Imagens das páginas

of showing the true character of the Revolution, of unfolding the causes in which it originated, and of describing exactly what changes it wrought in the condition of France; and he soon set about his task with as much activity and zeal as the state of his health and spirits would permit. He made large and exhaustive researches in the provincial archives and at Paris, gathering much new and precious material for his work; and in order to fit himself still better for his undertaking he began, at the age of forty-eight, to study German, of which he was entirely ignorant. The work which he proposed to write would probably have extended to three volumes, and was never completed; but in 1856 he published the first part, under the title of L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, and De Beaumont has printed with his Memoir two short chapters on the state of France before the Consulate, which had been written out for the continuation.

De Tocqueville's second book is only a fragment of a much more voluminous work which he had planned, but had scarcely begun to execute, and any attempt to characterize it in general terms must therefore be imperfect. We ought, however, to bear testimony to the amplitude of research, the clearness of statement, and the freedom from partisanship by which it is everywhere marked, as well as to its many graces of style. The special object of the first part was, as he tells us in the Preliminary Notice,“ to explain why the great Revolution, which was in preparation at the same time over almost the whole continent of Europe, broke out in France sooner than elsewhere; why it sprang spontaneously from the society which it was about to destroy ; and lastly, how the old French monarchy came to fall so completely and so abruptly." After a preliminary discussion as to the general character of the Revolution, which, he contends, was not primarily designed to destroy the authority of religious belief and to weaken political power, but to substitute for the feudal institutions of the Middle Age “a more uniform and simple state of society and politics, based upon an equality of social condition,” he proceeds to show that administrative centralization existed in France before the Revolution of 1789, and that in no other country had the metropolis gained so great a preponderance

[ocr errors]

over the provinces; that nowhere else had men become so much alike, while at the same time they had never before been broken up into so many hostile groups and classes; that in some respects the condition of the French peasantry was worse in the eighteenth century than it had been in the thirteenth ; that irreligion prevailed widely; that the French aimed to reform rather than to revolutionize; and that the very attempt to correct existing abuses hastened the Revolution. Such, in a few words, are the chief points in his survey, and all of them, we may add, are strongly brought out and clearly enforced.

As De Beaumont well remarks, the book met with prodigious success, not only in France, but in other countries, and was perhaps even more popular than his first work. It was twice translated into English ; and on the occasion of a third visit to England, which he made in the following year, it secured for him a still more hearty welcome than he had received twentytwo years before. On his return to France the English government placed a national vessel at his command to convey him across the Channel, an honor by which he seems to have been much gratified, but which the French papers were not allowed to mention. For the English constitution he had a just admiration ; but he was not insensible to the vices of the English character, and, notwithstanding his many personal friends in England, he freely expressed his opinions on this point. “Mr. Grote sometimes delights us by sending English newspapers, he wrote to De Beaumont, in December, 1856. “There is a charming frankness in their nationality. In their eyes the enemies of England must be rogues, and her friends great

It is their only standard.” To Mrs. Grote he wrote, a month later: “ In the eyes of an Englishman a cause is just if it be the interest of England that it should succeed. A man or a government that is useful to England has every kind of merit, and one that does England harm every possible fault. The criterion of what is honorable, or great, or just, is to be found in the degree of favor or of opposition to English interests." And he repeatedly expostulated with his English friends on the pusillanimous laudations with which the English

press and people bespattered Louis Napoleon. De Tocqueville did not long enjoy the increased reputation



which the Ancien Régime gave him. His health had long been delicate, and he had sometimes been compelled to pass a winter under more genial skies than those of Paris or Normandy; but neither he nor his friends had ever been led to think that his disease was of a pulmonary character. In June, 1858, however, he broke a blood-vessel ; and from that time he began to fail rapidly, but without losing hope of ultimate recovery. At length, after four months' delay, he set out for Cannes, in the South of France, to pass the winter. He arrived there in November, and fixed his residence in one of the most charming spots of that lovely neighborhood; but the season was unfavorable, and during much of the time he was confined to the house, and even to his room. His wife and one of his brothers were with him almost constantly, though during a part of the time Madame de Tocqueville was prostrated by severe illness; and it was not until the last that he sent for any of his other friends. One of the most cherished, J. J. Ampère, only reached Cannes in time to assist in paying the last tribute of respect to his memory. He died on the 16th of April, 1859 ; and his remains were finally laid to rest in the parish cemetery of Tocqueville.

Among the illustrious men whose deaths have made that year forever memorable not one left a purer record; and his name well deserves to be placed by the side of those of Hallam, Prescott, Macaulay, and Humboldt. He had a vigorous intellect, great powers of analysis and generalization, an unspotted character, and a tender and affectionate nature. His wife was bound to him by the closest sympathies, and he never suffered his early or his later friendships to be chilled by absence or the lapse of time. As a statesman he would probably never have risen to the foremost place, though under any circumstances he must have held a respectable rank. As an historian and a political philosopher his pre-eminence is undeniable; and if he had lived to finish his latest work we doubt not that he would have acquired a still higher reputation. The more thoroughly his moral and intellectual character is studied, and the more carefully his writings are examined, the more deserving of lasting honor will they be found.


Bu ton k Alger SHAKESPEARE's Sonnets ; reproduced in Fac-Simile by the New

Process of Photo-Zincography in Use at Her Majesty's OrdnanceSurvey Office. From the unrivalled Original in the Library of Bridgewater House, by Permission of the Right Hon. the Earl of Ellesmere. London : Lovell Reeve & Co. 1862. Square 8vo.

Of all the friendships recorded in literature not one is fitted to awaken so profound an interest in appreciative readers as that which lived between William Shakespeare, the wonderful player-poet, and the disputed Unknown addressed in his Sonnets. The mysterious obscurity that envelops the personal history of the greatest Englishman has been considered as provocative and baffling in this particular relation as on any other point. But, it seems to us, the critics have imagined a darkness and created difficulties which do not exist. A satisfactory explanation, we believe, as to whom the personage in question is, and as to the chief features of the experience associated with him in the life of the peerless poet, is not impossible to those who can deeply decipher literary symbols, and who will devote the requisite time and pains to the indirect biographic record of the facts. Before undertaking, however, the imperfect attempt of this kind which we propose here to make, a few preliminaries are necessary.

To most readers the Sonnets of Shakespeare have been a sealed and neglected book. Few even of the admiring devourers of his plays have read these surcharged and delicious compositions, - transcripts from his heart, - much less had any due appreciation of their breathing sincerity and other superlative merits. For a hundred and eighty years after their publication they were almost absolutely unnoticed so far as printed accounts inform us. Then began the controversy about them which has gone on to this day, and is now more rife than ever before. The first editors agreed in depreciating them to the lowest pitch, one editor asserting that they were 80 worthless and tedious that nothing short of an act of Parliament could compel people to read them. Little by little the unparalleled worth and beauty of their contents, aided by the

ardent praise of such authoritative judges as Schlegel, Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Lamb, have won attention. Not · yet in the degree they deserve. A dozen separate editions of them in the present century, culminating in Messrs. Reeve & Co.'s curious and costly fac-simile of the original impression, testify to the interest they have awakened. But that interest, unfortunately, is more controversial or factitious than intrinsic. Even now the majority of those who, attracted by the fame of their author, or by some other curiosity, undertake to peruse the Sonnets, having inadequate kindred experience and enthusiasm of their own, inadequate richness and fineness of spirit to give interpretative responses to the soaring and elusive hints, turn the pages listlessly, and soon close the book, and never return to it again. Only here and there an elect heart makes the volume all his own. Unlocking its secret with an inner key, and appropriating the contents, he finds in them the autobiography of a friendship as rare as any that ever breathed in flesh or was enshrined in words.

Most of the obscurities and discussions connected with these poems are the natural result of the circumstances of the case, of the lapse of time, and of the average incapacity to enter understandingly into the extraordinary experience which they set down and celebrate in verse of such transcendent value and beauty. There is nothing strange in the problem, nothing which may not easily be accounted for. The first cause of apparent mystery is the contrast between the immense curiosity as to details, felt now that Shakespeare's genius and fame saturate the world, and the relative silence and vacancy in the contemporaneous annals which have come down to us. But we must remember that those contemporaries did not anticipate the curiosity that would be felt now; moreover, that the friendship in question was a private affair of the parties, not concerning the public. It is only through the interfering enterprise of a publisher that any knowledge of it at all has reached us. Many a fervid and absorbing friendship has existed and passed away without the slightest written memorial. Shakespeare being a poet, his oppressed heart found vent in verse, and his genius gave the verse such a marvellous charm that it could not escape circulation and publicity ; but that

« AnteriorContinuar »