Victor Hugo Central
The internet research hub for Victor Hugo enthusiasts

How to support this site

Cafe Press

William Shakespeare

by Victor Hugo

Part II -- Book V: The Minds and the Masses
Chapter 6

Machiavelli had a strange idea of the people. To heap the measure, to overflow the cup, to exaggerate horror in the case of the prince, to increase the crushing in order to stir up the oppressed to revolt, to cause idolatry to change into a curse, to push the masses to extremities,--such seems to be his policy. His "yes" signifies "no." He loads the despot with despotism in order to make him burst. The tyrant becomes in his hands a hideous projectile, which will break to pieces. Machiavelli conspires. For whom? Against whom? Guess. His apotheosis of kings is just the thing to make regicides. On the head of his prince he places a diadem of crimes, a tiara of vices, a halo of baseness; and he invites you to adore his monster, with the air of a man expecting an avenger. He glorifies evil with a squint toward the darkness,--the darkness wherein is Harmodius. Machiavelli, the getter-up of princely outrages, the valet of the Medici and of the Borgias, had in his youth been put to the rack for having admired Brutus and Cassius. He had perhaps plotted with the Soderini the deliverance of Florence. Does he recollect it? Does he continue? His advice is followed, like the lightning, by a low rumbling in the cloud,--alarming reverberation. What did he mean to say? On whom has he a design? Is this advice for or against him to whom he gives it? One day, at Florence, in the garden of Cosmo Ruccelaï&, there being present the Duke of Mantua and John de Medici, who afterward commanded the Black Bands of Tuscany, Varchi, the enemy of Machiavelli, heard him say to the two princes: "Let the people read no book,--not even mine." It is curious to compare with this remark the advice given by Voltaire to the Duke de Choiseul,--at the same time advice to the minister, and insinuation for the king: "Let the boobies read our nonsense. There is no danger in reading, my lord. What can a great king like the King of France fear? The people are but rabble, and the books are but trash." Let them read nothing, let them read everything: These two pieces of contrary advice coinicide more often than one would think. Voltaire, with hidden claws is purring at the feet of the king, Voltaire and Machiavelli are two formidable indirect revolutionists, dissimilar in everything, and yet identical in reality by their profound hatred, disguised in flattery, of the master. The one is malignant, the other is sinister. The princes of the sixteenth century had as theorist on their infamies, and as enigmatical courtier, Machiavelli, an enthusiast dark at heart. The flattery of a sphinx,--terrible thing! Better yet be flattered, like Louis XV, by a cat.

Conclusion: Make the people read Machiavelli, and make them read Voltaire.

Machiavelli will inspire them with horror of, and Voltaire with contempt for, crowned guilt.

But the hearts should turn, above all, twoard the grand pure poets, whether they be sweet like Virgil or bitter like Juvenal.

Table of Contents