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ravishing melody. The crowd increases, and is joined by the rich and the noble, until the vicinage is thronged with people of all descriptions and stations, and even kings and emperors are pleased to mingle with the others, and to shower praises and presents upon the unpretending musician. The delight which all feel and exhibit proves that in the innate feelings of the heart the whole world are of kin.
It was not until he had reached middle life that Béranger gained the title of poet. For this recognition of his just claims he acknowledges himself first indebted to the Edinburgh Review. In France, previous to Béranger's day, a songwriter was not reckoned as a poet; but it is his proud distinction that his genius changed all that.
Béranger loved his fellows, and it was this love that fitted him to appreciate them, and in his turn to be appreciated by them. The service he has rendered to humanity has been very great. He was not a reformer, as that term is usually applied. He did not attempt to give the people new light, but to make them respect what was in them. His standard of morals was not on the plane with ours, but we must take into account, in our estimate of him, the influence of the circumstances in which he was placed.
Pierre-Jean de Béranger was born at Paris, in 1780. Regarding the use of the feudal particle de, he seems to think it necessary to make many apologies. In his autobiography he tells us that it was bestowed upon him by his father, who claimed noble descent,* and that he did not use it until some bad verses signed M. Bérenger had been attributed to him, when he adopted the particle as a measure of self-defence.
His father, at the time of marriage, was book-keeper to a grocer; his mother followed the trade of modiste. At the house of his maternal grandfather, a tailor, “in one of the dirtiest quarters of Paris," was the poet born. Neither of his parents appears to have paid much attention to him in his early years, or to have done much for him. For his mother he could not have had much affection, and he says of her, "Buffon a dit que les garçons tiennent de leur mère. Jamais enfant
#" Je dois dire, pour sa justification, que c'était la manie des chefs de la famille.”—Ma Biographie, p. 13.
n'a moins ressemblé que moi à la mienne, au moral comme au physique.”* The two spouses separated after six months of not very pleasant matrimonial life. The yet unfledged songster remained until the age of nine years in the care of his grandfather. He was sent to school in the Faubourg St. Antoine, and from the roof he witnessed the taking of the Bastile, which event, he declares, embraced almost all the instruction he received there. He was fortunately absent from Paris during the Reign of Terror ; but in 1789, he and his aunt, walking to. gether, suddenly found themselves in the midst of a crowd of men and women carrying on long pikes the heads of the gardes du corps massacred at Versailles. This was enough of scenes of horror for his sensitive nature. Making due allowance for his native and national vivacity, we could hardly hope that, witnessing much more of the horrible events of those days, the susceptible poet could ever have developed into the gay and light-hearted singer he became.
Soon afterward he left Paris for Peronne, in Picardy, to be placed in the care of his father's maiden sister, who kept a small inn at that place. His aunt at first refused to take him, but, looking upon his childish face, her heart was aroused in his behalf, and, bursting into tears, she promised to be a mother to him. She kept her word, and seems to have given him nearly all the love his childish years ever knew. Béranger ever remembered this excellent woman with most affectionate gratitude, and, after her death, dictated for her the following epitaph: “She never was a mother, yet she left children to
With her he passed several years of the developing period of his life. She assisted to inspire him with a taste for reading, and with her he read Télémaque, Racine, and Voltaire. This aunt was an ardent republican, but withal something of a devotee, and the young satirist did not forbear to ridicule some of her favorite points of faith. At the age of twelve years, during a violent storm, the pious lady sprinkled the house with holy water. A flash of lightning prostrated the young Béranger, who, on recovering, immediately said to his aunt, “Well, of what
weep for her.”
* Ma Biographie, p. 38.
use was your holy water?” He had very little inclination for school, and says he does not know when he learned to read. He never had any knowledge of Greek or Latin; his acquaintance with the ancient classics was derived from translations. This ignorance he confessed to Lucien Bonaparte with some humiliation.* Yet from a careful study of the best translations within his reach, he was able to get the spirit of the best of the ancient writers.
He had desired to learn the trade of clockmaker, but his sight was so much injured that he was obliged to give it up, greatly to his regret. He tried as apprentice to a jeweler, and served for awhile in the office of a notary. At the age of fourteen years he became apprentice to a printer. It was here that he got the most of his knowledge of orthography and grammar. His master, M. Laisney, gave him valuable instructions in versification. To this excellent man Béranger afterward made the acknowledgment:
“Dans l'art des vers c'est toi qui fut mon maître.". There was at Peronne a school named the Institut Patrio. tique, organized upon the system of J. J. Rousseau. This schgol Béranger attended, and here, it would seem, he acquired the greater part of his book-knowledge. Besides history and geography, he learned to declaim in the club, and had the benefit of criticisms upon his literary attempts. His parents becoming reunited, he returned to Paris, where father and son engaged together in financial speculations. As a financier the young Béranger seems, from his own account, to have developed considerable talents. He acquired quite a fortune, which was lost in the crisis of 1798.
It was at this time that he turned his attention particularly to poetry, and studied it as an art. He labored assiduously to form a poetic system which he says, "I have doubtless since perfected, but which has scarcely varied at all in any of its principal rules.” Certain friendly capitalists had offered to
* “Jamais il ne m'avait tant coûté de dire que je ne savais pas le latin, cette langue dont je croyais, avec tout le monde alors, qu'on ne pouvait se passer pour rien écrire en français. "- Ma Biographie, p. 89.
+ Ib. p. 66.
reëstablish him in business, but he preferred to remain poor rather than return to the Bourse. He was now very poor, but he found great comfort in devoting himself with all the ardor of his nature to the cultivation of the poetic art. Yet he suffered much. “I gave myself up,” he says, “to fits of melancholy, so much the more painful that I was no less expansive in my sorrows than I have always been in my pleasures." He attempted dramatic writing, but soon decided that his talents did not fit him for success in this field; he congratulates himself upon this conclusion with his usual willingness to know and to accept the truth of himself. He designed an epic entitled “Clovis,” upon a grand scale, which he proposed to meditate upon until the age of thirty years before commencing to write it. He wrote also some solemn Alexandrines upon such subjects as “ The Deluge,” “The Last Judgment,” and “Meditation." At the age of twenty-two years he wrote a poem in four cantos, entitled “Le Pèlerinage,” an attempt to represent the simple pastoral customs of the Christians of the sixteenth century. But he decided that his genius did not lie in the direction of epic or pastoral poetry. It was only as a song-writer—as one of the fiddlers of the literary orchestra, that he could hope to succeed. To the specious temptations of journalism he never yielded. *
About this time Béranger gave much attention to the works of Chateaubriand, which inspired him with great enthusiasm. At one time he became so discouraged with his poverty and his want of success that he seriously proposed to join Bonaparte in Egypt. A friend dissuaded him from this project, and his native gayety and his muse rescued him from melancholy. He abandoned himself to love, wine, and song, celebrating the praises of Lisette and Frétillon, of “Roger Bontemps," "Le Grenier,” “Les Gueux," and “Le Vieil Habit.” Then, as afterward, he would often sing:
*“Il eût voulu me voire écrire dans les journaux ; mais je ne me sentis jar mais de vocation pour ce genre de travail, qui a fini chez nous par dévoretant de jeunes talents, nés peut-être pour un avenir de gloire, et qui d'ailleurs effrayait ma plume paresseuse et ma conscience timorée. Pour m'adonner à une pareille profession, il eût fallu renoncer à mes belles espérances poétiques, à mes rêves c'eût été rendre ma mansarde bien solitaire."- Ma Biographie,
“ Chantons le vin et le beauté,
In deliberate prose he could say of the same period of his life:
“Oh! que la jeunesse est une belle chose, puisqu'elle peut répandre du charme jusque sur la vieillesse, cet âge si déshérité et si pauvre! Employ. ez bien ce qui vous en reste, ma chère amie. Aimez, et laissez-vous aimer. J'ai bien connu ce bonheur; c'est le plus grand de la vie." +
The poetic system which Béranger was now laboring to develop, and to which he devoted all the resources of his active mind, was founded upon eternal principles of art. For this reason it was not required of him afterward to change but only to perfect it. He says of his inspiration “ Le peuple : c'est ma muse;" he explains by declaring, "When I say people, I mean the crowd—the common people, if you will." In taking his inspiration from the heart of the common people, he appealed to those qualities which are inherent in all. From his circumstances, while his poetical style and philosophy were forming, he had little opportunity to study any of the higher classes. It was perhaps best for him that it was so. Certainly he could get a better knowledge of human nature, and more easily learn how to deal with it, from those who are comparatively uintaught, and consequently more simple and truthful. The same emotions exist in all, and the general instincts of human nature are everywhere similar. Yet Béranger's studies of humanity were not confined to the common people; he always stndied men, and wherever he could find them. He is the poet of humanity in its social aspects. His love of rural nature was well developed, but it seems not to have been a passion with him. He did not attempt a pretentious style of verse, and for attempting so little and doing what he did undertake so thoroughly, he was rewarded eventually with a share of fame which few have ever obtained during life. He says, “I have
Euvres, t. i. p. 362. Notice prefixed to the Euvres complètes of Béranger, editon of 1834. #"Les rêves poétiques les plus ambitieux ont bercé ma jeunesse. I n'est presque point de genre élevé que je n'aie tenté en silence. Pour remplir une immense carrière à vingt ans, dépourvu d'études, même de celle du latin, j'ai cherché à pénétrer le génie de notre langue et les secrets du style." Euvres, t. i. p. xv.
S Préface, 1833.