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"There are two men," he said to me one day, "that I must see before leaving Paris --Victor Hugo and Renan. Do you know on what days they receive the public ?
I ventured to suggest that they did not receive the public at all; but my leather dealer could hardly credit such a statement. The next day he applied to the American minister for letters of introduction, which the latter, for obvious reasons, refused to furnish. The Texan threatened revenge, and intimated privately to me that I need not be surprised if the minister were suddenly recalled before the end of the year. A week later he confessed to me, that with the determination "to cheek it out," he had called upon the poet without credentials, but had not been admitted.
"The girl at the door," he said good- humoredly, "kept rattling away at me for some time; but all I could make out was that the old fellow was not at home, that he was hardly ever at home, and wasn't likely to be at home for a year or so. Don't talk to me any more of French politeness. Why, a stage-driver in Texas would know better than to talk such truck to a gentleman. No, sir; they are a d___ rascally set, these French, and you may tell them that I said so."
This episode inclined me to put some faith in a rumor which had reached my ears that Victor Hugo had been driven from his former house in Rue de Clichy by English and American tourists. If an illiterate Texan who frankly declared that he was unacquainted even with the titles of "Les Miserables" and "Notre Dame de Paris," was yet willing to take so much trouble to see their author, what then must be the state of mind of those countless emotional persons who have shuddered at the wickedness of Quasimodo, and wept over the impossible purity and misfortunes of Esmeralda? What obstacles would be sufficient to baffle them in their efforts to make the poet's acquaintance? A Frenchman, even though he were Victor Hugo's next-door neighbor, would hardly dare aspire to the honor of his acquaintance unless he might happen to belong to some one of the literary or political cliques of which the poet is the acknowledged head. As for myself, I should never have entertained the thought for a moment, if fortune had not conspicuously favored me.
I was sitting one evening last April in Tourgueneff's library in Paris, discussing with him the deplorable condition of Russia and the recklessness and cold-blooded cruelty displayed by the government in its prosecution of the Nihilists. Tourgueneff had just returned a few days earlier from St. Petersburg, and Paris had been very empty to me during his absence.
"I hope you will remember," he said, as I rose to take my leave, "that I am always at your disposal. I know most of the literary celebrities of Paris, and I shall be very happy either to introduce you personally or give you letters of introduction. I have no doubt, for instance, that you would take much pleasure in making the acquaintance of Alphonse Daudet, who is as charming in his private talk as he is in his novels. If you are a violent impressionist, you would perhaps like to burn incense to Zola, who, in spite of his occasional violations of good taste, is a man eminently worth knowing. Victor Hugo has recently moved away from this neighborhood, and I do not know his present address; but if you are anxious to pay him a visit, I can assure you beforehand that you will be received with much courtesy and kindness. I shall be happy to introduce you."
About a week later, I received a very delightful note from Tourgueneff inclosing the promised letters of introduction. I learned in a roundabout way that Victor Hugo was living in Avenue d'Eylau, and that he received every evening from 9 1/2 to 11 o'clock. The Avenue d'Eylau is an interminable and rather monotonous street, which runs from the Arc de Triomph out toward Passy; there is nothing very Parisian about it except, perhaps, the street- venders and the military beggar with one leg, singing the Marseillaise in a hoarse voice. One feels but feebly the heartbeat of the great city in these drowsy suburbs; the stage for Passy rumbles along once every half-hour with half a dozen passengers of the miscellaneous types which one always encounters in public vehicles; but the true Parisian who haunts the boulevards and the green-rooms of the theaters, and reads his "Figaro" over his morning chocolate, is rarely seen in this neighborhood, and would undoubtedly feel very uncomfortable were he compelled to take up his abode here. And yet Victor Hugo is as genuine a Parisian as ever trod the pavement of the Boulevard des Italiens. Why then did he move away from the Rue de Clichy, where you breathe, as it were, the sublimated essence of Paris? He was a martyr to his fame. He could not protect himself against the public, who, armed with guide-books and letters of introduction, were continually intruding into his privacy; then every evening a crowd of enthusiastic friends besieged his doors, boring him with their panegyrics, demanding autographs, recitation of verses, etc.; and in a hundred ways exhausting his heroic good-humor and his unflagging patience. The very isolation of his present residence is therefore an advantage; it takes fully an hour to reach it by omnibus from the Place de l'Opera, and as there are no other attractions in the vicinity, the poet has, at all events,, the satisfaction of knowing that those who do seek him here have made a deliberate exertion to see him, and are prompted by some deeper feeling than mere curiosity.
The house is a double, two-story stone edifice, quite unpretentious in appearance, but surrounded by a very pretty garden, in which, at the time of my visit, the rose- bushes were struggling vainly to assert themselves in spite of the cold and unpropitious season. I suppose they went by the almanac (it was about the middle of May) and paid no heed to the caprices of the weather bureau. Over the front door there was a glass canopy, presenting the shape of a hollow and obtuse pyramid. I remained standing here for a few moments, feeling a little guilty, perhaps, because I had yielded to the very impulse which I had so frequently condemned in my fellow-mortals. I was perfectly well aware that my claim on Victor Hugo was scarcely any better than that of hundreds of my compatriots; but then one always finds an excuse for not classing oneself under such categories as "the public," "tourists," and "the ignobile vulgus." I had at all events read some fifteen or twenty volumes of Victor Hugo's writings, and had a very definite opinion concerning their literary value. I was not a blind adorer, but, as I flattered myselg an intelligent and not unsympathetic critic. It was this latter reflection which stimulated my courage to the point where I seized hold of the bell-handle and gave a vigorous pull. An elderly woman opened the door, took my letter of introduction and showed me into the reception room. The air within was luxuriously soft and delicious; a genial wood fire was drowsing in the fireplace, and under the ceiling and along the walls about fifty candles were burning in Venetian glass chandeliers of artistic design. The room was not large, and was divided by a heavy silk curtain of a dark Pompeian red, with here and there a dash of tawny yellow. The window curtains and the tapestries of the walls and ceiling were of the same stuff and colors. A number of costly ornaments in bronze were scattered about the room; especi4lly conspicuous were an aged and curious-looking clock and an elephant of Japanese workmanship carrying a tower on his back. Large mirrors with bronze frames of elaborate design ornamented the walls, and two magnificent Japanese screens challenged attention by the gorgeousness of their color and their exquisite embroidery, representing a flock of cranes starting up from a swamp or field,: overgrown with bulrushes. In the corner next to the door is an excellent terra cotta statuette of Victor Hugo, about three feet high. He stands resting his chin in his palm and leaning against a pillar, about the base of which are flung volumes bearing the inscriptions: "Les Miserables," "Les Orientales," "Notre Dame de Paris," etc. In another corner is placed a bronze statuette of the "French Republic," who presents a warlike and threatening appearance with her formidable helmet and armor, and her unsheathed sword. She is, however (as if to re-assure those who might be alarmed by her martial equipment), resting her elbow on the tablets of the law, upon which are inscribed the words: "Constitution de 25 Fevrier, 1875."
I had been in the room perhaps five minutes, when a gentleman with a phenomenal crop of dark hair was ushered in, and took his seat opposite to me. He glared at me for a while in a very unfriendly fashion; then went into a corner, pulled out some slips of paper, and began to mumble something between his teeth. I concluded that he was rehearsing the speech with which he was to address the great poet. Presently he sent me a very uneasy glance, thrust his slips of paper furtively into his breast pocket, and began to march up and down the floor, apparently in great agitation. Accidentally, his eyes fell upon his own reflection in one of the long mirrors and his agitation increased; he hastily pulled from his pocket a small comb, and began to arrange his hair. Five minutes more elapsed; we heard a child's voice from the next room, apparently protesting against going to bed, and a fine persuasive bass which was exerting itself to overcome its objections. The dispute grew louder; then at some remark of the little one, the gentleman with the bass voice burst into a laugh in which several other voices joined. Finally, we heard a clatter of knives and forks, a pushing back of chairs, and the confused hum of conversation which follows the rising from the table. The folding doors were flung open, and a small procession, headed by Victor Hugo and a handsome lady of about thirty-five, entered the salon. He stopped in the middle of the floor, and with great ceremony stooped to kiss her hand. I presently learned that it was his daughter-in-law, Madame Lockroy. He then glanced rapidly about him, and seeing me, advanced to meet me. He extended his hand, but looked at me half inquiringly as he said: "Monsieur--Monsieur l'ami de M. Tourgueneff?" He had evidently forgotten my name, and did not like to refer to the letter in my presence. " M. Tourgueneff's friends," he added, more cordially, "are always welcome here. Allow me to introduce you to Madame L , M. L Madame de D
Here followed a series of introductions, during which my name was not mentioned; I remained simply "Monsieur l'ami de M. Tourgueneff."
The gentleman with the extraordinary hair now made a profound bow, as the poet bestowed his attention upon him. I heard him speak jerkingly and confusedly, and I fear that at the critical moment he forgot his rehearsed speech. Madame Lockroy, with whom I had the honor of conversing, proved to be a warm admirer of Tourgueneff; whom she called "le Victor Hugo de la Russie." I was strongly tempted to object to the phrase and to formulate my objections, but I forebore. The severe realistic vigor of Tourgueneff was to me of a far higher quality than the fantastic and capricious fertility of imagination which characterizes the author of " Les Miserables" and "Notre Dame de Paris," Such heretical opinions, however, I could hardly communicate to Madame Lockroy, and I, accordingly, contented myself with answering that Tourgueneff was facile princeps in Russia as Victor Hugo was in France. The discussion was continued for some time and with much animation and brilliancy on the lady's part.
Madame Lockroy is the widow of Victor Hugo's son Charles, and has lately married M. Edward Lockroy, a deputy from Paris in the Corps Legislatif. She has two or three children by her first husband, and it was their voices we had heard a few moments before at the dinner table, expostulating with their grandfather about the necessity of going to bed. The grandfather idolizes them, and I am told is inclined to spoil them. They are all that is left him of his own immediate family. Both his promising sons died during their early manhood, and of his daughters, one was accidentally drowned, and the other died insane. No wonder that so large a share of his affection is concentrated upon these grandchildren upon whom the perpetuation of his race depends. They rule the house, and Victor Hugo is the willing and happy slave of these diminutive tyrants. Their step-father, M. Lockroy, is a gentleman with very animated and original features, not handsome, but of absorbing and interesting individuality. A curious effect is produced by the contrast between his rather youthful features and his white hair. He was formerly a journalist and traveled as correspondent for the pictorial press, sending home sketches and letters descriptive of his varied adventures. Once he was sent to Syria to make illustrations of the massacres of the Christians by the Mount Lebanon tribes,--a daring enterprise which came near costing him his life. M. Renan found him plundered and half dead in some miserable Mohammedan hovel, and brought him back to France. But hardly had he regained his hold on life before he started off in search of new adventures, donned the red shirt and joined the Garibaldian guerillas. He had always been consistent in his hatred and detestation of the empire, and he fought it with both pen and sword; and it is this fierce anti-imperial disposition which has made him a deputy and possibly also Victor Hugo's son-in-law.
Another member of the poet's household, and next to himself perhaps the most conspicuous one, is Madame de Drouet, a beautiful, white-haired old lady, of about sixty. She was in her early youth an actress of the Theatre de Ia Renaissance, and was at that time justly famed for her beauty; her dramatic career, however, was suddenly cut off; she accompanied Victor Hugo to Guernsey when Napoleon III. exiled him, and has since been his constant companion and the presiding genius of his household.
While I had been discussing Russia and Russian literature with Madame Lockroy, the salon had gradually filled; the host was kept busy shaking hands, listening to flattering petitions, and kissing the gloved fingers of the ladies who came to pay their respects to him. I noticed on several occasions that this was his uniform habit; no matter who the lady was, old or young, rich or poor, he invariably stooped and pressed a light kiss upon her hand. The chivalrous ease and grace with which he performed this little ceremony were very charming; it seemed to cost him no more effort to bend his back than if he had been twenty instead of seventy-seven years old. His voice too has all the freshness and flexible modulations of youth; not a trace of huskiness or weariness or exertion. There is, in fact, nothing in his appearance, except his close-cropped white hair and a few expressive wrinkles, to betray his age. His gray eyes look as if they concealed a deep, slumbering flame, and could flash out very fiercely when occasion required; but whenever I saw them, they looked gentle and serious, except when sorhe sudden recollection kindled in them --a sort of reflective gleam of amused retrospect. It would be impossible to design a finer head for a poet than Victor Hugo's; and his whole robust frame sustains the proportions of this magnificent head. Nature must have been in her most lavish mood when she bestowed such exceptional gifts, both physical and mental, upon one person.
The agitated young man had just risen, and Victor Hugo beckoned me to take a seat on the sofa at his side. We talked for about five minutes about commonplace things of an entirely personal character. He does not, by the way, understand a word of English, although he was for nearly ten years a resident of the Island of Guernsey in the British Channel. It takes a Frenchman to perform such heroic feats; and French Chavinisme has found its sublimest representative in Victor Hugo. The only foreign language with which he is acquainted is the Spanish.
I happened, in the course of our conversation, to allude to his recent speech in the Senate on the subject of African colonization. His face immediately lighted up.
"You have read the speech?" he asked, fixing his fine eyes upon me.
I replied in the affirmative.
"It is not a mere conjecture of mine," he said ; "it is the path which civilization in its progress inevitably must take."
I looked perhaps a little skeptical, and betrayed the fact that his argument, as reported in the daily papers, had not convinced me.
"Africa," he continued, raising his voice as if to enforce conviction, "will be a central arena of action for the twentieth century."
That was sufliciently startling to attract the attention of the two gentlemen, a deputy and a poet, who were standing in front of us; they suspended their conversation and seated themselves at the other end of the lounge. The various other groups of guests followed their example and gathered around the speaker. They saw by his countenance, by the luminousness of his eyes and by his impressive gestures that he was about to commence one of his inspired harangues.
"France and England," he resumed, after a moment's pause, "are the two great civilizing powers of the world. The one represents the south,--the Latin races; the other the north,--the Gothic races. Each represents cardinal qualities, cardinal virtues, of the human race. These two powers are to take--or I may say have already taken --the destiny of Africa into their hands. France, by the conquest of Algeria, has invaded the continent from the north; England, by her annexation of the Transvaal and her colonization of the land about the Cape of Good Hope, has commenced her civilizing process from the south. Each will progress steadily, the one southward, the other northward, until they meet, at the moment when the whole vast and rich continent will have accepted their intellectual supremacy, will have yielded to the civilizing ideas which they represent."
"May I ask," I ventured to interpose, "what role the black aborigines are to play in this drama of civilization? Are they to accept the French and the English as their masters, or are they merely to be taught by them the arts and industries of civilized life ? In either case I am afraid their fate would be a sad one; human nature is not sufficiently regenerate to sustain such ideal relations, without utilizing them to selfish advantage."
"Human nature, sir, is a great deal better than you probably imagine; and moreover, I am not speaking of the nineteenth but of the twentieth century, when mankind's standard of virtue will be higher than it is at present."
I interpreted this response as a gentle snub, but the subject interested me pro- foundly, and I could not refrain from repeat- ing my question.
"Do you then believe, sir," I said, "that two races, one of which is greatly the supe- rior of the other, can live amicably together? Will not the stronger race conquer and subdue the weaker, and place its heel upon its neck? In our Southern states, this con- flict of race has for many years been waged with much bitterness, and the inevitable result seems to be that the blacks, although they have the support of the general senti- ment of the people of the North, will either have to emigrate or to accept the yoke of political thralldom and social inferiority and dependence."
"I must again remind you," he replied, "that I am speaking of the twentieth and not of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the physical differences between the various branches of the human race are in their nature evanescent. The white race repre- sents the highest type which the human race has so far reached; and all the other races are inevitably approaching this type. They will all in the end be white."
This statement nearly took my breath away.
"Do you really believe, sir?" I began.
"Je ne crois pas du tout" he interrupted me, with great emphasis. "j'en suis sur, monsieur,--}'en suis sur.
"If you will pardon me for questioning you further, I should like to know whether this gradual bleaching of the dark races is to be accomplished by an organic evolu- tionary process--a sort of survival of the whitest--or by a mixture of the white and the colored peoples."
"Nature will employ both processes. There is an inherent tendency in everything created to progress toward nobler and more perfect forms. Nothing is stationary or permanently retrogressive. All imperfections, though they may serve some temporary good purpose, are necessarily transient. Thus each of the inferior races has developed to a higher state of perfection qualities in which we are comparatively deficient. The African is warm-hearted and affectionate. In his affectional nature there are splendid undeveloped possibilities. Who knows but that this new spiritual fund which the African will introduce into the civilization of the twentieth century will be the very thing that is needed to solve the social problems which to us seem insoluble. in the bosom of that great unknown world slumbers the future of mankind. Take only the nearest and most palpable results of the colonization of the continent. The poor and the miserable who now breathe in wickedness and degradation in the filthiest quarters of our overcrowded cities will fill their lungs with the wholesome air of a virgin continent. They will be purified. They will have nobler aims. With possessions and fair rewards of toil they will gain self- respect. They will lift their heads and wring the fruits of labor from the rich soil. A more even distribution of population over a wider area will do away with much crime and wickedness, because, when every one has enough, he will have less inducement to encroach upon his neighbor's domain."
A very lean old lady who had been listening in rapt admiration here raised her voice timidly and said:
"But you surely would not want to send the poor people axvay from France, sir."
Her mind could not conceive of a greater misfortune than being sent away from France; even a criminal deserved a better fate than that. Victor Hugo, however, failed to see any humorous side to the question, and answered, gravely:
"Yes, I would, madam. I would send them away for their own good and that of France."
"But," resumed the old lady, shaking her small head doubtingly, "the French are utterly devoid of the colonizing spirit. An Englishman or a German may settle in a foreign land and become a good citizen there; but a Frenchman, if he has happened to make a fortune in Algeria or in America, will invariably return to Paris to spend it."
Hugo seemed for a moment puzzled by this inopportune but very sensible objection.
"Madam," he said, after a while, "the French must be made to have the colonizing spirit. Necessity will compel many of them to emigrate and to settle permanently in Africa."
"But the African climate," said the political gentleman,--" has it not always proved very injurious to Europeans? Is it not rather an advantage to have a black skin there,--I mean from a sanitary point of view ?
"The climate of Africa," answered our host, "is much better than its reputation. Moreover, it will improve as the land becomes civilized and cultivated. It may claim its victims, but there is no great movement which does not result in the sacrifice of a few. In the second and third generations, the Europeans will have become acclimated."
This last sentence was uttered with an intonation which indicated a full stop. The company began to converse, and I feared that the poetic harangue was definitely con- cluded. I therefore ventured to give vent to a reflection which had haunted me during the whole discourse.
"If you will excuse my boldness," I be- gan, "I should like to ask you why you leave our continent so entirely out of all your prophecies for the future. Why should the English and the French concentrate all their attention on Africa, as long as America has abundance of fertile land to offer the emigrant, not to speak of its mineral wealth and its climate, which, with all its drawbacks, is certainly preferable to that of Africa?
I am not sure that I fully comprehended his reply to this question, as he spoke rather low, and the hum of conversation about me blurred, as it were, the edges of each phrase, and prevented it from fixing itself in my memory. But, as nearly as I can remember, he was of opinion that we were too closely identified with the present nineteenth century civilization to originate any really new agencies for the solution of old problems. We were no longer virgin soil. I gathered vaguely the impression that he was not fond of us and had small respect for us. It seemed to him rather an impertinence for America to aspire to the role which he, by his sovereign decree, had assigned to Africa. He made no allusion to the fact that it was an American who had made the most daring and most successful invasions into the heart of " the dark continent," but he praised the enterprise of English explorers and reproved the unambitious indolence of the French, who could allow other nations to wrest from them the glory of such important achievements.
I remember once calling Victor Hugo's attention to the fact that people of dark complexion could resist the tropical climate more easily than those of blonde complex- ion. Would not then the Europeans grow darker in Africa, rather than the negroes grow white? And if the races mixed, I ventured to doubt whether any really high civilization could ever be developed by a race of mulattoes and quadroons, as science and experience concurred in pronouncing the mixed races feebler, and, in most respects, inferior to the pure. These objections made no impression upon Victor Hugo. He was too sure in his cause to be disturbed by any apparent conflict between his own theories and science and experience. His dreams were so vivid that he could not help believing in their reality. And who will chide him for his loyalty to his early ideals and his contempt for the pessimistic tendencies of the present generation? I profoundly respect his daring optimism, even though I distrust his prophecies and question the soundness of his philosophic judgment.
Before taking my leave, it was my intention to obtain Victor Hugo's permission to publish his views concerning African colonization. I accordingly asked him if I was at liberty to print anything he might have said during the evening that might interest the American public.
"I give you full permission to report my views," he answered, "and am glad of a chance to give them as wide a publicity as possible."
"We have among us, too," I said, "an old and wise man who takes the same hopeful view of the future as you do; I mean Mr. Emerson. When patriotic men become discouraged at the flagrant abuse of our free institutions which they have daily to witness, --when vulgar mediocrity and selfish ignorance seem triumphant, and culture, talent and purity are trodden in the dust,--then there is sore need of a strong and cheerful voice to tell us that this is but a passing crisis, from which we shall emerge the stronger and better for our very knowledge of evil. This is the gospel Mr. Emerson preaches at all critical times."
"Mr. Emerson," said Victor Hugo, giving the name a decidedly French cut. "Who is he? I never heard of him."
I gave a brief sketch of Mr. Emerson's life, and dwelt especially upon the profundity of his thought and his large ideal vision.
"I am glad," resumed our host when I had finished, "that you have such men in America. They are needed everywhere; but they are rare. The wise man is never a pessimist. A pessimist is a narrow-hearted, narrow-brained man, with a contracted mental horizon, who allows himself to get frightened at the first severe squall, and imagines the ship of state will founder. I challenge any of these shallow gentlemen, who are always seeing a catastrophe ahead and prophesying disaster and ruin,--I challenge them to tell me whether they can point to a single historic period which has not, in its totality, been a great advance upon its predecessors. I am sure they cannot. It is a mighty impulse which drives the world onward; and, in spite of traitors and bribetakers and conquering and crowned criminals, it will move onward and ever onward toward higher and better states. I see in the twentieth century the sure and inevitable abolition of the great evils which now perplex us; new problems, growing out of a still more complex civilization, will then arise, and new ages will solve them."
He here turned with a friendly nod toward me, lput his hand on my knee, and said: "Keep that in mind, sir. Do not forget it."
"You evidently take me to be a pessimist," I remarked, smiling.
"You betrayed your sympathy with the pessimists," he replied gravely, "and they are not deserving of sympathy. They are pitiable objects, these whimpering cynics, who imagine that the universe is out of joint because they have an impaired digestion. Nor have I any patience with those superior critics who, for fear of soiling their dainty hands, shirk their duties as men and citizens."
These last sentences were spoken in a familiar conversational tone, and I began to fear that the master's inspiration was tem- porarily exhausted. But the political gentleman, who was evidently as anxious as myself to have the prophetic monologue continued, hastened to attach the broken thread of the discourse.
"If I understood you aright," he said, you were of opinion that this abolition of the great social evils which perplex us may be looked for in the near future. Now, we all agree that war is a monstrous evil. Do you believe that the time is near when war will be abolished?"
"I do not believe it, sir," answered Victor Hugo with animation, "I am absolutely sure of it. I cannot tell you the exact year and date; but I can read the signs of the times, and I know and feel the direction in which the world must inevitably develop. The gradual perfecting of all instruments of destruction will soon increase the risks of war to such a formidable extent that even the crowned criminals, who so often have wantonly precipitated the nations into these terrible conflicts, will pause before incurring such a dire responsibility. Necessity will consolidate the nations and drive those of nearest kin into a defensive alliance. Thus, the French, the Spanish, the Italian and the Greek peoples will gradually approach one another and form a Latin confederacy; and the nations of the north--the peoples of Gothic origin--will be forced to form a similar alliance; not one based upon accidental diplomatic intrigues, but upon a common nationality and a strong feeling of national kinship. The smaller and unimportant differences between the nations of the same race will then appear trifling, and the necessity of being strong will engender the very sentiment which is the only safe foundation of strength. These two confederacies will be too formidable to engage in mutual warfare without the risk of mutual destruction. Even apart from progress in real enlight ened sentiment which I foresee in the twentieth century, the stakes of war will be so tremendous that no people and no sovereign will be mad enough to engage in it."
I observed a certain far-away, prophetic look in the poet's eyes, as, with his head thrown backward, and his hands thrust into his pockets, he conjured up these happy visions of the world's future. He seemed to see whatever he described, and he made his listeners see it. Being anxious to fix all this fleeting imagery on paper before it should escape my memory, I immediately took my leave, and after having received a cordial invitation to return, hurried to a neighboring restaurant, where I ordered something which I did not want, merely to gain the right of monopolizing a hard chair and a small table during the next hour. It was a little after midnight when the last omnibus from Passy came jolting along. I climbed up on its top and saw under the wide canopy of the starry heavens Victor Hugo's millennial visions passing slowly in panoramic succession before my half-closed eyes.
Three weeks later, as I was about to leave Paris, I availed myself of an opportunity to be present at one of Victor Hugo's receptions. As I entered the salon I found myself vis-a-vis with a very well-known countenance--that of Louis Blanc. He was, besides myself the only person in the room, and I had ample leisure to observe him. A small slim figure, encased in black broadcloth, a large massive head, and a kindly scholarly face--that is the first hasty outline of the personality of Louis Blanc. By way of descriptive details I might mention that his coat was very long (which circumstance gave him a semi-clerical air), that his hair was brown, sprinkled with gray, and that he had no beard, but a slight prolongation of hairy growth down into the middle of the cheek, which might be interpreted as whiskers. Victor Hugo presently entered with a lady on his arm, and five or six more couples followed. The poet, after having kissed the tips of his companion's fingers, hastened to shake hands with M. Blanc, whom he good-naturedly scolded for having neglected to come to dinner.
At that moment my attention was at- tracted by a lady who had just entered, and who stood at my side awaiting the end of our host's conversation with Louis Blanc. Victor Hugo also caught sight of her, and immediately grasped her hand. She was a woman of anomalous appearance; a short black dress (of some gauzy stuff), curious black lace mittens and a generally "emancipated" air. But what especially startled me was the botanical collection on her head, consisting mostly of tulips of enormous size and screaming colors. She nearly went down on her knees before the poet as he kissed her hand, and seemed so excited that I feared her emotions would overpower her.
"I have received your book," I heard Victor Hugo say; "it is very admirable, it is excellent."
The lady suddenly turned away and wept furtively. To be praised by the greatest poet of his age,--a stone would have experienced emotion at so exceptional a fate. The fact is, however, that Victor Hugo never reads, but always praises, the books and manuscripts that are daily sent to him. He gives them to Madame de Drouet or Madame Lockroy, and asks them to pronounce judgment upon the aspirant to fame, whose soul is perhaps thrilled with the thought that Victor Hugo is at that moment admiring his lyrical or dramatic effusions. While the happy authoress was wiping away her tears, Victor Hugo fixed his eyes upon me, at first interrogatively, then with a bright look of recognition.
"Ah, le monsieur de la revue Americaine," he said, as he shook my hand; "l'ami de M. Tourgueneff."
If I had introduced myself under any of these titles, I might perhaps have suspected a tinge of sarcasm in this persistent merging of my own personality in that of my friend, But the frank expression of his face and the cordiality with which he spoke excluded any such supposition. We talked for a few minutes about the lateness of the spring, the intensity of Parisian existence, and the revival of" Ruy Blas."
"If I remember rightly," he said, "it was you who left an engraved portrait with me some weeks ago, requesting me to add my autograph. As for the photographic views of the interior of my house of which you spoke, they would be of very small `interest, because this house is new, and is in no way associated with my deeper life. On the other hand, my country house at Guernsey, `where I lived for so many years during my exile, may have taken a tinge of my personality and embodies many of my favorite ideas. A series of etchings by Maxime Lalanne, representing my study, the vestibule, the red salon, etc., was published some years ago, and I think, is yet easily procurable."
He was here interrupted by a servant who presented him with a very shabby card. "Tell the gentleman to come in," he said. A young man of a threadbare appearance was seen pausing on the threshold and looking about him with a bewildered air. Victor Hugo immediately advanced and offered him his hand with a bon hommie which apparently took no account of his clothes. The young man remained standing near the door and began to talk very earnestly. I only heard the word "ode," pronounced four or five times with significant emphasis.
I discovered among the company several Parisian celebrities, whose photographs are exhibited in every other shop-window in he Rue de Rivoli. They were mostly men of political eminence, and, if I am not mistaken, there were present some of those gentlemen of the radical camp who are anxious to remodel society on a millennial basis. After having made an attempt to identify some of these striking physiognomies and caught detached scraps of remarks which I could not help overhearing, I stumbled upon a solitary young man with downy whiskers who sat in a corner and eemed very happy. We struck up an acquaintance, and within half an hour we were intimate. He told me with charming naivite that he was a poet, that he thought Victor Hugo the greatest man that had ever lived, and that it was a pity he was a republican. He (my interlocutor) and all his family were Legitimists, and hoped to live to see the day when Henry V. would be king of France. He confided all this to me in a frank, boyish manner, never doubting that I sympathized with him. I confess I was dastardly enough to keep my republican sentiments to myself. He was so delightfully unconscious, so fresh, and sweet, and uncorrupted, that I could not find it in my heart to sow the seed of doubt among his wholesome, hereditary beliefs.
A neighbor of Victor Hugo relates, in the journal "Evenement," the following anecdote of the poet, which is so characteristic that I shall take the liberty to transcribe it here.
In the year 1848, Victor Hugo lived in the Place Royale, and was in the habit of patronizing a barber named Brassier, who had his shop in the vicinity. One morning, the writer in the "Evenement," whom for convenience' sake I shall name H entered the barber's shop, seated himself in a chair, and elevated his chin to the proper angle, while Brassier stood sharpening his razor.
"Well, Brassier, how is business ?"
"Excellent, sir, excellent! I should say it is even too good, for I don't see how I and my boys are to get through with all the engagements which we have to-day. Balls and parties everywhere! We have to dress the hair of no less than thirty ladies for to-night. Look, here is the list of their addresses."
A few days later, Mr. H was again seated in Brassier's chair.
"How about your thirty ladies, Bras- sier?"
"Don't speak of it, sir. I didn't get around to more than half of them. And in the end I shall lose a dozen or more good customers, and it is all the fault of M. Victor Hugo.
"How the fault of M. Victor Hugo? What has he to do with your clients?"
It is just as I say, sir, and you will easily comprehend it. A few moments after you left, M. Victor Hugo entered and seated himself in this very chair. I put the napkin around his neck, seized a shaving brush, and was about to approach him, when he cried: 'Wait.' He pulled a pencil from his pocket, and began to fumble impatiently in his coat-tails and in his breast-pockets without finding what he sought. At last he discovered a piece of paper on that stand, seized it and began to write. Although I was hard pressed for time, I waited until he should have finished. But he--why he paid no more attention to me than if I had never existed, but scribbled away, and only stopped occasionally to bite his pencil. 'Well, go on, scribble away,' I said to myself. 'If you can read it your- self, you are lucky.' Such terrible scrawl! And people call him a fine writer! 'If you are at liberty, sir?' I said. 'One moment, and I shall have done,' he answered. But the moment passed, and I was still standing there with my soap-dish in my hand and my brush full of lather, and fuming with impatience. He still kept on as before, scribbling away, stopping, and raising his eyes to the ceiling. 'Pardon me, sir,' I ventured to say, 'I am very much pressed 'Ah, you are in a hurry,' he replied; 'so am I'; and then he made for the door and went. 'Your hat, sir,' I cried after him. 'You are right,' he answered smiling, 'I did not think of that.' And off he went without even allowing me to shave him. 'Gentlemen, you have not a moment to lose,' I shouted to my assistants. 'You will each go to the address which I shall give you. Here is the list--well, where is the list? Wait a minute! I declare--where is that list? What have you done with the list, you rascals?' 'Sir, it was there on that stand, a little while ago.' 'There! Are you sure of that?' 'Indeed I am, sir.' Heavenly grace! only that was wanting. It was on my list that M. Victor Hugo had just been writing. It was my list, sir, which he had carried away with him, after having covered it all over with his scrawl. Do you understand now how he made me lose my customers?"
"Compose yourself, my dear Brassier," said Mr. H . "If this scrap of paper had not been found to receive the inspiration of the poet, French literature would have lost some very fine verses. You have been the collaborateur of Victor Hugo, and that is no small honor."
Many years ago, while Lamartine was yet alive, Victor Hugo received a letter with the singular address: "To the Greatest Poet of the Age." Without opening it he sent it to the Rue de l'Universite, where Lamartine then resided. The latter, not wishing to be outdone in generosity by his rival, returned the letter to Victor Hugo. And thus the enigmatical epistle kept going back and forth for some time, and it is not known who of the two poets concluded in the end to open it. I venture to express the belief, however, that if it had arrived in 1879 instead of in 1849, Victor Hugo would have opened it without a moment's deliberation. And he would have been justified in doing so; for, with all his mannerism, declamation and rhetorical extravagance, he is yet facile princeps among the singers of his age. Nature gave him a royal equipment. And although Tennyson is an incomparably better artist, his thought has neither the strength nor the sweep and fervor which characterize Victor Hugo's noblest strains.