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scorn of an age or a people destroy the faculty of observation, much more of description, even in the historic mind; what then will they do in the poetic? Doubtless there has been, as doubtless there is now, much that is hateful and contemptible in social matters, English or other ; much also, as certainly, that is admirable and thankworthy. Doubtless too at one time and another there has been more visible of evil and shameful than of noble and good. But there can never have been a time of unmixed good or evil ; and he only who has felt the pulse of an age can tell us how fast or slow its heart really beat towards evil or towards good. A man who writes of a nation or a time, however bad and base in the main, without any love for it, cannot write of it well. A great English poetess has admirably said that a poet's heart may be large enough to hold two nations.' Victor Hugo's, apart from its heroic love of man, a love matchless except by Shelley's, holds two nations especially close, two of the greatest; it has often been said he is French and Spanish ; that is, he loves France and Spain, the spirit of them attracts his spirit ; but he does not love England. There are great Englishmen whom no man has praised more nobly than he : but the spirit of historic England has no attraction for his. Hence, far more important than any passing errors of grotesque nomenclature or misplaced detail, the spiritual and ingrained error of the book, seen only from its social or historic side. We catch nowhere for a moment the note of English life in the reign of Anne.? Those for whom I write will know, and will see, that I do not write as a special pleader for a country or a class, as one who will see no spot in England or nobility. But indeed it is an abuse of words to say that England is governed or misgoverned by her aristocracy. A republican, studying where to strike, should read better the blazon on his enemy's shield. “England," I have heard it said, “is not'a despotism tempered by epigrams,' but a plutocracy modified by accidents.”
'I know not if it has been remarked how decisive a note of the English spirit there is in Molière, a Frenchman of the French : an English current, as recognisable as indefinable, passing under and through the tide-stream of his genius. There is a more northern flavour mixed into his mind, a more northern tone interfused, than into any other of the great French writers, Rabelais excepted. Villon, for instance, in so many ways so like them both, is nothing if not Parisian. And if I am not wrong no third great Frenchman has ever found such acceptance and sympathy among Englishmen unimbued with the French spirit as Rabelais and Molière. For them instinct breaks down the bar of ignorance.
Enough now of the flaws and failures in this work ; “ enough, with over-measure.” We have yet before us the splendour of its depths and heights. Entering the depths first, we come upon the evil spirit of the place. Barkilphedro, who plays here the part of devil, is a bastard begotten by lago upon his sister, Madame de Merteuil : having something of both, but diminished and degraded ; wanting, for instance, the deep dæmonic calm of their lifelong patience. He has too much inward heat of discontent, too much fever and fire, to
For one instance, if a court lady had indeed insulted Swift, she would certainly have had by way of answer something (in De Quincey's phrase) “ too monstrously Swiftian for quotation;" something so monstrous, that the Dean might thenceforth have held the next place to Gwynplaine in her heart.
know their perfect peace of spirit, the equable element of their souls, the quiet of mind in which they live and work out their work at leisure. He does not sin at rest: there is somewhat of fume and fret in his wickedness. Theirs is the peace of the devil, which passeth all understanding. He, though like them sinning for sin's sake and hating for the love of hatred, has yet a too distinct and positive quality of definable evil. He is actually ungrateful, envious, false. Of them we cannot say that they are thus or thus; in them there is a purity and simplicity of sin, which has no sensible components; which cannot be resolved by analysis into this evil quality and that. Barkilphedro, as his maker says with profound humour, “has his faults." We fear that a sufficient bribe might even tempt him into virtue for a moment, seduce him to soil by a passing slip the virginity of vice. Nevertheless, as the evil spirit of envy rather than the devil absolute, he is a strong spirit and worth study. The few chapters, full of fiery eloquence and a passion bitter as blood, in which his evil soul is stripped and submitted to vivisection, contain, if read aright, the best commentary ever written on Iago. We see now at last, what no scholiast on Shakespeare could show us, how the seed may be sown and watered which in season shall bring forth so black a blossom, a poison so acrid and so sure.
In this poem as in the old pictures we see the serpent writhing, not fangless, under the foot of an angel, and in act tu bruise as of old the heel that bruises his head. Only this time it is hardly an angel of light. Unconscious of her office as another St. Michael, the Angel of the Flesh treads under the unconquerable Devil.
Seen but once in full, the naked glory of the Titaness irradiates all one side of the poem with excess and superflux of splendour.
Among the fields and gardens, the mountain heights and hollows, of Victor Hugo's vast poetic kingdom, there are strange superb inmates, bird and beast of various fur and feather ; but as yet there was nothing like this. Balzac, working with other means, might have given us by dint of anxious anatomy some picture of the virgin harlot. A marvellous study we should have had, one to burn into the brain and brand the memory for ever ; but rather a thing to admire than desire. The magnetism of beauty, the effluence of attraction, he would not have given us. But now we have her from the hands of a poet as well as student, new-blown and actual as a gathered fower, in warm bloom of blood and breath, clothed with live colour, fair with significant flesh, passionately palpable. This we see first and feel, and after this the spirit. It is a strange beast that hides in this den of roses. Such have been however, and must be. “We are all a little mad, beginning with Venus." Her maker's definition is complete : “a possible Astarte latent in an actual Diana.” She is not merely spotless in body; she is perverse, not unclean ; there is nothing of foulness in the mystic rage of her desire. She is indeed “ stainless and shameless ;” to be unclean is common, and her “divine depravity” will touch nothing common or unclean. She has seven devils in her, and upon her not a fleck of filth. She has no more in common with the lewd low hirelings of the baser school of realism than a creature of the brothel and the street has in
common with the Mænads who rent in sunder the living limbs of Orpheus. We seem to hear about her the beat and clash of the terrible timbrels, the music that Æschylus set to verse, the music that made mad, the upper notes of the psalm shrill and strong as a sea-wind, the “bull-voiced ” bellowing under-song of those dread choristers from somewhere out of sight, the tempest of tambourines giving back thunder to the thunder,' the fury of divine lust that thickened with human blood the hill-streams of Cithæron.
It is no vain vaunt of the modern master's that he has given us in another guise one of these Æschylean women, a monstrous goddess, whose tone of voice "gave a sort of Promethean grandeur to her furious and amorous words,” who had in her the tragic and Titanic passion of the women of the Eleusinian feasts “ seeking the satyrs under the stars.” And with all this fierce excess of imaginative colour and tragic intonation, the woman is modern and possible ; she might be now alive, and may be. Some of her words have the light of an apocalypse, the tone of a truth indubitable henceforth and sensible to all. “You were not born with that horrible laugh on your face, were you ? no? It must be a penal mutilation. I do hope you have committed some crime.—No one has touched me, I give myself up to you as pure as burning fire, I see you do not believe me, but if you only knew how little I care !-Despise me, you that people despise. Degradation below degradation, what a pleasure ! the double flower of ignominy! I am gathering it. Trample me underfoot. You will like me all the better. I know
· Æsch. Fr. 54 ('Howvol).