« السابقةمتابعة »
ment is colored for effect. Doubtless it is to his verses and his plays that M. Hugo owes his literary pre-eminence; still, as a poet and a playwright, we have no need nor intention to discuss him here, since his prose alone concerns us in this paper. His characteristic features, as found in his novels and other works, are so salient and striking, that a few of the commoner ones, we think all will allow, require little trained or refined sagacity in order to appreciate them. His “Napoléon le Petit,” is a weak and unworthy production from so great a hand — wild denunciation, false prophecy, and a leaden dag- · ger were aimed to stab with sarcasm or the author's scorn. Incorrect in its details of the 2d of December, 1851,* its reckless spite at men and things keeps pace with its inexactitude. In most of the other narrations of Hugo, his partiality for the tragic, the melo-dramatic, or even the shocking in life and nature is perceptible. “Notre Dame de Paris," "Les Misérables," "Les Travailleurs de la Mer,” “L'Homme qui rit,” abound in emotional, gorgeous, or horrible incident; albeit many of his former readers have, at present, a much diminished admiration for sensational and fantastic writing. For them the milder and more strictly historical, though likewise dramatic quality of the elder Dumas, may prove monotonous; Sue is sometimes positively silly, and both are apt to cloy, whilst the individual philosophy of Victor Hugo, as preached in numberless pages of “Les Misérables, or “Les Travailleurs,” is heavy in the extreme for everybody. As the schemes and situations of his fictions are depicted with high art and great impressiveness, so is his peculiar theorizing developed with power and vivid illustration, though he seems to care little to persuade. The result is that with all his imperious prolixity, he gains few converts to the right as against the wrong which he decrees, even among those who devour his thrilling romances with wonder and delight. Taking, then, his prose works to compare them with the prose productions of Sainte-Beuve, which is the only means of approaching the semblance of a plane, would be like comparing a huge man-of-war, with her portentous
The writer of this article was an eye-witness of events Hugo pretends to narrate during that eventful day of the coup d'eiat.
sides and bristling armament, to a pleasure yacht, with its fragile grace and rakish, yet peaceful fashion.
Both are ships, as both Hugo and Sainte-Beuve are writers. Meyerbeer's “ Prophète,” abounding, as it does, in the grandest music, and in palpitating and gorgeous display, and “Le premier jour du Bonheur,” of Aubert, which wins by its gentle harmony, and dapper and more tender charm, ought not to be forced to a common test. Yet some such contrast is thrust upon one by the references to, and regrets for his quarrel and known dislike of Hugo - as of dimming consequence to his else brighter mark in letters — in the various obituaries the critic encountered in the Paris press. Far be it from us, to attempt to depreciate the literary renown and empire of Victor Hugo, whose vast originality as a delineator of graphic plots and weird studies and fancies, and whose cunning marvels in verse we, quite possibly, have not the spring and rebound of nerve needful to span or properly investigate. We seek, rather, humbly to state our mind that the broad, and often sombre genius of the poet, playwright, romancer, and political conspiritor all combined, when flaunted forth by jealous enthusiasts as a sort of smothering pall, to stifle and conceal the less muscular talent of SainteBeuve, only serves as a background, after all, to bring more distinctly into view the subtle, yet sinewy prowess and radient qualities of the author, the artist, and the judge.
If he who wrote the “Tableau de la Poesie Francaise,” and “La Vie de J. Delorme" at the age of twenty-four or five, was then but " & stove into which Victor Hugo put the wood,” as Madame de Girardin so maliciously declared, in 1844, when forty-five years of age, the author of “Portraits Littéraires” has lighted, from fuel of his own furnishing, a fire of popular enthusiasm in his behalf, which, followed by the “Causeries de Lundi” (1851-57), when he was fiftythree, grew to be a blaze by the glare of which Hugo, the *superior, might have read a new version of his "Moise," and some other minor pieces, even so far away as Germany. In,
1840 was commenced the “Histoire de Port-Royal”—which · is ecclesiastical chronicles of that Jansenist faith, whose
votaries have mostly faded away (except, perhaps, in a few
Dutch villages) though the Jansenist theology once ranked a genius like that of Pascal among its upholders, and agitated educated France. This was first delivered as lectures at Lausanne, in Switzerland, and the work was only finished in 1862. In 1845, his “Portraits Contemporaires " was issued, and they have lately been translated and published in this country ; but must be read in connection with his “ Causeries” to reach a fair estimation of the gifts and versatility of Sainte-Beuve. There is a tender grace which especially pervades his composition in the “Portraits,” and this, with his finesse, appears to form a first and natural impulse, hardly betokening that keen, but ever courteous raillery oftener perceptible in the “ Causeries.” This latter, thoughı a virile power of the author, was one less exercised by him, whilst that genial refinement, which he seems most to delight in, gleams through one and the other of these works,
Not only for Victor Hugo did Sainte-Beuve lack sympathy. To a far greater man he has denied the superior merit now generally allotted to him at home. That skilled teacher in mental vivisection, the author of the Comédie Humaine, never forgot certain sharp, it may be unreasonable, strictures passed by Sainte-Beuve upon his earlier writings. Balzac's dislike for him was reciprocated by Sainte-Beuve. It was Balzac who, in the Revue Parisienne, in 1842, pointed out the blunder of Sainte-Beuve who, in his Histoire de Port-Royal, made Corneille and Chevreau dine together at Port-Royal, instead of the Palais Royal; an error of singular absurdity, which, Balzac declared, merited for him who made it, the Sainte-Bévue of Madame d’Abrantès.
But it seems to us that we can hardly be surprised that Sainte-Beuve was not impelled by an intuitive predilection for one who had conceived the “ Historie des Treize," "Ou ménent les mauvaise Chemins,” “Une Ténébreuse Affaire,” and other gloomy or painful chapters from his tale of our every-day existence. The shocks of ignorant superstition, the dismal in vice, or the harsh in life, no matter how extraordinary, or lamentable, or true, had never intense attraction for him who preferred, and the more so as he grew older, the contemplation of what was sunny, and mild, and
gracious -- the fairer side of nature. Anarchy in the streets, and the freaks of that bloody jade, called liberty by the French, he hated as he did mental anarchy, the Philistine mind and the barbarism of a spurious literature. His principal works proclaim this, as well as his earnestness, his sincerity, and his self-respect. His nice and appreciative mind certainly denoted the feminine instinct, and with the facts of his gossiping curiosity, his passion for elegant and airy composition, his great attention to detail, and marked preference for the society of women, earned for him at one time, among his contemporaries, the appellation of Saur SainteBeuve. The brune and the blonde in turn had each been sovereign in the poet's heart, and “'Est ce qu'on choisit quand on aime?” he once replied to a noble dame, who marvelled at such poor discrimination in his selections.
For the same reason, as specified, probably, most of Hugo's literature especially the prose, was even more distasteful to the fastidious critic, than that of Balzac, as it is not redeemed by that varied and unstrained wisdom, nor qualified by that fascination of analysis, which is so truthful, so rarely uncouth, and so instructive in the “Comédie Humaine.” It ought also to be said, that the simpler beauties of “Modeste Mignon,” and such precious and accomplished hints upon matters of art, as are contained in “Cousin Pons,” and other tales, had modified, in the latter years of his life, Sainte-Beuve's first notion of the author's talent, so that he ceased to murmur when the genius of Balzac was asserted and admired.
Besides those of his works already referred to, SainteBeuve published his “Panseés d'Aout,” in verse, in 1837; "Portraits de Femmes,” in 1814, and an “Etude sur Virgil," in 1857, which, with his “Nouveaux Lundis," 1861–65, his contributions to the “Dictionaire de la Conversation," to the
“Athenæum Français,” his unfinished study of Prudhon, and numberless prefaces and essays, comprise the bulk of his literary labor. His poetry was finished and penetrating, but not remarkable ; his “Etude sur Virgil ” was considered worthy of his reputation as a classical scholar, but his master-pieces, as before said, are his “Portraits" and
his “Causeries.” In these are to be found the elements of the writer's sentiment and sway; his fine apprehension of the pains and joys of the heart, and his witty wisdom of the world, and all are sketched with a deft and chaste use of the French language peculiar to him, erst the poet and novelist who sat in Madame Récamier's salon as one of those chosen by the author, to listen to, and pronounce upon the manuscript of Châteaubriand's autobiography. “An Aristippus,” says an ardent English enlogist,“ minus the vices of that disciple of Socrates, who has criticised almost every great name in European letters, ancient and modern, with scrupulous attention, delicacy, acuteness, etc., etc.
We know absolutely nothing of such criticism in England!”
Buloz, who was intimate with Sainte-Beuve, said of him : “ C'est un mouton enragé : la rancune l'étouffe et il n'a pas la force de la vengeance,” and we have already alluded to his dictating vanity. This latter was, however, spasmodic, and confined chiefly to his efforts in consolidating and simplifying the critic's place and art, and to his literary dictum. If not an nniversally popular man, Sainte-Beuve was certainly not soured like Balzac, nor irascible like Hugo. The preoccupation of the last ten years of his life was the senate, or his place there, which did not give scope for much political hate or strife or unneighborly practice. In religion he was called a Jansenist, un libre penseur; but by conviction, not from flippant or fashionable unbelief, for in “La vic de Delorme he speaks of his scruples at that early age, about entering a catholic church. Cousin, Erefantin, Lammenais, Lacordaire, were at different times the companions of his studies, and by many intimate with him, were declared to be but guides and fellow-travellers in his adventurous journeys after the new and marvellous. "In all my explorations,” he says, “I have never surrendered my will nor my judgment. Mon désir de tout regarder de près m'entraîna à cette série d'expériences qui n'ont été pour moi, qu'un cours de physiologie morale.” In another place, alluding to the same subject, he is reported to have said : “En un mot, j'ai observé curieusement et d'aussi près que possible l'intérieure de toutes les souricièries, mais je ne suis entré dans aucune. On ne m'a jamais