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That utter melody within the heart !
(A horn sounds in the distance.) -Ha! my wish is granted !” [Act 5, scene 3. The last dramatic production of M. Hugo, “Les Burgraves," contains no small share of the monstrous exaggeration and absurdity that disfigure his other works, while it is redeemed from mediocrity by a certain grandeur of design, and boldness in the coloring, such as show the conception of a powerful artist.—The scene is laid on the borders of the Rhine ; a region fruitful no less in tale and legend than in mighty historical recollections ; a land which, says M. Hugo, is to the modern poet what Thessaly was to Æschylus. There, as on the ancient battle-field, all is desolation, bearing the traces of a fierce and devastating war; every rock is a fortress, every fortress a ruin. “Extermination has been there; but the grandeur of the destruction proclaims the colossal nature of the conflict. There, six ages ago, other Titans struggled against another Jupiter. These Titans were the burgraves; this Jupiter the Emperor of Germany."
Our poet has passed much time among these storied scenes, as we learn from his prose work entitled “Le Rhin.” He lived much more with the remains of the past, than with the men of the present. Every day he explored the ruins of some ancient edifice. Sometimes it was in the morning that he climbed the mountain, crushing the brambles under his feet; and, parting with his hand the close clinging ivy, scaled the fragments of mouldering wall. Solitary, pensive, forgetful of himself, seated on the moss yet damp with dews, he would measure some arch or decipher some old inscription, while the birds sang to the newly risen sun, and the foliage over his head, shaken by the breeze, rained down blossoms upon him. Sometimes, at evening, when twilight rendered less distinct the outline of the hills, and gave the Rhine the cold whiteness of steel, our traveller took the mountain path, and by a staircase of lava and gray slate, clambered up to the dismantled burg. There, still more lonely, for not even a goatherd would linger after dusk in those places rendered fearful by superstition, he would abandon himself to that contemplative melancholy cherished in the heart when evening finds us on some desert height, between the stars of God that burn above, and the feeble lights of man that twinkle in cottages below. Sometimes
midnight sounding from the bells in the valley, has found him still there, wandering among the solitudes of nature, or through the roofless corridors, listening to the moaning of the wind, or fancying in the moonlight or the darkness, the spectral forms told of in many a legend. Searching thus into the lore of past ages, it could not be but that he should learn something to nourish the imagination of a poet. The phantoms of those old, kingly giants, appeared to bim. From the castles on the summits of the mountains, his meditations passed to the lords of those once stately abodes. The burgs of the Rhine brought to recollection the burgraves,—those great nobles, invincible in their courage, their warlike equipments, their impregnable fortresses,
"In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries," says Kohlrausch, “the rank of a burgrave was but just below that of a monarch” Victor Hugo has endeavored, in the drama before us, to re-construct one of these castles, where the burgrave princes lived in almost royal state; “10 show what every burg contained—a fortress, a palace, a dungeon;" to place there, at the same time, four successive generations from grandsire to grandson; and to show the lurking vice in the breast of each, subdued or punished by natural instincts. He says he has aimed to represent not only national character, but nature and humanity; and to illustrate in his story not only the struggles of a memorable contest, but the development of successive periods in the history of man. And, setting aside the improbabilities that deprive the story of vraisemblance, there is much grandeur in the conception of this piece. The chief character-.Job le Maudit-a man who has lived through all the fierce passions of the human heart, and passed, as it were, beyond them; standing on the utmost verge of the grave, and looking, through his incurable melancholy, on all that ambition offers to man, till he loathes the view, and turns away with the cravings of his soul unsatisfied,—is a solemn and powerful creation. The iron will of the burgrave has not bent to fate; he voluntarily strips himself of power. The eye-sight of his spirit has been sharpened by keen suffering; and his range of vision is so much more extensive than those around him, that the objects for which they strive appear to him insignificant. l'hat the change in his feelings is not wrought by the weakness of old age, is evident from the control he still exercises over his descendants. They obey him not only from a habit of
submission, but from the instinct of inferior will and intellect.
The story is somewhat difficult to apprehend in the first scenes. Duke Frederic of Swabia had a natural son, who inherited from his mother a burg near the Rhine, a castle of great strength, a nid d'aigle, admirably situated for the purposes of a fortress. This burgrave was ignorant of the rank of his father, whom he knew by the name of Otho. To him the Duke confided his young brother, Frederic Barbarossa, under a feigned name, merely revealing the fact that the boy was his brother. The child himself was ignorant of his own birth. Young Barbarossa grew up in this safe asylum, under the protection of the burgrave, to the age of twenty. One morning the pâtres found in a stream that passed by the castle walls two bodies, naked and bloody, but still retaining trace of life. They had been stabbed within the burg, and thrown out at night. These were Barbarossa and Sfrondati, his father's squire, who had been placed with him by the Duke, and alone knew the secret of his birth. Both recovered from their wounds; and Sfrondati conducted the youth to his father, who, anxious to prevent the affair from being noised abroad, rewarded the faithful esquire with imprisonment. On his death-bed, the Duke caused his son to take an oath upon the crucifix, never to reveal himself to the brother who had attempted his life, till that brother should be an hundred years old. The Duke believed the secret safe guarded by such an improbability ; so that the burgrave, according to the natural course of events, would die without knowing the rank of his father or brother. The cause of the attempted murder was sufficiently commonplace ;—both the brothers loved one woman; the eldest believed himself betrayed, and in a fit of jealousy stabbed the other, with his companion, and sold the girl as a slave to some bandit bound for Rome. All this it is necessary to know before the drama commences; and Teudon, a slave, relates it as a piece of information derived from Sfrondati, whom he accidentally saw at Prague many years before, confined as a lunatic. His memory, clouded by suffering, could not retain the name of the burgrave, nor that of the unfortunate girl, nor the time or place of the tragical event. The strange tale has gone abroad, but is treated as a fable. Another slave, Kunz, supplies the names from his recollection ; Barbarossa was called Donato, his brother Fosco;
while the woman's name was Ginevra. The bastard had left his burg and mountain to wander in foreign lands, returning after the lapse of many years. Meanwhile, the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, in vengeance for his injuries and the loss of his love, has maintained war with the burgraves, assailing their fastnesses, razing their castles, destroying their power, for thirty years. In one of these struggles, the Emperor, fighting with a bandit, had his right arm burned severely by a blow with a bar of hot iron,—and said to the Count d'Aran, “I will have him paid, friend, by the headsman !" The bandit, however, escaped.
The year 1220 is predicted to be a fatal year for Germany. The country is full of disturbances; the empire is crumbling. Frederic Barbarossa is universally supposed to have been drowned in the Cydnus; the land is without a sovereign, and torn by contending factions. The borders of the Rhine are beset with robbers. A few of the superstitious cling to a prediction, said to have been uttered at the birth of Frederic, "that he should twice be believed dead, and twice return to life,” and continue to hope for his re-appearance. It is at this period that the play opens.
The burgraves and nobles hold revel in the old burg of Heppenheff. One of the guests, but one who mingles not with the rest, is Regina, comtesse of the Rhine, betrothed to Marquis Hatto, the
grandson of Job. She loves, and is beloved by Otbert, but is fast sinking to the grave under a malady supposed to be incurable. Her gentle resignation in view of approaching death, and the despair of Otbert, are touchingly portrayed in the first scene between them. Guanhumara, an old female slave, who is reported to have wrought miracles of healing, promises to restore her to life, on condition that Othert will swear to kill some unknown person whom she will point out to him. The young man takes the prescribed oath, and she gives him a phial with the healing liquid.
The next scene introduces the burgraves and their guests, and their ferocity even in the midst of festivity, is displayed in a masterly picture. Fierce words and reproaches are interchanged for the slightest cause of dispute between father and son; they are indeed a brood of tigers, ruled over, in spite of themselves, by the old lion their ancestor, Job le Maudit. A mendicant asks hospitality; the burgraves object; Job silences them, and calls to mind the hospitality of
his youthful days,—when the revelry was still more magni-
Whoe'er thou art, hást thou not heard men say
VOL. VI.-NO. 11.