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Title: Victor Hugo
Author: Swinburne, Algernon Charles
Language: English
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VICTOR HUGO

BY

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE

NEW YORK

WORTHINGTON CO., 747 BROADWAY.

1886.



TABLE DES MATIÈRES
THE WORK OF VICTOR HUGO.
_LA LÉGENDE DES SIÈCLES._



THE WORK OF VICTOR HUGO.


In the spring of 1616 the greatest Englishman of all time passed away
with no public homage or notice, and the first tributes paid to his
memory were prefixed to the miserably garbled and inaccurate edition of
his works which was issued seven years later by a brace of players under
the patronage of a brace of peers. In the spring of 1885 the greatest
Frenchman of all time has passed away amid such universal anguish and
passion of regret as never before accompanied the death of the greatest
among poets. The contrast is of course not wholly due to the
incalculable progress of humanity during the two hundred and sixty-nine
years which divide the date of our mourning from the date of
Shakespeare's death: nor even to the vast superiority of Frenchmen to
Englishmen in the quality of generous, just, and reasonable gratitude
for the very highest of all benefits that man can confer on mankind. For
the greatest poet of this century has been more than such a force of
indirect and gradual beneficence as every great writer must needs be.
His spiritual service has been in its inmost essence, in its highest
development, the service of a healer and a comforter, the work of a
redeemer and a prophet. Above all other apostles who have brought us
each the glad tidings of his peculiar gospel, the free gifts of his
special inspiration, has this one deserved to be called by the most
beautiful and tender of all human titles--the son of consolation. His
burning wrath and scorn unquenchable were fed with light and heat from
the inexhaustible dayspring of his love--a fountain of everlasting and
unconsuming fire. We know of no such great poet so good, of no such good
man so great in genius: not though Milton and Shelley, our greatest
lyric singer and our single epic poet, remain with us for signs and
examples of devotion as heroic and self-sacrifice as pure. And therefore
it is but simply reasonable that not those alone should mourn for him
who have been reared and nurtured on the fruits of his creative spirit:
that those also whom he wrought and fought for, but who know him only as
their champion and their friend--they that cannot even read him, but
remember how he labored in their cause, that their children might fare
otherwise than they--should bear no unequal part in the burden of this
infinite and worldwide sorrow.

For us, who from childhood upwards have fostered and fortified whatever
of good was born in us--all capacity of spiritual work, all seed of
human sympathy, all powers of hope and faith, all passions and
aspirations found loyal to the service of duty and of love--with the
bread of his deathless word and the wine of his immortal song, the one
thing possible to do in this first hour of bitterness and stupefaction
at the sense of a loss not possible yet to realize, is not to declaim
his praise or parade our lamentation in modulated effects or efforts of
panegyric or of dirge: it is to reckon up once more the standing account
of our all but incalculable debt. A brief and simple summary of his
published works may probably lay before the student some points and some
details not generally familiar to the run of English readers: and I know
not what better service might be done them than to bring into their
sight such aspects of the most multiform and many-sided genius that ever
wrought in prose or verse as are least obvious and least notorious to
the foreign world of letters.

Poet, dramatist, novelist, historian, philosopher, and patriot, the
spiritual sovereign of the nineteenth century was before all things and
above all things a poet. Throughout all the various and ambitious
attempts of his marvelous boyhood--criticism, drama, satire, elegy,
epigram, and romance--the dominant vein is poetic. His example will
stand forever as the crowning disproof of the doubtless more than
plausible opinion that the most amazing precocity of power is a sign of
ensuing impotence and premature decay. There was never a more brilliant
boy than Victor Hugo; but there has never been a greater man. At any
other than a time of mourning it might be neither unseasonable nor
unprofitable to observe that the boy's early verse, moulded on the
models of the eighteenth century, is an arsenal of satire on
revolutionary principles or notions which might suffice to furnish forth
with more than their natural equipment of epigram a whole army of
reactionary rhymesters and pamphleteers. But from the first, without
knowing it, he was on the road to Damascus: if not to be struck down by
sudden miracle, yet by no less inevitable a process to undergo a no less
unquestionable conversion. At sixteen he wrote for a wager in the space
of a fortnight the chivalrous and heroic story of _Bug-Jargal_;
afterwards recast and reinformed with fresh vigor of vitality, when the
author had attained the maturer age of twenty-three. His tenderness and
manliness of spirit were here made nobly manifest: his originality and
ardor of imagination, wild as yet and crude and violent, found vent two
years later in _Han d'Islande._ But no boyish work on record ever showed
more singular force of hand, more brilliant variety of power: though the
author's criticism ten years later admits that "il n'y a dans _Han
d'Islande_ qu'une chose sentie, l'amour du jeune homme; qu'une chose
observée, l'amour de la jeune fille." But as the work of a boy's fancy
or invention, touched here and there with genuine humor, terror, and
pathos, it is not less wonderful than are the author's first odes for
ease and force and freshness and fluency of verse imbued with simple and
sincere feeling, with cordial and candid faith. And in both these boyish
stories the hand of a soldier's son, a child of the camp, reared in the
lap of war and cradled in traditions of daring, is evident whenever an
episode of martial adventure comes in among the more fantastic,
excursions of adolescent inventiveness. But it is in the ballads written
between his twenty-second and his twenty-seventh year that Victor Hugo
first showed himself, beyond all question and above all cavil, an
original and a great poet. _La Chasse du Burgrave_ and _Le Pas d'Armes
du Roi Jean_ would suffice of themselves to establish that. The fire,
the music, the force, the tenderness, the spirit of these glorious
little poems must needs, one would think, impress even such readers as
might be impervious to the charm of their exquisitely vigorous and
dexterous execution. Take for example this one stanza from the ballad
last mentioned:--


La cohue,
Flot de fer,
Frappe, hue,
Remplit l'air,
Et, profonde,
Tourne et gronde
Comme une onde
Sur la mer.


It will of course, I should hope, be understood once for all that when I
venture to select for special mention any special poem of Hugo's I do
not dream of venturing to suggest that others are not or may not be
fully as worthy of homage, or that anything of this incomparable
master's work will not requite our study or does not demand our
admiration; I do but take leave to indicate in passing some of those
which have been to me especially fruitful of enduring delight, and still
are cherished in consequence with a peculiar gratitude.

At twenty-five the already celebrated lyric poet published his
magnificent historic drama of _Cromwell_: a work sufficient of itself to
establish the author's fame for all ages in which poetry and thought,
passion and humor, subtle truth of character, stately perfection of
structure, facile force of dialogue and splendid eloquence of style,
continue to be admired and enjoyed. That the author has apparently
confounded one earl of Rochester with another more famous bearer of the
same title must not be allowed to interfere with the credit due to him
for wide and various research. Any dullard can point the finger at a
slip here and there in the history, a change or an error of detail or of
date: it needs more care to appreciate the painstaking and ardent
industry which has collected and fused-together a great mass of historic
and legendary material, the fervent energy of inspiration which has
given life, order, and harmony to the vast and versatile design. As to
the executive part of the poem, the least that can be said by any
competent judge of that matter is that Molière was already equalled and
Corneille was already excelled in their respective provinces of verse by
the young conqueror whose rule was equal and imperial over every realm
of song. The comic interludes or episodes of the second and third acts,
so admirably welded into the structure or woven into the thread of the
action, would suffice to prove this when collated with the seventeenth
scene of the third act and the great speech of Cromwell in the fifth.


Arrêtez!
Que veut dire ceci? Pourquoi cette couronne?
Que veut-on que j'en fasse? et qui donc me la donne?
Est-ce un rêve? Est-ce bien le bandeau que je vois?
De quel droit me vient-on confondre avec les rois?
Qui mêle un tel scandale à nos pieuses fêtes
Quoi! leur couronne, à moi qui fais tomber leurs têtes?
S'est-on mépris au but de ces solennités?--
Milords, messieurs, anglais, frères, qui m'écoutez,
Je ne viens point ici ceindre le diadème,
Mais retremper mon titre au sein du peuple même,
Rajeunir mon pouvoir, renouveler mes droits.
L'écarlate sacrée était teinte deux fois.
Cette pourpre est au peuple, et, d'une âme loyale,
Je la tiens de lui.--Mais la couronne royale!
Quand l'ai-je demandée? Et qui dit que j'en veux?
Je ne donnerais pas un seul de mes cheveux,
De ces cheveux blanchis à servir l'Angleterre,
Pour tous les fleurons d'or des princes de la terre.
Ôtez cela d'ici! Remportez, remportez
Ce hochet, ridicule entre les vanités!
N'attendez pas qu'aux pieds je foule ces misères!
Qu'ils me connaissent mal, les hommes peu sincères
Qui m'osent affronter jusqu'à me couronner!
J'ai reçu de Dieu plus qu'ils ne peuvent donner,
La grâce inamissible; et de moi je suis maître.
Une fois fils du ciel, peut-on cesser de l'être?
De nos prospérités l'univers est jaloux.
Que me faut-il de plus que le bonheur de tous?
Je vous l'ai dit. Ce peuple est le peuple d'élite.
L'Europe de cette île est l'humble satellite.
Tout cède à notre étoile; et l'impie est maudit.
Il semble, à voir cela, que le Seigneur ait dit:
--Angleterre! grandis, et sois ma fille aînée.
Entre les nations mes mains t'ont couronnée;
Sois donc ma bien-aimée, et marche à mes côtés.--
Il déroule sur nous d'abondantes bontés;
Chaque jour qui finit, chaque jour qui commence,
Ajoute un anneau d'or à cette chaîne immense.
On croirait que ce Dieu, terrible aux philistins,
À comme un ouvrier composé nos destins;
Que son bras, sur un axe indestructible aux âges,
De ce vaste édifice a scellé les rouages,
Œuvre mystérieuse, et dont ses longs efforts
Pour des siècles peut-être ont monté les ressorts.
Ainsi tout va. La roue, à la roue enchaînée,
Mord de sa dent de fer la machine entraînée;
Les massifs balanciers, les antennes, les poids,
Labyrinthe vivant, se meuvent à la fois;
L'effrayante machine accomplit sans relâche
Sa marche inexorable et sa puissante tâche;
Et des peuples entiers, pris dans ses mille bras,
Disparaîtraient broyés, s'ils ne se rangeaient pas.
Et j'entraverais Dieu, dont la loi salutaire
Nous fait un sort à part dans le sort de la terre!
J'irais, du peuple élu foulant le droit ancien,
Mettre mon intérêt à la place du sien!
Pilote, j'ouvrirais la voile aux vents contraires!

(_Hochant la tête._)

Non, je ne donne pas cette joie aux faux frères.
Le vieux navire anglais est toujours roi des flots.
Le colosse est debout. Que sont d'obscurs complots
Contre les hauts destins de la Grande-Bretagne?
Qu'est-ce qu'un coup de pioche aux flancs d'une
montagne?

(_Promenant des yeux de lynx autour de lui._)

Avis aux malveillants! on sait tout ce qu'ils font.
Le flot est transparent, si l'abîme est profond.
On voit le fond du piège où rampe leur pensée.
La vipère parfois de son dard s'est blessée;
Au feu qu'on allumait souvent on se brûla;
Et les yeux du Seigneur vont courant çà et là.--
Qui du peuple et des rois a signé le divorce?
Moi.--Croit-on donc me prendre à cette vaine amorce?
Un diadème!--Anglais, j'en brisais autrefois.
Sans en avoir porté, j'en connais bien le poids.
Quitter pour une cour le camp qui m'environne?
Changer mon glaive en sceptre et mon casque en
couronne?
Allons! suis-je un enfant? me croit-on né d'hier?
Ne sais-je pas que l'or pèse plus que le fer?
M'édifier un trône! Eh! c'est creuser ma tombe.
Cromwell, pour y monter, sait trop comme on en tombe.
Et d'ailleurs, que d'ennuis s'amassent sur ces fronts
Qui se rident sitôt, hérissés de fleurons!
Chacun de ces fleurons cache une ardente épine.
La couronne les tue; un noir souci les mine;
Elle change en tyran le mortel le plus doux,
Et, pesant sur le roi, le fait peser sur tous.
Le peuple les admire, et, s'abdiquant lui-même,
Compte tous les rubis dont luit le diadème;
Mais comme il frémirait pour eux de leur fardeau,
S'il regardait le front et non pas le bandeau!
Eux, leur charge les trouble, et leurs mains souveraines
De l'état chancelant mêlent bientôt les rênes.--
Ah! remportez ce signe exécrable, odieux!
Ce bandeau trop souvent tombe du front aux yeux.--

(_Larmoyant._)

Et qu'en ferais-je enfin? Mal né pour la puissance,
Je suis simple de cœur et vis dans l'innocence.
Si j'ai, la fronde en main, veillé sur le bercail,
Si j'ai devant l'écueil pris place au gouvernail,
J'ai dû me dévouer pour la cause commune.
Mais que n'ai-je vieilli dans mon humble fortune!
Que n'ai-je vu tomber les tyrans aux abois,
À l'ombre de mon chaume et de mon petit bois!
Hélas! j'eusse aimé mieux ces champs où l'on respire,
Le ciel m'en est témoin, que les soins de l'empire;
Et Cromwell eût trouvé plus de charme cent fois
À garder ses moutons qu'à détrôner des rois!

(_Pleurant._)

Que parle-t-on de sceptre? Ah! j'ai manqué ma vie.
Ce morceau de clinquant n'a rien qui me convie.
Ayez pitié de moi, frères, loin d'envier
Votre vieux général, votre vieil Olivier.
Je sens mon bras faiblir, et ma fin est prochaine.
Depuis assez longtemps suis-je pas à la chaîne?
Je suis vieux, je suis las; je demande merci.
N'est-il pas temps qu'enfin je me repose aussi?
Chaque jour j'en appelle à la bonté divine.
Et devant le Seigneur je frappe ma poitrine.
Que je veuille être roi! Si frêle et tant d'orgueil!
Ce projet, et j'en jure à côté du cercueil,
Il m'est plus étranger, frères, que la lumière
Du soleil à l'enfant dans le sein de sa mère!
Loin ce nouveau pouvoir à mes vœux présenté!
Je n'en accepte rien,--rien que l'hérédité.


The subtlety and variety of power displayed in the treatment of the
chief character should be evident alike to those who look only on the
upright side of it and those who can see only its more oblique aspect.
The Cromwell of Hugo is as far from the faultless monster of Carlyle's
creation and adoration as from the all but unredeemed villain of
royalist and Hibernian tradition: he is a great and terrible poetic
figure, imbued throughout with active life and harmonized throughout by
imaginative intuition: a patriot and a tyrant, a dissembler and a
believer, a practical humorist and a national hero.

The famous preface in which the batteries of pseudo classic tradition
were stormed and shattered at a charge has itself long since become a
classic. That the greatest poet was also the greatest prose-writer of
his generation there could no longer be any doubt among men of any
intelligence: but not even yet was more than half the greatness of his
multitudinous force revealed. Two years later, at the age of
twenty-seven, he published the superb and entrancing _Orientales_: the
most musical and many-colored volume of verse that ever had glorified
the language. From _Le Feu du Ciel_ to _Sara la Baigneuse_, from the
thunder-peals of exterminating judgment to the flute-notes of innocent
girlish luxury in the sense of loveliness and life, the inexhaustible
range of his triumph expands and culminates and extends. Shelley has
left us no more exquisite and miraculous piece of lyrical craftsmanship
than _Les Djinns_; none perhaps so rich in variety of modulation, so
perfect in rise and growth and relapse and reiterance of music.


Murs, ville,
Et port,
Asile
De mort,
Mer grise
Où brise
La brise,
Tout dort.

Dans la plaine
Naît un bruit.
C'est l'haleine
De la nuit.
Elle brame
Comme une âme
Qu'une flamme
Toujours suit.


Then the terrible music of the flight of evil spirits--"troupeau lourd
et rapide"--grows as it were note by note and minute by minute up to its
full height of tempest, and again relapses and recedes into the
subsiding whisper of the corresponsive close.


Ce bruit vague
Qui s'endort,
C'est la vague
Sur le bord;
C'est la plainte
Presque éteinte
D'une sainte
Pour un mort.
On doute
La nuit...
J'écoute:--
Tout fuit,
Tout passe;
L'espace
Efface
Le bruit.


And here, like Shelley, was Hugo already the poet of freedom, a champion
of the sacred right and the holy duty of resistance. The husk of a
royalist education, the crust of reactionary misconceptions, had already
begun to drop off; not yet a pure republican, he was now ripe to receive
and to understand the doctrine of human right, the conception of the
common weal, as distinguished from imaginary duties and opposed to
hereditary claims.

The twenty-eighth year of his life, which was illuminated by the issue
of these passionate and radiant poems, witnessed also the opening of his
generous and lifelong campaign or crusade against the principle of
capital punishment. With all possible reverence and all possible
reluctance, but remembering that without perfect straightforwardness and
absolute sincerity I should be even unworthier than I am to speak of
Victor Hugo at all, I must say that his reasoning on this subject seems
to me insufficient and inconclusive: that his own radical principle, the
absolute inviolability of human life, the absolute sinfulness of
retributive blood-shedding, if not utterly illogical and untenable, is
tenable or logical only on the ground assumed by those quaintest though
not least pathetic among fanatics and heroes, the early disciples of
George Fox. If a man tells you that supernatural revelation has
forbidden him to take another man's life under all and any
circumstances, he is above or beyond refutation; if he says that
self-defense is justifiable, and that righteous warfare is a patriotic
duty, but that to exact from the very worst of murderers, a parricide or
a poisoner, a Philip the Second or a Napoleon the Third, the payment of
a life for a life--or even of one infamous existence for whole hecatombs
of innocent lives--is an offense against civilization and a sin against
humanity, I am not merely unable to accept, but incompetent to
understand his argument. We may most heartily agree with him that France
is degraded by the guillotine, and that England is disgraced by the
gallows, and yet our abhorrence of these barbarous and nauseous
brutalities may not preclude us from feeling that a dealer (for example)
in professional infanticide by starvation might very properly be
subjected to vivisection without anæsthetics, and that all manly and
womanly minds not distorted or distracted by prepossessions or
assumptions might rationally and laudably rejoice in the prospect of
this legal and equitable process. "The senseless old law of retaliation"
(_la vieille et inepte loi du talion_) is inept or senseless only when
the application of it is false to the principle: when justice in theory
becomes unjust in practice. Another stale old principle or
proverb--"abusus non tollit usum"--suffices to confute some of the
arguments--I am very far from saying, all--adduced or alleged by the
ardent eloquence of Victor Hugo in his admirable masterpiece of terrible
and pathetic invention--_Le dernier jour d'un condamné_, and
subsequently in the impressive little history of _Claude Gueux_, in the
famous speech on behalf of Charles Hugo when impeached on a charge of
insult to the laws in an article on the punishment of death, and in the
fervent eloquence of his appeal on the case of a criminal executed in
Guernsey, and of his protest addressed to Lord Palmerston against the
horrible result of its rejection. That certain surviving methods of
execution are execrable scandals to the country which maintains them, he
has proved beyond all humane or reasonable question; and that all
murderers are not alike inexcusable is no less indisputable a
proposition; but beyond these two points the most earnest and exuberant
advocacy can advance nothing likely to convince any but those already
converted to the principle that human life must never be taken in
punishment of crime--that there are not criminals whose existence
insults humanity, and cries aloud on justice for mercy's very sake to
cut it off.

The next year (1830) is famous forever beyond all others in the history
of French literature: it was the year of _Hernani_, the date of
liberation and transfiguration for the tragic stage of France. The
battle which raged round the first acted play of Hugo's, and the triumph
which crowned the struggles of its champions, are not these things
written in too many chronicles to be for the thousandth time related
here? And of its dramatic and poetic quality what praise could be
uttered that must not before this have been repeated at least some
myriads of times? But if there be any mortal to whom the heroic scene of
the portraits, the majestic and august monologue of Charles the Fifth at
the tomb of Charles the Great, the terrible beauty, the vivid pathos,
the bitter sweetness of the close, convey no sense of genius and utter
no message of delight, we can only say that it would simply be natural,
consistent, and proper for such a critic to recognize in Shakespeare a
barbarian, and a Philistine in Milton.

Nevertheless, if we are to obey the perhaps rather childish impulse of
preference and selection among the highest works of the highest among
poets, I will avow that to my personal instinct or apprehension _Marion
de Lorme_ seems a yet more perfect and pathetic masterpiece than even
_Hernani_ itself. The always generous and loyal Dumas placed it at the
very head of his friend's dramatic works. Written, as most readers (I
presume) will remember, before its predecessor on the stage, it was
prohibited on the insanely fatuous pretext that the presentation of King
Louis the Thirteenth was an indirect affront to the majesty of King
Charles the Tenth. After that luckless dotard had been driven off his
throne, it was at once proposed to produce the hitherto interdicted play
before an audience yet palpitating with the thrill of revolution and
resentment. But the chivalrous loyalty of Victor Hugo refused to accept
a facile and factitious triumph at the expense of an exiled old man,
over the ruins of a shattered old cause. The play was not permitted by
its author to enter till the spring of the following year on its
inevitable course of glory. It is a curious and memorable fact that the
most tender-hearted of all great poets had originally made the hero of
this tragedy leave the heroine unforgiven for the momentary and
reluctant relapse into shame by which she had endeavored to repurchase
his forfeited life; and that Prosper Mérimée should have been the
first, Marie Dorval the second, to reclaim a little mercy for the
penitent. It is to their pleading that we owe the sublime pathos of the
final parting between Marion and Didier.

In one point it seems to me that this immortal masterpiece may perhaps
be reasonably placed, with _Le Roi s'amuse_ and _Ruy Blas_, in triune
supremacy at the head of Victor Hugo's plays. The wide range of poetic
abilities, the harmonious variety of congregated powers, displayed in
these three great tragedies through almost infinite variations of terror
and pity and humor and sublime surprise, will seem to some readers,
whose reverence is no less grateful for other gifts of the same great
hand, unequalled at least till the advent in his eighty-first year of
_Torquemada._

Victor Hugo was not yet thirty when all these triumphs lay behind him.
In the twenty-ninth year of a life which would seem fabulous and
incredible in the record of its achievements if divided by lapse of time
from all possible proof of its possibility by the attestation of dates
and facts, he published in February _Notre-Dame de Paris_, in November
_Les Feuilles d'Automne_: that the two dreariest months of the year
might not only "smell April and May," but outshine July and August. The
greatest of all tragic romances has a Grecian perfection of structure,
with a Gothic intensity of pathos. To attempt the praise of such a work
would be only less idle than to refuse it. Terror and pity, with eternal
fate for key-note to the strain of story, never struck deeper to men's
hearts through more faultless evolution of combining circumstance on the
tragic stage of Athens. Louis the Eleventh has been painted by many
famous hands, but Hugo's presentation of him, as compared for example
with Scott's, is as a portrait by Velasquez to a portrait by Vandyke.
The style was a new revelation of the supreme capacities of human
speech: the touch of it on any subject of description or of passion is
as the touch of the sun for penetrating irradiation and vivid evocation
of life.

From the _Autumn Leaves_ to the _Songs of the Twilight_, and again from
the _Inner Voices_ to the _Sunbeams and Shadows_, the continuous jet of
lyric song through a space of ten fertile years was so rich in serene
and various beauty that the one thing notable in a flying review of its
radiant course is the general equality of loveliness inform and color,
which is relieved and heightened at intervals by some especial example
of a beauty more profound or more sublime. The first volume of the four,
if I mistake not, won a more immediate and universal homage than the
rest: its unsurpassed melody was so often the raiment of emotion which
struck home to all hearts a sense of domestic tenderness too pure and
sweet and simple for perfect expression by any less absolute and
omnipotent lord of style, that it is no wonder if in many minds--many
mothers' minds especially--there should at once have sprung up an all
but ineradicable conviction that no subsequent verse must be allowed to
equal or excel the volume which contained such flower-like jewels of
song as the nineteenth and twentieth of these unwithering and
imperishable _Leaves._ But no error possible to a rational creature
could be more serious or more complete than the assumption of any
inferiority in the volume containing the two glorious poems addressed to
Admiral Canaris, the friend (may I be forgiven the filial vanity or
egotism which impels me to record it?) of the present writer's father in
his youth; the two first in date of Hugo's finest satires, the lines
that scourge a backbiter and the lines that brand a traitor (the
resonant and radiant indignation of the latter stands unsurpassed in the
very _Châtiments_ themselves); the two most enchanting aubades or songs
of sunrise that ever had out-sung the birds and out-sweetened the
flowers of the dawn; and--for here I can cite no more—the closing
tribute of lines more bright than the lilies whose name they bear,
offered by a husband's love at the sweet still shrine of motherhood and
wifehood. The first two stanzas of the second aubade are all that can
here be quoted.


L'aurore s'allume,
L'ombre épaisse fuit;
Le rêve et la brume
Vont où va la nuit;
Paupières et roses
S'ouvrent demi-closes;
Du réveil des choses
On entend le bruit.

Tout chante et murmure,
Tout parle à la fois,
Fumée et verdure,
Les nids et les toits;
Le vent parle aux chênes,
L'eau parie aux fontaines;
Toutes les haleines
Deviennent des voix.


And in each of the two succeeding volumes there is, among all their
other things of price, a lyric which may even yet be ranked with the
highest subsequent work of its author for purity of perfection, for
height and fulness of note, for music and movement and informing spirit
of life. We ought to have in English, but I fear--or rather I am only
too sure--we have not, a song in which the sound of the sea is rendered
as in that translation of the trumpet-blast of the night-wind, with all
its wails and pauses and fluctuations and returns, done for once into
human speech and interpreted into spiritual sense forever. For
instinctive mastery of its means and absolute attainment of its end, for
majesty of living music and fidelity of sensitive imagination, there is
no lyric poem in any language more wonderful or more delightful.


UNE NUIT QU'ON ENTENDAIT LA MER SANS LA VOIR


Quels sont ces bruits sourds?
Écoutez vers l'onde
Cette voix profonde
Qui pleure toujours
Et qui toujours gronde,
Quoiqu'un son plus clair
Parfois l'interrompe...--
Le vent de la mer
Souffle dans sa trompe.

Comme il pleut ce soir!
N'est-ce pas, mon hôte?
Là-bas, à la côte,
Le ciel est bien noir,
La mer est bien haute
On dirait l'hiver;
Parfois on s'y trompe...--
Le vent de la mer
Souffle dans sa trompe.

Oh! marins perdus!
Au loin, dans cette ombre.
Sur la nef qui sombre,
Que de bras tendus
Vers la terre sombre!
Pas d'ancre de fer
Que le flot ne rompe.--
Le vent de la mer
Souffle dans sa trompe.

Nochers imprudents!
Le vent dans la voile
Déchire la toile
Comme avec les dents!
Là-haut pas d'étoile!
L'un lutte avec l'air,
L'autre est à la pompe.--
Le vent de la mer
Souffle dans sa trompe.

C'est toi, c'est ton feu
Que le nocher rêve,
Quand le flot s'élève,
Chandelier que Dieu
Pose sur la grève,
Phare au rouge éclair
Que la brume estompe!--
Le vent de la mer
Souffle dans sa trompe.


A yet sweeter and sadder and more magical sea-song there was yet to come
years after--but only from the lips of an exile. Of the ballad--so to
call it, if any term of definition may suffice--which stands out as a
crowning splendor among _Les Rayons et les Ombres_, not even Hugo's own
eloquence, had it been the work (which is impossible) of any other great
poet in all time, could have said anything adequate at all. Not even
Coleridge and Shelley, the sole twin sovereigns of English lyric poetry,
could have produced this little piece of lyric work by combination and
by fusion of their gifts. The pathetic truthfulness and the simple
manfulness of the mountain shepherd's distraction and devotion might
have been given in ruder phrase and tentative rendering by the nameless
ballad-makers of the border: but here is a poem which unites
something-of the charm of _Clerk Saunders_ and _The Wife of Usher's
Well_ with something of the magic of _Christabel_ and the _Ode to the
West Wind_; a thing, no doubt, impossible; but none the less obviously
accomplished.[1]

The lyric work of these years would have been enough for the energy of
another man, for the glory of another poet; it was but a part, it was (I
had well nigh said) the lesser part, of its author's labors--if labor be
not an improper term for the successive or simultaneous expressions or
effusions of his indefatigable spirit. The year after _Notre-Dame de
Paris_ and _Les Feuilles d'Automne_ appeared one of the great crowning
tragedies of all time, _Le Roi s'amuse._ As the key-note of _Marion de
Lorme_ had been redemption by expiation, so the key-note of this play is
expiation by retribution. The simplicity, originality, and
straightforwardness of the terrible means through which this austere
conception is worked out would give moral and dramatic value to a work
less rich in the tenderest and sublimest poetry, less imbued with the
purest fire of pathetic passion. After the magnificent pleading of the
Marquis de Nangis in the preceding play, it must have seemed impossible
that the poet should, without a touch of repetition or reiterance, be
able again to confront a young king with an old servant, pour forth
again the denunciation and appeal of a breaking heart, clothe again the
haughtiness of honor, the loyalty of grief, the sanctity of indignation,
in words that shine like lightning and verses that thunder like the sea.
But the veteran interceding for a nephew's life is a less tragic figure
than he who comes to ask account for a daughter's honor. Hugo never
merely repeats himself; his miraculous fertility and force of utterance
were not more indefatigable and inexhaustible than the fountains of
thought and emotion which fed that eloquence with fire.

In the seventh scene of the fourth act of _Marion de Lorme_, an old
warrior of the days of Henri Quatre comes to plead with the son of his
old comrade in arms for the life of his heir, condemned to death as a
duelist by the edict of Richelieu.


LE MARQUIS DE NANGIS (_se relevant_).

Je dis qu'il est bien temps que vous y songiez, sire;
Que le cardinal-duc a de sombres projets,
Et qu'il boit le meilleur du sang de vos sujets.
Votre père Henri, de mémoire royale,
N'eût pas ainsi livré sa noblesse loyale;
Il ne la frappait point sans y fort regarder;
Et, bien gardé par elle, il la savait garder.
Il savait qu'on peut faire avec des gens d'épées
Quelque chose de mieux que des têtes coupées;
Qu'ils sont bons à la guerre. Il ne l'ignorait point,
Lui dont plus d'une balle a troué le pourpoint.
Ce temps était le bon. J'en fus, et je l'honore,
Un peu de seigneurie y palpitait encore.
Jamais à des seigneurs un prêtre n'eût touché.
On n'avait point alors de tête à bon marché.
Sire! en des jours mauvais comme ceux où nous
sommes,
Croyez un vieux, gardez un peu de gentilshommes.
Vous en aurez besoin peut-être à votre tour.
Hélas! vous gémirez peut-être quelque jour
Que la place de Grève ait été si fêtée,
Et que tant de seigneurs de bravoure indomptée,
Vers qui se tourneront vos regrets envieux,
Soient morts depuis longtemps qui ne seraient pas
vieux!
Car nous sommes tout chauds de la guerre civile,
Et le tocsin d'hier gronde encor dans la ville.
Soyez plus ménager des peines du bourreau.
C'est lui qui doit garder son estoc au fourreau,
Non pas vous. D'échafauds montrez-vous économe.
Craignez d'avoir un jour à pleurer tel brave homme,
Tel vaillant de grand cœur, dont, à l'heure qu'il est,
Le squelette blanchit aux chaînes d'un gibet!
Sire! le sang n'est pas une bonne rosée;
Nulle moisson ne vient sur la Grève arrosée,
Et le peuple des rois évite le balcon,
Quand aux dépens du Louvre on peuple Montfaucon.
Meurent les courtisans, s'il faut que leur voix aille
Vous amuser, pendant que le bourreau travaille!
Cette voix des flatteurs qui dit que tout est bon,
Qu'après tout on est fils d'Henri Quatre, et Bourbon,
Si haute qu'elle soit, ne couvre pas sans peine
Le bruit sourd qu'en tombant fait une tête humaine.
Je vous en donne avis, ne jouez pas ce jeu,
Roi, qui serez un jour face à face avec Dieu.
Donc, je vous dis, avant que rien ne s'accomplisse,
Qu'à tout prendre il vaut mieux un combat qu'un
supplice,
Que ce n'est pas la joie et l'honneur des états
De voir plus de besogne aux bourreaux qu'aux soldats,
Que c'est un pasteur dur pour la France où vous êtes
Qu'un prêtre qui se paye une dîme de têtes,
Et que cet homme illustre entre les inhumains
Qui touche à votre sceptre--a du sang à ses mains!


In the fifth scene of the first act of _Le Roi s'amuse_, an old nobleman
whose life, forfeit on a charge of friendship or relationship with
rebels, has been repurchased by his daughter from the king at the price
of her honor, is insulted by the king's jester when he comes to speak
with the king, and speaks thus, without a glance at the jester.


Une insulte de plus!--Vous, sire, écoutez-moi,
Comme vous le devez, puisque vous êtes roi!
Vous m'avez fait un jour mener pieds nus en Grève;
Là, vous m'avez fait grâce, ainsi que dans un rêve,
Et je vous ai béni, ne sachant en effet
Ce qu'un roi cache au fond d'une grâce qu'il fait.
Or, vous aviez caché ma honte dans la mienne.--
Oui, sire, sans respect pour une race ancienne,
Pour le sang de Poitiers, noble depuis mille ans,
Tandis que, revenant de la Grève à pas lents,
Je priais dans mon cœur le dieu de la victoire
Qu'il vous donnât mes jours de vie en jours de gloire,
Vous, François de Valois, le soir du même jour,
Sans crainte, sans pitié, sans pudeur, sans amour,
Dans votre lit, tombeau de la vertu des femmes,
Vous avez froidement, sous vos baisers infâmes,
Terni, flétri, souillé, déshonoré, brisé
Diane de Poitiers, comtesse de Brézé!
Quoi! lorsque j'attendais l'arrêt qui me condamne,
Tu courais donc au Louvre, ô ma chaste Diane!
Et lui, ce roi sacré chevalier par Bayard,
Jeune homme auquel il faut des plaisirs de vieillard,
Pour quelques jours de plus dont Dieu seul sait le compte,
Ton père sous ses pieds, te marchandait ta honte,
Et cet affreux tréteau, chose horrible à penser!
Qu'un matin le bourreau vint en Grève dresser,
Avant la fin du jour devait être, ô misère!
Ou le lit de la fille, ou l'échafaud du père!
Ô Dieu! qui nous jugez! qu'avez-vous dit là-haut,
Quand vos regards ont vu, sur ce même échafaud,
Se vautrer, triste et louche, et sanglante, et souillée,
La luxure royale en clémence habillée?
Sire! en faisant cela, vous avez mal agi.
Que du sang d'un vieillard le pavé fût rougi,
C'était bien. Ce vieillard, peut-être respectable,
Le méritait, étant de ceux du connétable.
Mais que pour le vieillard vous ayez pris l'enfant,
Que vous ayez broyé sous un pied triomphant
La pauvre femme en pleurs, à s'effrayer trop prompte
C'est une chose impie, et dont vous rendrez compte!
Vous avez dépassé votre droit d'un grand pas.
Le père é ait à vous, mais la fille non pas.
Ah! vous m'avez fait grâce!--Ah! vous nommez la
chose
Une grâce! et je suis un ingrat, je suppose!
--Sire, au lieu d'abuser ma fille, bien plutôt
Que n'êtes-vous venu vous-même en mon cachot,
Je vous aurais crié:--Faites-moi mourir, grâce!
Oh! grâce pour ma fille, et grâce pour ma race!
Oh! faites-moi mourir! la tombe, et non l'affront!
Pas de tête plutôt qu'une souillure au front!
Oh! monseigneur le roi, puisqu'ainsi l'on vous nomme,
Croyez-vous qu'un chrétien, um comte, un
gentilhomme,
Soit moins décapité, répondez, monseigneur,
Quand au lieu de la tête il lui manque l'honneur?
--J'aurais dit cela, sire, et le soir, dans l'église,
Dans mon cercueil sanglant baisant ma barbe grise,
Ma Diane au cœur pur, ma fille au front sacré,
Honorée, eût prié pour son père honoré!
--Sire, je ne viens pas redemander ma fille.
Quand on n'a plus d'honneur, on n'a plus de famille.
Qu'elle vous aime ou non d'un amour insensé,
Je n'ai rien à reprendre où la honte a passé.
Gardez-la.--Seulement je me suis mis en tête
De venir vous troubler ainsi dans chaque fête,
Et jusqu'à ce qu'un père, un frère, ou quelque époux,
--La chose arrivera,--nous ait vengés de vous,
Pâle, à tous vos banquets, je reviendrai vous dire:
--Vous avez mal agi, vous avez mal fait, sire!--
Et vous m'écouterez, et votre front terni
Ne se relèvera que quand j'aurai fini.
Vous voudrez, pour forcer ma vengeance à se taire,
Me rendre au bourreau. Non. Vous ne l'oserez faire,
De peur que ce ne soit mon spectre qui demain

(_Montrant sa tête_)

Revienne vous parler,--cette tête à la main!


_Marion de Lorme_ had been prohibited by Charles the Tenth for an
imaginary reflection on Charles the Tenth; _Le Roi s'amuse_ was
prohibited by Louis-Philippe the First--and Last--for an imaginary
reflection on Citizen Philippe Egalité. Victor Hugo vindicated his
meaning and reclaimed his rights in a most eloquent, most manly, and
most unanswerable speech before a tribunal which durst not and could not
but refuse him justice. Early in the following year he brought out the
first of his three tragedies in prose--in a prose which even the most
loyal lovers of poetry, Théophile Gautier at their head, acknowledged
on trial to be as good as verse. And assuredly it would be, if any prose
ever could: which yet I must confess that I for one can never really
feel to be possible. _Lucrèce Borgia_, the first-born of these three,
is also the most perfect in structure as well as the most sublime in
subject. The plots of all three are equally pure inventions of tragic
fancy: Gennaro and Fabiano, the heroic son of the Borgia and the caitiff
lover of the Tudor, are of course as utterly unknown to history as is
the self-devotion of the actress Tisbe. It is more important to remark
and more useful to remember that the master of terror and pity, the
command of all passions and all powers that may subserve the purpose of
tragedy, is equally triumphant and infallible in them all. _Lucrèce
Borgia_ and _Marie Tudor_ appeared respectively in February and in
November of the year 1833; _Angelo_, two years later; and the year after
this the exquisite and melodious libretto of _La Esmeralda_, which
should be carefully and lovingly studied by all who would appreciate the
all but superhuman versatility and dexterity of metrical accomplishment
which would have sufficed to make a lesser poet famous among his peers
forever, but may almost escape notice in the splendor of Victor Hugo's
other and sublimer qualities. In his thirty-seventh year all these
blazed out once more together in the tragedy sometimes apparently rated
as his master-work by judges whose verdict would on any such question be
worthy at least of all considerate respect. No one that I know of has
ever been absurd enough to make identity in tone of thought or feeling,
in quality of spirit or of style, the ground for a comparison of Hugo
with Shakespeare: they are of course as widely different as are their
respective countries and their respective times: but never since the
death of Shakespeare had there been so perfect and harmonious a fusion
of the highest comedy with the deepest tragedy as in the five
many-voiced and many-colored acts of _Ruy Blas._

At the age of forty Victor Hugo gave to the stage which for thirteen
years had been glorified by his genius the last work he was ever to
write for it. There may perhaps be other readers besides myself who take
even more delight in _Les Burgraves_ than in some of the preceding plays
which had been more regular in action, more plausible in story, less
open to the magnificent reproach of being too good for the stage--as the
_Hamlet_ which came finally from the recasting hand of Shakespeare was
found to be, in the judgment even of Shakespeare's fellows; too rich in
lyric beauty, too superb in epic state. The previous year had seen the
publication of the marvelously eloquent, copious, and vivid letters
which gave to the world the impressions received by its greatest poet in
a tour on the Rhine made five years earlier--that is, in the year of
_Ruy Blas._ In this book, as Gautier at once observed, the inspiration
of _Les Burgraves_ is evidently and easily traceable. Among numberless
masterpieces of description, from which I have barely time to select for
mention the view of Bishop Hatto's tower by the appropriately Dantesque
light of a furnace at midnight--not as better than others, but as an
example of the magic by which the writer imbues and impregnates
observation and recollection with feeling and with fancy--the most
enchanting legend of enchantment ever written for children of all ages,
sweet and strange enough to have grown up among the fairy tales of the
past whose only known authors are the winds and suns of their various
climates, lurks like a flower in a crevice of a crumbling fortress. The
entrancing and haunting beauty of Régina's words as she watches the
departing swallows--words which it may seem that any one might have
said, but to which none other could have given the accent and the effect
that Hugo has thrown into the simple sound of them--was as surely
derived, we cannot but think, from some such milder and brighter vision
of the remembered Rhineland solitudes, as were the sublime and all but
Æschylean imprecations of Guanhumara from the impression of their
darker and more savage memories or landscapes.


OTBERT (_lui montrant la fenêtre_).

Voyez ce beau soleil!

RÉGINA

Oui, le couchant s'enflamme.
Nous sommes en automne et nous sommes au soir.
Partout la feuille tombe et le bois devient noir.

OTBERT

Les feuilles renaîtront.

RÉGINA

Oui.

(_Rêvant et regardant le ciel._)

Vite! à tire-d'ailes!--
--Oh! c'est triste de voir s'enfuir les hirondelles!--
Elles s'en vont là-bas, vers le midi doré.

OTBERT

Elles reviendront.

RÉGINA

Oui.--Mais moi je ne verrai
Ni l'oiseau revenir ni la feuille renaître!


Two years before the appearance of _Les Burgraves_ Victor Hugo had begun
his long and glorious career as an orator by a speech of
characteristically generous enthusiasm, delivered on his reception into
the Academy. The forgotten playwright and versifier whom he succeeded
had been a professional if not a personal enemy: the one memorable thing
about the man was his high-minded opposition to the tyranny of Napoleon,
his own personal friend before the epoch of that tyranny began: and this
was the point at once seized and dwelt on by the orator in a tone of
earnest and cordial respect. The fiery and rapturous eloquence with
which, at the same time, he celebrated the martial triumphs of the
empire, gave ample proof that he was now, as his father had prophesied
that his mother's royalist boy would become when he grew to be a man, a
convert to the views of that father, a distinguished though ill-requited
soldier of the empire, and a faithful champion or mourner of its cause.
The stage of Napoleonic hero-worship, single-minded and single-eyed if
short-sighted and misdirected, through which Victor Hugo was still
passing on towards the unseen prospect of a better faith, had been
vividly illustrated and vehemently proclaimed in his letters on the
Rhine, and was hereafter to be described with a fervent and pathetic
fidelity in a famous chapter of _Les Misérables._ The same phase of
patriotic prepossession inspired his no less generous tribute to the not
very radiant memory of Casimir Delavigne, to whom he paid likewise the
last and crowning honor of a funeral oration: an honor afterwards
conferred on Frédéric Soulié, and far more deservedly bestowed on
Honoré de Balzac. More generous his first political speech in the
chamber of peers could not be, but there was more of reason and justice
in its fruitless appeal for more than barren sympathy, for a moral
though not material intervention, on behalf of Poland in 1846. His
second speech as a peer is an edifying commentary on the vulgar English
view of his character as defective in all the practical and rational
qualities of a politician, a statesman, or a patriot. The subject was
the consolidation and defense of the French coastline: a poet, of
course, according to all reasonable tradition, if he ventured to open
his unserviceable lips at all on such a grave matter of public business,
ought to have remembered what was expected of him by the sagacity of
blockheads, and carefully confined himself to the clouds, leaving facts
to take care of themselves and proofs to hang floating in the air, while
his vague and verbose declamation wandered at its own sweet will about
and about the matter in hand, and never came close enough to grapple it.
This, I regret to say, is exactly what the greatest poet of his age was
inconsiderate enough to avoid, and most markedly to abstain from doing;
a course of conduct which can only be attributed to his notorious and
deplorable love of paradox. His speech, though not wanting in eloquence
of a reserved and masculine order, was wholly occupied with sedate and
business-like exposition of facts and suggestion of remedies, grounded
on experience and study of the question, and resulting in a proposal at
once scientific and direct for such research as might result, if
possible, in an arrest of the double danger with which the coast was
threatened by the advance of the Atlantic and the Channel to a gradual
obstruction of the great harbors and by the withdrawal or subsidence of
the Mediterranean from the seaports of the south; finally, the orator
urged upon his audience as a crowning necessity the creation of fresh
harbors of refuge in dangerous and neglected parts of the coast;
insisting, with a simple and serious energy somewhat unlike the
imaginary tone of the typical or traditional poet, on the plain fact
that ninety-two ships had been lost on the same part of the coast within
a space of seven years, which might have been saved by the existence of
a harbor of refuge. To an Olympian or a Nephelococcygian intelligence
such a paltry matter should have been even more indifferent than the
claim of a family of exiles on the compassion of the country which had
expelled them. To my own more humble and homely understanding it seems
that there are not many more significant or memorable facts on record in
the history of our age than this: that Victor Hugo was the advocate
whose pleading brought back to France the banished race of which the
future representative was for upwards of twenty years to keep him in
banishment from France. On the evening of the same day on which the
house of peers had listened to his speech in behalf of the Bonaparte
family, Louis-Philippe, having taken cognizance of it, expressed his
intention to authorize the return of the brood whose chief was hereafter
to pick the pockets of his children. In the first fortnight of the
following year the future author of the terrible _Vision of Dante_
saluted in words full of noble and fervent reverence the apostle of
Italian resurrection and Italian unity in the radiant figure of Pope
Pius the Ninth. When the next month's revolution had flung
Louis-Philippe from his throne, Victor Hugo declined to offer himself to
the electors as a candidate for a seat in the assembly about to
undertake the charge of framing a constitution for the commonwealth;
but, if summoned by his fellow-citizens to take his share of this task,
he expressed himself ready to discharge the duty so imposed on him with
the disinterested self-devotion of which his whole future career was to
give such continuous and such austere evidence. From the day on which
sixty thousand voices summoned him to redeem this pledge, he never
stinted nor slackened his efforts to fulfill the charge he had accepted
in the closing words of a short, simple, and earnest address, in which
he placed before his electors the contrasted likenesses of two different
republics; one, misnamed a commonweal, the rule of the red flag, of
barbarism and blindness, communism and proscription and revenge; the
other a commonwealth indeed, in which all rights should be respected and
no duties evaded or ignored; a government of justice and mercy, of
practicable principles and equitable freedom, of no iniquitous
traditions and no utopian aims. To establish this kind of commonwealth
and prevent the resurrection of the other, Hugo, at the age of
forty-six, professed himself ready to devote his life. The work of
thirty-seven years is now before all men's eyes for proof how well this
promise has been kept. On dangerous questions of perverse or perverted
socialism (June 20, 1848), on the freedom of the press, on the state of
siege, its temporary necessity and its imminent abuse, on the
encouragement of letters and the freedom of the stage, he spoke, in the
course of a few months, with what seems to my poor understanding the
most admirable good sense and temperance, the most perfect moderation
and loyalty. I venture to dwell upon this division of Hugo's life and
labors with as little wish of converting as I could have hope to convert
that large majority whose verdict has established as a law of nature the
fact or the doctrine that "every poet is a fool" when he meddles with
practical politics; but not without a confidence grounded on no
superficial study that the maintainers of this opinion, if they wish to
cite in support of it the evidence supplied by Victor Hugo's political
career, will do well to persevere in the course which I will do them the
justice to admit that--as far as I know--they have always hitherto
adopted; in other words, to assume the universal assent of all persons
worth mentioning to the accuracy of this previous assumption, and
dismiss with a quiet smile or an open sneer the impossible notion that
any one but some single imbecile or eccentric can pretend to take
seriously what seems to them ridiculous, or to think that ridiculous
which to their wiser minds commends itself as serious. This beaten road
of assumption, this well-worn highway of assertion, is a safe as well as
a simple line of travel: and the practical person who keeps to it can
well afford to dispense with argument as palpably superfluous, and with
evidence as obviously impertinent. Should he so far forget that great
principle of precaution as to diverge from it into the modest and simple
course of investigation and comparison of theory with fact and
probability with proof, his task maybe somewhat harder, and its result
somewhat less satisfactory. I would not advise any but an honest and
candid believer in the theory which identifies genius with idiocy--which
at all events would practically define one special form of genius as a
note of general idiocy--to study the speeches (they are nine in number,
including two brief and final replies to the personal attacks of one
Montalembert, whose name used to be rather popular among a certain class
of English journalists as that of a practical worshipper of their great
god Compromise, and a professional enemy of all tyranny or villainy that
was not serviceable and obsequious to his Church)--to study, I say, the
speeches delivered by Victor Hugo in the Legislative Assembly during a
space of exactly two years and eight days. The first of these speeches
dealt with the question of what in England we call pauperism--with the
possibility, the necessity, and the duty of its immediate relief and its
ultimate removal: the second, with the infamous and inexpiable crime
which diverted against the Roman republic an expedition sent out under
the plea of protecting Rome against the atrocities of Austrian triumph.
A double-faced and double-dealing law, which under the name or the mask
of free education aimed at securing for clerical instruction a monopoly
of public support and national encouragement, was exposed and denounced
by Hugo in a speech which insisted no less earnestly and eloquently on
the spiritual duty and the spiritual necessity of faith and hope than on
the practical necessity and duty of vigilant resistance to priestly
pretension, and vigilant exposure of ecclesiastical hypocrisy and
reactionary intrigue. Against "the dry guillotine" of imprisonment in a
tropical climate added to transportation for political offences, the
whole eloquence of a heart as great as his genius was poured forth in
fervor of indignation and pity, of passion and reason combined. The next
trick of the infamous game played by the conspirators against the
commonwealth, who were now beginning to show their hand, was the
mutilation of the suffrage. To this again Victor Hugo opposed the same
steadfast front of earnest and rational resistance; and yet again to the
sidelong attack of the same political gang on the existing freedom of
the press. A year and eight days elapsed before the delivery of his next
and last great speech in the Assembly which he would fain have saved
from the shame and ruin then hard at hand--the harvest of its own
unprincipled infatuation. The fruit of conspiracy, long manured with
fraud and falsehood and all the furtive impurities of intrigue, was now
ripe even to rottenness, and ready to fall into the hands already
stretched towards it--into the lips yet open to protest that no one--the
accuser himself must know it--that no one was dreaming of a second
French empire. All that reason and indignation, eloquence and argument,
loyalty and sincerity could do to save the commonwealth from destruction
and the country from disgrace, was done: how utterly in vain is matter
of history--of one among the darkest pages in the roll of its criminal
records. The voice of truth and honor was roared and hooted down by the
faction whose tactics would have discredited a den of less dishonest and
more barefaced thieves; the stroke of state was ready for striking; and
the orator's next address was the utterance of an exile.

There are not, even in the whole work of Victor Hugo, many pages of
deeper and more pathetic interest than those which explain to us "what
exile is." Each of the three prefaces to the three volumes of his _Actes
et Paroles_ is rich in living eloquence, in splendid epigram and
description, narrative and satire and study of men and things: but the
second, it seems to me, would still be first in attraction, if it had no
other claim than this, that it contains the record of the death of
Captain Harvey. No reverence for innocent and heroic suffering, no
abhorrence of triumphant and execrable crime, can impede or interfere
with our sense of the incalculable profit, the measureless addition to
his glory and our gain, resulting from Victor Hugo's exile of nineteen
years and nine months. Greater already than all other poets of his time
together, these years were to make him greater than any but the very
greatest of all time. His first task was of course the discharge of a
direct and practical duty; the record or registration of the events he
had just witnessed, the infliction on the principal agent in them of the
simple and immediate chastisement consisting in the delineation of his
character and the recapitulation of his work. There would seem to be
among modern Englishmen an impression--somewhat singular, it appears to
me, in a race which professes to hold in special reverence a book so
dependent for its arguments and its effects on a continuous appeal to
conscience and emotion as the Bible--that the presence of passion, be it
never so righteous, so rational, so inevitable by any one not ignoble or
insane, implies the absence of reason; that such indignation as inflamed
the lips of Elijah with prophecy, and armed the hand of Jesus with a
scourge, is a sign--except of course in Palestine of old--that the
person affected by this kind of moral excitement must needs be a lunatic
of the sentimental if not rather of the criminal type. The main facts
recorded in the pages of _Napoléon le Petit_ and _L'Histoire d'un
Crime_ are simple, flagrant, palpable, indisputable. The man who takes
any other view of them than is expressed in these two books must be
prepared to impugn and to confute the principle that perjury, robbery,
and murder are crimes. But, we are told, the perpetual vehemence of
incessant imprecation, the stormy insistence of unremitting obloquy,
which accompanies every chapter, illuminates every page, underlines
every sentence of the narrative, must needs impair the confidence of an
impartial reader in the trustworthiness of a chronicle and a commentary
written throughout as in characters of flaming fire. Englishmen are
proud to prefer a more temperate, a more practical, a more sedate form
of political or controversial eloquence. When I remember and consider
certain examples of popular oratory and controversy now flagrant and
flourishing among us, I am tempted to doubt the exact accuracy of this
undoubtedly plausible proposition: but, be that as it may, I must take
leave to doubt yet more emphatically the implied conclusion that the
best or the only good witness procurable on a question of right and
wrong is one too impartial to feel enthusiasm or indignation; that
indifference alike to good and evil is the sign of perfect equity and
trustworthiness in a judge of moral or political questions; that a man
who has witnessed a deliberate massacre of unarmed men, women, and
children, if he be indiscreet enough to describe his experience in any
tone but that of a scientific or æsthetic serenity, forfeits the
inherent right of a reasonable and an honorable man to command a
respectful and attentive hearing from all honorable and reasonable men.

But valuable and precious as all such readers will always hold these two
book of immediate and implacable history, they will not, I presume, be
rated among the more important labors of their author's literary life.
No one who would know fully or would estimate aright the greatest genius
born into the world in our nineteenth century can afford to pass them by
with less than careful and sympathetic study: for without moral sympathy
no care will enable a student to form any but a trivial and a frivolous
judgment on writings which make their primary appeal to the
conscience--to the moral instinct and the moral intelligence of the
reader. They may perhaps not improperly be classed, for historic or
biographic interest, with the _Littérature et Philosophie mêlées_
which had been given to the world in 1834. From the crudest impressions
of the boy to the ripest convictions of the man, one common quality
informs and harmonizes every stage of thought, every phase of feeling,
every change of spiritual outlook, which has left its mark on the
writings of which that collection is composed; the quality of a pure, a
perfect, an intense and burning sincerity. Apart from this personal
interest which informs them all, two at least are indispensable to any
serious and thorough study of Hugo's work: the fervent and reiterated
intercession on behalf of the worse than neglected treasures of
mediaeval architecture then delivered over for a prey to the claws of
the destroyer and the paws of the restorer; the superb essay on
Mirabeau, which remains as a landmark or a tidemark in the history of
his opinions and the development of his powers. But the highest
expression of these was not to be given in prose--not even in the prose
of Victor Hugo.

There is not, it seems to me, in all this marvelous life, to which well
nigh every year brought its additional aureole of glory, a point more
important, a date more memorable, than the publication of the
_Châtiments._ Between the prologue _Night_ and the epilogue _Light_ the
ninety-eight poems that roll and break and lighten and thunder like
waves of a visible sea fulfill the choir of their crescent and refluent
harmonies with hardly less depth and change and strength of music, with
no less living force and with no less passionate unity, than the waters
on whose shores they were written. Two poems, the third and the sixth,
in the first of the seven books into which the collection is divided,
may be taken as immediate and sufficient instances of the two different
keys in which the entire book is written; of the two styles, one
bitterly and keenly realistic, keeping scornfully close to shameful
fact--one higher in flight and wider in range of outlook, soaring
strongly to the very summits of lyric passion--which alternate in
terrible and sublime antiphony throughout the living pages of this
imperishable record. A second Juvenal might have drawn for us with not
less of angry fidelity and superb disgust the ludicrous and loathsome
inmates of the den infested by holy hirelings of the clerical press; no
Roman satirist could have sung, no Roman lyrist could have thundered,
such a poem as that which has blasted for ever the name and the memory
of the prostitute archbishop Sibour. The poniard of the priest who
struck him dead at the altar he had desecrated struck a blow less deep
and deadly than had been dealt already on the renegade pander of a far
more infamous assassin. The next poem is a notable and remarkable
example of the fusion sometimes accomplished--or, if this be thought a
phrase too strong for accuracy, of the middle note sometimes touched, of
the middle way sometimes taken--between the purely lyric and the purely
satiric style or method. But it would be necessary to dwell on every
poem, to pause at every page, if adequate justice were to be done to
this or indeed to any of the volumes of verse published from this time
forth by Victor Hugo. I will therefore, not without serious diffidence,
venture once more to indicate by selection such poems as seem to me most
especially notable among the greatest even of these. In the first book,
besides the three already mentioned, I take for examples the solemn
utterance of indignant mourning addressed to the murdered dead of the
fourth of December; the ringing song in praise of art which ends in a
note of noble menace; the scornful song that follows it, with a burden
so majestic in its variations; the fearful and faithful "map of Europe"
in 1852, with its closing word of witness for prophetic hope and faith;
and the simple perfection of pathos in the song of the little forsaken
birds and lambs and children. In the second book, the appeal "To the
People," with a threefold cry for burden, calling on the buried Lazarus
to rise again in words that seem to reverberate from stanza to stanza
like peal upon peal of living thunder, prolonged in steadfast cadence
from height to height across the hollows of a range of mountains, is one
of the most wonderful symphonies of tragic and triumphant verse that
ever shook the hearts of its hearers with rapture of rage and pity. The
first and the two last stanzas seem to me absolutely unsurpassed and
unsurpassable for pathetic majesty of music.


Partout pleurs, sanglots, cris funèbres.
Pourquoi dors-tu dans les ténèbres?
Je ne veux pas que tu sois mort.
Pourquoi dors-tu dans les ténèbres?
Ce n'est pas l'instant où l'on dort.
La pâle Liberté gît sanglante à ta porte.
Tu le sais, toi mort, elle est morte.
Voici le chacal sur ton seuil,
Voici les rats et les belettes,
Pourquoi t'es-tu laissé lier de bandelettes?
Ils te mordent dans ton cercueil!
De tous les peuples on prépare
Le convoi...--
Lazare! Lazare! Lazare!
Lève-toi!

* * * * * *

Ils bâtissent des prisons neuves;
Ô dormeur sombre, entends les fleuves
Murmurer, teints de sang vermeil;
Entends pleurer les pauvres veuves,
Ô noir dormeur au dur sommeil!
Martyrs, adieu! le vent souffle, les pontons flottent,
Les mères au front gris sanglotent;
Leurs fils sont en proie aux vainqueurs;
Elles gémissent sur la route;
Les pleurs qui de leurs yeux s'échappent goutte à goutte
Filtrent en haine dans nos cœurs.
Les juifs triomphent, groupe avare
Et sans foi...--
Lazare! Lazare! Lazare!
Lève-toi!

Mais, il semble qu'on se réveille!
Est-ce toi que j'ai dans l'oreille,
Bourdonnement du sombre essaim?
Dans la ruche frémit l'abeille;
J'entends sourdre un vague tocsin.
Les césars, oubliant qu'il est des gémonies,
S'endorment dans les symphonies,
Du lac Baltique au mont Etna;
Les peuples sont dans la nuit noire;
Dormez, rois; le clairon dit aux tyrans: victoire!
Et l'orgue leur chante; hosanna!
Qui répond à cette fanfare?
Le beffroi...--
Lazare! Lazare! Lazare!
Lève-toi!


If ever a more superb structure of lyric verse was devised by the brain
of man, it must have been, I am very certain, in a language utterly
unknown to me. Every line, every pause, every note of it should be
studied and restudied by those who would thoroughly understand the
lyrical capacity of Hugo's at its very highest point of power, in the
fullest sweetness of its strength.

About the next poem--'Souvenir de la nuit du 4'--others may try, if they
please, to write, if they can; I can only confess that I cannot. Nothing
so intolerable in its pathos, I should think, was ever written.

The stately melody of the stanzas in which the exile salutes in a tone
of severe content the sorrows that environ and the comforts that sustain
him, the island of his refuge, the sea-birds and the sea-rocks and the
sea, closes aptly with yet another thought of the mothers weeping for
their children.


Puisque le juste est dans l'abîme,
Puisqu'on donne le sceptre au crime,
Puisque tous les droits sont trahis,
Puisque les plus fiers restent mornes,
Puisqu'on affiche au coin des bornes
Le déshonneur de mon pays;

Ô République de nos pères,
Grand Panthéon plein de lumières.
Dôme d'or dans le libre azur,
Temple des ombres immortelles,
Puisqu'on vient avec des échelles
Coller l'empire sur ton mur;

Puisque toute âme est affaiblie,
Puisqu'on rampe, puisqu'on oublie
Le vrai, le pur, le grand, le beau.
Les yeux indignés de l'histoire,
L'honneur, la loi, le droit, la gloire,
Et ceux qui sont dans le tombeau;

Je t'aime, exil! douleur, je t'aime!
Tristesse, sois mon diadème!
Je t'aime, altière pauvreté!
J'aime ma porte aux vents battue.
J'aime le deuil, grave statue
Qui vient s'asseoir à mon côté.

J'aime le malheur qui m'éprouve,
Et cette ombre où je vous retrouve,
Ô vous à qui mon cœur sourit,
Dignité, foi, vertu voilée,
Toi, liberté, fière exilée,
Et toi, dévouement, grand proscrit!

J'aime cette île solitaire,
Jersey, que la libre Angleterre
Couvre de son vieux pavillon,
L'eau noire, par moments accrue,
Le navire, errante charrue,
Le flot, mystérieux sillon.

J'aime ta mouette, ô mer profonde,
Qui secoue en perles ton onde
Sur son aile aux fauves couleurs,
Plonge dans les lames géantes,
Et sort de ces gueules béantes
Comme l'âme sort des douleurs.

J'aime la roche solennelle
D'où j'entends la plainte éternelle,
Sans trêve comme le remords,
Toujours renaissant dans les ombres,
Des vagues sur les écueils sombres,
Des mères sur leurs enfants morts.


The close of the third poem in the fourth book is a nobler protest than
ever has been uttered or ever can be uttered in prose against the
servile sophism of a false democracy which affirms or allows that a
people has the divine right of voting itself into bondage. There is
nothing grander in Juvenal, and nothing more true.


Ce droit, sachez-le bien, chiens du berger Maupas,
Et la France et le peuple eux-mêmes ne l'ont pas.
L'altière Vérité jamais ne tombe en cendre.
La Liberté n'est pas une guenille à vendre,
Jetée au tas, pendue au clou chez un fripier.
Quand un peuple se laisse au piège estropier,
Le droit sacré, toujours à soi-même fidèle,
Dans chaque citoyen trouve une citadelle;
On s'illustre en bravant un lâche conquérant,
Et le moindre du peuple en devient le plus grand.
Donc, trouvez du bonheur, ô plates créatures,
À vivre dans la fange et dans les pourritures,
Adorez ce fumier sous ce dais de brocart,
L'honnête homme recule et s'accoude à l'écart.
Dans la chute d'autrui je ne veux pas descendre.
L'honneur n'abdique point. Nul n'a droit de me prendre
Ma liberté, mon bien, mon ciel bleu, mon amour.
Tout l'univers aveugle est sans droit sur le jour.
Fût on cent millions d'esclaves, je suis libre.
Ainsi parle Caton. Sur la Seine ou le Tibre,
Personne n'est tombé tant qu'un seul est debout.
Le vieux sang des aïeux qui s'indigne et qui bout,
La vertu, la fierté, la justice, l'histoire,
Toute une nation avec toute sa gloire
Vit dans le dernier front qui ne veut pas plier.
Pour soutenir le temple il suffit d'un pilier;
Un français, c'est la France; un romain contient Rome,
Et ce qui brise un peuple avorte aux pieds d'un homme.


The sixth and seventh poems in this book are each a superb example of
its kind; the verses on an interview between Abd-el-Kader and Bonaparte
are worthy of a place among the earlier _Orientales_ for simplicity and
fullness of effect in lyric tone and color; and satire could hardly give
a finer and completer little study than that of the worthy tradesman who
for love of his own strong-box would give his vote for a very Phalaris
to reign over him, and put up with the brazen bull for love of the
golden calf: an epigram which sums up an epoch. The indignant poem of
_Joyeuse Vie_, with its terrible photographs of subterranean toil and
want, is answered by the not less terrible though ringing and radiant
song of _L'empereur s'amuse_; and this again by the four solemn stanzas
in which a whole world of desolate suffering is condensed and realized.
The verses of good counsel in which the imperial Macaire is admonished
not to take himself too seriously, or trust in the duration of his fair
and foul good fortune, are unsurpassed for concentration of contempt.
The dialogue of the tyrannicide by the starlit sea with all visible and
invisible things that impel or implore him to do justice is so splendid
and thrilling in its keen and ardent brevity that we can hardly feel as
though a sufficient answer were given to the instinctive reasoning which
finds inarticulate utterance in the cry of the human conscience for
retribution by a human hand, even when we read the two poems, at once
composed and passionate in their austerity, which bid men leave God to
deal with the supreme criminal of humanity. _A Night's Lodging_, the
last poem of the fourth book, is perhaps the very finest and most
perfect example of imaginative and tragic satire that exists: if this
rank be due to a poem at once the most vivid in presentation, the most
sublime in scorn, the most intense and absolute in condensed expression
of abhorrence and in assured expression of belief.

But in the fifth of these seven caskets of chiseled gold and tempered
steel there is a pearl of greater price than in any of the four yet
opened. The song dated from sea, which takes farewell of all good things
and all gladness left behind--of house and home, of the flowers and the
sky, of the betrothed bride with her maiden brow--the song which has in
its burden tile heavy plashing sound of the wave following on the wave
that swells and breaks against the bulwarks--the song of darkening
waters and darkened lives has in it a magic, for my own ear at least,
incomparable in the whole wide world of human song. Even to the greatest
poets of all time such a godsend as this--such a breath of instant
inspiration--can come but rarely and seem given as by miracle. "There is
sorrow on the sea," as the prophet said of old; but when was there
sorrow on sea or land which found such piercing and such perfect
utterance as this?


Adieu, patrie!
L'onde est en furie.
Adieu, patrie,
Azur!

Adieu, maison, treille au fruit mûr
Adieu, les fleurs d'or du vieux mur!

Adieu, patrie!
Ciel, forêt, prairie!
Adieu, patrie,
Azur!

Adieu, patrie!
L'onde est en furie.
Adieu, patrie,
Azur!

Adieu, fiancée au front pur.
Le ciel est noir, le vent est dur.

Adieu, patrie!
Lise, Anna, Marie!
Adieu, patrie.
Azur!

Adieu, patrie!
L'onde est en furie.
Adieu, patrie,
Azur!

Notre œil, que voile un deuil futur.
Va du flot sombre au sort obscur.

Adieu, patrie!
Pour toi mon cœur prie.
Adieu, patrie,
Azur!


The next poem is addressed to a disappointed accomplice of the crime
still triumphant and imperial in the eyes of his fellow-scoundrels, who
seems to have shown signs of a desire to break away from them and a
suspicion that even then the ship of empire was beginning to
leak--though in fact it had still seventeen years of more or less
radiant rascality to float through before it foundered in the ineffable
ignominy of Sedan. Full of ringing and stinging eloquence, of keen and
sonorous lines or lashes of accumulating scorn, this poem is especially
noteworthy for its tribute to the murdered republic of Rome. Certain
passages in certain earlier works of Hugo, in _Cromwell_ for instance
and in _Marie Tudor_, had given rise to a natural and indeed inevitable
suspicion of some prejudice or even antipathy on the writer's part which
had not less unavoidably aroused a feeling among Italians that his
disposition or tone of mind was anything but cordial or indeed amicable
towards their country: a suspicion probably heightened, and a feeling
probably sharpened, by his choice of such dramatic subjects from Italian
history or tradition as the domestic eccentricities of the exceptional
family of Borgia, and the inquisitorial misdirection of the degenerate
commonwealth of Venice. To the sense that Hugo was hardly less than an
enemy and that Byron had been something more than a well-wisher to Italy
I have always attributed the unquestionable and otherwise inexplicable
fact that Mazzini should have preferred the pinchbeck and tinsel of
Byron to the gold and ivory of Hugo. But it was impossible that the
master poet of the world should not live to make amends, if indeed
amends were needed, to the country of Mazzini and of Dante.

If I have hardly time to mention the simple and vivid narrative of the
martyrdom of Pauline Roland, I must pause at least to dwell for a moment
on so famous and so great a poem as _L'Expiation_; but not to pronounce,
or presume to endeavor to decide, which of its several pictures is the
most powerful, which of its epic or lyric variations the most impressive
and triumphant in effect. The huge historic pageant of ruin, from Moscow
to Waterloo, from Waterloo to St. Helena, with the posthumous interlude
of apotheosis which the poet had loudly and proudly celebrated just
twelve years earlier in an ode, turned suddenly into the peep-show of a
murderous mountebank, the tawdry triumph of buffoons besmeared with
innocent blood, is so tremendous in its anticlimax that not the
sublimest and most miraculous climax imaginable could make so tragic and
sublime an impression so indelible from the mind. The slow agony of the
great army under the snow; its rout and dissolution in the supreme hour
of panic; the slower agony, the more gradual dissolution, of the
prisoner with a gaoler's eye intent on him to the last; who can say
which of these three is done into verse with most faultless and
sovereign power of hand, most pathetic or terrific force and skill? And
the hideous judicial dishonor of the crowning retribution after death,
the parody of his empire and the prostitution of his name, is so much
more than tragic by reason of the very farce in it that out of ignominy
itself and uttermost degradation the poet has made something more august
in moral impression than all pageants of battle or of death.

In the sixth book I can but rapidly remark the peculiar beauty and
greatness of the lyric lines in which the sound of steady seas regularly
breaking on the rocks at Rozel Tower is rendered with so solemn and
severe an echo of majestic strength in sadness; the verses addressed to
the people on its likeness and unlikeness to the sea; the scornful and
fiery appeal to the spirit of Juvenal; the perfect idyllic picture of
spring, with all the fruitless exultation of its blossoms and its birds,
made suddenly dark and dissonant by recollection of human crime and
shame; the heavenly hopefulness of comfort in the message of the morning
star, conveyed into colors of speech and translated into cadences of
sound which no painter or musician could achieve.


Je m'étais endormi la nuit près de la grève.
Un vent frais m'éveilla, je sortis de mon rêve,
J'ouvris les yeux, je vis l'étoile du matin.
Elle resplendissait au fond du ciel lointain
Dans une blancheur molle, infinie et charmante.
Aquilon s'enfuyait emportant la tourmente.
L'astre éclatant changeait la nuée en duvet.
C'était une clarté qui pensait, qui vivait;
Elle apaisait l'écueil où la vague déferle;
On croyait voir une âme à travers une perle.
Il faisait nuit encor, l'ombre régnait en vain,
Le ciel s'illuminait d'un sourire divin.
La lueur argentait le haut du mât qui penche;
Le navire était noir, mais la voile était blanche;
Des goëlands debout sur un escarpement,
Attentifs, contemplaient l'étoile gravement
Comme un oiseau céleste et fait d'une étincelle:
L'océan qui ressemble au peuple allait vers elle,
Et, rugissant tout bas, la regardait briller,
Et semblait avoir peur de la faire envoler.
Un ineffable amour emplissait l'étendue.
L'herbe verte à mes pieds frissonnait éperdue,
Les oiseaux se parlaient dans les nids; une fleur
Qui s'éveillait me dit: c'est l'étoile ma sœur.
Et pendant qu'à longs plis l'ombre levait son voile,
J'entendis une voix qui venait de l'étoile
Et qui disait:--Je suis l'astre qui vient d'abord.
Je suis celle qu'on croit dans la tombe et qui sort.
J'ai lui sur le Sina, j'ai lui sur le Taygète;
Je suis le caillou d'or et de feu que Dieu jette,
Comme avec une fronde, au front noir de la nuit.
Je suis ce qui renaît quand un monde est détruit.
Ô nations! je suis la Poésie ardente.
J'ai brillé sur Moïse et j'ai brillé sur Dante.
Le lion océan est amoureux de moi.
J'arrive. Levez-vous, vertu, courage, foi!
Penseurs, esprits! montez sur la tour, sentinelles!
Paupières, ouvrez-vous; allumez-vous, prunelles;
Terre, émeus le sillon; vie, éveille le bruit;
Debout, vous qui dormez; car celui qui me suit,
Car celui qui m'envoie en avant la première,
C'est l'ange Liberté, c'est le géant Lumière!


The first poem of the seventh book, on the falling of the walls of
Jericho before the seventh trumpet-blast, is equally great in
description and in application; the third is one of the great lyric
masterpieces of all time, the triumphant ballad of the Black Huntsman,
unsurpassed in the world for ardor of music and fitful change of note
from mystery and terror to rage and tempest and supreme serenity of
exultation--"wind and storm fulfilling his word," we may literally say
of this omnipotent sovereign of song.

The sewer of Rome, a final receptacle for dead dogs and rotting Cæsars,
is painted line by line and detail by detail in verse which touches with
almost frightful skill the very limit of the possible or permissible to
poetry in the way of realistic loathsomeness or photographic horror;
relieved here and there by a rare and exquisite image, a fresh breath or
tender touch of loveliness from the open air of the daylight world
above. The song on the two Napoleons is a masterpiece of skilful
simplicity in contrast of tones and colors. But the song which follows,
written to a tune of Beethoven's, has in it something more than the
whole soul of music, the whole passion of self-devoted hope and
self-transfiguring faith; it gives the final word of union between sound
and spirit, the mutual coronation and consummation of them both.


_PATRIA_

La-haut qui sourit?
Est-ce un esprit?
Est-ce une femme?
Quel front sombre et doux!
Peuple, à genoux!
Est-ce notre âme
Qui vient à nous?

Cette figure en deuil
Paraît sur notre seuil,
Et notre antique orgueil
Sort du cercueil.
Ses fiers regards vainqueurs
Réveillent tous les cœurs,
Les nids dans les buissons,
Et les chansons.

C'est l'ange du jour;
L'espoir, l'amour
Du cœur qui pense;
Du monde enchanté
C'est la clarté.
Son nom est France
Ou Vérité.

Bel ange, à ton miroir
Quand s'offre un vil pouvoir,
Tu viens, terrible à voir,
Sous le ciel noir.
Tu dis au monde: Allons!
Formez vos bataillons!
Et le monde ébloui
Te répond: Oui.

C'est l'ange de nuit.
Rois, il vous suit.
Marquant d'avance
Le fatal moment
Au firmament.
Son nom est France
Ou Châtiment.

Ainsi que nous voyons
En mai les alcyons,
Voguez, ô nations,
Dans ses rayons
Son bras aux deux dressé
Ferme le noir passé
Et les portes de fer
Du sombre enfer.

C'est l'ange de Dieu.
Dans le ciel bleu
Son aile immense
Couvre avec fierté
L'humanité.
Son nom est France
Ou Liberté!


The _Caravan_, a magnificent picture, is also a magnificent allegory and
a magnificent hymn. The poem following sums up in twenty-six lines a
whole world of terror and of tempest hurtling and wailing round the
wreck of a boat by night. It is followed by a superb appeal against the
infliction of death on rascals whose reptile blood would dishonor and
defile the scaffold: and this again by an admonition to their chief not
to put his trust in the chance of a high place of infamy among the more
genuinely imperial hellhounds of historic record. The next poem gives us
in perfect and exquisite summary the opinions of a contemporary
conservative on a dangerous anarchist of extravagant opinions and
disreputable character, whom for example's sake it was at length found
necessary to crucify. There is no song more simply and nobly pitiful
than that which tells us in its burden how a man may die for lack of his
native country as naturally and inevitably as for lack of his daily
bread. I cite only the last three stanzas by way of sample.


Les exilés: s'en vont pensifs.
Leur âme, hélas! n'est plus entière.
Ils regardent l'ombre des ifs
Sur les fosses du cimetière;
L'un songe à l'Allemagne altière,
L'autre an beau pays transalpin,
L'autre à sa Pologne chérie.
--On ne peut pas vivre sans pain;
On ne peut pas non plus vivre sans la patrie.--

Un proscrit, lassé de souffrir,
Mourait; calme, il fermait son livre;
Et je lui dis: "Pourquoi mourir?"
Il me répondit: "Pourquoi vivre?"
Puis il reprit: "Je me délivre.
Adieu! je meurs. Néron Scapin
Met aux fers la France flétrie..."
--On ne pent pas vivre sans pain;
Où ne peut pas non plus vivre sans la patrie.

"...Je meurs de ne plus voir les champs
Où je regardais l'aube naître,
De ne plus entendre les chants
Que j'entendais de ma fenêtre.
Mon âme est où je ne puis être.
Sons quatre planches de sapin
Enterrez-moi dans la prairie."
--On ne peut pas vivre sans pain;
On ne peut pas non plus vivre sans la patrie.


Then, in the later editions of the book, came the great and terrible
poem on the life and death of the miscreant marshal who gave the
watchword of massacre in the streets of Paris, and died by the
visitation of disease before the walls of Sebastopol. There is hardly a
more splendid passage of its kind in all the _Légende des Siècles_
than the description of the departure of the fleet in order of battle
from Constantinople for the Crimea; nor a loftier passage of more
pathetic austerity in all this book of _Châtiments_ than the final
address of the poet to the miserable soul, disembodied at length after
long and loathsome suffering, of the murderer and traitor who had earned
no soldier's death.[2]

And then come those majestic "last words" which will ring for ever in
the ears of men till manhood as well as poetry has ceased to have honor
among mankind. And then comes a poem so great that I hardly dare venture
to attempt a word in its praise. We cannot choose but think, as we read
or repeat it, that "such music was never made" since the morning stars
sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. This epilogue of
a book so bitterly and inflexibly tragic begins as with a peal of golden
bells, or an outbreak of all April in one choir of sunbright song;
proceeds in a graver note of deep and trustful exultation and yearning
towards the future; subsides again into something of a more subdued key,
while the poet pleads for his faith in a God of righteousness with the
righteous who are ready to despair; and rises from that tone of
awe-stricken and earnest pleading to such a height and rapture of
inspiration as no Hebrew psalmist or prophet ever soared beyond in his
divinest passion of aspiring trust and worship. It is simply impossible
that a human tongue should utter, a human hand should write, anything of
more supreme and transcendent beauty than the last ten stanzas of the
fourth division of this poem. The passionate and fervent accumulation of
sublimities, of marvelous images and of infinite appeal, leaves the
sense too dazzled, the soul too entranced and exalted, to appreciate at
first or in full the miraculous beauty of the language, the superhuman
sweetness of the song. The reader impervious to such impressions may
rest assured that what he admires in the prophecies or the psalms of
Isaiah or of David is not the inspiration of the text, but the warrant
and sign-manual of the councils and the churches which command him to
admire them on trust.


Ne possède-t-il pas toute la certitude?
Dieu ne remplit-il pas ce monde, notre étude,
Du nadir au zénith?
Notre sagesse auprès de la sienne est démence.
Et n'est-ce pas à lui que la clarté commence,
Et que l'ombre finit?

Ne voit-il pas ramp r les hydres sur leurs ventres?
Ne regarde-t-il pas jusqu'au fond de leurs antres
Atlas et Pélion?
Ne connaît-il pas l'heure où la cigogne émigre?
Sait-il pas ton entrée et ta sortie, ô tigre,
Et ton antre, ô lion?

Hirondelle, réponds, aigle à l'aile sonore,
Parle, avez-vous des nids que l'Eternel ignore?
Ô cerf, quand l'as-tu fui?
Renard, ne vois-tu pas ses yeux dans la broussaille?
Loup, quand tu sens la nuit une herbe qui tressaille,
Ne dis-tu pas: C'est lui!

Puisqu'il sait tout cela, puisqu'il peut toute chose,
Que ses doigts font jaillir les effets de la cause
Comme un noyau d'un fruit,
Puisqu'il peut mettre un ver dans les pommes de l'arbre,
Et faire disperser les colonnes de marbre
Par le vent de la nuit;

Puisqu'il bat l'océan pareil au bœuf qui beugle,
Puisqu'il est le voyant et que l'homme est l'aveugle,
Puisqu'il est le milieu,
Puisque son bras nous porte, et puisqu'à son passage
La comète frissonne ainsi qu'en une cage
Tremble une étoupe en feu;

Puisque l'obscure nuit le connaît, puisque l'ombre
Le voit, quand il lui plaît, sauver la nef qui sombre,
Comment douterions-nous,
Nous qui, fermes et purs, fiers dans nos agonies,
Sommes debout devant toutes les tyrannies,
Pour lui seul, à genoux!

D'ailleurs, pensons. Nos jours sont des jours
d'amertume,
Mais, quand nous étendons les bras dans cette brume,
Nous sentons une main;
Quand nous marchons, courbés, dans l'ombre du martyre,
Nous entendons quelqu'un derrière nous nous dire:
C'est ici le chemin.

Ô proscrits, l'avenir est aux peuples! Paix, gloire,
Liberté, reviendront sur des chars de victoire
Aux foudroyants essieux;
Ce crime qui triomphe est fumée et mensonge.
Voilà ce que je puis affirmer, moi qui songe
L'œil fixé sur les cieux.

Les césars sont plus fiers que les vagues marines,
Mais Dieu dit:--Je mettrai ma boucle en leurs narines.
Et dans leur bouche un mors,
Et je tes traînerai, qu'on cède ou bien qu'on lutte,
Eux et leurs histrions et leurs joueurs de flûte,
Dans l'ombre où sont les morts!

Dieu dit; et le granit que foulait leur semelle
S'écroule, et les voilà disparus pêle-mêle
Dans leurs prospérités!
Aquilon! aquilon! qui viens battre nos portes,
Oh! dis-nous, si c'est toi, souffle, qui les emportes,
Où les as-tu jetés?


Three years after the _Châtiments_ Victor Hugo published the
_Contemplations_; the book of which he said that if the title did not
sound somewhat pretentious it might be called "the memoirs of a soul."
No book had ever in it more infinite and exquisite variety; no concert
ever diversified and united such inexhaustible melodies with such
unsurpassable harmonies. The note of fatherhood was never touched more
tenderly than in the opening verses of gentle counsel, whose cadence is
fresher and softer than the lapse of rippling water or the sense of
falling dew: the picture of the poet's two little daughters in the
twilight garden might defy all painters to translate it: the spirit,
force, and fun of the controversial poems, overflowing at once with good
humor, with serious thought, and with kindly indignation, give life and
charm to the obsolete questions of wrangling schools and pedants; and
the last of them, on the divine and creative power of speech, is at once
profound and sublime enough to grapple easily and thoroughly with so
high and deep a subject. The songs of childish loves and boyish fancies
are unequalled by any other poets known to me for their union of purity
and gentleness with a touch of dawning ardor arid a hint of shy delight:
_Lise, La Coccinelle, Vieille chanson du jeune temps_, are such sweet
miracles of simple perfection as we hardly find except in the old songs
of unknown great poets who died and left no name. The twenty-first poem,
a lyric idyl of but sixteen lines, has something more than the highest
qualities of Theocritus; in color and in melody it does but equal the
Sicilian at his best, but there are two lines at least in it beyond his
reach for depth and majesty of beauty. _Childhood_ and _Unity_, two
poems of twelve and ten lines respectively, are a pair of such flawless
jewels as lie now in no living poet's casket. Among the twenty-eight
poems of the second book, if I venture to name with special regard the
second and the fourth, two songs uniting the subtle tenderness of
Shelley's with the frank simplicity of Shakespeare's; the large and
living land--scape in a letter dated from Tréport; the tenth and the
thirteenth poems, two of the most perfect love-songs in the world,
written (if the phrase be permissible) in a key of serene rapture; the
"morning's note," with its vision of the sublime sweetness of life
transfigured in a dream; _Twilight_, with its opening touches of magical
and mystic beauty; above all, the mournful and tender magnificence of
the closing poem, with a pathetic significance in the double date
appended to the text: I am ready to confess that it is perhaps
presumptuous to express a preference even for these over the others. Yet
perhaps it may be permissible to select for transcription two of the
sweetest and shortest among them.


Mes vers fuiraient, doux et frêles,
Vers votre jardin si beau,
Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
Des ailes comme l'oiseau.

Ils voleraient, étincelles,
Vers votre foyer qui rit,
Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
Des ailes comme l'esprit.

Près de vous, purs et fidèles,
Ils accourraient nuit et jour,
Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
Des ailes comme l'amour.


Nothing of Shelley's exceeds this for limpid perfection of melody,
renewed in the next lyric with something of a deeper and more fervent
note of music.


Si vous n'avez rien à me dire,
Pourquoi venir auprès de moi?
Pourquoi me faire ce sourire
Qui tournerait la tête au roi?
Si vous n'avez rien à me dire,
Pourquoi venir auprès de moi?

Si vous n'avez rien à m'apprendre,
Pourquoi me pressez-vous la main?
Sur le rêve angélique et tendre,
Auquel vous songez en chemin,
Si vous n'avez rien à m'apprendre,
Pourquoi me pressez-vous la main?

Si vous voulez que je m'en aille,
Pourquoi passez-vous par ici?
Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille,
C'est ma joie et c'est mou souci.
Si vous voulez que je m'en aille,
Pourquoi passez-vous par ici?


In the third book, which brings us up to the great poet's forty-second
year, the noble poem called _Melancholia_ has in it a foretaste and a
promise of all the passionate meditation, all the studious and
indefatigable pity, all the forces of wisdom and of mercy which were to
find their completer and supreme expression in _Les Misérables._ In
_Saturn_ we may trace the same note of earnest and thoughtful meditation
on the mystery of evil, on the vision so long cherished by mankind of
some purgatorial world, the shrine of expiation or the seat of
retribution, which in the final volume of the _Légende des Siècles_
was toched again with a yet more august effect: the poem there called
_Inferi_ resumes and expands the tragic thought here first admitted into
speech and first clothed round with music. The four lines written
beneath a crucifix may almost be said to sum up the whole soul and
spirit of Christian faith or feeling in the brief hour of its early
purity, revived in every age again for some rare and beautiful
natures—and for these alone.


Vous qui pleurez, venez à ce Dieu, car il pleure.
Vous qui souffrez, venez à lui, car il guérit.
Vous qui tremblez, venez à lui, car il sourit.
Vous qui passez, venez à lui, car il demeure.


_La Statue_, with its grim swift glance over the worldwide rottenness of
imperial Rome, finds again an echo yet fuller and more sonorous than the
note which it repeats in the poem on Roman decadence which forms the
eighth division of the revised and completed _Légende des Siècles._
The two delicately tender poems on the death of a little child are well
relieved by the more terrible tenderness of the poem on a mother found
dead of want among her four little children. In this and the next poem,
a vivid and ghastly photograph of vicious poverty, we find again the
same spirit of observant and vigilant compassion that inspires and
informs the great prose epic of suffering which records the redemption
of Jean Valjean: and in the next, suggested by the sight (a sorrowful
sight always, except perhaps to very small children or adults yet more
diminutive in mental or spiritual size) of a caged lion, we recognize
the depth of noble pity which moved its author to write _Le Crapaud_--a
poem redeemed in all rational men's eyes from the imminent imputation of
repulsive realism by the profound and pathetic beauty of the closing
lines--and we may recognize also the imaginative and childlike sympathy
with the traditional king of beasts which inspired him long after to
write _L'Épopée du Lion_ for the benefit of his grandchildren.
_Insomnie_, a record of the tribute exacted by the spirit from the body,
when the impulse to work and to create will not let the weary workman
take his rest, but enforces him, reluctant and recalcitrant, to rise and
gird up his loins for labor in the field of imaginative thought, is
itself a piece of work well worth the sacrifice even of the happiness of
sleep. The verses on music, suggested by the figure of a flute-playing
shepherd on a bas-relief; the splendid and finished picture of spring,
softened rather than shadowed by the quiet thought of death; the deep
and tender fancy of the dead child's return to its mother through the
gateway of a second birth; the grave sweetness and gentle fervor of the
verses on the outcast and detested things of the animal and the
vegetable world; and, last, the nobly thoughtful and eloquent poem on
the greatness of such little things as the fire on the shepherd's hearth
confronting the star at sunset, which may be compared with the _Prayer
for all men_ in the _Feuilles d'Automne_; these at least demand a rapid
word of thankful recognition before we close the first volume of the
_Contemplations._

The fourth book, as most readers will probably remember, contains the
poems written in memory of Victor Hugo's daughter, drowned by the
accidental capsizing of a pleasure-boat, just six months and seventeen
days after her marriage with the young husband who chose rather to share
her death than to save himself alone. These immortal songs of mourning
are almost too sacred for critical appreciation of even the most
reverent and subdued order. There are numberless touches in them of such
thrilling beauty, so poignant in their simplicity and so piercing in
their truth, that silence is perhaps the best or the only commentary on
anything so "rarely sweet and bitter." One only may perhaps be cited
apart from its fellows: the sublime little poem headed _Mors._


Je vis cette faucheuse. Elle était dans son champ.
Elle allait à grands pas moissonnant et fauchant,
Noir squelette laissant passer le crépuscule.
Dans l'ombre où l'on dirait que tout tremble et recule,
L'homme suivait des yeux les lueurs de sa faulx.
Et les triomphateurs sous les arcs triomphaux
Tombaient; elle changeait en désert Babylone,
Le trône en échafaud et l'échafaud en trône,
Les roses en fumier, les enfants en oiseaux,
L'or en cendre, et les yeux des mères en ruisseaux.
Et les femmes criaient: Rends-nous ce petit être.
Pour le faire mourir, pourquoi l'avoir fait naître?
Ce n'était qu'un sanglot sur terre, en haut, en bas;
Des mains aux doigts osseux sortaient des noirs grabats;
Un vent froid bruissait dans les linceuls sans nombre;
Les peuples éperdus semblaient sous la faulx sombre
Un troupeau frissonnant qui dans l'ombre s'enfuit:
Tout était sous ses pieds deuil, épouvante et nuit.
Derrière elle, le front baigné de douces flammes,
Un ange souriant portait la gerbe d'âmes.


The fifth book opens most fitly with an address to the noble poet who
was the comrade of the author's exile and the brother of his
self-devoted son-in-law. Even Hugo never wrote anything of more stately
and superb simplicity than this tribute of fatherly love and praise, so
well deserved and so royally bestowed. The second poem, addressed to the
son of a poet who had the honor to receive the greatest of all his kind
as a passing guest in the first days of his long exile, is as simple and
noble as it is gentle and austere. The third, written in reply to the
expostulations of an old friend and a distant kinsman, is that admirable
vindication of a man's right to grow wiser, and of his duty to speak the
truth as he comes to see it better, which must have imposed silence and
impressed respect on all assailants if respect for integrity and genius
were possible to the imbecile or the vile, and if silence or abstinence
from insult were possible to the malignant or the fool The epilogue,
appended nine years later to this high-minded and brilliant poem, is as
noble in imagination, in feeling, and in expression, as the finest page
in the _Châtiments._


_ÉCRIT EN 1855_


J'ajoute un post-scriptum après neuf ans. J'écoute;
Êtes-vous toujours là? Vous êtes mort sans doute,
Marquis; mais d'où je suis on peut parler aux morts.
Ah! votre cercueil s'ouvre:--Où donc es tu?--Dehors.
Comme vous.--Es-tu mort?--Presque. J'habite l'ombre.
Je suis sur un rocher qu'environne l'eau sombre,
Écueil rongé des flots, de ténèbres chargé,
Où s'assied, ruisselant, le blême naufragé.
--Eh bien, me dites-vous, après?--La solitude
Autour de moi toujours a la même attitude;
Je ne vois que l'abîme, et la mer, et les cieux,
Et les nuages noirs qui vont silencieux;
Mon toit, la nuit, frissonne, et l'ouragan le mêle
Aux souffles effrénés de l'onde et de la grêle;
Quelqu'un semble clouer un crêpe à l'horizon;
L'insulte dat de loin le seuil de ma maison;
Le roc croule sous moi dès que mon pied s'y pose;
Le vent semble avoir peur de m'approcher, et n'ose
Me dire qu'en baissant la voix et qu'à demi
L'adieu mystérieux que me jette un ami.
La rumeur des vivants s'éteint diminuée.
Tout ce que j'ai rêvé s'est envolé, nuée!
Sur mes jours devenus fantômes, pâle et seul,
Je regarde tomber l'infini, ce linceul.--
Et vous dites:--Après?--Sous un mont qui surplombe,
Près des flots, j'ai marqué la place de ma tombe;
Ici, le bruit du gouffre est tout ce qu'on entend;
Tout est horreur et nuit--Après?--Je suis content.


The verses addressed to friends whose love and reverence had not
forsaken the exile--to Jules Janin, to Alexandre Dumas, above all to
Paul Meurice--are models of stately grace in their utterance of serene
and sublime resignation, of loyal and affectionate sincerity: but those
addressed to the sharers of his exile--to his wife, to his children, to
their friend--have yet a deeper spiritual music in the sweet and severe
perfection of their solemn cadence. I have but time to name with a word
of homage in passing the famous and faultless little poem _Aux
Feuillantines_, fragrant with the memory and musical as the laugh of
childhood; the memorial verses recurring here and there, with such
infinite and subtle variations on the same deep theme of mourning or of
sympathy; the great brief studies of lonely landscape, imbued with such
grave radiance and such noble melancholy, or kindled with the motion and
quickened by the music of the sea: but two poems at all events I must
select for more especial tribute of more thankful recognition: the
sublime and wonderful vision of the angel who was neither life nor
death, but love, more strong than either; and the all but sublimer
allegory couched in verse of such majestic resonance, which shows us the
star of Venus in heaven above the ruin of her island on earth. The
former and shorter of these is as excellent an example as could be
chosen of its author's sovereign simplicity of insight and of style.


_APPARITION_


Je vis un ange blanc qui passait sur ma tête;
Son vol éblouissant apaisait la tempête,
Et faisait taire au loin la mer pleine de bruit.
--Qu'est-ce que tu viens faire, ange, dans cette nuit?
Lui dis-je. Il répondit:--Je viens prendre ton âme.--
Et j'eus peur, car je vis que c'était une femme;
Et je lui dis, tremblant et lui tendant les bras:
--Que me restera-t-il? car tu t'envoleras.--
Il ne répondit pas; le ciel que l'ombre assiège
S'éteignait...--Si tu prends mon âme, m'écriai-je.
Où l'emporteras-tu? montre-moi dans quel lieu.
Il se taisait toujours.--O passant du ciel bleu,
Es-tu la mort? lui dis-je, ou bien es-tu la vie?--
Et la nuit augmentait sur mon âme ravie,
Et l'ange devint noir, et dit:--Je suis l'amour.
Mais son front sombre était plus charmant que le jour,
Et je voyais, dans l'ombre où brillaient ses prunelles,
Les astres à travers les plumes de ses ailes.


If nothing were left of Hugo but the sixth book of the _Contemplations_,
it would yet be indisputable among those who know anything of poetry
that he was among the foremost in the front rank of the greatest poets
of all time. Here, did space allow, it would be necessary for criticism
with any pretense to adequacy to say something of every poem in turn, to
pause for observation of some beauty beyond reach of others at every
successive page. In the first poem a sublime humility finds such
expression as should make manifest to the dullest eye not clouded by
malevolence and insolent conceit that when this greatest of modern poets
asserts in his own person the prerogative and assumes for his own spirit
the high office of humanity, to confront the darkest problem and to
challenge the utmost force of intangible and invisible injustice as of
visible and tangible iniquity, of all imaginable as of all actual evil,
of superhuman indifference as well as of human wrongdoing, it is no
merely personal claim that he puts forward, no vainly egotistic
arrogance that he displays; but the right of a reasonable conscience and
the duty of a righteous faith, common to ail men alike in whom
intelligence of right and wrong, perception of duty or conception of
conscience can be said to exist at all. If there be any truth in the
notion of any difference between evil and good more serious than the
conventional and convenient fabrications of doctrine and assumption,
then assuredly the meanest of his creatures in whom the perception of
this difference was not utterly extinct would have a right to denounce
an omnipotent evil-doer as justly amenable to the sentence inflicted by
the thunders of his own unrighteous judgment. How profound and intense
was the disbelief of Victor Hugo in the rule or in the existence of any
such superhuman malefactor could not be better shown than by the almost
polemical passion of his prophetic testimony to that need for faith in a
central conscience and a central will on which he has insisted again and
again as a crowning and indispensable, requisite for moral and spiritual
life. From the sublime daring, the self-confidence born of
self-devotion, which finds lyrical utterance in the majestic verses
headed _Ibo_, through the humble and haughty earnestness of remonstrance
and appeal--"humble to God, haughty to man"--which pervades the next
three poems, the meditative and studious imagination of the poet passes
into the fuller light and larger air of thought which imbues and informs
with immortal life every line of the great religious poem called _Pleurs
dans la nuit._ In this he touches the highest point of poetic
meditation, as in the epilogue to the _Châtiments_, written four months
earlier, he had touched the highest point of poetic rapture possible to
the most ardent of believers in his faith and the most unapproachable
master of his art. Where all is so lofty in its coherence of
construction, so perfect in its harmony of composition, it seems
presumptuous to indicate any special miracle of inspired workmanship:
yet, as Hugo in his various notes on mediaeval architecture was wont to
select for exceptional attention and peculiar eloquence of praise this
or that part or point of some superb and harmonious building, so am I
tempted to dwell for a moment on the sublime imagination, the pathetic
passion, of the verses which render into music the idea of a terrene and
material purgatory, with its dungeons of flint and cells of clay wherein
the spirit imprisoned and imbedded may envy the life and covet the
suffering of the meanest animal that toils on earth; and to set beside
this wonderful passage that other which even in a poem so thoroughly
imbued with hope and faith finds place and voice for expression of the
old mysterious and fantastic horror of the grave, more perfect than ever
any mediæval painter or sculptor could achieve.


Le soir vient; l'horizon s'emplit d'inquiétude;
L'herbe tremble et bruit comme une multitude;
Le fleuve blanc reluit;
Le paysage obscur prend les veines des marbres;
Ces hydres que, le jour, on appelle des arbres,
Se tordent dans la nuit.

Le mort est seul. Il sent la nuit qui le dévore.
Quand naît le doux matin, tout l'azur de l'aurore,
Tous ses rayons si beaux,
Tout l'amour des oiseaux et leurs chansons sans nombre,
Vont aux berceaux dorés; et, la nuit, toute l'ombre
Aboutit aux tombeaux.

Il entend des soupirs dans les fosses voisines;
Il sent la chevelure affreuse des racines
Entrer dans son cercueil;
Il est l'être vaincu dont s'empare la chose;
Il sent un doigt obscur, sous sa paupière close,
Lui retirer son œil.

Il a froid; car le soir qui mêle à son haleine
Les ténèbres, l'horreur, le spectre et le phalène,
Glace ces durs grabats;
Le cadavre, lié de bandelettes blanches,
Grelotte, et dans sa bière entend les quatre planches
Qui lui parlent tout bas.

L'une dit:--Je fermais ton coffre-fort--Et l'autre
Dit:--J'ai servi de porte au toit qui fut le nôtre.--
L'autre dit:--Aux beaux jours,
La table où rit l'ivresse et que le vin encombre.
C'était moi.--L'autre dit:--J'étais le chevet sombre
Du lit de tes amours.


Among all the poems which follow, some exquisite in their mystic
tenderness as the elegiac stanzas on _Claire_ and the appealing address
to a friend unknown (_À celle qui est voilée_), others possessed with
the same faith and wrestling with the same questions as beset and
sustained the writer of the poem at which we have just rapidly and
reverently glanced, there are three at least which demand--at any rate
one passing word of homage. The solemn song of meditation "at the window
by night" seems to me to render in its first six lines the aspects and
sounds of sea and cloud and wind and trees and stars with an utterly
incomparable magic of interpretation.


Les étoiles, points d'or, percent les branches noires;
Le flot huileux et lourd décompose ses moires
Sur l'océan blêmi;
Les nuages ont l'air d'oiseaux prenant la fuite;
Par moments le vent parle, et dit des mots sans suite,
Comme un homme endormi.


No poet but one could have written the three stanzas, so full of
infinite sweetness and awe, inscribed "to the angels who see us."


--Passant, qu'es-tu? je te connais.
Mais, étant spectre, ombre et nuage,
Tu n'as plus de sexe ni d'âge.
--Je suis ta mère, et je venais!

--Et toi dont l'aile hésite et brille,
Dont l'œil est noyé de douceur,
Qu'es-tu, passant?--Je suis ta sœur.
--Et toi, qu'es-tu?--Je suis ta fille.

--Et toi, qu'es-tu, passant?--Je suis
Celle à qui tu disais: Je t'aime!
--Et toi?--Je suis ton âme même.--
Oh! cachez-moi, profondes nuits!


Nor could any other hand have achieved the pathetic perfection of the
verses in which just thirty years since, twelve years to a day after the
loss of his daughter, and fifteen years to a day before the return of
liberty which made possible the return of Victor Hugo to France, his
claims to the rest into which he now has entered, and his reasons for
desiring the attainment of that rest, found utterance unexcelled for
divine and deep simplicity by any utterance of man on earth.


_EN FRAPPANT À UNE PORTE_


J'ai perdu mon père et ma mère,
Mon premier-né, bien jeune, hélas!
Et pour moi la nature entière
Sonne le glas.

Je dormais entre mes deux frères;
Enfants, nous étions trois oiseaux;
Hélas! le sort change en deux bières
Leurs deux berceaux.

Je t'ai perdue, ô fille chère,
Toi qui remplis, ô mon orgueil,
Tout mon destin de la lumière
De ton cercueil!

J'ai su monter, j'ai su descendre.
J'ai vu l'aube et l'ombre en mes cieux.
J'ai connu la pourpre, et la cendre
Qui me va mieux.

J'ai connu les ardeurs profondes,
J'ai connu les sombres amours;
J'ai vu fuir les ailes, les ondes,
Les vents, les jours.

J'ai sur ma tête des orfraies;
J'ai sur tous mes travaux l'affront,
Au pied la poudre, au cœur des plaies,
L'épine au front.

J'ai des pleurs à mon œil qui pense,
Des trous à ma robe en lambeau;
Je n'ai rien à la conscience;
Ouvre, tombeau.


Last comes the magnificent and rapturous hymn of universal redemption
from suffering as from sin, the prophetic vision of evil absorbed by
good, and the very worst of spirits transfigured into the likeness of
the very best, in which the daring and indomitable faith of the seer
finds dauntless and supreme expression in choral harmonies of unlimited
and illimitable hope. The epilogue which dedicates the book to the
daughter whose grave was now forbidden ground to her father--so long
wont to keep there the autumnal anniversary of his mourning--is the very
crown and flower of the immortal work which it inscribes, if we may say
so, rather to the presence than to the memory of the dead.

Not till the thirtieth year from the publication of these two volumes
was the inexhaustible labor of the spirit which inspired them to cease
for a moment--and then, among us at least, for ever. Three years
afterwards appeared the first series of the _Légende des Siècles_, to
be followed nineteen years later by the second, and by the final
complementary volume six years after that: so that between the inception
and the conclusion of the greatest single work accomplished in the
course of our century a quarter of that century had elapsed--with
stranger and more tragic evolution of events than any poet or any seer
could have foretold or foreseen as possible. Three years again from this
memorable date appeared the great epic and tragic poem of contemporary
life and of eternal humanity which gave us all the slowly ripened fruit
of the studies and emotions, the passions and the thoughts, the
aspiration and the experience, brought finally to their full and perfect
end in _Les Misérables._ As the key-note of _Notre-Dame de Paris_ was
doom--the human doom of suffering to be nobly or ignobly endured--so the
key-note of its author's next romance was redemption by acceptance of
suffering and discharge of duty in absolute and entire obedience to the
utmost exaction of conscience when it calls for atonement, of love when
it calls for sacrifice of all that makes life more endurable than death.
It is obvious that no account can here be given of a book which if it
required a sentence would require a volume to express the character of
its quality or the variety of its excellence--the one unique, the latter
infinite as the unique and infinite spirit whose intelligence and whose
goodness gave it life.

Two years after _Les Misérables_ appeared the magnificent book of
meditations on the mission of art in the world, on the duty of human
thought towards humanity, inscribed by Victor Hugo with the name of
William Shakespeare. To allow that it throws more light on the greatest
genius of our own century than on the greatest genius of the age of
Shakespeare is not to admit that it is not rich in valuable and noble
contemplations or suggestions on the immediate subject of Shakespeare's
work; witness the admirably thoughtful and earnest remarks on Macbeth,
the admirably passionate and pathetic reflections on Lear. The splendid
eloquence and the heroic enthusiasm of Victor Hugo never found more
noble and sustained expression than in this volume--the spontaneous and
inevitable expansion of a projected preface to his son's incomparable
translation of Shakespeare. The preface actually prefixed to it is
admirable for concision, for insight, and for grave historic humor. It
appeared a year after the book which (so to speak) had grown out of it;
andin the same year appeared the _Chansons des Rues et des Bois._ The
miraculous dexterity of touch, the dazzling mastery of metre, the
infinite fertility in variations on the same air of frolic and
thoughtful fancy, would not apparently allow the judges of the moment to
perceive or to appreciate the higher and deeper qualities displayed in
this volume of lyric idyls. The prologue is a superb example of the
power peculiar to its author above all other poets; the power of seizing
on some old symbol or image which may have been in poetic use ever since
verse dawned upon the brain of man, and informing it again as with life,
and transforming it anew as by fire. Among innumerable exercises and
excursions of dainty but indefatigable fancy there are one or two
touches of a somewhat deeper note than usual which would hardly be
misplaced in the gravest and most ambitious works of imaginative genius.
The twelve lines (of four syllables each) addressed _À la belle
Imperieuse_ are such, for example, as none but a great poet of passion,
a master of imaginative style, could by any stroke of chance or at any
cost of toil have written.


L'amour, panique
De la raison,
Se communique
Par le frisson.

Laissez-moi dire,
N'accordez rien.
Si je soupire,
Chantez, c'est bien.

Si je demeure,
Triste, à vos pieds,
Et si je pleure,
C'est bien, riez.

Un homme semble
Souvent trompeur.
Mais si je tremble,
Belle, ayez peur.


The sound of the songs of a whole woodland seems to ring like audible
spring sunshine through the adorable song of love and youth rejoicing
among the ruins of an abbey.


Seuls tous deux, ravis, chantants!
Comme on s'aime!
Comme on cueille le printemps
Que Dieu sème!

Quels rires étincelants
Dans ces ombres
Pleines jadis de fronts blancs.
De cœurs sombres!

On est tout frais mariés.
On s'envoie
Les charmants cris variés
De la joie.

Purs ébats mêlés au vent
Qui frissonne!
Gaîtés que le noir couvent
Assaisonne!

On effeuille des jasmins
Sur la pierre
Où l'abbesse joint ses mains
En prière.

Ses tombeaux, de croix marqués,
Font partie
De ces jeux, un peu piqués
Par l'ortie.

Ou se cherche, on se poursuit,
On sent croître
Ton aube, amour, dans la nuit
Du vieux cloître.

On s'en va se becquetant,
On s'adore,
On s'embrasse à chaque instant,
Puis encore,

Sous les piliers, les arceaux,
Et les marbres.
C'est l'histoire des oiseaux
Dans les arbres.


The inexhaustible exuberance of fancies lavished on the study of the
natural church, built by the hawthorn and the nettle in the depth of the
living wood, with foliage and wind and flowers, leaves the reader not
unfit for such reading actually dazzled with delight: In a far different
key, the _Souvenir des vieilles guerres_ is one of Hugo's most pathetic
and characteristic studies of homely and heroic life. The dialogue which
follows, between the irony of skepticism and the enthusiasm of reason,
on the progressive ascension of mankind, is at once sublime and subdued
in the fervent tranquillity of its final tone: and the next poem, on the
so-called "great age" and its dwarf of a Cæsar with the sun for a
periwig, has in it a whole volume of history and of satire condensed
into nine stanzas of four lines of five syllables apiece.


_LE GRAND SIÈCLE_


Ce siècle a la forme
D'un monstrueux char.
Sa croissance énorme
Sous un nain césar.

Son air de prodige,
Sa gloire qui ment,
Mêlent le vertige
À l'écrasement.

Louvois pour ministre,
Scarron pour griffon,
C'est un chant sinistre
Sur un air bouffon.

Sur sa double roue
Le grand char descend;
L'une est dans la boue,
L'autre est dans le sang.

La mort au carrosse
Attelle--où va-t-il?--
Lavrillière atroce,
Roquelaure vil.

Comme un geai dans l'arbre,
Le roi s'y tient fier;
Son cœur est de marbre
Son ventre est de chair.

On a pour sa nuque
Et son front vermeil
Fait une perruque
Avec le soleil.

Il règne et végète,
Effrayant zéro
Sur qui se projette
L'ombre du bourreau.

Ce trône est la tombe;
Et sur le pavé
Quelque chose en tombe
Qu'on n'a point lavé.


The exquisite poem on the closure of the church already described for
the winter is as radiant with humor as with tenderness: and the epilogue
responds in cadences of august antiphony to the moral and imaginative
passion which imbues with life and fire the magnificent music of the
prologue.

In the course of the next four years Victor Hugo published the last two
great works which were to be dated from the haven of his exile. It would
be the very ineptitude of impertinence for any man's presumption to
undertake the classification or registry of his five great romances in
positive order of actual merit: but I may perhaps be permitted to say
without fear of deserved rebuke that none is to me personally a treasure
of greater price than _Les Travailleurs de la Mer._ The splendid energy
of the book makes the superhuman energy of the hero seem not only
possible but natural, and his triumph over all physical impossibilities
not only natural but inevitable. Indeed, when glancing at the
animadversions of a certain sort of critics on certain points or
passages in this and in the next romance of its author, I am perpetually
inclined to address them in the spirit--were it worth while to address
them in any wise at all--after the fashion if not after the very phrase
of Mirabeau's reply to a less impertinent objector. Victor Hugo's
acquaintance with navigation or other sciences may or may not have been
as imperfect as Shakespeare's acquaintance with geography and natural
history; the knowledge of such a man's ignorance or inaccuracy in detail
is in either case of exactly equal importance: and the importance of
such knowledge is for all men of sense and candor exactly equivalent to
zero.

Between the tragedy of Gilliatt and the tragedy of Gwynplaine Victor
Hugo published nothing but the glorious little poem on the slaughter of
Mentana, called _La Voix de Guernesey_, and (in the same year) the
eloquent and ardent effusion of splendid and pensive enthusiasm prefixed
to the manual or guide-book which appeared on the occasion of the
international exhibition at Paris three years before the collapse of the
government which then kept out of France the Frenchmen most regardful of
her honor and their own. In the year preceding that collapse he
published _L'Homme qui Rit_; a book which those who read it aright have
always ranked and will always rank among his masterpieces. A year and
eight months after the fall of the putative Bonaparte he published the
terrible register of _L'Année Terrible._ More sublime wisdom, more
compassionate equity, more loyal self-devotion never found expression in
verse of more varied and impassioned and pathetic magnificence. The
memorial poem in which Victor Hugo so royally repaid, with praise beyond
all price couched in verse beyond all praise, the loyal and constant
devotion of Théophile Gautier, bears the date of All Souls' Day in the
autumn of 1872. For tenderness and nobility of mingling aspiration and
recollection, recollection of combatant and triumphant youth, aspiration
towards the serene and sovereign ascension out of age through death,
these majestic lines are worthy not merely of eternal record, but far
more than that--of a distinct and a distinguished place among the poems
of Victor Hugo. They are not to be found in the _édition ne varietur_:
which, I must needs repeat, will have to be altered or modified by more
variations than one before it can be accepted as a sufficient or
standard edition of the complete and final text. In witness of this I
cite the closing lines of a poem now buried in "the tomb of Théophile
Gautier"--a beautiful volume which has long been out of print.


Ami, je sens du sort la sombre plénitude;
J'ai commencé la mort par de la solitude,
Je vois mon profond soir vaguement s'étoiler.
Voici l'heure où je vais, aussi moi, m'en aller.
Mon fil trop long frissonne et touche presque au glaive;
Le vent qui t'emporta doucement me soulève,
Et je vais suivre ceux qui m'aimaient, moi banni:
Leur œil fixe m'attire au fond de l'infini.
J'y cours. Ne fermez pas la porte funéraire.

Passons, car c'est la loi: nul ne peut s'y soustraire;
Tout penche; et ce grand siècle avec tous ses rayons
Entre en cette ombre immense où, pâles, nous fuyons.
Oh! quel farouche bruit font dans le crépuscule
Les chênes qu'on abat pour le bûcher d'Hercule!
Les chevaux de la Mort se mettent à hennir,
Et sont joyeux, car l'âge éclatant va finir;
Ce siècle altier qui sut dompter le vent contraire.
Expire...--O Gautier, toi, leur égal et leur frère,
Tu pars après Dumas, Lamartine et Musset.
L'onde antique est tarie où l'on rajeunissait;
Comme il n'est plus de Styx il n'est plus de Jouvence.
Le dur faucher avec sa large lame avance
Pensif et pas à pas vers le reste du blé;
C'est mon tour; et la nuit emplit mon œil troublé
Qui, devinant, hélas, l'avenir des colombes,
Pleure sur des berceaux et sourit à des tombes.


Two years after the year of terror, the poet who had made its memory
immortal by his record of its changes and its chances gave to the world
his heroic and epic romance of _Quatrevingt-treize_; instinct with all
the passion of a deeper and wider chivalry than that of old, and touched
with a more than Homeric tenderness for motherhood and childhood. This
book was written in the space of five months and twenty-seven days. The
next year witnessed only the collection of the second series of his
_Actes et Paroles_ (_Pendant l'Exil_), and the publication of two brief
and memorable pamphlets: the one a simple and pathetic record of the two
beloved sons taken from him in such rapid succession, the other a terse
and earnest plea with the judges who had spared the life of a marshal
condemned on a charge of high treason to spare likewise the life of a
private soldier condemned for a transgression of military discipline.
Most readers will be glad to remember that on this occasion at least the
voice of the intercessor was not uplifted in vain. A year afterwards he
published the third series of _Actes et Paroles_ (_Depuis l'Exil_), with
a prefatory essay full of noble wisdom, of pungent and ardent scorn, of
thoughtful and composed enthusiasm, on the eternal contrast and the
everlasting battle between the spirit of clerical Rome and the spirit of
republican Paris.

"Moi qu'un petit enfant rend tout à fait stupide," I do not propose to
undertake a review of _L'Art d'être Grand-père._ It must suffice here
to register the fact that the most absolutely and adorably beautiful
book ever written appeared a year after the volume just mentioned, and
some months after the second series of the _Légende des Siècles_; that
there is not a page in it which is not above all possible eulogy or
thanksgiving; that nothing was ever conceived more perfect than such
poems--to take but a small handful for samples--as _Un manque, La
sieste. Choses du soir, Ce que dit le public_ (at the Jardin des Plantes
or at the Zoological Gardens; ages of public ranging from five, which is
comparatively young, to seven, which is positively old), _Chant sur le
berceau_, the song for a round dance of children, _Le pot cassé, La
mise en liberté, Jeanne endormie_, the delicious _Chanson de
grand-père_, the glorious _Chanson d'ancêtre_, or the third of the
divine and triune poems on the sleep of a little child; that after
reading these--to say nothing of the rest--it seems natural to feel as
though no other poet had ever known so fully or enjoyed so wisely or
spoken so sweetly and so well the most precious of truths, the loveliest
of loves, the sweetest and the best of doctrines.

The first of all to see the light appeared in a magazine which has long
ago collapsed under the influence of far other writers than the greatest
of the century. Every word of the thirty-eight lines which compose _La
Sieste de Jeanne_--if any speech or memory of man endure so long--will
be treasured as tenderly by generations as remote from the writer's as
now treasure up with thankful wonder and reverence every golden fragment
and jeweled spar from the wreck of Simonides or of Sappho. It has all
the subtle tenderness which invests the immortal song of Danaë; and the
union of perfect grace with living passion, as it were the suffusion of
human flesh and blood with heavenly breath and fire, brings back once
again upon our thoughts the name which is above every name in lyric
song. There is not one line which could have been written and set where
it stands by the hand of any lesser than the greatest among poets. For
once even the high priest and even the high priestess of baby-worship
who have made their names immortal among our own by this especial and
most gracious attribute--even William Blake and Christina Rossetti for
once are distanced in the race of song, on their own sweet ground,
across their own peculiar field of Paradise. Not even in the pastures
that heard his pipe keep time to the "Songs of Innocence," or on the
"wet bird-haunted English lawn" set ringing as from nursery windows at
summer sunrise to the faultless joyous music and pealing birdlike
laughter of her divine "Sing-Song," has there sounded quite such a note
as this from the heaven of heavens in which little babies are adored by
great poets, the frailest by the most potent of divine and human kind.
And above the work in this lovely line of all poets in all time but one,
there sits and smiles eternally the adorable baby who helps us for ever
to forget all passing perversities of Christianized socialism or bastard
Cæsarism which disfigure and diminish the pure proportions and the
noble charm of "Aurora Leigh." Even the most memorable children born to
art in Florence, begotten upon stone or canvas by Andrea del Sarto or by
Luca della Robbia's very self, must yield to that one the crown of
sinless empire and the palm of powerless godhead which attest the
natural mystery of their omnipotence; and which haply may help to
explain why no accumulated abominations of cruelty and absurdity which
inlay the record of its history and incrust the fabric of its creed can
utterly corrode the natal beauty or corrupt the primal charm of a faith
which centres at its opening round the worship of a new-born child.

The most accurate and affectionate description that I ever saw or heard
given of a baby's incomparable smile, when graciously pleased to permit
with courtesy and accept with kindness the votive touch of a reverential
finger on its august little cheek, was given long since in the text
accompanying a rich and joyous design of childish revel by Richard
Doyle. A baby in arms is there contemplating the riotous delights of its
elders, fallen indeed from the sovereign state of infancy, but not yet
degenerate into the lower life of adults, with that bland and tacit air
of a large-minded and godlike tolerance which the devout observer will
not fail to have remarked in the aspect of babies when unvexed and
unincensed by any cross accident or any human shortcoming on the part of
their attendant ministers. Possibly a hand which could paint that
inexpressible smile might not fail also of the ability to render in mere
words some sense of the ineffable quality which rests upon every line
and syllable of this most divine poem. There are lines in it--but after
all this is but an indirect way of saying that it is a poem by Victor
Hugo--which may be taken as tests of the uttermost beauty, the extreme
perfection, the supreme capacity and charm, to which the language of men
can attain. It might seem as if the Fates could not allow two men
capable of such work to live together in one time of the world; and that
Shelley therefore had to die in his thirtieth year as soon as Hugo had
attained his twentieth.


Elle fait au milieu du jour son petit somme;
Car l'enfant a besoin du rêve plus que l'homme,
Cette terre est si laide alors qu'on vient du ciel!
L'enfant cherche à revoir Chérubin, Ariel,
Les camarades, Puck, Titania, les fées,
Et ses mains quand il dort sont par Dieu réchauffées.
Oh! comme nous serions surpris si nous voyions,
Au fond de ce sommeil sacré, plein de rayons,
Ces paradis ouverts dans l'ombre, et ces passages
D'étoiles qui font signe aux enfants d'être sages,
Ces apparitions, ces éblouissements!
Donc, à l'heure où les feux du soleil sont calmants,
Quand tout la nature écoute et se recueille,
Vers midi, quand les nids se taisent, quand la feuille
La plus tremblante oublie un instant de frémir,
Jeanne a cette habitude aimable de dormir;
Et la mère un moment respire et se repose,
Car on se lasse, même à servir une rose.
Ses beaux petits pieds nus dont le pas est peu sûr
Dorment; et son berceau, qu'entoure un vague azur
Ainsi qu'une auréole entoure une immortelle,
Semble un nuage fait avec de la dentelle;
On croit, en la voyant dans ce frais berceau-là,
Voir une lueur rose au fond d'un falbala;
On la contemple, on rit, on sent fuir la tristesse,
Et c'est un astre, ayant de plus la petitesse;
L'ombre, amoureuse d'elle, a l'air de l'adorer;
Le vent retient son souffle et n'ose respirer.
Soudain dans l'humble et chaste alcôve maternelle,
Versant tout le matin qu'elle a dans sa prunelle,
Elle ouvre la paupière, étend un bras charmant,
Agite un pied, puis l'autre, et, si divinement
Que des fronts dans l'azur se penchent pour l'entendre,
Elle gazouille...--Alors, de sa voix la plus tendre,
Couvant des yeux l'enfant que Dieu fait rayonner,
Cherchant le plus doux nom qu'elle puisse donner
À sa joie, à son ange en fleur, à sa chimère:
--Te voilà réveillée, horreur! lui dit sa mère.


If the last word on so divine a subject could ever be said, it surely
might well be none other than this. But with workmen of the very highest
order there is no such thing as a final touch, a point at which they
like others are compelled to draw bridle, a summit on which even their
genius also may abide but while a man takes breath, and halt without a
hope or aspiration to pass beyond it.

Far different in the promise or the menace of its theme, the poet's next
work, issued in the following year, was one in spirit with the inner
spirit of this book. In sublime simplicity of conception and in
sovereign accomplishment of its design, _Le Pape_ is excelled by no poem
of Hugo's or of man's. In the glory of pure pathos it is perhaps
excelled, as in the divine long-suffering of all-merciful wisdom it can
be but equalled, by the supreme utterance of _La Pitié Suprême._ In
splendor of changeful music and imperial magnificence of illustration
the two stand unsurpassed for ever, side by side. A third poem,
attacking at once the misbelief or rather the infidelity which studies
and rehearses "the grammar of assent" to creeds and articles of
religion, and the blank disbelief or denial which rejects all ideals and
all ideas of spiritual life, is not so rich even in satire as in reason,
so earnest even in rejection of false doctrine as in assertion of free
belief. Upon this book no one can hope to write anything so nearly
adequate and so thoroughly worth reading as is the tribute paid to it by
Théodore de Banville--the Simonides Melicertes of France.

In the midst of our confused life, turbulent and flat, bustling and
indifferent, where books and plays, dreams and poems, driven down a wind
of oblivion, are like the leaves which November sweeps away, and fly
past, without giving us time to tell one from another, in a vague whirl
and rush, at times there appears a new book by Victor Hugo, and lights
up, resounds, murmurs, and sings at once everything.

The shining, sounding, fascinating verse, with its thousand surprises of
sound, of color, of harmony, breaks forth like a rich concert, and ever
newly stirred, dazzled and astonished, as if we were hearing verses for
the first time, we remain stupefied with wonder before the persistent
prodigy of the great seer, the great thinker, the unheard-of artist,
self-transfigured without ceasing, always new and always like himself.
It would be impertinent to say of him that he makes progress; and yet I
find no other word to express the fact that every hour, every minute, he
adds something new, something, yet more exact and yet more caressing, to
that swing of syllables, that melodious play of rhyme renascent of
itself, which is the grace and the invincible power of French
poetry,--if English ears could but learn or would but hear it; whereas
usually they have never been taught even the rudiments of French
prosody, and receive the most perfect cadences of the most glorious or
the most exquisite French poetry as a schoolboy who has not yet learnt
scansion might receive the melodies of Catullus or of Virgil.

Let me be forgiven a seeming blasphemy; but since the time of
periphrasis is over the real truth of things must be said of them. Well,
then, the great peril of poetry is the risk it runs of becoming a
weariness: for it may be almost sublime, and yet perfectly wearisome:
but, on the contrary, with all its bewildering flight, its vast
circumference, and the rage of its genius grown drunk with things
immeasurable, the poetry of Victor Hugo is of itself _amusing_ into the
bargain--amusing as a fairy tale, as a many-colored festival, as a
lawless and charming comedy; for in them words play unexpected parts,
take on themselves a special and intense life, put on strange or
graceful faces, clash one against another either cymbals of gold or urns
of crystal, exchange flashes of living light and dawn.

And let no one suspect in my choice of an epithet any idea of
diminution; a garden-box on the window-sill may be thoroughly wearisome,
and an immense forest may be amusing, with its shades wherein the
nightingale sings, its giant trees with the blue sky showing through
them, its mossy shelters where the silver brooklet hums its tune through
the moistened greenery. Ay,--this is one of its qualities,--the poetry
of Hugo can be read, can be devoured as one devours a new novel, because
it is varied, surprising, full of the unforeseen, clear of commonplaces,
like nature itself; and of such a limpid clearness as to be within the
reach of every creature who can read, even when it soars to the highest
summits of philosophy and idealism. In fact, to be obscure, confused,
unintelligible, is not a rare quality, nor one difficult to acquire; and
the first fool you may fell in with can easily attain to it. In this
magnificent poem which has just appeared--as, for that matter, in all
his other poems--what Victor Hugo does is just to dispel and scatter to
the winds of heaven those lessons, those fogs, those rubbish-heaps,
those clouds of dark bewildered words with which the sham wise men of
all ages have overlaid the plain evidence of truth.

"The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo"; and I, who
cannot pretend even to the gift of eloquence proper to the son of Maia,
will not presume to add a word of less valuable homage to the choicer
tribute of Banville. The three poems last mentioned were respectively
published in three successive years: and in the same year with
_Religions et Religion_ Victor Hugo published a fourth volume, _L'Âne_,
in which the questions of human learning and of human training were
handled with pathetic ardor and sympathetic irony. It would be
superfluous if not insolent to add that the might of hand, the magic of
utterance, the sovereign charm of sound, and the superb expression of
sense, are equal and incomparable in all.

And next year Victor Hugo gave us _Les Quatre Vents de l'Esprit._ In the
first division, the book of satire, every page bears witness that the
hand which wrote the _Châtiments_ had neither lost its strength nor
forgotten its cunning; it is full of keen sense, of wise wrath, of
brilliant reason and of merciful equity, The double drama which follows
is one of the deepest and sweetest and richest in various effect among
the masterpieces of its author. In Margarita we breathe again the same
fresh air of heroic mountain-ranges and woodlands inviolable, of winds
and flowers and all fair things and thoughts, which blows through all
the brighter and more gracious interludes of the _Légende des
Siècles_: the figures of Gallus, the libertine by philosophy, and
Gunich, the philosopher of profligacy--the former a true man and true
lover at heart, the latter a cynic and a courtier to the core--are as
fresh in their novelty as the figures of noble old age and noble young
love are fresh in their renewal and reimpression of types familiar to
all hearts since the sunrise of _Hernani._ The tragedy which follows
this little romantic comedy is but the more penetrative and piercing in
its pathos and its terror for its bitter and burning vein of realism and
of humor. The lyric book is a casket of jewels rich enough to outweigh
the whole wealth of many a poet. After the smiling song of old times,
the stately song of to-day with its other stars and its other roses, in
sight of the shadow where grows the deathless flower of death, pale and
haggard, with its shadowy perfume: the song of all sweet waking dreams
and visions, and sweetest among them all the vision of a tyrant loyally
slain: the song on hearing a princess sing, sweeter than all singing and
simple as "the very virtue of compassion": the song of evening and rest
from trouble, and prayer in sorrow, and hope in death: the many-colored
and sounding song of seaside winter nights: the song of three nests, the
reed-warbler's and the martlet's made with moss and straw, in the wall
or on the water, and love's with glances and smiles, in the lover's
inmost heart: the song of the watcher by twilight on the cliff, which
strikes a note afterwards repeated and prolonged in the last issue of
the _Légende des Siècles_, full of mystery and mourning and fear and
faith: the brief deep note of bewildered sorrow that succeeds it: the
great wild vision of death and night, cast into words which have the
very sound of wind and storm and water, the very shape and likeness of
things actually touched or seen: the soft and sublime song of dawn as it
rises on the thinker deep sunk in meditation on death and on life to
come: the strange dialogue underground, grim and sweet, between the
corpse and the rose-tree: the song of exile in May, sweet as flowers and
bitter as tears: the lofty poem of suffering which rejects the old Roman
refuge of stoic suicide: the light swift song of a lover's quarrel
between the earth and the sun in winter time: the unspeakably sweet song
of the daisy that smiles at coming winter, the star that smiles at
coming night, the soul that smiles at coming death: the most pathetic
and heroic song of all, the cry of exile towards the graves of the
beloved over sea, that weeps and is not weary: the simple and sublime
verses on the mountain desolation to which truth and conscience were the
guides: the four magnificent studies of sea and land, _Promenades dans
les rochers_: the admirable verses on that holy mystery of terror
perceptible in the most glorious works alike of nature and of poetry:
all these and more are fitly wound up by the noble hymn on planting the
oak of the United States of Europe in the garden of the house of exile.
A few of the briefer among these may here be taken as examples of a gift
not merely unequalled but unapproached by any but the greatest among
poets. And first we may choose the following unsurpassable psalm of
evensong.


Un hymne harmonieux sort des feuilles du tremble;
Les voyageurs craintifs, qui vont la nuit ensemble.
Haussent la voix dans l'ombre où l'on doit se hâter
Laissez tout ce qui tremble
Chanter.

Les marins fatigués sommeillent sur le gouffre.
La mer bleue ou Vésuve épand ses flots de soufre
Se tait dès qu'il s'éteint, et cesse de gémir.
Laissez tout ce qui souffre
Dormir.

Quand la vie est mauvaise on la rêve meilleure.
Les yeux en pleurs au ciel se lèvent à toute heure;
L'espoir vers Dieu se tourne et Dieu l'entend crier.
Laissez tout ce qui pleure
Prier.

C'est pour renaître ailleurs qu'ici-bas on succombe.
Tout ce qui tourbillonne appartient à la tombe.
Il faut dans le grand tout tôt ou tard s'absorber.
Laissez tout ce qui tombe
Tomber!


Next, we may take two songs of earlier and later life, whose contrast is
perfect concord.


I


_CHANSON D'AUTREFOIS_


Jamais elle ne raille,
Étant un calme esprit;
Mais toujours elle rit.--
Voici des brins de mousse avec des brins de paille;
Fauvette des roseaux,
Fais ton nid sur les eaux.

Quand sous la clarté douce
Qui sort de tes beaux yeux
On passe, on est joyeux.--
Voici des brins de paille avec des brins de mousse;
Martinet de l'azur,
Fais ton nid dans mon mur.

Dans l'aube avril se mire,
Et les rameaux fleuris
Sont pleins de petits cris.--
Voici de son regard, voici de son sourire;
Amour, ô doux vainqueur,
Fais ton nid dans mon cœur.



II


_CHANSON D'AUJOURD'HUI_


Je disais:--Dieu qu'aucun suppliant n'importune,
Quand vous m'éprouverez dans votre volonté,
Laissez mon libre choix choisir dans la fortune
L'un ou l'autre côté;

Entre un riche esclavage et la pauvreté franche
Laissez-moi choisir, Dieu du cèdre et du roseau;
Entre l'or de la cage et le vert de la branche
Faites juge l'oiseau.--

Maintenant je suis libre et la nuit me réclame;
J'ai choisi l'âpre exil; j'habite un bois obscur;
Mais je vois s'allumer les étoiles de l'âme
Dans mon sinistre azur.


If this can be surpassed for outward and inward sweetness, the following
poem may perhaps have been equaled for sensible and spiritual terror in
the range of lyric song.


_EN MARCHANT LA NUIT DANS UN BOIS_


I


Il grêle, il pleut. Neige et brume;
Fondrière à chaque pas.
Le torrent veut, crie, écume,
Et le rocher ne veut pas.

Le sabbat à notre oreille
Jette ses vagues hourras.
Un fagot sur une vieille
Passe en agitant les bras.

Passants hideux, clartés blanches;
Il semble, en ces noirs chemins,
Que les hommes ont des branches.
Que les arbres ont des mains.



II


On entend passer un coche,
Le lourd coche de la mort,
Il vient, il roule, il approche,
L'eau hurle et la bise mord.

Le dur cocher, dans la plaine
Aux aspects noirs et changeants,
Conduit sa voiture pleine
De toute sorte de gens.

Novembre souffle, la terre
Frémit, la bourrasque fond;
Les flèches du sagittaire
Sifflent dans le ciel profond.



III


--Cocher, d'où viens-tu? dit l'arbre.
--Où vas-tu? dit l'eau qui fuit.
Le cocher est fait de marbre
Et le coche est fait de nuit.

Il emporte beauté, gloire,
Joie, amour, plaisirs bruyants;
La voiture est toute noire,
Les chevaux sont effrayants.

L'arbre en frissonnant s'incline,
L'eau sent les joncs se dresser.
Le buisson sur la colline
Grimpe pour le voir passer.



IV


Le brin d'herbe sur la roche,
Le nuage dans le ciel,
Regarde marcher ce coche,
Et croit voir rouler Babel.

Sur sa morne silhouette,
Battant de l'aile à grands cris,
Volent l'orage, chouette,
Et l'ombre, chauve-souris.

Vent glacé, tu nous secoues!
Le char roule, et l'œil tremblant,
À travers ses grandes roues,
Voit un crépuscule blanc.



V


La nuit, sinistre merveille,
Répand son effroi sacré;
Toute la forêt s'éveille,
Comme un dormeur effaré.

Après les oiseaux, les âmes!
Volez sous les cieux blafards.
L'étang, miroir, rit aux femmes
Qui sortent des nénuphars.

L'air sanglote, et le vent râle,
Et, sous l'obscur firmament,
La nuit sombre et la mort pâle
Se regardent fixement.


But the twenty-fifth poem in this book of lyrics has assuredly never
been excelled since first the impulse of articulate song awoke in the
first recorded or unrecorded poet.


Proscrit, regarde les roses;
Mai joyeux, de l'aube en pleurs
Les reçoit toutes écloses;
Proscrit, regarde les fleurs.

--Je pense
Aux roses que je semai.
Le mois de mai sans la France,
Ce n'est pas le mois de mai.

Proscrit, regarde les tombes;
Mai, qui rit aux cieux si beaux,
Sous les baisers des colombes
Fait palpiter les tombeaux.

--Je pense
Aux yeux chers que je fermai.
Le mois de mai sans la France.
Ce n'est pas le mois de mai.

Proscrit, regarde les branches,
Les branches où sont les nids;
Mai les remplit d'ailes blanches
Et de soupirs infinis.

--Je pense
Aux nids charmants où j'aimai.
Le mois de mai sans la France,
Ce n'est pas le mois de mai.


_Mai_ 1854.


In October of the same year--the second year of his long exile--a
loftier note of no less heavenly melody was sounded by the lyric poet
who alone of all his nation has taken his place beside Coleridge and
Shelley. The word "passant," as addressed by the soul to the body, is
perhaps the very finest expression of his fervent faith in immortality
to be found in all the work of Victor Hugo.


Il est un peu tard pour faire la belle,
Reine marguerite; aux champs défleuris
Bientôt vont souffler le givre et la grêle.
--Passant, l'hiver vient, et je lui souris.

Il est un peu tard pour faire la belle,
Étoile du soir; les rayons taris
Sont tous retournés à l'aube éternelle.
--Passant, la nuit vient, et je lui souris.

Il est un peu tard pour faire la belle,
Mon âme; joyeuse en mes noirs débris,
Tu m'éblouis, fière et rouvrant ton aile.
--Passant, la mort vient, et je lui souris.


No date is affixed to the divine song of yearning after home and the
graves which make holier for every man old enough to have been a mourner
the native land which holds them. The play on sound which distinguishes
the last repetition of the burden is the crowning evidence that the
subtlest effect of pathos and the most austere effect of sublimity may
be conveyed through a trick of language familiar in their highest and
most serious moods to Æschylus and to Shakespeare.



_EXIL_


Si je pouvais voir, ô patrie.
Tes amandiers et tes lilas,
Et fouler ton herbe fleurie,
Hélas!

Si je pouvais,--mais, ô mon père,
Ô ma mère, je ne peux pas,--
Prendre pour chevet votre pierre,
Hélas!

Dans le froid cercueil qui vous gêne,
Si je pouvais vous parler bas,
Mon frère Abel, mon frère Eugène,
Hélas!

Si je pouvais, ô ma colombe.
Et toi, mère, qui t'envolas,
M'agenouiller sur votre tombe,
Hélas!

Oh! vers l'étoile solitaire,
Comme je lèverais les bras!
Comme je baiserais la terre,
Hélas!

Loin de vous, ô morts que je pleure,
Des flots noirs j'écoute le glas;
Je voudrais fuir, mais je demeure,
Hélas!

Pourtant le sort, caché dans l'ombre,
Se trompe si, comptant mes pas,
Il croit que le vieux marcheur sombre
Est las.


The epic book is the most tragic and terrible of all existing poems of
its kind; if indeed we may say that it properly belongs to any kind
existing before its advent. The growing horror of the gradual vision of
history, from Henri the Fourth to his bloody and gloomy son, from Louis
the Thirteenth to the murderer and hangman of the Palatinate and the
Cévennes, from Louis the Fourteenth to the inexpressible pollution of
incarnate ignominy in his grandson, seems to heave and swell as a sea
towards the coming thunder which was to break above the severed head of
their miserable son.

And next year came _Torquemada_: one of the greatest masterpieces of the
master poet of our century. The construction of this tragedy is
absolutely original and unique: free and full of change as the wildest
and loosest and roughest of dramatic structures ever flung together, and
left to crumble or cohere at the pleasure of accident or of luck, by the
rudest of primæval playwrights: but perfect in harmonious unity of
spirit, in symmetry or symphony of part with part, as the most finished
and flawless creation of Sophocles or of Phidias. Between some of the
characters in this play and some of those in previous plays of Hugo's
there is a certain resemblance as of kinship, but no touch or shadow of
mere repetition or reproduction from types which had been used before:
Ferdinand the Catholic has something in his lineaments of Louis the
Just, and Gucho of L'Angely in _Marion de Lorme_: the Marquis of Fuentel
has a touch of Gunich in _Les deux trouvailles de Gallus_, redeemed by a
better touch of human tenderness for his recovered grandson. The young
lovers are two of the loveliest figures, Torquemada is one of the
sublimest, in all the illimitable world of dramatic imagination. The
intensity of interest, anxiety, and terror, which grows by such rapid
and subtle stages of development up to the thunder-stroke of royal
decision at the close of the first act, is exchanged in the second for
an even deeper and higher kind of emotion. The confrontation of the
hermit with the inquisitor, magnificent enough already in its singleness
of effect, is at once transfigured and completed by the apparition of
the tremendous figure whose very name is tragedy, whose very shadow
sufficed for the central and the crowning terror which darkened the
stage of _Lucrèce Borgia._


LE CHASSEUR


Le hasard a pétri la cendre avec l'instant;
Cet amalgame est l'homme. Or, moi-même n'étant
Comme vous que matière, ah! je serais stupide
D'être hésitant et lourd quand la joie est rapide,
De ne point mordre en hâte au plaisir dans la nuit,
Et de ne pas goûter à tout, puisque tout fuit!
Avant tout, être heureux. Je prends à mon service
Ce qu'on appelle crime et ce qu'on nomme vice.
L'inceste, préjugé. Le meurtre, expédient.
J'honore le scrupule en le congédiant.
Est-ce que vous croyez que, si ma fille est belle,
Je me gênerai, moi, pour être amoureux d'elle!
Ah ça, mais je serais un imbécile. Il faut
Que j'existe. Allez donc demander au gerfaut,
À l'aigle, à l'épervier, si cette chair qu'il broie
Est permise, et s'il sait de quel nid sort si proie.
Parce que vous portez un habit noir ou blanc,
Vous vous croyez forcé d'être inepte et tremblant,
Et vous baissez les yeux devant cette offre immense
Du bonheur, que vous fait l'univers en démence.
Ayons donc de l'esprit. Profitons du temps. Rien
Etant le résultat de la mort, vivons bien!
La salle de bal croule et devient catacombe.
L'âme du sage arrive en dansant dans la tombe.
Servez-moi mon festin. S'il exige aujourd'hui
Un assaisonnement de poison pour autrui,
Soit. Qu'importe la mort des autres! J'ai la vie.
Je suis une faim, vaste, ardente, inassouvie.
Mort, je veux t'oublier; Dieu, je veux t'ignorer.
Oui, le monde est pour moi le fruit à dévorer.
Vivant, je suis en hâte heureux; mort, je m'échappe!


FRANÇOIS DE PAULE, à _Torquemada._

Qu'est-ce que ce bandit?

TORQUEMADA

Mon père, c'est le pape.


The third act revives again the more immediate and personal interest of
the drama. Terror and pity never rose higher, never found utterance more
sublime and piercing, in any work of any poet in the world, than here in
the scene of the supplication of the Jews, and the ensuing scene of the
triumph of Torquemada.

The Jews enter; men, women, and children all covered with ashes and
clothed in rags, barefoot, with ropes round their necks, some mutilated
and made infirm by torture, dragging themselves on crutches or on
stumps; others, whose eyes have been put out, are led by children. And
their spokesman pleads thus with the king and the queen of the kingdoms
from whence they are to be driven by Christian jurisdiction.


MOÏSE-BEN-HABIB, _grand rabbin, à genoux._


Altesse de Castille, altesse d'Aragon,
Roi, reine! ô notre maître, et vous, notre maîtresse,
Nous, vos tremblants sujets, nous sommes en détresse,
Et, pieds nus, corde au cou, nous prions Dieu d'abord,
Et vous ensuite, étant dans l'ombre de la mort,
Ayant plusieurs de nous qu'on va livrer aux flammes,
Et tout le reste étant chassé, vieillards et femmes,
Et, sous l'œil qui voit tout du fond du firmament,
Rois, nous vous apportons notre gémissement.
Altesses, vos décrets sur nous se précipitent,
Nous pleurons, et les os de nos pères palpitent;
Le sépulcre pensif tremble à cause de vous.
Ayez pitié. Nos cœurs sont fidèles et doux;
Nous vivons enfermés dans nos maisons étroites,
Humbles, seuls; nos lois sont très simples et très droites,
Tellement qu'un enfant les mettrait en écrit
Jamais le juif ne chante et jamais il ne rit.
Nous payons le tribut, n'importe quelles sommes.
On nous remue à terre avec le pied; nous sommes
Comme le vêtement d'un homme assassiné,
Gloire à Dieu! Mais faut-il qu'avec le nouveau-né,
Avec l'enfant qu'on tette, avec l'enfant qu'on sèvre,
Nu, poussant devant lui son chien, son bœuf, sa chèvre,
Israël fuie et coure épars dans tous les sens!
Qu'on ne soit plus un peuple et qu'on soit des passants!
Rois, ne nous faites pas chasser à coups des piques,
Et Dieu vous ouvrira des portes magnifiques.
Ayez pitié de nous. Nous sommes accablés.
Nous ne verrons donc plus nos arbres et nos blés!
Les mères n'auront plus de lait dans leurs mamelles!
Les bêtes dans les bois sont avec leurs femelles,
Les nids dorment heureux sous les branches blottis,
On laisse en paix la biche allaiter ses petits,
Permettez-nous de vivre aussi, nous, dans nos caves,
Sous nos pauvres toits, presque au bagne et presque
esclaves,
Mais auprès des cercueils de nos pères! daignez
Nous souffrir sous vos pieds de nos larmes baignés!
Oh! la dispersion sur les routes lointaines,
Quel deuil! Permettez-nous de boire à nos fontaines
Et de vivre en nos champs, et vous prospérerez.
Hélas! nous nous tordons les bras, désespérés!
Epargnez-nous l'exil, ô rois, et l'agonie
De la solitude âpre, éternelle, infinie!
Laissez-nous la patrie et laissez-nous le ciel!
Le pain sur qui l'on pleure en mangeant est du fiel.
Ne soyez pas le vent si nous sommes la cendre.
Voici notre rançon, hélas! daignez la prendre.
Ô rois, protégez-nous. Voyez nos désespoirs.
Soyez sur nous, mais non comme des anges noirs;
Soyez des anges bons et doux, car l'aile sombre
Et l'aile blanche, ô rois, ne font pas la même ombre.
Révoquez votre arrêt. Rois, nous vous supplions
Par vos aïeux sacrés, grands comme les lions,
Par les tombeaux des rois, parles tombeaux des reines,
Profonds et pénétrés de lumières sereines,
Et nous mettons nos cœurs, ô maîtres des humains,
Nos prières, nos deuils dans les petites mains
De votre infante Jeanne, innocente, et pareille
À la fraise des bois où se pose l'abeille.
Roi, reine, ayez pitié!


After the sublime and inexpressible pathos of this appeal from age and
innocence against the most execrable of all religions that ever infected
earth and verified hell, it would have been impossible for any poet but
one to find expression for the passion of unselfish faith in that
infernal creed which should not merely horrify and disgust us. But when
Hugo brings before us the figure of the grand inquisitor in
contemplation of the supreme act of faith accomplished in defiance of
king and queen to the greater glory of God, for the ultimate redemption
of souls else condemned to everlasting torment, the rapture of the
terrible redeemer, whose faith is in salvation by fire, is rendered into
words of such magical and magnificent inspiration that the conscience of
our fancy is well nigh conquered and convinced and converted for the
moment as we read.


TORQUEMADA


Ô fête, ô gloire, ô joie!
La clémence terrible et superbe flamboie!
Délivrance à jamais! Damnés, soyez absous!
Le bûcher sur la terre éteint l'enfer dessous.
Sois béni, toi par qui l'âme au bonheur remonte,
Bûcher, gloire du feu dont l'enfer est la honte,
Issue aboutissant au radieux chemin,
Porte du paradis rouverte au genre humain,
Miséricorde ardente aux caresses sans nombre,
Mystérieux rachat des esclaves de l'ombre,
Auto-da-fé! Pardon, bonté, lumière, feu,
Vie! éblouissement de la face de Dieu!
Oh! quel départ splendide et que d'âmes sauvées!
Juifs, mécréants, pécheurs, ô mes chères couvées,
Un court tourment vous paie un bonheur infini;
L'homme n'est plus maudit, l'homme n'est plus banni;
Le salut s'ouvre au fond des cieux. L'amour s'éveille,
Et voici son triomphe, et voici sa merveille,
Quelle extase! entrer droit au ciel! ne pas languir!

_Cris dans le brasier._

Entendez-vous Satan hurler de les voir fuir?
Que l'éternel forçat pleure en l'éternel bouge!
J'ai poussé de mes poings l'énorme porte rouge.
Oh! comme il a grincé lorsque je refermais
Sur lui les deux battants hideux, Toujours, Jamais!
Sinistre, il est resté, derrière le mur sombre.

_Il regarde le ciel._

Oh! j'ai pansé la plaie effrayante de l'ombre.
Le paradis souffrait; le ciel avait au flanc.
Cet ulcère, l'enfer brûlant, l'enfer sanglant;
J'ai posé sur l'enfer la flamme bienfaitrice,
Et j'en vois dans l'immense azur la cicatrice.
C'était ton coup de lance au côté, Jésus-Christ!
Hosanna! la blessure éternelle guérit.
Plus d'enfer. C'est fini. Les douleurs sont taries.

_Il regarde le quemadero._

Rubis de la fournaise! ô braises! pierreries!
Flambez, tisons! brûlez, charbons! feu souverain,
Pétille! luis, bûcher! prodigieux écrin
D'étincelles qui vont devenir des étoiles!
Les âmes, hors des corps comme hors de leurs voiles,
S'en vont, et le bonheur sort du bain de tourments!
Splendeur! magnificence ardente! flamboiements!
Satan, mon ennemi, qu'en dis-tu?

_En extase._

Feu! lavage
De toutes les noirceurs par la flamme sauvage!
Transfiguration suprême! acte de foi!
Nous sommes deux sous l'œil de Dieu, Satan et moi.
Deux porte-fourches, lui, moi. Deux maîtres des
flammes.
Lui perdant les humains, moi secourant les âmes;
Tous deux bourreaux, faisant par le même moyen
Lui l'enfer, moi le ciel, lui le mal, moi le bien;
Il est dans le cloaque et je suis dans le temple,
Et le noir tremblement de l'ombre nous contemple.

_Il se retourne vers les suppliciés._

Ah! sans moi, vous étiez perdus, mes bien-aimés!
La piscine de feu vous épure enflammés.
Ah! vous me maudissez pour un instant qui passe,
Enfants! mais tout à l'heure, oui, vous me rendrez
grâce
Quand vous verrez à quoi vous avez échappé;
Car, ainsi que Michel-Archange, j'ai frappé;
Car les blancs séraphins, penchés au puits de souffre,
Raillent le monstrueux avortement du gouffre;
Car votre hurlement de haine arrive au jour,
Bégaie, et, stupéfait, s'achève enchant d'amour!
Oh! comme j'ai souffert de vous voir dans les chambres
De torture, criant, pleurant, tordant vos membres,
Maniés par l'étau d'airain, par le fer chaud!
Vous voilà délivrés, partez, fuyez là-haut!
Entrez au paradis!

_Il se penche et semble regarder sous terre._

Non, tu n'auras plus d'âmes!

_Il se redresse._

Dieu nous donne l'appui que nous lui demandâmes,
Et l'homme est hors du gouffre. Allez, allez, allez!
À travers l'ombre ardente et les grands feux ailés,
L'évanouissement de la fumée emporte
Là-haut l'esprit vivant sauvé de la chair morte!
Tout le vieux crime humain de l'homme est arraché;
L'un avait son erreur, l'autre avait son péché,
Faute ou vice, chaque âme avait son monstre en elle
Qui rongeait sa lumière et qui mordait son aile;
L'ange expirait en proie au démon. Maintenant
Tout brûle, et le partage auguste et rayonnant
Se fait devant Jésus dans la clarté des tombes.
Dragons, tombez en cendre; envolez-vous, colombes!
Vous que l'enfer tenait, liberté! liberté!
Montez de l'ombre au jour. Changez d'éternité!


The last act would indeed be too cruel for endurance if it were not too
beautiful for blame. But not the inquisition itself was more inevitably
inexorable than is the spiritual law, the unalterable and immitigable
instinct, of tragic poetry at its highest. Dante could not redeem
Francesca, Shakespeare could not rescue Cordelia. To none of us, we must
think, can the children of a great poet's divine imagination seem dearer
or more deserving of mercy than they seemed to their creator: but when
poetry demands their immolation, they must die, that they may live for
ever.

Once more, but now for the last time, the world was to receive yet
another gift from the living hand of the greatest man it had seen since
Shakespeare. Towards the close of his eighty-second year he bestowed on
us the crowning volume of his crowning work, the imperishable and
inappreciable _Légende des Siècles._ And at the age of eighty-three
years, two months, and twenty-six days, he entered into rest for ever,
and into glory which can perish only with the memory of all things
memorable among all races and nations of mankind.

I have spoken here--and no man can know so well or feel so deeply as
myself with what imperfection of utterance and inadequacy of insight I
have spoken--of Victor Hugo as the whole world knew and as all honorable
or intelligent men regarded and revered him. But there are those among
his friends and mine who would have a right to wonder if no word were
here to be said of the unsolicited and unmerited kindness which first
vouchsafed to take notice of a crude and puerile attempt to render some
tribute of thanks for the gifts of his genius just twenty-three years
ago; of the kindness which was always but too ready to recognize and
requite a gratitude which had no claim on him but that of a very perfect
loyalty; of the kindness which many years afterwards received me as a
guest under his roof with the welcome of a father to a son. Such
matters, if touched on at all, unquestionably should not be dwelt on in
public: but to give them no word whatever of acknowledgment at parting
would show rather unthankfulness than reserve in one who was honored so
far above all possible hope or merit by the paternal goodness of Victor
Hugo.



[Footnote 1: In the winter of the year which in spring had seen _Les
Rayons et les Ombres_ come forth to kindle and refresh the hearts of
readers, Victor Hugo published au ode in the same key as those _To the
Column_ and _To the Arch of Triumph_, on the return and reinterment of
the dead Napoleon. Full of noble feeling and sonorous eloquence, the
place of this poem in any collection of its author's works is distinctly
and unmistakably marked out by every quality it has and by every quality
it wants. In style and in sentiment, in opinion and in rhythm, it is one
with the national and political poems which had already been published
by the author since the date of his _Orientales_: in other words, it is
in every possible point utterly and absolutely unlike the poems long
afterwards to be written by the author in exile. Its old place,
therefore, in all former editions, at the end of the volume containing
the poems previously published in the same year, is obviously the only
right one, and rationally the only one possible. By what inexplicable
and inconceivable caprice it has been promoted to a place in the
so-called _édition définitive_, on the mighty roll of the _Légende
des Siècles_, at the head of the fourth volume of that crowning work of
modern times, I am hopelessly and helplessly at a loss to conjecture.
But, at all risk of impeachment on a charge of unbecoming presumption, I
must and do here enter my most earnest and strenuous protest against the
claim of an edition to be in any sense final and unalterable, which
rejects from among the _Châtiments_ the poem on the death of
Saint-Arnaud and admits into the _Légende des Siècles_ the poem on the
reinterment of Napoleon.]


[Footnote 2: This poem on St-Arnaud is dated from Jersey, and must
therefore have been written before the second of November 1855—a date
of disgrace for Jersey, if not indeed for England. It appears in the
various later editions of the _Châtiments_, but has disappeared from
the so-called "édition définitive." All readers have aright to ask
why--and a right to be answered when they ask.]



_LA LÉGENDE DES SIÈCLES_


1883


"Chacun a sa manière. Quant à moi, qui parle ici, j'admire tout, comme
une brute.--N'espérez donc aucune critique.--Je ne chicane point ces
grands bienfaiteurs-là. Ce que vous qualifiez défaut, je le qualifie
accent. Je reçois et je remercie.--Ayant eu l'honneur d'être appelé
"niais" par plusieurs écrivains et critiques distingués, je cherche à
justifier l'épithète."


The greatest work of the century is now at length complete. It is
upwards of twenty-four years since the first part of it was sent home to
France from Guernsey. Eighteen years later we received a second
installment of the yet unexhausted treasure. And here, at the age of
eighty-one, the sovereign poet of the world has placed the copings-tone
on the stateliest of spiritual buildings that ever in modern times has
been reared for the wonder and the worship of mankind.

Those only to whom nothing seems difficult because nothing to them seems
greater than themselves could find it other than an arduous undertaking
to utter some word of not unworthy welcome and thanksgiving when their
life is suddenly enriched and brightened by such an addition to its most
precious things as the dawn of a whole new world of song--and a world
that may hold its own in heaven beside the suns created or evoked by the
fiat of Shakespeare or of Dante. To review the _Divine Comedy_, to
dispose of _Hamlet_ in the course of a leading article, to despatch in a
few sentences the question of _Paradise Lost_ and its claim to
immortality, might seem easy to judges who should feel themselves on a
level with the givers of these gifts; for others it could be none the
less difficult to discharge this office because the gift was but newly
given. One minor phase of the difficulty which presents itself is this:
the temporary judge, self-elected to pass sentence on any supreme
achievement of human power, must choose on which horn of an inevitable
dilemma he may prefer to run the risk of impalement. If, recognizing in
this new master-work an equal share of the highest qualities possible to
man with that possessed and manifested by any previous writer of now
unquestioned supremacy, he takes upon himself to admit, simply and
honestly, that he does recognize this, and cannot choose but recognize
it, he must know that his judgment will be received with no more
tolerance or respect, with no less irritation and derision, than would
have been, in Dante's time, the judgment of a critic who should have
ventured to rank Dante above Virgil, in Shakespeare's time of a critic
who should have dared to set Shakespeare beside Homer. If, on the other
hand, he should abstain with all due discretion from any utterance or
any intimation of a truth so ridiculous and untimely, he runs the sure
and certain risk of leaving behind him a name to be ranked, by all who
remember it at all, with those which no man mentions without a smile of
compassion or of scorn, according to the quality of error discernible in
the critic's misjudgment: innocent and incurable as the confidence of a
Johnson or a Jeffrey, venomous and malignant as the rancor of
Sainte-Beuve or Gifford. Of these two dangers I choose the former; and
venture to admit, in each case with equal diffidence, that I do upon the
whole prefer Dante to any Cino or Cecco, Shakespeare to all the Greenes
and Peeles and Lillys, Victor Hugo to all or any, of their respective
times. The reader who has no tolerance for paradox or presumption has
therefore fair warning to read no further.

Auguste Vacquerie, of all poets and all men living the most worthy to
praise the greatest poet of his century, has put on record long ago,
with all the vivid ardor of his admirable style, an experience of which
I now am but too forcibly reminded. He was once invited by Victor Hugo
to choose among the manuscripts of the master's unpublished work, from
the drawers containing respectively some lyric or dramatic or narrative
masterpiece, of which among the three kinds he would prefer to have a
sample first. Unable to select, he touched a drawer at random, which
contained the opening chapters of a yet unfinished story--_Les
Misérables._ If it is no less hard to choose where to begin in a notice
of the _Légende des Siècles_--to decide what star in all this thronged
and living heaven should first attract the direction of our critical
telescope--it is on the other hand no less certain that on no side can
the telescope be misdirected. From the miraculous music of a legendary
dawn, when the first woman felt first within her the movement of her
first-born child, to the crowning vision of ultimate justice made
visible and material in the likeness of the trumpet of doom, no radiance
or shadow of days or nights intervening, no change of light or cadence
of music in all the tragic pageant of the centuries, finds less perfect
expression and response, less absolute refraction or reflection, than
all that come and go before or after it. History and legend, fact and
vision, are fused and harmonized by the mastering charm of moral unity
in imaginative truth. There is no more possibility of discord or default
in this transcendent work of human power than in the working of those
powers of nature which transcend humanity. In the first verses of the
overture we hear such depth and height of music, see such breadth and
splendor of beauty, that we know at once these cannot but continue to
the end; and from the end, when we arrive at the goal of the last line,
we look back and perceive that it has been so. Were this overture but a
thought less perfect, a shade less triumphant, we might doubt if what
was to follow it could be as perfect and triumphant as itself. We might
begin--and indeed, as it is, there are naturally those who have
begun--to debate with ourselves or to dispute with the poet as to the
details of his scheme, the selection of his types, the propriety of his
method, the accuracy of his title. There are those who would seem to
infer from the choice of this title that the book is, in the most vulgar
sense, of a purely legendary cast; who object, for example, that a
record of unselfish and devoted charity shown by the poor to the poor
is, happily, no "legend." Writers in whom such self-exposure of naked
and unashamed ignorance with respect to the rudiments of language is
hardly to be feared have apparently been induced or inclined to expect
some elaborate and orderly review of history, some versified chronicle
of celebrated events and significant epochs, such as might perhaps be of
subsidiary or supplementary service in the training of candidates for a
competitive examination; and on finding something very different from
this have tossed head and shrugged shoulder in somewhat mistimed
impatience, as at some deception or misnomer on the great author's part
which they, as men of culture and understanding, had a reasonable right
to resent. The book, they affirm, is a mere agglomeration of unconnected
episodes, irrelevant and incoherent, disproportionate and fortuitous,
chosen at random by accident or caprice; it is not one great palace of
poetry, but a series or congeries rather of magnificently accumulated
fragments. It may be urged in answer to this impeachment that the unity
of the book is not logical but spiritual; its diversity is not
accidental or chaotic, it is the result and expression of a spontaneous
and perfect harmony, as clear and as profound as that of the other
greatest works achieved by man. To demonstrate this by rule and line of
syllogism is no present ambition of mine. A humbler, a safer, and
perhaps a more profitable task would be to attempt some flying summary,
some glancing revision of the three great parts which compose this
mightiest poem of our age; or rather, if this also should seem too
presumptuous an aspiration, to indicate here and there the points to
which memory and imagination are most fain to revert most frequently and
brood upon them longest, with a deeper delight, a more rapturous
reverence, than waits upon the rest. Not that I would venture to assert
or to insinuate that there is in any poem of the cycle any note whatever
of inferiority or disparity; but having neither space nor time nor power
to speak, however inadequately, of each among the hundred and
thirty-eight poems which compose the now perfect book, I am compelled to
choose, not quite at random, an example here and there of its highest
and most typical qualities. In the first book, for instance, of the
first series, the divine poem on Ruth and Boaz may properly be taken as
representative of that almost indefinable quality which hitherto has
seemed more especially the gift of Dante: a fusion, so to speak, of
sublimity with sweetness, the exaltation of loveliness into splendor and
simplicity into mystery, such as glorifies the close of his _Purgatory_
and the opening of his _Paradise._ Again, the majestic verses which
bring Mahomet before us at his end strike a deeper impression into the
memory than is left by the previous poem on the raising of Lazarus; and
when we pass into the cycle of heroic or chivalrous legend we find those
poems the loftiest and the loveliest which have in them most of that
prophetic and passionate morality which makes the greatest poet, in this
as in some other ages, as much a seer as a singer, an evangelist no less
than an artist. Hugo, for all his dramatic and narrative mastery of
effect, will always probably remind men rather of such poets as Dante or
Isaiah than of such poets as Sophocles or Shakespeare. We cannot of
course imagine the Florentine or the Hebrew endowed with his infinite
variety of sympathies, of interests, and of powers; but as little can we
imagine in the Athenian such height and depth of passion, in the
Englishman such unquenchable and sleepless fire of moral and prophetic
faith. And hardly in any one of these, though Shakespeare may perhaps be
excepted, can we recognize the same buoyant and childlike exultation in
such things as are the delight of a high-hearted child--in free glory of
adventure and ideal daring, in the triumph and rapture of reinless
imagination, which gives now and then some excess of godlike empire and
superhuman kingship to their hands whom his hands have created, to the
lips whose life is breathed into them from his own. By the Homeric
stature of the soul he measures the heroic capacity of the sword. And
indeed it is hardly in our century that men who do not wish to provoke
laughter should venture to mock at a poet who puts a horde to flight
before a hero, or strikes down strongholds by the lightning of a single
will. No right and no power to disbelieve in the arm of Hercules or the
voice of Jesus can rationally remain with those who have seen Garibaldi
take a kingdom into the hollow of his hand, and not one man but a whole
nation arise from the dead at the sound of the word of Mazzini.

Two out of the five heroic poems which compose the fourth book of the
first series will always remain types of what the genius of Hugo could
achieve in two opposite lines. All the music of morning, all the
sunshine of romance, all the sweetness and charm of chivalry, will come
back upon all readers at the gracious and radiant name of _Aymerillot_;
all the blackness of darkness rank with fumes of blood and loud with
cries of torment, which covers in so many quarters the history, not
romantic but actual, of the ages called ages of faith, will close in
upon the memory which reverts to the direful _Day of Kings._ The sound
of the final note struck in the latter poem remains in the mind as the
echo of a crowning peal of thunder in the ear of one entranced and
spell-stricken by the magnetism of storm. The Pyrenees belong to Hugo as
the western coasts of Italy, Neapolitan or Tuscan, belong to Shelley;
they can never again be done into words and translated into music as for
once they have been by these. It can hardly be said that he who knows
the Pyrenees has read Victor Hugo; but certainly it may be said that he
who knows Victor Hugo has seen the Pyrenees. From the author's prefatory
avowal that his book contains few bright or smiling pictures, a reader
would never have inferred that so many of its pages are fragrant with
all the breath and radiant with all the bloom of April or May among the
pine-woods and their mountain lawns, ablaze with ardent blossom and
astir with triumphant song. Tragedy may be hard at hand, with all the
human train of sorrows and passions and sins; but the glory of beauty,
the loveliness of love, the exultation of noble duty and lofty labor in
a stress of arduous joy, these are the influences that pervade the world
and permeate the air of the poems which deal with the Christian cycle of
heroic legend, whose crowning image is the ideal figure of the Cid. To
this highest and purest type of mediæval romance or history the fancy
of the great poet whose childhood was cradled in Spain turns and returns
throughout the course of his threefold masterpiece with an almost
national pride and passion of sublime delight. Once in the first part
and once in the third his chosen hero is set before us in heroic verse,
doing menial service for his father in his father's house, and again, in
a king's palace, doing for humanity the sovereign service of
tyrannicide. But in the second part it seems as though the poet could
hardly, with his fullest effusion of lyric strength and sweetness, do
enough to satisfy his loving imagination of the perfect knight, most
faithful and most gentle and most terrible, whom he likens even to the
very Pic du Midi in its majesty of solitude. Each fresh blast of verse
has in it the ring of a golden clarion which proclaims in one breath the
honor of the loyal soldier and the dishonor of the disloyal king. There
can hardly be in any language a more precious and wonderful study of
technical art in verse of the highest kind of simplicity than this
_Romancero du Cid_, with its jet of luminous and burning song sustained
without lapse or break through sixteen "fyttes" of plain brief ballad
metre. It is hard to say whether the one only master of all forms and
kinds of poetry that ever left to all time the proof of his supremacy in
all has shown most clearly by his use of its highest or his use of its
simplest forms the innate and absolute equality of the French language
as an instrument for poetry with the Greek of Æschylus and of Sappho,
the English of Milton and of Shelley.

But among all Hugo's romantic and tragic poems of mediæval history or
legend the two greatest are in my mind _Eviradnus_ and _Ratbert._ I
cannot think it would be rash to assert that the loveliest love-song in
the world, the purest and keenest rapture of lyric fancy, the sweetest
and clearest note of dancing or dreaming music, is that which rings
forever in the ear which has once caught the matchless echo of such
lines as these that must once more be quoted, as though all the world of
readers had not long since known them by heart:--


Viens, sois tendre, je suis ivre.
Ô les verts taillis mouillés!
Ton souffle te fera suivre
Des papillons réveillés.

* * * * * *

Allons-nous-en par l'Autriche!
Nous aurons l'aube à nos fronts;
Je serai grand, et toi riche,
Puisque nous nous aimerons.

* * * * * *

Tu seras dame, et moi comte;
Viens, mon cœur s'épanouit.
Viens, nous conterons ce conte
Aux étoiles de la nuit.


The poet would be as sure of a heavenly immortality in the hearts of men
as any lyrist of Greece itself, who should only have written the
fourteen stanzas of the song from which I have ventured to choose these
three. All the sounds and shadows of a moonlit wilderness, all the dews
and murmurs and breaths of midsummer midnight, have become for once
articulate in such music as was never known even to Shakespeare's forest
of Arden. In the heart of a poem so full of tragedy and terror that Hugo
alone could have brightened it with his final touch of sunrise, this
birdlike rapture breaks out as by some divine effect of unforbiden and
blameless magic.

And yet, it may be said or thought, the master of masters has shown
himself even greater in _Ratbert_ than in _Eviradnus._ This most tragic
of poems, lit up by no such lyric interlude, stands unsurpassed even by
its author for tenderness, passion, divine magnificence of righteous
wrath, august and pitiless command of terror and pity. From the kingly
and priestly conclave of debaters more dark than Milton's to the superb
admonition of loyal liberty in speech that can only be silenced by
murder, and again from the heavenly and heroic picture of childhood
worshipped by old age to the monstrous banquet of massacre, when the son
of the prostitute has struck his perjured stroke of state, the poem
passes through a change of successive pageants each fuller of splendor
and wonder, of loveliness or of horror, than the last. But the agony of
the hero over the little corpse of the child murdered with her plaything
in her hand--the anguish that utters itself as in peal upon peal of
thunder, broken by sobs of storm--the full crash of the final
imprecation, succeeded again by such unspeakably sweet and piteous
appeal to the little dead lips and eyes that would have answered
yesterday--and at last the one crowning stroke of crime which calls down
an answering stroke of judgment from the very height of heaven, for the
comfort and refreshment and revival of all hearts--these are things of
which no praise can speak aright. Shakespeare only, were he living,
would be worthy to write on Hugo's Fabrice as Hugo has written on
Shakespeare's Lear. History will forget the name of Bonaparte before
humanity forgets the name of Ratbert.

But if this be the highest poem of all for passion and pathos and fire
of terrible emotion, the highest in sheer sublimity of imagination is to
my mind _Zim-Zizimi._ Again and again, in reading it for the first time,
one thinks that surely now the utmost height is reached, the utmost
faculty revealed, that can be possible for a spirit clothed only with
human powers, armed only with human speech. And always one finds the
next step forward to be yet once more a step upward, even to the very
end and limit of them all. Neither in Homer nor in Milton, nor in the
English version of Job or Ezekiel or Isaiah, is the sound of the roll
and the surge of measured music more wonderful than here. Even after the
vision of the tomb of Belus the miraculous impression of splendor and
terror, distinct in married mystery, and diverse in unity of warning,
deepens and swells onward like a sea till we reach the incomparable
psalm in praise of the beauty and the magic of womanhood made perfect
and made awful in Cleopatra, which closes in horror at the touch of a
hand more powerful than Orcagna's. The walls of the Campo Santo are
fainter preachers and feebler pursuivants of the triumph of death than
the pages of the poem which yet again renews its note of menace after
menace and prophecy upon prophecy till the end. There is probably not
one single couplet in all this sweet and bitter roll of song which could
have been written by any poet less than the best or lower than the
greatest of all time.


Passants, quelqu'un veut-il voir Cléopâtre au lit?
Venez; l'alcôve est morne, une brume l'emplit;
Cléopâtre est couchée à jamais; cette femme
Fut l'éblouissement de l'Asie, et la flamme
Que tout le genre humain avait dans son regard;
Quand elle disparut, le monde fut hagard;
Ses dents étaient de perle et sa bouche était d'ambre;
Les rois mouraient d'amour en entrant dans sa chambre;
Pour elle Ephractæus soumit l'Atlas, Sapor
Vint d'Ozymandias saisir les cercle d'or,
Mamylos conquit Suse et Tentyris détruite
Et Palmyre, et pour elle Antoine prit la fuite;
Entre elle et l'univers qui s'offraient à la fois
Il hésita, lâchant le monde dans son choix.
Cléopâtre égalait les Junons éternelles;
Une chaîne sortait de ses vagues prunelles;
Ô tremblant cœur humain, si jamais tu vibras,
C'est dans l'étreinte altière et douce de ses bras;
Son nom seul enivrait; Strophus n'osait l'écrire;
La terre s'éclairait de son divin sourire,
À force de lumière et d'amour, effrayant;
Sons corps semblait mêlé d'azur; en la voyant,
Vénus, le soir, rentrait jalouse sous la nue;
Cléopâtre embaumait l'Egypte; toute nue,
Elle brûlait les yeux ainsi que le soleil;
Les roses enviaient l'ongle de son orteil;
Ô vivants, allez voir sa tombe souveraine;
Fière, elle était déesse et daignait être reine;
L'amour prenait pour arc sa lèvre aux coins moqueurs;
Sa beauté rendait fous les fronts, les sens, les cœurs,
Et plus que les lions rugissants était forte;
Mais bouchez-vous le nez si vous passez la porte.


At every successive stage of his task, the man who undertakes to glance
over this great cycle of poems must needs incessantly call to mind the
most worn and hackneyed of all quotations from its author's works--"J'en
passe, et des meilleurs." There is here no room, as surely there should
nowhere now be any need, to speak at any length of the poems in which
Roland plays the part of protagonist; first as the beardless champion of
a five days' fight, and again as the deliverer whose hand could clear
the world of a hundred human wolves in one continuous sword-sweep. There
is hardly time allowed us for one poor word or two of tribute to such a
crowning flower of song as _La Rose de L'Infante_, with its parable of
the broken Armada made manifest in a wrecked fleet of drifting petals;
to the superb and sonorous chant of the buccaneers, in which all the
noise of lawless battle and stormy laughter passes off into the carol of
mere triumphant love and trust; or even to the whole inner cycle of
mystic and primæval legend which seeks utterance for the human sense of
oppression or neglect by jealous or by joyous gods; for the wild
profound revolt of riotous and trampled nature, the agony and passion
and triumph of invincible humanity, the protest and witness of enduring
earth against the passing shades of heaven, the struggle and the plea of
eternal manhood against all transient forces of ephemeral and tyrannous
godhead. Within the orbit of this epicycle one poem only of the first
part, a star of strife and struggle, can properly be said to revolve;
but the light of that planet has fire enough to animate with its reflex
the whole concourse of stormy stars which illuminate the world-wide
wrestle of the giants with the gods. The torch of revolt borne by the
transfigured satyr, eyed like a god and footed like a beast, kindles the
lamp of hopeful and laborious rebellion which dazzles us in the eye of
the Titan who has seen beyond the world. In the song that struck silence
through the triumph of amazed Olympus there is a sound and air as of the
sea or the Book of Job. There may be something of Persian or Indian
mysticism, there is more of universal and imaginative reason, in the
great allegoric myth which sets forth here how the half-brute child of
one poor planet has in him the seed, the atom, the principle of life
everlasting, and dilates in force of it to the very type and likeness of
the eternal universal substance which is spirit or matter of life; and
before the face of his transfiguration the omnipresent and omnipotent
gods who take each their turn to shine and thunder are all but shadows
that pass away. Since the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind no ear
has heard the burst of such a song; but this time it is the world that
answers out of its darkness the lords and gods of creed and oracle, who
have mastered and have not made it. And in the cry of its protest and
the prophecy of its advance there is a storm of swelling music which is
as the sound of the strength of rollers after the noise of the rage of
breakers.

It is noticeable that the master of modern poets should have in the tone
and color of his genius more even of the Hebrew than the Greek. In his
love of light and freedom, reason and justice, he is not of Jerusalem,
but of Athens; but in the bent of his imagination, in the form and color
of his dreams, in the scope and sweep of his wide-winged spiritual
flight, he is nearer akin to the great insurgent prophets of deliverance
and restoration than to any poet of Athens except only their kinsman
Æschylus. It is almost wholly of the Persian war, the pass of
Thermopylae, the strait of Euripus, that he sings when he sings of
Hellas. All his might of hand, all his cunning of color, all his
measureless resources of sound and form and symbol, are put forth in the
catalogue of nations and warriors subject to Xerxes. There is nothing in
poetry so vast and tremendous of its kind as this pageant of immense and
monstrous invasion. But indeed the choice of gigantic themes, the
predominance of colossal effects, the prevalence of superhuman visions
over the types and figures of human history or legend, may be regarded
as a distinctive point of difference between the second and the first
series. A typical example of the second is the poem which has added an
eighth wonder built by music to the seven wonders of the world, which it
celebrates in verse more surely wrought for immortality than they.
Another is the song of the worm which takes up in answer to their chant
of life and light and pride of place, and prolongs through measure after
measure of rolling and reverberating verse, the note of a funereal and
universal triumph, the protest and the proclamation of death. Another,
attuned to that mighty music of meditation which rings through so many
of the poems written in exile and loneliness, is the stately prophetic
hymn which bears the superscription of _All the Past and all the
Future._ This might seem to belong to the sixth book of the
_Contemplations_, in which the same note of proud and ardent faith was
struck so often with such sovereignty of hand. As much might be said of
the great "abysmal" poem which closes the second series with a symphony
of worlds and spirits. Other groups of poems, in like manner, bear signs
of common or of diverse kinship to former works of a creator whose
spirit has put life into so many of the same likeness, yet with no more
sign of repetition or weary monotony than is traceable in the very
handiwork of nature. The book of idyls is of one inspiration with the
_Chansons des Rues et des Bois_; in both cases, as in so many of the
poet's earlier lyric volumes, his incomparable fertility of speech and
superb facility of verse leave almost an impression as of work done by
way of exercise, as though he were writing to keep his hand in, or to
show for a wager with incredulous criticism how long he could keep up
the golden ball of metre, carve arabesques of the same pattern, play
variations in the same key. But the _Old Man's Idyl_ which closes the
book belongs by kinship to another work of the poet's, more beloved and
more precious to the inmost heart, if not more eminent for strength and
cunning of hand, than any of these. In "the voice of a child a year old"
there is the same welling and bubbling melody which flows and laughs and
murmurs and glitters through the adorable verses of _L'Art d'être
Grand-père_, making dim with love and delight the reader's or the
hearer's eyes. At last the language of babies has found its interpreter;
and that, as might have been expected, in the greatest poet of his age.


L'enfant apporte un peu de ce ciel dont il sort;
Il ignore, il arrive; homme, tu le recueilles.
_Il a le tremblement des herbes et des feuilles._
La jaserie avant le langage est la fleur
Qui précède le fruit, moins beau qu'elle, et meilleur,
Si c'est être meilleur qu'être plus nécessaire.


A conclusion which may be doubted when we consider as follows:


L'enfant fait la demande et l'ange la réponse;
Le babil puéril dans le ciel bleu s'enfonce,
Puis s'en revient, avec les hésitations
Du moineau qui verrait planer les alcyons.


Can language or can thought be lovelier? if so, the one possible
instance is to be sought in these succeeding verses:


Quand l'enfant jase avec l'ombre qui le bénit,
La fauvette, attentive, au rebord de son nid
Se dresse, et ses petits passent, pensifs et frêles,
Leurs têtes à travers les plumes de ses ailes;
La mère semble dire à sa couvée: Entends,
Et tâche de parler aussi bien.


It seems and is not strange that the lips which distill such honey as
this should be the same so often touched with a coal of fire from that
"altar of Righteousness" where Æschylus was wont to worship. The
twenty-first section of the second series is in the main a renewal or
completion of the work undertaken in the immortal _Châtiments._ Even in
that awful and incomparable book of judgment such poems as _La Colère
du Bronze_, and the two following on the traffic of servile clerical
rapacity in matters of death and burial, would have stood high among the
stately legions of satire which fill its living pages with the sound and
the splendor of righteous battle for the right; but the verses with
which Hugo has branded the betrayer of Metz and Strasburg are hardly to
be matched except by those with which, half a century ago, he branded
the betrayer of the Duchess of Berry. Truly may all who read them cry
out with the poet at their close,


Et qui donc maintenant dit qu'il s'est évadé?


In _Le Cimetière d'Eylau_, a poem to which we have now in the third
series of the book a most noble and exquisite pendant (_Paroles de mon
Oncle_), all the Homeric side of a poet born of warlike blood comes out
into proud and bright relief. There is no better fighting in the Iliad;
it has the martial precision and practical fellow-feeling which animate
in his battle-pieces the lagging verse of Walter Scott; and it has, of
course, that omnipresent breath and light and fire of perfect poetry
which a Scott or a Byron is never quite permitted to attain. Beside or
even above these two poems, that other which commemorates the devotion
of a Vendean peasant chief will be set in the hearts of all readers
competent to appreciate either heroic action or heroic song.

The love of all high things which finds one form of expression in
warlike sympathy with warriors who can live and die for something higher
than personal credit or success takes another and as natural a shape in
the poems which are inspired by love and worship of nature and her
witness for liberty and purity and truth in the epic evangel of august
and indomitable mountains. The sublimest cry of moral passion ever
inspired by communion in spirit with these is uttered in the great poem
on the Swiss mercenaries of the seventeenth century, which even among
its fellows stands out eminent and radiant as an Alp at sunrise.
Mountain and cataract, the stars and the snows, never yet in any
language found such a singer and interpreter as this. Two or three
verses, two or three words, suffice for him to bring before us, in fresh
and actual presence, the very breath of the hills or the sea, the very
lights and sounds and spaces of clouded or sunlit air. Juvenal is not so
strong in righteousness, nor Pindar so sublime in illustration, as the
poet who borrowed from nature her highest symbols to illustrate the
glory and the duty of righteous wrath and insuppressible insurrection
against wrong-doing, when he wrote _Le Régiment du baron Madruce._


L'homme s'est vendu. Soit. A-t-on dans le louage
Compris le lac, le bois, la ronce, le nuage?
La nature revient, germe, fleurit, dissout,
Féconde, croît, décroît, rit, passe, efface tout.
La Suisse est toujours là, libre. Prend-on au piège
La précipice, l'ombre et la bise et la neige?
Signe-t-on des marchés dans lesquels il soit dit
Que l'Orteler s'enrôle et devient un bandit?
Quel poing cyclopéen, dites, ô roches noires,
Pourra briser la Dent de Morde en vos mâchoires?
Quel assembleur de bœufs pourra forger un joug
Qui du pic de Glaris aille au piton de Zoug?
C'est naturellement que les monts sont fidèles
Et purs, ayant la forme âpre des citadelles,
Ayant reçu de Dieu des créneaux où le soir,
L'homme peut, d'embrasure en embrasure, voir
Étinceler le fer de lance des étoiles.
Est-il une araignée, aigle, qui dans ses toiles
Puisse prendre la trombe et la rafale et toi?
Quel chef recrutera le Salève? à quel roi
Le Mythen dira-t-il: "Sire, je vais descendre!
Qu'après avoir dompté l'Athos, quelque Alexandre,
Sorte de héros monstre aux cornes de taureau,
Aille donc relever sa robe à la Jungfrau!
Comme la vierge, ayant l'ouragan sur l'épaule,
Crachera l'avalanche à la face du drôle!

* * * * * *

Non, rien n'est mort ici. Tout grandit, et s'en vante.
L'Helvétie est sacrée, et la Suisse est vivante;
Ces monts sont des héros et des religieux;
Cette nappe de neige aux plis prodigieux
D'où jaillit, lorsqu'en mai la tiède brise ondoie,
Toute une floraison folle d'air et de joie,
Et d'où sortent des lacs et des flots murmurants,
N'est le linceul de rien, excepté des tyrans.


This glorious poem of the first series finds a glorious echo in the
twenty-fifth division of the second; even as the Pyrenean cycle which
opened in the first series is brought in the second to fuller completion
of equal and corresponsive achievement. It is wonderful, even in this
vast world of poetic miracle where nothing is other than wonderful, that
_Masferrer_ should be equal to _Aymenllot_ in frank majesty of beauty;
that even after _Le Parricide_ a fresh depth of tragic terror should be
sounded by _Gaïffer-Forge_; and that after all he had already written
on fatherhood and sonship, on duty and chivalry, on penitence and pride,
Victor Hugo should have struck so new and so profound a note as rings in
every fine of _La Paternité._

But of all echoes and of all responses which reverberate from end to end
of these three great sections of song, the very sweetest, and perhaps
the very deepest, are those evoked by love of little children, and
compassionate reverence for the poor. If but one division were to be
left us out of all the second series, and fate or chance, comparatively
compassionate in its cruelty, gave us our choice which this one should
be, the best judgments might perhaps decide to preserve the twenty-third
at all events. What the words "realism" and "naturalism" do naturally
and really signify in matters of art, the blatant babblers who use them
to signify the photography of all things abject might learn, if shallow
insolence and unclean egotism were suddenly made capable of learning, by
the study of only the two poems which set before us in two different
forms the strength of weakness in the child whose love redeems his
father from death, and the child who can find no comfort but in death
for the lack of a father's love. There is nothing in Homer, in Dante, or
in Shakespeare, the three only poets who can properly be cited for
comparison, of a pathos more poignant in its bitter perfection of
sweetness.

Among the many good things which seem, for the lovers of poetry, to have
come out of one and so great an evil as the long exile of Hugo from his
country, there is none better or greater than the spiritual inhalation
of breeze and brine into the very heart of his genius, the miraculous
impregnation of his solitary Muse by the sea-wind. This influence could
not naturally but combine with the lifelong influence of all noble
sympathies to attract his admiration and his pity towards the poor folk
of the shore, and to produce from that sense of compassion for obscurer
sorrows and brotherhood with humbler heroism than his own such work as
the poem which describes the charity of a fisherman's wife towards the
children of her dead neighbor. It has all the beautiful precision and
accurate propriety of detail which distinguish the finest idyls of
Theocritus or Tennyson, with a fervor of pathetic and imaginative
emotion which Theocritus never attained, and which Tennyson has attained
but once. All the horror of death, all the trouble and mystery of
darkness, seem as we read to pass into our fancy with the breath of
pervading night, and to vanish with the husband's entrance at sunrise
before the smile with which the wife draws back the curtains of the
cradle.

This poem, which so many hearts must have treasured among their choicest
memories for now so many years, has found at length its fellow in the
final volume of the book. There is even more savor of the sea in the
great lyric landscape called _Les paysans au bord de la mer_ than in the
idyllic interior called _Les pauvres gens._ There we felt the sea-wind
and saw the sea-mist through the chinks of door and window; but here we
feel all the sweep of the west wind's wings, and see all the rush of
rain along the stormy shore that the flock of leaping waves has whitened
with the shreddings of their fleece. We remember in _Les Voix
Intérieures_ the all but matchless music of the song of the sea-wind's
trumpet, and in the notes of this new tune we find at last that music
matched and deepened and prolonged. In the great lyric book which gives
us the third of the four blasts blown from _Les Quatre Vents de
l'Esprit_, there are visions as august and melodies as austere as this;
but outside the vast pale of the master's work we should look for the
likeness of such songs in vain. The key of all its tenderness if not of
all its terror is struck in these two first verses.


Les pauvres gens de la côte,
L'hiver, quand la mer est haute
Et qu'il fait nuit,
Viennent où finit la terre
Voir les flots pleins de mystère
Et pleins de bruit.

Ils sondent la mer sans bornes;
Ils pensent aux écueils mornes
Et triomphants;
L'orpheline pâle et seule
Crie: ô mon père! et l'aïeule
Dit: mes enfants!


The verses which translate the landscape are as absolutely incomparable
in their line as those which render the emotion of the watchers. Witness
this:--


Et l'on se met en prières,
Pendant que joncs et bruyères
Et bois touffus,
Vents sans borne et flots sans nombre,
Jettent dans toute cette ombre
Des cris confus.


Here, as usual, it is the more tragic aspect of the waters that would
appear to have most deeply impressed the sense or appealed to the spirit
of Victor Hugo. He seems to regard the sea with yet more of awe than of
love, as he may be said to regard the earth with even more of love than
of awe. He has put no song of such sweet and profound exultation, such
kind and triumphant motherhood, into the speaking spirit of the sea as
into the voice of the embodied earth. He has heard in the waves no word
so bountiful and benignant as the message of such verses as these:--


La terre est calme auprès de l'océan grondeur;
La terre est belle; elle a la divine pudeur
De se cacher sous les feuillages;
Le printemps son amant vient en mai la baiser;
Elle envoie au tonnerre altier pour l'apaiser
La fumée humble des villages.

Ne frappe pas, tonnerre. Ils sons petits, ceux-ci.
La terre est bonne; elle est grave et sévère aussi;
Les roses sont pures comme elle;
Quiconque pense, espère et travaille lui plaît;
Et l'innocence offerte à tout homme est son lait,
Et la justice est sa mamelle.

La terre cache l'or et montre les moissons;
Elle met dans le flanc des fuyantes saisons
Le germe des saisons prochaines,
Dans l'azur les oiseaux qui chuchotent: aimons!
Et les sources au fond de l'ombre, et sur les monts
L'immense tremblement des chênes.


The loving loveliness of these divine verses is
in sharp contrast with the fierce resonance of
those in which the sea's defiance is cast as a challenge
to the hopes and dreams of mankind:--


Je suis la vaste mêlée,
Reptile, étant l'onde, ailée,
Étant le vent;
Force et fuite, haine et vie,
Houle immense, poursuivie
Et poursuivant.


The motion of the sea was never till now so perfectly done into words as
in these three last lines; but any one to whom the water was as dear or
dearer than the land at its loveliest would have found a delight as of
love no less conceivable than a passion as of hatred in the more visible
and active life of waves, and at least as palpable to the "shaping
spirit of imagination." It remains true, after all, for the greatest as
for the humblest, that--in the words of one of the very few poets whose
verses are fit to quote even after a verse of Hugo's--


we receive but what we give.
And in our life alone doth nature live;


so far, at least, as her life concerns us, and is perceptible or
appreciable by our spirit or our sense. A magnificent instance of purely
dramatic vision, in which the lyric note is tempered to the circumstance
of the speakers with a kind of triumphant submission and severe
facility, is _La Chanson des Doreurs de Proues._ The poet's unequalled
and unapproached variety in mastery of metre and majesty of color and
splendid simplicity of style, no less exact than sublime, and no less
accurate than passionate, could hardly be better shown than by
comparison of the opening verses with the stanza cited above.


Nous sommes les doreurs de proues.
Les vents, tournant comme des roues,
Sur la verte rondeur des eaux
Mêlent les lueurs et les ombres,
Et dans les plis des vagues sombres
Traînent les obliques vaisseaux.

La bourrasque décrit des courbes,
Les vents sont tortueux et fourbes,
L'archer noir souffle dans son cor,
Ces bruits s'ajoutent aux vertiges,
Et c'est nous qui dans ces prodiges
Faisons rôder des spectres d'or.

Car c'est un spectre que la proue.
Le flot l'étreint, l'air la secoue;
Fière, elle sort de nos bazars
Pour servir aux éclairs de cible,
Et pour être un regard terrible
Parmi les sinistres hasards.


It is more than fifty years since _Les Orientales_ rose, radiant upon
the world of letters, and the hand which gave them to mankind has lost
so little of its cunning that we are well-nigh tempted to doubt whether
then, for all its skill and sureness of touch, it had quite the same
strength and might of magnificent craftsmanship as now. There was fire
as well as music on the lips of the young man, but the ardor of the old
man's song seems even deeper and keener than the passion of his past.
The fervent and majestic verses of June 2, 1883, strike at starting the
note of measureless pity and immeasurable indignation which rings
throughout the main part of the fifth and last volume almost louder and
fuller, if possible, than it was wont. All Victor Hugo, we may say, is
in this book; it is as one of those ardent evening skies in which
sunrise and sunset seem one in the flush of overarching color which
glows back from the west to the east with reverberating bloom and fervor
of rose-blossom and fire. There is life enough in it, enough of the
breath and spirit and life-blood of living thought, to vivify a whole
generation of punier souls and feebler hearts with the heat of his
fourscore years. It may be doubted whether there ever lived a poet and
leader of men to whom these glorious verses would be so closely
applicable as to their writer.


Un grand esprit en marche a ses rumeurs, ses houles,
Ses chocs, et fait frémir profondément les foules,
Et remue en passant le monde autour de lui.
On est épouvanté si l'on n'est ébloui;
L'homme comme un nuage erre et change de forme;
Nul, si petit qu'il soit, échappe au souffle énorme;
Les plus humbles, pendant qu'il parle, ont le frisson.

Ainsi quand, évadé dans le vaste horizon,
L'aquilon qui se hâte et qui cherche aventure
Tord la pluie et l'éclair, comme de sa ceinture
Une fille défait en souriant le nœud,
Quand l'immense vent gronde et passe, tout s'émeut,
Pas un brin d'herbe au fond des ravins, que ne touche
Cette rapidité formidable et farouche.


And this wind "bloweth where it listeth": now it comes to us charged
with all the heart of all the roses in the world; its breath when it
blows towards Greece has in it a murmur as of Shelley's _Epipsychidion_;
the caress of its love-making has all the freedom and all the purity of
Blake's; now it passes by us in darkness, from depth to depth of the
bitter mystery of night. A vision of ruined worlds, the floating
purgatorial prisons of ruined souls, adrift as hulks on the sea of
darkness everlasting, shows us the harvest in eternity of such seed as
was sown in time by the hands of such guides and rulers of men as we
hear elsewhere speaking softly with each other in the shadows, within
hail of the confessional and the scaffold. The loftiest words of counsel
sound sweeter in the speech of this great spirit than the warmest
whispers of pleasure; and again, the heaviest stroke of damning satire
is succeeded by the tenderest touch of a compassion that would leave not
a bird in captivity. The hand that opens the cage-door is the same which
has just turned the key on the braggart swordsman, neither "victorious"
nor "dead," but condemned to everlasting prison behind the bars of iron
verse.

But the two long poems which dominate the book, like two twin summits
clothed round with fiery cloud and crowned with stormy sunshine, tower
equal in height and mass of structure with the stateliest in the two
parts preceding. The voice that rolls throughout _Les Quatre Jours
d'Elciis_ the thunder of its burning words reawakens and prolongs the
echo of Félibien's pity and wrath over the murdered corpse of a child
unborn; we recognize in the speaker a kinsman of Welf's, the
unconquerable old castellan of Osbor, delivered only by an act of
charity into the treacherous hands of the princes whom his citadel had
so long defied. Of Elciis, as of him, the poet might have said--


Si la mer prononçait des noms dans ses marées,
Ô vieillard, ce serait des noms comme le tien.


Such names will no doubt provoke the soft superior smile of a culture
too refined for any sort of enthusiasm but the elegant ecstasy of
self-worship; and such simplicity will excite, on the other hand, a
deep-mouthed bray of scorn from the whole school or church whose apostle
in France was St. Joseph de Maistre, in England St. Thomas Coprostom,
late of Craigenputtock and Chelsea; the literary lappers of imaginary
blood, the inkhorn swordsmen and spokesmen of immaterial iron. The rage
of their contempt for such as Hugo, the loathing of their scorn for such
as Shelley, ought long since to have abashed the believers in principles
which find no abler defenders or more effective champions than these.

For it is true that the main truths preached and enforced and insisted
on by such fanatical rhetoricians as Milton, as Mazzini, or as Hugo, are
as old as the very notion of right and wrong, as the rudest and crudest
conception of truth itself; and it is undeniable that the Gospel
according to St. Coprostom has the invaluable merit of pungent
eccentricity and comparatively novel paradox. The evangelist of "golden
silence"--whose own speech, it may be admitted, was "quite other" than
"silvern"--is logically justified in his blatant but ineffable contempt
for the dull old doctrines of mere mercy and righteousness, of liberty
that knows no higher law than duty, of duty that depends for its
existence on the existence of liberty. Such a creed, in the phrase of a
brother philosopher whose "reminiscences" may be gathered from
Shakespeare, and whose views of his contemporaries were identical in
tone and expression with the opinions of Mr. Carlyle on his, was mouldy
before our grandsires had nails on their toes. It is far more
intelligent, more original, more ingenious than all the old cant and
rant against priests and kings and vow-breakers and blood-spillers, to
discover the soul of goodness in Ratbert the Second or Napoleon the
Third, and observingly distill it out into analytic and mono-dramatic
blank verse. And it will never be said that this reaction against the
puerile or senile preference of right to wrong and principle to
prosperity has not been carried far enough in our time. Carlyle, the man
of brass, and Musset, the man of clay, as far apart on all other points
as two writers of genius could well be, have shown themselves at one in
high-souled scorn for "principles of mere rebellion" such as Landor's
and Milton's, or for such "belief in a new Brutus" as might disturb the
dream of Augustulus. But, even as an old paradox becomes with time a
commonplace, so does an old commonplace become in its turn a paradox;
and a generation whose poets and historians have long blown the trumpet
before the legitimacy of Romanoffs or the bastardy of Bonapartes may
properly be startled and scandalized at the childish eccentricity of an
old-world idealist who maintains his obsolete and preposterous belief
that massacre is murder, that robbery is theft, and that perjury is
treason. No newer doctrine, no sounder philosophy, no riper wisdom than
this, can be gathered from the declamations of those idle old men--as
Goneril, for example, would have called them--who speak this poet's
mind again and again in verse which has no more variety of splendor or
magnificence of music than the sea.


Hélas, on voit encor les astres se lever,
L'aube sur l'Apennin jeter sa clarté douce,
L'oiseau faire son nid avec des brins de mousse,
La mer battre les rocs dans ses flux et reflux,
Mais la grandeur des cœurs c'est ce qu'on ne voit plus.


There is nothing ingenious in that; it is no better, intellectually
considered, than a passage of Homer or Isaiah.

But though every verse has the ring of tested gold, and every touch
gives notice of the master's hand, yet the glory even of these _Four
Days_ is eclipsed by the _Vision of Dante._ Far apart and opposite as
they stand in all matters of poetic style and method--Dante writing with
the rigid and reserved concision of a Tacitus, Hugo with the rushing yet
harmonious profusion of a Pindar--the later master is the only modern
poet who could undertake without absurdity or presumption to put words
worthy of Dante into Dante's mouth. The brazen clatter of Byron's
_Prophecy_ was not redeemed or brought into tune by the noble energy and
sound insight of the political sympathies expressed in the accent of a
stump-orator to the tune of a barrel-organ. But a verse of Hugo's falls
often as solid and weighty and sure, as full in significance of perfect
and pregnant sound, as even a verse of Alighieri's. He therefore, but he
alone, had the power and the right to call up the spirit of Dante now
thirty years ago, and bid it behold all the horrors of Europe in 1853;
the Europe of Haynau and Radetzky, of Nicholas the First and Napoleon
the last. Any great modern poet's notion of an everlasting hell must of
course be less merely material than Dante's mechanism of hot and cold
circles, fire and ice, ordure and mire; but here is the same absolute
and equitable assent to justice, the same fierce and ardent fidelity to
conscience, the same, logic and the same loyalty as his.


Ô sentence! ô peine sans refuge!
Tomber dans le silence et la brume à jamais!
D'abord quelque clarté des lumineux sommets
Vous laisse distinguer vos mains désespérées.
On tombe, on voit passer des formes effarées,
Bouches ouvertes, fronts ruisselants de sueur,
Des visages hideux qu'éclaire une lueur.
Puis on ne voit plus rien. Tout s'efface et recule.
La nuit morne succède au sombre crépuscule.
On tombe. On n'est pas seul dans ces limbes d'en bas;
On sent frissonner ceux qu'on ne distingue pas;
On ne sait si ce sont des hydres ou des hommes;
On se sent devenir les larves que nous sommes;
On entrevoit l'horreur des lieux inaperçus,
Et l'abîme au-dessous, et l'abîme au-dessus.
Puis tout est vide! on est le grain que le vent sème.
On n'entend pas le cri qu'on à poussé soi-même;
On sent les profondeurs qui s'emparent de vous;
Les mains ne peuvent plus atteindre les genoux;
On lève au ciel les yeux et l'on voit l'ombre horrible;
On est dans l'impalpable, on est dans l'invisible;
Des souffles par moments passent dans cette nuit.
Puis on ne sent plus rien.--Pas un vent, pas un bruit,
Pas un souffle; la mort, la nuit; nulle rencontre;
Rien pas même une chute affreuse ne se montre
Et l'on songe à la vie, au soleil, aux amours,
Et l'on pense toujours, et l'on tombe toujours!


The resurrection of the victims to give evidence at the summons of the
archangel--a heavy cloud of witnesses,


Triste, livide, énorme, ayant un air de rage--


men bound to the yoke like beasts, women with bosoms gashed by the whip,
children with their skulls cleft open--is direful as any less real and
actual vision of the elder hell.


Les cris d'enfant surtout venaient à mon oreille;
Car, dans cette nuit-là, gouffre ou l'équité veille,
La voix des innocents sur toute autre prévaut,
C'est le cri des enfants qui monte le plus haut,
Et le vagissement fait le bruit du tonnerre.


The appeal for justice which follows, with its enumeration of horrors
unspeakable except by history and poetry, is followed in its turn by the
evocation of the soldiers whom this army of martyrs has with one voice
designated to the angel of judgment as their torturers and murderers.
The splendid and sonorous verses in which the muster of these legions
after legions, with their garments rolled in blood, is made to defile
before the eyes of reader or hearer, can be matched only by the
description of the Swiss mercenaries in _Le Régiment du baron Madruce._


Un grand vautour doré les guidait comme un phare.
Tant qu'ils étaient au fond de l'ombre, la fanfare,
Comme un aigle agitant ses bruyants ailerons,
Chantait claire et joyeuse au front des escadrons,
Trompettes et tambours sonnaient, et des centaures
Frappaient des ronds de cuivre entre leurs mains sonores;
Mais, dès qu'ils arrivaient devant le flamboiement,
Les clairons effarés se taisaient brusquement,
Tout ce bruit s'éteignait. Reculant en désordre.
Leurs chevaux se cabraient et cherchaient à les mordre,
Et la lance et l'épée échappaient à leur poing.


Challenged to make answer, the assassins of Italy and Hungary plead that
they were but the sword, their captains were the hand. These are
summoned in their turn, and cast their crimes in turn upon the judges
who bade them shed blood and applauded their blood-shedding in the name
of law and justice. And the judges and lawgivers are summoned in their
stead.


Ces hommes regardaient l'ange d'un air surpris:
Comme, en lettres de feu, rayonnait sur sa face
Son nom, Justice, entre eux ils disaient à voix basse:
Que veut dire ce mot qu'il porte sur son front?


Charged with their complicity in all the public crime and shame and
horror of their period, these in turn cast the burden of their
wrong-doing on the princes who commanded them and they obeyed, seeing
how the priests and soothsayers had from all time assured them that
kings were the images of God. The images of God are summoned, and
appear, in the likeness of every form of evil imaginable by man.


Devant chaque fantôme, en la brume glacée.
Ayant le vague aspect d'une croix renversée,
Venait un glaive nu, ferme et droit dans le vent,
Qu'aucun bras ne tenait et qui semblait vivant.


Strange shapes of winged and monstrous beasts were harnessed to the
chariots on which the thrones of the earth were borne forward. The
figure seated on the last of them will be recognizable beyond all
possibility of mistake by any reader whose eyes have ever rested on a
face which beyond most human faces bore the visible image and
superscription of the soul behind it.


Les trônes approchaient sous les lugubres cieux;
On entendait gémir autour des noirs essieux
La clameur de tous ceux qu'avaient broyés leurs roues;
Ils venaient, ils fendaient l'ombre comme des proues;
Sous un souffle invisible ils semblaient se mouvoir;
Rien n'était plus étrange et plus farouche à voir
Que ces chars effrayants tourbillonnant dans l'ombre.
Dans le gouffre tranquille où l'humanité sombre,
Ces trônes de la terre apparaissaient hideux.

Le dernier qui venait, horrible au milieu d'eux,
Était à chaque marche encombré de squelettes
Et de cadavres froids aux bouches violettes,
Et le plancher rougi fumait, de sang baigné;
Le char qui le portait dans l'ombre était traîné
Par un hibou tenant dans sa griffe une hache.
Un être aux yeux de loup, homme par la moustache,
Au sommet de ce char s'agitait étonné,
Et se courbait furtif, livide et couronné.

Pas un de ces césars à l'allure guerrière
Ne regardait cet homme. A l'écart, et derrière,
Vêtu d'un noir manteau qui semblait un linceul,
Espèce de lépreux du trône, il venait seul;
Il posait les deux mains sur sa face morose
Comme pour empêcher qu'on y vît quelque chose;
Quand parfois il ôtait ses mains en se baissant,
En lettres qui semblaient faites avec du sang
On lisait sur son front ces trois mots:--Je le jure.


It is a fearful thing, said the Hebrew, to fall into the hands of the
living God; and it is a fearful thing for a malefactor to fall into the
hands of an ever-living poet. The injured Caesars of Rome--Tiberius, for
example, and Domitian--have not even yet been delivered by the most
conscientious efforts of German and Anglo-German Cæsarists out of the
prison whose keys are kept by Juvenal; and a greater than Juvenal is
here.

Summoned to make answer to the charge of the angel of judgment, even
these also have their resource for evasion, and cast all their crimes
upon the Pope.


Il nous disait: Je suis celui qui parle aux rois;
Quiconque me résiste et me brave est impie,
Ce qu'ici-bas j'écris, là-haut Dieu le copie.
L'église, mon épouse, éclose au mont Thabor,
A fait de la doctrine une cage aux fils d'or,
Et comme des oiseaux j'y tiens toutes les âmes.


This man had blessed the murderers in their triumph, and cursed their
victims in the grave:--


Sa ceinture servait de corde à nos potences.
Il liait de ses mains l'agneau sons nos sentences;
Et quand on nous criait: Grâce! il nous criait: Feu!
C'est à lui que le mal revient. Voilà, grand Dieu,
Ce qu'il a fait: voilà ce qu'il nous a fait faire.
Cet homme était le pôle et l'axe de la sphère;
Il est le responsable et nous le dénonçons!
Seigneur, nous n'avons fait que suivre ses leçons.
Seigneur, nous n'avons fait que suivre son exemple.


And the pontiff whose advent and whose promises had been hailed with
such noble trust and acclaimed with such noble thankfulness by those who
believed in him as a deliverer--by Landor among others, and by Hugo
himself--the Caiaphas-Iscariot whose benediction and consecrated
massacre and anointed perjury with the rancid oil of malodorous gladness
above its fellows in, empire and in crime--is summoned out of darkness
to receive sentence by the sevenfold sounding of trumpets.


Vêtu de lin plus blanc qu'un encensoir qui fume,
Il avait, spectre blême aux idoles pareil,
Les baisers de la foule empreints sur son orteil,
Dans sa droite un bâton comme l'antique archonte,
Sur son front la tiare, et dans ses yeux la honte.

De son cou descendait un long manteau doré,
Et dans son poignet gauche il tenait, effaré,
Comme un voleur surpris par celui qu'il dérobe,
Des clefs qu'il essayait de cacher sous sa robe.
Il était effrayant à force de terreur.

Quand surgit ce vieillard, on vit dans la lueur
L'ombre et le mouvement de quelqu'un qui se penche.
À l'apparition de cette robe blanche,
Au plus noir de l'abîme un tonnerre gronda.


Then from all points of the immeasurable spaces, from the womb of the
cloud and the edge of the pit, is witness given against Pope Pius IX. by
the tyrants and the victims, mothers and children and old men, the
judges and the judged, the murderers mingling with the murdered, great
and small, obscure and famous.


Tous ceux que j'avais vus passer dans les ténèbres,
Avançant leur front triste, ouvrant leur œil terni,
Fourmillement affreux qui peuplait l'infini,
Tous ces spectres, vivant, parlant, riant naguère,
Martyrs, bourreaux, et gens du peuple et gens de guerre,
Regardant l'homme blanc d'épouvante ébloui,
Elevèrent la main et crièrent: C'est lui.

Et pendant qu'ils criaient, sa robe devint rouge.

Au fond du gouffre où rien ne tressaille et ne bouge
Un écho répéta:--C'est lui!--Les sombres rois
Dirent:--C'est lui! c'est lui! c'est lui! voilà sa croix!
Les clefs du paradis sont dans ses mains fatales.--
Et l'homme-loup, debout sur les cadavres pâles
Dont le sang tiède encor tombait dans l'infini,
Cria d'une voix rauque et sourde:--Il m'a béni!


A judgment less terrible than what follows is that by which Dante long
ago made fast the gates of hell upon Nicholas and Boniface and Clement
with one stroke of his inevitable hand. The ghastly agony of the
condemned is given with all the bitterest realism of the great elder
anti-papist who sent so many vicars of Christ to everlasting torment for
less offenses than those of Mastai-Ferretti.


Lui se tourna vers l'ange en frissonnant,
Et je vis le spectacle horrible et surprenant
D'un homme qui vieillit pendant qu'on le regarde.
L'agonie éteignit sa prunelle hagarde,
Sa bouche bégaya, son jarret se rompit,
Ses cheveux blanchissaient sur son front décrépit,
Ses tempes se ridaient comme si les années
S'étaient subitement sur sa face acharnées,
Ses yeux pleuraient, ses dents claquaient comme au gibet
Les genoux d'un squelette, et sa peau se plombait,
Et, stupide, il baissait, à chaque instant plus pâle,
Sa tête qu'écrasait la tiare papale.


From the sentence passed upon him after the avowal extorted by the angel
of doom that he has none in the world above him but God alone on whom to
cast the responsibility of his works, not a word may be taken away for
the purpose of quotation, as not a word could have been added to it by
Dante or by Ezekiel himself. But about the eternity of his damnation
there is not, happily for the human conscience, any manner of doubt
possible; it must endure as long as the poem which proclaims it: in
other words, as long as the immortality of poetry itself.

This great and terrible poem, the very crown or coping-stone of all the
_Châtiments_, has a certain affinity with two others in which the
poet's yearning after justice and mercy has borne his passionate
imagination as high and far as here. In _Sultan Mourad_ his immeasurable
and incomparable depth of pity and charity seems well nigh to have
swallowed up all sense of necessary retribution: it is perhaps because
the portentous array of crimes enumerated is remote in time and place
from all experience of ours that conscience can allow the tenderness and
sublimity of its inspiration to justify the moral and ratify the
sentence of the poem:--


Viens! tu fus bon un jour, sois à jamais heureux.
Entre, transfiguré! tes crimes ténébreux,
Ô roi, derrière toi s'effacent dans les gloires;
Tourne la tête, et vois blanchir tes ailes noires.


But in the crowning song of all the great three cycles every need and
every instinct of the spirit may find the perfect exaltation of content.
The vast and profound sense of ultimate and inevitable equity which
animates every line of it is as firm and clear as the solid and massive
splendor of its articulate expression. The date of it is outside and
beyond the lapse of the centuries of time; but the rule of the law of
righteousness is there more evident and indisputable than ever during
the flight of these. Hardly in the Hebrew prophecies is such distinct
and vivid sublimity, as of actual and all but palpable vision, so
thoroughly impregnated with moral and spiritual emotion. Not a verse of
all that strike root into the memory forever but is great alike by
imagination and by faith. In such a single line as this--


Que qui n'entendit pas le remords l'entendrait--


there is the very note of conscience done into speech, cast into form,
forged into substance.


Avec de l'équité condensée en airain.


But this couplet for immensity of imaginative range, is of one birth
with the sublimest verses in the Book of Job:--


Et toute l'épouvante éparse au ciel est sœur
De cet impénétrable et morne avertisseur.


From the magnificent overture to the second series, in which the poet
has embodied in audible and visible symbol the vision whence this book
was conceived--a vision so far surpassing the perhaps unconsciously
imitative inspiration of the Apocalypse, with its incurably lame and
arduously prosaic efforts to reproduce the effect or mimic the majesty
of earlier prophecies, that we are amazed if not scandalized to find
that book actually bracketed in one sublime passage of this prelude with
the greatest spiritual poem in the world, the Oresteia of Æschylus--the
reader would infer that any student wishing to give a notion of the
_Légende des Siècles_ ought to have dwelt less than I have done upon a
few of its innumerable beauties, and more than I have done upon the
impression of its incomparable grandeur. But samples of pure sweetness
and beauty are more easily and perhaps more profitably detached for
quotation from their context than samples of a sublimity which can only
be felt by full and appreciative study of an entire and perfect poem.
And it is rather from the prelude itself than from any possible
commentary on it that a thoughtful and careful reader will seek to
gather the aim and meaning of the book. It is there likened to a vast
disjointed ruin lit by gleams of light--"le reste effrayant de Babel"--a
palace and a charnel in one, built by doom for death to dwell in:--


Où se posent pourtant parfois, quand elles l'osent,
De la façon dont l'aile et le rayon se posent,
La liberté, lumière, et l'espérance, oiseau.


But over and within this book--


traduit
Du passé, du tombeau, du gouffre et de la nuit--


faith shines as a kindling torch, hope breathes as a quickening wind,
love burns as a cleansing fire. It is tragic, not with the hopeless
tragedy of Dante or the all but hopeless tragedy of Shakespeare. Whether
we can or cannot share the infinite hope and inviolable faith to which
the whole active and suffering life of the poet has borne such unbroken
and imperishable witness, we cannot in any case but recognize the
greatness and heroism of his love for mankind. As in the case of
Æschylus, it is the hunger and thirst after righteousness, the deep
desire for perfect justice in heaven as on earth, which would seem to
assure the prophet's inmost heart of its final triumph by the prevalence
of wisdom and of light over all claims and all pleas established or
asserted by the children of darkness, so in the case of Victor Hugo is
it the hunger and thirst after reconciliation, the love of loving
kindness, the master passion of mercy, which persists in hope and
insists on faith even in face of the hardest and darkest experience
through which a nation or a man can pass. When evil was most triumphant
throughout Europe, he put forth in a single book of verse, published
with strange difficulty against incredible impediments, such a protest
as would entitle him to say, in the very words he has given to the
Olympian of old--


Quand, dans le saint paean par les mondes chanté,
L'harmonie amoindrie avorte ou dégénère,
Je rends le rhythme aux cieux par un coup de tonnerre:


and now more than ever would the verses that follow befit the lips of
their author, if speaking in his own person:--


Mon crâne plein d'échos, plein de lueurs, plein d'yeux,
Est l'antre éblouissant du grand Pan radieux;
En me voyant on croit entendre le murmure
De la ville habitée et de la moisson mûre,
Le bruit du gouffre au chant de l'azur réuni,
L'onde sur l'océan, le vent dans l'infini,
Et le frémissement des deux ailes du cygne.


It is held unseemly to speak of the living as we speak of the dead; when
Victor Hugo has joined the company of his equals, but apparently not
till then, it will seem strange to regard the giver of all the gifts we
have received from him with less than love that deepens into worship,
than worship that brightens into love. Meantime it is only in the phrase
of one of his own kindred, poet and exile and prophet of a darker age
than his, that the last word should here be spoken of the man by whose
name our century will be known forever to all ages and nations that keep
any record or memory of what was highest and most memorable in the
spiritual history of the past:--


Onorate l'altissimo poeta.





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