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William Shakespeare

by Victor Hugo

Part I -- Book 2: Men of Genius
Chapter 1

Great Art, using this word in its arbitrary sense, is the region of Equals.

Before going farther, let us fix the value of this expression, Art, which often recurs in our writing.

We speak of Art, as we speak of Nature; here are two terms of an almost unlimited signification. To pronounce the one or the other of these words, Nature, Art, is to make a conjuration, to extract from the depths of the ideal, to draw aside one of the two grand curtains of a divine creation. God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art. Hence this reality: the poet is a priest.

There is here below a pointiff,--it is genius.

Sacerdos Magnus.

Art is the second branch of Nature.

Art is as natural as Nature.

By the word God -- let us fix the sense of this word -- we mean the Living Infinite.

The I latent of the Infinite patent, that is God.

God is the Invisible seen.

The world concentrated is God. God expanded, is the world.

We, who are speaking, we believe in nothing out of God.

That being said, let us proceed. God creates art by man. He has for a tool the human intellect. This tool the Workman has made for himself; he has no other.

Forbes, in the curious little work perused by Warburton and lost by Garrick, affirms that Shakespeare devoted himself to the practice of magic, that magic was in his family, and that what little good there was in his pieces was dictated to him by one "Alleur," a spirit.

Let us say on this point, for we must not avoid any of the questions about to arise, that it is a wretched error of all ages to desire to give the human intellect assistance from without, -- antrum adjuvat vatem. To the work which seems superhuman, people wish to bring the intervention of the extra-human,--in antiquity, the tripod; in our days, the table. The table is nothing but the tripod come back. To accept au pied de la lettre the demon that Socrates talks of, the thicket of Moses, the nymph of Numa, the spirit of Plotinus, and Mahomet's dove, is to be the victim of a metaphor.

On the other hand, the table, turning or talking, has been very much laughed at; to speak the truth, this raillery is out of place. To replace inquiry by mockery is convenient, but not very scientific. For our part, we think that the strict duty of science is to test all phenomena. Science is ignorant, and has no right to laugh; a savant who laughs at the possible is very near being an idiot. The unexpected ought always to be expected by science. Her duty is to stop in its course and search it, rejecting the chimerical, establishing the real. Science has but the right to put a visa on facts; she should verify and distinguish. All human knowledge is but picking and culling. Because the false mixes with the true, it is no excuse for rejecting the mass. When was the tare an excuse for refusing the corn? Hoe the weed, error, but reap the fact, and place it beside the others. Knowledge is the sheaf of facts.

The mission of science,--to study and try the depth of everything. All of us, according to our degree, are the creditors of investigation; we are its debtors also. It is owed to us, and we owe it to others. To avoid a phenomenon, to refuse to pay it that attention to which it has a right, to lead it out, to shut to the door, to turn our back on it laughing, is to make truth a bankrupt, and to leave the draft of science to be protested. The phenomenon of the tripod of old, and of the table of to-day, is entitled, like anything else, to observation. Psychic science will gain by it, without doubt. Let us add that to abandon phenomena to credulity is to commit treason against human reason.

Homer affirms that the tripods of Delphi walked of their own accord; and he explains the fact1 by saying that Vulcan forged invisible wheels for them. The explanation does not much simplify the phenomenon. Plato relates that the statues of Dædalus gesticulated in the darkness, had a will of their own, and resisted their master; and that he was obliged to tie them up, so that they might not walk off. Strange dogs at the end of a chain! Fléchier mentions, at page 52 of his "Histoire de Théodose" -- referring to the great conspiracy of the magicians of the fourth century against the emperor -- a table-turning of which, perhaps, we shall speak elsewhere, n order to say what Fléchier did not say, and seemed to ignore. This table was covered with a round plating of several metals, ex diversis metallicis materiis fabrefacta, like the plates of copper and zinc actually employed in biology. So you may see that the phenomenon, always rejected and always reappearing, is not a matter of yesterday.

Besides, whatever credulity has said or thought about it, this phenomenon of the tripods and tables is without any connection, and it is the very thing we want to come to, with the inspiration of the poets,-- an inspiration entirely direct. The sibyl has a tripod, the poet none. The poet is himself a tripod. He is a tripod of God. God has not made this marvellous distillery of thought, the brain of a man, not to be made use of. Genius has all that it wants in its brain; every thought passes by there. Thought ascends and buds from the brain, as the fruit from the root. Thought is man's consequence; the root plunges into earth, the brain into God,-- that is to say, into the Infinite.

Those who imagine (there are such, witness Forbes) that a poem like "Le Médecin de son Honneur," or "King Lear," can be directed by a tripod or a table, err in a strange fashion; these works are the works of man. God has no need to make a piece of wood aid Shakespeare or Calderon.

Let us dispose of the tripod. Poetry is the poet's own. Let us be respectful before the possible of which no one knows the limit; let us be attentive and serious before the extra-human, out of which we come, and which awaits us; but let us not diminish the great workers of earth by hypotheses of mysterious assistance, which is not necessary. Let us leave to the brain what belongs to it, and agree that the work of the men of genius is of the superhuman, the offspring of man.

1. Song xviii of the Iliad

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