylus had no such horror. He loved the Caucasus.
It was there he had made the acquaintance of Prometheus. One almost
feels in reading Æschylus that he had haunted the vast primitive
thickets now become coal mines, and that he has taken huge strides
over the roots, snake-like and half-living, of the ancient vegetable
monsters. Æschylus is a kind of behemoth among geniuses.

Let us say, however, that the affinity of Greece with the East, an
affinity hated by the Greeks, was real. The letters of the Greek
alphabet are nothing else but the letters of the Phœnician alphabet
reversed. Æschylus was all the more Greek from the fact of his being a
little of a Phœnician.

This powerful mind, at times apparently crude on account of his very
grandeur, has the Titanic gayety and affability. He indulges in
quibbles on the names of Prometheus, Polynices, Helen, Apollo, Ilion,
on the cock and the sun, imitating in this respect Homer, who made on
the olive that famous pun which caused Diogenes to throw away his plate
of olives and eat a tart.

The father of Æschylus, Euphorion, was a disciple of Pythagoras. The
soul of Pythagoras, that philosopher half magian and half brahmin,
seemed to have entered through Euphorion into Æschylus. We have said
already that in the dark and mysterious quarrel between the celestial
and the terrestrial gods, the intestinal war of Paganism, Æschylus
was terrestrial. He belonged to the faction of the gods of earth. The
Cyclops had worked for Jupiter; he rejected them as we would reject a
corporation of workers who had turned traitors, and he preferred to
them the Cabyri. He adored Ceres. "O thou, Ceres, nurse of my soul!"
and Ceres is Demeter, is Gemeter, is the mother-earth. Hence his
veneration for Asia. It seemed then as though Earth was rather in Asia
than elsewhere. Asia is, in reality, compared with Europe, a kind of
block almost without capes and gulfs, and little penetrated by the
sea. The Minerva of Æschylus says, "Great Asia." "The sacred soil of
Asia," says the chorus of the Oceanides. In his epitaph, graven on his
tomb at Gela and written by himself, Æschylus attests "the Mede with
long hair." He makes the chorus celebrate "Susicanes and Pegastagon,
born in Egypt, and the chief of Memphis, the sacred city." Like the
Phœnicians, he gives the name of "Oncea" to Minerva. In the "Etna" he
celebrates the Sicilian Dioscuri, the Palici, those twin gods whose
worship, connected with the local worship of Vulcan, had reached Asia
through Sarepta and Tyre. He calls them "the venerable Palici." Three
of his trilogies are entitled the "Persians," the "Ethiopid," the
"Egyptians." In the geography of Æschylus, Egypt was Asia, as well as
Arabia. Prometheus says, "the dower of Arabia, the heroes of Caucasus."
Æschylus was, in geography, very peculiar. He had a Gorgonian city
Cysthenes, which he placed in Asia, as well as a river Pluto, rolling
gold, and defended by men with a single eye,--the Arimaspes. The
pirates to whom he makes allusion somewhere are, according to all
appearance, the pirates of Angria who inhabited the rock Vizindruk. He
could see distinctly beyond the Pas-du-Nil, in the mountains of Byblos,
the source of the Nile, still unknown to-day. He knew the precise
spot where Prometheus had stolen the fire, and he designated without
hesitation Mount Mosychlus in the neighbourhood of Lemnos.

When this geography ceases to be fanciful, it is exact as an itinerary.
It becomes true and remains without measure. Nothing more real than
that splendid transmission of the news of the capture of Troy in one
night by bonfires lighted one after the other and corresponding from
mountain to mountain,--from Mount Ida to the promontory of Hermes,
from the promontory of Hermes to Mount Athos, from Mount Athos to
Mount Macispe, from the Macispe to the Messapius, from Mount Messapius
over the river Asopus to Mount Cytheron, from Mount Cytheron over the
morass of Gorgopis to Mount Egiplanctus, from Mount Egiplanctus to Cape
Saronica (later Spireum); from Cape Saronica to Mount Arachne, from
Mount Arachne to Argos. You may follow on the map that train of fire
announcing Agamemnon to Clytemnestra.

This bewildering geography is mingled with an extraordinary tragedy, in
which you hear dialogues more than human:--

_Prometheus._ "Alas!"

_Mercury._ "This is a word that Jupiter speaks not."

And where Gerontes is the Ocean. "To look a fool," says the Ocean
to Prometheus, "is the secret of the sage,"--saying as deep as the
sea. Who knows the mental reservations of the tempest? And the Power
exclaims, "There is but one free god; it is Jupiter."

Æschylus has his own geography; he has also his own fauna.

This fauna, which strikes as fabulous, is enigmatical rather than
chimerical. The author of these lines has discovered and authenticated
at the Hague, in a glass in the Japanese Museum, the impossible serpent
in the "Orestias," having two heads attached to its two extremities.
There are, it may be added, in that glass several specimens of
bestiality that might belong to another world, at all events strange
and not accounted for, as we are little disposed to admit, for our
part, the absurd hypothesis of the Japanese stitchers of monsters.

Æschylus at moments sees Nature with simplifications stamped with a
mysterious disdain. Here the Pythagorician disappears, and the magian
shows himself. All beasts are the beast. Æschylus seems to see in the
animal kingdom only a dog. The griffin is a "dumb dog;" the eagle is a
"winged dog,"--"The winged dog of Jupiter," says Prometheus.

We have just pronounced the word _magian._ In fact, Æschylus officiates
at times like Job. One would suppose that he exercises over Nature,
over human creatures, and even over gods, a kind of magianism. He
upbraids animals for their voracity. A vulture which seizes, even
while running, a doe-hare with young, and feeds on it, "eats a whole
race stopped in its flight." He calls on the dust and on the smoke; to
the one he says, "Thirsty sister of mire!" to the other, "Black sister
of fire!" He insults the dreaded bay of Salmydessus: "Hard-hearted
mother of vessels."

He brings down to dwarfish proportions the Greeks, conquerors of Troy
by treachery; he shows them brought forth by an implement of war,--he
calls them "these young of a horse." As for the gods, he goes so far as
to incorporate Apollo with Jupiter. He magnificently calls Apollo "the
conscience of Jupiter."

His familiar boldness is absolute, characteristic of sovereignty. He
makes the sacrificer take Iphigenia "as a she-goat" A queen who is a
faithful spouse is for him "the good house-bitch." As for Orestes, he
has seen him when quite a child, and he speaks of him as "wetting his
swaddling-cloths,"--_humectatio ex urina._ He even goes beyond this
Latin. The expression, which we do not repeat here, is to be found in
"Les Plaideurs," act III. scene 3. If you are bent upon reading the
word which we hesitate to write, apply to Racine.

The whole is immense and mournful. The profound despair of fate is in
Æschylus. He shows in terrible lines "the impotence which chains down,
as in a dream, the blind living creatures." His tragedy is nothing
but the old Orphean dithyrambic suddenly launching into tears and
lamentations over man.

[Footnote 1: "Hebraïsmis et Syrianismis."]


Aristophanes loved Æschylus by that law of affinity which causes
Marivaux to love Racine tragedy and comedy made to understand each

The same distracted and all-powerful breath fills Æschylus and
Aristophanes. They are the two inspired spirits of the antique mask.

Aristophanes, who is not yet judged, adhered to the mysteries, to
Cecropian poetry, to Eleusis, to Dodona, to the Asiatic twilight, to
the profound pensive dream. This dream, whence sprung the art of Egina,
was at the threshold of the Ionian philosophy in Thales as well as
at the threshold of the Italian philosophy in Pythagoras. It was the
sphinx guarding the entrance.

This sphinx has been a muse,--the great pontifical and lascivious
muse of universal rut; and Aristophanes loved it This sphinx breathed
tragedy into Æschylus, and comedy into Aristophanes. It had something
of Cybele. The ancient sacred immodesty is in Aristophanes. At moments
he has Bacchus foaming at the lips. He came from the Dionysia, or from
the Aschosia, or from the great Trieteric Orgy, and he strikes one as a
raving maniac of the mysteries. His wild verse resembles the bassaride
hopping giddily upon bladders filled with air. Aristophanes has the
sacerdotal obscurity. He is for nudity against love. He denounces the
Phedras and Sthenobæas, and he creates Lysistrata.

Let no one be deceived on this point; it was religion, and a cynic was
an austere mind. The gymnosophists were the point of intersection
between lewdness and thought The he-goat, with its philosopher's beard,
belonged to that sect That dark ecstatic and bestial Oriental spirit
lives still in the santon, the dervish, and the fakir. The corybantes
were a kind of Greek fakirs. Aristophanes, like Diogenes, belonged
to that family. Æschylus, by the Oriental bent of his nature, nearly
belonged to it himself, but he retained the tragic chastity.

That mysterious naturalism was the ancient spirit of Greece. It was
called poetry and philosophy. It had under it the group of the seven
sages, one of whom, Periander, was a tyrant. Now, a certain vulgar,
mean spirit appeared with Socrates. It was sagacity clearing and
bottling up wisdom. Reduction of Thales and Pythagoras to the immediate
true. Such was the operation. A sort of filtering, which, purifying
and weakening, allowed the ancient divine doctrine to percolate, drop
by drop, and become human. These simplifications disgust fanaticism;
dogmas object to a process of sifting. To ameliorate a religion is
to lay violent hands on it. Progress offering its services to Faith,
offends it. Faith is an ignorance which professes to know, and which,
in certain cases, knows perhaps more than Science. In the face of
the lofty affirmations of believers, Socrates had an uncomfortably
sly half-smile. There is something of Voltaire in Socrates. Socrates
denounces all the Eleusinian philosophy as unintelligible and
indiscernible; and he said to Euripides that to understand Heraclitus
and the old philosophers, "one required to be a swimmer of Delos,"--in
other words, a swimmer capable of landing on an isle which was always
receding before him. That was impiety and sacrilege for the ancient
Hellenic naturalism. There was no other cause for the antipathy of
Aristophanes toward Socrates.

This antipathy was quite fearful. The poet showed himself a
persecutor; he has lent assistance to the oppressors against the
oppressed, and his comedy has been guilty of crimes. Aristophanes
has remained in the eyes of posterity in the condition of a wicked
genius,--fearful punishment! But there is for him one attenuating
circumstance: he was an ardent admirer of the poet of "Prometheus,"
and to admire him was to defend him. Aristophanes did what he could to
prevent his banishment; and if anything can diminish one's indignation
in reading the "Clouds," implacable on Socrates, it is that one may
see in the background the hand of Aristophanes holding the mantle of
Æschylus going into exile. Æschylus has likewise a comedy, a sister of
the broad farce of Aristophanes. We have spoken of his mirth. It goes
very far in "The Argians." It equals Aristophanes, and outstrips the
Shrove Tuesday of our Carnival. Listen: "He throws at my head a chamber
utensil. The full vase falls on my head, and is broken, odoriferous,
but in a different manner from an urnful of perfume." Who says that?
Æschylus. And in his turn Shakespeare will come and will exclaim
through Falstaff's lips: "Empty the jorden." What can you say? You have
to deal with savages.

One of those savages is Molière: witness from one end to the other the
"Malade Imaginaire." Racine also is in a degree one of them: see "Les
Plaideurs," already mentioned.

The Abbé Camus was a witty bishop,--a rare thing at all times; and what
is more, he was a good man. He would have deserved this reproach of
another bishop: "Bon jusqu'à la bêtise." Perhaps he was good because he
had wit He gave to the poor all the revenue of his bishopric of Belley.
He objected to canonization. It was he who said, "Il n'est chasse que
de vieux chiens et châsse que de vieux saints;" and although he did
not like the new-comers in sanctity, he was a friend of Saint François
de Sales, by whose advice he wrote novels. He relates in one of his
letters that one day François de Sales said to him: "The Church laughs

Art also laughs readily. Art, which is a temple, has its laughter.
Whence comes this hilarity? All at once, in the midst of
_chefs-d'œuvre_, serious figures, a buffoon stands up and blurts
out,--a _chef-d'œuvre_ also. Sancho Panza jostles Agamemnon. All the
marvels of thought are there; irony comes to complicate and complete
them. Enigma. Behold art, great art, breaking into an excess of gayety.
Its problem, matter, amuses it. It was forming it, now it deforms it.
It was shaping it for beauty, now it delights in extracting from it
ugliness. It seems to forget its responsibility. It does not forget
it, however; for suddenly, behind the grimace, philosophy makes its
appearance,--a philosophy smooth, less sidereal, more terrestrial,
quite as mysterious as the grave philosophy. The unknown which is in
man, and the unknown which is in things, face each other; and it turns
out that in the act of meeting, these two augurs, Nature and Fate,
cannot keep their serious countenance. Poetry, laden with anxieties,
befools--whom? Itself. A mirth, which is not serenity, gushes out from
the incomprehensible. An unknown, lofty, and sinister raillery flashes
its lightning through the human darkness. The shadows piled up around
us play with our soul. Formidable blossoming of the unknown. The jest
proceeds from the abyss.

This alarming mirth in art is called, in olden times, Aristophanes, and
in modern times, Rabelais.

When Pratinas the Dorian had invented the play with satyrs, comedy
making its appearance opposite tragedy, mirth by the side of mourning,
the two styles ready perhaps to unite, it was a matter of scandal.
Agathon, the friend of Euripides, went to Dodona to consult Loxias.
Loxias is Apollo. Loxias means crooked; and Apollo was called The
Crooked, on account of his oracles being always obscure and full of
ambiguous meanings. Agathon inquired from Apollo whether the new
style was not impious, and whether comedy existed by right as well as
tragedy. Loxias answered, "Poetry has two ears."

This answer, which Aristotle declares obscure, seems to us very clear.
It sums up the entire law of art. Two problems, in fact, are presented.
In the full light the first problem,--noisy, tumultuous, stormy,
clamorous, the vast vital causeway, offering every direction to the
ten thousand feet of man; the quarrels, the uproar, the passions with
their _why_; the evil, which undergoes suffering the first, for to be
evil is worse than doing it; sorrows, griefs, tears, cries, rumours.
In the shade, the second one, mute problem, immense silence, with an
inexpressible and terrible meaning. And poetry has two ears,--one which
listens to life, the other which listens to death.


The power that Greece had to evolve her luminous effluvia is
prodigious,--even like that to-day which we see in France. Greece did
not colonize without civilizing,--an example that more than one modern
nation might follow. To buy and sell is not everything.

Tyre bought and sold; Berytus bought and sold; Sidon bought and sold;
Sarepta bought and sold. Where are these cities? Athens taught; Athens
is still at this hour one of the capitals of human thought.

The grass is growing on the six steps of the tribune where spoke
Demosthenes; the Ceramicus is a ravine half-choked with the marble-dust
which was once the palace of Cecrops; the Odeon of Herod Atticus at
the foot of the Acropolis is now but a ruin on which falls, at certain
hours, the imperfect shadow of the Parthenon; the temple of Theseus
belongs to the swallows; the goats browse on the Pnyx. Still the Greek
spirit is living; still Greece is queen; still Greece is goddess. A
commercial firm passes away; a school remains.

It is curious to say to one's self to-day that twenty-two centuries
ago small towns, isolated and scattered on the outskirts of the known
world, possessed, all of them, theatres. In point of civilization,
Greece began always by the construction of an academy, of a portico,
or of a logeum. Whoever could have seen, nearly at the same period,
rising at a short distance one from the other, in Umbria, the Gallic
town of Sens (now Sinigaglia), and, near Vesuvius, the Hellenic city
Parthenopea (at present Naples), would have recognized Gaul by the big
stone standing all red with blood, and Greece by the theatre.

This civilization by poetry and art had such a mighty force that
sometimes it subdued even war. The Sicilians--Plutarch relates it in
speaking of Nicias--gave liberty to the Greek prisoners who sang the
verses of Euripides.

Let us point out some very little known and very singular facts.

The Messenian colony, Zancle, in Sicily; the Corinthian colony,
Corcyra, distinct from the Corcyra of the Absyrtides Islands; the
Cycladian colony, Cyrene, in Libya; the three Phocean colonies, Helea
in Lucania, Palania in Corsica, Marseilles in France, had theatres.
The gad-fly having pursued Io all along the Adriatic Gulf, the Ionian
Sea reached as far as the harbour of Venetus, and Tregeste (now
Trieste) had a theatre. A theatre at Salpe, in Apulia; a theatre at
Squillacium, in Calabria; a theatre at Thernus, in Livadia; a theatre
at Lysimachia, founded by Lysimachus, Alexander's lieutenant; a theatre
at Scapta-Hyla, where Thucydides had gold-mines; a theatre at Byzia,
where Theseus had lived; a theatre in Chaonia, at Buthrotum, where
performed those equilibrists from Mount Chimera whom Apuleius admired
on the Pœcile; a theatre in Pannonia, at Bude, where the Metanastes
were,--that is to say, the "Transplanted." Many of these colonies,
situated afar, were much exposed. In the Isle of Sardinia, which the
Greeks named Ichnusa, on account of its resemblance to the sole of
the foot, Calaris (now Cagliari) was, so to speak, under the Punic
clutch; Cibalis, in Mysia, had to fear the Triballi; Aspalathon, the
Illyrians; Tomis, the future resting-place of Ovid, the Scordisci;
Miletus, in Anatolia, the Massagetes; Denia, in Spain, the Cantabrians;
Salmydessus, the Molossians; Carsina, the Tauro-Scythians; Gelonus,
the Arymphæans of Sarmatia who lived on acorns; Apollonia, the
Hamaxobians, wandering in their chariots; Abdera, the birth-place
of Democritus, the Thracians, men tattooed all over,--all these
towns, by the side of their citadel, had a theatre. Why? Because the
theatre keeps alight the flame of love for the fatherland. Having the
barbarians at their gates, it was important that they should remain
Greeks. The national spirit is the strongest of bulwarks.

The Greek drama was profoundly lyrical. It was often less a tragedy
than a dithyramb. It had occasionally strophes as powerful as swords.
It rushed on the scene, wearing the helmet, and it was an ode armed
_cap-à-pie._ We know what a Marseillaise can do.

Many of these theatres were in granite, some in brick. The theatre
of Apollonia was in marble. The theatre of Salmydessus, which could
be moved to the Doric place or to the Epiphanian place, was a vast
scaffolding rolling on cylinders, after the fashion of those wooden
towers which they thrust against the stone towers of besieged towns.

And what poet did they play by preference at these theatres? Æschylus.

Æschylus was for Greece the autochthonic poet. He was more than Greek,
he was Pelasgian. He was born at Eleusis; and not only was he Eleusian,
but Eleusiatic,--that is to say, a believer. It is the same shade as
English and Anglican. The Asiatic element, the grandiose deformation
of this genius, increased respect for it; for people said that the
great Dionysus, that Bacchus, common to the West and the East, came in
Æschylus's dreams to dictate to him his tragedies. You find again here
the "familiar spirit" of Shakespeare.

Æschylus, Eupatride, and Eginetic struck the Greeks as more Greek
than themselves. In those times of code and dogma mingled together,
to be sacerdotal was an elevated way of being national. Fifty-two
of his tragedies had been crowned. On leaving the theatre after the
performance of the plays of Æschylus, the men would strike the shields
hung at the doors of the temples, crying, "Fatherland, fatherland!" Let
us add here, that to be hieratic did not hinder him from being demotic.
Æschylus loved the people, and the people adored him. There are two
sides to greatness: majesty is one, familiarity is the other. Æschylus
was familiar with the turbulent and generous mob of Athens. He often
gave to that mob a fine part in his plays. See, in the "Orestias,"
how tenderly the chorus, which is the people, receive Cassandra! The
queen uses the slave roughly, and scares him whom the chorus tries to
reassure and soothe. Æschylus had introduced the people in his grandest
works,--in "Pentheus," by the tragedy of "The Woolcombers;" in "Niobe,"
by the tragedy of the "Nurses;" in "Athamas," by the tragedy of the
"Net-drawers;" in "Iphigenia," by the tragedy of the "Bed-Makers."
It was on the side of the people that he turned the balance in that
mysterious drama, "The Weighing of Souls."[1] Therefore had he been
chosen to preserve the sacred fire.

In all the Greek colonies they played the "Orestias" and "The
Persians." Æschylus being present, the fatherland was no longer absent.
The magistrates ordered these almost religious representations. The
gigantic Æschylean theatre was intrusted with watching over the infancy
of the colonies. It enclosed them in the Greek spirit, it guaranteed
them from the influence of bad neighbours, and from all temptations
of being led astray. It preserved them from foreign contact, it
maintained them within the Hellenic circle. It was there as a warning.
All those young offsprings of Greece were, so to speak, placed under
the care of Æschylus.

In India they readily give the children into the charge of elephants.
These enormous specimens of goodness watch over the little things.
The whole group of flaxen heads sing, laugh, and play under the shade
of the trees. The habitation is at some distance. The mother is not
with them. She is at home, busy with her domestic cares; she pays
no attention to her children. Yet, joyful as they are, they are in
danger. These beautiful trees are treacherous; they hide under their
thickness thorns, claws, and teeth. There the cactus bristles up, the
lynx roams, the viper crawls. The children must not wander away; beyond
a certain limit they would be lost. Nevertheless, they run about, call
to one another, pull and entice one another away, some of them scarcely
stuttering, and quite unsteady on their little feet. At times one of
them goes too far. Then a formidable trunk is stretched out, seizes the
little one, and gently carries him home.

[Footnote 1: The Psychostasia.]


There were some copies more or less complete of Æschylus.

Besides the copies in the colonies, which were limited to a small
number of pieces, it is certain that partial copies of the original at
Athens were made by the Alexandrian critics and scholars, who have left
us some fragments,--among others the comic fragment of "The Argians,"
the Bacchic fragment of the "Edons," the lines cited by Stobæus, and
even the probably apocryphal verses given by Justin the Martyr.

These copies, buried but perhaps not destroyed, have buoyed up the
persistent hope of searchers,--notably of Le Clerc, who published
in Holland, in 1709, the discovered fragments of Menander. Pierre
Pelhestre, of Rouen, the man who had read everything, for which the
worthy Archbishop Péréfixe scolded him, affirmed that the greater
part of the poems of Æschylus would be found in the libraries of the
monasteries of Mount Athos, just as the five books of the "Annals" of
Tacitus had been discovered in the Convent of Corwey in Germany, and
the "Institutions" of Quintilian, in an old tower of the Abbey of St.

A tradition, not undisputed, would have it that Euergetes II. had
returned to Athens, not the original copy of Æschylus, but a copy,
leaving the fifteen talents as a compensation.

Independently of the story about Euergetes and Omar that we have
related, and which, very true in the whole, is perhaps legendary
in more than one particular, the loss of so many beautiful works of
antiquity is but too well explained by the small number of copies.
Egypt, in particular, transcribed everything on papyrus. The papyrus,
being very dear, became very rare. People were reduced to write on
pottery. To break a vase was to destroy a book. About the time when
Jesus Christ was painted on the walls at Rome, with the hoofs of an
ass, and this inscription, "The God of the Christians, hoof of an ass,"
in the third century, to make ten manuscripts of Tacitus yearly,--or,
as we should say to-day, to strike off ten copies of his works,--a
Cæsar must needs call himself Tacitus, and believe Tacitus to be his
uncle. And yet Tacitus is nearly lost. Of the twenty-eight years of his
"History of the Cæsars,"--from the year 69 to the year 96,--we have
but one complete year, 69, and a fragment of the year 70. Euergetes
prohibited the exportation of papyrus, which caused parchment to be
invented. The price of papyrus was so high that Firmius the Cyclop,
manufacturer of papyrus in 270, made by his trade enough money to raise
armies, wage war against Aurelian, and declare himself emperor.

Gutenberg is a redeemer. These submersions of the works of the mind,
inevitable before the invention of printing, are impossible at present.
Printing is the discovery of the inexhaustible. It is perpetual motion
found for social science. From time to time a despot seeks to stop or
to slacken it, and he is worn away by the friction. The impossibility
to shackle thought, the impossibility to stop progress, the book
imperishable,--such is the result of printing. Before printing,
civilization was subject to losses of substance; the essential signs
of progress, proceeding from such a philosopher or such a poet, were
all at once lacking: a page was suddenly torn from the human book.
To disinherit humanity of all the great bequests of genius, the
stupidity of a copyist or the caprice of a tyrant sufficed. No such
danger in the present day. Henceforth the unseizable reigns. No one
could serve a writ upon thought and take up its body. It has no longer
a body. The manuscript was the body of the masterpiece; the manuscript
was perishable, and carried off the soul,--the work. The work, made
a printed sheet, is delivered. It is now only a soul. Kill now this
immortal! Thanks to Gutenberg, the copy is no longer exhaustible.
Every copy is a root, and has in itself its own possible regeneration
in thousands of editions; the unit is pregnant with the innumerable.
This prodigy has saved universal intelligence. Gutenberg, in the
fifteenth century, emerges from the awful obscurity, bringing out
of the darkness that ransomed captive, the human mind. Gutenberg is
forever the auxiliary of life; he is the permanent fellow-workman in
the great work of civilization. Nothing is done without him. He has
marked the transition of the man-slave to the free-man. Try and deprive
civilization of him, you become Egypt. The decrease of the liberty of
the press is enough to diminish the stature of a people.

One of the great features in this deliverance of man by printing,
is, let us insist on it, the indefinite preservation of poets and
philosophers. Gutenberg is like the second father of the creations of
the mind. Before him, yes, it was possible for a _chef-d'œuvre_ to die.

Greece and Rome have left--mournful thing to say--vast ruins of books.
A whole facade of the human mind half crumbled, that is antiquity. Here
the ruin of an epic poem, there a tragedy dismantled; great verses
effaced, buried, and disfigured; pediments of ideas almost entirely
fallen; geniuses truncated like columns; palaces of thought without
ceiling and door; bleached bones of poems; a death's-head which has
been a strophe; immortality in ruins. Fearful nightmare! Oblivion,
dark spider, hangs its web between the drama of Æschylus and the
history of Tacitus.

Where is Æschylus? In pieces everywhere. Æschylus is scattered in
twenty texts. His ruins must be sought in innumerable different places.
Athenæus gives the dedication "To Time," Macrobius the fragment of
"Etna" and the homage to the Palic gods, Pausanias the epitaph. The
biographer is anonymous; Goltzius and Meursius give the titles of the
lost pieces.

We know from Cicero, in the "Disputationes Tusculanæ," that Æschylus
was a Pythagorean; from Herodotus, that he fought bravely at Marathon;
from Diodorus of Sicily, that his brother Amynias behaved valiantly at
Platæa; from Justin, that his brother Cynegyrus was heroic at Salamis.
We know by the didascalies that "The Persians" were represented under
the archon Meno, "The Seven Chiefs before Thebes" under the archon
Theagenides, and the "Orestias" under the archon Philocles; we know
from Aristotle that Æschylus was the first to venture to make two
personages speak at a time on the stage; from Plato that the slaves
were present at his plays; from Horace, that he invented the mask
and the buskin; from Pollux, that pregnant women miscarried at the
appearance of his Furies; from Philostratus, that he abridged the
monodies; from Suidas, that his theatre tumbled down under the pressure
of the crowd; from Ælian, that he committed blasphemy; from Plutarch,
that he was exiled; from Valerius Maximus, that an eagle killed him by
letting a tortoise fall on his head; from Quintilian, that his plays
were re-cast; from Fabricius, that his sons are accused of this crime
of laze-paternity; from the Arundel marbles, the date of his birth, the
date of his death, and his age,--sixty-nine years.

Now, take away from the drama the East and replace it by the North;
take away Greece and put England, take away India and put Germany, that
other immense mother, _All-men_ (Allemagne); take away Pericles and
put Elizabeth; take away the Parthenon and put the Tower of London;
take away the plebs and put the mob; take away the fatality and put
the melancholy; take away the gorgon and put the witch; take away
the eagle and put the cloud; take away the sun and put on the heath,
shuddering in the evening wind, the livid light of the moon, and you
have Shakespeare.

Given the dynasty of men of genius, the originality of each being
absolutely reserved, the poet of the Carlovingian formation being the
natural successor of the poet of the Jupiterian formation and the
gothic mist of the antique mystery, Shakespeare is Æschylus II.

There remains the right of the French Revolution, creator of the third
world, to be represented in Art. Art is an immense gaping chasm, ready
to receive all that is within possibility.




The production of souls is the secret of the unfathomable depth. The
innate, what a shadow! What is that concentration of the unknown
which takes place in the darkness, and whence abruptly bursts forth
that light, a genius? What is the law of these events, O Love? The
human heart does its work on earth, and that moves the great deep.
What is that incomprehensible meeting of material sublimation and
moral sublimation in the atom, indivisible if looked at from life,
incorruptible if looked at from death? The atom, what a marvel! No
dimension, no extent, nor height, nor width, nor thickness, independent
of every possible measure, and yet, everything in this nothing!
For algebra, the geometrical point. For philosophy, a soul. As a
geometrical point, the basis of science; as a soul, the basis of faith.
Such is the atom. Two urns, the sexes, imbibe life from the infinite;
and the spilling of one into the other produces the being. This is the
normal condition of all, animal as well as man. But the man more than
man, whence comes he?

The Supreme Intelligence, which here below is the great man, what is
the power which invokes it, incorporates it, and reduces it to a human
state? What part do the flesh and the blood take in this prodigy?
Why do certain terrestrial sparks seek certain celestial molecules?
Where do they plunge, those sparks? Where do they go? How do they
manage? What is this gift of man to set fire to the unknown? This
mine, the infinite, this extraction, a genius, what more wonderful!
Whence does that spring up? Why, at a given moment, this one and not
that one? Here, as everywhere, the incalculable law of affinities
appears and escapes. One gets a glimpse, but sees not. O forger of the
unfathomable, where art thou?

Qualities the most diverse, the most complex, the most opposed in
appearance, enter into the composition of souls. The contraries do
not exclude each other,--far from that; they complete each other.
More than one prophet contains a scholiast; more than one magian
is a philologist. Inspiration knows its own trade. Every poet is a
critic: witness that excellent piece of criticism on the theatre
that Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Hamlet. A visionary mind may
be at the same time precise,--like Dante, who writes a book on
rhetoric, and a grammar. A precise mind may be at the same time
visionary,--like Newton, who comments on the Apocalypse; like Leibnitz,
who demonstrates, _nova inventa logica_, the Holy Trinity. Dante knows
the distinction between the three sorts of words, _parola piana,
parola sdrucciola, parola tronca_; he knows that the _piana_ gives a
trochee, the _sdrucciola_ a dactyl, and the _tronca_ an iambus. Newton
is perfectly sure that the Pope is the Antichrist. Dante combines and
calculates; Newton dreams.

No law is to be grasped in that obscurity. No system is possible. The
currents of adhesions and of cohesions cross each other pell-mell. At
times one imagines that he detects the phenomenon of the transmission
of the idea, and fancies that he distinctly sees a hand taking the
light from him who is departing, to give it to him who arrives. 1642,
for example, is a strange year. Galileo dies, Newton is born, in that
year. Good. It is a thread; try and tie it, it breaks at once. Here is
a disappearance: on the 23d of April, 1616, on the same day, almost
at the same minute, Shakespeare and Cervantes die. Why are these two
flames extinguished at the same moment? No apparent logic. A whirlwind
in the night.

Enigmas constantly. Why does Commodus proceed from Marcus Aurelius?

These problems beset in the desert Jerome, that man of the caves,
that Isaiah of the New Testament He interrupted his deep thoughts on
eternity, and his attention to the trumpet of the archangel, in order
to meditate on the soul of some Pagan in whom he felt interested. He
calculated the age of Persius, connecting that research with some
obscure chance of possible salvation for that poet, dear to the
cenobite on account of his strictness; and nothing is so surprising as
to see this wild thinker, half naked on his straw, like Job, dispute on
this question, so frivolous in appearance, of the birth of a man, with
Rufinus and Theophilus of Alexandria,--Rufinus observing to him that
he is mistaken in his calculations, and that Persius having been born
in December under the consulship of Fabius Persicus and Vitellius, and
having died in November, under the consulship of Publius Marius and
Asinius Gallus, these periods do not correspond rigorously with the
year II. of the two hundred and third Olympiad, and the year II. of
the two hundred and tenth, the dates fixed by Jerome. The mystery thus
attracts deep thinkers.

These calculations, almost wild, of Jerome, or other similar ones, are
made by more than one dreamer. Never to find a stop, to pass from one
spiral to another like Archimedes, and from one zone to another like
Alighieri, to fall, while fluttering about in the circular well, is the
eternal lot of the dreamer. He strikes against the hard wall on which
the pale ray glides. Sometimes certainty comes to him as an obstacle,
and sometimes clearness as a fear. He keeps on his way. He is the bird
under the vault. It is terrible. No matter, the dreamer goes on.

To dream is to think here and there,--_passim._ What means the birth
of Euripides during that battle of Salamis where Sophocles, a youth,
prays, and where Æschylus, in his manhood, fights? What means the
birth of Alexander in the night which saw the burning of the temple
of Ephesus? What tie between that temple and that man? Is it the
conquering and radiant spirit of Europe which, destroyed under the
form of the _chef-d'œuvre_, revives under the form of the hero? For
do not forget that Ctesiphon is the Greek architect of the temple of
Ephesus. We have mentioned just now the simultaneous disappearance of
Shakespeare and Cervantes. Here is another case not less surprising.
The day when Diogenes died at Corinth, Alexander died at Babylon.
These two cynics, the one of the tub, the other of the sword, depart
together; and Diogenes, longing to enjoy the immense unknown radiance,
will again say to Alexander: "Stand out of my sunlight!"

What is the meaning of certain harmonies in the myths represented by
divine men? What is this analogy between Hercules and Jesus which
struck the Fathers of the Church, which made Sorel indignant, but
edified Duperron, and which makes Alcides a kind of material mirror
of Christ? Is there not a community of souls, and, unknown to them, a
communication between the Greek legislator and the Hebrew legislator,
creating at the same moment, without knowing each other, and
without their suspecting the existence of each other, the first the
Areopagus, the second the Sanhedrim? Strange resemblance between the
jubilee of Moses and the jubilee of Lycurgus! What are these double
paternities,--paternity of the body, paternity of the soul, like that
of David for Solomon? Giddy heights, steeps, precipices.

He who looks too long into this sacred horror feels immensity racking
his brain. What does the sounding-line give you when thrown into
that mystery? What do you see? Conjectures quiver, doctrines shake,
hypotheses float; all the human philosophy vacillates before the
mournful blast rising from that chasm.

The expanse of the possible is, so to speak, under your eyes. The
dream that you have in yourself, you discover it beyond yourself. All
is indistinct. Confused white shadows are moving. Are they souls? One
catches, in the depths below, a glimpse of vague archangels passing
along; will they be men at some future day? Holding your head between
your hands, you strive to see and to know. You are at the window
looking into the unknown. On all sides the deep layers of effects
and causes, heaped one behind the other, wrap you with mist. The man
who meditates not lives in blindness; the man who meditates lives in
darkness. The choice between darkness and darkness, that is all we
have. In that darkness, which is up to the present time nearly all our
science, experience gropes, observation lies in wait, supposition moves
about If you gaze at it very often, you become _vates._ Vast religious
meditation takes possession of you.

Every man has in him his Patmos. He is free to go or not to go on that
frightful promontory of thought from which darkness is seen. If he
goes not, he remains in the common life, with the common conscience,
with the common virtue, with the common faith, or with the common
doubt; and it is well. For the inward peace it is evidently the best.
If he ascends to that peak, he is caught. The profound waves of the
marvellous have appeared to him. No one sees with impunity that
ocean. Henceforth he will be the thinker enlarged, magnified, but
floating,--that is to say, the dreamer. He will partake of the poet and
of the prophet A certain quantity of him now belongs to darkness. The
boundless enters into his life, into his conscience, into his virtue,
into his philosophy. He becomes extraordinary in the eyes of other men,
for his measure is different from theirs. He has duties which they have
not. He lives in a sort of vague prayer, attaching himself, strangely
enough, to an indefinite certainty which he calls God. He distinguishes
in that twilight enough of the anterior life and enough of the ulterior
life to seize these two ends of the dark thread, and with them to tie
up his soul again. Who has drunk will drink; who has dreamed will
dream. He will not give up that alluring abyss, that sounding of the
fathomless, that indifference for the world and for life, that entrance
into the forbidden, that effort to handle the impalpable and to see the
invisible; he returns to them, he leans and bends over them; he takes
one step forward, then two,--and thus it is that one penetrates into
the impenetrable; and thus it is that one plunges into the boundless
chasms of infinite meditation.

He who walks down them is a Kant; he who falls down them is a

To keep one's own free will in that dilatation, is to be great. But,
however great one may be, the problems cannot be solved. One may ply
the fathomless with questions. Nothing more. As for the answers, they
are there, but mingled with shadows. The huge lineaments of truth seem
at times to appear for one moment, then go back, and are lost in the
absolute. Of all those questions, that among them all which besets the
intellect, that among them all which rends the heart, is the question
of the soul.

Does the soul exist? Question the first. The persistency of the self is
the thirst of man. Without the persistent self, all creation is for him
but an immense _cui bono?_ Listen to the astounding affirmation which
bursts forth from all consciences. The whole sum of God that there is
on the earth, within all men, condenses itself in a single cry,--to
affirm the soul. And then, question the second: Are there great souls?

It seems impossible to doubt it. Why not great minds in humanity as
well as great trees in the forest, as well as great peaks in the
horizon? The great souls are seen as well as the great mountains. Then,
they exist. But here the interrogation presses further; interrogation
is anxiety: Whence come they? What are they? Who are they? Are these
atoms more divine than others? This atom, for instance, which shall
be endowed with irradiation here below, this one which shall be
Thales, this one Æschylus, this one Plato, this one Ezekiel, this one
Macchabœus, this one Apollonius of Tyana, this one Tertullian, this
one Epictetus, this one Marcus Aurelius, this one Nestorius, this one
Pelagius, this one Gama, this one Copernicus, this one Jean Huss,
this one Descartes, this one Vincent de Paul, this one Piranesi, this
one Washington, this one Beethoven, this one Garibaldi, this one John
Brown,--all these atoms, souls having a sublime function among men,
have they seen other worlds, and do they bring on earth the essence
of those worlds? The master souls, the leading intellects, who sends
them? Who determines their appearance? Who is judge of the actual
want of humanity? Who chooses the souls? Who musters the atoms? Who
ordains the departures? Who premeditates the arrivals? Does the atom
conjunction, the atom universal, the atom binder of worlds, exist? Is
not that the great soul?

To complete one universe by the other; to pour upon the too little of
the one the too much of the other; to increase here liberty, there
science, there the ideal; to communicate to the inferiors patterns of
superior beauty; to exchange the effluvia; to bring the central fire to
the planet; to harmonize the various worlds of the same system; to urge
forward those which are behind; to mix the creations,--does not that
mysterious function exist?

Is it not fulfilled, unknown to them, by certain elects, who,
momentarily and during their earthly transit, partly ignore themselves?
Is not the function of such or such atom, divine motive power called
soul, to give movement to a solar man among earthly men? Since the
floral atom exists, why should not the stellary atom exist? That
solar man will be, in turn, the savant, the seer, the calculator, the
thaumaturge, the navigator, the architect, the magian, the legislator,
the philosopher, the prophet, the hero, the poet. The life of humanity
will move onward through them. The volutation of civilization will be
their task; that team of minds will drag the huge chariot. One being
unyoked, the others will start again. Each completion of a century
will be one stage on the journey. Never any solution of continuity.
That which one mind will begin, another mind will finish, soldering
phenomenon to phenomenon, sometimes without suspecting that welding
process. To each revolution in the fact will correspond an adequate
revolution in the ideas, and reciprocally. The horizon will not be
allowed to extend to the right without stretching as much to the
left. Men the most diverse, the most opposite, sometimes will adhere
by unexpected parts; and in these adherences will burst forth the
imperious logic of progress. Orpheus, Bouddha, Confucius, Zoroaster,
Pythagoras, Moses, Manou, Mahomet, with many more, will be the links
of the same chain. A Gutenberg discovering the method for the sowing
of civilization, and the means for the ubiquity of thought, will
be followed by a Christopher Columbus discovering a new field. A
Christopher Columbus discovering a world will be followed by a Luther
discovering a liberty. After Luther, innovator in the dogma, will come
Shakespeare, innovator in art. One genius completes the other.

But not in the same region. The astronomer follows the philosopher; the
legislator is the executor of the poet's wishes; the fighting liberator
lends his assistance to the thinking liberator; the poet corroborates
the statesman. Newton is the appendix to Bacon; Danton originates from
Diderot; Milton confirms Cromwell; Byron supports Botzaris; Æschylus,
before him, has assisted Miltiades. The work is mysterious even for
the very men who perform it. Some are conscious of it, others not. At
great distances, at intervals of centuries, the correlations manifest
themselves, wonderful. The modification in human manners, begun by the
religious revealer, will be completed by the philosophical reasoner,
so that Voltaire follows up Jesus. Their work agrees and coincides. If
this concordance rested with them, both would resist, perhaps,--the
one, the divine man, indignant in his martyrdom, the other, the human
man, humiliated in his irony; but that is so. Some one who is very high
orders it in that way.

Yes, let us meditate on these vast obscurities. The characteristic of
revery is to gaze at darkness so intently that it brings light out of

Humanity developing itself from the interior to the exterior is,
properly speaking, civilization. Human intelligence becomes radiance,
and step by step, wins, conquers, and humanizes matter. Sublime
domestication! This labour has phases; and each of these phases,
marking an age in progress, is opened or closed by one of those beings
called geniuses. These missionary spirits, these legates of God, do
they not carry in them a sort of partial solution of this question,
so abstruse, of free will? The apostolate, being an act of will, is
related on one side to liberty, and on the other, being a mission, is
related by predestination to fatality. The voluntary necessary. Such is
the Messiah; such is Genius.

Now let us return,--for all questions which append to mystery form
the circle, and one cannot get out of it,--let us return to our
starting-point, and to our first question: What is a genius? Is it not
perchance a cosmic soul, a soul imbued with a ray from the unknown? In
what depths are such souls prepared? How long do they wait? What medium
do they traverse? What is the germination which precedes the hatching?
What is the mystery of the ante-birth? Where was this atom? It seems as
if it was the point of intersection of all the forces. How come all the
powers to converge and tie themselves into an indivisible unity in this
sovereign intelligence? Who has bred this eagle? The incubation of the
fathomless on genius, what an enigma! These lofty souls, momentarily
belonging to earth, have they not seen something else? Is it for that
reason that they arrive here with so many intuitions? Some of them seem
full of the dream of a previous world. Is it thence that comes to them
the scared wildness that they sometimes have? Is it that which inspires
them with wonderful words? Is it that which gives them strange
agitations? Is it thence that they derive the hallucination which makes
them, so to speak, see and touch imaginary things and beings? Moses
had his fiery thicket; Socrates his familiar demon; Mahomet his dove;
Luther his goblin playing with his pen, and to whom he would say, "Be
still, there!" Pascal his gaping chasm that he hid with a screen.

Many of those majestic souls are evidently conscious of a mission. They
act at times as if they knew. They seem to have a confused certainty.
They have it. They have it for the mysterious _ensemble._ They have it
also for the detail. Jean Huss dying predicts Luther. He exclaims, "You
burn the goose [Huss], but the swan will come." Who sends these souls?
Who creates them? What is the law of their formation anterior and
superior to life? Who provides them with force, patience, fecundation,
will, passion? From what urn of goodness have they drawn sternness?
In what region of the lightnings have they culled love? Each of these
great newly arrived souls renews philosophy or art or science or
poetry, and re-makes these worlds after its own image. They are as
though impregnated with creation. At times a truth emanates from these
souls which lights up the questions on which it falls. Some of these
souls are like a star from which light would drip. From what wonderful
source, then, do they proceed, that they are all different? Not one
originates from the other, and yet they have this in common, that they
all bring the infinite. Incommensurable and insoluble questions. That
does not stop the good pedants and the clever men from bridling up,
and saying, while pointing with the finger at the sidereal group of
geniuses on the heights of civilization: "You will have no more men
such as those. They cannot be matched. There are no more of them. We
declare to you that the earth has exhausted its contingent of master
spirits. Now for decadence and general closing. We must make up our
minds to it We shall have no more men of genius."--Ah, you have seen
the bottom of the unfathomable, you!


No, Thou art not worn out. Thou hast not before thee the bourn, the
limit, the term, the frontier. Thou has nothing to bound thee, as
winter bounds summer, as lassitude the birds, as the precipice the
torrent, as the cliff the ocean, as the tomb man. Thou art boundless.
The "Thou shalt not go farther," is spoken _by_ thee, and it is not
said _of_ thee. No, thou windest not a skein which diminishes, and the
thread of which breaks; no, thou stoppest not short; no, thy quantity
decreaseth not; no, thy thickness becometh not thinner; no, thy faculty
miscarrieth not; no, it is not true that they begin to perceive in
thy all-powerfulness that transparence which announces the end, and
to get a glimpse behind thee of another thing besides thee. Another
thing! And what then? The obstacle. The obstacle to whom? The obstacle
to creation, the obstacle to the everlasting, the obstacle to the
necessary! What a dream!

When thou hearest men say, "This is as far as God advances,--do not
ask more of him; he starts from here, and stops there. In Homer, in
Aristotle, in Newton, he has given you all that he had; leave him at
rest now,--he is empty. God does not begin again; he could do that
once, he cannot do it twice; he has spent himself altogether in this
man,--enough of God does not remain to make a similar man;"--when
thou hearest them say such things, if thou wast a man like them, thou
wouldst smile in thy terrible depth; but thou art not in a terrible
depth, and being goodness, thou hast no smile. The smile is but a
passing wrinkle, unknown to the absolute.

Thou struck by a powerless chill; thou to leave off; thou to break
down; thou to say "Halt!" Never. Thou shouldst be compelled to take
breath after having created a man! No; whoever that man may be,
thou art God. If this weak swarm of living beings, in presence of
the unknown, must feel wonder and fear at something, it is not at
the possibility of seeing the germ-seed dry up and the power of
procreation become sterile; it is, O God, at the eternal unleashing of
miracles. The hurricane of miracles blows perpetually. Day and night
the phenomena surge around us on all sides, and, not less marvellous,
without disturbing the majestic tranquillity of the Being. This tumult
is harmony.

The huge concentric waves of universal life are boundless. The
starry sky that we study is but a partial apparition. We steal from
the network of the Being but some links. The complication of the
phenomenon, of which a glimpse can be caught, beyond our senses, only
by contemplation and ecstasy, makes the mind giddy. The thinker who
reaches so far, is, for other men, only a visionary. The necessary
entanglement of the perceptible and of the imperceptible strikes
the philosopher with stupor. This plenitude is required by thy
all-powerfulness, which does not admit any blank. The permeation of
universes into universes makes part of thy infinitude. Here we extend
the word universe to an order of facts that no astronomer can reach.
In the Cosmos that the vision spies, and which escapes our organs of
flesh, the spheres enter into the spheres without deforming each other,
the density of creations being different; so that, according to every
appearance, with our world is amalgamated, in some inexplicable way,
another world invisible to us, as we are invisible to it.

And thou, centre and place of all things, as though thou, the Being,
couldst be exhausted! that the absolute serenities could, at certain
moments, fear the want of means on the part of the Infinite! that there
would come an hour when thou couldst no longer supply humanity with the
lights which it requires! that mechanically unwearied, thou couldst be
worn out in the intellectual and moral order! that it would be proper
to say, "God is extinguished on this side!" No! no! no! O Father!

Phidias created does not stop you from making Michael Angelo. Michael
Angelo completed, there still remains to thee the material for
Rembrandt. A Dante does not tire thee. Thou art no more exhausted
by a Homer than by a star. The auroras by the side of auroras, the
indefinite renewing of meteors, the worlds above the worlds, the
wonderful passage of these incandescent stars called comets, the
geniuses and again the geniuses, Orpheus, then Moses, then Isaiah, then
Æschylus, then Lucretius, then Tacitus, then Juvenal, then Cervantes
and Rabelais, then Shakespeare, then Molière, then Voltaire, those who
have been and those who will be,--that does not weary thee. Swarm of
constellations! there is room in thy immensity.




"Shakespeare," says Forbes, "had neither the tragic talent nor the
comic talent. His tragedy is artificial, and his comedy is but
instinctive." Johnson confirms the verdict: "His tragedy is the result
of industry, and his comedy the result of instinct." After Forbes and
Johnson had contested his claim to drama, Green contested his claim
to originality. Shakespeare is "a plagiarist;" Shakespeare is "a
copyist;" Shakespeare "has invented nothing;" he is "a crow adorned
with the plumes of others;" he pilfers Æschylus, Boccaccio, Bandello,
Holinshed, Belleforest, Benoist de St. Maur; he pilfers Layamon, Robert
of Gloucester, Robert of Wace, Peter of Langtoft, Robert Manning,
John de Mandeville, Sackville, Spenser; he steals the "Arcadia" of
Sidney; he steals the anonymous work called the "True Chronicle of King
Leir;" he steals from Rowley in "The Troublesome Reign of King John"
(1591), the character of the bastard Faulconbridge. Shakespeare pilfers
Thomas Greene; Shakespeare pilfers Dekker and Chettle. Hamlet is not
his;--Othello is not his; Timon of Athens is not his, nothing is
his. As for Green, Shakespeare is for him not only "a blower of blank
verses," a "shakescene," a _Johannes factotum_ (allusion to his former
position as call-boy and supernumerary); Shakespeare is a wild beast.
Crow no longer suffices; Shakespeare is promoted to a tiger. Here is
the text: "Tyger's heart wrapt in a player's hyde."[1]

Thomas Rhymer judges "Othello:"--

    "The moral of this story is certainly very instructive. It
    is a warning to good housewives to look after their linen."

Then the same Rhymer condescends to give up joking, and to take
Shakespeare in earnest:--

    "What edifying and useful impression can the audience
    receive from such poetry? To what can this poetry serve,
    unless it is to mislead our good sense, to throw our
    thoughts into disorder, to trouble our brain, to pervert our
    instincts, to crack our imaginations, to corrupt our taste,
    and to fill our heads with vanity, confusion, clatter, and

This was printed eighty years after the death of Shakespeare, in 1693.
All the critics and all the connoisseurs were of one opinion.

Here are some of the reproaches unanimously addressed to Shakespeare:
Conceits, play on words, puns; improbability, extravagance, absurdity;
obscenity; puerility; bombast; emphasis, exaggeration; false glitter,
pathos; far-fetched ideas, affected style; abuse of contrast and
metaphor; subtilty; immorality; writing for the mob; pandering to the
_canaille_; delighting in the horrible; want of grace; want of charm;
overreaching his aim; having too much wit; having no wit; overdoing his

"This Shakespeare is a coarse and savage mind," says Lord Shaftesbury.
Dryden adds, "Shakespeare is unintelligible." Mrs. Lennox gives
Shakespeare this slap: "This poet alters historical truth." A German
critic of 1680, Bentheim, feels himself disarmed, because, says he,
"Shakespeare is a mind full of drollery." Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's
protégé, relates this. "I recollect that the comedians mentioned to the
honour of Shakespeare, that in his writings he never erased a line.
I answered, 'Would to God he had erased a thousand.'"[2] This wish,
moreover, was granted by the worthy publishers of 1623,--Blount and
Jaggard. They struck out of Hamlet alone two hundred lines; they cut
out two hundred and twenty lines of "King Lear." Garrick played at
Drury Lane only the "King Lear" of Nahum Tate. Listen again to Rhymer:
"'Othello' is a sanguinary farce without wit." Johnson adds, "'Julius
Cæsar,' a cold tragedy, and lacking the power to move the public."
"I think," says Warburton, in a letter to the Dean of St. Asaph,
"that Swift has much more wit than Shakespeare, and that the comic in
Shakespeare, altogether low as it is, is very inferior to the comic
in Shadwell." As for the witches in "Macbeth," "Nothing equals," says
that critic of the seventeenth century, Forbes, repeated by a critic of
the nineteenth, "the absurdity of such a spectacle." Samuel Foote, the
author of the "Young Hypocrite," makes this declaration: "The comic in
Shakespeare is too heavy, and does not make one laugh. It is buffoonery
without wit." At last, Pope, in 1725, finds a reason why Shakespeare
wrote his dramas, and exclaims, "One must eat!"

After these words of Pope, one cannot understand with what object
Voltaire, aghast about Shakespeare, writes: "Shakespeare whom the
English take for a Sophocles, flourished about the time of Lopez
[Lope, if you please, Voltaire] de Vega." Voltaire adds, "You are not
ignorant that in 'Hamlet' the diggers prepare a grave, drinking,
singing ballads, and cracking over the heads of dead people the jokes
usual to men of their profession." And, concluding, he qualifies thus
the whole scene,--"these follies." He characterizes Shakespeare's
pieces by this word, "monstrous farces called tragedies," and completes
the judgment by declaring that Shakespeare "has ruined the English

Marmontel comes to see Voltaire at Ferney. Voltaire is in bed, holding
a book in his hand; all at once he rises up, throws the book away,
stretches his thin legs across the bed, and cries to Marmontel, "Your
Shakespeare is a barbarian!" "He is not my Shakespeare at all," replies

Shakespeare was an occasion for Voltaire to show his skill at the
target Voltaire missed him rarely. Voltaire shot at Shakespeare as
the peasants shoot at the goose. It was Voltaire who had commenced
in France the attack against that barbarian. He nicknamed him the
Saint Christopher of Tragic Poets. He said to Madame de Graffigny,
"Shakespeare pour rire." He said to Cardinal de Bernis, "Compose pretty
verses; deliver us, monsignor, from plagues, witches, the school of
the King of Prussia, the Bull Unigenitus, the constitutionalists and
the convulsionists, and from that ninny Shakespeare! _Libera nos,
Domine_," The attitude of Fréron toward Voltaire has, in the eyes of
posterity, as an attenuating circumstance, the attitude of Voltaire
toward Shakespeare. Nevertheless, throughout the eighteenth century,
Voltaire gives the law. The moment that Voltaire sneers at Shakespeare,
Englishmen of wit, such as my Lord Marshal follow suit. Johnson
confesses the ignorance and vulgarity of Shakespeare. Frederic II.
comes in for a word also. He writes to Voltaire _à propos_ of "Julius
Cæsar:" "You have done well in re-casting, according to principles,
the crude piece of that Englishman." Behold, then, where Shakespeare
is in the last century. Voltaire insults him. La Harpe protects him:
"Shakespeare himself, coarse as he was, was not without reading and

In our days, the class of critics of whom we have just seen some
samples, have not lost courage. Coleridge speaks of "Measure for
Measure:" "a painful comedy," he hints. "Revolting," says Mr. Knight.
"Disgusting," responds Mr. Hunter.

In 1804 the author of one of those idiotic _Biographies Universelles_,
in which they contrive to relate the history of Calas without
pronouncing the name of Voltaire, and to which governments, knowing
what they are about, grant readily their patronage and subsidies, a
certain Delandine feels himself called upon to be a judge, and to
pass sentence on Shakespeare; and after having said that "Shakespear,
which is pronounced Chekspir," had, in his youth, "stolen the deer of
a nobleman," he adds: "Nature had brought together in the head of this
poet the highest greatness we can imagine, with the lowest coarseness,
without wit." Lately, we read the following words, written a short time
ago by an eminent dolt who is living: "Second-rate authors and inferior
poets, such as Shakespeare," etc.

[Footnote 1: A Groatsworth of Wit. 1592.]

[Footnote 2: Works, vol IX. p. 175, Gifford's edition.]

[Footnote 3: La Harpe: _Introduction au Cours de Littérature._]


Poet must at the same time, and necessarily, be a historian and a
philosopher. Herodotus and Thales are included in Homer. Shakespeare,
likewise, is this triple man. He is, besides, the painter, and what
a painter!--the colossal painter. The poet in reality does more than
relate; he exhibits. Poets have in them a reflector, observation, and
a condenser, emotion; thence those grand luminous spectres which burst
out from their brain, and which go on blazing forever on the gloomy
human wall. These phantoms have life. To exist as much as Achilles,
would be the ambition of Alexander. Shakespeare has tragedy, comedy,
fairy-land, hymn, farce, grand divine laughter, terror and horror, and,
to say all in one word, the drama. He touches the two poles. He belongs
to Olympus and to the travelling booth. No possibility fails him.

When he grasps you, you are subdued. Do not expect from him any pity.
His cruelty is pathetic. He shows you a mother,--Constance, mother
of Arthur; and when he has brought you to that point of tenderness
that your heart is as her heart, he kills her child. He goes farther
in horror even than history, which is difficult. He does not content
himself with killing Rutland and driving York to despair; he dips in
the blood of the son the handkerchief with which he wipes the eyes of
the father. He causes elegy to be choked by the drama, Desdemona by
Othello. No attenuation in anguish. Genius is inexorable. It has its
law and follows it. The mind also has its inclined planes, and these
slopes determine its direction. Shakespeare glides toward the terrible.
Shakespeare, Æschylus, Dante, are great streams of human emotion
pouring from the depth of their cave the um of tears.

The poet is only limited by his aim; he considers nothing but the idea
to be worked out; he does not recognize any other sovereignty, any
other necessity but the idea; for, art emanating from the absolute,
in art, as in the absolute, the end justifies the means. This is, it
may be said parenthetically, one of those deviations from the ordinary
terrestrial law which make lofty criticism muse and reflect, and
which reveal to it the mysterious side of art. In art, above all, is
visible the _quid divinum._ The poet moves in his work as providence
in its own; he excites, astounds, strikes, then exalts or depresses,
often in inverse ratio to what you expected, diving into your soul
through surprise. Now, consider. Art has, like the Infinite, a Because
superior to all the _Why's._ Go and ask the wherefore of a tempest
from the ocean, that great lyric. What seems to you odious or absurd
has an inner reason for existing. Ask of Job why he scrapes the pus on
his ulcer with a bit of glass, and of Dante why he sews with a thread
of iron the eyelids of the larvas in purgatory, making the stitches
trickle with fearful tears![1] Job continues to clean his sore with his
broken glass and wipes it on his dungheap, and Dante goes on his way.
The same with Shakespeare.

His sovereign horrors reign, and force themselves upon you. He mingles
with them, when he chooses, the charm, that august charm of the
powerful, as superior to feeble sweetness, to slender attraction, to
the charm of Ovid or of Tibullus, as the Venus of Milo to the Venus
de Medici. The things of the unknown; the unfathomable metaphysical
problems; the enigmas of the soul and of Nature, which is also a
soul; the far-off intuitions of the eventual included in destiny;
the amalgams of thought and event,--can be translated into delicate
figures, and fill poetry with mysterious and exquisite types, the more
delightful that they are rather sorrowful, somewhat invisible, and at
the same time very real, anxious concerning the shadow which is behind
them, and yet trying to please you. Profound grace does exist.

Prettiness combined with greatness is possible (it is found in Homer;
Astyanax is a type of it); but the profound grace of which we speak
is something more than this epic delicacy. It is linked to a certain
amount of agitation, and means the infinite without expressing it. It
is a kind of light and shade radiance. The modern men of genius alone
have that depth in the smile which shows elegance and depth at the same

Shakespeare possesses this grace, which is the very opposite to the
unhealthy grace, although it resembles it, emanating as it does
likewise from the grave.

Sorrow,--the great sorrow of the drama, which is nothing else but human
constitution carried into art,--envelops this grace and this horror.

Hamlet, doubt, is at the centre of his work; and at the two
extremities, love,--Romeo and Othello, all the heart. There is light
in the folds of the shroud of Juliet; yet nothing but darkness in the
winding-sheet of Ophelia disdained and of Desdemona suspected. These
two innocents, to whom love has broken faith, cannot be consoled.
Desdemona sings the song of the willow under which the water bears
Ophelia away. They are sisters without knowing each other, and kindred
souls, although each has her separate drama. The willow trembles over
them both. In the mysterious chant of the calumniated who is about to
die, floats the dishevelled shadow of the drowned one.

Shakespeare in philosophy goes at times deeper than Homer. Beyond Priam
there is Lear; to weep at ingratitude is worse than weeping at death.
Homer meets envy and strikes it with the sceptre; Shakespeare gives the
sceptre to the envious, and out of Thersites creates Richard III. Envy
is exposed in its nakedness all the better for being clothed in purple;
its reason for existing is then visibly altogether in itself. Envy on
the throne, what more striking!

Deformity in the person of the tyrant is not enough for this
philosopher; he must have it also in the shape of the valet, and he
creates Falstaff. The dynasty of common-sense, inaugurated in Panurge,
continued in Sancho Panza, goes wrong and miscarries in Falstaff. The
rock which this wisdom splits upon is, in reality, lowness. Sancho
Panza, in combination with the ass, is embodied with ignorance.
Falstaff-glutton, poltroon, savage, obscene, human face and stomach,
with the lower parts of the brute--walks on the four feet of turpitude;
Falstaff is the centaur man and pig.

Shakespeare is, above all, an imagination. Now,--and this is a
truth to which we have already alluded, and which is well known to
thinkers,--imagination is depth. No faculty of the mind goes and sinks
deeper than imagination; it is the great diver. Science, reaching the
lowest depths, meets imagination. In conic sections, in logarithms,
in the differential and integral calculus, in the calculation of
probabilities, in the infinitesimal calculus, in the calculations
of sonorous waves, in the application of algebra to geometry, the
imagination is the co-efficient of calculation, and mathematics
becomes poetry. I have no faith in the science of stupid learned men.

The poet philosophizes because he imagines. That is why Shakespeare
has that sovereign management of reality which enables him to have his
way with it; and his very whims are varieties of the true,--varieties
which deserve meditation. Does not destiny resemble a constant whim?
Nothing more incoherent in appearance, nothing less connected, nothing
worse as deduction. Why crown this monster, John? Why kill that child,
Arthur? Why have Joan of Arc burned? Why Monk triumphant? Why Louis XV.
happy? Why Louis XVI. punished? Let the logic of God pass. It is from
that logic that the fancy of the poet is drawn. Comedy bursts forth
in the midst of tears; the sob rises out of laughter; figures mingle
and clash; massive forms, nearly animals, pass clumsily; larvas--women
perhaps, perhaps smoke--float about; souls, libellulas of darkness,
flies of the twilight, quiver among all these black reeds that we call
passions and events. At one pole Lady Macbeth, at the other Titania. A
colossal thought, and an immense caprice.

What are the "Tempest," "Troilus and Cressida," "The Two Gentlemen of
Verona," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," the "Midsummer Night's Dream,"
"The Winter's Tale?" They are fancy,--arabesque work. The arabesque
in art is the same phenomenon as vegetation in Nature. The arabesque
grows, increases, knots, exfoliates, multiplies, becomes green, blooms,
branches, and creeps around every dream. The arabesque is endless; it
has a strange power of extension and aggrandizement; it fills horizons,
and opens up others; it intercepts the luminous deeds by innumerable
intersections; and, if you mix the human figure with these entangled
branches, the _ensemble_ makes you giddy; it is striking. Behind
the arabesque, and through its openings, all philosophy can be seen;
vegetation lives; man becomes pantheist; a combination of infinite
takes place in the finite; and before such work, in which are found
the impossible and the true, the human soul trembles with an emotion
obscure and yet supreme.

For all this, the edifice ought not to be overrun by vegetation, nor
the drama by arabesque.

One of the characteristics of genius is the singular union of faculties
the most distant. To draw an astragal like Ariosto, then to dive into
souls like Pascal,--such is the poet Man's inner conscience belongs
to Shakespeare; he surprises you with it constantly. He extracts
from conscience every unforeseen contingence that it contains. Few
poets surpass him in this psychical research. Many of the strangest
peculiarities of the human mind are indicated by him. He skilfully
makes us feel the simplicity of the metaphysical fact under the
complication of the dramatic fact. That which the human creature does
not acknowledge inwardly, the obscure thing that he begins by fearing
and ends by desiring,--such is the point of junction and the strange
place of meeting for the heart of virgins and the heart of murderers;
for the soul of Juliet and the soul of Macbeth. The innocent fears and
longs for love, just as the wicked one for ambition. Perilous kisses
given on the sly to the phantom, smiling here, fierce there.

To all these prodigalities, analysis, synthesis, creation in flesh
and bone, revery, fancy, science, metaphysics, add history,--here the
history of historians, there the history of the tale; specimens of
everything,--of the traitor, from Macbeth the assassin of his guest,
up to Coriolanus, the assassin of his country; of the despot, from
the intellectual tyrant Cæsar, to the bestial tyrant Henry VIII.; of
the carnivorous, from the lion down to the usurer. One may say to
Shylock: "Well bitten, Jew!" And, in the background of this wonderful
drama, on the desert heath, in the twilight, in order to promise crowns
to murderers, three black outlines appear, in which Hesiod, through
the vista of ages, perhaps recognizes the Parcæ. Inordinate force,
exquisite charm, epic ferocity, pity, creative faculty, gayety (that
lofty gayety unintelligible to narrow understandings), sarcasm (the
cutting lash for the wicked), star-like greatness, microscopic tenuity,
boundless poetry, which has a zenith and a nadir; the _ensemble_ vast,
the detail profound,--nothing is wanting in this mind. One feels, on
approaching the work of this man, the powerful wind which would burst
forth from the opening of a whole world. The radiancy of genius on
every side,--that is Shakespeare. "Totus in antithesi," says Jonathan

[Footnote 1:

    And as the sun does not reach the blind, so the spirits of
    which I was just speaking have not the gift of heavenly
    light. An iron wire pierces and fastens together their
    eyelids, as it is done to the wild hawk in order to tame it.

--_Purgatory, chap. XIII._]


One of the characteristics which distinguish men of genius from
ordinary minds, is that they have a double reflection,--just as the
carbuncle, according to Jerome Cardan, differs from crystal and glass
in having a double refraction.

Genius and carbuncle, double reflection, double refraction; the same
phenomenon in the moral and in the physical order.

Does this diamond of diamonds, the carbuncle, exist? It is a question.
Alchemy says yes, chemistry searches. As for genius, it exists. It is
sufficient to read one verse of Æschylus or Juvenal in order to find
this carbuncle of the human brain.

This phenomenon of double reflection raises to the highest power in
men of genius what rhetoricians call antithesis,--that is to say, the
sovereign faculty of seeing the two sides of things.

I dislike Ovid, that proscribed coward, that licker of bloody hands,
that fawning cur of exile, that far-away flatterer disdained by the
tyrant, and I hate the _bel esprit_ of which Ovid is full; but I do not
confound that _bel esprit_ with the powerful antithesis of Shakespeare.

Complete minds having everything, Shakespeare contains Gongora as
Michael Angelo contains Bernini; and there are on that subject
ready-made sentences: "Michael Angelo is a mannerist, Shakespeare is
antithetical." These are the formulas of the school; but it is the
great question of contrast in art seen by the small side.

_Totus in antithesi._ Shakespeare is all in antithesis. Certainly, it
is not very just to see all the man, and such a man, in one of his
qualities. But, this reserve being made, let us observe that this
saying, _Totus in antithesi_, which pretends to be a criticism, might
be simply a statement. Shakespeare, in fact, has deserved, like all
truly great poets, this praise,--that he is like creation. What is
creation? Good and evil, joy and sorrow, man and woman, roar and song,
eagle and vulture, lightning and ray, bee and drone, mountain and
valley, love and hate, the medal and its reverse, beauty and ugliness,
star and swine, high and low. Nature is the Eternal bifronted. And this
antithesis, whence comes the antiphrasis, is found in all the habits
of man; it is in fable, in history, in philosophy, in language. Are
you the Furies, they call you Eumenides,--the Charming; do you kill
your brothers, you are called Philadelphus; kill your father, they
will call you Philopator; be a great general, they will call you _le
petit caporal._ The antithesis of Shakespeare is universal antithesis,
always and everywhere; it is the ubiquity of antinomy,--life and
death, cold and heat, just and unjust, angel and demon, heaven and
earth, flower and lightning, melody and harmony, spirit and flesh,
high and low, ocean and envy, foam and slaver, hurricane and whistle,
self and not-self, the objective and subjective, marvel and miracle,
type and monster, soul and shadow. It is from this sombre palpable
difference, from this endless ebb and flow, from this perpetual yes
and no, from this irreducible opposition, from this immense antagonism
ever existing, that Rembrandt obtains his chiaroscuro and Piranesi his
vertiginous height.

Before removing this antithesis from art, commence by removing it from


"He is reserved and discreet. You may trust him; he will take no
advantage. He has, above all, a very rare quality,--he is sober."

What is this? A recommendation for a domestic? No. It is the panegyric
of a writer. A certain school, called "serious," has in our days
hoisted this programme of poetry: sobriety. It seems that the only
question should be to preserve literature from indigestion. Formerly,
the motto was "Prolificness and power;" to-day it is "tisane." You
are in the resplendent garden of the Muses, where those divine
blossoms of the mind that the Greeks called "tropes" blow in riot and
luxuriance on every branch; everywhere the ideal image, everywhere the
thought-flower, everywhere fruits, metaphors, golden apples, perfumes,
colours, rays, strophes, wonders; touch nothing, be discreet. Whoever
gathers nothing there proves himself a true poet. Be of the temperance
society. A good critical book is a treatise on the dangers of drinking.
Do you wish to compose the Iliad, put yourself on diet Ah, thou mayest
well open thy eyes wide, old Rabelais!

Lyricism is heady, the beautiful intoxicates, greatness inebriates,
the ideal causes giddiness; whoever proceeds from it is no longer
in his right senses; when you have walked among the stars, you are
capable of refusing a prefecture; you are no longer a sensible being;
they might offer you a seat in the senate of Domitian and you would
refuse it; you no longer give to Cæsar what is due to Cæsar; you have
reached that point of mental alienation that you will not even salute
the Lord Incitatus, consul and horse. See what is the result of your
having drunk in that shocking place, the Empyrean! You become proud,
ambitious, disinterested. Now, be sober. It is forbidden to haunt the
tavern of the sublime.

Liberty means libertinism. To restrain yourself is well, to geld
yourself is better.

Pass your life in restraining yourself.

Observe sobriety, decency, respect for authority, an irreproachable
toilet. There is no poetry unless it be fashionably dressed. An
uncombed savannah, a lion which does not pare its nails, an unsifted
torrent, the navel of the sea which allows itself to be seen, the cloud
which forgets itself so far as to show Aldebaran--oh, shocking! The
wave foams on the rock, the cataract vomits into the gulf, Juvenal
spits on the tyrant. Fie!

We like not enough better than too much. No exaggeration. Henceforth
the rose-tree shall be compelled to count its roses. The prairie shall
be requested not to be so prodigal of daisies; the spring shall be
ordered to restrain itself. The nests are rather too prolific. The
groves are too rich in warblers. The Milky Way must condescend to
number its stars; there are a good many.

Take example from the big Mullen Serpentaria of the Botanical Garden,
which blooms only every fifty years. That is a flower truly respectable.

A true critic of the sober school is that garden-keeper who, to this
question, "Have you any nightingales in your trees?" replied, "Ah,
don't mention it! For the whole month of May these ugly beasts have
been doing nothing but bark."

M. Suard gave to Marie Joseph Chénier this certificate: "His style has
the great merit of not containing comparisons." In our days we have
seen that singular eulogium reproduced. This reminds us that a great
professor of the Restoration, indignant at the comparisons and figures
which abound in the prophets, crushes Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah,
with this profound apothegm: "The whole Bible is in 'like' (_comme_)."
Another, a greater professor still, was the author of this saying,
which is still celebrated at the normal school: "I throw Juvenal back
to the romantic dunghill." Of what crime was Juvenal guilty? Of the
same as Isaiah,--namely, of readily expressing the idea by the image.
Shall we return, little by little, in the walks of learning, to the
metonymy term of chemistry, and to the opinion of Pradon on metaphor?

One would suppose, from the demands and clamours of the doctrinary
school, that it has to supply, at its own expense, all the consumption
of metaphors and figures that poets can make, and that it feels
itself ruined by spendthrifts such as Pindar, Aristophanes, Ezekiel,
Plautus, and Cervantes. This school puts under lock and key passions,
sentiments, the human heart, reality, the ideal, life. Frightened,
it looks at the men of genius, hides from them everything, and says,
"How greedy they are!" Therefore it has invented for writers this
superlative praise: "He is temperate."

On all these points sacerdotal criticism fraternizes with doctrinal
criticism. The prude and the devotee help each other.

A curious bashful fashion tends to prevail. We blush at the coarse
manner in which grenadiers meet death; rhetoric has for heroes modest
vine-leaves which they call periphrases; it is agreed that the bivouac
speaks like the convent, the talk of the guardroom is a calumny; a
veteran drops his eyes at the recollection of Waterloo, and the Cross
of Honour is given to these modest eyes. Certain sayings which are in
history have no right to be historical; and it is well understood, for
example, that the gendarme who fired a pistol at Robespierre at the
Hôtel-de-Ville was called _La-garde-meurt-et-ne-se-rend-pas._

One salutary reaction is the result of the combined effort of two
critics watching over public tranquillity. This reaction has already
produced some specimens of poets,--steady, well-bred, prudent, whose
style always keeps good time; who never indulge in an orgy with all
those mad things, ideas; who are never met at the corner of a wood,
_solus cum sola_, with that Bohemian, Revery; who are incapable of
having connection either with Imagination, a dangerous vagabond, or
with Inspiration, a Bacchante, or with Fancy, a _lorette_; who have
never in their life given a kiss to that beggarly chit, the Muse;
who do not sleep out, and who are honoured with the esteem of their
door-keeper, Nicholas Boileau. If Polyhymnia goes by with her hair
rather flowing, what a scandal! Quick, they call the hairdresser. M.
de la Harpe comes hastily. These two sister critics, the doctrinal and
the sacerdotal, undertake to educate. They bring up writers from the
birth. They keep houses to wean them, a boarding-school for juvenile

Thence a discipline, a literature, an art. Dress right, fall into line!
Society must be saved in literature as well as in politics. Every one
knows that poetry is a frivolous, insignificant thing, childishly
occupied in seeking rhymes, barren, vain; therefore nothing is more
formidable. It behooves us to well secure the thinkers. Lie down,
dangerous beast! What is a poet? For honour, nothing; for persecution,

This race of writers requires repression. It is useful to have
recourse to the secular arm. The means vary. From time to time a
good banishment is expedient. The list of exiled writers opens with
Æschylus, and does not close with Voltaire. Each century has its
link in this chain. But there must be at least a pretext for exile,
banishment, and proscription. That cannot apply to all cases. It is
rather unmanageable; it is important to have a lighter weapon for
every-day skirmishing. A State criticism, duly sworn in and accredited,
can render service. To organize the persecution of writers by means of
writers is not a bad thing. To entrap the pen by the pen is ingenious.
Why not have literary policemen?

Good taste is a precaution taken by good order. Sober writers are the
counterpart of prudent electors. Inspiration is suspected of love for
liberty. Poetry is rather outside of legality; there is, therefore, an
official art, the offspring of official criticism.

A whole special rhetoric proceeds from those premises. Nature has in
that particular art but a narrow entrance, and goes in through the side
door. Nature is infected with demagogy. The elements are suppressed as
being bad company, and making too much uproar. The equinox is guilty of
breaking into reserved grounds; the squall is a nightly row. The other
day, at the School of Fine Arts, a pupil-painter having caused the wind
to lift up the folds of a mantle during a storm, a local professor,
shocked at this lifting up, said, "The style does not admit of wind."

After all, reaction does not despair. We get on; some progress is
accomplished. A ticket of confession sometimes gains admittance for
its bearer into the Academy. Jules Janin, Théophile Gautier, Paul de
Saint-Victor, Littré, Renan, please to recite your creed.

But that does not suffice; the evil is deep-rooted. The ancient
Catholic society, and the ancient legitimate literature, are
threatened. Darkness is in peril To war with new generations! to war
with the modern spirit! and down upon Democracy, the daughter of

Cases of rabidness--that is to say, the works of genius--are to be
feared. Hygienic prescriptions are renewed. The public high-road is
evidently badly watched. It appears that there are some poets wandering
about. The prefect of police, a negligent man, allows some spirits to
rove about. What is Authority thinking of? Let us take care. Intellects
can be bitten; there is danger. It is certain, evident. It is rumoured
that Shakespeare has been met without a muzzle on.

This Shakespeare without a muzzle is the present translation.[1]

[Footnote 1: The Complete Works of Shakespeare, translated by François
Victor Hugo.]


If ever a man was undeserving of the good character of "he is sober,"
it is most certainly William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of the
worst rakes that serious æsthetics ever had to lord over.

Shakespeare is fertility, force, exuberance, the overflowing breast,
the foaming cup, the brimful tub, the overrunning sap, the overflooding
lava, the whirlwind scattering germs, the universal rain of life,
everything by thousands, everything by millions, no reticence, no
binding, no economy, the inordinate and tranquil prodigality of
the creator. To those who feel the bottom of their pocket, the
inexhaustible seems insane. Will it stop soon? Never. Shakespeare is
the sower of dazzling wonders. At every turn, the image; at every turn,
contrast; at every turn, light and darkness.

The poet, we have said, is Nature. Subtle, minute, keen, microscopical
like Nature; immense. Not discreet, not reserved, not sparing. Simply
magnificent. Let us explain this word, _simple._

Sobriety in poetry is poverty; simplicity is grandeur. To give to each
thing the quantity of space which fits it, neither more nor less, is
simplicity. Simplicity is justice. The whole law of taste is in that.
Each thing put in its place and spoken with its own word. On the only
condition that a certain latent equilibrium is maintained and a certain
mysterious proportion preserved, simplicity may be found in the most
stupendous complication, either in the style, or in the _ensemble._
These are the arcana of great art. Lofty criticism alone, which
takes its starting-point from enthusiasm, penetrates and comprehends
these learned laws. Opulence, profusion, dazzling radiancy, may be
simplicity. The sun is simple.

Such simplicity does not evidently resemble the simplicity recommended
by Le Batteux, the Abbé d'Aubignac, and Father Bouhours.

Whatever may be the abundance, whatever may be the entanglement, even
if perplexing, confused, and inextricable, all that is true is simple.
A root is simple.

That simplicity which is profound is the only one that art recognizes.

Simplicity, being true, is artless. Artlessness is the characteristic
of truth. Shakespeare's simplicity is the great simplicity. He is
foolishly full of it. He ignores the small simplicity.

The simplicity which is impotence, the simplicity which is meagreness,
the simplicity which is short-winded, is a case for pathology. It has
nothing to do with poetry. An order for the hospital suits it better
than a ride on the hippogriff.

I admit that the hump of Thersites is simple; but the breastplates of
Hercules are simple also. I prefer that simplicity to the other.

The simplicity which belongs to poetry may be as bushy as the oak. Does
the oak by chance produce on you the effect of a Byzantine and of a
refined being? Its innumerable antitheses,--gigantic trunk and small
leaves, rough bark and velvet mosses, reception of rays and shedding
of shade, crowns for heroes and fruit for swine,--are they marks of
affectation, corruption, subtlety and bad taste? Could the oak be too
witty? Could the oak belong to the Hôtel Rambouillet? Could the oak
be a _précieux ridicule?_ Could the oak be tainted with Gongorism?
Could the oak belong to the age of decadence? Is by chance complete
simplicity, _sancta simplicitas_, condensed in the cabbage?

Refinement, excess of wit, affectation, Gongorism,--that is what they
have hurled at Shakespeare's head. They say that those are the faults
of littleness, and they hasten to reproach the giant with them.

But then this Shakespeare respects nothing, he goes straight on,
putting out of breath those who wish to follow; he strides over
proprieties; he overthrows Aristotle; he spreads havoc among the
Jesuits, methodists, the Purists, and the Puritans; he puts Loyola
to flight, and upsets Wesley; he is valiant, bold, enterprising,
militant, direct. His inkstand smokes like a crater. He is always
laborious, ready, spirited, disposed, going forward. Pen in hand, his
brow blazing, he goes on driven by the demon of genius. The stallion
abuses; there are he-mules passing by to whom this is offensive. To
be prolific is to be aggressive. A poet like Isaiah, like Juvenal,
like Shakespeare, is, in truth, exorbitant. By all that is holy!
some attention ought to be paid to others; one man has no right to
everything. What! always virility, inspiration everywhere, as many
metaphors as the prairie, as many antitheses as the oak, as many
contrasts and depths as the universe; what! forever generation,
hatching, hymen, parturition, vast ensemble, exquisite and robust
detail, living communion, fecundation, plenitude, production! It is too
much; it infringes the rights of human geldings.

For nearly three centuries Shakespeare, this poet all brimming with
virility, has been looked upon by sober critics with that discontented
air that certain bereaved spectators must have in the seraglio.

Shakespeare has no reserve, no discretion, no limit, no blank. What
is wanting in him is that he wants nothing. No box for savings, no
fast-day with him. He overflows like vegetation, like germination,
like light, like flame. Yet, it does not hinder him from thinking
of you, spectator or reader, from preaching to you, from giving
you advice, from being your friend, like any other kind-hearted La
Fontaine, and from rendering you small services. You can warm your
hands at the conflagration he kindles.

Othello, Romeo, Iago, Macbeth, Shylock, Richard III., Julius Cæsar,
Oberon, Puck, Ophelia, Desdemona, Juliet, Titania, men, women, witches,
fairies, souls,--Shakespeare is the grand distributor; take, take,
take, all of you! Do you want more? Here is Ariel, Parolles, Macduff,
Prospero, Viola, Miranda, Caliban. More yet? Here is Jessica, Cordelia,
Cressida, Portia, Brabantio, Polonius, Horatio, Mercutio, Imogene,
Pandarus of Troy, Bottom, Theseus. _Ecce Deus!_ It is the poet, he
offers himself: who will have me? He gives, scatters, squanders
himself; he is never empty. Why? He cannot be. Exhaustion with him
is impossible. There is in him something of the fathomless. He fills
up again, and spends himself; then recommences. He is the bottomless
treasury of genius.

In license and audacity of language Shakespeare equals Rabelais, whom,
a few days ago, a swan-like critic called a swine.

Like all lofty minds in full riot of Omnipotence, Shakespeare decants
all Nature, drinks it, and makes you drink it. Voltaire reproached
him for his drunkenness, and was quite right. Why on earth, we repeat
why has this Shakespeare such a temperament? He does not stop, he
does not feel fatigue, he is without pity for the poor weak stomachs
that are candidates for the Academy. The gastritis called "good
taste," he does not labour under it. He is powerful. What is this vast
intemperate song that he sings through ages,--war-song, drinking-song,
love-ditty,--which passes from King Lear to Queen Mab, and from Hamlet
to Falstaff, heart-rending at times as a sob, grand as the Iliad? "I
have the lumbago from reading Shakespeare," said M. Auger.

His poetry has the sharp perfume of honey made by the vagabond
bee without a hive. Here prose, there verse; all forms, being but
receptacles for the idea, suit him. This poetry weeps and laughs. The
English tongue, a language little formed, now assists, now harms him,
but everywhere the deep mind gushes forth translucent Shakespeare's
drama proceeds with a kind of distracted rhythm. It is so vast that
it staggers; it has and gives the vertigo; but nothing is so solid as
this excited grandeur. Shakespeare, shuddering, has in himself the
winds, the spirits, the philters, the vibrations, the fluctuations
of transient breezes, the obscure penetration of effluvia, the great
unknown sap. Thence his agitation, in the depth of which is repose.
It is this agitation in which Goethe is wanting, wrongly praised for
his impassiveness, which is inferiority. This agitation, all minds
of the first order have it. It is in Job, in Æschylus, in Alighieri.
This agitation is humanity. On earth the divine must be human. It
must propose to itself its own enigma and feel disturbed about it.
Inspiration being prodigy, a sacred stupor mingles with it. A certain
majesty of mind resembles solitudes and is blended with astonishment.
Shakespeare, like all great poets, like all great things, is absorbed
by a dream. His own vegetation astounds him; his own tempest appals
him. It seems at times as if Shakespeare terrified Shakespeare. He
shudders at his own depth. This is the sign of supreme intellects. It
is his own vastness which shakes him and imparts to him unaccountable
huge oscillations. There is no genius without waves. An inebriated
savage it may be. He has the wildness of the virgin forest; he has the
intoxication of the high sea.

Shakespeare (the condor alone gives some idea of such gigantic gait)
departs, arrives, starts again, mounts, descends, hovers, dives, sinks,
rushes, plunges into the depths below, plunges into the depths above.
He is one of those geniuses that God purposely leaves unbridled, so
that they may go headlong and in full flight into the infinite.

From time to time comes on this globe one of these spirits. Their
passage, as we have said, renews art, science, philosophy, or society.

They fill a century, then disappear. Then it is not one century alone
that their light illumines, it is humanity from one end to another of
time; and it is perceived that each of these men was the human mind
itself contained whole in one brain, and coming, at a given moment, to
give on earth an impetus to progress.

These supreme spirits, once life achieved and the work completed, go in
death to rejoin the mysterious group, and are probably at home in the




The characteristic of men of genius of the first order is to
produce each a peculiar model of man. All bestow on humanity its
portrait,--some laughing, some weeping, others pensive. These last are
the greatest. Plautus laughs, and gives to man Amphitryon; Rabelais
laughs, and gives to man Gargantua; Cervantes laughs, and gives to man
Don Quixote; Beaumarchais laughs, and gives to man Figaro; Molière
weeps, and gives to man Alceste; Shakespeare dreams, and gives to man
Hamlet; Æschylus meditates, and gives to man Prometheus. The others are
great; Æschylus and Shakespeare are immense.

These portraits of humanity, left to humanity as a last farewell by
those passers-by, the poets, are rarely flattered, always exact,
striking likenesses. Vice, or folly, or virtue, is extracted from the
soul and stamped on the visage. The tear congealed becomes a pearl;
the smile petrified ends by looking like a menace; wrinkles are the
furrows of wisdom; some frowns are tragic. This series of models of man
is the permanent lesson for generations; each century adds in some
figures,--sometimes done in full light and strong relief, like Macette,
Célimène, Tartuffe, Turcaret, and the Nephew of Rameau; sometimes
simple profiles, like Gil Bias, Manon Lescaut, Clarissa Harlowe, and

God creates by intuition; man creates by inspiration, strengthened by
observation. This second creation, which is nothing else but divine
action carried out by man, is what is called genius.

The poet stepping into the place of destiny; an invention of men and
events so strange, so true to nature, and so masterly that certain
religious sects hold it in horror as an encroachment upon Providence,
and call the poet "the liar;" the conscience of man, taken in the act
and placed in a medium which it combats, governs or transforms,--such
is the drama. And there is in this something superior. This handling
of the human soul seems a kind of equality with God,--equality, the
mystery of which is explained when we reflect that God is within
man. This equality is identity. Who is our conscience? He. And He
counsels good acts. Who is our intelligence? He. And He inspires the

God may be there, but it removes nothing, as we have proved, from
the sourness of critics; the greatest minds are those which are most
brought into question. It even sometimes happens that true intellects
attack genius; the inspired, strangely enough, do not recognize
inspiration. Erasmus, Bayle, Scaliger, St. Evremond, Voltaire, many of
the Fathers of the Church, whole families of philosophers, the whole
School of Alexandria, Cicero, Horace, Lucian, Plutarch, Josephus, Dion
Chrysostom, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Philostratus, Metrodorus of
Lampsacus, Plato, Pythagoras, have severally criticised Homer. In this
enumeration we omit Zoïlus. Men who deny are not critics. Hatred is
not intelligence. To insult is not to discuss. Zoïlus, Mævius, Cecchi,
Green, Avellaneda, William Lauder, Visé, Fréron,--no cleansing of these
names is possible. These men have wounded the human race through her
men of genius; these wretched hands forever retain the colour of the
mud that they have thrown.

And these men have not even either the sad renown that they seem to
have acquired by right, or the whole quantity of shame that they have
hoped for. One scarcely knows that they have existed. They are half
forgotten,--a greater humiliation than to be wholly forgotten. With
the exception of two or three among them who have become by-words
of contempt, despicable owls, nailed up for an example, all these
wretched names are unknown. An obscure notoriety follows their
equivocal existence. Look at this Clement, who had called himself
the "hypercritic," and whose profession it was to bite and denounce
Diderot; he disappears, and is confounded, although born at Geneva,
with Clement of Dijon, confessor to Mesdames; with David Clement,
author of the "Bibliothèque Curieuse;" with Clement of Baize,
Benedictine of St. Maur; and with Clement d'Ascain, Capuchin, definator
and provincial of Béarn. What avails it him to have declared that the
work of Diderot is but an "obscure verbiage," and to have died mad at
Charenton, to be afterward submerged in four or five unknown Clements?
In vain did Famien Strada rabidly attack Tacitus; one scarcely knows
him now from Fabien Spada, called _L'Epée de Bois_, the jester of
Sigismond Augustus. In vain did Cecchi vilify Dante; we are not
certain whether his name was not Cecco. In vain did Green fasten on
Shakespeare; he is now confounded with Greene. Avellaneda, the "enemy"
of Cervantes, is perhaps Avellanedo. Lauder, the slanderer of Milton,
is perhaps Leuder. The unknown De Visé, who tormented Molière, turns
out to be a certain Donneau; he had surnamed himself De Visé, through a
taste for nobility. Those men relied, in order to create for themselves
a little _éclat_, on the greatness of those whom they outraged. But
no, they have remained obscure. These poor insulters did not get their
salary. Contempt has failed them. Let us pity them.


Let us add that calumny loses its labour. Then what purpose can it
serve? Not even an evil one. Do you know anything more useless than the
sting which does not sting?

Better still. This sting is beneficial. In a given time it is found
that calumny, envy, and hatred, thinking to labour against, have worked
in aid of truth. Their insults bring fame, their blackening makes
illustrious. They succeed only in mingling with glory an outcry which
increases it.

Let us continue.

So, each of the men of genius tries on in his turn this immense human
mask; and such is the strength of the soul which they cause to pass
through the mysterious aperture of the eyes, that this look changes the
mask, and, from terrible, makes it comic, then pensive, then grieved,
then young and smiling, then decrepit, then sensual and gluttonous,
then religious, then outrageous; and it is Cain, Job, Atreus, Ajax,
Priam, Hecuba, Niobe, Clytemnestra, Nausicaa, Pistoclerus, Grumio,
Davus, Pasicompsa, Chimène, Don Arias, Don Diego, Mudarra, Richard
III., Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Juliet, Romeo, Lear, Sancho Panza,
Pantagruel, Panurge, Arnolphe, Dandin Sganarelle, Agnes, Rosine,
Victorine, Basile, Almaviva, Cherubin, Manfred.

From the direct divine creation proceeds Adam, the prototype. From
the indirect divine creation,--that is to say, from the human
creation,--proceed other Adams, the types.

A type does not produce any man in particular; it cannot be exactly
superposed upon any individual; it sums up and concentrates under
one human form a whole family of characters and minds. A type is no
abridgment; it is a condensation. It is not one, it is all Alcibiades
is but Alcibiades, Petronius is but Petronius, Bassompierre is
but Bassompierre, Buckingham is but Buckingham, Fronsac is but
Fronsac, Lauzun is but Lauzun; but take Lauzun, Fronsac, Buckingham,
Bassompierre, Petronius, and Alcibiades, and pound them in the mortar
of imagination, and from that process you have a phantom more real
than them all,--Don Juan. Take the usurers one by one; no one of them
is that fierce merchant of Venice, crying, "Go, Tubal, fee me an
officer, bespeak him a fortnight before; I will have the heart of him
if he forfeit." Take all the usurers together; from the crowd of them
comes a total,--Shylock. Sum up usury, you have Shylock. The metaphor
of the people, who are never mistaken, confirms, without knowing it,
the inventions of the poet; and while Shakespeare makes Shylock, it
creates the _gripe-all._ Shylock is the Jewish bargaining. He is also
Judaism; that is to say, his whole nation,--the high as well as the
low, faith as well as fraud; and it is because he sums up a whole race,
such as oppression has made it, that Shylock is great. Jews, even
those of the Middle Ages, might with reason say that not one of them
is Shylock. Men of pleasure may with reason say that not one of them
is Don Juan. No leaf of the orange-tree when chewed gives the flavour
of the orange, yet there is a deep affinity, an identity of roots, a
sap rising from the same source, the sharing of the same subterraneous
shadow before life. The fruit contains the mystery of the tree, and
the type contains the mystery of the man. Hence the strange vitality
of the type. For--and this is the prodigy--the type lives. If it were
but an abstraction, men would not recognize it, and would allow this
shadow to pass by. The tragedy termed classic makes larvæ; the drama
creates types. A lesson which is a man; a myth with a human face so
plastic that it looks at you, and that its look is a mirror; a parable
which warns you; a symbol which cries out "Beware!" an idea which
is nerve, muscle, and flesh, and which has a heart to love, bowels
to suffer, eyes to weep, and teeth to devour or laugh, a psychical
conception with the relief of actual fact, and which, if it bleeds,
drops real blood,--that is the type. O power of true poetry! Types are
beings. They breathe, palpitate, their steps are heard on the floor,
they exist. They exist with an existence more intense than that of any
creature thinking himself living there in the street. These phantoms
have more density than man. There is in their essence that amount of
eternity which belongs to _chefs-d'œuvre_, and which makes Trimalcion
live, while M. Romieu is dead.

Types are cases foreseen by God; genius realizes them. It seems that
God prefers to teach man a lesson through man, in order to inspire
confidence. The poet is on the pavement of the living; he speaks to
them nearer to their ear. Thence the efficacy of types. Man is a
premise, the type the conclusion; God creates the phenomenon, genius
puts a name on it; God creates the miser only, genius Harpagon; God
creates the traitor only, genius makes Iago; God creates the coquette,
genius makes Célimène; God creates the citizen only, genius makes
Chrysale; God creates the king only, genius makes Grandgousier.
Sometimes, at a given moment, the type proceeds complete from some
unknown partnership of the mass of the people with a great natural
comedian, involuntary and powerful realizer; the crowd is a mid-wife.
In an epoch which bears at one of its extremities Talleyrand, and at
another Chodruc-Duclos, springs up suddenly, in a flash of lightning,
under the mysterious incubation of the theatre, that spectre, Robert

Types go and come firmly in art and in Nature. They are the ideal
realized. The good and the evil of man are in these figures. From each
of them results, in the eyes of the thinker, a humanity.

As we have said before, so many types, so many Adams. The man of Homer,
Achilles, is an Adam; from him comes the species of the slayers: the
man of Æschylus, Prometheus, is an Adam; from him comes the race of the
fighters: Shakespeare's man, Hamlet, is an Adam; to him belongs the
family of the dreamers. Other Adams, created by poets, incarnate, this
one passion, another duty, another reason, another conscience, another
the fall, another the ascension. Prudence, drifting to trepidation,
goes on from the old man Nestor to the old man Géronte. Love, drifting
to appetite, goes on from Daphne to Lovelace. Beauty, entwined with the
serpent, goes from Eve to Melusina. The types begin in Genesis, and a
link of their chain passes through Restif de la Bretonne and Vadé. The
lyric suits them, Billingsgate is not unbecoming to them. They speak
in country dialects by the mouth of Gros-René; and in Homer they say
to Minerva, holding them by the hair of the head: "What dost thou want
with me, goddess?"

A surprising exception has been conceded to Dante. The man of Dante
is Dante. Dante has, so to speak, created himself a second time in
his poem. He is his own type; his Adam is himself. For the action
of his poem he has sought out no one. He has only taken Virgil as
supernumerary. Moreover, he made himself epic at once, without even
giving himself the trouble to change his name. What he had to do was
in fact simple,--to descend into hell and remount to heaven. What good
was it to trouble himself for so little? He knocks gravely at the door
of the infinite and says, "Open! I am Dante."


Two marvellous Adams, we have just said, are the man of Æschylus,
Prometheus, and the man of Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Prometheus is action. Hamlet is hesitation.

In Prometheus the obstacle is exterior; in Hamlet it is interior.

In Prometheus the will is securely nailed down by nails of brass and
cannot get loose; besides, it has by its side two watchers,--Force
and Power. In Hamlet the will is more tied down yet; it is bound by
previous meditation,--the endless chain of the undecided. Try to get
out of yourself if you can! What a Gordian knot is our revery! Slavery
from within, that is slavery indeed. Scale this enclosure, "to dream!"
escape, if you can, from this prison, "to love!" The only dungeon is
that which walls conscience in. Prometheus, in order to be free, has
but a bronze collar to break and a god to conquer; Hamlet must break
and conquer himself. Prometheus can raise himself upright, if he
only lifts a mountain; to raise himself up, Hamlet must lift his own
thoughts. If Prometheus plucks the vulture from his breast, all is
said; Hamlet must tear Hamlet from his breast. Prometheus and Hamlet
are two naked livers; from one runs blood, from the other doubt.

We are in the habit of comparing Æschylus and Shakespeare by Orestes
and Hamlet, these two tragedies being the same drama. Never in fact was
a subject more identical. The learned mark an analogy between them; the
impotent, who are also the ignorant, the envious, who are also the
imbeciles, have the petty joy of thinking they establish a plagiarism.
It is after all a possible field for erudition and for serious
criticism. Hamlet walks behind Orestes, parricide through filial
love. This easy comparison, rather superficial than deep, strikes us
less than the mysterious confronting of those two enchained beings,
Prometheus and Hamlet.

Let us not forget that the human mind, half divine as it is, creates
from time to time superhuman works. These superhuman works of man are,
moreover, more numerous than it is thought, for they entirely fill art.
Out of poetry, where marvels abound, there is in music Beethoven, in
sculpture Phidias, in architecture Piranesi, in painting Rembrandt, and
in painting, architecture, and sculpture Michael Angelo. We pass many
over, and not the least.

Prometheus and Hamlet are among those more than human works.

A kind of gigantic determination; the usual measure exceeded; greatness
everywhere; that which astounds ordinary intellects demonstrated when
necessary by the improbable; destiny, society, law, religion, brought
to trial and judgment in the name of the Unknown, the abyss of the
mysterious equilibrium; the event treated as a _rôle_ played out, and,
on occasion, hurled as a reproach against Fatality or Providence;
passion, terrible personage, going and coming in man; the audacity and
sometimes the insolence of reason; the haughty forms of a style at ease
in all extremes, and at the same time a profound wisdom; the gentleness
of the giant; the goodness of a softened monster; an ineffable dawn
which cannot be accounted for and which lights up everything,--such are
the signs of those supreme works. In certain poems there is starlight.

This light is in Æschylus and in Shakespeare.


Nothing can be more fiercely wild than Prometheus stretched on the
Caucasus. It is gigantic tragedy. The old punishment that our ancient
laws of torture call extension, and which Cartouche escaped because
of a hernia, Prometheus undergoes it; only, the wooden horse is a
mountain. What is his crime? Right. To characterize right as crime,
and movement as rebellion, is the immemorial talent of tyrants.
Prometheus has done on Olympus what Eve did in Eden,--he has taken
a little knowledge. Jupiter, identical with Jehovah (_Iovi, Iova_),
punishes this temerity,--the desire to live. The Eginetic traditions,
which localize Jupiter, deprive him of the cosmic personality of
the Jehovah of Genesis. The Greek Jupiter, bad son of a bad father,
in rebellion against Saturn, who has himself been a rebel against
Cœlus, is a _parvenu._ The Titans are a sort of elder branch, which
has its legitimists, of whom Æschylus, the avenger of Prometheus, was
one. Prometheus is right conquered. Jupiter has, as is always the
case, consummated the usurpation of power by the punishment of right.
Olympus claims the aid of Caucasus. Prometheus is fastened there to the
_carcan._ There is the Titan, fallen, prostrate, nailed down. Mercury,
the friend of everybody, comes to give him such counsel as follows
generally the perpetration of _coups d'état._ Mercury is the type of
cowardly intellect, of every possible vice, but of vice full of wit.
Mercury, the god of vice, serves Jupiter the god of crime. This fawning
in evil is still marked to-day by the veneration of the pickpocket
for the assassin. There is something of that law in the arrival of the
diplomatist behind the conqueror. The _chefs-d'œuvre_ are immense
in this, that they are eternally present to the deeds of humanity.
Prometheus on the Caucasus, is Poland after 1772; France after 1815;
the Revolution after Brumaire. Mercury speaks; Prometheus listens but
little. Offers of amnesty miscarry when it is the victim who alone
should have the right to grant pardon. Prometheus, though conquered,
scorns Mercury standing proudly above him, and Jupiter standing above
Mercury, and Destiny standing above Jupiter. Prometheus jests at the
vulture which gnaws at him; he shrugs disdainfully his shoulders as
much as his chain allows. What does he care for Jupiter, and what good
is Mercury? There is no hold on this haughty sufferer. The scorching
thunderbolt causes a smart, which is a constant call upon pride.
Meanwhile tears flow around him, the earth despairs, the women-clouds
(the fifty Oceanides), come to worship the Titan, the forests scream,
wild beasts groan, winds howl, the waves sob, the elements moan, the
world suffers in Prometheus; his _carcan_ chokes universal life.
An immense participation in the torture of the demigod seems to be
henceforth the tragic delight of all Nature; anxiety for the future
mingles with it: and what is to be done now? How are we to move? What
will become of us? And in the vast whole of created beings, things,
men, animals, plants, rocks, all turned toward the Caucasus, is felt
this inexpressible anguish,--the liberator is enchained.

Hamlet, less of a giant and more of a man, is not less grand,--Hamlet,
the appalling, the unaccountable, complete in incompleteness; all,
in order to be nothing. He is prince and demagogue, sagacious and
extravagant, profound and frivolous, man and neuter. He has but
little faith in the sceptre, rails at the throne, has a student for
his comrade, converses with any one passing by, argues with the first
comer, understands the people, despises the mob, hates strength,
suspects success, questions obscurity, and says "thou" to mystery. He
gives to others maladies which he has not himself: his false madness
inoculates his mistress with true madness. He is familiar with spectres
and with comedians. He jests with the axe of Orestes in his hand. He
talks of literature, recites verses, composes a theatrical criticism,
plays with bones in a cemetery, dumbfounds his mother, avenges his
father, and ends the wonderful drama of life and death by a gigantic
point of interrogation. He terrifies and then disconcerts. Never has
anything more overwhelming been dreamed. It is the parricide saying:
"What do I know?"

Parricide? Let us pause on that word. Is Hamlet a parricide? Yes, and
no. He confines himself to threatening his mother; but the threat is so
fierce that the mother shudders. His words are like daggers. "What wilt
thou do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help! help! ho!" And when she dies,
Hamlet, without grieving for her, strikes Claudius with this tragic
cry: "Follow my mother!" Hamlet is that sinister thing, the possible

In place of the northern ice which he has in his nature, let him have,
like Orestes, southern fire in his veins, and he will kill his mother.

This drama is stern. In it truth doubts, sincerity lies. Nothing can
be more immense, more subtile. In it man is the world, and the world
is zero. Hamlet, even full of life, is not sure of his existence.
In this tragedy, which is at the same time a philosophy, everything
floats, hesitates, delays, staggers, becomes discomposed, scatters,
and is dispersed. Thought is a cloud, will is a vapour, resolution is
a crepuscule; the action blows each moment in an opposite direction;
man is governed by the winds. Overwhelming and vertiginous work, in
which is seen the depth of everything, in which thought oscillates only
between the king murdered and Yorick buried, and in which what is best
realized is royalty represented by a ghost, and mirth represented by a

"Hamlet" is the _chef-d'œuvre_ of the tragedy-dream.


One of the probable causes of the feigned madness of Hamlet has not
been up to the present time indicated by critics. It has been said,
"Hamlet acts the madman to hide his thought, like Brutus." In fact, it
is easy for apparent imbecility to hatch a great project; the supposed
idiot can take aim deliberately. But the case of Brutus is not that
of Hamlet. Hamlet acts the madman for his safety. Brutus screens his
project, Hamlet his person. The manners of those tragic courts being
known, from the moment that Hamlet, through the revelation of the
ghost, is acquainted with the crime of Claudius, Hamlet is in danger.
The superior historian within the poet is here manifested, and one
feels the deep insight of Shakespeare into the ancient darkness of
royalty. In the Middle Ages and in the Lower Empire, and even at
earlier periods, woe unto him who found out a murder or a poisoning
committed by a king! Ovid, according to Voltaire's conjecture, was
exiled from Rome for having seen something shameful in the house of
Augustus. To know that the king was an assassin was a State crime.
When it pleased the prince not to have had a witness, it was a matter
involving one's head to ignore everything. It was bad policy to have
good eyes. A man suspected of suspicion was lost. He had but one
refuge,--folly; to pass for "an innocent" He was despised, and that was
all. Do you remember the advice that, in Æschylus, the Ocean gives to
Prometheus: "To look a fool is the secret of the wise man." When the
Chamberlain Hugolin found the iron spit with which Edrick the Vendee
had empaled Edmond II., "he hastened to put on madness," says the Saxon
Chronicle of 1016, and saved himself in that way. Heraclian of Nisibe,
having discovered by chance that Rhinomete was a fratricide, had
himself declared mad by the doctors, and succeeded in getting himself
shut up for life in a cloister. He thus lived peaceably, growing old
and waiting for death with a vacant stare. Hamlet runs the same peril,
and has recourse to the same means. He gets himself declared mad like
Heraclian, and puts on folly like Hugolin. This does not prevent the
restless Claudius from twice making an effort to get rid of him,--in
the middle of the drama by the axe or the dagger in England, and toward
the conclusion by poison.

The same indication is again found in "King Lear;" the Earl of
Gloster's son takes refuge also in apparent lunacy. There is in that a
key to open and understand Shakespeare's thought. In the eyes of the
philosophy of art, the feigned folly of Edgar throws light upon the
feigned folly of Hamlet.

The Amleth of Belleforest is a magician; the Hamlet of Shakespeare
is a philosopher. We just now spoke of the strange reality which
characterizes poetical creations. There is no more striking example
than this type,--Hamlet. Hamlet has nothing belonging to an abstraction
about him. He has been at the University; he has the Danish rudeness
softened by Italian politeness; he is small, plump, somewhat
lymphatic; he fences well with the sword, but is soon out of breath.
He does not care to drink too soon during the assault of arms with
Laërtes,--probably for fear of producing perspiration. After having
thus supplied his personage with real life, the poet can launch him
into full ideal. There is ballast enough.

Other works of the human mind equal "Hamlet;" none surpasses it. The
whole majesty of melancholy is in "Hamlet." An open sepulchre from
which goes forth a drama,--this is colossal "Hamlet" is to our mind
Shakespeare's chief work.

No figure among those that poets have created is more poignant and
stirring. Doubt counselled by a ghost,--that is Hamlet. Hamlet has
seen his dead father and has spoken to him. Is he convinced? No, he
shakes his head. What shall he do? He does not know. His hands clench,
then fall by his side. Within him are conjectures, systems, monstrous
apparitions, bloody recollections, veneration for the spectre, hate,
tenderness, anxiety to act and not to act, his father, his mother,
his duties in contradiction to each other,--a deep storm. Livid
hesitation is in his mind. Shakespeare, wonderful plastic poet, makes
the grandiose pallor of this soul almost visible. Like the great larva
of Albert Dürer, Hamlet might be named "Melancholia." He also has above
his head the bat which flies disembowelled; and at his feet science,
the sphere, the compass, the hour-glass, love; and behind him in the
horizon an enormous, terrible sun, which seems to make the sky but

Nevertheless, at least one half of Hamlet is anger, transport, outrage,
hurricane, sarcasm to Ophelia, malediction on his mother, insult to
himself. He talks with the gravediggers, nearly laughs, then clutches
Laërtes by the hair in the very grave of Ophelia, and stamps furiously
upon the coffin. Sword-thrusts at Polonius, sword-thrusts at Laërtes,
sword-thrusts at Claudius. From time to time his inaction is tom in
twain, and from the rent comes forth thunder.

He is tormented by that possible life, intermixed with reality and
chimera, the anxiety of which is shared by all of us. There is in
all his actions an expanded somnambulism. One might almost consider
his brain as a formation; there is a layer of suffering, a layer of
thought, then a layer of dreaminess. It is through this layer of
dreaminess that he feels, comprehends, learns, perceives, drinks, eats,
frets, mocks, weeps, and reasons. There is between life and him a
transparency; it is the wall of dreams. One sees beyond, but one cannot
step over it. A kind of cloudy obstacle everywhere surrounds Hamlet.
Have you ever while sleeping, had the nightmare of pursuit or flight,
and tried to hasten on, and felt anchylosis in the knees, heaviness in
the arms, the horror of paralysed hands, the impossibility of movement?
This nightmare Hamlet undergoes while waking. Hamlet is not upon the
spot where his life is. He has ever the appearance of a man who talks
to you from the other side of a stream. He calls to you at the same
time that he questions you. He is at a distance from the catastrophe in
which he takes part, from the passer-by whom he interrogates, from the
thought that he carries, from the action that he performs. He seems not
to touch even what he grinds. It is isolation in its highest degree. It
is the loneliness of a mind, even more than the loftiness of a prince.
Indecision is in fact a solitude. You have not even your will to keep
you company. It is as if your own self was absent and had left you
there. The burden of Hamlet is less rigid than that of Orestes, but
more undulating. Orestes carries predestination; Hamlet carries fate.

And thus apart from men, Hamlet has still in him a something which
represents them all. _Agnosco fratrem._ At certain hours, if we felt
our own pulse, we should be conscious of his fever. His strange reality
is our own reality after alL He is the mournful man that we all are in
certain situations. Unhealthy as he is, Hamlet expresses a permanent
condition of man. He represents the discomfort of the soul in a life
which is not sufficiently adapted to it He represents the shoe that
pinches and stops our walking; the shoe is the body. Shakespeare
frees him from it, and he is right Hamlet--prince if you like, but
king never--Hamlet is incapable of governing a people; he lives too
much in a world beyond. On the other hand, he does better than to
reign; he _is._ Take from him his family, his country, his ghost, and
the whole adventure at Elsinore, and even in the form of an inactive
type, he remains strangely terrible. That is the consequence of the
amount of humanity and the amount of mystery that is in him. Hamlet is
formidable, which does not prevent his being ironical. He has the two
profiles of destiny.

Let us retract a statement made above. The chief work of Shakespeare
is not "Hamlet" The chief work of Shakespeare is all Shakespeare. That
is, moreover, true of all minds of this order. They are mass, block,
majesty, bible, and their solemnity is their ensemble.

Have you sometimes looked upon a cape prolonging itself under the
clouds and jutting out, as far as the eye can go, into the deep
water? Each of its hillocks contributes to make it up. No one of its
undulations is lost in its dimension. Its strong outline is sharply
marked upon the sky, and enters as far as possible into the waves, and
there is not a useless rock. Thanks to this cape, you can go amidst the
boundless waters, walk among the winds, see closely the eagles soar
and the monsters swim, let your humanity wander mid the eternal hum,
penetrate the impenetrable. The poet renders this service to your mind.
A genius is a promontory into the infinite.


Near "Hamlet," and on the same level, must be placed three grand
dramas,--"Macbeth," "Othello," "King Lear."

Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Lear,--these four figures tower upon the
lofty edifice of Shakespeare. We have said what Hamlet is.

To say, "Macbeth is ambition," is to say nothing. Macbeth is hunger.
What hunger? The hunger of ten monsters, which is always possible in
man. Certain souls have teeth. Do not wake up their hunger.

To bite at the apple, that is a fearful thing. The apple is called
_Omnia_, says Filesac, that doctor of the Sorbonne who confessed
Ravaillac. Macbeth has a wife whom the chronicle calls Gruoch. This Eve
tempts this Adam. Once Macbeth has given the first bite he is lost. The
first thing that Adam produces with Eve is Cain; the first thing that
Macbeth accomplishes with Gruoch is murder.

Covetousness easily becoming violence, violence easily becoming
crime, crime easily becoming madness,--this progression is Macbeth.
Covetousness, crime, madness,--these three vampires have spoken to him
in the solitude, and have invited him to the throne. The cat Graymalkin
has called him: Macbeth will be cunning. The toad Paddock has called
him: Macbeth will be horror. The _unsexed_ being, Gruoch, completes
him. It is done; Macbeth is no longer a man. He is nothing more than
an unconscious energy rushing wildly toward evil. Henceforth, no
notion of right; appetite is everything. Transitory right, royalty;
eternal right, hospitality,--Macbeth murders them all. He does more
than slay them,--he ignores them. Before they fell bleeding under
his hand, they already lay dead within his soul. Macbeth commences
by this parricide,--the murder of Duncan, his guest; a crime so
terrible that from the counter-blow in the night, when their master
is stabbed, the horses of Duncan again become wild. The first step
taken, the fall begins. It is the avalanche. Macbeth rolls headlong.
He is precipitated. He falls and rebounds from one crime to another,
always deeper and deeper. He undergoes the mournful gravitation of
matter invading the soul. He is a thing that destroys. He is a stone
of ruin, flame of war, beast of prey, scourge. He marches over all
Scotland, king as he is, his bare legged kernes and his heavily-armed
gallowglasses, devouring, pillaging, slaying. He decimates the Thanes,
he kills Banquo, he kills all the Macduffs except the one who shall
slay him, he kills the nobility, he kills the people, he kills his
country, he kills "sleep." At length the catastrophe arrives,--the
forest of Birnam moves against him. Macbeth has infringed all, burst
through everything, violated everything, torn everything, and this
desperation ends in arousing even Nature. Nature loses patience, Nature
enters into action against Macbeth, Nature becomes soul against the man
who has become brute force.

This drama has epic proportions. Macbeth represents that frightful
hungry one who prowls throughout history, called brigand in the forest
and on the throne conqueror. The ancestor of Macbeth is Nimrod. These
men of force, are they forever furious? Let us be just; no. They have a
goal, which being attained, they stop. Give to Alexander, to Cyrus, to
Sesostris, to Cæsar, what?--the world; they are appeased. Geoffroy St.
Hilaire said to me one day: "When the lion has eaten, he is at peace
with Nature." For Cambyses, Sennacherib, and Genghis Khan, and their
parallels, to have eaten is to possess all the earth. They would calm
themselves down in the process of digesting the human race.

Now, what is Othello? He is night; an immense fatal figure. Night is
amorous of day. Darkness loves the dawn. The African adores the white
woman. Desdemona is Othello's brightness and frenzy! And then how easy
to him is jealousy! He is great, he is dignified, he is majestic, he
soars above all heads, he has as an escort bravery, battle, the braying
of trumpets, the banner of war, renown, glory; he is radiant with
twenty victories, he is studded with stars, this Othello: but he is
black. And thus how soon, when jealous, the hero becomes monster, the
black becomes the negro! How speedily has night beckoned to death!

By the side of Othello, who is night, there is Iago, who is
evil,--evil, the other form of darkness. Night is but the night of the
world; evil is the night of the soul. How deeply black are perfidy
and falsehood! To have ink or treason in the veins is the same thing.
Whoever has jostled against imposture and perjury knows it. One must
blindly grope one's way with roguery. Pour hypocrisy upon the break
of day, and you put out the sun; and this, thanks to false religions,
happens to God.

Iago near Othello is the precipice near the landslip. "This way!"
he says in a low voice. The snare advises blindness. The being of
darkness guides the black. Deceit takes upon itself to give what
light may be required by night. Jealousy uses falsehood as the
blind man his dog. Othello the negro, Iago the traitor, opposed to
whiteness and candour,--what can be more terrible! These ferocities
of the darkness act in unison. These two incarnations of the eclipse
conspire together,--the one roaring, the other sneering; the tragic
extinguishment of light.

Sound this profound thing. Othello is the night, and being night, and
wishing to kill, what does he take to slay with? Poison, the club,
the axe, the knife? No; the pillow. To kill is to lull to sleep.
Shakespeare himself perhaps did not take this into account. The creator
sometimes, almost unknown to himself, yields to his type, so much is
that type a power. And it is thus that Desdemona, spouse of the man
Night, dies stifled by the pillow, which has had the first kiss, and
which has the last sigh.

Lear is the occasion for Cordelia. Maternity of the daughter toward
the father,--profound subject; maternity venerable among all other
maternities, so admirably translated by the legend of that Roman girl,
who, in the depth of a prison, nurses her old father. The young breast
near the white beard,--there is not a spectacle more holy. This filial
breast is Cordelia.

Once this figure dreamed of and found, Shakespeare created his
drama. Where should he put this consoling vision? In an obscure age.
Shakespeare has taken the year of the world 3105, the time when
Joas was king of Judah, Aganippus, king of France, and Leir, king
of England. The whole earth was at that time mysterious. Represent
to yourself that epoch: the temple of Jerusalem is still quite new;
the gardens of Semiramis, constructed nine hundred years previously,
begin to crumble; the first gold coin appears in Ægina; the first
balance is made by Phydon, tyrant of Argos; the first eclipse of the
sun is calculated by the Chinese; three hundred and twelve years have
passed since Orestes, accused by the Eumenides before the Areopagus,
was acquitted; Hesiod is just dead; Homer, if he still lives, is a
hundred years old; Lycurgus, thoughtful traveller, re-enters Sparta;
and one may perceive in the depth of the sombre cloud of the East
the chariot fire which carries Elias away. It is at that period that
Leir--Lear--lives, and reigns over the dark islands. Jonas, Holofernes,
Draco, Solon, Thespis, Nebuchadnezzar, Anaximenes who is to invent the
signs of the zodiac, Cyrus, Zorobabel, Tarquin, Pythagoras, Æschylus,
are not born yet Coriolanus, Xerxes, Cincinnatus, Pericles, Socrates,
Brennus, Aristotle, Timoleon, Demosthenes, Alexander, Epicurus,
Hannibal, are larvæ waiting their hour to enter among men. Judas
Maccabæus, Viriatus, Popilius, Jugurtha, Mithridates, Marius and Sylla,
Cæsar and Pompey, Cleopatra and Antony, are far away in the future;
and at the moment when Lear is king of Brittany and of Iceland, there
must pass away eight hundred and ninety-five years before Virgil says,
"Penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos," and nine hundred and fifty
years before Seneca says "Ultima Thule." The Picts and the Celts (the
Scotch and the English) are tattooed. A redskin of the present day
gives a vague idea of an Englishman then. It is this twilight that
Shakespeare has chosen,--a broad night well adapted to the dream in
which this inventor at his pleasure puts everything that he chooses,
this King Lear, and then a King of France, a Duke of Burgundy, a Duke
of Cornwall, a Duke of Albany, an Earl of Kent, and an Earl of Gloster.
What does your history matter to him who has humanity? Besides, he
has with him the legend, which is a kind of science also, and as
true as history perhaps, but in another point of view. Shakespeare
agrees with Walter Mapes, archdeacon of Oxford,--that is something;
he admits, from Brutus to Cadwalla, the ninety-nine Celtic kings who
have preceded the Scandinavian Hengist and the Saxon Horsa: and since
he believes in Mulmutius, Cinigisil, Ceolulf, Cassibelan, Cymbeline,
Cynulphus, Arviragus, Guiderius, Escuin, Cudred, Vortigern, Arthur,
Uther Pendragon, he has every right to believe in King Lear, and to
create Cordelia. This land adopted, the place for the scene marked out,
this foundation established, he takes everything and builds his work.
Unheard of edifice. He takes tyranny, of which, at a later period,
he will make weakness,--Lear; he takes treason,--Edmond; he takes
devotion,--Kent; he takes ingratitude which begins with a caress, and
he gives to this monster two heads,--Goneril, whom the legend calls
Gornerille, and Regan, whom the legend calls Ragaü; he takes paternity;
he takes royalty; he takes feudality; he takes ambition; he takes
madness, which he divides into three, and he puts in presence three
madmen,--the king's buffoon, madman by trade; Edgar of Gloster, mad for
prudence's sake; the king mad through misery. It is at the summit of
this tragic heap that he raises Cordelia.

There are some formidable cathedral towers, like, for instance, the
Giralda of Seville, which seem made all complete, with their spirals,
their staircases, their sculptures, their cellars, their cœcums, their
aerial cells, their sounding chambers, their bells, and their mass
and their spire, and all their enormity, in order to carry an angel
spreading on their summit her golden wings. Such is this drama, "King

The father is the pretext for the daughter. This admirable human
creation, Lear, serves as a support to that ineffable divine creation,
Cordelia. The reason why that chaos of crimes, vices, madnesses, and
miseries exists is, for the more splendid setting forth of virtue.
Shakespeare, carrying Cordelia in his thoughts, created that tragedy
like a god who, having an Aurora to put forward, makes a world
expressly for it.

And what a figure is that father! What a caryatid! He is man bent down
by weight, but shifts his burdens for others that are heavier. The more
the old man becomes enfeebled, the more his load augments. He lives
under an overburden. He bears at first power, then ingratitude, then
isolation, then despair, then hunger and thirst, then madness, then all
Nature. Clouds overcast him, forests heap shadow on him, the hurricane
beats on the nape of his neck, the tempest makes his mantle heavy as
lead, the rain falls on his shoulders, he walks bent and haggard as if
he had the two knees of night upon his back. Dismayed and yet immense,
he throws to the winds and to the hail this epic cry: "Why do you hate
me, tempests? Why do you persecute me? _You are not my daughters._"
And then it is over; the light is extinguished,--reason loses courage
and leaves him. Lear is in his dotage. Ah, he is childish, this old
man. Very well! he requires a mother. His daughter appears,--his one
daughter Cordelia; for the two others Regan and Goneril, are no longer
his daughters, save to that extent which gives them a right to the name
of parricides.

Cordelia approaches.--"Sir, do you know me?" "You are a spirit,
I know," replies the old man, with the sublime clairvoyance of
bewilderment. From this moment the adorable nursing commences. Cordelia
applies herself to nourish this old despairing soul, dying of inanition
in hatred. Cordelia nourishes Lear with love, and his courage revives;
she nourishes him with respect, and the smile returns; she nourishes
him with hope, and confidence is restored; she nourishes him with
wisdom, and reason revives. Lear, convalescent, rises again, and, step
by step, returns again to life. The child becomes again an old man;
the old man becomes a man again. And behold him happy, this wretched
one. It is on this expansion of happiness that the catastrophe is
hurled down. Alas! there are traitors, there are perjurers, there are
murderers. Cordelia dies. Nothing more heart-rending than this. The
old man is stunned; he no longer understands anything; and embracing
the corpse, he expires. He dies on this dead one. The supreme anguish
is spared him of remaining behind her among the living, a poor shadow,
to feel the place in his heart empty and to seek for his soul, carried
away by that sweet being who is departed. O God, those whom thou lovest
thou dost not allow to survive.

To live after the flight of the angel; to be the father orphaned of
his child; to be the eye which no longer has light; to be the deadened
heart which has no more joy; from time to time to stretch the hands
into obscurity, and try to reclasp a being who was there (where, then,
can she be?); to feel himself forgotten in that departure; to have lost
all reason for being here below; to be henceforth a man who goes to
and fro before a sepulchre, not received, not admitted,--that would be
indeed a gloomy destiny. Thou hast done well, poet, to kill this old




    "Ce courtisan grossier du profane vulgaire."[1]

This Alexandrine is by La Harpe, who hurls it at Shakespeare. Somewhere
else La Harpe says, "Shakespeare panders to the mob."

Voltaire, as a matter of course, reproaches Shakespeare with
antithesis: that is well. And La Beaumelle reproaches Voltaire with
antithesis: that is better.

Voltaire, when he is himself in question, _pro domo sua_, gets angry.
"But," he writes, "this Langleviel, alias La Beaumelle, is an ass. I
defy you to find in any poet, in any book, a fine thing which is not an
image or an antithesis."

Voltaire's criticism is double-edged. He wounds and is wounded. This is
how he characterizes the Ecclesiastes and the Canticle of Canticles:
"Works without order, full of low images and coarse expressions."

A little while after, furious, he exclaims,--

    "On m'ose préférer Crébillon le barbare!"[2]

An idler of the Œil-de-Bœuf, wearing the red heel and the blue
ribbon, a stripling and a marquis,--M. de Créqui,--comes to Ferney,
and writes with an air of superiority: "I have seen Voltaire, that
childish old man."

That injustice should receive a counterstroke from injustice, is
nothing more than right; and Voltaire gets what he deserved. But to
throw stones at men of genius is a general law, and all have to bear
it. Insult is a crown, it appears.

For Saumaise, Æschylus is nothing but farrago.[3] Quintilian
understands nothing of the "Orestias." Sophocles mildly scorned
Æschylus. "When he does well, he does not know it," said Sophocles.
Racine rejected everything, except two or three scenes of the
"Choephori," which he condescended to spare by a note in the margin of
his copy of Æschylus. Fontenelle says in his "Remarques": "One does
not know what to make of the 'Prometheus' of Æschylus. Æschylus is a
kind of madman." The eighteenth century, without exception, railed at
Diderot for admiring the "Eumenides."

"The whole of Dante is a hotch-potch," says Chaudon. "Michael Angelo
wearies me," says Joseph de Maistre. "Not one of the eight comedies of
Cervantes is supportable," says La Harpe. "It is a pity that Molière
does not know how to write," says Fénélon. "Molière is a worthless
buffoon," says Bossuet. "A schoolboy would avoid the mistakes of
Milton," says the Abbé Trublet, an authority as good as another.
"Corneille exaggerates, Shakespeare raves," says that same Voltaire,
who must always be fought against and fought for.

"Shakespeare," says Ben Jonson, "talked heavily and without any wit."
How prove the contrary? Writings remain, talk passes away. Well, it is
always so much denied to Shakespeare. That man of genius had no wit:
how nicely that flatters the numberless men of wit who have no genius!

Some time before Scudéry called Corneille "Corneille déplumée"
(unfeathered carrion crow), Green had called Shakespeare "a crow
decked out with our feathers." In 1752 Diderot was sent to the
fortress of Vincennes for having published the first volume of the
"Encyclopædia," and the great success of the year was a print sold
on the quays which represented a Franciscan friar flogging Diderot.
Although Weber is dead,--an attenuating circumstance for those who
are guilty of genius,--he is turned into ridicule in Germany; and for
thirty-three years a _chef-d'œuvre_ has been disposed of with a pun.
The "Euryanthe" is called the "Ennuyante" (wearisome).

D'Alembert hits at one blow Calderon and Shakespeare. He writes to

    "I have announced to the Academy your 'Heraclius,' of
    Calderon. The Academy will read it with as much pleasure as
    the harlequinade of Gilles Shakespeare."[4]

That everything should be perpetually brought again into question, that
everything should be contested, even the incontestable,--what does it
matter? The eclipse is a good trial for truth as well as for liberty.
Genius, being truth and liberty, has a claim to persecution. What
matters to genius that which is transient? It was before, and will be
after. It is not on the sun that the eclipse throws darkness.

Everything can be written. Paper is patience itself. Last year a grave
review printed this: "Homer is now going out of fashion."

The judgment passed on the philosopher, on the artist, on the poet is
completed by the portrait of the man.

Byron has killed his tailor. Molière has married his own daughter.
Shakespeare has "loved" Lord Southampton.

    "Et pour voir à la fin tous les vices ensemble,
    Le parterre en tumulte a demandé l'auteur."[5]

That _ensemble_ of all vices is Beaumarchais.

As for Byron, we mention this name a second time; he is worth the
trouble. Read "Glenarvon," and listen, on the subject of Byron's
abominations, to Lady Bl---, whom he had loved, and who, of course,
resented it.

Phidias was a procurer; Socrates was an apostate and a thief,
_décrocheur de manteaux_; Spinosa was a renegade, and sought to
obtain legacies by undue influence; Dante was a peculator; Michael
Angelo was cudgelled by Julius II., and quietly put up with it for
the sake of five hundred crowns; D'Aubigné was a courtier sleeping in
the water-closet of the king, ill-tempered when he was not paid, and
for whom Henri IV. was too kind; Diderot was a libertine; Voltaire a
miser; Milton was venal,--he received a thousand pounds sterling for
his apology, in Latin, of regicide: "Defensio pro se," etc. Who says
these things? Who relates these histories? That good person, your old
fawning friend, O tyrants, your ancient comrade, O traitors, your old
auxiliary, O bigots, your ancient comforter, O imbeciles!--calumny.

[Footnote 1: This coarse flatterer of the vulgar herd.]

[Footnote 2: To me they dare to prefer Crébillon the barbarian.]

[Footnote 3: The passage in Saumaise is curious and worth the trouble
of being transcribed:--

    Unus ejus Agamemnon obscuritate superat quantum est
    librorum sacrorum cum suis hebraismis et syrianismis et
    totâ hellenisticâ supellectile vel farragine.
    --_De Re
    Hellenisticâ_, p. 38, ep. dedic.]

[Footnote 4: Letter CV.]

[Footnote 5:

    "And at last, in order to see all the vices together,
    The riotous pit called for the author."



Let us add a detail. Diatribe is, on certain occasions, a useful means
of government.

Thus the hand of the police was in the print of Diderot Flogged, and
the engraver of the Franciscan friar must have been kindred to the
turnkey of Vincennes. Governments, more passionate than necessary,
neglect to remain strangers to the animosities of the lower orders.
Political persecution of former days--it is of former days that we are
speaking--willingly availed itself of a dash of literary persecution.
Certainly, hatred hates without being paid for it. Envy, to do its
work, does not need a minister of State to encourage it and to give
it a pension; and there is such a thing as unofficial calumny. But
a money-bag does no harm. When Roy, the court-poet, rhymed against
Voltaire, "Tell me, daring stoic," etc., the position of treasurer of
the chamber of Clermont, and the cross of St. Michael, were not likely
to damp his enthusiasm for the Court, and his spirit against Voltaire.
A gratuity is pleasant to receive after a service rendered; the masters
upstairs smile; you receive the agreeable order to insult some one
you detest; you obey richly; you are free to bite like a glutton; you
take your fill; it is all profit; you hate and you give satisfaction.
Formerly authority had its scribes. It was a pack of hounds as good as
any other. Against the free rebel spirit, the despot would let loose
the scribbler. To torture was not sufficient; teasing was resorted to
likewise. Trissotin held a confabulation with Vidocq, and from their
_tête-à-tête_ would burst a complex inspiration. Pedagogism, thus
supported by the police, felt itself an integral part of authority,
and strengthened its æsthetics with legal means. It was arrogant. The
pedant raised to the dignity of policeman,--nothing can be so arrogant
as that vileness. See, after the struggle between the Arminians and
the Gomarists, with what a superb air Sparanus Buyter, his pocket full
of Maurice of Nassau's florins, denounces Josse Vondel, and proves,
Aristotle in hand, that the Palamède of Vondel's tragedy is no other
than Barneveldt,--useful rhetoric, by which Buyter obtains against
Vondel a fine of three hundred crowns, and for himself a fat prebend at

The author of the book "Querelles Littéraires," the Abbé Irail, canon
of Monistrol, asks of La Beaumelle: "Why do you insult M. de Voltaire
so much?" "It is because it sells well," replies La Beaumelle. And
Voltaire, informed of the question and of the reply, concludes: "It is
just; the booby buys the writing, and the minister buys the writer. It
sells well."

Françoise d'Issembourg de Happoncourt, wife of François Hugo,
chamberlain of Lorraine, and very celebrated under the name of Madame
de Graffigny, writes to M. Devaux, reader to King Stanislaus:--

    My dear Pampam,--Atys being far off [read: Voltaire being
    banished], the police cause to be published against him a
    swarm of small writings and pamphlets, which are sold at
    a sou in the cafés and theatres. That would displease the
    marquise,[1] if it did not please the king.

Desfontaines, that other insulter of Voltaire, by whom he had been
taken out of Bicêtre, said to the Abbé Prévost, who advised him to make
his peace with the philosopher: "If Algiers did not make war, Algiers
would die of famine."

This Desfontaines, also an abbé, died of dropsy; and his well-known
tastes gained for him this epitaph: "Periit aqua qui meruit igne."

Among the publications suppressed in the last century by decree of
Parliament, can be observed a document printed by Quinet and Besogne,
and destroyed doubtless because of the revelations it contained, and of
which the title gave promise: "L'Arétinade, ou Tarif des Libellistes et
Gens de Lettres Injurieux."

Madame de Staël, sent in exile forty-five leagues from Paris, stops
exactly at the forty-five leagues,--at Beaumont-sur-Loire,--and thence
writes to her friends. Here is a fragment of a letter addressed to
Madame Gay, mother of the illustrious Madame de Girardin:--

    "Ah, dear madame, what a persecution are these exiles!...
    [We suppress some lines.] You write a book; it is forbidden
    to speak of it. Your name in the journals displeases.
    Permission is, however, fully given to speak ill of it."

[Footnote 1: Madame de Pompadour.]


Sometimes the diatribe is sprinkled with quicklime. All those black
pen-nibs finish by digging ill-omened ditches.

Among the writers abhorred for having been useful, Voltaire and
Rousseau hold a conspicuous rank. They were reviled when alive, mangled
when dead. To have a bite at these renowned ones was a splendid deed,
and reckoned as such in favour of literary constables. A man who
insulted Voltaire was at once promoted to the dignity of pedant. Men in
power encouraged the men of libellous propensity. A swarm of mosquitoes
have rushed upon those two illustrious minds, and ate yet buzzing.

Voltaire is the most hated, being the greatest. Everything was good for
an attack on him, everything was a pretext: Mesdames de France, Newton,
Madame du Châtelet, the Princess of Prussia, Maupertuis, Frederic, the
Encyclopædia, the Academy, even Labarre, Sirven, and Calas,--never
a truce. His popularity suggested to Joseph de Maistre this: "Paris
crowned him; Sodom would have banished him." Arouet was translated into
_A rouer._[1] At the house of the Abbess of Nivelles, Princess of the
Holy Empire, half recluse and half worldling, and having recourse, it
is said, in order to make her cheeks rosy, to the method of the Abbess
of Montbazon, charades were played,--among others, this one: The first
syllable is his fortune; the second should be his duty. The word
was _Vol-taire._[2] A celebrated member of the Academy of Sciences,
Napoleon Bonaparte, seeing in 1803, in the library of the Institute,
in the centre of a crown of laurels, this inscription: "Au grand
Voltaire," scratched with his nail the last three letters, leaving
only, _Au grand Volta!_

There is round Voltaire particularly a _cordon sanitaire_ of priests,
the Abbé Desfontaines at the head, the Abbé Nicolardot at the tail.
Fréron, although a layman, is a critic after the priestly fashion, and
belongs to this band.

Voltaire made his first appearance at the Bastille. His cell was next
to the dungeon in which had died Bernard Palissy. Young, he tasted the
prison; old, exile. He was kept twenty-seven years away from Paris.

Jean-Jacques, wild and rather surly, was tormented in consequence of
those traits in his nature. Paris issued a writ against his person;
Geneva expelled him; Neufchâtel rejected him; Motiers-Travers damned
him; Bienne stoned him; Berne gave him the choice between prison and
expulsion; London, hospitable London, scoffed at him.

Both died, following closely on each other. Death caused no
interruption to the outrages. A man is dead; insult does not slacken
pursuit for such a trifle. Hatred can feast on a corpse. Libels
continued, falling furiously on these glories.

The Revolution came and sent them to the Pantheon.

At the beginning of this century, children were often brought to see
these two graves. They were told, "It is here." That made a strong
impression on their minds. They carried forever in their thoughts that
apparition of two sepulchres side by side,--the elliptical arch of the
vault; the antique form of the two monuments provisionally covered with
wood painted like marble; these two names, Rousseau, Voltaire, in the
twilight; and the arm carrying a flambeau which was thrust out of the
tomb of Jean-Jacques.

Louis XVIII. returned. The restoration of the Stuarts had torn Cromwell
from his grave; the restoration of the Bourbons could not do less for

One night, in May, 1814, about two o'clock in the morning, a cab
stopped near the barrier of La Gare, which faces Bercy, at the door of
an enclosure of planks. This enclosure surrounded a large vacant piece
of ground, reserved for the projected _entrepôt_, and belonging to the
city of Paris. The cab was coming from the Pantheon, and the coachman
had been ordered to take the most deserted streets. The closed planking
opened. Some men alighted from the cab and entered the enclosure. Two
carried a sack between them. They were conducted, so tradition asserts,
by the Marquis of Puymaurin, afterward deputy to the Invisible Chamber,
and director of the mint, accompanied by his brother, the Comte de
Puymaurin. Other men, many in cassocks, were waiting for them. They
proceeded toward a hole dug in the middle of the field. This hole,
according to one of the witnesses, who since has been waiter at the
inn of the Marronniers at La Rapée, was round, and looked like a blind
well. At the bottom of the hole was quicklime. These men said nothing,
and had no light. The wan break of day gave a ghastly light. The sack
was opened. It was full of bones. These were, pell-mell, the bones
of Jean Jacques and of Voltaire, which had just been withdrawn from
the Pantheon. The mouth of the sack was brought close to the hole,
and the bones were thrown into that darkness. The two skulls struck
against each other; a spark, not likely to be seen by such men as those
present was doubtless exchanged between the head that had made the
"Dictionnaire Philosophique" and the head which had made the "Contrat
Social," and reconciled them. When that was done, when the sack had
been shaken, when Voltaire and Rousseau had been emptied into that
hole, a digger seized a spade, threw inside the opening all the earth
which was at the side, and filled tip the hole; the others stamped
with their feet on the ground, so as to remove from it the appearance
of having been freshly disturbed. One of the assistants took for his
trouble the sack, as the hangman takes the clothing of his victim;
they all left the enclosure, closed the door, got into the cab without
saying a word, and hastily, before the sun had risen, those men got

[Footnote 1: Deserving of being broken on the wheel.]

[Footnote 2: _Vol_ meaning _theft_, _taire_ meaning to be silent.]


Saumaise, that worse Scaliger, does not comprehend Æschylus, and
rejects him. Who is to blame? Saumaise much, Æschylus little.

The attentive man who reads great works feels at times, in the middle
of reading, certain sudden fits of cold followed by a kind of excess
of heat ("I no longer understand!--I understand!"), shivering and
burning,--something which causes him to be a little upset, at the same
time that he is very much struck. Only minds of the first order, only
men of supreme genius, subject to heedless wanderings in the infinite,
give to the reader this singular sensation,--stupor for most, ecstasy
for a few. These few are the _élite._ As we have already observed, this
_élite_, gathered from century to century, and always adding to itself,
at last makes up a number, becomes in time a multitude, and composes
the supreme crowd,--the definitive public of men of genius, sovereign
like them.

It is with that public that at the end one must deal.

Nevertheless, there is another public, other appraisers, other judges,
to whom we have lately alluded. They are not content.

The men of genius, the great minds,--this Æschylus, this Isaiah,
this Juvenal, this Dante, this Shakespeare,--are beings, imperious,
tumultuous, violent, passionate, extreme riders of winged steeds,
"overleaping all boundaries," having their own goal, which "goes beyond
the goal," "exaggerated," taking scandalous strides, flying abruptly
from one idea to another, and from the north pole to the south pole,
crossing the heavens in three steps, making little allowance for short
breaths, tossed about by all the winds, and at the same time full of
some unaccountable equestrian confidence amidst their bounds across the
abyss, untractable to the "aristarchs," refractory to state rhetoric,
not amiable to asthmatical _literati_, unsubdued to academic hygiene,
preferring the foam of Pegasus to asses' milk.

The worthy pedants are kind enough to be afraid for them. The ascent
gives rise to the calculation of the fall. The compassionate cripples
lament for Shakespeare. He is mad; he mounts too high! The crowd of
college fags (they are a crowd) look on in wonder, and get angry.
Æschylus and Dante make their connoisseurs blink their eyes every
moment. This Æschylus is lost! This Dante is near falling! A god is
soaring above; the worthy bourgeois cry out to him: "Look out for


Besides, these men of genius disconcert.

One knows not on what to rely with them. Their lyric fever obeys
them; they interrupt it when they like. They seem wild. All at once
they stop. Their frenzy becomes melancholy. They are seen among the
precipices, alighting ou a peak and folding their wings, and then they
give way to meditation. Their meditation is not less surprising than
their transport. Just now they were soaring above, now they sink below.
But it is always the same boldness.

They are pensive giants. Their Titanic revery needs the absolute and
the unfathomable in which to expand. They meditate, as the sun shines,
with the abyss around them.

Their moving to and fro in the ideal gives the vertigo. Nothing is too
lofty for them, and nothing too low. They pass from the pygmy to the
Cyclops, from Polyphemus to the Myrmidons, from Queen Mab to Caliban,
and from a love affair to a deluge, and from Saturn's ring to the doll
of a little child. _Sinite parvulos venire._ One of the pupils of their
eye is a telescope, the other a microscope. They investigate familiarly
these two frightful opposite depths,--the infinitely great and the
infinitely small.

And one should not be angry with them; and one should not reproach
them for all this! Indeed! Where should we go if such excesses were
to be tolerated? What! No scruple in the choice of subjects, horrible
or sad; and the idea, even if it be disquieting and formidable,
always followed up to its extreme limits, without pity for their
fellow-creatures! These poets only see their own aim; and in everything
are immoderate in their way of doing things. What is Job?--a worm on
an ulcer. What is the Divina Commedia?--a series of torments. What
is the Iliad?--a collection of plagues and wounds; not an artery
cut which is not complaisantly described. Go round for opinions on
Homer: ask of Scaliger, Terrasson, Lamotte, what they think of him.
The fourth of an ode to the shield of Achilles--what intemperance! He
who does not know when to stop never knew how to write. These poets
agitate, disturb, trouble, upset, overwhelm, make everything shiver,
break things, occasionally, here and there. They can cause great
misfortunes; it is terrible. Thus speak the Athenæa, the Sorbonnes, the
sworn-in professors, the societies called learned, Saumaise, successor
of Scaliger at the university of Leyden, and the _bourgeoisie_ after
them,--all who represent in literature and art the great party of
order. What can be more logical? The cough quarrels with the hurricane.

Those who are poor in wit are joined by those who have too much wit.
The septics lend assistance to the fools. Men of genius, with few
exceptions, are proud and stem; that is in the very marrow of their
bones. They have in company with them Juvenal, Agrippa d'Aubigné,
and Milton; they are prone to harshness; they despise the _panem et
circenses_; they seldom grow sociable, and they growl. People rail at
them in a pleasant way. Well done.

Ah, poet! Ah, Milton! Ah, Juvenal!--ah, you keep up resistance! ah,
you perpetuate disinterestedness! ah, you bring together these two
firebrands, faith and will, in order to make the flame burst out from
them! ah, there is something of the Vestal in you, old grumbler! ah,
you have an altar,--your country! ah, you. have a tripod,--the ideal!
ah, you believe in the rights of man, in emancipation, in the future,
in progress, in the beautiful, in the just, in what is great! Take
care; you are behindhand. All this virtue is infatuation. You emigrate
with honour; but you emigrate. This heroism is no longer the fashion.
It no longer suits our epoch. There comes a moment when the sacred fire
is no longer fashionable. Poet, you believe in right and truth; you are
behind your century. Your very eternity causes you to pass away.

So much the worse, without doubt, for those grumbling geniuses
accustomed to greatness, and scornful of what is no longer so. They
are slow in movement when shame is at stake; their back is struck with
anchylosis for anything like bowing and cringing. When success passes
along, deserved or not, but saluted, they have an iron bar keeping
their vertebral column stiff. That is their affair. So much the worse
for those people of old-fashioned Rome. They belong to antiquity and
to antique manners. To bristle up at every turn may have been all very
well in former days. Those long bristling manes are no longer worn;
the lions are out of fashion now. The French Revolution is nearly
seventy-five years old. At that age dotage comes. The people of the
present time mean to belong to their day, and even to their minute.
Certainly, we find no fault with it. Whatever is, must be. It is quite
right that what exists should exist The forms of public prosperity
are various. One generation is not obliged to imitate another. Cato
copied Phocion; Trimalcion is less like,--it is independence. You
bad-tempered old fellows, you wish us to emancipate ourselves? Let it
be so. We disencumber ourselves of the imitation of Timoleon, Thraseas
Artevelde, Thomas More, Hampden. It is our fashion to free ourselves.
You wish for a revolt; there it is. You wish for no insurrection; we
rise up against our rights. We affranchise ourselves from the care
of being free. To be citizens is a heavy load. Eights entangled with
obligations are restraints to whoever desires to enjoy life quietly.
To be guided by conscience and truth in all the steps that we take
is fatiguing. We mean to walk without leading-strings and without
principles. Duty is a chain; we break our irons. What do you mean by
speaking to us of Franklin? Franklin is a rather too servile copy of
Aristides. We carry our horror of servility so far as to prefer Grimod
de la Reynière. To eat and drink well, there is purpose in that. Each
epoch has its peculiar manner of being free. Orgy is a liberty. This
way of reasoning is triumphant; to adhere to it is wise. There have
been, it is true, epochs when people thought otherwise. In those times
the things which were trodden on would sometimes resent it, and would
rebel,--but that was the ancient system, ridiculous now; and those who
regret and grumble must be left to talk and to affirm that there was
a better notion of right, justice, and honour in the stones of olden
times than in the men of to-day.

The rhetoricians, official and officious,--we have pointed out already
their wonderful sagacity,--take strong precautions against men of
genius. Men of genius are not great followers of the university; what
is more, they are wanting in insipidity. They are lyrists, colourists,
enthusiasts, enchanters, possessed, exalted, "rabid" (we have read the
word) beings who, when everybody is small, have a mania for creating
great things; in fact, they have every vice. A doctor has recently
discovered that genius is a variety of madness. They are Michael Angelo
handling giants; Rembrandt painting with a palette all bedaubed with
the sun's rays; they are Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, exaggerated.
They bring a wild art, roaring, flaming, dishevelled like the lion and
the comet. Oh, shocking! There is coalition against them, and it is
right. We have, luckily, the "teetotallers" of eloquence and poetry.
"I like paleness," said one day a literary _bourgeois._ The literary
_bourgeois_ exists. Rhetoricians, anxious on account of the contagions
and fevers which are spread by genius, recommend with a lofty reason,
which we have commended, temperance, moderation, "common-sense," the
art of keeping within bounds, writers expurgated, trimmed, pruned,
regulated, the worship of the qualities that the malignant call
negative, continence, abstinence, Joseph, Scipio, the water-drinkers.
It is all excellent,--only, young students must be warned that by
following these sage precepts too closely they run the risk of
glorifying the chastity of the eunuch. Maybe, I admire Bayard; I admire
Origen less.


Résumé: Great minds are importunate; to deny them a little is judicious.

After all, let us admit it at last, and complete our statement; there
is some truth in the reproaches that are hurled at them. This anger
is natural. The powerful, the grand, the luminous, are in a certain
point of view things calculated to offend. To be surpassed is never
agreeable; to feel one's own inferiority leads surely to feel offence.
The beautiful exists so truly by itself that it certainly has no
need of pride; nevertheless, given human mediocrity, the beautiful
humiliates at the same time that it enchants. It seems natural that
beauty should be a vase for pride,--it is supposed to be full of it;
one seeks to avenge one's self for the pleasure it gives, and this word
superb ends by having two senses,--one of which causes suspicion of
the other. It is the fault of the beautiful, as we have already said.
It wearies: a sketch by Piranesi bewilders you; a grasp of the hand
of Hercules bruises you. Greatness is sometimes in the wrong. It is
ingenuous, but obstructive. The tempest thinks to sprinkle you,--it
drowns you; the star thinks to give light,--it dazzles, sometimes
blinds. The Nile fertilizes, but overflows. The "too much" is not
convenient; the habitation of the fathomless is rude; the infinite
is little suitable for a lodging. A cottage is badly situated on the
cataract of Niagara or in the circus of Gavarnie. It is awkward to keep
house with these fierce wonders; to frequent them regularly without
being overwhelmed, one must be a cretin or a genius.

The dawn itself at times seems to us immoderate: he who looks at it
straight suffers. The eye at certain moments thinks very ill of the
sun. Let us not then be astonished at the complaints made, at the
incessant objections, at the fits of passion and prudence, at the
cataplasms applied by a certain criticism, at the ophthalmies habitual
to academies and teaching bodies, at the warnings given to the reader,
at all the curtains let down, and at all the shades used against
genius. Genius is intolerant without knowing it, because it is itself.
How can people be familiar with Æschylus, with Ezekiel, with Dante?

The _I_ is the right to egotism. Now, the first thing that those
beings do, is to use roughly the _I_ of each one. Exorbitant in
everything,--in thoughts, in images, in convictions, in emotions, in
passions, in faith,--whatever may be the side of your _I_ to which they
address themselves, they inconvenience it. Your intellect, they surpass
it; your imagination, they dazzle it; your conscience, they question
and search it; your bowels, they twist them; your heart, they break it;
your soul, they carry it off.

The infinite that is in them passes from them and multiplies them, and
transfigures them before your eyes every moment,--formidable fatigue
for your gaze. With them you never know where you are. At every turn
the unforeseen. You expected only men: they cannot enter your room, for
they are giants. You expected only an idea: cast your eyes down, they
are the ideal. You expected only eagles: they have six wings,--they are
seraphs. Are they then beyond Nature? Is it that humanity fails them?

Certainly not, and far from that, and quite the reverse. We have
already said it, and we insist on it, Nature and humanity are in them
more than in any other beings. They are superhuman men, but men. _Homo
sum._ This word of a poet sums up all poetry. Saint Paul strikes his
breast and says, "Peccamus!" Job tells you who he is: "I am the son of
woman." They are men. That which troubles you is that they are men more
than you; they are too much men, so to speak. There where you have but
the part, they have the whole; they carry in their vast heart entire
humanity, and they are you more than yourself. You recognize yourself
too much in their work,--hence your outcry. To that total of Nature,
to that complete humanity, to that potter's clay, which is all your
flesh, and which is at the same time the whole earth, they add, and it
completes your terror, the wonderful reverberation of the unknown. They
have vistas of revelation; and suddenly, and without crying "Beware!"
at the moment when you least expect it, they burst the cloud, make in
the zenith a gap whence falls a ray, and they light up the terrestrial
with the celestial It is very natural that people should not greatly
fancy familiar intercourse with them, and should have no taste for
keeping neighbourly intimacy with them.

Whoever has not a soul well-tempered by vigorous education avoids
them willingly. For great books there must be great readers. It is
necessary to be strong and healthy to open Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job,
Pindar, Lucretius, and that Alighieri, and that Shakespeare. Homely
habits, prosy life, the dead calm of consciences, "good taste" and
"common-sense,"--all the small, placid egotism is deranged, let us own
it, by these monsters of the sublime.

Yet, when one dives in and reads them, nothing is more hospitable for
the mind at certain hours than these stem spirits. They have all at
once a lofty gentleness, as unexpected as the rest. They say to you,
"Come in!" They receive you at home with a fraternity of archangels.
They are affectionate, sad, melancholy, consoling. You are suddenly at
your ease. You feel yourself loved by them; you almost imagine yourself
personally known to them. Their sternness and their pride cover a
profound sympathy. If granite had a heart, how deep would its goodness
be! Well, genius is granite with goodness. Extreme power possesses
great love. They join you in your prayers. They know well, those men,
that God exists. Apply your ear to these giants, you will hear them
palpitate. Do you want to believe, to love, to weep, to strike your
breast, to fall on your knees, to raise your hands to heaven with
confidence and serenity, listen to these poets. They will aid you
to rise toward the healthy and fruitful sorrow; they will make you
feel the celestial use of emotion. Oh, goodness of the strong! Their
emotion, which, if they will, can be an earthquake, is at moments so
cordial and so gentle that it seems like the rocking of a cradle. They
have just given birth within you to something of which they take care.
There is maternity in genius. Take a step, advance farther,--a new
surprise awaits you: they are graceful. As for their grace, it is light

The high mountains have on their sides all climates, and the great
poets all styles. It is sufficient to change the zone. Go up, it is the
tempest; descend, the flowers are there. The inner fire accommodates
itself to the winter without; the glacier has no objection to be the
crater, and the lava never looks more beautiful than when it rashes out
through the snow. A sudden blaze of flame is not strange on a polar
summit. This contact of the extremes is a law in Nature, in which
the unforeseen wonders of the sublime burst forth at every moment.
A mountain, a genius,--both are austere majesty. These masses evolve
a sort of religious intimidation. Dante is not less perpendicular
than Etna. The depths of Shakespeare equal the gulfs of Chimborazo.
The peaks of poets are not less cloudy than the summits of mountains.
Thunders are rolling there, and at the same time, in the valleys, in
the passes, in the sheltered spots, in places between escarpments,
are streams, birds, nests, boughs, enchantments, wonderful floræ.
Above the frightful arch of the Aveyron, in the middle of the frozen
sea, there is that paradise called The Garden. Have you seen it? What
an episode! A hot sun, a shade tepid and fresh, a vague exudation of
perfumes on the grass-plots, an indescribable month of May perpetually
reigning among precipices,--nothing is more tender and more exquisite.
Such are poets: such are the Alps. These huge old gloomy mountains
are marvellous growers of roses and violets; they avail themselves of
the dawn and of the dew better than all your prairies and all your
hillocks can do it, although it is their natural business. The April
of the plain is flat and vulgar compared with their April; and they
have, those immense old mountains, in their wildest ravine, their own
charming spring, well known to the bees.




Every play of Shakespeare's, two excepted, "Macbeth" and "Romeo
and Juliet" (thirty-four plays out of thirty-six), offers to our
observation one peculiarity which seems to have escaped, up to this
day, the most eminent commentators and critics,--one that the Schlegels
and M. Villemain himself, in his remarkable labours, do not notice,
and on which it is impossible not to give an opinion. It is a double
action which traverses the drama, and reflects it on a small scale.
By the side of the storm in the Atlantic, the storm in the tea-cup.
Thus, Hamlet makes beneath himself a Hamlet: he kills Polonius,
father of Laërtes,--and there is Laërtes opposite him exactly in the
same situation as he is toward Claudius. There are two fathers to
avenge. There might be two ghosts. So, in King Lear: side by side and
simultaneously, Lear, driven to despair by his daughters Goneril and
Regan, and consoled by his daughter Cordelia, is reflected by Gloster,
betrayed by his son Edmond, and loved by his son Edgar. The bifurcated
idea, the idea echoing itself, a lesser drama copying and elbowing the
principal drama, the action trailing its own shadow (a smaller action
but its parallel), the unity cut asunder,--surely it is a strange fact.
These twin actions have been strongly blamed by the few commentators
who have pointed them out. We do not participate in their blame. Do
we then approve and accept as good these twin actions? By no means.
We recognize them, and that is all. The drama of Shakespeare (we said
so with all our might as far back as 1827,[1] in order to discourage
all imitation),--the drama of Shakespeare is peculiar to Shakespeare.
It is a drama inherent to this poet; it is his own essence; it is
himself,--thence his originalities absolutely personal; thence his
idiosyncrasies which exist without establishing a law.

These twin actions are purely Shakespearian. Neither Æschylus nor
Molière would admit them; and we certainly would agree with Æschylus
and Molière.

These twin actions are, moreover, the sign of the sixteenth century.
Each epoch has its own mysterious stamp. The centuries have a seal that
they affix to _chefs-d'œuvre_, and which it is necessary to know how
to decipher and recognize. The seal of the sixteenth century is not
the seal of the eighteenth. The Renaissance was a subtle time,--a time
of reflection. The spirit of the sixteenth century was reflected in a
mirror. Every idea of the Renaissance has a double compartment. Look
at the jubes in the churches. The Renaissance, with an exquisite and
fantastical art, always makes the Old Testament repercussive on the
New. The twin action is there in everything. The symbol explains the
personage in repeating his gesture. If, in a basso-rilievo, Jehovah
sacrifices his son, he has close by, in the next low relief, Abraham
sacrificing his son. Jonas passes three days in the whale, and Jesus
passes three days in the sepulchre; and the jaws of the monster
swallowing Jonas answer to the mouth of hell engulfing Jesus.

The carver of the jube of Fécamp, so stupidly demolished, goes so far
as to give for counterpart to Saint Joseph--whom? Amphitryon.

These singular results constitute one of the habits of that profound
and searching high art of the sixteenth century. Nothing can be more
curious in that style than the part ascribed to Saint Christopher.
In the Middle Ages, and in the sixteenth century, in paintings and
sculptures, Saint Christopher, the good giant martyred by Decius in
250, recorded by the Bollandists and acknowledged without a question
by Baillet, is always triple,--an opportunity for the triptych. There
is foremost a first Christ-bearer, a first Christophorus; that is
Christopher, with the infant Jesus on his shoulders. Afterward the
Virgin enceinte is a Christopher, since she carries Christ Last,
the cross is a Christopher; it also carries Christ. This treble
illustration of the idea is immortalized by Rubens in the cathedral
of Antwerp. The twin idea, the triple idea,--such is the seal of the
sixteenth century.

Shakespeare, faithful to the spirit of his time, must needs add Laërtes
avenging his father to Hamlet avenging his father, and cause Hamlet
to be persecuted by Laërtes at the same time that Claudius is pursued
by Hamlet; he must needs make the filial piety of Edgar a comment on
the filial piety of Cordelia, and bring out in contrast, weighed down
by the ingratitude of unnatural children, two wretched fathers, each
bereaved of a kind light,--Lear mad, and Gloster blind.

[Footnote 1: Preface to "Cromwell."]


What then? No criticising? No.--No blame? No.--You explain everything?
Yes.--Genius is an entity like Nature, and requires, like Nature, to
be accepted purely and simply. A mountain must be accepted as such or
left alone. There are men who would make a criticism on the Himalayas,
pebble by pebble. Mount Etna blazes and slavers, throws out its glare,
its wrath, its lava, and its ashes; these men take scales and weigh
those ashes, pinch by pinch. _Quot libras in monte summo?_ Meanwhile
genius continues its eruption. Everything in it has its reason for
existing. It is because it is. Its shadow is the inverse of its light.
Its smoke comes from its flame. Its depth is the result of its height.
We love this more and that less; but we remain silent wherever we feel
God. We are in the forest; the tortuosity of the tree is its secret.
The sap knows what it is doing. The root knows its own business. We
take things as they are; we are indulgent for that which is excellent,
tender, or magnificent; we acquiesce in _chefs-d'œuvre_; we do not
make use of one to find fault with the other; we do not insist upon
Phidias sculpturing cathedrals, or upon Pinaigrier glazing temples
(the temple is the harmony, the cathedral is the mystery; they are two
different forms of the sublime); we do not claim for the Münster the
perfection of the Parthenon, or for the Parthenon the grandeur of the
Münster. We are so far whimsical as to be satisfied with both being
beautiful. We do not reproach for its sting the insect that gives us
honey. We renounce our right to criticise the feet of the peacock, the
cry of the swan, the plumage of the nightingale, the butterfly for
having been caterpillar, the thorn of the rose, the smell of the lion,
the skin of the elephant, the prattle of the cascade, the pips of the
orange, the immobility of the Milky Way, the saltness of the ocean, the
spots on the sun, the nakedness of Noah.

The _quandoque bonus dormitat_ is permitted to Horace. We raise
no objection. What is certain is, that Homer would not say it of
Horace,--he would not take the trouble. Himself the eagle, Homer would
indeed find Horace, the chattering humming-bird, charming. I grant
it is pleasant to a man to feel himself superior, and say, "Homer is
puerile; Dante is childish." It is indulging in a pretty smile. To
crush these poor geniuses a little, why not? To be the Abbé Trublet,
and say, "Milton is a schoolboy," it is pleasing. How witty is the man
who finds that Shakespeare has no wit! That man is La Harpe, Delandine,
Auger; he is, was, or shall be, an Academician. "All these great men
are made up of extravagance, bad taste, and childishness." What a fine
decree to issue! These fashions tickle voluptuously those who have
them; and in reality, when they have said, "This giant is small,"
they can fancy that they are great. Every man has his own way. As for
myself, the writer of these lines, I admire everything like a fool.

That is why I have written this book.

To admire, to be an enthusiast,--it has struck me that it was right to
give in our century this example of folly.


Do not look, then, for any criticism. I admire Æschylus, I admire
Juvenal, I admire Dante, in the mass, in a lump, all. I do not cavil
at those great benefactors. What you characterize as a fault, I call
accent. I accept and give thanks. I do not inherit the marvels of
human wit conditionally. Pegasus being given to me, I do not look
the gift-horse in the mouth. A masterpiece offers its hospitality:
I approach it with my hat off, and think the visage of mine host
handsome. Gilles Shakespeare, it may be: I admire Shakespeare and I
admire Gilles. Falstaff is proposed to me: I accept him, and I admire
the "Empty the jorden." I admire the senseless cry, "A rat!" I admire
the jests of Hamlet; I admire the wholesale murders of Macbeth; I
admire the witches, "that ridiculous spectacle;" I admire "the buttock
of the night;" I admire the eye plucked from Gloster. I am simple
enough to admire all.

Having recently had the honour to be called "silly" by several
distinguished writers and critics, and even by my illustrious friend M.
de Lamartine,[1] I am determined to justify the epithet.

We close with one last observation which we have specially to make
regarding Shakespeare.

Orestes, that fatal senior of Hamlet, is not, as we have said, the
sole link between Æschylus and Shakespeare; we have noted a relation,
less easily perceptible, between Prometheus and Hamlet. The mysterious
close connection between the two poets is, in reference to this same
Prometheus, more strangely striking yet, and in a particular which, up
to this time, has escaped the observers and critics. Prometheus is the
grandsire of Mab.

Let us prove it.

Prometheus, like all personages become legendary,--like Solomon, like
Cæsar, like Mahomet, like Charlemagne, like the Cid, like Joan of Arc,
like Napoleon,--has a double prolongation, the one in history, the
other in fable. Now, the prolongation of Prometheus is this:

Prometheus, creator of men, is also creator of spirits. He is father
of a dynasty of Divs, whose filiation the old metrical tales have
preserved: Elf, that is to say, the Rapid, son of Prometheus; then
Elfin, King of India; then Elfinan, founder of Cleopolis, town of the
fairies; then Elfilin, builder of the golden wall; then Elfinell,
winner of the battle of the demons; then Elfant, who made Panthea
entirely in crystal; then Elfar, who killed Bicephalus and Tricephalus;
then Elfinor, the magian, a kind of Salmoneus, who built over the sea
a bridge of copper, sounding like thunder, "non imitabile fulmen aere
et cornipedum pulsu simularat equorum;" then seven hundred princes;
then Elficleos the Sage; then Elferon the Beautiful; then Oberon; then
Mab,--wonderful fable, which, with a profound meaning, unites the
sidereal and the microscopic, the infinitely great and the infinitely

And it is thus that the infusoria of Shakespeare is connected with the
giant of Æschylus.

The fairy, drawn over the nose of sleeping men in her carriage, covered
with the wing of a locust, by eight flies harnessed with the rays of
the moon, and whipped with a gossamer,--the fairy atom has for ancestor
the huge Titan, robber of stars, nailed on the Caucasus, one hand on
the Caspian gates, the other on the portals of Ararat, one heel on
the source of the Phasis, the other on the Validus-Murus, closing the
passage between the mountain and the sea,--a colossus, whose immense
shadow was, according as the rise or setting of light, projected by the
sun, now on Europe as far as Corinth, now on Asia as far as Bangalore.

Nevertheless, Mab, who is also called Tanaquil, has all the wavering
inconsistency of the dream. Under the name of Tanaquil she is the
wife of Tarquin the Ancient; and she spins for young Servius Tullius
the first tunic worn by a young Roman after leaving off the pretexta.
Oberon, who turns out to be Numa, is her uncle. In "Huon de Bordeaux"
she is called Gloriande, and has for lover Julius Cæsar, and Oberon is
her son; in Spenser, she is called Gloriana, and Oberon is her father;
in Shakespeare she is called Titania, and Oberon is her husband.
Titania: this name unites Mab to the Titan, and Shakespeare to Æschylus.

[Footnote 1: All the biography, sometimes rather puerile, even rather
silly, of Bishop Myriel.--Lamartine: _Cours de Littérature_ (Entretien
LXXXIV. p. 385).]


An eminent man of our day, a celebrated historian a powerful orator,
one of the former translators of Shakespeare, is mistaken, according to
our views, when he regrets, or appears to regret, the slight influence
of Shakespeare on the theatre of the nineteenth century. We cannot
share that regret An influence of any sort, even that of Shakespeare,
could but mar the originality of the literary movement of our epoch.
"The system of Shakespeare," says the honourable and grave writer,
with reference to that movement, "can furnish, it seems to me, the
plans after which genius must henceforth work." We have never been of
that opinion, and we have said so as far back as forty years ago.[1]
For us, Shakespeare is a genius, and not a system. On this point we
have already explained our views, and we mean soon to explain them at
greater length; but let us state now that what Shakespeare has done,
is done once for all,--it is impossible to do it over again. Admire or
criticise, but do not recast. It is finished.

A distinguished critic who lately died,--M. Chaudesaigues,--lays a
stress on this reproach: "Shakespeare," says he, "has been revived
without being followed. The romantic school has not imitated
Shakespeare. In that it is wrong." In that it is right. It is blamed
for it; we praise it. The contemporary theatre is what it is, but it is
itself. The contemporary theatre has for device, _Sum non sequor._ It
belongs to no "system" It has its own law, and it accomplishes it. It
has its own life, and it lives it.

The drama of Shakespeare expresses man at a given moment. Man passes
away; that drama remains, having for eternal foundation, life, the
heart, the world, and for surface the sixteenth century. That drama can
neither be continued nor recomposed. Another age, another art.

The theatre of our day has not followed Shakespeare any more than it
has followed Æschylus. And without reckoning all the other reasons
that we shall note farther on, how perplexed would he be who wished to
imitate and copy, in making a choice between these two poets! Æschylus
and Shakespeare seem made to prove that contraries may be admirable.
The point of departure of the one is absolutely opposite to the point
of departure of the other. Æschylus is concentration; Shakespeare is
diffusion. One must be much applauded because he is condensed, and
the other because he is diffuse; to Æschylus unity, to Shakespeare
ubiquity. Between them they divide God. And as such intellects are
always complete, one feels in the condensed drama of Æschylus the free
agitation of passion, and in the diffuse drama of Shakespeare the
convergence of all the rays of life. The one starts from unity and
reaches a multiple; the other starts from the multiple and arrives at

This appears strikingly evident, particularly when we compare "Hamlet"
with "Orestes,"--extraordinary double page, obverse and reverse of the
same idea, and which seems written expressly to prove to what an extent
two different geniuses, making the same thing, will make two different

It is easy to see that the theatre of our day has, rightly or wrongly,
traced out its own way between Greek unity and Shakespearian ubiquity.

[Footnote 1: Preface to "Cromwell."]


Let us set aside for the present the question of contemporary art, and
take up again the general question.

Imitation is always barren and bad.

As for Shakespeare,--since Shakespeare is the poet who claims our
attention now,--he is, in the highest degree, a genius human and
general; but like every true genius, he is at the same time an
idiosyncratic and personal mind. Axiom: the poet starts from his own
inner self to come to us. It is that which makes the poet inimitable.

Examine Shakespeare, dive into him, and see how determined he is to
be himself. Do not expect any concession from him. It is not egotism,
but it is stubbornness. He wills it. He gives to art his orders,--of
course in the limits of his work; for neither the art of Æschylus,
nor the art of Aristophanes, nor the art of Plautus, nor the art of
Macchiavelli, nor the art of Calderon, nor the art of Molière, nor the
art of Beaumarchais, nor any of the forms of art, deriving life each
of them from the special life of a genius, would obey the orders given
by Shakespeare. Art, thus understood, is vast equality and profound
liberty; the region of the equals is also the region of the free.

One of the grandeurs of Shakespeare consists in his impossibility
to be a model. In order to realize his idiosyncrasy, open one of
his plays,--no matter which; it is always foremost and above all

What more personal than "Troilus and Cressida"? A comic Troy! Here
is "Much Ado about Nothing,"--a tragedy which ends with a burst of
laughter. Here is the "Winter's Tale,"--a pastoral drama. Shakespeare
is at home in his work. Do you wish to see true despotism: look at his
fancy. What arbitrary determination to dream! What despotic resolution
in his vertiginous flight! What absoluteness in his indecision and
wavering! The dream fills some of his plays to that degree that man
changes his nature, and is the cloud more than the man. Angelo in
"Measure for Measure" is a misty tyrant. He becomes disintegrated,
and wears away. Leontes in the "Winter's Tale" is an Othello who
is blown away. In "Cymbeline" one thinks that Iachimo will become
an Iago, but he melts down. The dream is there,--everywhere. Watch
Manilius, Posthumus, Hermione, Perdita, passing by. In the "Tempest,"
the Duke of Milan has "a brave son," who is like a dream in a dream.
Ferdinand alone speaks of him, and no one but Ferdinand seems to have
seen him. A brute becomes reasonable: witness the constable Elbow in
"Measure for Measure." An idiot is all at once witty: witness Cloten in
"Cymbeline." A King of Sicily is jealous of a King of Bohemia. Bohemia
has a seashore. The shepherds pick up children there. Theseus, a duke,
espouses Hippolyta, the Amazon. Oberon comes in also. For here it is
Shakespeare's will to dream; elsewhere he thinks.

We say more: where he dreams he still thinks,--with a different but
equal depth.

Let men of genius remain in peace in their originality. There is
something wild in these mysterious civilizers. Even in their comedy,
even in their buffoonery, even in their laughter, even in their smile,
there is the unknown. In them is felt the sacred dread that belongs to
art, and the all-powerful terror of the imaginary mixed with the real.
Each of them is in his cavern, alone. They hear one another from afar,
but never copy one another. We are not aware that the hippopotamus
imitates the roar of the elephant, neither do lions imitate one another.

Diderot does not recast Bayle; Beaumarchais does not copy Plautus, and
has no need of Davus to create Figaro. Piranesi is not inspired by
Dædalus. Isaiah does not begin Moses over again.

One day, at St. Helena, M. De Las Cases said, "Sire, when you were
master of Prussia, I would in your place have taken the sword of
Frederick the Great, which is deposited in the tomb at Potsdam; and I
would have worn it." "Fool!" replied Napoleon, "I had my own."

Shakespeare's work is absolute, sovereign, imperious, eminently
solitary, unneighbourly, sublime in radiance, absurd in reflection, and
must remain without a copy.

To imitate Shakespeare would be as insane as to imitate Racine would be


Let us agree, by the way, respecting a qualificative much used
everywhere: _Profanum vulgus_,--the saying of a poet on which pedants
lay great stress. This _profanum vulgus_ is rather the weapon of
everybody. Let us fix the meaning of this word. What is the _profanum
vulgus?_ The school says, "It is the people." And we, we say, "It is
the school."

But let us first define this expression, "the school." When we say,
"the school," what must be understood? Let us explain it. The school
is the resultant of pedantry; the school is the literary excrescence
of the budget; the school is intellectual mandarinship governing in
the various authorized and official teachings, either of the press
or of the State, from the theatrical _feuilleton_ of the prefecture
to the biographies and encyclopædias duly examined, stamped, and
hawked about, and sometimes, as a refinement, made by republicans
agreeable to the police; the school is the circumvallating classic and
scholastic orthodoxy, the Homeric and Virgilian antiquity made use of
by _literati_ licensed by government,--a kind of China self-called
Greece; the school is--summed up in one concretion which forms part
of public order--all the knowledge of pedagogues, all the history of
historiographers, all the poetry of laureates, all the philosophy
of sophists, all the criticism of pedants, all the ferule of the
"ignorantins," all the religion of bigots, all the modesty of prudes,
all the metaphysics of those who change sides, all the justice of
placemen, all the old age of the small young men who have undergone
the operation, all the flattery of courtiers, all the diatribes of
censer-bearers, all the independence of valets, all the certainty
of short sights and of base souls. The school hates Shakespeare. It
detects him in the very act of mingling with the people, going to and
fro in public thoroughfares, "trivial," speaking the language of the
people, uttering the human cry like any other man, welcome to those
that he welcomes, applauded by hands black with tar, cheered by all
the hoarse throats that proceed from labour and weariness. The drama
of Shakespeare is the people; the school is indignant and says, "Odi
profanum vulgus." There is demagogy in this poetry roaming at large;
the author of "Hamlet" "panders to the mob."

Let it be so. The poet "panders to the mob."

If anything is great, it is that.

There in the foreground, everywhere, in full light, amidst the flourish
of trumpets, are the powerful men followed by the gilded men. The poet
does not see them, or, if he does, he disdains them. He lifts his eyes
and looks at God; then he lowers his eyes and looks at the people.
There in the depth of the shadow, nearly invisible, so much submerged
that it is the night, is that fatal crowd, that vast and mournful
heap of suffering, that venerable populace of the tattered and of the
ignorant,--chaos of souls. That crowd of heads undulates obscurely
like the waves of a nocturnal sea. From time to time there pass on
that surface, like squalls over the water, catastrophes,--a war, a
pestilence, a royal favourite, a famine. That causes a disturbance
which lasts a short time, the depth of sorrow being immovable as the
depth of the ocean. Despair deposits in us some weight as of lead.
The last word of the abyss is stupor; therefore it is the night. It
is, under the thick blackness, behind which all is indistinct, the
mournful sea of the needy.

These overloaded beings are silent; they know nothing; they submit
_Plectuntur Achivi._ They are hungry and cold. Their indecent flesh is
seen through the holes in their tatters. Who makes those tatters? The
purple. The nakedness of virgins comes from the nudity of odalisques.
From the twisted rags of the daughters of the people fall pearls for
the Fontanges and the Châteauroux. It is famine which gilds Versailles.
The whole of that living and dying shadow moves; these larvæ are in the
pangs of death; the mother's breast is dry; the father has no work;
the brains have no light. If there is a book in that destitution, it
resembles the pitcher, so insipid or corrupt is what it offers to the
thirst of intellects. Mournful families!

The group of the little ones is wan. All die away and creep along, not
having even the power to love; and unknown to them perhaps, while they
crouch down and resign themselves, from all that vast unconsciousness
in which Right dwells, from the rumbling murmur of those wretched
breaths mingled together, proceeds an indescribable confused voice,
mysterious mist of language, succeeding, syllable by syllable in the
darkness, in uttering extraordinary words,--Future, Humanity, Liberty,
Equality, Progress. And the poet listens, and he hears; and he looks,
and he sees; and he bends lower and lower, and he weeps; and all at
once, growing with a strange growth, drawing from all that darkness his
own transfiguration, he stands erect, terrible and tender, above all
those wretched ones,--those above as well as those below,--with flaming

And he demands a reckoning with a loud voice. And he says, Here is
the effect! And he says, Here is the cause! Light is the remedy.
_Erudimini._ And he looks like a great vase full of humanity shaken
by the hand which is in the cloud, and from whence fall on the earth
large drops,--fire for the oppressors, dew for the oppressed. Ah, you
find fault with that, you fellows! Well, then, we approve of it, we
do! We find it just that some one speaks when all suffer. The ignorant
who enjoy and the ignorant who suffer have an equal want of teaching.
The law of fraternity is derived from the law of labour. To kill one
another has had its day. The hour has come to love one another. It is
to promulgate these truths that the poet is good. For that, he must
be of the people; for that he must be of the populace,--that is to
say, that, bringing progress, he should not recoil before the pressure
of facts, however ugly the facts may be. The distance between the
real and the ideal cannot be measured otherwise. Besides, to drag the
cannon-ball a little completes Vincent de Paul. Hurrah, then, for the
trivial promiscuousness, for the popular metaphor, for the great life
in common with those exiles from joy who are catted the poor!--this is
the first duty of poets. It is useful; it is necessary, that the breath
of the people should fill those all-powerful souls. The people have
something to say to them. It is good that there should be in Euripides
a flavour of the herb-dealers at Athens, and in Shakespeare of the
sailors of London.

Sacrifice to "the mob," O poet! Sacrifice to that unfortunate,
disinherited, vanquished, vagabond, shoeless, famished, repudiated,
despairing mob; sacrifice to it, if it must be and when it must be, thy
repose, thy fortune, thy joy, thy country, thy liberty, thy life. The
mob is the human race in misery. The mob is the mournful commencement
of the people. The mob is the great victim of darkness. Sacrifice to
it! Sacrifice thyself! Let thyself be hunted, let thyself be exiled as
Voltaire to Ferney, as D'Aubigné to Geneva, as Dante to Verona, as
Juvenal to Syene, as Tacitus to Methymna, as Æschylus to Gela, as John
to Patmos, as Elias to Horeb, as Thucydides to Thrace, as Isaiah to
Esiongeber! Sacrifice to the mob. Sacrifice to it thy gold, and thy
blood which is more than thy gold, and thy thought which is more than
thy blood, and thy love which is more than thy thought; sacrifice to it
everything except justice. Receive its complaint; listen to its faults,
and to the faults of others. Listen to what it has to confess and to
denounce to thee. Stretch forth to it the ear, the hand, the arm, the
heart. Do everything for it, excepting evil. Alas! it suffers so much,
and it knows nothing. Correct it, warm it, instruct it, guide it, bring
it up. Put it to the school of honesty. Make it spell truth; show it
that alphabet, reason; teach it to read virtue, probity, generosity,
mercy. Hold thy book wide open. Be there, attentive, vigilant, kind,
faithful, humble. Light up the brain, inflame the mind, extinguish
egotism, show good example. The poor are privation: be abnegation.
Teach! irradiate! They need thee; thou art their great thirst To learn
is the first step; to live is but the second. Be at their order, dost
thou hear? Be ever there, light! For it is beautiful, on this sombre
earth, during this dark life, short passage to something else, it is
beautiful that Force should have Right for a master, that Progress
should have Courage as a chief, that Intelligence should have Honour
as a sovereign, that Conscience should have Duty as a despot, that
Civilization should have Liberty as a queen, that Ignorance should have
a servant,--Light.




For the last eighty years memorable things have been done. A wonderful
heap of demolished materials covers the pavement.

What is done is but little by the side of what remains to be done.

To destroy is the task: to build is the work. Progress demolishes with
the left hand; it is with the right hand that it builds.

The left hand of Progress is called Force; the right hand is called

There is at this hour a great deal of useful destruction accomplished;
all the old cumbersome civilization is, thanks to our fathers, cleared
away. It is well, it is finished, it is thrown down, it is on the
ground. Now, up with you all, intellects! to work, to labour, to
fatigue, to duty; it is necessary to construct.

Here three questions: To construct what? To construct where? To
construct how?

We reply: To construct the people. To construct the people according to
the laws of progress. To construct the people according to the laws of


To work for the people,--that is the great and urgent necessity.

The human mind--an important thing to say at this minute--has a greater
need of the ideal even than of the real.

It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live. Now,
do you wish to realize the difference? Animals exist, man lives.

To live, is to understand. To live, is to smile at the present, to look
toward posterity over the wall. To live, is to have in one's self a
balance, and to weigh in it the good and the evil. To live, is to have
justice, truth, reason, devotion, probity, sincerity, common-sense,
right, and duty nailed to the heart. To live, is to know what one is
worth, what one can do and should do. Life is conscience. Cato would
not rise before Ptolemy. Cato lived.

Literature is the secretion of civilization, poetry of the ideal. That
is why literature is one of the wants of societies. That is why poetry
is a hunger of the soul. That is why poets are the first instructors
of the people. That is why Shakespeare must be translated in France.
That is why Molière must be translated in England. That is why comments
must be made on them. That is why there must be a vast public literary
domain. That is why all poets, all philosophers, all thinkers, all the
producers of the greatness of the mind must be translated, commented
on, published, printed, reprinted, stereotyped, distributed, explained,
recited, spread abroad, given to all, given cheaply, given at cost
price, given for nothing.

Poetry evolves heroism. M. Royer-Collard, that original and ironical
friend of routine, was, taken all in all, a wise and noble spirit Some
one we know heard him say one day, "Spartacus is a poet."

That wonderful and consoling Ezekiel--the tragic revealer of
progress--has all kinds of singular passages full of a profound
meaning: "The voice said to me: Fill the palm of thy hand with red-hot
coals, and spread them on the city." And elsewhere: "The spirit having
gone into them, everywhere where the spirit went, they went" And again:
"A hand was stretched towards me. It held a roll which was a book. The
voice said to me: Eat this roll. I opened the lips and I ate the book.
And it was sweet in my mouth as honey." To eat the book is a strange
and striking image,--the whole formula of perfectibility, which above
is knowledge, and below, teaching.

We have just said, "Literature is the secretion of civilization." Do
you doubt it? Open the first statistics you come across.

Here is one which we find under our hand: Bagne de Toulon, 1862. Three
thousand and ten prisoners. Of these three thousand and ten convicts,
forty know a little more than to read and write, two hundred and
eighty-seven know how to read and write, nine hundred and four read
badly and write badly, seventeen hundred and seventy-nine know neither
how to read nor write. In this wretched crowd all the merely mechanical
trades are represented by numbers decreasing according as they rise
toward the enlightened pursuits, and you arrive at this final result:
goldsmiths and jewellers, four; ecclesiastics, three; lawyers, two;
comedians, one; artist musicians, one; men of letters, not one.

The transformation of the crowd into the people,--profound labour!
It is to this labour that the men called socialists have devoted
themselves during the last forty years. The author of this book,
however insignificant he may be, is one of the oldest in this labour;
"Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné" dates from 1828, and "Claude Gueux"
from 1834. He claims his place among these philosophers because it is
a place of persecution. A certain hatred of socialism, very blind, but
very general, has been at work for fifteen or sixteen years, and is
still at work most bitterly among the influential classes. (Classes,
then, are still in existence?) Let it not be forgotten, socialism, true
socialism, has for its end the elevation of the masses to the civic
dignity, and therefore its principal care is for moral and intellectual
cultivation. The first hunger is ignorance; socialism wishes then,
above all, to instruct. That does not hinder socialism from being
calumniated, and socialists from being denounced. To most of the
infuriated, trembling cowards who have their say at the present moment,
these reformers are public enemies. They are guilty of everything
that has gone wrong. "O Romans!" said Tertullian, "we are just, kind,
thinking, lettered, honest men. We meet to pray, and we love you
because you are our brethren. We are gentle and peaceable like little
children, and we wish for concord among men. Nevertheless, O Romans! if
the Tiber overflows, or if the Nile does not, you cry, 'To the lions
with the Christians!'"


The democratic idea, the new bridge of civilization, undergoes at this
moment the formidable trial of overweight. Every other idea would
certainly give way under the load that it is made to bear. Democracy
proves its solidity by the absurdities that are heaped on, without
shaking it. It must resist everything that people choose to place on
it. At this moment they try to make it carry despotism.

The people have no need of liberty,--such was the pass-word of a
certain innocent and duped school, the head of which has been dead some
years. That poor honest dreamer believed in good faith that men can
keep progress with them when they turn out liberty. We have heard him
put forth, probably without meaning it, this aphorism: Liberty is good
for the rich. These kinds of maxims have the disadvantage of not being
prejudicial to the establishment of empires.

No, no, no! Nothing out of liberty.

Servitude is the blind soul. Can you figure to yourself a man blind
voluntarily? This terrible thing exists. There are willing slaves. A
smile in irons! Can anything be more hideous? He who is not free is not
a man; he who is not free has no sight, no knowledge, no discernment,
no growth, no comprehension, no will, no faith, no love; he has no
wife, he has no children: he has a female and young ones; he lives
not,--_ab luce principium._ Liberty is the apple of the eye. Liberty is
the visual organ of progress.

Because liberty has inconveniences, and even perils, to wish to create
civilization without it is just the same as to try cultivation without
the sun; the sun is also a censurable heavenly body. One day, in the
too beautiful summer of 1829, a critic, now forgotten,--and wrongly,
for he was not without some talent,--M. P., suffering from the heat,
sharpened his pen, saying, "I am going to excoriate the sun."

Certain social theories, very distinct from socialism such as we
understand and want it, have gone astray. Let us discard all that
resembles the convent, the barrack, the cell and the straight-line
system. Paraguay, minus the Jesuits, is Paraguay just the same. To
give a new fashion to evil is not a useful task. To recommence the old
slavery is idiotic. Let the nations of Europe beware of a despotism
made anew from materials they have to some extent themselves supplied.
Such a thing, cemented with a special philosophy, might well last.
We have just mentioned the theorists, some of whom otherwise right
and sincere, who, by dint of fearing the dispersion of activities
and energies, and of what they call "anarchy," have arrived at an
almost Chinese acceptation of absolute social concentration. They turn
their resignation into a doctrine. Provided man eats and drinks, all
is right. The happiness of the beast is the solution. But this is a
happiness which some other men would call by a different name.

We dream for nations something else besides a felicity solely made
up of obedience. The bastinado procures that sort of felicity
for the Turkish fellah, the knout for the Russian serf, and the
cat-o'-nine-tails for the English soldier. These socialists by the
side of socialism come from Joseph de Maistre, and from Ancillon,
without suspecting it perhaps; for the ingenuousness of these theorists
rallied to the _fait accompli_ has--or fancies it has--democratic
intentions, and speaks energetically of the "principles of '89." Let
these involuntary philosophers of a possible despotism think a moment.
To teach the masses a doctrine against liberty; to cram intellects with
appetites and fatalism, a certain situation being given; to saturate it
with materialism; and to run the risk of the construction which might
proceed from it,--that would be to understand progress in the fashion
of the worthy man who applauded a new gibbet, and who exclaimed, "This
is all right! We have had till now but the old wooden gallows. To-day
the age advances; and here we are with a good stone gibbet, which will
do for our children and grandchildren!"


To enjoy a full stomach, a satisfied intestine, a satiated belly, is
doubtless something, for it is the enjoyment of the brute. However, one
may place one's ambition higher.

Certainly, a good salary is a fine thing. To tread on this firm ground,
high wages, is pleasant. The wise man likes to want nothing. To insure
his own position is the characteristic of an intelligent man. An
official chair, with ten thousand sesterces a year, is a graceful and
convenient seat. Great emoluments give a fresh complexion and good
health. One lives to an old age in pleasant, well-paid sinecures. The
high financial world, rich in plentiful profits, is a place agreeable
to live in. To be well at Court settles a family well and brings a
fortune. As for myself, I prefer to all these solid comforts the old
leaky vessel in which Bishop Quodvultdeus embarks with a smile.

There is something beyond gorging one's self. The goal of man is not
the goal of the animal.

A moral enhancement is necessary. The life of nations, like the life
of individuals, has its minutes of depression; these minutes pass,
certainly, but no trace of them ought to remain. Man, at this hour,
tends to fall into the stomach. Man must be replaced in the heart; man
must be replaced in the brain. The brain,--behold the sovereign that
must be restored! The social question requires to-day, more than ever,
to be examined on the side of human dignity.

To show man the human end, to ameliorate intelligence first, the animal
afterward, to disdain the flesh as long as the thought is despised, and
to give the example on their own flesh,--such is the actual, immediate,
urgent duty of writers.

It is what men of genius have done at all times.

You ask in what poets can be useful? In imbuing civilization with
light,-only that.


Up to this day there has been a literature of _literati._ In France,
particularly, as we have said, literature had a disposition to form
a caste. To be a poet was something like being a mandarin. Words did
not all belong by right to the language. The dictionary granted or
did not grant the registration. The dictionary had a will of its own.
Imagine the botanist declaring to a vegetable that it does not exist,
and Nature timidly offering an insect to entomology, which refuses it
as incorrect. Imagine astronomy cavilling at the stars. We recollect
having heard an Academician, now dead, say in full academy that French
had been spoken in France only in the seventeenth century, and then
for only twelve years,--we do not remember which twelve. Let us give
up, for it is time, this order of ideas; democracy requires it. The
actual enlarging of thoughts needs something else. Let us leave the
college, the conclave, the cell, the weak taste, weak art, the small
chapel. Poetry is not a coterie. There is at this hour an effort
made to galvanize dead things. Let us strive against this tendency.
Let us insist on the truths which are urgent. The _chefs-d'œuvre_
recommended by the manual of bachelorship, compliments in verse and in
prose, tragedies soaring over the head of some king, inspiration in
full official dress, the brilliant nonentities fixing laws on poetry,
the _Arts poétiques_ which forget La Fontaine, and for which Molière
is doubtful, the Planats castrating the Corneilles, prudish tongues,
the thoughts enclosed between four walls, and limited by Quintilian,
Longinus, Boileau, and La Harpe,--all that, although official and
public teaching is filled and saturated with it, all that belongs to
the past. Some particular epoch, which is called the grand century,
and for a certainty the fine century, is nothing else in reality but a
literary monologue. Is it possible to realize such a strange thing,--a
literature which is an aside? It seems as if one read on the frontal
of art "No admittance." As for ourselves, we understand poetry only
with the door wide open. The hour has struck for hoisting the "All for
All." What is needed by civilization, henceforth a grown-up woman, is a
popular literature.

1830 has opened a debate, literary on the surface, at the bottom social
and human. The moment is come to close the debate. We close it by
asking a literature having in view this purpose: "The People."

The author of these pages wrote, thirty-one years ago, in the preface
to "Lucrèce Borgia," a few words often repeated since: "Le poète a
charge d'âmes." He would add here, if it were worth saying, that,
allowing for possible error, the words, uttered by his conscience, have
been his rule throughout life.


Macchiavelli had a strange idea of the people. To heap the measure,
to overflow the cup, to exaggerate horror in the case of the prince,
to increase the crushing in order to stir up the oppressed to revolt,
to cause idolatry to change into a curse, to push the masses to
extremities,--such seems to be his policy. His "yes" signifies "no." He
loads the despot with despotism in order to make him burst. The tyrant
becomes in his hands a hideous projectile, which will break to pieces.
Macchiavelli conspires. For whom? Against whom? Guess. His apotheosis
of kings is just the thing to make regicides. On the head of his prince
he places a diadem of crimes, a tiara of vices, a halo of baseness; and
he invites you to adore his monster, with the air of a man expecting
an avenger. He glorifies evil with a squint toward the darkness,--the
darkness wherein is Harmodius. Macchiavelli, the getter-up of princely
outrages, the valet of the Medici and of the Borgias, had in his youth
been put to the rack for having admired Brutus and Cassius. He had
perhaps plotted with the Soderini the deliverance of Florence. Does
he recollect it? Does he continue? His advice is followed, like the
lightning, by a low rumbling in the cloud,--alarming reverberation.
What did he mean to say? On whom has he a design? Is the advice for or
against him to whom he gives it? One day, at Florence, in the garden
of Cosmo Ruccelaï, there being present the Duke of Mantua and John de
Medici, who afterward commanded the Black Bands of Tuscany, Varchi,
the enemy of Macchiavelli, heard him say to the two princes: "Let the
people read no book,--not even mine." It is curious to compare with
this remark the advice given by Voltaire to the Duke de Choiseul,--at
the same time advice to the minister, and insinuation for the king:
"Let the boobies read our nonsense. There is no danger in reading, my
lord. What can a great king like the King of France fear? The people
are but rabble, and the books are but trash." Let them read nothing,
let them read everything: these two pieces of contrary advice coincide
more than one would think. Voltaire, with hidden claws, is purring at
the feet of the king, Voltaire and Macchiavelli are two formidable
indirect revolutionists, dissimilar in everything, and yet identical
in reality by their profound hatred, disguised in flattery, of the
master. The one is malignant, the other is sinister. The princes of the
sixteenth century had as theorist on their infamies, and as enigmatical
courtier, Macchiavelli, an enthusiast dark at heart. The flattery of a
sphinx,--terrible thing! Better yet be flattered, like Louis XV., by a

Conclusion: Make the people read Macchiavelli, and make them read

Macchiavelli will inspire them with horror of, and Voltaire with
contempt for, crowned guilt.

But the hearts should turn, above all, toward the grand pure poets,
whether they be sweet like Virgil or bitter like Juvenal.


The progress of man by the education of minds,--there is no safety but
in that. Teach! learn! All the revolutions of the future are enclosed
and imbedded in this phrase: Gratuitous and obligatory instruction.

It is by the unfolding of works of the highest order that this vast
intellectual teaching should be crowned. At the top the men of genius.

Wherever there is a gathering of men, there ought to be in a special
place, a public expositor of the great thinkers.

By a great thinker we mean a beneficent thinker.

The perpetual presence of the beautiful in their works maintains poets
at the summit of teaching.

No one can foresee the quantity of light which will be brought forth
by letting the people be in communication with men of genius. This
combination of the hearts of the people with the heart of the poet will
be the Voltaic pile of civilization.

Will the people understand this magnificent teaching? Certainly. We
know of nothing too lofty for the people. The people are a great soul.
Have you ever gone on a fête-day to a theatre open gratuitously to
all? What do you think of that auditory? Do you know of any other
more spontaneous and intelligent? Do you know, even in the forest,
of a vibration more profound? The court of Versailles admires like a
well-drilled regiment; the people throw themselves passionately into
the beautiful. They pack together, crowd, amalgamate, combine, and
knead themselves in the theatre,--a living paste that the poet is about
to mould. The powerful thumb of Molière will presently make its mark
on it; the nail of Corneille will scratch this ill-shaped heap. Whence
does that heap come? Whence does it proceed? From the Courtille, from
the Porcherons, from the Cunette; it is shoeless, it is bare-armed, it
is ragged. Silence! This is the human block.

The house is crowded, the vast multitude looks, listens, loves; all
consciences, deeply moved, throw off their inner fire; all eyes
glisten; the huge beast with a thousand heads is there,--the Mob of
Burke, the _Plebs_ of Titus Livius, the _Fex urbis_ of Cicero. It
caresses the beautiful; smiling at it with the grace of a woman. It
is literary in the most refined sense of the word; nothing equals the
delicacy of this monster. The tumultuous crowd trembles, blushes,
palpitates. Its modesty is surprising; the crowd is a virgin. No
prudery however; this brute is not brutal. Not a sympathy escapes
it; it has in itself the whole keyboard, from passion to irony, from
sarcasm to sobbing. Its compassion is more than compassion; it is real
mercy. God is felt in it. All at once the sublime passes, and the
sombre electricity of the abyss heaves up suddenly all this pile of
hearts and entrails; enthusiasm effects a transfiguration. And now,
is the enemy at the gates, is the country in danger? Appeal to that
populace, and it would enact the sublime drama of Thermopylæ. Who has
called forth such a metamorphosis? Poetry.

The multitude (and in this lies their grandeur) are profoundly open to
the ideal. When they come in contact with lofty art they are pleased,
they shudder. Not a detail escapes them. The crowd is one liquid and
living expanse capable of vibration. A mass is a sensitive-plant.
Contact with the beautiful agitates ecstatically the surface of
multitudes,--sure sign that the depth is sounded. A rustling of leaves,
a mysterious breath, passes, the crowd trembles under the sacred
insufflation of the abyss.

And even where the man of the people is not in a crowd, he is yet a
good hearer of great things. His ingenuousness is honest, his curiosity
healthy. Ignorance is a longing. His near connection with Nature
renders him subject to the holy emotion of the true. He has, toward
poetry, secret natural desires which he does not suspect himself. All
the teachings are due to the people. The more divine the light, the
more is it made for this simple soul. We would have in the villages a
pulpit from which Homer should be explained to the peasants.


Too much matter is the evil of our day. Hence a certain dulness.

It is necessary to restore some ideal in the human mind. Whence shall
you take your ideal? Where is it? The poets, the philosophers, the
thinkers are the urns. The ideal is in Æschylus, in Isaiah, in Juvenal,
in Alighieri, in Shakespeare. Throw Æschylus, throw Isaiah, throw
Juvenal, throw Dante, throw Shakespeare into the deep soul of the human

Pour Job, Solomon, Pindar, Ezekiel, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus,
Theocritus, Plautus, Lucretius, Virgil, Terence, Horace, Catullus,
Tacitus, Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Tertullian, Petrarch, Pascal,
Milton, Descartes, Corneille, La Fontaine, Montesquieu, Diderot,
Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Sedaine, André Chenier, Kant, Byron,
Schiller,--pour all these souls into man. And with them pour all the
wits from Æsop up to Molière, all the intellects from Plato up to
Newton, all the encyclopædists from Aristotle up to Voltaire.

By that means, while curing the illness for the moment, you will
establish forever the health of the human mind.

You will cure the middle class and found the people.

As we have said just now, after the destruction which has delivered the
world, you will construct the edifice which shall make it prosper.

What an aim,--to make the people! Principles combined with science;
every possible quantity of the absolute introduced by degrees into the
fact; Utopia treated successively by every mode of realization,--by
political economy, by philosophy, by physics, by chemistry, by
dynamics, by logic, by art; union replacing little by little
antagonism, and unity replacing union; for religion God, for priest the
father, for prayer virtue, for field the whole earth, for language the
verb, for law the right, for motive-power duty, for hygiene labour,
for economy universal peace, for canvas the very life, for the goal
progress, for authority liberty, for people the man,--such is the

And at the summit the ideal.

The ideal!--inflexible type of perpetual progress.

To whom belong men of genius, if not to thee, people? They do belong to
thee; they are thy sons and thy fathers. Thou givest birth to them, and
they teach thee. They open in thy chaos vistas of light. Children, they
have drunk thy sap. They have leaped in the universal matrix, humanity.
Each of thy phases, people, is an avatar. The deep essence of life,
it is in thee that it must be looked for. Thou art the great bosom.
Geniuses are begotten from thee, mysterious crowd.

Let them therefore return to thee.

People, the author, God, dedicates them to thee.




Ah, minds, be useful! Be of some service. Do not be fastidious when it
is necessary to be efficient and good. Art for art may be beautiful,
but art for progress is more beautiful yet. To dream revery is well,
to dream Utopia is better. Ah, you must think? Then think of making
man better. You must dream? Here is the dream for you,--the ideal. The
prophet seeks solitude, but not isolation. He unravels and untwists
the threads of humanity, tied and rolled in a skein in his soul; he
does not break them. He goes into the desert to think--of whom? Of
the multitude. It is not to the forests that he speaks; it is to the
cities, It is not at the grass bending to the wind that he looks; it is
at man. It is not against lions that he wars; it is against tyrants.
Woe to thee, Ahab! woe to thee, Hosea! woe to you, kings! woe to you,
Pharaohs! is the cry of the great solitary one. Then he weeps.

For what? For that eternal captivity of Babylon, undergone by Israel
formerly, undergone by Poland, by Roumania, by Hungary, by Venice
to-day. He grows old, the good and dark thinker; he watches, he lies
in wait, he listens, he looks,--ear in the silence, eye in the night,
claw half stretched toward the wicked. Go and speak to him, then, of
art for art, to that cenobite of the ideal. He has his aim, and he
walks straight toward it; and his aim is this: improvement. He devotes
himself to it.

He does not belong to himself; he belongs to his apostleship. He is
intrusted with that immense care,--the progress of the human race.
Genius is not made for genius, it is made for man. Genius on earth
is God giving himself. Each time that a masterpiece appears, it is a
distribution of God that takes place. The masterpiece is a variety of
the miracle. Thence, in all religions, and among all peoples, comes
faith in divine men. They deceive themselves, those who think that we
deny the divinity of Christs.

At the point now reached by the social question, everything should be
action in common. Forces isolated frustrate one another; the ideal and
the real strengthen each other. Art necessarily aids science. These two
wheels of progress should turn together.

Generation of new talents, noble group of writers and poets, legion
of young men, O living posterity of my country, your elders love
and salute you! Courage! let us consecrate ourselves. Let us devote
ourselves to the good, to the true, to the just. In that there is

Some pure lovers of art, affected by a preoccupation which in its
way has its dignity and nobleness, discard this formula, "Art for
progress," the Beautiful Useful, fearing lest the useful should deform
the beautiful. They tremble lest they should see attached to the fine
arms of the Muse the coarse hands of the drudge. According to them, the
ideal may become perverted by too much contact with reality. They are
solicitous for the sublime if it is lowered as far as humanity. Ah,
they are mistaken.

The useful, far from circumscribing the sublime, increases it. The
application of the sublime to human things produces unexpected
_chefs-d'œuvre._ The useful, considered in itself and as an element
combining with the sublime, is of several kinds; there is the useful
which is tender, and there is the useful which is indignant. Tender, it
refreshes the unfortunate and creates the social epopee; indignant, it
flagellates the wicked, and creates the divine satire. Moses hands the
rod to Jesus; and after having caused the water to gush from the rock,
that august rod, the very same, drives the vendors from the sanctuary.

What! art should grow less because it has expanded? No. One service
more is one more beauty.

But people cry out: To undertake the cure of social evils; to amend
the codes; to denounce the law to the right; to pronounce those
hideous words, "bagne," "galley-slave," "convict," "girl of the town;"
to control the police-registers; to contract the dispensaries; to
investigate wages and the want of work; to taste the black bread of
the poor; to seek labour for the work-girl; to confront fashionable
idleness with ragged sloth; to throw down the partition of ignorance;
to open schools; to teach little children how to read; to attack
shame, infamy, error, vice, crime, want of conscience; to preach the
multiplication of spelling-books; to proclaim the equality of the sun;
to ameliorate the food of intellects and of hearts; to give meat and
drink; to claim solutions for problems and shoes for naked feet,--that
is not the business of the azure. Art is the azure.

Yes, art is the azure; but the azure from above, from which falls
the ray which swells the corn, makes the maize yellow and the apple
round, gilds the orange, sweetens the grape. I repeat it, one service
more is one more beauty. At all events, where is the diminution? To
ripen the beet-root, to water the potatoes, to thicken the lucern, the
clover, and the hay; to be a fellow-workman with the ploughman, the
vine-dresser, and the gardener,--that does not deprive the heavens of
one star. Ah, immensity does not despise utility, and what does it lose
by it? Does the vast vital fluid that we call magnetic or electric
lighten less splendidly the depth of the clouds because it consents
to perform the office of pilot to a bark, and to keep always turned
to the north the small needle that is trusted to it, the huge guide?
Is the aurora less magnificent, has it less purple and emerald, does
it undergo any decrease of majesty, of grace and radiancy, because,
foreseeing the thirst of a fly, it carefully secretes in the flower the
drop of dew which the bee requires?

Yet, people insist: To compose social poetry, human poetry, popular
poetry; to grumble against the evil and for the good; to promote public
passions; to insult despots; to make rascals despair; to emancipate man
before he is of age; to push souls forward and darkness backward; to
know that there are thieves and tyrants; to clean penal cells; to empty
the pail of public filth,--what! Polyhymnia, sleeves tucked up to do
such dirty work? Oh, for shame!

Why not?

Homer was the geographer and the historian of his time, Moses the
legislator of his, Juvenal the judge of his, Dante the theologian of
his, Shakespeare the moralist of his, Voltaire the philosopher of his.
No region, in speculation or in real fact, is shut to the mind. Here a
horizon, there wings; right for all to soar.

For certain sublime beings, to soar is to serve. In the desert not a
drop of water,--a horrible thirst; the wretched file of pilgrims drag
along overcome. All at once, in the horizon, above a wrinkle in the
sands, a griffin is seen soaring, and all the caravan cry out, "There
is water there!"

What thinks Æschylus of art as art? Certainly, if ever a poet was a
poet, it is Æschylus. Listen to his reply. It is in the "Frogs" of
Aristophanes, line 1039. Æschylus speaks:--

    "Since the beginning of time, the illustrious poet has
    served men. Orpheus has taught the horror of murder, Musæus
    oracles and medicine, Hesiod agriculture, and that divine
    Homer, heroism. And I, after Homer, I have sung Patroclus,
    and Teucer the lion-hearted; so that every citizen should
    try to resemble the great men."

As all the sea is salt, so all the Bible is poetry. This poetry talks
politics at its own hours. Open 1 Samuel, chapter VIII. The Jewish
people demand a king:

    "...And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice
    of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have
    not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should
    not reign over them.... And Samuel told all the words of the
    Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said,
    This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over
    you: He will take your sons and appoint them for himself,
    for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall
    run before his chariots.... And he will take your daughters
    to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
    And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your
    oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his
    servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your
    maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses,
    and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your
    sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out
    in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen
    you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day."

Samuel, we see, denies the right divine; Deuteronomy shakes the
altar,--the false altar, let us observe; but is not the next altar
always the false altar? "You shall demolish the altars of the false
gods. You shall seek God where he dwells." It is almost Pantheism.
Because it takes part in human things, is democratic here, iconoclast
there, is that book less magnificent and less supreme? If poetry is not
in the Bible, where is it?

You say: The muse is made to sing, to love, to believe, to pray. Yes
and no. Let us understand each other. To sing whom? The void. To love
what? One's self. To believe in what? The dogma. To pray to what? The
idol. No, here is the truth: To sing the ideal, to love humanity, to
believe in progress, to pray to the infinite.

Take care, you who are tracing those circles round the poet, you put
him beyond man. That the poet should be beyond humanity in one way,--by
the wings, by the immense flight, by the sudden possible disappearance
in the fathomless,--is well; it must be so, but on condition of
reappearance. He may depart, but he must return. Let him have wings
for the infinite, provided he has feet for the earth, and that, after
having been seen flying, he is seen walking. Let him become man again,
after he has gone out of humanity. After he has been seen an archangel,
let him be once more a brother. Let the star which is in that eye weep
a tear, and that tear be the human tear. Thus, human and superhuman, he
shall be the poet. But to be altogether beyond man, is not to be. Show
me thy foot, genius, and let us see if, like myself, thou hast earthly
dust on thy heel.

If thou hast not some of that dust, if thou hast never walked in my
pathway, thou dost not know me and I do not know thee. Go away. Thou
believest thyself an angel, thou art but a bird.

Help from the strong for the weak, help from the great for the small,
help from the free for the slaves, help from the thinkers for the
ignorant, help from the solitary for the multitudes,--such is the law,
from Isaiah to Voltaire. He who does not follow that law may be a
genius, but he is only a useless genius. By not handling the things of
the earth, he thinks to purify himself; he annuls himself. He is the
refined, the delicate, he may be the exquisite genius; he is not the
great genius. Any one, roughly useful, but useful, has the right to
ask on seeing that good-for-nothing genius: "Who is this idler?" The
amphora which refuses to go to the fountain deserves the hooting of the

Great is he who consecrates himself! Even when overcome, he remains
serene, and his misery is happiness. No, it is not a bad thing for the
poet to meet face to face with duty. Duty has a stern resemblance to
the ideal. The act of doing one's duty is worth all the trial it costs.
No, the jostling with Cato is not to be avoided. No, no, no; truth,
honesty, teaching the crowds, human liberty, manly virtue, conscience,
are not things to disdain. Indignation and emotion are but one faculty
turned toward the two sides of mournful human slavery; and those who
are capable of anger are capable of love. To level the tyrant and the
slave, what a magnificent effort! Now, the whole of one side of actual
society is tyrant, and all the other side is slave. To straighten this
out will be a wonderful thing to accomplish; yet it will be done. All
thinkers must work with that end in view. They will gain greatness in
that work. To be the servant of God in the march of progress and the
apostle of God with the people,--such is the law which regulates the
growth of genius.

[Illustration: _Portrait of Shakespeare._

Photogravure. From Mr. Ozias Humphry's Drawing of the Chandos. Picture
made for the late Mr. Malene in 1783.

Drawing of Mr. Malene]


There are two poets,--the poet of caprice and the poet of logic; and
there is a third poet, a component of both, amending them one by the
other, completing them one by the other, and summing them up in a
loftier entity,--the two statures in a single one. The third is the
first. He has caprice, and he follows the wind. He has logic, and he
follows duty. The first writes the Canticle of Canticles, the second
writes Leviticus, the third writes the Psalms and the Prophecies. The
first is Horace, the second is Lucan, the third is Juvenal. The first
is Pindar, the second is Hesiod, the third is Homer.

No loss of beauty results from goodness. Is the lion less beautiful
than the tiger, because it has the faculty of merciful emotion?
Does that jaw which opens to let the infant fall into the hands of
the mother deprive that mane of its majesty? Does the vast noise of
the roaring vanish from that terrible mouth because it has licked
Androcles? The genius which does not help, even if graceful, is
deformed. A prodigy without love is a monster. Let us love! let us love!

To love has never hindered from pleasing. Where have you seen one form
of the good excluding the other? On the contrary, all that is good is
connected. Let us, however, understand each other. It does not follow
that to have one quality implies necessarily the possession of the
other; but it would be strange that one quality added to another should
make less. To be useful, is but to be useful; to be beautiful is but
to be beautiful; to be useful and beautiful is to be sublime. That is
what Saint Paul is in the first century, Tacitus and Juvenal in the
second, Dante in the thirteenth, Shakespeare in the sixteenth, Milton
and Molière in the seventeenth.

We have just now recalled a saying become famous: "Art for art." Let
us, once for all, explain ourselves in this question. If faith can
be placed in an affirmation very general and very often repeated (we
believe honestly), these words, "Art for art," would have been written
by the author of this book himself. Written? Never! You may read, from
the first to the last line, all that we have published; you will not
find these words. It is the opposite which is written throughout our
works, and, we insist on it, in our entire life. As for these words
in themselves, how far are they real? Here is the fact, which several
of our contemporaries remember as well as we do. One day, thirty-five
years ago, in a discussion between critics and poets on Voltaire's
tragedies, the author of this book threw out this suggestion: "This
tragedy is not a tragedy. It is not men who live, it is sentences
which speak in it! Rather a hundred times 'Art for art!'" This remark
turned, doubtless involuntarily, from its true sense to serve the wants
of discussion, has since taken, to the great surprise of him who had
uttered it, the proportions of a formula. It is this opinion, limited
to "Alzire" and to the "Orpheline de la Chine," and incontestable in
that restricted application, which has been turned into a perfect
declaration of principles, and an axiom to inscribe on the banner of

This point settled, let us go on.

Between two verses, the one by Pindar, deifying a coachman or
glorifying the brass nails of the wheel of a chariot, the other by
Archilochus, so powerful that, after having read it, Jeffreys would
leave off his career of crimes and would hang himself on the gallows
prepared by him for honest people,--between these two verses, of equal
beauty, I prefer that of Archilochus.

In times anterior to history, when poetry is fabulous and legendary,
it has a Promethean grandeur. What composes this grandeur? Utility.
Orpheus tames wild animals; Amphion builds cities; the poet, tamer and
architect, Linus aiding Hercules, Musæus assisting Dædalus, poetry a
civilizing power,--such is the origin. Tradition agrees with reason.
The common-sense of peoples is not deceived in that. It always invents
fables in the sense of truth. Everything is great in those magnifying
distances. Well, then, the wild-beast-taming poet that you admire in
Orpheus, recognize him in Juvenal.

We insist on Juvenal. Few poets have been more insulted, more
contested, more calumniated. Calumny against Juvenal has been drawn
at such long date that it lasts yet. It passes from one literary
clown to another. These grand haters of evil are hated by all the
flatterers of power and success. The mob of fawning sophists, of
writers who have around the neck the mark of their slavery, of bullying
historiographers, of scholiasts kept and fed, of court and school
followers, stand in the way of the glory of the punishers and avengers.
They croak around those eagles. People do not willingly render justice
to the dispensers of justice. They hinder the masters and rouse the
indignation of the lackeys. There is such a thing as the indignation of

Moreover, the diminutives cannot do less than help one another, and
Cæsarion must at least have Tyrannion as a support The pedant snaps
the ferules for the benefit of the satrap. There is for this kind of
work a literary sycophancy and an official pedagogism. These poor,
dear-paying vices; these excellent indulgent crimes; his Highness
Rufinus; his Majesty Claudius; that august Madame Messalina who gives
such beautiful _fêtes_, and pensions out of her privy purse, and who
lasts and who is perpetuated, always crowned, calling herself Theodora,
then Fredegonde, then Agnes, then Margaret of Burgundy, then Isabel
of Bavaria, then Catherine de Medici, then Catherine of Russia, then
Caroline of Naples, etc.,--all these great lords, crimes, all these
fine ladies, turpitudes, shall they have the sorrow of witnessing
the triumph of Juvenal! No. War with the scourge in the name of
sceptres! War with the rod in the name of the shop! That is well! Go
on, courtiers, clients, eunuchs, and scribes. Go on, publicans and
pharisees. You will not hinder the republic from thanking Juvenal, or
the temple from approving Jesus.

Isaiah, Juvenal, Dante,--they are virgins. Observe their eyes cast
down. There is chastity in the anger of the just against the unjust.
The Imprecation can be as holy as the Hosanna; and indignation, honest
indignation, has the very purity of virtue. In point of whiteness, the
foam has no reason to envy the snow.


History proves the working partnership of art and progress. _Dictus ob
hoc lenire tigres._ Rhythm is a power,--a power that the Middle Ages
recognize and submit to not less than antiquity. The second barbarism,
feudal barbarism, dreads also this power,--poetry. The barons, not
over-timid, are abashed before the poet. Who is this man? They fear
lest a manly song be sung. The spirit of civilization is with this
unknown. The old donjons full of carnage open their wild eyes, and
suspect the darkness; anxiety seizes hold of them. Feudality trembles;
the den is disturbed. The dragons and the hydras are ill at ease. Why?
Because an invisible god is there.

It is curious to find this power of poetry in countries where
unsociableness is deepest, particularly in England, in that extreme
feudal darkness, _penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos._ If we believe
the legend,--a form of history as true and as false as any other,--it
is owing to poetry that Colgrim, besieged by the Britons, is relieved
in York by his brother Bardulph the Saxon; that King Awlof penetrates
into the camp of Athelstan; that Werburgh, prince of Northumbria, is
delivered by the Welsh, whence, it is said, that Celtic device of the
Prince of Wales, _Ich dien_; that Alfred, King of England, triumphs
over Gitro, King of the Danes; and that Richard the Lion-hearted
escapes from the prison of Losenstein. Ranulph, Earl of Chester,
attacked in his castle of Rothelan, is saved by the intervention of
the minstrels, which was still authenticated under Elizabeth by the
privilege accorded to the minstrels patronized by the Lords of Dalton.

The poet had the right of reprimand and menace. In 1316, on Pentecost
Day, Edward II. being at table in the grand hall of Westminster with
the peers of England, a female minstrel entered the hall on horseback,
rode all round, saluted Edward II., predicted in a loud voice to
the minion Spencer the gibbet and castration by the hand of the
executioner, and to the king the hoof by means of which a red-hot iron
should be buried in his intestines, placed on the table before the king
a letter, and departed; and no one said anything to her.

At the festivals the minstrels passed before the priests, and were
more honourably treated. At Abingdon, at a festival of the Holy Cross,
each of the twelve priests received fourpence, and each of the twelve
minstrels two shillings. At the priory of Maxtoke, the custom was to
give supper to the minstrels in the Painted Chamber, lighted by eight
huge wax-candles.

The more we advance North, it seems as if the increased thickness
of the fog increases the greatness of the poet. In Scotland he is
enormous. If anything surpasses the legend of the Rhapsodists, it is
the legend of the Scalds. At the approach of Edward of England, the
bards defend Stirling as the three hundred had defended Sparta; and
they have their Thermopylæ, as great as that of Leonidas. Ossian,
perfectly certain and real, has had a plagiary; that is nothing; but
this plagiarist has done more than rob him,--he has made him insipid.
To know Fingal only by Macpherson is as if one knew Amadis only by
Tressan. They show at Staffa the stone of the poet, _Clachan an
Bairdh_,--so named, according to many antiquaries, long before the
visit of Walter Scott to the Hebrides. This chair of the Bard--a great
hollow rock ready for a giant wishing to sit down--is at the entrance
of the grotto. Around it are the waves and the clouds. Behind the
Clachan an Bairdh is heaped up and raised the superhuman geometry of
basaltic prisms, the pell-mell of colonnades and waves, and all the
mystery of the fearful edifice. The gallery of Fingal runs next to the
poet's chair; the sea beats on it before entering under that terrible
ceiling. When evening comes, one imagines that he sees in that chair
a form leaning on its elbow. "It is the ghost!" say the fishermen of
Mackinnon's clan; and no one would dare, even in full day, to go up as
far as that formidable seat; for to the idea of the stone is allied the
idea of the sepulchre, and on the chair of granite no one can be seated
but the man of shade.


Thought is power.

All power is duty. Should this power enter into repose in our age?
Should duty shut its eyes? and is the moment come for art to disarm?
Less than ever. The human caravan is, thanks to 1789, arrived on a high
plateau; and the horizon being more vast, art has more to do. This
is all. To every widening of horizon corresponds an enlargement of

We have not reached the goal. Concord condensed in happiness,
civilization summed up in harmony,--that is far off yet. In the
eighteenth century that dream was so distant that it seemed a guilty
thought. The Abbé de St. Pierre was expelled from the Academy for
having dreamed that dream,--an expulsion which seems rather severe at a
period when pastorals carried the day, even with Fontenelle, and when
St. Lambert invented the idyll for the use of the nobility. The Abbé
de St. Pierre has left behind him a word and a dream: the word is his
own,--"Benevolence;" the dream belongs to all of us,--"Fraternity."
This dream, which made Cardinal de Polignac foam and Voltaire smile, is
not now so much lost as it was once in the mist of the improbable. It
is a little nearer; but we do not touch it. The people, those orphans
who seek their mother, do not yet hold in their hand the hem of the
robe of peace.

There remains around us a sufficient quantity of slavery, of sophistry,
of war and death, to prevent the spirit of civilization from giving up
any of its forces. The idea of the right divine is not yet entirely
done away with. That which has been Ferdinand VII. in Spain, Ferdinand
II. in Naples, George IV. in England, Nicholas in Russia, still floats
about; a remnant of these spectres is still hovering in the air.
Inspirations descend from that fatal cloud on some crown-bearers who,
leaning on their elbows, meditate with a sinister aspect.

Civilization has not done yet with those who grant constitutions,
with the owners of peoples, and with the legitimate and hereditary
madmen, who assert themselves majesties by the grace of God, and think
that they have the right of manumission over the human race. It is
necessary to raise some obstacle, to show bad will to the past, and to
bring to bear on these men, on these dogmas, on these chimeras which
stand in the way, some hindrance. Intellect, thought, science, true
art, philosophy, ought to watch and beware of misunderstandings. False
rights contrive very easily to put in movement true armies. There
are murdered Polands looming in the future. "All my anxiety," said a
contemporary poet recently dead, "is the smoke of my cigar." My anxiety
is also a smoke,--the smoke of the cities which are burning in the
distance. Therefore, let us bring the masters to grief, if we can.

Let us go again in the loudest possible voice over the lesson of the
just and the unjust, of right and usurpation, of oath and perjury, of
good and evil, of _fas et nefas_; let us come forth with all our old
antitheses, as they say. Let us contrast what ought to be with what
actually is. Let us put clearness into everything. Bring light, you
that have it. Let us oppose dogma to dogma, principle to principle,
energy to obstinacy, truth to imposture, dream to dream,--the dream
of the future to the dream of the past,--liberty to despotism. People
will be able to sit down, to stretch themselves at full length, and
to go on smoking the cigar of fancy poetry, and to enjoy Boccaccio's
"Decameron" with the sweet blue sky over their heads, whenever the
sovereignty of a king shall be exactly of the same dimension as the
liberty of a man. Until then, little sleep. I am distrustful.

Put sentinels everywhere. Do not expect from despots a large share
of liberty. Break your own shackles, all of you Polands that may
be! Make sure of the future by your own exertions. Do not hope that
your chain will forge itself into the key of freedom. Up, children
of the fatherland! O mowers of the steppes, arise! Trust to the good
intentions of orthodox czars just enough to take up arms. Hypocrisies
and apologies, being traps, are one more danger.

We live in a time when orations are heard praising the magnanimity of
white bears and the tender feelings of panthers. Amnesty, clemency,
grandeur of soul; an era of felicity opens; fatherly love is the order
of the day; see all that is already done; it must not be thought that
the march of the age is not understood; august arms are open; rally
still closer round the emperor; Muscovy is kind-hearted. See how happy
the serfs are! The streams are to flow with milk, with prosperity and
liberty for all. Your princes groan like you over the past; they are
excellent. Come, fear nothing, little ones! so far as we are concerned,
we confess candidly that we are of those who put no reliance in the
lachrymal gland of crocodiles.

The actual public monstrosities impose stem obligations on the
conscience of the thinker, philosopher, or poet. Incorruptibility must
resist corruption. It is more than ever necessary to show men the
ideal,--that mirror in which is seen the face of God.


There are in literature and philosophy men who have tears and laughter
at command,--Heraclituses wearing the mask of a Democritus; men often
very great, like Voltaire. They are irony keeping a serious, sometimes
tragic countenance.

These men, under the pressure of the influences and prejudices of
their time, speak with a double meaning. One of the most profound is
Bayle,[1] the man of Rotterdam, the powerful thinker. When Bayle coolly
utters this maxim, "It is better worth our while to weaken the grace
of a thought than to anger a tyrant," I smile; I know the man. I think
of the persecuted, almost proscribed one, and I know well that he has
given way to the temptation of affirming merely to give me the longing
to contest. But when it is a poet who speaks,--a poet wholly free,
rich, happy, prosperous almost to inviolability,--one expects a clear,
open, and healthy teaching, one cannot believe that from such a man can
emanate anything like a desertion of his own conscience; and it is with
a blush that one reads this:--

    "Here below, in time of peace, let every man sweep his own
    street-door. In war, if conquered, let every man fraternize
    with the soldiery.... Let every enthusiast be put on the
    cross when he reaches his thirtieth year. If he has once
    experienced the world as it is, from the dupe he becomes
    the rogue.... What utility, what result, what advantage
    does the holy liberty of the press offer you? The complete
    demonstration of it is this: a profound contempt of
    public opinion.... There are people who have a mania for
    railing at everything that is great,--they are the men who
    have attacked the Holy Alliance; and yet nothing has been
    invented more august and more salutary for humanity."

These things, which lower the man who has written them, are signed
_Goethe._ Goethe, when he wrote them, was sixty years old. Indifference
to good and evil excites the brain,--one may get intoxicated with it;
and that is what comes of it. The lesson is a sad one. Mournful sight!
Here the helot is a mind.

A quotation may be a pillory. We nail on the public highway these
lugubrious sentences; it is our duty. Goethe has written that. Let it
be remembered; and let no one among the poets fall again into the same

To go into a passion for the good, for the true, for the just; to
suffer with the sufferers; to feel in our inner soul all the blows
struck by every executioner on human flesh; to be scourged with
Christ and flogged with the negro; to be strengthened and to lament;
to climb, a Titan, that wild peak where Peter and Cæsar make their
swords fraternize, _gladium cum gladio copulemus_; to heap up for
that escalade the Ossa of the ideal on the Pelion of the real; to
make a vast repartition of hope; to avail one's self of the ubiquity
of the book in order to be everywhere at the same time with a
comforting thought; to push pell-mell men, women, children, whites,
blacks, peoples, hangmen, tyrants, victims, impostors, the ignorant,
proletaries, serfs, slaves, masters, toward the future (a precipice
to some, deliverance to others); to go forth, to wake up, to hasten,
to march, to run, to think, to wish,--ah, indeed, that is well! It is
worth while being a poet. Beware! you lose your temper. Of course I
do; but I gain anger. Come and breathe into my wings, hurricane!

There has been, of late years, an instant when impassibility was
recommended to poets as a condition of divinity. To be indifferent,
that was called being Olympian. Where had they seen that? That is
an Olympus very unlike the real one. Read Homer. The Olympians are
passion, and nothing else. Boundless humanity,--such is their divinity.
They fight unceasingly. One has a bow, another a lance, another a
sword, another a club, another thunder. There is one of them who
compels the leopards to draw him along. Another, Wisdom, has cut off
the head of Night, twisted with serpents, and has nailed it to his
shield. Such is the calm of the Olympians. Their angers cause the
thunders to roll from one end to the other of the Iliad and of the

These angers, when they are just, are good. The poet who has them
is the true Olympian. Juvenal, Dante, Agrippa d'Aubigné, and Milton
had these angers; Molière also. From the soul of Alcestes flashes
constantly the lightning of "vigorous hatreds." Jesus meant that hatred
of evil when he said, "I am come to bring war."

I like Stesichorus indignant, preventing the alliance of Greece with
Phalaris, and fighting the brazen bull with strokes of the lyre.

Louis XIV. found it good to have Racine sleeping in his chamber when
he, the king, was ill, turning thus the poet into an assistant to his
apothecary,--wonderful patronage of letters; but he asked nothing
more from the _beaux esprits_, and the horizon of his alcove seemed
to him sufficient for them. One day, Racine, somewhat urged by Madame
de Maintenon, had the idea to leave the king's chamber and to visit
the garrets of the people. Thence a memoir on the public distress.
Louis XIV. cast at Racine a killing look. Poets fare ill when, being
courtiers, they do what royal mistresses ask of them. Racine, on the
suggestion of Madame de Maintenon, risks a remonstrance which causes
him to be driven from Court, and he dies of it. Voltaire at the
instigation of Madame de Pompadour, tries a madrigal (an awkward one it
appears), which causes him to be driven from France; and he does not
die of it Louis XV. on reading the madrigal,--"Et gardez tous deux vos
conquêtes,"--had exclaimed, "What a fool this Voltaire is!"

Some years ago, "a well-authorized pen," as they say in official and
academic _patois_, wrote this:--

    "The greatest service that poets can render us is to be good
    for nothing. We do not ask of them anything else."

Observe the extent and spread of this word, "the poets," which includes
Linus, Musæus, Orpheus, Homer, Job, Hesiod, Moses, Daniel, Amos,
Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Æsop, David, Solomon, Æschylus, Sophocles,
Euripides, Pindar, Archilochus, Tyrtæus, Stesichorus, Menander, Plato,
Asclepiades, Pythagoras, Anacreon, Theocritus, Lucretius, Plautus,
Terence, Virgil, Horace, Catullus, Juvenal, Apuleius, Lucan, Persius,
Tibullus, Seneca, Petrarch, Ossian, Saädi, Ferdousi, Dante, Cervantes,
Calderon, Lope de Vega, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Camoëns, Marot, Ronsard,
Régnier, Agrippa d'Aubigné, Malherbe, Segrais, Racan, Milton, Pierre
Corneille, Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Fontenelle, Reguard,
Lesage, Swift, Voltaire, Diderot, Beaumarchais, Sedaine, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, André Chénier, Klopstock, Lessing, Wieland, Schiller, Goethe,
Hoffmann, Alfieri, Châteaubriand, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Burns,
Walter Scott, Balzac, Musset, Béranger, Pellico, Vigny, Dumas, George
Sand, Lamartine,--all declared by the oracle "good for nothing,"
and having uselessness for excellence. That sentence (a "success,"
it appears) has been very often repeated. We repeat it in our turn.
When the conceit of an idiot reaches such proportions it deserves
registering. The writer who has emitted that aphorism is, so they
assure us, one of the high personages of the day. We have no objection.
Dignities do not lessen the length of the ears.

Octavius Augustus, on the morning of the battle of Actium, met an ass
that the owner called Triumphus. This Triumphus, endowed with the
faculty of braying, appeared to him of good omen; Octavius Augustus
won the battle, remembered Triumphus, had the ass carved in bronze and
placed in the Capitol. That made a Capitoline ass, but still an ass.

One can understand kings saying to the poet, "Be useless;" but one
does not understand the people saying so to him. The poet is for the
people. "Pro populo poëta," wrote Agrippa d'Aubigné; "All things to
all men," exclaimed Saint Paul. What is a mind? A feeder of souls.
The poet is at the same time a menace and a promise. The anxiety
with which he inspires oppressors calms and consoles the oppressed.
It is the glory of the poet that he places a restless pillow on the
purple bed of the tormentors; and, thanks to him, it is often that
the tyrant awakes, saying, "I have slept badly." Every slavery,
every disheartening faintness, every sorrow, every misfortune, every
distress, every hunger, and every thirst have a claim on the poet; he
has one creditor,--the human race.

To be the great servant does not certainly derogate from the poet.
Because on certain occasions, and to do his duty, he has uttered the
cry of a people; because he has, when necessary, the sob of humanity
in his breast,--every voice of mystery sings not the less in him.
Speaking so loudly does not prevent him speaking low. He is not less
the confidant, and sometimes the confessor, of hearts. He is not less
intimately connected with those who love, with those who think, with
those who sigh, thrusting his head in the twilight between the heads
of two lovers. The love poems of André Chénier, without losing any
of their characteristics, border on the angry iambic: "Weep thou, O
Virtue, if I die!" The poet is the only living being to whom it is
granted both to thunder and to whisper, because he has in himself,
like Nature, the rumbling of the cloud and the rustling of the leaf.
He exists for a double function,--a function individual and a public
function: and it is for that that he requires, so to speak, two souls.

Ennius said: "I have three of them,--an Oscan soul, a Greek soul, and a
Latin soul." It is true that he made allusion only to the place of his
birth, to the place of his education, and to the place where he was a
citizen; and besides, Ennius was but a rough cast of a poet, vast, but

No poet without that activity of soul which is the resultant of
conscience. The ancient moral laws require to be stated; the new moral
laws require to be revealed. These two series do not coincide without
some effort. That effort is incumbent on the poet He assumes constantly
the function of the philosopher. He must defend, according to the
side attacked, now the liberty of the human mind, now the liberty of
the human heart,--to love being no less holy than to think. There is
nothing of "Art for art" in all that.

The poet arrives in the midst of those goers and comers that we call
the living, in order to tame, like ancient Orpheus, the tiger in
man,--his evil instincts,--and, like the legendary Amphion, to remove
the stumbling-blocks of prejudice and superstition, to set up the new
blocks, to relay the corner-stones and the foundations, and to build up
again the city,--that is to say, society.

That this immense service--namely, to co-operate in the work of
civilization--should involve loss of beauty for poetry and of dignity
for the poet, is a proposition which one cannot enunciate without
smiling. Useful art preserves and augments all its graces, all its
charms, all its prestige. Indeed, because he has taken part with
Prometheus,--the man progress, crucified on the Caucasus by brutal
force, and gnawed at while alive by hatred,--Æschylus is not lowered.
Because he has loosened the ligatures of idolatry; because he has freed
human thought from the bands of religions tied over it (_arctis nodis
relligionum_), Lucretius is not diminished. The branding of tyrants
with the red-hot iron of prophecy does not lessen Isaiah; the defence
of his country does not taint Tyrtæus. The beautiful is not degraded
by having served liberty and the amelioration of human multitudes.
The phrase "a people enfranchised" is not a bad end to a strophe. No,
patriotic or revolutionary usefulness robs poetry of nothing. Because
the huge Grütli has screened under its cliffs that formidable oath of
three peasants from which sprang free Switzerland, it is all the same,
in the falling night, a lofty mass of serene shade alive with herds,
where are heard innumerable invisible bells tinkling gently under the
clear twilight sky.

[Footnote 1: Do not write _Beyle._]





In 1784, Bonaparte, then fifteen years old, arrived at the Military
School of Paris from Brienne, being one among four under the escort
of a minim priest. He mounted one hundred and seventy-three steps,
carrying his small trunk, and reached, below the roof, the barrack
chamber he was to inhabit. This chamber had two beds, and a small
window opening on the great yard of the school. The wall was
whitewashed; the youthful predecessors of Bonaparte had scrawled upon
this with charcoal, and the new-comer read in this little cell these
four inscriptions that we ourselves read thirty-five years ago:--

    It takes rather long to win an epaulet.--_De Montgivray._

    The finest day in life is that of a battle.--_Vicomte de

    Life is but a long falsehood.--_Le Chevalier Adolphe Delmas._

    All ends under six feet of earth.-_Le Comte de la Villette._

By substituting for "an epaulet" "an empire,"--a very slight
change,--the above four inscriptions were all the destiny of Bonaparte,
and a kind of "Mene Tekel Upharsin" written beforehand upon that wall.
Desmazis, junior, who accompanied Bonaparte, being his room-mate, and
about to occupy one of the two beds, saw him take a pencil (it is
Desmazis who has related the fact) and draw beneath the inscriptions
that he had just read a rough sketch of his house at Ajaccio; then, by
the side of that house, without suspecting that he was thus bringing
near the island of Corsica another mysterious island then hid in the
deep future, he wrote the last of the four sentences: "All ends under
six feet of earth."

Bonaparte was right. For the hero, for the soldier, for the man of the
material fact, all ends under six feet of earth; for the man of the
idea everything commences there.

Death is a power.

For him who has had no other action but that of the mind, the tomb is
the elimination of the obstacle. To be dead, is to be all-powerful.

The man of war is formidable while alive; he stands erect, the earth
is silent, _siluit_; he has extermination in his gesture; millions of
haggard men rush to follow him,--a fierce horde, sometimes a ruffianly
one; it is no longer a human head, it is a conqueror, it is a captain,
it is a king of kings, it is an emperor, it is a dazzling crown of
laurels which passes, throwing out lightning flashes, and allowing
to be seen in starlight beneath it a vague profile of Cæsar. All
this vision is splendid and impressive; but let only a gravel come
in the liver, or an excoriation to the pylorus,--six feet of ground,
and all is said. This solar spectrum vanishes. This tumultuous life
falls into a hole; the human race pursues its way, leaving behind
this nothingness. If this man hurricane has made some lucky rupture,
like Alexander in India, Charlemagne in Scandinavia, and Bonaparte
in ancient Europe, that is all that remains of him. But let some
passer-by, who has in him the ideal, let a poor wretch like Homer throw
out a word in the darkness, and die,--that word burns up in the gloom
and becomes a star.

This vanquished one, driven from one town to another, is called Dante
Alighieri,--take care! This exiled one is called Æschylus, this
prisoner is called Ezekiel,--beware! This one-handed man is winged,--it
is Michael Cervantes. Do you know whom you see wayfaring there before
you? It is a sick man, Tyrtæus; it is a slave, Plautus; it is a
labourer, Spinoza; it is a valet, Rousseau. Well, that degradation,
that labour, that servitude, that infirmity, is power,--the supreme
power, mind.

On the dunghill like Job, under the stick like Epictetus, under
contempt like Molière, mind remains mind. This it is that shall say
the last word. The Caliph Almanzor makes the people spit on Averroes
at the door of the mosque of Cordova; the Duke of York spits in
person on Milton; a Rohan, almost a prince,--"duc ne daigne, Rohan
suis,"--attempts to cudgel Voltaire to death; Descartes is driven from
France in the name of Aristotle; Tasso pays for a kiss given a princess
twenty years spent in a cell; Louis XV. sends Diderot to Vincennes;
these are mere incidents; must there not be some clouds? Those
appearances that were taken for realities, those princes, those kings
melt away; there remains only what should remain,--the human mind on
the one side, the divine minds on the other; the true work and the true
workers; society to be perfected and made fruitful; science seeking
the true; art creating the beautiful; the thirst of thought, torment
and happiness of man; inferior life aspiring to superior life. Men
have to deal with real questions,--with progress in intelligence and by
intelligence. Men call to their aid the poets, prophets, philosophers,
thinkers, the inspired. It is seen that philosophy is a nourishment and
poetry a want. There must be another bread besides bread. If you give
up poets, you must give up civilization. There comes an hour when the
human race is compelled to reckon with Shakespeare the actor and Isaiah
the beggar.

They are the more present that they are no longer seen. Once dead,
these beings live.

What life did they lead? What kind of men were they? What do we know
of them? Sometimes but little, as of Shakespeare; often nothing, as
of those of ancient days. Has Job existed? Is Homer one, or several?
Méziriac made Æsop straight, and Planudes made him a hunchback.
Is it true that the prophet Hosea, in order to show his love for
his country, even when fallen into opprobrium and become infamous,
espoused a prostitute, and called his children Mourning, Famine, Shame,
Pestilence, and Misery? Is it true that Hesiod ought to be divided
between Cumæ in Æolia, where he was born, and Ascra, in Bœotia,
where he had been brought up? Velleius Paterculus makes him live one
hundred and twenty years after Homer, of whom Quintilian makes him
contemporary. Which of the two is right? What matters it? The poets are
dead, their thought reigns. Having been, they are.

They do more work to-day among us than when they were alive. Others who
have departed this life rest from their labours; dead men of genius

They work upon what? Upon minds. They make civilization.

"All ends under six feet of earth "? No; everything commences there.
No; everything germinates there. No; everything flowers in it, and
everything grows in it, and everything bursts forth from it, and
everything proceeds from it! Good for you, men of the sword, are these

Lay yourselves down, disappear, lie in the grave, rot. So be it.

During life, gildings, caparisons, drums and trumpets, panoplies,
banners to the wind, tumults, make up an illusion. The crowd gazes with
admiration on these things. It imagines that it sees something grand.
Who has the casque! Who has the cuirass? Who has the sword-belt? Who
is spurred, morioned, plumed, armed? Hurrah for that one! At death the
difference becomes striking. Juvenal takes Hannibal in the hollow of
his hand.

It is not the Cæsar, it is the thinker, who can say when he expires,
"Deus fio." So long as he remains a man his flesh interposes between
other men and him. The flesh is a cloud upon genius. Death, that
immense light, comes and penetrates the man with its aurora. No more
flesh, no more matter, no more shade. The unknown which was within him
manifests itself and beams forth. In order that a mind may give all its
light, it requires death. The dazzling of the human race commences when
that which was a genius becomes a soul. A book within which there is
something of the ghost is irresistible.

He who is living does not appear disinterested. People mistrust him;
people dispute him because they jostle against him. To be alive, and
to be a genius is too much. It goes and comes as you do, it walks on
the earth, it has weight, it throws a shadow, it obstructs. It seems
as if there was importunity in too great a presence. Men do not find
that man sufficiently like themselves. As we have said already, they
owe him a grudge. Who is this privileged one? This functionary cannot
be dismissed. Persecution makes him greater; decapitation crowns him.
Nothing can be done against him, nothing for him, nothing with him.
He is responsible, but not to you. He has his instructions. What he
executes may be discussed, not modified. It seems as though he had a
commission to execute from some one who is not man. Such exception
displeases. Hence more hissing than applause.

Dead, he no longer obstructs. The hiss, now useless, dies out. Living,
he was a rival; dead, he is a benefactor. He becomes, according to the
beautiful expression of Lebrun "l'homme irréparable." Lebrun observes
this of Montesquieu; Boileau observes the same of Molière. "Avant
qu'un peu de terre" etc. This handful of earth has equally aggrandized
Voltaire. Voltaire, so great in the eighteenth century, is still
greater in the nineteenth. The grave is a crucible. Its earth, thrown
on a man, sifts his reputation, and allows it to pass forth purified.
Voltaire has lost his false glory and retained the true. To lose the
false is to gain. Voltaire is neither a lyric poet, nor a comic poet,
nor a tragic poet: he is the indignant yet tender critic of the old
world; he is the mild reformer of manners; he is the man who softens
men. Voltaire, who has lost ground as a poet, has risen as an apostle.
He has done what is good, rather than what is beautiful. The good being
included in the beautiful, those who, like Dante and Shakespeare,
have produced the beautiful, surpass Voltaire; but below the poet,
the place of the philosopher, is still very high, and Voltaire is the
philosopher. Voltaire is common-sense in a continual stream. Excepting
in literature, he is a good judge in everything. Voltaire was, in spite
of his insulters, almost adored during his lifetime; he is in our days
admired, now that the true facts of the case are known. The eighteenth
century saw his mind: we see his soul. Frederick II., who willingly
railed at him, wrote to D'Alembert, "Voltaire buffoons. This century
resembles the old courts. It has a fool, who is Arouet." This fool of
the century was its sage.

Such are the effects of the tomb for great minds. That mysterious
entrance into the unknown leaves light behind. Their disappearance is
resplendent. Their death evolves authority.


Shakespeare is the great glory of England. England has in politics
Cromwell, in philosophy Bacon, in science Newton,--three lofty men of
genius. But Cromwell is tinged with cruelty and Bacon with meanness; as
to Newton, his edifice is now shaking on its base. Shakespeare is pure,
which Cromwell and Bacon are not, and immovable, which Newton is not.
Moreover, he is higher as a genius. Above Newton there is Copernicus
and Galileo; above Bacon there is Descartes and Kant; above Cromwell
there is Danton and Bonaparte; above Shakespeare there is no one.
Shakespeare has equals, but not a superior. It is a singular honour for
a land to have borne that man. One may say to that land, "Alma parens."
The native town of Shakespeare is an elect place; an eternal light is
on that cradle; Stratford-on-Avon has a certainty that Smyrna, Rhodes,
Colophon, Salamis, Ohio, Argos, and Athens--the seven towns which
disputed the birthplace of Homer--have not.

Shakespeare is a human mind; he is also an English mind. He is very
English,--too English. He is English so far as to weaken the horror
surrounding the horrible kings whom he places on the stage, when they
are kings of England; so far as to depreciate Philip Augustus in
comparison with John Lackland; so far as expressly to make a scapegoat,
Falstaff, in order to load him with the princely misdeeds of the young
Henry V.; so far as to partake in a certain measure of the hypocrisies
of a pretended national history. Lastly, he is English so far as to
attempt to attenuate Henry VIII.; it is true that the eye of Elizabeth
is fixed upon him. But at the same time, let us insist upon this,--for
it is by it that he is great,--yes, this English poet is a human
genius. Art, like religion, has its _Ecce Homo._ Shakespeare is one of
those of whom we may utter this grand saying: He is Man.

England is egotistical. Egotism is an island. That which perhaps is
needed by this Albion immersed in her own business, and at times looked
upon with little favour by other nations, is disinterested greatness;
of this Shakespeare gives her some portion. He throws that purple on
the shoulders of his country. He is cosmopolite and universal by his
fame. On every side he overflows island and egotism. Deprive England of
Shakespeare and see how much the luminous reverberation of that nation
would immediately decrease. Shakespeare modifies the English visage and
makes it beautiful With him, England is no longer so much like Carthage.

Strange meaning of the apparition of men of genius! There is no great
poet born in Sparta, no great poet born in Carthage. This condemns
those two cities. Dig, and you shall find this: Sparta is but the city
of logic; Carthage is but the city of matter; to one as to the other
love is wanting. Carthage immolates her children by the sword, and
Sparta sacrifices her virgins by nudity; here innocence is killed, and
there modesty. Carthage knows only her bales and her cases; Sparta
blends herself wholly with the law,--there is her true territory; it is
for the laws that her men die at Thermopylæ. Carthage is hard. Sparta
is cold. They are two republics based upon stone; therefore no books.
The eternal sower, who is never mistaken, has not opened for those
ungrateful lands his hand full of men of genius. Such wheat is not to
be confided to the rock.

Heroism, however, is not refused to them; they will have, if necessary,
either the martyr or the captain. Leonidas is possible for Sparta,
Hannibal for Carthage; but neither Sparta nor Carthage is capable of
Homer. Some indescribable tenderness in the sublime, which causes the
poet to gush from the very entrails of a people, is wanting in them.
That latent tenderness, that _flebile nescio quid_, England possesses;
as a proof, Shakespeare. We may add also as a proof, Wilberforce.

England, mercantile like Carthage, legal like Sparta, is worth more
than Sparta and Carthage. She is honoured by this august exception,--a
poet. To have given birth to Shakespeare makes England great.

Shakespeare's place is among the most sublime in that _élite_ of
absolute men of genius which, from time to time increased by some
splendid fresh arrival, crowns civilization and illumines with its
immense radiancy the human race. Shakespeare is legion. Alone, he forms
the counterpoise to our grand French seventeenth century, and almost to
the eighteenth.

When one arrives in England, the first thing that he looks for is the
statue of Shakespeare. He finds the statue of Wellington.

Wellington is a general who gained a battle, having chance for his

If you insist on seeing Shakespeare's statue you are taken to a place
called Westminster, where there are kings,--a crowd of kings: there is
also a comer called "Poets' Corner." There, in the shade of four or
five magnificent monuments where some royal nobodies shine in marble
and bronze, is shown to you on a small pedestal a little figure, and
under this little figure, the name, "WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE."

In addition to this, statues everywhere; if you wish for statues you
may find as many as you can wish. Statue for Charles, statue for
Edward, statue for William, statues for three or four Georges, of whom
one was an idiot. Statue of the Duke of Richmond at Huntley; statue
of Napier at Portsmouth; statue of Father Mathew at Cork; statue
of Herbert Ingram, I don't know where. A man has well drilled the
riflemen,--he gets a statue; a man has commanded a manœuvre of the
Horse Guards,--he gets a statue. Another has been a supporter of the
past, has squandered all the wealth of England in paying a coalition
of kings against 1789, against democracy, against light, against the
ascending movement of the human race,--quick! a pedestal for that; a
statue to Mr. Pitt. Another has knowingly fought against truth, in the
hope that it might be vanquished, and has found out one fine morning
that truth is hard-lived, that it is strong, that it might be intrusted
with forming a cabinet, and has then passed abruptly over to its
side,--one more pedestal; a statue for Mr. Peel. Everywhere, in every
street, in every square, at every step, gigantic notes of admiration
in the shape of columns,--a column to the Duke of York, which should
really take the form of points of interrogation; a column to Nelson,
pointed at by the ghost of Caracciolo; a column to Wellington, already
named: columns for everybody. It is sufficient to have played with a
sword somewhere. At Guernsey, by the seaside, on a promontory, there
is a high column, similar to a lighthouse,--almost a tower; this one
is struck by lightning; Æschylus would have contented himself with
it. For whom is this?--for General Doyle. Who is General Doyle?--a
general. What has this general done?--he has constructed roads. At his
own expense?--no, at the expense of the inhabitants. He has a column.
Nothing for Shakespeare, nothing for Milton, nothing for Newton; the
name of Byron is obscure. That is where England is,--an illustrious and
powerful nation.

It avails little that this nation has for scout and guide that generous
British press, which is more than free,--which is sovereign,--and
which through innumerable excellent journals throws light upon every
question,--that is where England is; and let not France laugh too
loudly, with her statue of Négrier; nor Belgium, with her statue
of Belliard; nor Prussia, with her statue of Blücher; nor Austria,
with the statue that she probably has of Schwartzenberg; nor Russia,
with the statue that she certainly has of Souwaroff. If it is not
Schwartzenberg, it is Windischgrätz; if it is not Souwaroff, it is

Be Paskiewitch or Jellachich,--they will give you a statue; be Augereau
or Bessières,--you get a statue; be an Arthur Wellesley, they will
make you a colossus, and the ladies will dedicate you to yourself,
quite naked, with this inscription: "Achilles." A young man, twenty
years of age, performs the heroic action of marrying a beautiful young
girl: they prepare for him triumphal arches; they come to see him out
of curiosity; the grand-cordon is sent to him as on the morrow of a
battle; the public squares are brilliant with fireworks; people who
might have gray beards put on perukes to come and make speeches to
him almost on their knees; they throw up in the air millions sterling
in squibs and rockets to the applause of a multitude in tatters,
who will have no bread to-morrow; starving Lancashire participates
in the wedding; people are in ecstasies; they fire guns, they ring
the bells,--"Rule Britannia!" "God save!" What! this young man has
the kindness to do this? What a glory for the nation! Universal
admiration,--a great people become frantic; a great city falls into
a swoon; a balcony looking upon the passage of the young man is let
for five hundred guineas; people heap themselves together, press upon
one another, thrust one another beneath the wheels of his carriage;
seven women are crushed to death in the enthusiasm, and their little
children are picked up dead under the trampling feet; a hundred
persons, partially stifled, are carried to the hospital: the joy is
inexpressible. While this is going on in London, the cutting of the
Isthmus of Panama is interrupted by a war; the cutting of the Isthmus
of Suez depends on one Ismail Pacha; a company undertakes the sale of
the water of Jordan at a guinea the bottle; walls are invented which
resist every cannon-ball, after which missiles are invented which
destroy every wall; an Armstrong cannon-shot costs fifty pounds;
Byzantium contemplates Abdul-Azis; Rome goes to confession; the frogs,
encouraged by the stork, demand a heron; Greece, after Otho, again
wants a king; Mexico, after Iturbide, again wants an emperor; China
wants two of them,--the king of the Centre, a Tartar, and the king of
Heaven (Tien Wang), a Chinese. O earth! throne of stupidity.


The glory of Shakespeare reached England from abroad. There was almost
a day and an hour when one might have assisted at the landing of his
fame at Dover.

It required three hundred years for England to begin to hear those two
words that the whole world cries in her ear: "William Shakespeare."

What is England? She is Elizabeth. There is no incarnation more
complete. In admiring Elizabeth, England loves her own looking-glass.
Proud and magnanimous, yet full of strange hypocrisies; great, yet
pedantic; haughty, albeit able; prudish, yet audacious; having
favourites but no masters; her own mistress, even in her bed;
all-powerful queen, inaccessible woman,--Elizabeth is a virgin as
England is an island. Like England, she calls herself Empress of the
Sea, _Basilea maris._ A fearful depth, in which are let loose the angry
passions which behead Essex and the tempests which destroy the Armada,
defends this virgin and defends this island from every approach.
The ocean is the guardian of this modesty. A certain celibacy, in
fact, constitutes all the genius of England. Alliances, be it so; no
marriage. The universe always kept at some distance. To live alone,
to go alone, to reign alone, to be alone,--such is Elizabeth, such is

On the whole, a remarkable queen and an admirable nation.

Shakespeare, on the contrary, is a sympathetic genius. Insularism is
his ligature, not his strength. He would break it willingly. A little
more and Shakespeare would be European. He loves and praises France; he
calls her "the soldier of God." Besides, in that prudish nation he is
the free poet.

England has two books: one which she has made, the other which has made
her,--Shakespeare and the Bible. These two books do not agree together.
The Bible opposes Shakespeare.

Certainly, as a literary book, the Bible, a vast cup from the East,
more overflowing in poetry even than Shakespeare, might fraternize
with him; in a social and religious point of view, it abhors him.
Shakespeare thinks, Shakespeare dreams, Shakespeare doubts. There is in
him something of that Montaigne whom he loved. The "to be or not to be"
comes from the _que sais-je?_

Moreover, Shakespeare invents. A great objection. Faith excommunicates
imagination. In respect to fables, faith is a bad neighbour, and
fondles only its own. One recollects Solon's staff raised against
Thespis. One recollects the torch of Omar brandished over Alexandria.
The situation is always the same. Modern fanaticism has inherited
that staff and that torch. That is true in Spain, and is not false in
England. I have heard an Anglican bishop discuss the Iliad and condense
everything in this remark, with which he meant to annihilate Homer: "It
is not true." Now, Shakespeare is much more a "liar" than Homer.

Two or three years ago the journals announced that a French writer was
about to sell a novel for four hundred thousand francs. This made quite
a noise in England. A Conformist paper exclaimed, "How can a falsehood
be sold at such a price?"

Besides, two words, all-powerful in England, range themselves against
Shakespeare, and constitute an obstacle against him: "Improper,
shocking." Observe that, on a host of occasions, the Bible also is
"improper" and Holy Writ is "shocking." The Bible, even in French, and
through the rough lips of Calvin, does not hesitate to say, "Tu as
paillardé, Jerusalem." These crudities are part of poetry as well as of
anger; and the prophets, those angry poets, do not abstain from them.
Gross words are constantly on their lips. But England, where the Bible
is continually read, does not seem to realize it. Nothing equals the
power of voluntary deafness in fanatics. Would you have another example
of their deafness? At this hour Roman orthodoxy has not yet admitted
the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, although averred by the four
Evangelists. Matthew, may say, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren
stand without.... And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and
Judas. And his sisters, are they not all with us?" Mark may insist:
"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James,
and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with
us?" Luke may repeat: "Then came to him his mother and his brethren."
John may again take up the question: "He, and his mother, and his
brethren.... Neither did his brethren believe in him.... But when his
brethren were gone up." Catholicism does not hear.

To make up for it, in the case of Shakespeare, "somewhat of a Pagan,
like all poets"[1] Puritanism has a delicate hearing. Intolerance
and inconsequence are sisters. Besides, in the matter of proscribing
and damning, logic is superfluous. When Shakespeare, by the mouth
of Othello, calls Desdemona "whore," general indignation, unanimous
revolt, scandal from top to bottom. Who then is this Shakespeare?
All the biblical sects stop their ears, without thinking that Aaron
addresses exactly the same epithet to Sephora, wife of Moses. It is
true that this is in an Apocryphal work, "The Life of Moses." But the
Apocryphal books are quite as authentic as the canonical ones.

Thence in England, for Shakespeare, a depth of irreducible coldness.
What Elizabeth was for Shakespeare, England is still,--at least we fear
so. We should be happy to be contradicted. We are more ambitious for
the glory of England than England is herself. This cannot displease her.

England has a strange institution,--"the poet laureate,"--which attests
the official admiration and a little the national admiration. Under
Elizabeth, England's poet was named Drummond.

Of course, we are no longer in the days when they placarded "Macbeth,
opera of Shakespeare, altered by Sir William Davenant." But if
"Macbeth" is played, it is before a small audience. Kean and Macready
have tried and failed in the endeavour.

At this hour they would not play Shakespeare on any English stage
without erasing from the text the word _God_ wherever they find it. In
the full tide of the nineteenth century, the lord-chamberlain still
weighs heavily on Shakespeare. In England, outside the church, the
word God is not made use of. In conversation they replace "God" by
"Goodness." In the editions or in the representations of Shakespeare,
"God" is replaced by "Heaven." The sense suffers, the verse limps; no
matter. "Lord! Lord! Lord!" the last appeal of Desdemona expiring, was
suppressed by command in the edition of Blount and Jaggard in 1623.
They do not utter it on the stage. "Sweet Jesus!" would be a blasphemy;
a devout Spanish woman on the English stage is bound to exclaim, "Sweet
Jupiter!" Do we exaggerate? Would you have a proof? Let us open
"Measure for Measure." There is a nun, Isabella. Whom does she invoke?
Jupiter. Shakespeare had written "Jesus."[2]

The tone of a certain Puritanical criticism toward Shakespeare is, most
certainly, improved; yet the cure is not complete.

It is not many years since an English economist, a man of authority,
making, in the midst of social questions, a literary excursion,
affirmed in a lofty digression, and without exhibiting the slightest
diffidence, this:--

    "Shakespeare cannot live because he has treated specially
    foreign or ancient subjects--'Hamlet,' 'Othello,' 'Romeo and
    Juliet,' 'Macbeth,' 'Lear,' 'Julius Cæsar,' 'Coriolanus,'
    'Timon of Athens,' etc. Now, nothing is likely to live in
    literature except matters of immediate observation and works
    made on contemporary subjects."

What say you to the theory? We would not mention it if this system
had not met approvers in England and propagators in France. Besides
Shakespeare, it simply excludes from literary "life" Schiller,
Corneille, Milton, Virgil, Euripides, Sophocles, Æschylus, and Homer.
It is true that it surrounds with a halo of glory Aulus-Gellius and
Restif of Bretonne. O critic, this Shakespeare is not likely to live,
he is only immortal!

About the same time, another--English also, but of the Scotch
school, a Puritan of that discontented variety of which Knox is the
head--declared poetry childishness; repudiated beauty of style as an
obstacle interposed between the idea and the reader; saw in Hamlet's
soliloquy only "a cold lyricism," and in Othello's adieu to standards
and camps only "a declamation;" likened the metaphors of poets to
illustrations in books,--good for amusing babies; and showed a
particular contempt for Shakespeare, as besmeared from one end to the
other with that "illuminating process."

Not later than last January, a witty London paper,[3] with indignant
irony, was asking which is the most celebrated, in England, Shakespeare
or "Mr. Calcraft, the hangman:"--

    "There are localities in this enlightened country where,
    if you pronounce the name of Shakespeare they will answer
    you: 'I don't know what this Shakespeare may be about whom
    you make all this fuss, but I will back Hammer Lane of
    Birmingham to fight him for five pounds.' But no mistake is
    made about Calcraft."

[Footnote 1: Rev. John Wheeler.]

[Footnote 2: On the other hand, however, in spite of all the
lords-chamberlain, it is difficult to beat the French censorship.
Religions are diverse, but bigotry is one, and is the same in all its
specimens. What we are about to write is an extract from the notes (on
"Richard II." and "Henry IV.") added to his translation by the new
translator of Shakespeare:--

    "'Jesus! Jesus!' This exclamation of Shallow was expunged
    in the edition of 1623, conformably to the statute which
    forbade the uttering of the name of the Divinity on the
    stage. It is worthy of remark that our modern theatre
    has had to undergo, under the scissors of the censorship
    of the Bourbons, the same stupid mutilations to which
    the censorship of the Stuarts condemned the theatre of
    Shakespeare. I read what follows in the first page of the
    manuscript of 'Hernani,' which I have in my hands:--

    'Received at the Théâtre-Français, Oct. 8, 1829.

                            'The Stage-manager,


    "And lower down, in red ink:--

    'On condition of expunging the name of "Jesus" wherever
    found, and conforming to the alterations marked at pages 27,
    28, 29, 62, 74, and 76.

    'The Secretary of State for the Department of the Interior,

                                             'La Bourdonnate.'"

We may add that in the scenery representing Saragossa (second act of
"Hernani") it was forbidden to put any belfry or any church, which made
resemblance rather difficult, Saragossa having in the sixteenth century
three hundred and nine churches and six hundred and seventeen convents.]

[Footnote 3: Daily Telegraph, 13 Jan., 1864.]


At all events, Shakespeare has not the monument that England owes to

France, let me admit, is not, in like cases, much more speedy. Another
glory, very different from Shakespeare, but not less grand,--Joan of
Arc,--waits also, and has waited longer for a national monument, a
monument worthy of her.

This land which has been Gaul, and where the Velledas reigned,
has, in a Catholic and historic sense, for patronesses two august
figures,--Mary and Joan. The one, holy, is the Virgin; the other,
heroic, is the Maid. Louis XIII. gave France to the one; the other has
given France to France. The monument of the second should not be less
high than the monument of the first Joan of Arc must have a trophy as
grand as Notre-Dame. When shall she have it?

England has failed utterly to pay its debt to Shakespeare; but so also
has France failed toward Joan of Arc.

These ingratitudes require to be sternly denounced. Doubtless the
governing aristocracies, which blind the eyes of the masses, deserve
the first accusation of guilt; but on the whole, conscience exists
for a people as for an individual. Ignorance is only an attenuating
circumstance; and when these denials of justice last for centuries,
they remain the fault of governments, but become the fault of nations.
Let us know, when necessary, how to tell nations of their shortcomings.
France and England, you are wrong.

To flatter peoples would be worse than to flatter kings. The one is
base, the other would be cowardly.

Let us go further, and since this thought has been presented to us,
let us generalize it usefully, even if we should leave our subject for
a while. No; the people have not the right to throw indefinitely the
fault upon governments. The acceptation of oppression by the oppressed
ends in becoming complicity. Cowardice is consent whenever the duration
of a bad thing, which presses on the people, and which the people could
prevent if they would, goes beyond the amount of patience endurable by
an honest man; there is an appreciable solidarity and a partnership in
shame between the government guilty of the evil and the people allowing
it to be done. To suffer is worthy of veneration; to submit is worthy
of contempt. Let us pass on.

A noteworthy coincidence: the man who denies Shakespeare, Voltaire,
is also the insulter of Joan of Arc. But then what is Voltaire?
Voltaire--we may say it with joy and sadness--is the French mind. Let
us understand: it is the French mind, up to the Revolution exclusively.
From the French Revolution, France increasing in greatness, the French
mind grows larger, and tends to become the European mind; it is less
local and more fraternal, less Gallic and more human. It represents
more and more Paris, the city heart of the world. As for Voltaire,
he remains as he is,--the man of the future, but also the man of the
past. He is one of those glories which make the thinker say yes and no;
he has against him two sarcasms, Joan of Arc and Shakespeare. He is
punished through what he sneered at.


In truth, a monument to Shakespeare, _cui bono?_ The statue that he
has made for himself is worth more, with all England for a pedestal.
Shakespeare has no need of a pyramid; he has his work.

What do you suppose marble could do for him? What can bronze do where
there is glory? Malachite and alabaster are of no avail; jasper,
serpentine, basalt, red porphyry, such as that at the Invalides,
granite, Paros and Carrara, are of no use,--genius is genius without
them. Even if all the stones had a part in it, would they make that man
an inch greater? What vault shall be more indestructible than this;
"The Winter's Tale," "The Tempest," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The
Two Gentlemen of Verona," "Julius Cæsar," "Coriolanus?" What monument
more grandiose than "Lear," more wild than "The Merchant of Venice,"
more dazzling than "Romeo and Juliet," more amazing than "Richard
III."? What moon could throw on that building a light more mysterious
than "The Midsummer Night's Dream"? What capital, were it even London,
could produce around it a rumour so gigantic as the tumultuous soul
of "Macbeth"? What framework of cedar or of oak will last as long
as "Othello"? What bronze will be bronze as much as "Hamlet"? No
construction of lime, of rock, of iron and of cement, is worth the
breath,--the deep breath of genius, which is the breathing of God
through man. A head in which is an idea,--such is the summit; heaps
of stone and brick would be useless efforts. What edifice equals a
thought? Babel is below Isaiah; Cheops is less than Homer; the Coliseum
is inferior to Juvenal; the Giralda of Seville is dwarfish by the side
of Cervantes; St. Peter of Rome does not reach to the ankle of Dante.
How could you manage to build a tower as high as that name: Shakespeare.

Ah, add something, if you can, to a mind!

Suppose a monument. Suppose it splendid; suppose it sublime,--a
triumphal arch, an obelisk, a circus with a pedestal in the centre, a
cathedral. No people is more illustrious, more noble, more magnificent,
and more magnanimous than the English people. Couple these two ideas,
England and Shakespeare, and make an edifice arise therefrom. Such
a nation celebrating such a man, it will be superb. Imagine the
monument, imagine the inauguration. The Peers are there, the Commons
give their adherence, the bishops officiate, the princes join the
procession, the queen is present. The virtuous woman in whom the
English people, royalist as we know, see and venerate their actual
personification,--this worthy mother, this noble widow, comes, with the
deep respect which is called for, to incline material majesty before
ideal majesty; the Queen of England salutes Shakespeare. The homage of
Victoria repairs the disdain of Elizabeth. As for Elizabeth, she is
probably there also, sculptured somewhere on the surbase, with Henry
VIII., her father, and James I., her successor,--pygmies beneath the
poet. The cannon booms, the curtain falls, they uncover the statue,
which seems to say, "At length!" and which has grown in the shade
during three hundred years,--three centuries; the growth of a colossus;
an immensity. All the York, Cumberland, Pitt, and Peel bronzes have
been made use of, in order to produce this statue; the public places
have been disencumbered of a heap of uncalled-for metal-castings;
in this lofty figure have been amalgamated all kinds of Henrys and
Edwards; the various Williams and the numerous Georges have been
melted, the Achilles in Hyde Park has made the great-toe. This is fine;
behold Shakespeare almost as great as a Pharaoh or a Sesostris. Bells,
drums, trumpets, applause, hurrahs.

What then?

It is honourable for England, indifferent to Shakespeare.

What is the salutation of royalty, of aristocracy, of the army, and
even of the English populace, ignorant yet to this moment, like
nearly all other nations,--what is the salutation of all these groups
variously enlightened to him who has the eternal acclamation, with its
reverberation, of all ages and all men? What orison of the Bishop of
London or of the Archbishop of Canterbury is worth the cry of a woman
before Desdemona, of a mother before Arthur, of a soul before Hamlet?

And thus, when universal outcry demands from England a monument to
Shakespeare, it is not for the sake of Shakespeare, it is for the sake
of England.

There are cases in which the repayment of a debt is of greater import
to the debtor than to the creditor.

A monument is an example. The lofty head of a great man is a light.
Crowds, like the waves, require beacons above them. It is good that
the passer-by should know that there are great men. People may not
have time to read; they are forced to see. People pass by that way,
and stumble against the pedestal; they are almost obliged to raise the
head and to glance a little at the inscription. Men escape a book; they
cannot escape the statue. One day on the bridge of Rouen, before the
beautiful statue due to David d'Angers, a peasant mounted on an ass
said to me: "Do you know Pierre Corneille?" "Yes," I replied. "So do
I," he rejoined. "And do you know 'The Cid'?" I resumed. "No," said he.

To him, Corneille was the statue.

This beginning in the knowledge of great men is necessary to the
people. The monument incites them to know more of the man. They desire
to learn to read in order to know what this bronze means. A statue is
an elbow-thrust to ignorance.

There is then, in the execution of such monuments, popular utility as
well as national justice.

To perform what is useful at the same time as what is just, that will
at the end certainly tempt England. She is the debtor of Shakespeare.
To leave such a debt in abeyance is not a good attitude for the pride
of a people. It is a point of morality that nations should be good
payers in matters of gratitude. Enthusiasm is probity. When a man is a
glory in the face of his nation, that nation which does not perceive
the fact astounds the human race around.


England, as it is easy to foresee, will build a monument to her poet.

At the very moment we finished writing the pages you have just read,
was announced in London the formation of a committee for the solemn
celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of
Shakespeare. This committee will dedicate to Shakespeare, on the 23d
April, 1864, a monument and a festival which will surpass, we doubt
not, the incomplete programme we have just sketched out. They will
spare nothing. The act of admiration will be a striking one. One may
expect everything, in point of magnificence, from the nation which
has created the prodigious palace at Sydenham, that Versailles of a
people. The initiative taken by the committee will doubtless secure
the co-operation of the powers that be. We discard, for our part, and
the committee will discard, we think, all idea of a manifestation by
subscription. A subscription, unless of one penny,--that is to say,
open to all the people,--is necessarily fractional. What is due to
Shakespeare is a national manifestation;--a holiday, a public _fête_,
a popular monument, voted by the Chambers and entered in the Budget
England would do it for her king. Now, what is the King of England
beside the man of England? Every confidence is due to the Jubilee
Committee of Shakespeare,--a committee composed of persons highly
distinguished in the press, the peerage, literature, the stage, and
the church. Eminent men from all countries, representing intellect
in France, in Germany, in Belgium, in Spain, in Italy, complete this
committee, in all points of view excellent and competent. Another
committee, formed at Stratford-on-Avon, seconds the London committee.
We congratulate England.

Nations have a dull ear and a long life,--which latter makes their
deafness by no means irreparable: they have time to change their mind.
The English are awake at last to their glory. England begins to spell
that name, Shakespeare, upon which the universe has laid her finger.

In April, 1664, a hundred years after Shakespeare was born, England was
occupied in cheering loudly Charles II., who had sold Dunkirk to France
for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling, and in looking at
something that was a skeleton and had been Cromwell, whitening under
the north-east wind and rain on the gallows at Tyburn. In April, 1764,
two hundred years after Shakespeare was born, England was contemplating
the dawn of George III.,--a king destined to imbecility,--who at that
epoch, in secret councils, and in somewhat unconstitutional asides
with the Tory chiefs and the German Landgraves, was sketching out that
policy of resistance to progress which was to strive, first against
liberty in America, then against democracy in France, and which, during
the single ministry of the first Pitt, had, in 1778, raised the debt of
England to the sum of eighty millions sterling. In April, 1864, three
hundred years since Shakespeare's birth, England raises a statue to
Shakespeare. It is late, but it is well.




The nineteenth century springs from itself only; it does not receive
its impulse from any ancestor; it is the offspring of an idea.
Doubtless, Isaiah, Homer, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, have been or
could be great starting-points for important philosophical or poetical
formations; but the nineteenth century has an august mother,--the
French Revolution. It has that powerful blood in its veins. It honours
men of genius. When denied it salutes them, when ignored it proclaims
them, when persecuted it avenges them, when insulted it crowns them,
when dethroned it replaces them upon their pedestal; it venerates
them, but it does not proceed from them. The nineteenth century has
for family itself, and itself alone. It is the characteristic of its
revolutionary nature to dispense with ancestors.

Itself a genius, it fraternizes with men of genius. As for its source,
it is where theirs is,--beyond man. The mysterious gestations of
progress succeed each other according to a providential law. The
nineteenth century is born of civilization. It has a continent to bring
into the world. France has borne this century; and this century bears

The Greek stock bore civilization, narrow and circumscribed at first by
the mulberry leaf, confined to the Morea; then civilization, gaining
step by step, grew broader, and formed the Roman stock. It is to-day
the French stock,--that is to say, all Europe,--with young shoots in
America, Africa, and Asia.

The greatest of these young shoots is a democracy,--the United States,
the sprouting of which was aided by France in the last century. France,
sublime essayist in progress, has founded a republic in America before
making one in Europe. _Et vidit quod esset bonum._ After having lent
to Washington an auxiliary, Lafayette, France, returning home, gave to
Voltaire, dismayed within his tomb, that formidable successor, Danton.
In presence of the monstrous past, hurling every thunder, exhaling
every miasma, breathing every darkness, protruding every talon,
horrible and terrible, progress, constrained to use the same weapons,
has had suddenly a hundred arms, a hundred heads, a hundred tongues of
fire, a hundred roarings. The good has transformed itself into a hydra.
It is this that is termed the Revolution.

Nothing can be more august.

The Revolution ended one century and began another.

An intellectual awakening prepares the way for an overthrow of
facts,--and this is the eighteenth century. After which the political
revolution, once accomplished, seeks expression, and the literary and
social revolution completes it: this is the nineteenth century. With
ill-will, but not unjustly, has it been said that romanticism and
socialism are identical: hatred, in its desire to injure, very often
establishes, and, so far as is in its power, consolidates.

A parenthesis. This word, romanticism, has, like all war-cries, the
advantage of readily summing up a group of ideas. It is brief,--which
pleases in the contest; but it has, to our idea, through its militant
signification, the objection of appearing to limit the movement that
it represents to a warlike action. Now, this movement is a matter of
intellect, a matter of civilization, a matter of soul; and this is why
the writer of these lines has never used the words _romanticism_ or
_romantic._ They will not be found in any of the pages of criticism
that he has had occasion to write. If to-day he derogates from his
usual prudence in polemics, it is for the sake of greater rapidity
and with all reservation. The same observation may be made on the
subject of the word _socialism_, which admits of so many different

The triple movement--literary, philosophical, and social--of the
nineteenth century, which is one single movement, is nothing but the
current of the revolution in ideas. This current, after having swept
away facts, is perpetuated in minds with all its immensity.

This term, "literary '93," so often quoted in 1830 against
contemporaneous literature, was not so much an insult as it
was intended to be. It was certainly as unjust to employ it as
characterizing the whole literary movement as it is iniquitous to
employ it to describe all the political revolutions; there is in these
two phenomena something besides '93. But this term, "literary '93," was
relatively exact, insomuch as it indicated, confusedly but truthfully,
the origin of the literary movement which belongs to our epoch, while
endeavouring to dishonour that movement. Here again the clairvoyance
of hatred was blind. Its daubings of mud upon the face of truth are
gilding, light, and glory.

The Revolution, turning climacteric of humanity, is made up of several
years. Each of these years expresses a period, represents an aspect, or
realizes a phase of the phenomenon. Tragic '93 is one of those colossal
years. Good news must sometimes have a mouth of bronze. Such a mouth is

Listen to the immense proclamation proceeding from it. Give attention,
remain speechless, and be impressed. God himself said the first time
_Fiat lux_, the second time he has caused it to be said.

By whom?

By '93.

Therefore, we men of the nineteenth century hold in honour that
reproach, "You are '93."

But do not stop there. We are '89 as well as '93. The Revolution,
the whole Revolution,--such is the source of the literature of the
nineteenth century.

On these grounds put it on its trial, this literature, or seek its
triumph; hate it or love it. According to the amount of the future that
you have in you, outrage it or salute it; little do animosities and
fury affect it. It is the logical deduction from the great chaotic and
genesiacal fact that our fathers have witnessed, and which has given a
new starting-point to the world. He who is against that fact is against
that literature; he who is for that fact is on its side. What the fact
is worth the literature is worth. The reactionary writers are not
mistaken; wherever there is revolution, patent or latent, the Catholic
and royalist scent is unfailing. Those men of letters of the past award
to contemporaneous literature an honourable amount of diatribe; their
aversion is convulsive. One of their journalists, who is, I believe a
bishop, pronounces this word _poet_ with the same accent as the word
_Septembrist_; another, less of a bishop, but quite as angry, writes,
"I feel in all this literature Marat and Robespierre." This last writer
is rather mistaken; there is in "this literature" Danton rather than

But the fact is true: democracy is in this literature.

The Revolution has forged the clarion; the nineteenth century sounds it.

Ah, this affirmation suits us, and, in truth, we do not recoil before
it; we avow our glory,--we are revolutionists. The thinkers of the
present time,--poets, writers, historians, orators, philosophers,--all
are derived from the French Revolution. They come from it, and it
alone. It was '89 that demolished the Bastille; it was '93 that took
the crown from the Louvre. From '89 sprung Deliverance, and from
'93 Victory. From '89 and '93 the men of the nineteenth century
proceed: these are their father and their mother. Do not seek for
them another affiliation, another inspiration, another insufflation,
another origin. They are the democrats of the idea, successors to the
democrats of action. They are the emancipators. Liberty bent over their
cradles,--they all have sucked her vast breast; they all have her milk
in their entrails, her marrow in their bones, her sap in their will,
her spirit of revolt in their reason, her flame in their intellect.

Even those among them (there are some) who were born aristocrats, who
came to the world banished in some degree among families of the past,
who have fatally received one of those primary educations whose stupid
effort is to contradict progress, and who have commenced the words
that they had to say to our century with an indescribable royalist
stuttering,--these, from that period, from their infancy (they will
not contradict me), felt the sublime monster within them. They had
the inner ebullition of the immense fact. They had in the depth of
their conscience a whispering of mysterious ideas; the inward shock of
false certainties troubled their mind; they felt their sombre surface
of monarchism, Catholicism, and aristocracy tremble, shudder, and by
degrees split up. One day, suddenly and powerfully, the swelling of
truth within them prevailed, the hatching was completed, the eruption
took place; the light flamed in them, causing them to burst open,--not
falling on them, but (more beautiful mystery!) gushing out of these
amazed men, enlightening them, while it burned within them. They were
craters unknown to themselves.

This phenomenon has been interpreted to their reproach as a treason.
They passed over, in fact, from right divine to human right. They
turned their back on false history, on false tradition, on false
dogmas, on false philosophy, on false daylight, on false truth. The
free spirit which soars up,--bird called by Aurora,--offends intellects
saturated with ignorance and the fœtus preserved in spirits of wine.
He who sees offends the blind; he who hears makes the deaf indignant;
he who walks offers an abominable insult to cripples. In the eyes of
dwarfs, abortions, Aztecs, myrmidons, and pygmies, forever subject to
rickets, growth is apostasy.

The writers and poets of the nineteenth century have the admirable
good fortune of proceeding from a genesis, of arriving after an end
of the world, of accompanying a reappearance of light, of being the
organs of a new beginning. This imposes on them duties unknown to
their predecessors--the duties of intentional reformers and direct
civilizers. They continue nothing; they remake everything. For new
times, new duties. The function of thinkers in our days is complex; to
think is no longer sufficient,--they must love; to think and love is
no longer sufficient,--they must act; to think, to love, and to act,
no longer suffices,--they must suffer. Lay down the pen, and go where
you hear the grapeshot. Here is a barricade; be one on it. Here is
exile; accept it. Here is the scaffold; be it so. Let John Brown be
in Montesquieu, if needful. The Lucretius required by this century in
labour should contain Cato. Æschylus, who wrote the "Orestias" had for
a brother Cynegyrus, who fastened with his teeth on the ships of the
enemies: that was sufficient for Greece at the time of Salamis, but
it no longer suffices for France after the Revolution. That Æschylus
and Cynegyrus are brothers is not enough; they must be the same
man. Such are the actual requirements of progress. Those who devote
themselves to great and pressing things can never be too great. To
set ideas in motion, to heap up evidence, to pile up principles, that
is the redoubtable movement. To heap Pelion on Ossa is the labour of
infants beside that work of giants, the placing of right upon truth.
To scale that afterward, and to dethrone usurpations in the midst of
thunders,--such is the work.

The future presses. To-morrow cannot wait. Humanity has not a minute to
lose. Quick! quick! let us hasten; the wretched ones have their feet
on red-hot iron. They hunger, they thirst, they suffer. Ah, terrible
emaciation of the poor human body! Parasitism laughs, the ivy grows
green and thrives, the mistletoe is flourishing, the tapeworm is happy.
What a frightful object the prosperity of the tapeworm! To destroy that
which devours,--in that is safety. Your life has within itself death,
which is in good health. There is too much misery, too much desolation,
too much immodesty, too much nakedness, too many brothels, too many
prisons, too many rags, too many crimes, too much weakness, too much
darkness, not enough schools, too many little innocents growing up
for evil! The truckle-beds of poor girls are suddenly covered with
silk and lace,--and in that is worse misery; by the side of misfortune
there is vice, the one urging the other. Such a society requires prompt
succour. Let us seek for the best. Go all of you in this search. Where
are the promised lands? Civilization would go forward; let us try
theories, systems, ameliorations, inventions, progress, until the shoe
for that foot shall be found. The attempt costs nothing, or costs but
little,--to attempt is not to adopt,--but before all, above all, let
us be lavish of light. All sanitary purification begins in opening
windows wide. Let us open wide all intellects. Let us supply souls with

Quick, quick, O thinkers! Let the human race breathe; give hope, give
the ideal, do good. Let one step succeed another, horizon expand
into horizon, conquest follow conquest. Because you have given what
you promised do not think you have performed all that is required of
you. To possess is to promise; the dawn of to-day imposes on the sun
obligations for to-morrow.

Let nothing be lost. Let not one strength be isolated. Every one to
work! there is vast urgency for it. No more idle art. Poetry the worker
of civilization, what more admirable? The dreamer should be a pioneer;
the strophe should mean something. The beautiful should be at the
service of honesty. I am the valet of my conscience; it rings for me: I
come. "Go!" I go. What do you require of me, O truth, sole majesty of
this world? Let each one feel in haste to do well. A book is sometimes
a source of hoped-for succour. An idea is a balm, a word may be a
dressing for wounds; poetry is a physician. Let no one tarry. Suffering
is losing its strength while you are idling. Let men leave this dreamy
laziness. Leave the kief to the Turks. Let men labour for the safety of
all, and let them rush into it and be out of breath. Do not be sparing
of your strides. Nothing useless; no inertia. What do you call dead
nature? Everything lives. The duty of all is to live; to walk, to run,
to fly, to soar, is the universal law. What do you wait for? Who stops
you? Ah, there are times when one might wish to hear the stones murmur
at the slowness of man!

Sometimes one goes into the woods. To whom does it not happen at times
to be overwhelmed?--one sees so many sad things. The stage is a long
one to go over, the consequences are long in coming, a generation is
behindhand, the work of the age languishes. What! so many sufferings
yet? One might think he has gone backward. There is everywhere
increase of superstition, of cowardice, of deafness, of blindness, of
imbecility. Penal laws weigh upon brutishness. This wretched problem
has been set,--to augment comfort by putting off right; to sacrifice
the superior side of man to the inferior side; to yield up principle
to appetite. Cæsar takes charge for the belly, I make over to him the
brains,--it is the old sale of at birth-right for the dish of porridge.
A little more, and this fatal anomaly would cause a wrong road to be
taken toward civilization. The fattening pig would no longer be the
king, but the people. Alas! this ugly expedient does not even succeed.
No diminution whatever of the malady. In the last ten years--for the
last twenty years--the low water-mark of prostitution, of mendicity, of
crime, has been stationary, below which evil has not fallen one degree.
Of true education, of gratuitous education, there is none. The infant
nevertheless requires to know that he is man, and the father that he is
citizen. Where are the promises? Where is the hope? Oh, poor wretched
humanity! one is tempted to shout for help in the forest; one is
tempted to claim support, assistance, and a strong arm from that grand
mournful Nature. Can this mysterious ensemble of forces be indifferent
to progress? We supplicate, appeal, raise our hands toward the shadow.
We listen, wondering if the rustlings will become voices. The duty of
the springs and streams should be to babble forth the word "Forward!"
One could wish to hear nightingales sing new Marseillaises.

Notwithstanding all this, these times of halting are nothing beyond
what is normal. Discouragement would be puerile. There are halts,
repose, breathing spaces in the march of peoples, as there are winters
in the progress of the seasons. The gigantic step, '89, is all the same
a fact. To despair would be absurd, but to stimulate is necessary.

To stimulate, to press, to chide, to awaken, to suggest to inspire,--it
is this function, fulfilled everywhere by writers, which impresses
on the literature of this century so high a character of power and
originality. To remain faithful to all the laws of art, while combining
them with the law of progress,--such is the problem, victoriously
solved by so many noble and proud minds.

Thence this word _deliverance_, which appears above everything in the
light, as if it were written on the very forehead of the ideal.

The Revolution is France sublimed. There was a day when France was
in the furnace,--the furnace causes wings to grow on certain warlike
martyrs,--and from amid the flames this giant came forth archangel.
At this day, by all the world, France is called Revolution; and
henceforth this word _revolution_ will be the name of civilization,
until it can be replaced by the word _harmony._ I repeat it: do not
seek elsewhere the starting-point and the birth-place of the literature
of the nineteenth century. Yes, as many as there be of us, great and
small, powerful and unknown, illustrious and obscure, in all our works
good or bad, whatever they may be,--poems, dramas, romances, history,
philosophy,--at the tribune of assemblies as before the crowds of the
theatre, as in the meditation of solitudes; yes, everywhere; yes,
always; yes, to combat violence and imposture; yes, to rehabilitate
those who are stoned and run down; yes, to sum up logically and to
march straight onward; yes, to console, to succour, to relieve, to
encourage, to teach; yes, to dress wounds in hope of curing them;
yes, to transform charity into fraternity, alms into assistance,
sluggishness into work, idleness into utility, centralization into a
family, iniquity into justice, the _bourgeois_ into the citizen, the
populace into the people, the rabble into the nation, nations, into
humanity, war into love, prejudice into free examination, frontiers
into solderings, limits into openings, ruts into rails, vestry-rooms
into temples, the instinct of evil into the desire of good, life into
right, kings into men; yes, to deprive religions of hell and societies
of the galley; yes, to be brothers to the wretched, the serf, the
fellah, the _prolétaire_, the disinherited, the banished, the betrayed,
the conquered, the sold, the enchained, the sacrificed, the prostitute,
the convict, the ignorant, the savage, the slave, the negro, the
condemned, and the damned,--yes, we are thy sons, Revolution!

Yes, men of genius; yes, poets, philosophers, historians; yes,
giants of that great art of previous ages which is all the light of
the past,--O men eternal, the minds of this day salute you, but do
not follow you; in respect to you they hold to this law,--to admire
everything, to imitate nothing. Their function is no longer yours.
They have business with the virility of the human race. The hour which
makes mankind of age has struck. We assist, under the full light of
the ideal, at that majestic junction of the beautiful with the useful.
No actual or possible genius can surpass you, ye men of genius of old;
to equal you is all the ambition allowed: but, to equal you, one must
conform to the necessities of our time, as you supplied the necessities
of yours. Writers who are sons of the Revolution have a holy task.
O Homer, their epic poem must weep; O Herodotus, their history must
protest; O Juvenal, their satire must dethrone; O Shakespeare, their
"thou shalt be king," must be said to the people; O Æschylus, their
Prometheus must strike Jupiter with thunderbolts; O Job, their
dunghill must be fruitful; O Dante, their hell must be extinguished;
O Isaiah, thy Babylon crumbles, theirs must blaze forth with light!
They do what you have done; they contemplate creation directly, they
observe humanity directly; they do not accept as a guiding light any
refracted ray,--not even yours. Like you, they have for their sole
starting-point, outside them, universal being: in them, their soul.
They have for the source of their work the one source whence flows
Nature and whence flows art, the infinite. As the writer of these lines
said forty years ago: "The poets and the writers of the nineteenth
century have neither masters nor models."[1] No; in all that vast
and sublime art of all peoples, in all those grand creations of all
epochs,--no, not even thee, Æschylus, not even thee, Dante, not even
thee, Shakespeare,--no, they have neither models nor masters. And why
have they neither masters nor models? It is because they have one
model, Man, and because they have one master, God.

[Footnote 1: Preface to "Cromwell."]




Here is the advent of the new constellation. It is certain that at the
present hour that which has been till now the light of the human race
grows pale, and that the old flame is about to disappear from the world.

The men of brutal force have, since human tradition existed, shone
alone in the empyrean of history; theirs was the only supremacy.
Under the various names of kings, emperors, captains, chiefs,
princes,--summed up in the word heroes,--this group of an apocalypse
was resplendent. They were all dripping with victories. Terror
transformed itself into acclamation to salute them. They dragged after
them an indescribable tumultuous flame. They appeared to man in a
disorder of horrible light. They did not light up the heavens,--they
set them on fire. They looked as if they meant to take possession of
the Infinite. Rumbling crashes were heard in their glory. A red glare
mingled with it. Was it purple? Was it blood? Was it shame? Their light
made one think of the face of Cain. They hated one another. Flashing
shocks passed from one to the other; at times these enormous planets
came into collision, striking out lightnings. Their look was furious.
Their radiance stretched out into swords. All that hung terrible above

That tragic glare fills the past. To-day it is in full process of

There is decline in war, decline in despotism, decline in theocracy,
decline in slavery, decline in the scaffold. The blade becomes shorter,
the tiara is fading away, the crown is simplified; war is raging, the
plume bends lower, usurpation is circumscribed, the chain is lightened,
the rack is out of countenance. The antique violence of the few against
all, called right divine, is coming to an end. Legitimacy, the grace of
God, the monarchy of Pharamond, nations branded on the shoulder with
the _fleur-de-lis_, the possession of peoples by the right of birth,
the long series of ancestors giving right over the living,--these
things are yet striving in some places; at Naples, in Prussia, etc; but
they are struggling rather than striving,--it is death that strains for
life. A stammering which to-morrow will be utterance, and the day after
to-morrow a full declaration, proceeds from the bruised lips of the
serf, of the vassal, of the _prolétaire_, of the pariah. The gag breaks
up between the teeth of the human race. The human race has had enough
of the sorrowful path, and the patient refuses to go farther.

From this very time certain forms of despotism are no longer possible.
The Pharaoh is a mummy, the sultan a phantom, the Cæsar a counterfeit.
This stylite of the Trajan columns is anchylosed on its pedestal; it
has on its head the excrement of free eagles; it is nihility rather
than glory; the bands of the sepulchre fasten this crown of laurels.

The period of the men of brutal force is gone. They have been glorious,
certainly, but with a glory that melts away. That species of great men
is soluble in progress. Civilization rapidly oxidizes these bronzes.
At the point of maturity to which the French Revolution has already
brought the universal conscience, the hero is no longer a hero without
a good reason; the captain is discussed, the conqueror is inadmissible.
In our days Louis XIV. invading the Palatinate would look like a
robber. From the last century these realities began to dawn. Frederick
II., in the presence of Voltaire, felt and owned himself somewhat of
a brigand. To be a great man of matter, to be pompously violent, to
govern by the sword-knot and the cockade, to forge right upon force, to
hammer out justice and truth by blows of accomplished facts, to make
brutalities of genius,--is to be grand, if you like; but it is a coarse
manner of being grand,--glories announced with drums which are met with
a shrug of the shoulders. Sonorous heroes have deafened human reason
until to-day; that pompous noise begins now to weary it. It shuts
its eyes and ears before those authorized slaughters that they call
battles. The sublime murderers of men have had their time; it is in a
certain relative forgetfulness that henceforth they will be illustrious
and august; humanity, become greater, requires to dispense with them.
The food for guns thinks; it reflects, and is actually losing its
admiration for being shot down by a cannon-ball.

A few figures by the way may not be useless.

All tragedy is part of our subject. The tragedy of poets is not the
only one; there is the tragedy of politicians and statesmen. Would you
like to know how much that tragedy costs?

Heroes have an enemy; that enemy is called finance. For a long time
the amount of money paid for that kind of glory was ignored. In order
to disguise the total, there were convenient little fireplaces like
that in which Louis XIV. burned the accounts of Versailles. That day
the smoke of one thousand millions of francs passed out the chimney of
the royal stove. The nation did not even take notice. At the present
day nations have one great virtue,--they are miserly. They know that
prodigality is the mother of abasement. They reckon up; they learn
book-keeping by double entry. Warlike glory henceforth has its debit
and credit account: that renders it impossible.

The greatest warrior of modern times is not Napoleon, it is Pitt
Napoleon carried on warfare; Pitt created it. It is Pitt who willed all
the wars of the Revolution and of the empire; they proceeded from him.
Take away Pitt and put Fox in his place, there would then be no reason
for that exorbitant battle of twenty-three years, there would be no
longer any coalition. Pitt was the soul of the coalition, and he dead,
his soul remained amidst the universal war. What Pitt cost England and
the world, here it is. We add this bas-relief to his pedestal.

In the first place, the expenditure in men. From 1791 to 1814 France
alone, striving against Europe, coalesced by England,--France
constrained and compelled, expended in butcheries for military glory
(and also, let us add, for the defence of territory) five millions of
men; that is to say, six hundred men per day. Europe, including the
total of France, has expended sixteen millions six hundred thousand
men; that is to say, two thousand deaths per day during twenty-three

Secondly, the expenditure of money. We have, unfortunately, no
authentic total, save the total of England. From 1791 to 1814 England,
in order to make France succumb to Europe, became indebted to the
extent of eighty-one millions, two hundred and sixty five thousand,
eight hundred and forty-two pounds sterling. Divide this total by
the total of men killed, at the rate of two thousand per day for
twenty-three years, and you arrive at this result,--that each corpse
stretched on the field of battle has cost England alone fifty pounds

Add the total of Europe,--total unknown, but enormous.

With these seventeen millions of dead men, they might have peopled
Australia with Europeans. With the eighty millions expended by England
in cannon-shots, they might have changed the face of the earth, begun
the work of civilization everywhere, and suppressed throughout the
entire world ignorance and misery.

England pays eighty millions for the two statues of Pitt and Wellington.

It is a fine thing to have heroes, but it is an expensive luxury. Poets
cost less.


The discharge of the warrior is signed: it is splendour in the
distance. The great Nimrod, the great Cyrus, the great Sennacherib,
the great Sesostris, the great Alexander, the great Pyrrhus, the great
Hannibal, the great Cæsar, the great Timour, the great Louis, the great
Frederic, and more great ones,--all are going away.

It would be a mistake to think that we reject these men purely and
simply. In our eyes five or six of those that we have named are
legitimately illustrious; they have even mingled something good in
their ravages; their definitive total embarrasses the absolute equity
of the thinker, and they weigh nearly even weights in the balance of
the injurious and the useful.

Others have been only injurious. They are numerous, innumerable even;
for the masters of the world are a crowd.

The thinker is the weigher. Clemency suits him. Let us therefore
say. Those others who have done only evil have one attenuating

They have another excuse yet,--the mental condition of the human race
itself at the moment they appeared; the medium surrounding facts,
modifiable, but encumbering.

It is not men that are tyrants, but things. The real tyrants are called
frontier, track, routine; blindness under the form of fanaticism,
deafness and dumbness under the form of diversity of languages; quarrel
under the form of diversity of weights, measures, and moneys; hatred
resulting from quarrel, war resulting from hatred. All these tyrants
may be called by one name,--separation. Division, whence proceeds
irresponsible government,--this is despotism in the abstract.

Even the tyrants of flesh are mere things. Caligula is much more a
fact than a man; he is a result more than an existence. The Roman
proscriber, dictator, or Cæsar, refuses the vanquished fire and
water,--that is to say, puts his life out. One day of Gela represents
twenty thousand proscribed, one day of Tiberius thirty thousand, one
day of Sylla seventy thousand. One evening Vitellius, being ill, sees
a house lighted up, where people were rejoicing. "Do they think me
dead?" says Vitellius. It is Junius Blesus who sups with Tuscus Cæcina;
the emperor sends to these drinkers a cup of poison, that they may
realize by this sinister end of too joyous a night that Vitellius is
living. (Reddendam pro intempestiva licentia mœstam et funebrem
noctem qua sentient vivere Vitellius et impresser.) Otho and this same
Vitellius forward assassins to each other. Under the Cæsars, it is a
marvel to die in one's bed; Pison, to Whom this happened, is noted for
that strange incident. The garden of Valerius Asiaticus pleases the
emperor; the face of Stateless displeases the empress,--state crimes:
Valerius is strangled because he has a garden, And Statilius because
he has a face. Basil II., Emperor of the East, makes fifteen thousand
Bulgarians prisoners; they are divided into bands of a hundred, and
their eyes are put out, with the exception of one, who is charged
to conduct his ninety-nine blind comrades. He afterward sends into
Bulgaria the whole of this army without eyes. History thus describes
Basil II.: "He was too fond of glory."[1] Paul of Russia gave out this
axiom: "There is no man powerful save him to whom the emperor speaks;
and his power endures as long as the word that he hears." Philip V.
of Spain, so ferociously calm at the _auto-da-fés_, is frightened at
the idea of changing his shirt, and remains six months in bed without
washing and without trimming his nails, for fear of being poisoned, by
means of scissors, or by the water in the basin, or by his shirt, or by
his shoes. Ivan, grandfather of Paul, had a woman put to the torture
before making her lie in his bed; had a newly married bride hanged,
and placed the husband as sentinel by her side, to prevent the rope
from being cut; had a father killed by his son; invented the process of
sawing men in two with a cord; burns Bariatinski himself by slow fire,
and, while the patient howls, brings the embers together with the end
of his stick. Peter, in point of excellence, aspires to that of the
executioner; he exercises himself in cutting off heads. At first he
cuts off but five per day,--little enough; but, with application, he
succeeds in cutting off twenty-five. It is a talent for a czar to tear
away a woman's breast with one blow of the knout.

What are all those monsters? Symptoms,--running sores, pus which oozes
from a sickly body. They are scarcely more responsible than the sum of
a column is responsible for the figures in that column. Basil, Ivan,
Philip, Paul, etc., are the products of vast surrounding stupidity. The
clergy of the Greek Church, for example, having this maxim, "Who can
make us judges of those who are our masters?" what more natural than
that a czar,--Ivan himself,--should cause an archbishop to be sewn in
a bear's skin and devoured by dogs? The czar is amused,--it is quite
right. Under Nero, the man whose brother was killed goes to the temple
to return thanks to the gods; under Ivan, a Boyard empaled employs
his agony, which lasts for twenty-four hours, in repeating, "O God!
protect the czar." The Princess Sanguzko is in tears; she presents,
upon her knees, a supplication to Nicholas: she implores grace for
her husband, conjuring the master to spare Sanguzko (a Pole guilty of
loving Poland) the frightful journey to Siberia. Nicholas listens in
silence, takes the supplication, and writes beneath it, "On foot." Then
Nicholas goes into the streets, and the crowd throw themselves on his
boot to kiss it What have you to say? Nicholas is a madman, the crowd
is a brute. From "khan" comes "knez;" from "knez" comes "tzar;" from
"tzar" the "czar,"--a series of phenomena rather than an affiliation
of men. That after this Ivan you should have this Peter, after this
Peter this Nicholas, after this Nicholas this Alexander, what more
logical? You all rather contribute to this result. The tortured accept
the torture. "This czar, half putrid, half frozen," as Madame de Staël
says,--you made him yourselves. To be a people, to be a force, and to
look upon these things, is to find them good. To be present, is to
give one's consent. He who assists at the crime, assists the crime.
Unresisting presence is an encouraging submission.

Let us add that a preliminary corruption began the complicity even
before the crime was committed. A certain putrid fermentation of
pre-existing baseness engenders the oppressor.

The wolf is the fact of the forest; it is the savage fruit of solitude
without defence. Combine and group together silence, obscurity, easy
victory, monstrous infatuation, prey offered from all parts, murder in
security, the connivance of those who are around, weakness, want of
weapons, abandonment, isolation,--from the point of intersection of
these things breaks forth the ferocious beast. A dark forest, whence
cries cannot be heard, produces the tiger. A tiger is a blindness
hungered and armed. Is it a being? Scarcely. The claw of the animal
knows no more than does the thorn of a plant. The fatal fact engenders
the unconscious organism. In so far as personality is concerned, and
apart from killing for a living, the tiger does not exist. Mouravieff
is mistaken if he thinks that he is a being.

Wicked men spring from bad things. Therefore let us correct the things.

And here we return to our starting-point: An attenuating circumstance
for despotism is--idiocy. That attenuating circumstance we have just

Idiotic despots, a multitude, are the mob of the purple; but above
them, beyond them, by the immeasurable distance which separates that
which radiates from that which stagnates,--there are the despots of
genius; there are the captains, the conquerors, the mighty men of war,
the civilizers of force, the ploughmen of the sword.

These we have just named. The truly great among them are called Cyrus,
Sesostris, Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Napoleon; and, with
the qualifications we have laid down, we admire them.

But we admire them on the condition of their disappearance. Make room
for better ones! Make room for greater ones!

Those greater, those better ones, are they new? No. Their series is as
ancient as the other; more ancient, perhaps, for the idea has preceded
the act, and the thinker is anterior to the warrior. But their place
was taken, taken violently. This usurpation is about to cease; their
hour comes at last; their predominance gleams forth. Civilization,
returned to the true light, recognizes them as its only founders; their
series becomes clothed in light, and eclipses the rest; like the past,
the future belongs to them; and henceforth it is they whom God will

[Footnote 1: Delandine.]


That history has to be re-made is evident. Up to the present time, it
has been nearly always written from the miserable point of view of
accomplished fact; it is time to write it from the point of view of
principle,--and that, under penalty of nullity.

Royal gestures, warlike uproars, princely coronations; marriages,
baptisms, and funerals, executions and fêtes; the finery of one
crushing all; the triumph of being born king, the prowess of sword
and axe; great empires, heavy taxes; the tricks played by chance upon
chance; the universe having for a law the adventures of any being,
provided he be crowned; the destiny of a century changed by a blow from
the lance of a fool through the skull of an imbecile; the majestic
_fistula in ano_ of Louis XIV.; the grave words of the dying Emperor
Mathias to his doctor, trying for the last time to feel his pulse
beneath his coverlet and making a mistake,--"Erras, amice hoc est
membrum nostrum imperiale sacrocæsareum;" the dance, with castanets of
Cardinal Richelieu, disguised as a shepherd before the Queen of France,
in the private villa of the Rue de Gaillon; Hildebrand completed by
Cisneros; the little dogs of Henri III.; the various Potemkins of
Catherine II.,--Orloff here, Godoy there, etc.; a great tragedy with a
petty intrigue,--such was history up to our days, alternating between
the throne and the altar, lending one ear to Dangeau and another to
Dom Calmet, sanctimonious and not stern, not comprehending the true
transitions from one age to the other, incapable of distinguishing the
climacteric crises of civilization, making the human race mount upward
by ladders of silly dates, well versed in puerilities while ignorant of
right, of justice, and of truth, and modelled far more upon Le Ragois
than upon Tacitus.

So true is this, that in our days Tacitus has been the object of strong

Tacitus on the other hand,--we do not weary of insisting upon it,--is,
like Juvenal, like Suetonius and Lampridius, the object of a special
and merited hatred. The day when in the colleges professors of rhetoric
shall put Juvenal above Virgil, and Tacitus above Bossuet, will be the
eve of the day in which the human race shall have been delivered; when
all forms of oppression shall have disappeared,--from the slave-owner
up to the pharisee, from the cottage where the slave weeps to the
chapel where the eunuch sings. Cardinal Du Perron, who received for
Henri IV. blows from the Pope's stick, had the goodness to say, "I
despise Tacitus."

Up to the epoch in which we live, history has been a courtier. The
double identification of the king with the nation and of the king with
God, is the work of courtier history. The grace of God begets the right
divine. Louis XIV. says, "I am the State!" Madame du Barry, plagiarist
of Louis XIV., calls Louis XV. "France;" and the pompously haughty
saying of the great Asiatic king of Versailles ends with "France, your
coffin taints the camp!"

Bossuet writes without hesitation, though palliating facts here
and there, the frightful legend of those old thrones of antiquity
covered with crimes, and, applying to the surface of things his vague
theocratic declamation, satisfies himself by this formula: "God holds
in his hand the hearts of kings." That is not the case, for two
reasons,--God has no hand, and kings have no heart.

We are only speaking, of course, of the kings of Assyria.

History, that old history of which we have spoken, is a kind person for
princes. It shuts its eyes when a highness says, "History, do not look
this way." It has, imperturbably, with the face of a harlot, denied
the horrible skull-breaking casque with an inner spike, destined by
the Archduke of Austria for the Swiss magistrate Gundoldingen. At the
present time this machine is hung on a nail in the Hôtel de Ville of
Lucerne; anybody can go and see it: yet history repeats its denial.
Moréri calls St. Bartholomew's day "a disturbance." Chaudon, another
biographer, thus characterizes the author of the saying to Louis XV.,
cited above: "A lady of the court, Madame du Barry." History accepts
for an attack of apoplexy the mattress under which John II. of England
stifled the Duke of Gloucester at Calais.[1] Why is the head of the
Infant Don Carlos separated from the trunk in his bier at the Escurial?
Philip II., the father, answers: "It is because the Infant having died
a natural death, the coffin prepared for him was not found long enough,
and they were obliged to cut off the head." History blindly believes in
the coffin being too short. What! the father to have his son beheaded!
Oh, fie! Only demagogues would say such things.

The ingenuousness with which history glorifies the fact, whatever it
may be, and however impious it may be, shines nowhere better than
in Cantemir and Karamsin,--the one a Turkish historian, the other a
Russian historian. The Ottoman fact and the Muscovite fact evidence,
when confronted and compared with each other, the Tartar identity.
Moscow is not less sinisterly Asiatic than Stamboul. Ivan is in
the one as Mustapha is in the other. The gradation is imperceptible
between that Christianity and that Mahometanism. The Pope is brother
of the Ulema, the Boyard of the Pacha, the knout of the bowstring, and
the moujik of the mute. There is to men passing through the streets
little difference between Selim who pierces them with arrows, and
Basil who lets bears loose on them. Cantemir, a man of the South, an
ancient Moldavian hospodar, long a Turkish subject, feels, although he
has passed over to the Russians, that he does not displease the Czar
Peter by deifying despotism, and he prostrates his metaphors before
the sultans: this crouching upon the belly is Oriental, and somewhat
Western also. The sultans are divine; their scimitar is sacred,
their dagger is sublime, their exterminations are magnanimous, their
parricides are good. They call themselves merciful, as the furies are
called Eumenides. The blood that they spill smokes in Cantemir with
an odour of incense, and the vast slaughtering which is their reign
blooms into glory. They massacre the people in the public interest.
When some padischah (I know not which)--Tiger IV. or Tiger VI.--causes
to be strangled one after the other his nineteen little brothers
running frightened round the chamber, the Turkish native historian
declares that "it was executing wisely the law of the empire." The
Russian historian, Karamsin, is not less tender to the Tzar than was
Cantemir to the Sultan; nevertheless, let us say it, in comparison
with Cantemir's, the fervency of Karamsin is lukewarmness. Thus Peter,
killing his son Alexis, is glorified by Karamsin, but in the same tone
in which we excuse a fault. It is not the acceptation pure and simple
of Cantemir, who is more upon his knees. The Russian historian only
admires, while the Turkish historian adores. No fire in Karamsin, no
nerve,--a dull enthusiasm, grayish apotheoses, good-will struck into
an icicle, caresses benumbed with cold. It is poor flattery. Evidently
the climate has something to do with it. Karamsin is a chilled Cantemir.

Thus is the greater part of history made up to the present day; it
goes from Bossuet to Karamsin, passing by the Abbé Pluche. That
history has for its principle obedience. To what is obedience due? To
success. Heroes are well treated, but kings are preferred. To reign is
to succeed every morning. A king has to-morrow: he is solvent. A hero
may be unsuccessful,--such things happen,--in which case he is but a
usurper. Before this history, genius itself, even should it be the
highest expression of force served by intelligence, is compelled to
continual success. If it fails, ridicule; if it falls, insult. After
Marengo, you are Europe's hero, the man of Providence, anointed by the
Lord; after Austerlitz, Napoleon the Great; after Waterloo, the ogre
from Corsica. The Pope anointed an ogre.

Nevertheless, impartial Loriquet, in consideration of services
rendered, makes you a marquis. The man of our day who has best executed
that surprising gamut from Hero of Europe to Ogre of Corsica, is
Fontanes, chosen during so many years to cultivate, develop, and direct
the moral sense of youth.

Legitimacy, right divine, negation of universal suffrage, the throne a
fief, the nation an entailed estate, all proceed from that history. The
executioner is also part of it; Joseph de Maistre adds him, divinely,
to the king. In England such history is called "loyal" history. The
English aristocracy, to whom similar excellent ideas sometimes occur,
have imagined a method of giving to a political opinion the name of
a virtue,--_Instrumentum regni._ In England, to be a royalist, is to
be loyal. A democrat is disloyal; he is a variety of the dishonest
man. This man believes in the people,--shame! He would have universal
suffrage,--he is a chartist! are you sure of his probity? Here is a
republican passing,--take care of your pockets! That is clever. All the
world is more witty than Voltaire: the English aristocracy has more wit
than Macchiavelli.

The king pays, the people do not pay,--this is about all the secret of
that kind of history. It has also its own tariff of indulgences. Honour
and profit are divided,--honour to the master, profit to the historian.
Procopius is prefect, and, what is more. Illustrious by special decree
(which does not prevent him from being a traitor); Bossuet is bishop,
Fleury is prelate prior of Argenteuil, Karamsin is senator, Cantemir is
prince. But the finest thing is to be paid successively by For and by
Against, and, like Fontanes, to be made senator through idolatry of,
and peer of France through spitting upon, the same idol.

What is going on at the Louvre? What is going on at the Vatican, in
the Seraglio, Buen Retiro, at Windsor, at Schoenbrünn, at Potsdam, at
the Kremlin, at Oranienbaum? Further questions are needless; for there
is nothing interesting for the human race beyond those ten or twelve
houses, of which history is the door-keeper.

Nothing can be insignificant that relates to war, the warrior, the
prince, the throne, the court. He who is not endowed with grave
puerility cannot be a historian. A question of etiquette, a hunt, a
gala, a grand levee, a procession, the triumph of Maximilian, the
number of carriages the ladies have following the king to the camp
before Mons, the necessity of having vices congenial with the faults
of his majesty, the clocks of Charles V., the locks of Louis XVI.; how
the broth refused by Louis XV. at his coronation, showed him to be a
good king; how the Prince of Wales sits in the Chamber of the House
of Lords, not in the capacity of Prince of Wales, but as Duke of
Cornwall; how the drunken Augustus has appointed Prince Lubormirsky,
who is starost of Kasimirow, under-cupbearer to the crown; how Charles
of Spain gave the command of the army of Catalonia to Pimentel because
the Pimentels have the title of Benavente since 1308; how Frederic of
Brandenburg granted a fief of forty thousand crowns to a huntsman who
enabled him to kill a fine stag; how Louis Antoine, grand-master of
the Teutonic Order and Prince Palatine, died at Liége from displeasure
at not being able to make the inhabitants choose him bishop; how the
Princess Borghèse, dowager of Mirandole and of the Papal House, married
the Prince of Cellamare, son of the Duke of Giovenazzo; how my Lord
Seaton, who is a Montgomery, followed James II. into France; how the
Emperor ordered the Duke of Mantua, who is vassal of the empire, to
drive from his court the Marquis Amorati; how there are always two
Cardinal Barberins living, and so on,--all that is the important
business. A turned-up nose becomes an historical fact. Two small fields
contiguous to the old Mark and to the duchy of Zell, having almost
embroiled England and Prussia, are memorable. In fact the cleverness of
the governing and the apathy of the governed have arranged and mixed
things in such a manner that all those forms of princely nothingness
have their place in human destiny; and peace and war, the movement of
armies and fleets, the recoil or the progress of civilization, depend
on the cup of tea of Queen Anne or the fly-flap of the Dey of Algiers.

History walks behind those fooleries, registering them.

Knowing so many things, it is quite natural that it should be ignorant
of others. If you are so curious as to ask the name of the English
merchant who in 1612 first entered China by the north; of the worker
in glass who in 1663 first established in France a manufactory of
crystal; of the citizen who carried out in the States General at Tours,
under Charles VIII.: the sound principle of elective magistracy (a
principle which has since been adroitly obliterated); of the pilot
who in 1405 discovered the Canary Islands; of the Byzantine lutemaker
who in the eighth century invented the organ and gave to music its
grandest voice; of the Campanian mason who invented the clock by
establishing at Rome on the temple of Quirinus the first sundial;
of the Roman lighterman who invented the paving of towns by the
construction of the Appian Way in the year 312 B.C.; of the Egyptian
carpenter who devised the dove-tail, one of the keys of architecture,
which may be found under the obelisk of Luxor; of the Chaldean keeper
of flocks who founded astronomy by his observation of the signs of
the zodiac, the starting-point taken by Anaximenes; of the Corinthian
calker who, nine years before the first Olympiad, calculated the power
of the triple lever, devised the trireme, and created a tow-boat
anterior by two thousand six hundred years to the steamboat; of the
Macedonian ploughman who discovered the first gold mine in Mount
Pangæus,--history, does not know what to say to you: those fellows are
unknown to history. Who is that,--a ploughman, a calker, a shepherd,
a carpenter, a lighterman, a mason, a lutemaker, a sailor, and a
merchant? History does not lower itself to such rabble.

There is at Nüremberg, near the Egydienplatz, in a chamber on the
second floor of a house which faces the church of St Giles, on an
iron tripod, a little ball of wood twenty inches in diameter, covered
with darkish vellum, marked with lines which were once red, yellow,
and green. It is a globe on which is sketched out an outline of the
divisions of the earth in the fifteenth century. On this globe is
vaguely indicated, in the twenty-fourth degree of latitude, under
the sign of the Crab, a kind of island named Antilia, which one day
attracted the attention of two men. The one who had constructed the
globe and draw Antilia showed this island to the other, placed his
finger upon it, and said, "It is there." The man who looked on was
called Christopher Columbus; the man who said, "It is there," was
called Martin Behaim. Antilia is America. History speaks of Fernando
Cortez, who ravaged America, but not of Martin Behaim, who divined it.

Let a man have "cut to pieces" other men; let him have "put them to the
sword;" let him have made them "bite the dust,"--horrible expressions,
which have become hideously familiar,--and if you search history for
the name of that man, whoever he may be, you will find it. But search
for the name of the man who invented the compass, and you will not find

In 1747, in the eighteenth century, under the gaze even of
philosophers, the battles of Raucoux and Lawfield, the siege of
Sas-de-Gand and the taking of Berg-op-Zoom, eclipse and efface
that sublime discovery which to-day is in course of modifying the
world,--electricity. Voltaire himself, about that year, celebrated
passionately some exploit of Trajan.[2]

A certain public stupidity is the result of that history which is
superimposed upon education almost everywhere. If you doubt it, see,
among others, the publications of Périsse Brothers, intended by the
editors, says a parenthesis, for primary schools.

A prince who gives himself an animal's name makes us laugh. We rail
at the Emperor of China, who makes people call him "His Majesty the
Dragon," and we placidly say "Monseigneur le Dauphin."

History is the record of domesticity. The historian is no more than the
master of ceremonies of centuries. In the model court of Louis the
Great there are four historians, as there are four chamber violinists.
Lulli leads the one, Boileau the others.

In this old method of history,--the only authorized method up to
1789, and classic in every acceptation of the word,--the best
narrators, even the honest ones (there are few of them), even those
who think themselves free, place themselves mechanically in drill,
stitch tradition to tradition, submit to accepted custom, receive the
pass-word from the antechamber, accept, pell-mell with the crowd,
the stupid divinity of coarse personages in the foreground,--kings,
"potentates," "pontiffs," soldiers,--and, all the time thinking
themselves historians, end by donning the livery of historiographers,
and are lackeys without knowing it.

This kind of history is taught, is compulsory, is commended and
recommended; all young intellects are more or less saturated with
it, its mark remains upon them, their thought suffers through it and
releases itself only with difficulty,--we make schoolboys learn it by
heart, and I who speak, when a child, was its victim.

In such history there is everything except history. Shows of princes,
of "monarchs," and of captains, indeed; but of the people, of laws,
of manners, very little; and of letters, of arts, of sciences, of
philosophy, of the universal movement of thought,--in one word, of
man,--nothing. Civilization dates by dynasties, and not by progress;
some king or other is one of the stages along the historical road;
the true stages, the stages of great men, are nowhere indicated. It
explains how Francis II. succeeds to Henri II., Charles IX. to Francis
II., and Henri III. to Charles IX.; but it does not tell us how Watt
succeeds to Papin, and Fulton to Watt; behind the heavy scenery of the
hereditary rights of kings a glimpse of the mysterious sovereignty
of men of genius is scarcely obtained. The lamp which smokes on the
opaque facades of royal accessions hides the starry light which the
creators of civilization throw over the ages. Not one of this series
of historians points out the divine relation of human affairs,--the
applied logic of Providence; not one makes us see how progress
engenders progress. That Philip IV. comes after Philip III., and
Charles II. after Philip IV., it would indeed be shameful not to know;
but that Descartes continues Bacon, and that Kant continues Descartes;
that Las Casas continues Columbus, that Washington continues Las Casas,
and that John Brown continues and rectifies Washington; that John Huss
continues Pelagius, that Luther continues John Huss, and that Voltaire
continues Luther,--it is almost a scandal to be aware of this!

[Footnote 1: There was but one John of England, who put to death (as
is supposed) his nephew Arthur, Duke of Bretagne. Perhaps this is what
Hugo had in mind.]

[Footnote 2: For Trajan, read Louis XV.]


It is time that all this should be altered. It is time that the men of
action should take their place behind, and the men of ideas come to the
front. The summit is the head. Where thought is, there is power. It is
time that men of genius should precede heroes. It is time to render to
Cæsar what is Cæsar's, and to the book what is the book's: such or such
a poem, such a drama, such a novel, does more work than all the Courts
of Europe together. It is time that history should proportion itself to
the reality, that it should allow to each influence its true measure,
and that it should cease to place the masks of kings on epochs made in
the image of poets and philosophers. To whom belongs the eighteenth
century,--to Louis XV. or to Voltaire? Confront Versailles with Ferney,
and see from which of these two points civilization flows.

A century is a formula; an epoch is a thought expressed,--after which,
civilization passes to another. Civilization has phrases: these phrases
are the centuries. It does not repeat here what it says there; but its
mysterious phrases are bound together by a chain,--logic (_logos_) is
within,--and their series constitutes progress. All these phrases,
expressive of a single idea,--the divine idea,--write slowly the word

All light is at some point condensed into a flame; in the same way
every epoch is condensed into a man. The man having expired, the epoch
is closed,--God turns the page. Dante dead, is the full-stop put at
the end of the thirteenth century: John Huss can come. Shakespeare
dead, is the full-stop put at the end of the sixteenth century; after
this poet, who contains and sums up every philosophy, the philosophers
Pascal, Descartes, Molière, Le Sage, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot,
Beaumarchais can come. Voltaire dead, is the full-stop put at the end
of the eighteenth century: the French Revolution, liquidation of the
first social form of Christianity, can come.

These different periods, which we name epochs, have all their dominant
points. What is that dominant point? Is it a head that wears a crown,
or is it a head that bears a thought? Is it an aristocracy, or is it
an idea? Answer yourself. Do you see where the power is? Weigh Francis
I. in the scales with Gargantua: put all chivalry in the scale against
"Don Quixote."

Therefore, every one to his right place. Right about face! and let us
now regard the centuries in their true light. In the first rank, minds;
in the second, in the third, in the twentieth, soldiers and princes.
To the warrior the darkness, to the thinker the pedestal. Take away
Alexander, and put in his place Aristotle. Strange thing, that up to
this day humanity should have read the Iliad in such a manner as to
annihilate Homer under Achilles!

I repeat it, it is time that all this should be changed. Moreover,
the first impulse is given. Already, noble minds are at work; future
history begins to appear, some specimens of the new and magnificent
though partial treatments of the subject being already in existence; a
general recasting is imminent,--_ad usum populi._ Compulsory education
demands true history; and true history will be given: it is begun.

Effigies must be stamped afresh. That which was the reverse will become
the face, and that which was the face will become the reverse. Urban
VIII. will be the reverse of Galileo.

The true profile of the human race will re-appear on the different
proofs of civilization that the successive ages will offer.

The historical effigy will no longer be the man-king; it will be the

Doubtless,--and we shall not be reproached for not insisting on
it,--real and veracious history, in indicating the sources of
civilization wherever they may be, will not lose sight of the
appreciable utility of the sceptre-bearers and sword-bearers at given
periods and in special states of humanity. Certain wrestling matches
necessitate some resemblance between the two combatants; barbarity must
sometimes be pitted against savageness. There are cases of progress by
violence. Cæsar is good in Cimmeria, and Alexander in Asia; but for
Alexander and Cæsar the second rank suffices.

Veracious history, real history, definitive history henceforth charged
with the education of the royal infant,--namely, the people,--will
reject all fiction, will fail in complaisance, will logically classify
phenomena, will unravel profound causes, will study philosophically
and scientifically the successive commotions of humanity, and will
take less account of the great strokes of the sword than of the grand
strokes of the idea. The deeds of light will pass first; Pythagoras
will be a much greater event than Sesostris. We have just said
it,--heroes, men of the twilight, are relatively luminous in the
darkness; but what is a conqueror beside a sage? What is the invasion
of kingdoms compared with the opening up of intellects? The winners of
minds efface the gainers of provinces. He through whom we think, he is
the true conqueror. In future history, the slave Æsop and the slave
Plautus will have precedence over kings; and there are vagabonds who
will weigh more than certain victors, and comedians who will weigh more
than certain emperors.

Without doubt, to illustrate what we are saying by means of facts, it
is useful that a powerful man should have marked the halting-place
between the ruin of the Latin world and the growth of the Gothic world;
it is also useful that another powerful man, coming after the first,
like cunning on the footsteps of daring, should have sketched out
under the form of a catholic monarchy the future universal group of
nations, and the beneficial encroachments of Europe upon Africa, Asia,
and America. But it is more useful yet to have written the "Divina
Commedia" and "Hamlet." No bad action is mixed up with these great
works; nor is here to be charged to the account of the civilizer a debt
of nations ruined. The improvement of the human mind being given as the
result to be obtained, Dante is of greater importance than Charlemagne,
and Shakespeare of greater importance than Charles the Fifth.

In history, as it will be written on the pattern of absolute truth,
that intelligence of no account, that unconscious and trivial
being,--the _Non pluribus impar_, the Sultan-sun of Marly,--will appear
as nothing more than the almost mechanical preparer of the shelter
needed by the thinker disguised as a buffoon, and of the environment of
ideas and men required for the philosophy of Alceste. Thus Louis XIV.
makes Molière's bed.

These exchanges of parts will put people in their true light; the
historical optic, renewed, will re-adjust the ensemble of civilization,
at present a chaos; for perspective, that justice of geometry, will
size the past,--making such a plan to advance, placing another in the
background. Every one will assume his real stature; the head-dresses
of tiaras and of crowns will only make dwarfs more ridiculous; stupid
genuflexions will vanish. From these alterations will proceed right.

That great judge We ourselves,--We all,--having henceforth for measure
the clear idea of what is absolute and what is relative, deductions
and restitutions will of themselves take place. The innate moral sense
within man will know its power; it will no longer be obliged to ask
itself questions like this,--Why, at the same minute, do people revere
in Louis XV. and all the rest of royalty the act for which they bum
Deschauffours on the Place de Grève? The quality of kingship will
no longer be a false moral weight. Facts fairly placed will place
conscience fairly. A good light will come, sweet to the human race,
serene, equitable, with no interposition of clouds henceforth between
truth and the brain of man, but a definitive ascent of the good, the
just, and the beautiful toward the zenith of civilization.

Nothing can escape the law which simplifies. By the mere force of
things, the material side of facts and of men disintegrates and
disappears. There is no shadowy solidity; whatever may be the mass,
whatever may be the block, every combination of ashes (and matter is
nothing else) returns to ashes. The idea of the atom of dust is in
the word "granite,"--inevitable pulverizations. All those granites of
oligarchy, aristocracy, and theocracy are doomed to be scattered to the
four winds. The ideal alone is indestructible. Nothing lasts save the

In this indefinite increase of light which is called civilization, the
processes of reduction and levelling are accomplished. The imperious
morning light penetrates everywhere,--enters as master, and makes
itself obeyed. The light is at work; under the great eye of posterity,
before the blaze of the nineteenth century, simplifications take place,
excrescences fall away, glories drop like leaves, reputations are riven
in pieces. Do you wish for an example,--take Moses. There is in Moses
three glories,--the captain, the legislator, the poet. Of these three
men contained in Moses, where is the captain to-day? In the shadow,
with brigands and murderers. Where is the legislator? Amidst the waste
of dead religions. Where is the poet? By the side of Æschylus.

Daylight has an irresistible corroding power on the things of night.
Hence appears a new historic sky above our heads, a new philosophy of
causes and results, a new aspect of facts.

Certain minds, however, whose honest and stern anxiety pleases us,
object: "You have said that men of genius form a dynasty; now, we will
not have that dynasty any more than another." This is to misapprehend,
and to fear the word where the thing is reassuring. The same law which
wills that the human race should have no owners, wills that it should
have guides. To be enlightened is quite different from being enslaved.
Kings possess; men of genius conduct,--there is the difference. Between
"I am a Man" and "I am the State" there is all the distance from
fraternity to tyranny. The forward-march must have a guide-post. To
revolt against the pilot can scarcely improve the ship's course; we do
not see what would have been gained by throwing Christopher Columbus
into the sea. The direction "this way" has never humiliated the man who
seeks his road. I accept in the night the guiding authority of torches.
Moreover, a dynasty of little encumbrance is that of men of genius,
having for a kingdom the exile of Dante, for a palace the dungeon of
Cervantes, for a civil list the wallet of Isaiah, for a throne the
dunghill of Job, and for a sceptre the staff of Homer.

Let us resume.


Humanity, no longer owned but guided,--such is the new aspect of facts.

This new aspect of facts history henceforth is compelled to reproduce.
To change the past, that is strange; yet it is what history is about
to do. By falsehood? No, by speaking the truth. History has been a
picture; she is about to become a mirror. This new reflection of the
past will modify the future.

The former king of Westphalia, who was a witty man, was looking one day
at an inkstand on the table of some one we know. The writer, with whom
Jerome Bonaparte was at that moment, had brought home from an excursion
among the Alps, made some years before in company with Charles Nodier,
a piece of steatitic serpentine carved and hollowed in the form of an
inkstand, and purchased of the chamois-hunters of the Mer de Glace. It
was this that Jerome Bonaparte was looking at "What is this?" he asked.
"It is my inkstand," said the writer; and he added, "it is steatite.
Admire how Nature with a little dirt and oxide has made this charming
green stone." Jerome Bonaparte replied, "I admire much more the men
who out of this stone made an inkstand." That was not badly said for
a brother of Napoleon, and due credit should be given for it; for
the inkstand is to destroy the sword. The decrease of warriors,--men
of brutal force and of prey; the undefined and superb growth of men
of thought and of peace; the re-appearance on the scene of the true
colossals,--in this is one of the greatest facts of our great epoch.
There is no spectacle more pathetic and sublime,--humanity delivered
from on high, the powerful ones put to flight by the thinkers, the
prophet overwhelming the hero, force routed by ideas, the sky cleaned,
a majestic expulsion.

Look! raise your eyes! the supreme epic is accomplished. The legions of
light drive backward the hordes of flame.

The masters are departing; the liberators are arriving! Those who hunt
down nations, who drag armies behind them,--Nimrod, Sennacherib, Cyrus,
Rameses, Xerxes, Cambyses Attila, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Alexander,
Cæsar, Bonaparte,--all these immense wild men are disappearing. They
die away slowly,--behold them touch the horizon; they are mysteriously
attracted by the darkness; they claim kindred with the shade,--thence
their fatal descent. Their resemblance to other phenomena of the night
restores them to that terrible unity of blind immensity, a submersion
of all light; forgetfulness, shadow of the shadow, awaits them.

But though they are thrown down, they remain formidable. Let us not
insult what has been great. Hooting would be unbecoming before the
burying of heroes; the thinker should remain grave in presence of this
donning of shrouds. The old glory abdicates, the strong lie down: mercy
for those vanquished conquerors! peace to those warlike spirits now
extinguished! The darkness of the grave interposes between their glare
and ourselves. It is not without a kind of religious terror that one
sees planets become spectres.

While in the engulfing process the flaming pleiad of the men of brutal
force descends deeper and deeper into the abyss with the sinister
pallor of approaching disappearance, at the other extremity of space,
where the last cloud is about to fade away, in the deep heaven of
the future, henceforth to be azure, rises in radiancy the sacred
group of true stars,--Orpheus, Hermes, Job, Homer, Æschylus, Isaiah,
Ezekiel, Hippocrates, Phidias. Socrates, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle,
Archimedes, Euclid, Pythagoras, Lucretius, Plautus, Juvenal, Tacitus,
Saint Paul, John of Patmos, Tertullian, Pelagius, Dante, Gutenberg,
Joan of Arc, Christopher Columbus, Luther, Michael, Angelo, Copernicus,
Galileo, Rabelais, Calderon, Cervantes Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Kepler,
Milton, Molière, Newton, Descartes, Kant, Piranesi, Beccaria, Diderot,
Voltaire, Beethoven, Fulton, Montgolfier, Washington. And this
marvellous constellation, at each instant more luminous, dazzling as a
glory of celestial diamonds, shines in the clear horizon, and ascending
mingles with the vast dawn of Jesus Christ.


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