« ПредишнаНапред »
If Achilles should issue from his tent and race madly about the field, going through his martial exercises in some wild maniacal fashion, yet now and then throwing his heavy spear with truest aim and marvellous power, we should look on with more of gravity than mirth. And some such impression is produced by this Titan amongst writers. There is no proposition so rash or monstrous that he fears to assert it; there is no word so harsh, rude, or grotesque that he will not use it. Sometimes this terrible rhetorician heaps word on word, adds name to name, till he leaves us stunned and senseless at the end of his lengthy paragraph. Sometimes he plays with the facts of history with all the petty dexterity of a conjuror, bringing them together from remote epochs for the sake of a little flash, a conceit, a contrast; as if the cloudcompelling Jove were to bring up his clouds from the north to the south merely to produce a faint electric spark. This man, as coarse as Swift, is as tricksy as Dumas. It would weary the most indefatigable critic to follow him through all his rhetorical offences. But then he is a Titan. You see that oak-he split it at one blow. After all the clang and discord and endless fugue of some distracted orchestra, there comes out a burst of music which reminds you of a chorus of Handel's.
It is to that foolish festival of the Tercentenary, of which we hope we shall hear nothing more, that we owe this book, or at least that we owe its dedication to England, and the precise form it has taken. It seems that the son of the author, M. François Victor Hugo, has translated, or is translating, into French the Dramas of Shakespeare; and the father prepared a preface, in which he discoursed of poetic genius in general, and that of Shakespeare in particular. Our "Grand National Festival" suggested the idea of publishing this preface-with some modifications, we presume-as a separate work, and laying it at the
feet of that magnificent statue to Shakespeare which was to be unveiled to the public on this auspicious day. "I dedicate," he says, "to England this 'glorification of her poet.'
He, too, has been scandalised that Shakspeare should have no monument in our streets or squares. The fact is undeniable. Throughout all the length of Cheapside, before the Exchange, or the Lord Mayor's, in Piccadilly, in Rotten Row, no statue of the poet !— no monument against which some fellow-poet might lean in reverence! -no statue to teach aspiring youth whose dramas they should read, whose plays they should run to see acted! Woeful deficiency! Mark how he mourns it! and how generously he congratulates us on having at length wiped this stigma from our brow.
"When one arrives in England, the first thing he looks for is the statue of Shakespeare. He finds the statue of Wellington.
Wellington is a general who gained a battle, with Chance for his partner.
"If you insist on seeing Shakespeare's statue, you are taken to a place called Westminster, where there are kingsa crowd of kings. There is also a corner called 'Poets' Corner.' There, in the shade of four or five magnificent monuments, where some royal nobodies shine in marble and bronze, is shown to you, on a small pedestal, a little figure, and under this little figure this name, 'WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.'
"In addition to this, statues everywhere. Everywhere, in every street, in every square, at every step, gigantic notes of admiration in the shape
of columns: a column to the Duke of York, which should, this one, take the form of a note of interrogation.
montory, there is a high column, similar At Guernsey, by the seaside, on a proto a lighthouse-almost a tower. Eschylus would have contented himself with For whom is this? For General Doyle. Who is General Doyle? A general. What has this general done? He has constructed roads. At his own expense? No; at the expense of the inhabitants. A column!'
If such is the fungus-growth of statues if any one who, dying, leaves a regret behind him, and two
or three busy, ostentatious friends who, by their importunities, are able to scrape together the necessary funds, can have a statue, why should we be very anxious to claim the corners of our streets, or the dust of our park, for an effigy of Shakespeare? Why must Shakespeare compete with General Doyle? By all means let General Doyle have his tower. He was, in some fashion, the beneficent genius of Guernsey. He did not, indeed, make its roads with his own money, nor with his own hands; but he made them, nevertheless, by his energy, perseverance, public spirit. A statue might be an honour to him; what could it be to Shakespeare?
Nothing at all, you say; but it will be an honour to ourselves. For our own sakes we ought to cultivate the feelings of reverence and admiration for the great intellects that have lived amongst us. This is true; and if raising statues is one means of cultivating such feelings of reverence and admiration, raise the statue. We doubt the efficacy of the means; but, at all events, raise the statue where it has some chance of inspiring rever
Build your temple to great men. Collect under its solemn roof all your great, all that have conspicuously helped to rear and nourish the mind of the nation. If a genuine national movement should arise, prompting honours to the dead for the sake of the living, for the sake of the present and future culture of England, it will not limit itself to one name, however great; it will, of necessity, from the very nature of the object proposed, embrace all that England has produced of eminence in poetry, science, or philosophy.
Victor Hugo, we may be sure, sees in the monument an honour which England pays to itself, not to Shakespeare. After describing an imaginary programme, in which the Commons, the Peers, and Queen Victoria, all take their several parts, he says, "It is honour
able for England, indifferent to Shakespeare.'
"A monument," he proceeds to say, is an example. The lofty head of a great man is a light. Crowds, like the waves, require beacons above them. is good that the passer-by should know there are great men. People may not have time to read; they are forced to stumble against the pedestal; they are see. People pass by that way, and
almost obliged to raise the head and to glance a little at the inscription. Men escape a book, they cannot escape the statue. One day, on the bridge of Rouen, before the beautiful statue due to David d'Angers, a peasant, mounted Pierre Corneille?' on an ass, said to me, 'Do you know Yes,' I replied. 'So do I,' he rejoined. And do you know the Cid?' I resumed. 'No,' said he. "To him Corneille was the statue."
An amusing anecdote, which does not, however, very happily illustrate the efficacy of teaching by statues. The peasant on his ass looked up at the statue, and made acquaintance with it, and knew Corneille quite satisfactorily. Corneille was to him that bronze or marble.
But England's disgrace is now at an end.
"At the very moment we finished writing the pages you have just read, was announced in London the formation of a committee for the solemn celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. This committee will dedicate to Shakespeare, on the 23d April 1864, a monument and a festival, which will surpass, we doubt not, the incomplete programme we have just sketched out. They will spare nothing. The act of admiration will be a striking one. Every confidence is due to the Jubilee Committee of Shakespeare-a committee composed of persons highly distinguished in the press, the peerage, literature, the stage, and the Church. Eminent men from all countries, representing intellect in France, in Germany, in Belgium, in Spain, in Italy, complete this committee, in all points of view excellent and competent. Another committee formed at Stratford-on-Avon seconds the London committee. We congratulate England."
The congratulation was a little premature. But pass we on to Victor Hugo's contribution to the "glorification" of our poet. It
opens with a brief sketch of the life of Shakespeare, which we shall be readily excused from following. Victor Hugo seizes hold of the few traditional incidents which make up what is popularly called the life of Shakespeare. Of the man's life we really know nothing. That these materials are not submitted to much critical investigation, may be judged from the following in
"Shakespeare's life was greatly embittered. He lived perpetually slighted; he states it himself. Shakespeare had permanently near him one envious person, Ben Jonson, an indifferent comic poet, whose début he assisted."
But the author soon quits Shakespeare to launch into general discussions upon men of genius, art and science, the aims of poetry, and the like, Shakespeare reappearing from time to time to receive his meed
of praise. There is no apparent method in the book. We might begin at the end, or in the middle, read the chapters in what order we pleased, we should not find the confusion increased, nor the effect diminished of those admirable passages we should occasionally stumble on.
Here is a novel theory of criticism
"Supreme art is the region of equals. "The chef-d'œuvre is adequate to the chef-d'œuvre.
"As water when heated to 100° C. is incapable of calorific increase, and can rise no higher, so human thought
attains in certain men its maximum intensity. Eschylus, Job, Phidias, Isaiah, St Paul, Juvenal, Dante, Michel Angelo, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven, with some others, mark the 100° of genius.
"The human mind has a summit.
You are a little surprised at the list presented to you of men of genius who have reached the summit, and sit each one on his own throne. You are told that there are men of genius of a secondary order ranging under these, Milton under Shakespeare, Horace under
Juvenal, Molière under Rabelais; and you ask why, if there are degrees of merit between Molière and Rabelais, there are none between Rabelais and Juvenal, or Juvenal and Eschylus? What is it that constitutes these men of the first line a separate class, so that they are unapproachable, and not open to comparison even amongst themselves? The answer is, They possess the Infinite! They have attained the Absolute! Many distinguished men, Sophocles, Plato, Virgil, and others that he names, have excellences of their own, and may be free from the apparent blemishes of these giants of the human race, but they have not the Infinite.
"What fails them? That which the others have
To reason against such infinite nonsense would be almost as absurd as to assert it. Some of our own writers are extremely fond of applying the word infinite to works of art. What they mean by it they have never taken the trouble to tell us. Perhaps they may gather a useful hint from the reductio ad absurdum which is here presented to them of their favourite mode of criticism. A sense of the infinite we can understand; but this belongs to the nature of the subject, and cannot be a test of the merit of the artist.
If a list were to be drawn up of the equal chiefs of literature, no two men would perhaps insert the same names in it; and certainly there is not another man living who would draw up the same list of these Infinites as Victor Hugo has done. Who but he would have picked out Juvenal from all the Romans, or Rabelais from all the Frenchmen? Who but he would have put these two on a line with Homer and Shakespeare? A curi
ous equity seems to have prevailed in the manifestations of these Infinites, since each modern nation has one, and only one. Germany, indeed, stands in a category apart. The Homer of Germany is Beethoven. The author of 'Faust,' it seems, is not thought so full or so exalted a representative of German literature as Rabelais is of French literature. We should have anticipated that Faust' would have won the sympathies and admiration of the author of 'Les Légendes.' Is it possible that a certain criticism which long ago issued from Weimar, and which was heard all over Europe, could have influenced him in this high office of filling the thrones of the Immortals? Further on there are some severe strictures on the impassive Goethe, as he is sometimes called, which might justify a passing suspicion of this kind. However that may be, he pronounces that "music is the verb of Germany;" an oracular sentence, which has at least all the mystery
proper to an oracle.
We must leave untouched the several panegyrics written on these fourteen sublimities which Victor Hugo has selected out of all literature, ancient and modern. We proceed to the chapters entitled Art and Science. Here the leading idea is indisputably true. A cry of anguish or of joy shall go down through all the generations of mankind; the poet of the earliest age will be intelligible to the poet of the latest. But the science of one age may be unintelligible or nonsensical to succeeding ages. Our author scorns the notion that poetry is extinct. It is as if one said, "There are no more roses; spring has breathed its last; the sun has lost the habit of rising; roam about all the fields of the earth, you will not find a butterfly; there is no more light in the moon, and the nightingale sings no more; the Alps and the Pyrenees are gone; there are no more lovely girls and handsome youths; and no one thinks any more of the graves, and the mother
no longer loves her child, and the human heart is dead." Not only poetry lives, but the poet is immortal; while the man of science who was an oracle in his own age, is thrown aside by that very advance of knowledge to which he himself perhaps contributed.
"We no longer teach" (we quote the following passage as an instance-and
one such instance will suffice-of that outrageous prolixity and pedantry which our author can sometimes be guilty of)
"we no longer teach the astronomy of Ptolemy, the geography of Strabo, the climatology of Cleostratus, the zoology of Pliny, the algebra of Diophantus, the medicine of Tribunus, the surgery of Ronsil, the dialectics of Sphærus, the myology of Steno, the uranology of Tatius, the stenography of Trimethius, the pisciculture of Sebastien de Medici, the arithmetic of Stifels, the geometry of Tartaglia, the chronology of Scaliger, the meteorology of Stoffler, the anatomy of Gassendi, the pathology of Fernel, the jurisprudence of Robert Barmne, the agriculture of Quesnay, the hydrography of Bouguer, the nautics of Bourde de Villehuet, the ballistics of Gribeauval, the veterinary practice of Garsault, the architectonics of Desgodets, the botany of Tournefort, the scholasticism of Abelard, the politics of Plato, the mechanics of Aristotle, the physics of Descartes, the theology of Stillingfleet: we taught yesterday, we teach to-day, we shall teach to-morrow, we shall teach for ever, the Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles.”
All these learned names and learned words to tell us that the knowledge of one age is not the knowledge of another! Gigantic prolixity! Does the reader wish an instance of that profound obscurity into which, we have said, our author also occasionally falls? we will take one from the same portion of the book. Here is something about the common origin of art and science. Profound obscurities are generally translatable, if translatable at all, into some bold commonplace. That may be the case in the present instance. But we will leave the passage to the ingenuity of our readers: "There can be but one law; the unity of law results from the unity of essence; nature and art are the two sides of the same fact." (The starting-point seems
clear and good; we prick up our ears to listen.) "And in principle, saving the restriction which we shall indicate very shortly, the law of one is the law of the other. The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence" (we begin to grow giddy). "All being equity in the moral order and equilibrium in the material order, all is equation in the intellectual order" (we lose consciousness, and the reader must peruse by himself what follows). "The binomial theorem, that marvel fitting everything, is included in poetry not less than in algebra. Nature plus humanity, raised to the second power, gives art. That is the intellectual binomial theorem. Now explain this, A+B, by the number special to each great artist and each great poet, and you will have, in its multiple, physiognomy, and in its strict total, each of the creations of the human mind. What more beautiful than the variety of chefsd'œuvre resulting from the unity of law! Poetry, like science, has an abstract root; science springs out of that, the chefs-d'œuvre of metal, wood, fire, or air, machine, ship, locomotive, aeroscaph; poetry springs out of that, the chefs d'œuvre of flesh and blood, 'Iliad,' 'Canticle of Canticles,' 'Romance,' 'Divine Comedy,' 'Macbeth.'
No great writer, we may remark en passant, whom we know anything of, seems to be so utterly destitute of the scientific spirit as Victor Hugo. From the relationship or contrast of art and science he proceeds to discourse of the generation of those great souls we distinguish as men of genius. Of course, in such a subject there is nothing to be done but to ask questions which no one can answer. But even in asking unanswerable questions there may be some method displayed. A man may, we know, discourse of souls and atoms very wildly, and yet pass for sane. Did any one, however, ever take such liberties with these obscure entities as Victor Hugo in the following passage ?—
"The production of souls is the secret of the unfathomable depth. The innate, what a shadow! (quelle ombre!) What is that concentration of the unknown which takes place in the darkness, and where abruptly bursts forth that light, a genius? What is the law of these events? O Love! The human heart does its work on earth, and that moves the great deep.
What is that incomprehensible meeting of material sublimation and moral sublimation in the atom, indivisible if looked at from life, incorruptible if looked at from death? The atom, what a marvel! No dimension, no extent, nor height, nor width, nor thickness, independent of every possible measure; and yet everything in this nothing! For algebra, the geometrical point. For philosophy, a soul. As a geometrical point, the basis of science; as a soul, the basis of faith. Such is the atomi."
As bearing probably on the origin of great souls, he points to such coincidences as these-that Newton was born in the same year in which Galileo died, that Cervantes and Shakespeare died in the same year; he points to these as coincidences to be studied, in the hope of attaining from them some scientific law. He speaks of " men of genius communicating by their effluvia like the stars." He is fond of this effluvia, but whether it is a scientific or poetic expression we will not undertake to say. The method of induction is no great favourite of his; he has more faith in meditation or reverie. Yes," he says, "let us meditate on these vast obscurities. The characteristic of reverie is, to gaze at darkness so intently that it brings light out of it."
After this investigation, or inquiry, about souls, Shakespeare again emerges on us, and we have a criticism on the poet. This criticism constitutes but a small portion of the work, and is not, we think, the most striking portion. chapters where he discourses generally upon genius, and where the author gives scope to his eloquence on the general subject of the progress of mankind, are those to which we should look for specimens of his happier vein. But there is an ardent and generous admiration in this part of the book which pleases, even though it may be excessive and indiscriminating. Accept all! accept this great mind of Shakespeare!-it is " an ocean!" it is " world!" Good. But if one knows that a world must have all sorts of disagreeable as well as agreeable