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that art which " itself is nature ;” he is not more for Brutus than for Antony, for Portia or Volumnia than for Cleopatra. This supreme office, it is evident, can scarcely be fulfilled by a poet of whom it is possible for his most loving disciple and the son of his adoption to say, as Auguste Vacquerie has said of Victor Hugo, that all his works are acts of public virtue and charity, that his books are consecrated to the study and the relief of all sufferings, that his plays are dedicated to all the outcast and disinherited of the world. It is the general presence and predominance of this predeterminate and prepense design which has exposed his marvellous work to the charge of too deliberate and mechanical preparation, too studious premeditation of effect, too careful preoccupation of result. This in fact is the sum and sense of those imputations of calculated extravagance or preconcerted pathos and puppetry of passion done to order, outer heat of artificial fire with inner frost of spiritual cold, cast upon him by the only two famous men, among many infamous and obscure, who have attempted to impugn his greatness. But the most devout believer in Goethe's or in Heine's judgment, if not blind as well as devout, must allow that the edge of their criticism is somewhat blunted by the fact that in the same breath they decry with loud and acrid violence of accent the man generally acknowledged as chief poet of his age and country, and extol in his place the names of such other Frenchmen as no countryman of their own outside their private social set or literary party could hear cited as his rivals without a smile. If fault be found in our hearing by any critic of general note and repute with some alleged shortcoming in the genius or defect in the workmanship of
Shakespeare, of Michel Angelo, or of Handel, the force of the objection will be somewhat taken off when we find that the eminent fault-finder proposes to exalt in their stead as preferable objects of worship the works of Racine, of Guido, or of Rossini ; and in like manner we are constrained to think less of the objections taken to Hugo by the Jupiter of Weimar and the Aristophanes of Germany, when we find that Goethe offers us as a substitute for his Titanic sculptures the exquisite jewellery and faultless carvings of Prosper Mérimée ; as though one should offer to supplant the statuary “in that small chapel of the dim St. Laurence,” not by that of the Panathenaic series, but by the white marble shrine of Orcagna in which the whole legend of the life of Mary is so tenderly and wonderfully wrought in little ; while Heine would give us, for the sun of that most active and passionate genius, its solar strength and heat, its lightning and its light, the intermittent twinkle of a planet now fiery as a shooting star, now watery as a waning moonsweet indeed and bright for the space of its hour, and anon fallen as an exhalation in some barren and quaking bog; would leave to France, in lieu of the divine and human harmony and glory of Hugo's mighty line, the fantastic tenderness and ardent languor, the vacuous monotonous desire and discontent, the fitful and febrile beauty of Alfred de Musset.
But whether or not there be reason in the objection that even such great works as “ Marion de Lorme ” and “Ruy Blas” are comparatively discoloured by this moral earnestness and strenuous preference of good to evil, or that besides this alleged distortion and diversion of art from its proper line of work, too much has been sacrificed or at least subordinated to the study of stage surprises conveyed in a constant succession of galvanic shocks, as though to atone for neglect or violation of dramatic duty and the inner law of artistic growth and poetic propriety by excess of outward and theatrical observance of effect; whether or not these and such-like deductions may be made from the fame of this great poet as dramatist or as novelist, in such a book as that now before us this quality is glorious only and dangerous no more. The partisanship which is the imperfection of a play is the perfection of a war-song or other national lyric, be it of lamentation, of exhortation, or of triumph. This book of song takes its place beyond question beside the greatest on that lyric list which reaches from the “ Odes et Ballades” to the “Chansons des Rues et des Bois ;" such a list of labours and triumphs as what other lyrist can show? First come the clear boyish notes of prelude, songs of earliest faith and fancy, royalist and romantic ; then the brilliant vivid ballads, full already of supple harmonies and potent masteries of music, of passion and sentiment, force and grace; then the auroral resonance and radiance of the luminous “Orientales,” the high and tender cadences of the “ Feuilles d'Automne," the floating and changing melodies of the “Chants du Crépuscule,” the fervent and intimate echoes of the “ Voix Intérieures,” the ardent and subtle refractions of “ Les Rayons et les Ombres ;” each in especial of these two latter books of song crowned by one of the most perfect lyrics in all the world of art for sweetness and sublimity—the former by those stanzas on the sound of the unseen sea by night, which have in them
the very heart and mystery of darkness, the very music and the very passion of wave and wind; the other by that most wonderful and adorable poem in which all the sweet and bitter madness of love strong as death is distilled into deathless speech, the little lyric tragedy of Gastibelza : next, after many silent or at least songless years, the pealing thunders and blasting sunbeams of the “ Châtiments :" then a work yet wider and higher and deeper than all these, the marvellous roll of the “Con. templations," having in it all the stored and secret treasures of youth and age, of thought and faith, of love and sorrow, of life and death ; with the mystery of the stars and the sepulchres above them and beneath : then the terrible and splendid chronicle of human evil and good, the epic and lyric “ Légende des Siècles,” with its infinite variety of action and passion infernal and divine: then the subtle and full-throated carols of vigorous and various fancy built up in symmetrical modulation of elaborate symphonies by vision or by memory among the woods and streets : and now the sorrowful and stormy notes of the giant organ whose keys are the months of this “ Année Terrible." And all these make up but one division of the work of one man's life: and we know that in the yet unsounded depth of his fathomless genius, as in the sunless treasure-houses of the sea, there are still jewels of what price we know not that must in their turn see light and give light. For these we have a prayer to put up that the gift of them may not be long delayed. There are few delights in any life so high and rare as the subtle and strong delight of sovereign art and poetry ; there are none more pure and more sublime. To have
read the greatest works of any great poet, to have beheld or heard the greatest works of any great painter or musician, is a possession added to the best things of life. As we pity ourselves for the loss of poems and pictures which have perished, and left of Sappho but a fragment and of Zeuxis but a name, so are we inclined to pity the dead who died too soon to enjoy the great works that we have enjoyed. At each new glory that “ swims into our ken” we surely feel that it is something to have lived to see this too rise. Those who might have had such an addition to the good things of their life, and were defrauded of it by delay, have reason to utter from the shades their ghostly complaint and reproach against the giver who withheld his gift from the world till they had passed out of it, and so made their lives less by one good thing, and that good thing a pleasure of great price. We know that our greatest poet living has kept back for many years some samples of his work; and much as he has given, we are but the more impelled by consideration of that imperial munificence to desire and demand its perfect consummation. Let us not have to wait longer than must needs be for the gift of our promised treasures; for the completion of that social and historic trilogy which has yet two parts to accomplish; for the plays whose names are now to us as the names of the lost plays of Æschylus, for the poems which are as the lost poems of Pindar ; for the light and sustenance, the glory and the joy, which the world has yet to expect at the hands of Victor Hugo.