« AnteriorContinuar »
good, of good inextricable from evil, the rallying cry of hope seems for the moment, and only for the moment seems, to falter even on the lips which uttered that sovereign song of resurrection, great as the greatest old Hebrew psalm, which crowns and closes the awful roll of the “Châtiments." For that mighty hymn of a transcendant faith in the final conscience of the world called God, in the ultimate justice and universal vision of the eye and heart of things, we have but the grand unanswerable question :
“ Qui donc mesurera l'ombre d'un bout à l'autre,
Et la vie et la tombe, espaces inouïs
In this tragic range of poems reaching from September to March there is an echo of all emotions in turn that the great spirit of a patriot and a poet could suffer and express by translation of suffering into song ; the bitter cry of invective and satire, the clear trumpet-call to defence, the triumphal wail for those who fell for France, the passionate sob of a son on the stricken bosom of a mother, the deep note of thought that slowly opens into flower of speech, and through all and after all the sweet unspeakable music of natural and simple love. After the voice which reproaches the priestlike soldier we hear the voice which rebukes the militant priest : and a fire as the fire of Juvenal is outshone by a light as the light of Lucretius. In the verses addressed “to the Bishop who calls me Atheist,” satire is dissolved in aspiration, and the keenest edge of scorn is molten in the highest ardour of worship. The necessity of perfect disbelief in the incredible and ignoble for every soul that would attain to perfect belief in the noble and credible was never more clearly expounded or more loftily proclaimed. The fiery love and faith of the patriot find again and ever again some fresh glory of speech, some new splendour of song, in which to array themselves for everlasting ; words of hatred and horror for the greed and ravin of the enemy and his princes
" who feed on gold and blood Till with the stain their inmost souls are dyed ; ” words of wrath and scorn for the renegade friends who had no word of comfort and no hand for help in the hour of the passion of France crucified, but were seen with hands outstretched from oversea
“Shaking the bloody fingers of her foes”. in the presence (as they thought it) of her corpse ; words of living fire and light for love of the mother-land despised and rejected of men whose pity goes so far as to compassionate her children for the blush of shame to which their bitter fortune has condemned them, for the disgrace of being compelled to confess her for their mother :
"Ah ! je voudrais,
"I may cite here, as in echo of this cry, the noble words just now addressed by the greatest of American voices to “ the star, the ship of France, beat back and baffled long-dim, smitten star-star
Others who will may have the honour of that privilege, to cast the weight of their hearts upon the losing side, to bring tribute of love and trust and reverence rather to failure than to success, to a republic bound in chains of iron than to an empire bound in chains of gold ; but men who have the lineal pulse of French blood in their veins and the traditional memories of French kindred and alliance in their hearts, men to whose forefathers in exile for their faith's sake the mighty mother has once and again opened her arms for shelter in past ages, and fostered under her wings generation after generation as her children, cannot well read such words as these without a thrill of the blood and a kindling of the memory which neither the native of France nor the kinless foreigner can wholly share.
Side by side with the ardent denunciations of German
panting o'er a land of death-heroic land !” This prophecy is from the new song of Whitman :
“ Sure, as the ship of all, the Earth itself,
Product of deathly fire and turbulent chaos,
So thou, O ship of France !" In the notes to his essay on “ Democratic Vistas” Whitman for one expresses his recognition of Hugo living and Byron dead as “de. serving so well of America ;" which may be set against the impertinences of meaner American persons. It may likewise be remarked and remembered with pleasure that among the last printed words of Landor were two little stanzas of tributary verse in honour of the younger poet's exile. Amid the countless calumnes and insults cast upon that exile by French and English writers of the reptile kind, it is a relief to recall the greeting sent to it by a great English republican from the extreme verge of life, and from the shore of the new world by the first poet of American democracy.
rapine and spoliation, of the hands found equally ready to seize a province or a purse, the purblind and devout incompetence of the defender who “would rather go with sir priest than sir knight,” the soldier who for all his personal courage was “inclined to charge the saints in heaven with the task of keeping off the danger,” is twice and thrice chastised with bitter and burning words of remonstrance. The keenest sarcasm however was in store for June, when an impertinence of this man's drew down a memorable retort on the general whose sallies were reserved for the writer ; he was somewhat chary of them during the time of the siege; a general who might as well have taken the offensive against the enemy instead.
In sharp and sweet contrast to these stand the poems of a finer excellence, such as the letter of January 10th sent by balloon from the besieged city with its bright brave message of affection and confiderice, full of the clear light laughter of French heroism not less than of its high and fiery faith. But for perfect delight and strong charm of loveliness we return at each reading to the domestic poems as to the crowning splendour and wonder of this great book. All students have always known Victor Hugo for the supreme singer of childhood ; of its works and ways, its gladness and sadness, its earthly weakness and heavenly beauty, its indefinable attraction lying deeper than all reason can sound or all analysis resolve. Even after Shakespeare's portrait of Mamillius, and the divine cradle-songs of Blake, we are compelled to recognise in the living master the most perfect poet of little children. Circumstances have given to these present poems a colour and a pathos, a gentle glory and a luminous tenderness, which only such a framework of time and place could give. Out of the strong has come forth such sweetness, out of the lion's mouth such honey, as no smaller or weaker thing can breed. Assuredly, as the Master has said himself in that majestic prose poem inscribed with the name of Shakespeare, the mightiest mountains can outmatch even for flowers the valleys whose whole business is to rear them ; their blossoming ravines and hollows full of April can beat the meadows at their own trade; the strongest of singers are the sweetest, and no poet of the idyllic or elegiac kind can rival even on his own peculiar ground, for tender grace and delicacy of beauty, the most potent poets of a higher order, sovereigns of lyric and of tragic song. It is Æschylus, and not Euripides, who fills the bitter air of the Scythian ravine with music of wings and words more sweet than sleep to the weary, with notes of heavenly pity and love unsubduable by fear ; who shows us with one touch of terrible tenderness the maiden agony of Iphigenia, smiting with the piteous dart of her eye each one of the ministers of sacrifice, in dumb show as of a picture striving to speak to them ; who throws upon the most fearful scene in all tragedy a flash of pathos unspeakable, when Clytæmnestra bares before the sword of her son the bosom that suckled him as he slept. What Euripidean overflow of tears and words can be matched for its own special and much vaunted quality of tender and pathetic sweetness against such instances as these of the awful sweetness and intensity of the pathos of Æschylus ? what wailing outcry “in the measures of