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William Shakespeare

by Victor Hugo

Part I -- Book 2: Men of Genius
Chapter 3

Homer, Job, Æschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Saint John, Saint Paul, Tacitus, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare.

That is the avenue of immovable giants of the human mind.

The men of genius are a dynasty. Indeed there is no other. They wear all the crowns,--even that of thorns.

Each of them represents the sum total of absolute that man can realize.

We repeat it, to choose between these men, to prefer one to the other, to mark with the finger the first among these first, it cannot be. All are the Mind.

Perhaps, in an extreme case -- and yet every objection would be legitimate -- you might mark out as the highest summit among those summits, Homer, Æschylus, Job, Isaiah, Dante, and Shakespeare.

It is understood that we speak here only in an Art point of view, and in Art, in the literary point of view.

Two men in this group, Æschylus and Shakespeare, represent specially the drama.

Æschylus, a kind of genius out of time, worthy to stamp either a beginning or an end in humanity, does not seem to be placed in his right turn in the series, and, as we have said, seems an elder son of Homer's.

If we remember that Æschylus is nearly submerged by the darkness rising over human memory; if we remember that ninety of his plays have disappeared, that of that sublime hundred there remain no more than seven dramas, which are also seven odes, we are stupefied by what we see of that genius, and almost frightened by what we do not see.

What, then, was Æschylus? Wha proportions and what forms had he in all this shadow? Æschylus is up to his shoulders in the ashes of ages. His head alone remains out of that burying; and like the giant of the desert, with his head alone he is as immense as all the neighbouring gods standing on their pedestals.

Man passes before this insubmergible wreck. Enough remains for an immense glory. What the darkness has taken adds the unknown to this greatness. Buried and Eternal, his brow projecting from the grave, Æschylus looks at generations.

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