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On voit (c'est un beau tort) que le commun le blesse
que ce faux tant blâmé;
Saurez-vous comme moi comprendre sa douceur ? Whatever reply M. Guttinger’s Lady Presentee might be able to give to this note of interrogation, we, poor strangers and foreigners, may be forgiven our inability to comprehend, or apprehend, or “take in,” as the Sonneteer
all the sweetness of Voiture's verse. But we can respect the homage here paid to the old versifier-and accept it as a favourable commentary on Voiture's good points, which it presents to the best advantage, not without some artificial couleur de rose : it pardons him for being sometimes starched and finical, because he is “always noble”—it is thankful for a “mounted brilliant” of his, after so much that is crude, unlicked, cubbish, and pseudo-natural in modern literature—it even admires his impatience of common diction and every-day style, in treating of such a thing as Love-it contends that for him the unreal style he affected was a real thing (“ true for you,” as the Irishman says),--and while claiming for him the merit of having penned verses full of tender feeling, it avows the Sonneteer's conviction that had he been a woman he should have loved Voiture. In which enthusiasm we shall be incapable of sharing, until Voiture be shown to have written far better verses, and to have been a much more lovable man, than any extant evidence
And yet supposing oneself a woman, a Frenchwoman too, of the seventeenth century,—what guarantee dare one give, in that case, against getting to be in love with Voiture, or anything else freakish and unaccountable ? At any rate, all hypotheses apart, that badin et charmant personage had his female adorers.
was adored once,” saith Sir Andrew Aguecheek, as tall a man as any in Illyria. Voiture had adorers more almost than he could reckon on his fingers ; admirers of both sexes more than he might compute by the hairs of his head.
To understand something of the true kind and degree of his influence, we ought to have seen him in his element at the Hôtel de Rambouillet.
There he sits, among dukes and duchesses, himself the observed of all observers, though not at all the glass of fashion or the mould of form. He jests placidly, and there is an elegant rustle of approbation. He utters some bantering conceit, and is rewarded by the simper of a marquisate, the smiles of a duchy. He makes up or dresses up a story, and a genteel buzz of interest pervades the assembly. There we see him, quite at his ease, and all in his glory. He chats respectfully with the noble hostess, whom alone, of that illustrious circle, it is his habit to spare ; for even Voiture, and Tallemant even, were disarmed of their malice by a being so excellent as Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet. He addresses fanciful compliments to the daughters of
the house, who, under their mother's auspices, share in its managementthe benign Julie d'Angennes and her more exacting, less accommodating sister, Angélique. He rallies Mlle. Paulet on her list of conquests, begun with her teens, and multiplying and intensifying exceedingly as she grew up. He utters magniloquent and looks unutterable things at Mme. de Sablé, with whom he affects an “equivocal familiarity” in public, and is not publicly put down parce qu'on passait beaucoup à Voiture. With the Duc de Montausier, whom Cotin and Ménage declared to be the original of Molière's Alceste, and who eventually married Julie d'Angennes, he discourses of love and war, the “Garland of Julia," and the tactics of Turenne. With Gombauld his talk is of madrigal, and epigram, and ode. He bandies repartees with Julie's pet bishop, little Godeau, grand évêque de Grasse, and his grave-and-gay soldier-friend, Arnauld de Corbeville, whom Mme. de Rambouillet called her “poëte carabin ou son carabin poëte," and whose facility in verse-making she often turned to use. Chapelain is proud to exchange compliments with Voiture ; Conrart is eager to discuss with him the last séance of the Academy ; minor magnates are glad to be on bowing terms with him, and await his next mot with the patience of justifying faith—faith that it will come, in due time, and be worth waiting for, and worth repeating out of doors. Why would he not print and publish his good things ? why not do himself the justice of enshrining in immortal volumes these otherwise perishable treasures ? The prestige of Voiture's name was yet in its prime when Pellisson, in his History of the Academy (composed three or four years after Voiture's decease), inserted a jeu d'esprit of his, apropos of that amusing dispute which arose at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, as to whether we ought to say muscardins or muscadins, the Academy deciding in favour of the latter”-to which dispute Pellisson alludes, only, he
says, because "it serves to explain a raillerie made by M. de Voiture against those who were for saying muscardins, and which has not been printed.” This “ hitherto unprinted” fragment, relique, posthumous tid-bit, was hailed with acclamation, we warrant, by an admiring France.
It is a pleasant specimen of Voiture in his sprightly mood, and may be here quoted to illustrate the manner of the man, as well as the sort of questions ventilated by the Rambouillet wits, and pronounced upon in solemn conclave by the French Academy :
Au siècle des vieux palardins,
THE SEXTON'S BROTHER.
It was bitter cold; the spider was frozen in his web, and the bird glued to the ivy-bough.
dead were frozen in their shrouds. Well, they didn't care for that at the Duke of Marlborough's, on New Year's-ere, 1760, not they. Still the wind over snow sounds drearily even to those who sit round a fire, and though logs blaze in a glow of crimson, against which the still unconsumed fragments stand out dark and sharp, like the black roof-tree of a burning house, when a single flake of snow finds its way through smoke and Aame, and hisses in the little fiery gulf below, it does make one shudder at the death and desolation without.
How the drifts are piling up over the gravestones in the quiet churchyard, and up-darkening the old kings of the painted window, and substituting a poor pale shadow for their crimson sunset stain that loves to linger all the noon long about the half-defaced brass of the De Tracys in the chancel, like a memory of blood shed long ago, or like those dusky spots that blot the boards of the long corridor of the Moat House.
The moon upon snow, good lack, is a dreary sight, but there wasn't even that to-night; and if there did linger a star or two you couldn't well see them till you looked about; and they didn't light the night, for it was the glimmer of the snow, that even in the darkest places, in thick coverts, and under matted trees, cast a pale reflexion on all surrounding things. 'Twas Nature in her grave-clothes, so the village crones said, and laughed; for even life, and hope, and infancy, reminded them only of the grave, how much more, then, this very ghastly image of the face of death!
And the wind drifted the snow as it rose slowly and silently as the waters of a new deluge over the prints of man and bird, twisting up in white columns like smoke when the north wind caught up a handful and cast it away with a howling laugh as his deadly gift to man. For the snow, though beautiful and fair, and of the very colour of the May blossoms, brings suffering and death to man; though it shelter the bud, pile warm over the flower, and hastens on the spring, it slays the shepherd in the fold and the watchman in his sheltered nook. It smiles and slays; the angel of the snow is passionless and cruel, mocking at prayer, for she is the youngest daughter of winter and the white death. And up through the snow-for foul things will float up-peered still the dead things of autumn, the withered reeds and the last leaves red and brown.
It drew colder towards midnight, and the very owl was chilled deep in the sheltering ivy, the sleeper's breath froze upon the cottage pane, the child awoko crying, and the weary peasant tossed restless in a dream of men lost in snow gullies, and buried where they fell by the snow that slew them. The dog howled in the kennel, and the cock crew from his perch, awoke by the light of the snow, rather wishing than believing it were the dawn. The deep footprints round the village forge, where the idlers had
crowded at nightfall to warm themselves at the sight of the ascending blaze, to rejoice in the roar of the bellows, or to wonder at the perpetual firework of the sparks, and crimson their blue faces in the warm light, grew fainter, and still the snow fell on, as if it would never cease till it had buried the world. There was still one uncovered track, and that led to the village inn. There, round the kitchen fire, sat the dignitaries of the village: the tailor, a thin, wizened fellow, you may know him by the needle and thread stuck in his coat-sleeve, and who is warming his lantern jaws over the steam of a pot of buttered ale, and at present examining with a curious eye the deep cuff of the landlord's coat, which he pro claims “ very curiously cut, and undoubtedly the work of a man of parts." By his side sits the blacksmith, who, having just probed the fire, from the mere habit acquired in the stithy, is eyeing the poker enviously, with a look which seems to say, “If that's your cast-irou work, I could beat out better with my old hammer.” Then there are half a dozen farmers looming red through smoke-clouds; and, not to be looked if you wished, the landlord, a perfect butt, both as to size, shape, and capacity for holding liquor, with a face as red as a London sun in a fog.
Just opposite his old high-backed seat of honour are the sexton and the schoolmaster, engaged in a controversy, which, having long existed in whispers, has at last risen above and silenced all the smaller circles of conversation, and merged all into one. Both are lean, cadaverous-looking men; but the sexton, being dressed in a faded black coat of the minister's, who has gone home about an hour, looks more angular and bony than the schoolmaster, who rejoices in an old brocade waistcoat of the squire's, glowing with a twining mass of faded roses as big as cabbages; very gorgeous for the dog-days, but, to say the least, somewhat chilling in cold December.
“I tell thee what," said the schoolmaster, angrily, for a man of his dignity, and the more angrily as he had just burnt his little finger in attempting to use it as a tobacco-stopper, “ the story is a flat remnant of paganism and heathendom, and I'll never believe it. I say again, gentlemen, does it sound like Christianity?”
“ Yes, yes,” said the sexton, a waspish little man with a malicious mouth and hard-lined features, looking snappishly round at those he addressed, “it is so as sure as the Pope's in Rome.”
“ Is what true?” said the landlord, suddenly roused from a reverie which had some affinity to sleep. “What is it that makes gossips quarrel over good ale, that should be the very milk of human kindness ? Adzooks! let's have no schism here." Why, why, Master Nicholas, who believes that the white rose flowers
and a lot more stuff that King George should know of, will not credit me when I tell him that I-I, Griffin Denner, parish sexton, saw this night three years, with mine own eyes, a light playing rovud the coffin-plate of old Sir Robert Fortrose—such a light that I could read the pame by--and when I said a charm, and muttered the Lord's Prayer backwards, it disappeared and left the vault in darkness. Haven't I heard my grandmother say a thousand times, that when the old baronet was buried they found his body the next night thrown out of the grave, and lying stiff and stark in his grave-clothes at the grave's edge, with his teeth set just as if he died in pain, yet he went off in a sleep, the waiting
under the snow,
woman told me. Say what you like, there's a curse gone out 'gainst the family—there's a curse gone out 'gainst the family."
“ Poh!” said the schoolmaster, “nought but that curse we all suffer from-poverty."
“ And a bitter curse it is,” said one who had not before spoken-a morose-looking man, the brother of the sexton, and who lived with him as a poor dependent, having been, if report said true, a highwayman till a chance shot from some traveller's pistol lamed him for life; "and there's only one greater, and that's riches, though I should be glad to bear it.” And he laughed savagely, rousing himself for a moment from a now habitual manner of crawling and hypocritical servility.
“ We sell everything in this age-our own lives and our daughters' virtue. 'Tis the first thought of the son by the bed of his dying father, and makes him bear the loss with resignation.” And as the man spoke, such a fiendish sneer distorted his features that those who saw him shuddered. "With money, a leper's life,” he continued," though his brain be seared with fever and his hands be red with blood; but without it man is but a thing fit to chain up as you would a bull-dog to snap at beggars and tear thieves, and to feed with the broken scraps that you cannot eat.”
“ Hold thy tongue,” said the sexton, with the air of an offended superior. "A man of good parts need never want ample food and a comfortable home while a relation or a friend lives.”
“The leavings of plates that the dogs reject, and the scanty crumbs of a miser's table, are always to be had.”
“ Robert, Robert !" said the sexton, “thou knowest that I keep from thee nought, for we all know that 'tis of thyself thou speakest. "I will not bear this ingratitude, this passionate humour, from one whom my own hands feed. Thou knowest I am poor and old, and yet I toil willingly on, and divide my pittance with thee. A few nights' less carding, an honest life, and thou wouldst have been rich and free, sound in body, pure in mind, and clean of hand.”
“ And who art thou, miserable carcase robber," said the cripple, as he limped violently from his seat, throwing down the table and scalding the thin tailor with a jug of mulled ale, advancing as if he would lift his hand against the grey head of his brother, “to talk of clean hands and pure life? filcher of rings from corpses' fingers, pilferer of grave linen, profaner of the peace of death!" Then suddenly, as if checking his paroxysm of rage by a sudden spasm, he lifted his fallen chair from the ground, and held out his hand to his brother. “ I cannot help this violence of temper; but forgive me, William, for I have done you wrong.”
Without a word the sexton held out the proffered hand, and shook it warmly.
" It wants but five minutes to midnight,” he said, after a short pause; “and, brother, we must to the belfry to ring the year in with the Fortrose knell, so make ready.”
And in a few minutes of reluctant lingering the two brothers, so quickly reconciled, rose and left the room.
“Say what you like," said the landlord, looking up after a long interval of thought, “I don't like that brother of Denner's, and as sure as I live he'll make a bad end of it. If he doesn't stretch a rope some time or another may I never score a pint of ale again."