صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

leaders, perhaps from the very pen of the author of “Napoleon le Petit," was boundless praise lavished upon the prince, declared to be “the choice of God and the choice of the people ;' ” a Cæsar destined to make France the queen of nations!" Only when it came to light that Louis Napoleon, chosen, had a native will which Louis Napoleon yet to be voted for, had suppressed, and that he would prove no puppet for Victor Hugo to manipulate, did the latter wheel about and compose that wretched calumny which lies between the covers of “Napoleon le Petit.”

Of late years, Victor Hugo has been regarded by frenzied disciples as the paragon republican of ancient and modern history. “The black bread of liberty we prefer,” he says, “ to the white bread of servitude," an exclamation worthy of the time of Leonidas. But M. Hugo can have but about that appreciation of the black bread of liberty which a blind man has of colors, since he has never known want, nor been otherwise than pecuniarily successful in his business with his publishers. His father, a general, made a count by his king, lived until the son was twenty-six, and before the latter was thirty he was accorded a pension of fifteen hundred francsequivalent to six hundred dollars of the present day—for his volume of Odes et Ballades ; and Charles X., at the author's personal solicitation, when about to marry, granted the poet a further annuity of fifteen hundred francs, no part of which did he ever look upon, so far as known by the imperial treasury clerks, as the repellant bread of servitude. The "Rappel" newspaper, originated in Paris under the recent law, which grants even license to the turbulent Gallic press, is the old “Evénement” revived, with the same editorial staff, the two Hugo sons, Charles and François Victor—who, with all the Hugo ebullition, have not a grain of their father's genius -a M. Vacquerie, and others. It signalizes itself among the journals of the capital by its gross personal attacks upon the emperor and his family, whilst it is boisterously red in its socialist proclivities. In case of a revolution, it stands ready to support Victor Hugo's claims to the presidency, short of which his partisans would not dare to proffer him ; for the author of Les Miserables is a declared and aspiring party chief.

M. Sainte-Beuve was never a politician, in the sense in which his overshadowing coeval has been and is. The senate was the goal of the critic's political ambition, and his political claims lay in a temperate but unswerving devotion to Louis Napoleon, at a critical moment, and in his contributions, expounding imperial policy, which long held place in the “Moniteur,” then the official journal of the empire. Nor was his devotion without sacrifice to himself; friends and connections he forsook in numbers when, in 1852, he came out as a champion of the new order of things. And few of the political writers of that eventful period, opposed to imperialism, who have not been probed and nettled by his caustic pen, though his fealty was not only never bought, but, to the last, was poorly requited by the government he Berved.

In 1853, he was appointed to inaugurate, at the college of France, the course of Latin poetry, which had been suspended years before. His favorite Virgil would, naturally, have formed a large feature in this labor, which was one of love as well as of honor and profit to him. But those modern Gracchi, those insatiable patriots, the students, had, as was afterwards demonstrated, something in their heads more pugnacious and aggressive than eclogues and bucolics. In M. Sainte-Bauve, as he then appeared, they pretended to see only the apostate of 1848-he whom they no longer loved-he, who with Armend Carrel, had been “to the foot of the Guillotine, to collect there the last words and testaments of the republican fathers," and who, nevertheless, had suffered himself to be decorated with a cross of the emperor's order, and on the fête day of Napoleon! The crowd was great, and when M. Sainte-Beuve, accompanied by M. Ampère, showed himself upon the platform, a storm of cries and whistlings of the most ominous description greeted them, during which the newly-made professor gravely unrolled his manuscript. He commenced reading, but the noise redoubled, and was now varied with choruses from the street songs then in vogue, and, as he persisted, finally the seats were torn from the floor and the doors were unhinged, with a menacing crash. “You dishonor the repu

1

tation of the youth of France," cried the indignant lecturer. "It is you who have dishonored the literature of France by your political conduct,” vociferated the republican students. “You have insulted me, and I withdraw,” rejoined SainteBeuve, mortified and astounded. “Which is precisely what we demand," was shouted in answer, and, in spite of the protestations of M. Ampère and others present, the grieved, and now unpopular professor abandoned his place, and relinquished at once what had been a coveted charge.

Four years later, however, he accepted the post of maitre des conférences at the normal school, where he was much liked and respected. Tardily, but finally, his bidding to Compiégne reached him; he went there, and quitted the emperor with joy in his heart, and the promise of his coming elevation, which made him senator in 1865. For nearly twelve years had he waited for this elevation, to which so many ordinary intellects have attained, sometimes almost without delay or effort. He was raised to it when it had become impossible to ignore his superior ability and augmented claims, and when it would have been shameful to refuse him. For this took place only when he was relatively wasted by a protracted and arduous life of unceasing occupation, and when, from sheer exhaustion, he was no longer at his apogee. The senate reached, and Sainte-Beuve's political ambition was compassed-once there, and his life, if still busied, was a perfect peace.

Of all the proserits of 1851 ; of all the notable opponents to Napoleon III. and his dynasty, whether legitimist; Orleanist, democrat, or rouge, no one, for a decade back, has made himself more conspicuous than the self banished bard at Guernsey. Necessarily his publications have contrbuted to that effect, and he meant they should; but his pompous letters and political communications, his flourished refusal to accept the emperor's amnesty for political offences, his receptions and vaunted asylum to mouthing tacticians who got scared away from home, his advertised charities, and the endless mutterings or warnings of the sage of Guernsey—in a word, his vast and constant attitudinizing has made of him one of the most consequential, if not the most dangerous, of the sworn and banded foes of the Bonaparte régime. Of a

Tel est mon

certain political church he is the god; and, inviolable as the kaiser or the pope, his followers bow to his fiat with shaking knees. His edicts are promulgated in superb language, it is true-brief, metallic, and oracular. One which was printed in the “Rappel" of the 15th October last, is a fair example. It related to an intended meeting, eleven days later, to protest against the non-convocation of the chamber, by the government—which protest would have been an incipient but unwise revolution. Abbreviated, it reads thus : “Personne, le 26 Octobre, ne doit descendre dans la rue.

Que le peuple s'abstienne et le chassepot est paralysé, etc., etc. conseil.

Un dernier mot : le jour ou je conseillerai une insurrection j'y serai. Mais cette fois je ne la conscille pas.Hugo.

His inconsistency may have been the cause which raised up doubters in the same sincerity as Victor Hugo, when they came to view his professions in the past by the light of some of his acts. A flatterer of royalty when his personal ends were gained, and Louis Napoleon's old and fond confederate, what wonder that not a few are skeptical of his thirsty democracy or his sonorous invective against the Bonapartes of the present day? What a reflecion upon his sagacity, in the minds of many, even of his republican friends, must have been his ostentatious patronage of a person like Rochefort ! A revolutionary scribbler whose calibre was measured by a squib; whose political theory sacrificed all principles to success, and who inspired a precious band, in which, unfortunately, are many like him — men avowedly. as unscrupulous as the editor of the scurrilous and extinguished “Lanterne.” Samples are they of that wild agrarian stamp which surges in demoniac masses from the depths of the earth, at the first tocsin of a Paris insurrection, and whose chiefs M. Griéroult of the “Opinion Nationale," and himself a democrat, denounces as "valtiguere," "scourges of democracy," and "would-be apers of Danton and Robespierre."* Such

* "There is nothing more unlike 1793 than 1869," are the words of the "Opinion Nationale." "The business of that epoch was to overthrow the feudal and catholic world; the work of the prosent day is to reconstruct ... and those who wish to ascertain the relative measures of the two undertakings, have only to compare the great destroyers of those days with their imitators of the present: Mirabeau and Danton - Rochefort and Vacquerre !" (one of the editors of the Rappel.)

is the party which the lion of Guernsey aims to lead, thereby exposing the weak punctilio of a selfish and thwarted ambition * in the choice of means to aid it. The brotherhood was in great number at the congress of Lausanne last September, where met in conclave the fire-brands of Europe, mostly of the socialist persuasion, and fitly selected Victor Hugo as their president. With childish gravity he urged his idea of a European United States — with Hugo chief magistrate, of course -- an idea born of his soaring genius and his inflated nonsense. On the other hand, the unblushing parsimony of the august hero of Guernsey, as concerns the solid fruits of his intellect — which was so publicly shown up and condemned at the announcement of l'Homme qui rit ; and the exorbitant price charged by the publishers, following the directions of the author — has given rise to a speculation as malicious as plausbile, touching the fiscal position of the poet-politician. The author-millionaire, it is averred, has nothing more damaging to the sale of his books to fear, than the destruction of the empire. The day of the establishment of the republic, it is clear that Victor Hugo would have to abandon his character of exile and emigré, and go home to France. There, it is doubtful whether he could ever again so well invest his poetical genius and histrionic patriotism, as he has of late years done at Guernsey. The bread of exile has been simply a gold mine for him; he has been told so by venomous detractors, who further pretend that, returned to France and freedom, he would be just as republican and social as ever, if it continued to be of the same importance to his purse.

For years, then, Hugo has been prominent as a party man, and the popular notion of his desires, if not his designs, is rarely contradicted. His wealth is considerable, and daily increasing; and he leads two lives at his comfortable mansion at Guernsey : the one of the admired author and constant student, represented by his publications; the other that of a political poseur -- & martyr of the stage, with an eye to compensation.

• He was candidate for president of France in 1848, but was forced to withdraw before Louis Napoleon.

« السابقةمتابعة »