صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

This stone,

only taken what others have rejected ;” and further, “I espoused the poor fille de joie with the intention of rendering her worthy to be presented in the saloons of our aristocracy; without, however, forcing her to renounce her former relations, for it was necessary that she should remain a daughter of the people from whom she expected her dowry." rejected by other builders of rhymes, has become an important and attractive portion of the poetical arch of the century. Ugly and even foul as it appeared to others when lying in the mud of the streets, Béranger discerned its hidden worth, and knew that it only needed cleaning and polishing to be recognized by all as a gem of value. The early poems of Béranger, which first gave him a name,

, are not among the best of his works, but, like the youthful publications of Schiller and Goethe—the “Robbers” and the “Sorrows of Werther”—they will always, probably, be among the most popular with the masses. The subjects of these poems and their style of treatment were such as to appeal directly to the heart of the common people of France. Their gay humor is charming. “Le Petit Homme Gris” is a good specimen :

“ Il est un petit homme
Tout habillé de gris,

Dans Paris.
Joufflu comme une pomme,
Qui, sans un sous comptant,

Vit content,
Et dit: 'Moi, je m'en;'
Et dit: 'Moi, je m'en ;

Ma fois, moi, je m'en ris!'
Oh! qu'il est gai le petit homme gris!” +

* Ma Biographie, p. 188.
7"There is a little man

All dressed in gray,
He lives in Paris,

And he's always gay;
He's round as an apple

And plump as a pear ;
He has not a penny,

And he has not a care;
And he says, 'I laugh,

And I laugh, and my plan,'
Says he,‘is, by jingo,

To laugh all I can.'
Oh! what a merry little fat gray man.”

Crores, t. i. p. 26.

Similar in style is “Les Gueux." To render attractive persons in the poorest outward circumstances, it is required that they be invested with a merry humor, and treated in a careless and rollicking manner. Burns recognized this fact, and illustrated it in his “Jolly Beggars." To Béranger this style of treatment was quite natural.

“Les gueux, les gueux,
Sont les gens heureux;
Ils s'aiment entre eux,

Vivent les gueux !
Des gueux chantons la louange.
Que de gueux hommes de bien!
Il faut qu'enfin l'esprit venge

L'honnête homme qui n'a rien."* His two poems "Le Roi d'Yvetot” and “Le Senateur" are the earliest specimens we have of his political satire—a species of writing which afterward added greatly to his reputation and to his troubles. In 1809, Béranger was appointed to a place in one of the bureaux of the Imperial University, with a salary of one thousand francs a year. This place he retained twelve years. He tells us that his reputation began in 1813, at which time he was admitted into the literary circle of the " Caveau," of which he was soon reckoned one of the choicest spirits. From that period his fame steadily increased until the close of his life, and long before he

“ Heard the heavens fill with shoutings” of his name. At this epoch also he began to be admitted into the higher ranks of society. But the temptations of his position, and the flatteries of the great did not spoil him, for he ever retained his naïve simplicity, and his sympathy with the common people. Had his reputation been acquired at an earlier age, it might have been different. Though his father was a stanch royalist, he had early embraced republicanism, and adhered to his sentiments with firmness and sustained them with ardor. On the restoration of the Bourbons, tempting offers were made to him to support legitimacy, but his reply was, “Let them give us liberty in exchange for glory; let them

* Euores, t. i. p. 42.

"*

render France happy, and I will sing to them without reward." Lucien Bonaparte had early befriended and encouraged him, and had procured him the pension which he received from the institute. After the downfall of the Napoleonic dynasty, Béranger gave up this pension to the father of Madame Lucien Bonaparte.

His first volume of poems was published in 1915. The result of this was to establish him as the song-writer of the opposition. In 1821, he published two volumes of songs, old and new. This issue comprised ten thousand five hundred copies, and was made on his own account. The sale exceeded his most sanguine expectations, and the result placed him in very comfortable pecuniary circumstances. For this publication he was prosecuted by government and sentenced to an imprisonment of three months and a fine of five hundred francs. He passed his time in his prison of Sainte Pelagie very gayly, he tells us, and here composed some of his best pieces. The progress of his trial was marked by several effusions, one of which is “La Muse en Fuite :

“Quittez la lyre, ô, ma muse!

Et déchiffrez ce mandat,
Vous voyez qu'on vous accuse

De plusieurs crimes d'état.
Pour un interrogatoire

Au palais comparaissons
Plus de chansons pour la gloire !
Pour l'amour plus de chansons !

Suivez-moi !

C'est la loi,
Suivez-moi de par le Roi.”+

His third publication was made in 1825, and his fourth in 1828. The latter subjected him to a fresh prosecution, which resulted in a sentence to nine months' imprisonment and ten thousand francs fine. Prison life, he says, had a charm for him, which was certainly fortunate. He suffered somewhat, he admits, during the first four months of his imprisonment at La Force, but his muse afterward rescued him from gloom. He received many grateful attentions here, being visited by Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, and Alexandre Dumas. His last volume of poems was published in 1833.

* Ma Biographie, p. 177.

+ Erivres, t. i. p. 14.

The subjects of Béranger's poems are generally such as appeal to the heart of the common people. Of love he sings much, and usually according to the taste of his auditors.

“ Dieu lui-même

Ordonne qu'on aime,
Je vous le dis, en vérité :
Sauvez-vous par la charité."*

He is not always so delicate as the standard of the present age requires, and finds it necessary to apologize in his first volume for following “the rather cynical licenses of our old literature." Yet he seems to have sung of love, as of other human emotions, from his sympathies with others, rather than from any selfish passion. He was certainly not an ideal lover in person. He became quite bald at the age of twenty-three, and says of himself, “Ill-favored, and of mean appearance, I have never been in circumstances to expend much on women.” He makes much sport at the expense of his baldness, and has a poem entitled “ Mes Cheveux.”

“Mes bons amis, que je vous prêche à table,

Moi l'apôtre de la gaieté !
Opposez tous au destin peu traitable

Le repos et la liberté :
A la grandeur, à la richesse,

Preférez des loisirs heureux,
C'est mon avis, moi de qui la sagesse

A fait tomber tous les cheveux."'

The early loss of his hair was not, however, an altogether uncompensated misfortune. In 1801, dwelling in a garret in the Rue Saint Martin, he tells us he found it not difficult to support life on bread and cheese, notwithstanding the violence of his appetite.

*" Les Deux Sæurs de Charité,Eutres, t. i. p. 191. t Ouvres, t. i. p. 41.

But how to escape the conscription, whose officers were everywhere active? To accomplish this he found it only necessary to take off his hat to the officers, who readily believed him to be a man of forty-five years, and who, consequently, never thought of asking to look at his papers.* His love-poems are doubtless mostly imaginary. Lisette, the subject of so many of his songs, was a mythical personage, borrowed from the literature of the eighteenth century. Yet he had a heart for all the emotions of which he sings, and we readily believe him when he says, “Mes chansons, c'est moi.”+ Regarding his feelings toward the fair sex, a passage in Ma Biographie shows the poet in a very amiable light, and gives us a high opinion of him:

“ La tendresse pleine d'estime que ce sexe m'a inspirée dès ma jeunesse n'a cessé, d'être la source de mes plus douces consolations. Ainsi j'ai triomphé d'une secrète disposition à l'humeur noire, dont les retours devinrent de moins en moins fréquents, grâce aux femmes et à la poésie. Il me suffirait de dire grâce aux femmes, car la poésie me vient d'elles.”—P. 76.

After reading this tribute and acknowledgment, we are sure no charitable woman will scorn Béranger, however much she may be shocked at the freedom of some of his songs. Not many of his love-songs exhibit a very refined sentiment, but some of them are tender and sweet. The passion of love was very

ardent with him, as we may judge from such poems as “Frétillon,” “ Beaucoup d'Amour,” “ Quelle est Jolie," and “Rosette.”

"Ah! que ne puis-je vous aime,

Comme autrefois j'aimais Rosette." I Late in life he often sang his regrets that the days of love were past. Yet again, in "Encore des Amours," he sings:

Ah! c'est encore quelque beauté traitresse ;

Tous les amours ne sont pas envolés." A lovely picture is that of “Claire,” and worthy of any

[ocr errors]

* Ma Biographie, pp. 84, 85. † Préface, 1833.

1 Euvres, t. i. p. 315. $ Ib. t. ii.

p. 167.

« السابقةمتابعة »