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that.—Oh ! I should like to be with you in the evening, while they were playing music, each of us leaning back against the same cushion, under the purple awning of a golden galley, in the midst of the infinite sweetnesses of the sea. Insult me. Beat me. Pay me. Treat me like a street-walker. I adore you."
The naturalism of all that is absolute; you hear the words pant and ring. Some might doubt whether her wild citations of old stories that matched her case, her sudden fantastic allusions to these at the very height of her frenzy, were as natural : I think they are. The great poet had a right if it pleased him to give his modern Mänad the thought and the tongue of a Sappho with the place and the caprice of a Cleopatra. Such a pantheress might be such a poetess; then between fancy and fury we should have our Bassarid complete, only with silk for fox-skin. And this might be; for the type of spirit can hardly be rare in any luxurious age. Perversity is the fruit of weariness as weariness is the fruit of pleasure. Charles Baudelaire has often set that theme to mystic music, but in a minor key : his sweet and subtle lyrics were the prelude to this grand chorus of the master's.
We have seen the soft fierce play of the incessant summer lightnings, between the deep sky full of passing lights and dreams, and the deep sea full of the salt seed of life; and among them Venus arising, the final and fatal flower of the mystic heaven and the ravenous sea. Looking now from west to east, we may see the moon rise, a tender tear-blinded moon, worn thin and pure, ardent and transparent.
A great poet can perfect his picture with strangely few
touches. We see Virgilia as clearly as Imogen; we see Dea as clearly as Esmeralda. Yet Imogen pervades the action of “ Cymbeline,” Virgilia hardly speaks in crossing the stage of “ Coriolanus.” It is not easy to write at all about the last chapters of the book; something divine is there, impalpable and indefinable. I must steal the word I want; they are “written as if in star-fire and immortal tears.” Or, to take Shakespeare's words after Carlyle's, they are “ most dearly sweet and bitter.” The pathos of Æschylus is no more like Dante's, Dante's no more like Shakespeare's, than any of these is like Hugo's. Every master of pathos has a key of his own to unlock the source of tears, or of that passionate and piteous pleasure which lies above and under the region of tears. Some, like Dante, condense the whole agony of a life into one exquisite and bitter drop of distilled pain. Others, like Shakespeare, translate it pang by pang into a complete cadence and symphony of suffering. Between Lear and Ugolino the balance can never be struck. Charles Lamb, we may remember, spent hours on the debate with a friend who upheld Dante's way of work against Shakespeare's. On which side we are to range the greatest poet of our own age, there can be no moment of question. I am not sure that he has ever touched the keys of sorrow with surer hand to deeper music than here. There is nothing in his work of a more heavenly kind ; yet, or it may be because, every word has in it the vibration of earthly emotion ; but through it rather than above, there grows and pierces a note of divine tenderness, the very passion of pity that before this has made wise men mad. Even more than the pathos of this close, its purity and exaltation are to be noted; nothing of common is there, nothing of theatrical. And indeed it needed the supreme sweetness of Dea's reappearance, a figure translucent with divine death, a form of flesh that the light of heaven shines through more and more as the bodily veil wears thinner and consumes, to close with music and the luminous vision of a last comfort a book so full of the sound and shine of storm. With the clamour and horror yet in our ears of that raging eloquence in which the sufferer flings into the faces of prosperous men the very flame and hell-fire of his suffering, it needed no less than this to leave the mind exalted and reconciled. But this dew of heaven is enough to quench or allay the flames of any hell. There are words of a sweetness unsurpassable, as these : “ Tout cela s'en va, et il n'y aura plus de chansons.” And upon all there dwells the measureless and nameless peace of night upon a still sea. To this quiet we have been led through all the thunder and tumult of things fatal, from the tempestuous overture of storm and whirlwind; from sea again to sea. There is a divine and terrible harmony in this chorus of the play, secretly and strangely sustained, yet so that on a full reading we feel it, though at first sight or hearing it must be missed.
Of the master's unequalled power upon natural things, upon the elements we call inanimate, knowing even less the laws of their life than of ours, there is happily no need, as surely there are no words, to speak. Part of this power we may recognise as due to the subtle and deep admixture of moral emotion and of human sentiment with the mysterious action and passion of nature. Thus in
“ Les Travailleurs de la Mer” the wind and the sea gain strength and depth from the human figure set to fight them; from the depth and strength of the incarnate spirit so doing and suffering. Thus in this book there is a new sense and a new sublimity added to the tempest by the remorse of men sinking at once under sin and storm, drowned under a double weight of deeds and waves.
Not even in that other book is the supreme mastery of nature, the lordship of the forces of things, more admirable and wonderful than throughout the first part of this. He who could think to describe might think to rival it. But of one point I cannot but take note ; there is nothing, even at the height of tragic horror, repellent, ugly, hateful. It has been said there is, and will be said again; for how should there not be distorted eyes and envious tongues in the world ? Indeed a pieuvre is no pleasant playfellow, the “ tree of man's making” bears a fearful fruit, the monstrous maidenhood of Josiane is no sister to the starry virginity of Dea; but how has the great poet handled these things? The mutilation of a child's face is a thing unbearable for thought to rest on; but have we not seen first the face of a heroic soul? Far elsewhere than in the work of our sovereign poet must we look for the horror which art will have none of, which nature Alings back with loathing in the bringer's face. If not, we of this time who love and serve his art should indeed be in a bad case. But upon this matter we cannot permit the blind and nameless leaders of the nameless blind to decide for us. Let the serious and candid student look again for himself and see. That “fight of the dead with the dark,” that swinging of carrion birds
with the swing of the gibbeted carrion, might have been so done into words as to beget in us mere loathing; but how is it done here? The mighty manner of Victor Hugo has given to this ghastly matter something even of a horrible charm, a shocking splendour of effect. The rhythmic horror of the thing penetrates us not with loathing, but with a tragic awe and terror as at a real piece of the wind's work, an actual caprice of the night's, a portion of the tempest of things. So it is always; handle what he may, the touch of a great poet will leave upon it a spell to consume and transmute whatever a weaker touch would leave in it of repulsive.
Whether or not we are now speaking of a great poet, of a name imperishable, is not a question which can be gravely deliberated. I have only to record my own poor conviction, based on some study and comparison of the 'men, that precisely as we now think of those judges who put Fletcher above Shakespeare, Cowley above Milton, the paid poets of Richelieu beside Corneille, and I know not whom beside Molière, will the future think of those judges who would place any poet of his age by the side of Victor Hugo.' Nor has his age proved poor—it has rather been singularly rich in men and in poets really and greatly admirable. But even had another done as well once and again as the master himself, who has done so well as much ? Had he done but half, had he done but a tenth of his actual work, his supremacy, being less incontestable, would no doubt have been less contested. A parsimonjous poet calculates well for his own time. Had Victor Hugo granted us but one great play-say “Marion de Lorme," but one great lyric work- say