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William Shakespeare

by Victor Hugo

Part I -- Book 3: Art and Science
Chapter 2

There can be but one law; the unity of law results from the unity of essence. Nature and art are the two sides of the same fact; and in principle, saving the restriction which we shall idicate very shortly, the law of one is the law of the other. The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence. All being equity in the moral order and equilibrium in the material order, all is equation in the intellectual order. The binomial theorem, that marvel fitting everything, is included in poetry not less than in algebra. Nature plus humanity, raised to the second power, gives art. That is the intellectual binomial theorem. Now replace this A+B by the number special to each great artist and each great poet, and you will have, in its multiple physiognomy and in its strict total, each of the creations of the human mind. What more beautiful than the variety of chefs-d'œuvre resulting from the unity of law. Poetry like science has an abstract root; out of that science evokes the chef-d'œuvre of metal, wood, fire, or air,-- machine, ship, locomotive, æroscaph; out of that poetry evokes the chef-d'œuvre of flesh and blood,-- Iliad, Canticle of Canticles, Romancero, Divine Comedy, "Macbeth." Nothing so starts and prolongs the shock felt by the thinker as those mysterious exfoliations of abstractions into realities in the double region, the one positive, the other infinite, of human thought. A region double, and nevertheless one; the infinite is a precision. The profound word number is at the base of man's thought. It is, to our intelligence, elemental; it has an harmonious as well as a mathematical signification. Number reveals itself to art by rhythm, which is the beating of the heart of the Infinite. In rhythm, law of order, God is felt. A verse is a gathering like a crowd; its feet take the cadenced step of a legion. Without number, no science; without number, no poetry. The strophe, the epic poem, the drama, the riotous palpitation of man, the burstng forth of love, the irradiation of the imagaination, all this cloud with its flashes, the passion,-- all is lorded over by the mysterious word number, even as geometry and arithmetic. Ajax, Hector, Hecuba, the seven chiefs before Thebes, Œdipus, Ugolino, Messalina, Lear and Priam, Romeo, Desdemona, Richard III, Pantagruel, the Cid, Alcestes, all belong to it, as well as conic sections and the differential and integral calculus. It starts from two and two make four, and ascends to the region where the lightning sits.

Yet, between art and science, let us note a radical difference. Science may be brought to perfection; art, not.


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