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EXCERPTS FROM VICTOR HUGO
SATIRISTS AND MORALISTS
The New-England magazine. / Volume 9, Issue 11
WHEN any one, tormented by the valiant demon of satire, pretends to tell severe truths to the age, he ought, the better to confound vice, to attack the vicious to his face; to punish him, he should name him ; but he cannot acquire this right without declaring himself. In this manner, he will almost assure himself of victory; for the more powerful his enemy may be, the more courageous will he appear „ for power always recoils before courage. Besides, truth likes to speak in a loud voice, and an anonymouslie is perhaps more wicked than an open calumny. This is not the case with the peaceable moralist, who mixes in society only to observe in silence its faults and absurdities „ simply for the good of humanity. He examines particular individuals, but criticizes the xvhole race. The study, to which he devotes himself, is innocent, since it is his aim to cure all the world without wounding anybody. Meanwhile, to crown his useful labor with success, his chief precaution should be to preserve his incognito; for such is our self-esteem, that there is always an intuitive perception which causes us to distrust the conduct of every man who sets about scrutinizing our character.
Thus, if we are forced to live with a person whom we look upon as an officious overseer, we conceal our actions under a veil of dissimulation, and all his labor is in vain. If, on the other hand, we can escape him, we drive him from society by denouncing him as a meddlesome bore. The philosophic observer, like the ancient actors, cannot perform his part without wearing a mask. We would very uncourteously receive the blunderer who would say„' I come to count up your faults and to study your vices.' He ought, as Horace says, to put some hay round his horns; else, a hue and cry will be raised. And he who wishes to caper about the field of ridicule, which is always so broad in France, had better slip down than display himself to the world; he must remark without being remarked, and never forget that verse of Mahomet„'My empire is destroyed if the man is known.'
SIR WALTER SCOTT AND LADY MORGAN.
Sir Walter Scott is a Scotchman; his novels are enough to to convince us of this fact. His exclusive love of Scottish subjects proves his love for Scotland; revering the old customs of his country, he makes amends to himself, by faithfully portraying them, for not being able to observe them more religiously; and his pious admiration for the national character shines forth in the willingness with which he details its faults. An Irish lady „ Lady Morgan „ presents herself, as the natural rival of Sir Walter Scott, in persisting, like him, in writing only on national topics ; hut there is in her works much more love of celebrity than attachment to country, and much less national pride than personal vanity.
Lady Morgan seems to paint Irishmen with pleasure ; but it is an Irish woman whom she, above everything and everywhere, paints with enthusiasm ; and that Irish woman is herself. Miss O'Hallogan in O'Donnell, and Lady Clancare in Florence Maccarthy, are neither more nor less than Lady Morgan, flattered by herself.
We must say that, after Scott's pictures, so full of life and warmth, the sketches of Lady Morgan seem but pale and cold. The historical romances of that lady are to be read; the romantic histories of the Scotchinan to be admired. The reason is simple enough : Lady Morgan has sufficient tact to observe what she sees, sufficient memory to retain what she observes, and sufficient art aptly to relate what she has retained; her science goes no farther. This is the reason her characters, though sometimes well drawn, are not sustained ; apart from a trait, the truth of which pleases you, because it is copied from nature, you will find another which offends you by its falsity, because she invented it.
Walter Scott, on the contrary, conceives a character after having often observed only one trait; he sees it at a glance, and directly paints it. His excellent judgment prevents him from being misled ; and what he creates is nearly always as true as that which he observes. When talent is carried to this point, it is more than talent: we can draw the parallel in two words „ Lady Morgan is a woman of talent „ Walter Scott is a man of genius.
License covers its hundred eyes with its hundred hands.
Some rocks cannot arrest the course of a river; over human obstacles, events roll onward without being turned aside.
There are some unfortunate men in the world. Christopher Columbus cannot attach his name to his discovery; Guillotin cannot detach his from his invention.
Glory, ambition, armies, fleets, thrones, crowns: the playthings of great children. Empires have their crises, as mountains have their winter. A word spoken too loud brings down an avalanche.
The conflagration of Moscow: an aurora borealis lit up by Napoleon.
I have heard men of the present day, distinguished in politics, in literature, in science, complain of envy, of hatred, of calumny. They are wrong. It' is law, it is glory. The high-renowned afford examples. Hatred follows them everywhere. Nothing escapes it. The theatre openly yielded to it Shakspeare and Moliere; the prison could not take away from it Christopher Columbus; the cloister did not preserve St. Bernard; the throne did not save Napoleon. There is only one asylum for genius in this world : it is the tomb
LOVE AMONG HEATHEN AND CHRISTIANS.
The expression of love, in the poets of the old school, (to whatever nation and epoch they may belong) generally fails in chastity and modesty. This observation, seemingly of little importance at first sight, is worthy of the deepest consideration. If we will examine it seriously, we shall find at the bottom of this matter all pagan societies and idolatrous worship. The absence of chastity in love is perhaps the characteristic mark of those states of civilization and literature which Christianity has never purified. Not to mention those strange verses hy which Anacreon, Horace, Virgil himself, have immortalized infamous debauchery and shameful customs, the amorous songs of ancient and modern heathen poets, of Catullus, of Tihullus, of Bertin, of Bernis, of Parny, exhibit none of that delicacy, of that modesty, of that reserve, without which love is nothing more than an animal instinct and a carnal appetite. It is difficult to express more ingeniously what brutes feel ; and doubtlessly because there was a difference between their love and that of animals, those gallant jesters have sung its praise. They have even changed the most natural thing in the world into a science; and ~THE ART OF LOVE' was taught by Ovid to the pagans in the age of Augustus; by Gentil Bernard to the pagans in the age of Voltaire.
With some attention, we can see that there is a difference between the first and the last artistes in love. Their colors are the same, to a shade. All sing of sensual pleasure. But the Greek and Roman pagan poets appear oftenest like masters who command slaves ; while the French pagan poets are always slaves supplicating their mistresses. And the secret of these two different kinds of civilization lies in this. The polite but idolatrous communities of Rome and Athens, were ignorant of that celestial dignity of woman, revealed at a later day to mankind by him who was horn of a daughter of Eve. As love, among these nations, was only addressed to slaves and courtezans, it wore an imperious and contemptuous air. Everything, in the civilized states of Christendom, tends, on the other hand, to the ennobling of the weak and beautiful sex; and the holy scriptures appear to have awarded to women their rank, after having guided men to the highest point of social perfection. The institution of chivalry is due to woman; and this wonderful institution, though vanished from monarchies, survives in honor like its soul „ honor, that instinct of nature, which is likewise a superstition of society - that only power whose tyranny France has patiently borne, that mysterious sentiment unknown to ancient wisdom, which is both more and less than virtue. At the present day „ and let us note this well honor is unknown among those people to whom the scriptures have not been revealed, or by whom the moral influence of woman is not felt. In our state of civilization, if laws give the first rank to man, honor gives the first rank to woman. Herein is the equilibrium of all the Christian communities.
We ought not to look on the affairs of life through the prism of poetry. It is like those ingenious glasses which magnify obects. They will shew to you, in all their brilliancy and magnificence, the spheres of Heaven; but turn thum towards the earth, and you will indeed behold gigantic forms, but dark, vague and confused.
Every one in his turn becomes unpopular; the people them-
selves may become unpopular at last.
How impregnable a citadel is France at this day! For ramparts, the Pyrenees on the south; the Alps en the east; on the north, Belgium, with its mound of fortresses ; on the west, there is the ocean for a fosse. On the other side of the Pyrenees, beyond the Alps, on the other side of the Rhine and the Belgian fortresses, three nations in a state of revolution „ Spain, Italy, Belgiurn „ mount as our guards; beyond the sea, is the American republic. And in unconquerable France, there are three millions of bayonets, as a garrison; to sentinel the battlements of the Alps, of the Pyrenees, of Belgium, four hundred thousand soldiers; to defend the ground„the national guard, in hollow square. Finally, we hold in our hands the match-light of all the revolutions with which Europe is undermined. We have only to give the word „ Fire!
If the clergy do not change their way of living, we shall soon hear in France of no trinity except the tricolor-.
Do you see that star?
Hah! I see it!
The spirit of God, like tbe sun, always pours forth a flood of light. The spirit of man is like the pale moon, which has its phases, its departure and its return, its clearness and its spots its fullness and its wane ; which borrows all its light from the sun, and which, however, dares sometimes to intercept its rays.
Every passion is eloquent: every man who is convinced, convinces: to draw tears, we must weep; it has heen well said, 'enthusiasm is contagious.'
Take an infant away from its mother; collect together all the orators in the world ; then say„ 'Let the child die, and let us go to dinner:' listen to the mother: whence comes it, that she has excited moans, has caused you all to weep, so that you have repealed the sentence ?
The eloquence of Cicero and the clemency of Caesar are spoken of as very wonderful. If Cicero had heen the father of Ligarius, what would he have said? Nothing more simple.
And, in truth, there is a language which never deceives, which all men understand, and with which all men are gifted: it is the language of great passions as well as of great events : it is spoken in moments when all hearts respond to it, when israel rises as one man.
What is eloquence? says Demosthenes: it is action, action, always action, But, in morals, as in physics, to make a motion, you must move yourself. How is this motion communicated? This is looking too high: it is sufficient that it is the fact. Do you wish to move? Be moved: cry and you will draw tears: it is a circle to which everything carries us, and from whence you cannot depart. Indeed, I ask, of what use to us could he the power of communicating our thoughts, if we, like Cassandra, were denied the faculty of making ourselves believed? Which was the most triumphant moment of the Roman orator? When the tribunes of the people forbade him to speak. 'Romans !' cried he, 'I swear that I have saved the republic ! '„ and all the people stood up and cried, 'We swear that he has told the truth !'
What we have said of eloquence, we may say of all the arts for all the arts are the same language differently spoken. In truth, what are our ideas ? „ sensations and parallel sensations. What are the arts, but various modes of expressing our ideas ?
Rousseau, by considering his oxvn character, and confronting it with the ideal model which all men have, engraven upon their consciences, marked out a plan of education in which he guarded his pupil from all his own vices, but also from all his own virtues.
This great man did not perceive that, in hestowing upon Emilia that in which he himself was deficient, he was depriving her of what he possessed.
In fact, the man who is brought up in the midst of laughter and joy, is like a wrestler who has been trained far from the scene of combat. To be a Hercules, one must have strangled serpents in the cradle.
You wish to avoid the struggle of the passions, but do you live because you have avoided life? What is it to exist? says Locke. It is to feel. Great men are those who have felt much, lived much; and often, in a few years, they have lived many lives. Let us not be deceived: the highest firs grow only in a region of storms. Athens, the city of tumult, had a thousand great men Sparta, the city of order, had only one „ Lycurgus; and Lycurgus was born before his laws.
Thus we perceive that most great men arise in the midst of great popular commotions: Homer, in the midst of the heroic ages of Greece; Virgil, under the triumvirate; Ossian, on the ruins of his country; Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, in the midst of the renewed convulsions of Italy; Corneille and Racine, in the age of the Fronde; and finally, Milton, on the raising of the first revolt at the foot of the bloody scaffold of Whitehall.
If we examine what were the particular destinies of these great men, we shall behold them all tormented by troublous and unhappy lives. Camo~ns cleaves the sea, with his poem in his hand: D 'Ercilla writes his verses on the skins of beasts, in the forests of Mexico. They whose bodily sufferings do not extinguish the sufferings of the soul, lead a stormy life, consumed by an irritability of disposition, which renders them a burthen to themselves and to all around them. Happy those who die not before their time, wasted away by the restlessness of their own genius, like Pascal: by grief, like Molidre and Racine; or overcome by the terrors of their own imagination, like the unfortunate Tasso
Admitting, then, this acknowledged principle of all antiquity, that great excitements make great men, we must likewise acknowledge that, as the excitements are more or less strong, so are the various grades of genius. Now, after examining what things are the most capable of exciting the violence of our passions„that is of our desires, which are themselves but wishes more or less strongly expressed, even unto that firm and constant wish, by which a man desires one thing all his life„like Caesar, everything or nothing„a destructive lever, with which man crushes himself„we will grant, of course, that if there exists one thing capable of exciting such a wish in a noble and determined spirit, it ought to be that thing which is esteemed greatest among mankind.
Now, casting our eyes around us, let us consider if there is one thing to which this sublime denomination has been attributed by the unanimous consent of all times and all people. And here we are, my youthful readers, arrived in a few words at that ravishing truth, before which all ancient philosophers and the great Plato himself recoiled„GENIUS IS VIRTUE.