Un bouleversant secret - Seconde chance pour un amour (Harlequin Azur) (French Edition)

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In these especially he invokes the com- panionship of the inanimate, and ransacks earth and heaven for fair similitudes. Another, its counterpart and complement, is the impotence of envious time. No poet can ever have carried with him a more absorbing ideal of fame than Ronsard. Queens and cardinals and what was more to him his peers and scholars promised him immortality: Without false shame, he sang of it constantly, thinking less of his own person than of his illustrious tribe.

For it is this after all which, more than his positive achievement, makes Ronsard stand out among the poets of France — that he lifted his art, once and for all, out of the domesticity in which it languished, and proclaimed the poet his own tyrant, with a royal conscience to guard and govern his inspiration. In his view facility and servility were one: Instead of these he brought into French poetry the real kinds — or what seemed such — into which the Greeks and Romans had distributed all metrical composition, only excepting the Italian sonnet from his proscription of ' fixed forms.

He failed disastrously with his Franciade, partly because he wanted the genius of sustained narration, partly because he had not access to the genuine matter of French epic and was easily seduced by the prestige of a bookish argument. But love, landscape and the praise of noble men are not all the stuff of Ronsard's finest work: His towering figure dwarfs his comrades — Du Bellay, the tender and spontaneous elegiac with a vein of satire, and a master of the sonnet; Remy Belleau, an exquisite craftsman; the learned Baif, the philosophical Pontus de Thyard ; Etienne Jodelle, who inaugurated French tragedy, but a better poet than dramatist.

Their aims were Ronsard's: And when a generation has passed, and Desportes appears, sugared and precious, there is an end of high ambitions, and the fester of Italianism lies open. Those Danaan gifts of the Renaissance, the curiosity of life and the theory of beauty, came charged with dangers for the poise of the French mind. It had not to acquire the notion of humanity, and the new learning diffused through Christendom furnished that notion with a store of concrete applications to a distant age and other races, so like and so unlike us.

But Italy had set up an equivocal ideal of the homo maxiTne homo, and the universal man was conceived not as a norm but as a rarity; by her example that craving to multiply the particular existence which is the principle of artistic effort as of most other activities confounded art with accomplishments and aristocracy with vocation. It was a gain to French poetry that aesthetic emotion should be perceived as the specific criterion of perfect work, that form should be recognised as logically distinct from matter, and the legitimate object of a method deducible from the study of great models: Agrippa d'Aubigne, a Huguenot captain, wrote voluminously both prose and verse, in the intervals of fighting for religious freedom and the dismemberment of his country; his humorous Faeneste is forgotten, but the fame of Les Tragicques has almost in our times revived.

The poem belongs to the fiercest period of the civil wars, though it was not published before the first years of the seventeenth century, which saw the final ruin of the protestant feudalism. It is long, loosely constructed, tedious in parts; d'Aubigne's Alexandrine is, like Ronsard's, a shifting entity ; and there are quagmires of finical phrase in the masterpiece, which remind his readers that the old fanatic had served his poetical apprenticeship as a purveyor of gallantries.

But the rhythm has a prodigious energy, the vivid scenes of conspiracy and slaughter burn our eyes as we read, the comminatory parts are pitched in a key of Hebraical solemnity: Les Tragicques is a monument of lyrical satire which stood alone in the language until the exile of Victor Hugo produced Les Ghdtiments, and is hardly to be matched in ours for the sonorous vehemence of its invective, though we have Milton's thunderous verse and scurrilous prose, and the sardonical fury of Absalom and Achitophel.

Mathurin Regnier is a satirist of another sort. His erudition — for he knew the Romans by heart — and his colour bind him to the Pleiad: Moliere inherited his vein and his diction, and the prose of Saint- Simon more than a hundred years later had the same vivacity and savour in a similar enterprise. This scandalous churchman he was incorrigibly profligate chastised folly without zeal, by the malice of keen senses and the tenacity of a sensuous memory which revived the very looks and tones and gestures of men, but also by the h 20 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS integrating force of an intelligence which could gather into types the particular bugbears of his sane humanity.

It was perhaps as the nephew of Desportes that Regnier felt obliged to break a lance with the implacable critic of his relative, by way of defending the fame of Ronsard: Fran9ois de Malherbe was a Norman gentleman who spent his life in hard campaigning of one sort or another: He wrote a very few thousand lines of verse ; and of that little some is in the worst taste of the times, stilted and decorative and grossly Italianate. How he was converted is not known, but in middle age, or rather later, he formed a new manner, from which conceits are not entirely absent, but which is in the main the perfect model of sententious eloquence.

There was no exuberance in his talent: With these, and the grave and confident tone of a robust frankness, a reasonable stoicism, he achieved two or three masterpieces which teach the meaning of orderly and true expression. But his precepts, formal and informal, were even more valuable than his example. They result from an intolerant contempt for waste material, and a conception eminently social of his art.

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The chaotic affluence of Ronsard's vocabulary did not charm him: He tilted against the Gascon brogue of King Henry's court, and referred a dispute over a common word to the porters of the hay-market, thus signifying his confidence in the usage of the Parisis, that cradle of the language. To eliminate caprice and chasten personality seemed to him a necessary aim of the poetical discipline.

He never thought of poetry as anything else but a form of talk invested with a traditional prestige, by which the particular mind trans- lates for the general the accumulated sagacity of ages. But he laboured to make it as definite a form as possible, and that is the whole gist of his riders upon the prosodical legislation of the Pleiad — that the voice should halt where the sense is consummated, and that rime should be always strenuous, never slovenly. In striving to impose these principles, he took for his models those of the Romans whose accent is most reasonable and whose labour is most cunning ; but it may be said of him that through the Romans he discovered virtues latent in the national literature, though already manifest in French building: The development of the classical ideal in French art and principally in letters was the work of no single intelligence.

Ronsard, it has been said justly, belongs to the prehistoric age of classicism, the age of individual experiment. Malherbe did all one man could do half consciously to conciliate the aesthetic scruple, the breadth and serious enthusiasms of the sixteenth century, its learning and luxurious disdain, with those gregarious instincts, that sobriety and aversion to whatever is esoteric and disorderly, that preference of discourse over ejaculation, which are the perpetual guardians of the French tradition.

The elder Balzac takes up French prose at the point where Montaigne had left it, and gives it equality and cadence. Vaugelas, the grammarian from Savoy, reveals that sort of purity in the form of words and structure of phrase which only a passionate attachment to idiom can attain. But in the formation of a national taste not inferior to the master- pieces of the century, French society itself — a recent thing — directly co-operated. There was indeed a stage when those celebrated gatherings at the Hotel de Rambouillet and other great houses threatened to frustrate, or at least pervert, the enterprise of Malherbe.

When fine ladies leagued with professed wits undertook to humanise the fierce energy of a rude, full-blooded, turbulent nobility disused to all the graces by the civil wars, it is no wonder they overshot the mark of the urbane in their terror of boorishness and insulsity. It was at first an intercourse of violent natures newly ambitious to assert themselves in a spiritual sphere, and ready to lend the exaggerated import- ance of a contest to everything spoken: Delight in verbalisms, and a rage for recondite allusions and allegorical politeness were fostered by the vogue of a new Italianism which set in with the brilliant pastorals of Marino and Guarini, and complicated by a very superficially Spanish strain of strutting and fantastical extravagance.

Malherbe himself did not quite escape these modish taints ; nor later did the magnificent Corneille. They were not any more than our Euphuists, our 'metaphysical school' of poetry symptoms of a decadence, but on the contrary the accidents of an effort, which at last succeeded, to soften the manners of a robustious generation. But this must be remembered to the credit of the prScieuses, that their aims, the constitu- tion of a cultivated nucleus, the purgation of the language by the test of usage rather than by the tyranny of peda- gogues, were infinitely respectable; and that it is in great measure owing to their intervention that in the age in which the French mind yielded not absolutely its greatest, but assuredly its most original contribution to European letters, the tone of discourse, civil, unstilted and conciliatory, pre- vailed; and that from then till now the relation of the written to the spoken language has, upon the whole, been constantly closer than in the case of any other modern idiom.

The lessons of Malherbe anticipated the consolidation of a fastidious public, secured against the charms of an exces- sive personal adventure in poetry by the ascertainment of its true intellectual bench-marks. But, in the first half of the seventeenth century, the immediate influence of society upon lyricism was almost entirely pernicious. There were men of talent among the ' bedside poets ': Vincent Voiture, the spoilt child of a sphere above his birth, displays here and there an amplitude worthy of a higher ambition than to be the most facile, the most ' natural ' model of an artificial style; Sarrazin's witty triolets have an inimitable finish; the trifling fancy of Benserade is often exquisite.

But neither they, nor Theophile de Viau nor Saint-Amant — two writers who had certainly a spark of genius, and by no means depended upon the humours of fashion for their themes, however disastrously both were in different ways contaminated by its jargon — are of a calibre to make any one regret the victory of reason over temperament.

Saint-Amant, a pensioner of queens and one of the hardest drinkers of his time, wrote plentifully and most unequally, but with extraordinary mastery of rime, variety, and power of sensuous presentment. A sneer of Boileau's turned his heroical Moyse Sauve into a byword for inflation and absurdity: The admirable poetry made in the Great King's reign supposed the rigorous distinction of mind from matter, and dealt exclusively with mind ; its paramount concern being the conflict of passions, reason or discernment, and freewill in the social man.

It sought to represent human truth purged of its accidents; and, instead of the ideal figure summing and lighting up the movement of the Sixteenth Century, that creature of diverse aptitudes, mobile temperament, and unprejudiced curiosity called the complete or universal man, it sub- stituted, as the arbiter of its tone and language and interests, Vhonnete homme — the cultivated man of the world, who made the study of his fellow-men or more narrowly of his equals the occupation of a stately leisure, whose talk was mainly a ventilation of ideas, a gleaning of maxims, a definition of types, and whose abhorrence of obtruded per- sonality, intolerant of strangeness, mystery and emphasis in speech, proscribed the learned and the trivial jargons, terms of art and all that smacked of a function or a hobby or a trade.

King Lewis the Fourteenth succeeded in and died in And so he renounced the elegiac solace of intimate avowals, the direct appeal from sense to sense and from mood to mood, the notation of fluid dreams, the hoarse eloquence of a dishevelled frenzy. What else more necessary to the vitality of art was implicitly sacrificed with these things, could not be discerned before time had exhausted the original energy that begot the three great dramatic poets and the one great lyrist of the seven- teenth century.

Like all the classics — like most real creators — he dispensed with the credit of inventing his subjects or his framework; and by these, but much more by the ancestral, unstratified diversity of his language, he is a conciliator, soldering the Middle Ages and Marot and Rabelais both with antiquity and with his own time. Its peculiar virtues were all his: But his supreme originality lies in the continual invention of inimitable schemes, never exactly repeated, so supple, so delicate in their obedience to a secret rule that they seem the effect of blind chance or of a precarious power until they are studied and found to be the exact rhythmical equivalent of mobile sensations and an imper- turbable comic spirit, and an undogmatical sagacity, and a quiet tireless zest for life.

The dramatists concern us here only as poets. When we have abstracted the splendid moral gesture of Corneille, the fanaticism of his pundonor, the casuistical basis of his keen dialogue, the thoughtful concentration of his busy plots, the poetry remains — a poetry which is the natural idiom of his thought, and never falters. Smoothness is not its merit, nor diapason, nor opulence of figures; and his manner, sometimes truculent and not seldom precious, yields to the alternative temptations of his time: They are a world of themselves almost as much as fairyland.

The steadfastness of his piercing smile is a necessary part of his definition, so are his resolute appeal to an almost inexorable sanity and the wisdom of his social sense ; the invention, the formative power that fused Terence and Scaramouch and Patelin and the deep science of scenical perspective controlling the revelation of his creatures in words and acts, the near presence of his men and women and their indissoluble consistency as types, his loyalty to the conception of comedy and to the rule of one mood, even while his large philosophy continually points beyond the limits of the comic — by all this we are first and last impressed, to the prejudice it may well be of the admirable vehicle, prose or verse.

The peculiar qualities of Moliere's verse are vivacity and frankness. It is neither conspicuously sonorous nor often delicate, and negligences abound: Like Regnier, artistically in many ways his prototype, he is steeped in idiom, so that his very solecisms are racier than another's regularity. And the style deserves to be called national. Yet to suppose with some modern critics a sort of an ti- classical protest in the great foe of fustian, eccentricity and the confusion of kinds, the natural, the reasonable and exclusively human master of 'man's proper faculty,' is strangely to misread Moliere.

In the case of Racine at least no such discordancy has been suggested to his praise or blame: He is not quite the greatest of French poets, nor even the most French, if we look for the intense affirmation of a characteristic drift — but simply the flower of the French mind. And so nicely trimmed is the balance of his properties that his singularity is ill to define and the real kernel of his genius is the less accessible to foreigners as he is not one of those who thrust forward insistently some single aspect — even the strangest — of the national soul.

To us Englishmen Racine appears usually as an intelligence: If any virtues of Racine's stand out, they are economy and the sense of values. Understand that a poet has weighed his words and thrown no word away, and you read him deliberately, you raise the currency of his thought, the temperature of his emotion. The rust is washed off the old lustre of metaphors, and what seemed the sign only of an idea recovers the vitality of an original sensation. For the significance of any gesture is at once relative to its rarity and dependent on the quickness of a sympathetic attention. The English poetical tradition is more tumultuous, more emphatic ; and do not the French- men of a later day feel all the seduction of a shriller pitch, a wider range?

Nevertheless they retain the subtle memory of his atmosphere; and the redintegratio ainoris which welcomes again and again so exquisite an example of 30 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS measure, a reticence, a suavity, a sparing of the pathetic goad ever grateful to a prompt and sensitive people, is as a continually fresh delight after the torrents, the forests and the threatening cliffs of other lands in the pastoral undulations of his He de France.

It is a little beside the present purpose to praise the magnificent order of the tragic matter in Racine, his austere exclusion of whatever might distract a spectator from the con- tinuous action not of outward circumstances upon character but of passions alternately surging and receding and surging till they engulf the soul ; or to note the intensity and the faultlessly true expression of the great figures — Hermione the injured beauty, dangerous Orestes, Roxana, the victim Phaedra and Nero's mother and Jehoiada the implacable fanatic — types which allured him less it seems by their prestige than by their parabolical humanity, as signal instances of our common case.

Still less pertinent would be any consideration of his Greek scholarship; or of the degree in which Port- Royal may be held responsible for the ' Christian fatalism ' discoverable, as some think, in his tragedies. But as more strictly within the poetical domain we may speak of his diction, the general colour of his work, of those sudden imaginative gusts which hardly shake the surface of his dialogue but leave a deep disquietude behind, — and above all of his verse in itself, the rich modulation and the cunning numbers. It is not a positive merit in Racine that, whether through a natural frugality or obey- ing the squeamishness of his society, he could contain himself within a very few thousand words ; but it is a merit that he should have used them to such purpose.

The speech of his creatures is in its elements almost the daily speech of well-bred people, and if that limitation accounts for certain minced or starchy formulas which afilict us now by their reiteration, yet more marvellous is the mastery which with materials so sober could reach and sustain an ideal solemnity of utterance. Being a poet, not an archaeologist, he held the ancients rather by their sure points of likeness to us moderns than by their problematical diversity: The 'sensible critic' in Candide advises that a dramatist should be always a poet, but take care none of his characters should seem poets.

Voltaire was thinking of Racine, who echoed many voices with one voice — the triumph of illusion — and had the secret of a unity of tone that was never inappropriate. But Racine would not have been a great poet if, with words that are always directly relevant, he had not suggested infinite horizons. Sparse perhaps and uniform are the fragments he gives us wherewith to build a whole world of light and harmony fit to contain those souls of noble birth and the dignity of their conflicts and their anguish: As Racine shifted the main interest from the will to the passions without touching the framework or altering the scope of French tragedy, so he multiplied the aptitudes of the Alexandrine, but left it mainly the Alexandrine of Malherbe.

Typical French poets from the beginning had usually accounted the pleasure conveyed to the ear by the mere sounds within a line, as distinguished from its rhythm, an accessory and inferior or even meretricious recommenda- tion ; and they had been used to concentrate all their purely ' musical ' resources upon a rime which should strike the hour of a rhythmical period somewhat loudly and capture the mind by being at once expected and unforeseen.

Racine possessed the instinct and the science of melody in a degree which has left him still without a rival: As to rhythm, he carried the principle of variety to the utmost point, while obeying the prescription of a fixed breathing-space in the middle of a line: In a word, by his sure phrasing, his perfect use of metrical equivalents, the varied speed, the fullness and continuous euphony he imparted to the great traditional verse, Racine attained the extreme perfection of which it was capable without some change of formula.

And the Alexandrine does not contain all his art. His early lyrics indeed are not much more than middling ; but when in his prime an imperious scruple of which no one should judge rashly made profane poetry incalculably the poorer for his honourable retreat, he wrote some hymns which are of an exquisite savour, and later the choric portions of his sacred drama, and particularly the superb prophesyings of Jehoiada in his final masterpiece, show the full spread of his soaring genius and the whole stature of his yearning soul.

There was also Nicolas Boileau. The inconsiderate but very explicable contempt which two or three generations of French poets have thrown away upon the Legislator of Par- nassus has altered the character of his renown without destroy- ing it. As a lyrist in the proper sense there is no question of rehabilitating him: He knew the town and studied the court, and rendered with a full flavour and the particular exactness of a lesser Dutch painter the outward symptoms of many follies that offended the sturdy and outspoken good sense of the cultivated juridical class.

In default of majesty or tenderness Boileau's verse does not want colour for this bookish, sedentary person could use his eyes and wears at its best a very natural air: But — to come to Boileau's literary doctrine — UArt Po4tique would not have been the complete gospel of poetasters for over a century, nor afterwards a red rag to the more aggressive sort of Romantics, if it had been con- sidered in its historical significance. He made turgidity ridiculous, drove out the foreign fashions, and wrenched the poetical succession from the hands of gifted amateurs when their jargon and their driftless experiments were mighty.

We have lost in some degree the very associations of his favourite terms. And when he made Reason the arbiter he was not depreciating sensation or strong feeling as a source of poetry, nor commending platitude, nor degrading poetry to the rank of an acquirable accomplishment, but persuading all who would write in verse to know their talent and not force it, and to remember how precarious is the charm of impressions which a co-ordinating principle does not present as objects of thought and judgment to posterity.

The second-rate poet who thus cemented Malherbe's labour was devoted to his craft and its difficulties ; and he came oppor- tunely with his lesson — that the durable virtue of the ancient writers is their probity. It is important that this should be admitted. For the insufficiency of his legislation can escape no modern mind.

It is noteworthy that he placed the mythological superstition under a religious sanction. The breach with the Middle Ages was indeed complete ; and it was the Church herself whose late-born scruples had cut oif the Christian sources from French poets and broken the continuity of French tragedy. But, in one word, the counsels of Boileau are good and bad inextricably mingled.

It is his lasting reproach that he offered poetical formulas only too capable of a mechanical application to the next age, which thought in prose. His best title to honour is that he gave his own age some solid reasons for preferring Moliere, La Fontaine, Racine, to the wits, the pedants and the exquisites who applauded Pradon, governed the Academy, and still delighted the retired heroines of the Fronde.

IV The art of Racine, the art of La Fontaine owes much of its essential harmony to a certain profound disinterest. It was positive, therefore serene ; intense, not comprehensive ; it knew its frontiers, and made a common conception of the world, of life and its business, the basis of a patient and solid psychological invention.

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Of this detachment, this acquiescence, the next age was radically incapable. Max Miiller would have spelt it Miatere. The word does not represent, as he thought, the Latin ministerium ; but the idea of ' liturgical function ' is in it all the same. Nevertheless through- out the space of years, notoriously ungrateful in the history of French poetry, which lies between the production of Athalie or La Fontaine's last Fables and the elegies of Lamar tine, a superstition part academical, part worldly, and allied with a relative sterility, secured a kind of mechanical allegiance to the ideals of good writing which the men of the great reign had set before themselves, but which their suc- cessors failed to adapt to new conditions and to use as living principles.

Therefore it is just to call this the age of the classical decadence. The poetry then made in France was in the main abstract, and imitative, and unskilful.

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The versified ideology of the eighteenth century was something very different from that chaste, candid, orderly expression of general emotions and heritable truths to which a pure taste, ancient models of per- fection and the acceptance of our reason as the ultimate and incorruptible tribunal had guided the masters of the seven- teenth. Their matter was necessarily concrete ; the nobility of their even tones communicated a generous exaltation quick to pierce the significance of moral types — the character- istic achievement of the French classics; their speech, stripped already of so many words carrying immediate and precise sensations with them, was still substantial, robust, suggestive.

The contrast between the poetry of Racine's age and that of Voltaire's might almost be summed up, in this one aspect, by saying that the general was now deserted for the abstract, the representation of experience for the analysis of intellectual relations, painting for definition, the eloquence of eternal commonplaces for battles of syllogistic wit, the exploration of passions and the reconstruction of characters for a jingling together of mere notions and, as it were, an algebraical handling of disembodied qualities.

Lesage and Saint-Simon who writes like a contemporary of the Fronde , Marivaux in his novels — for his 36 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS admit of several exceptions, phases and degrees, but upon the whole common to a poetry in which the rapid defacement of current metaphors and the penury of new, with all the timid and irrelevant prejudices which fenced about a blood- less but patented vocabulary, more and more attenuated the plastic elements of style.

Confined almost to the traffic of ideas, the French language became in the eighteenth century incomparably apt for that employment: A verbal art aspiring to express the immaterial by signs that open out no avenues of sensuous memory is, if not a contradiction in terms, at the utmost a frail, shadowy, wire-drawn affair ; and such an art, in certain exquisite examples, the eighteenth century did actually achieve. But most often even the artistic intention was absent from its verse, with the creative gust and the hunger for perfect forms: The poets believed it possible to reproduce by system the recent masterpieces they admired by habit ; their imitations were the more servile for being founded on imperfect understanding; and they still trailed after them the trappings of the Greek mythology without the ease of a familiar scholarship or the pretext of an over-scrupulous piety.

The one serious attempt at emancipation threatened delicate comedy is quite bodiless — BuflFon, Diderot, Beaumarchais, are the least abstract of eighteenth century writers ; all the imaginative vigour of Voltaire himself passed into certain of his prose works ; and the great change was foreshadowed in the prose of Rousseau, and carried into the next period by the prose of Chateaubriand.

Voltaire and the protests of fashion saved from the assaults of La Motte-Houdart what was in truth very little worth preserving — the prestige of a troublesome full-dress for ceremonious occasions, the mere- tricious attractions of a slender envelope for bulky pamphlets. No symptom of degeneracy marks the versifiers of the classical decadence so universally as the neglect of their instrument. Melody was not in them, nor any gift of structure ; movement they have, but without variety ; their rhythm is a rigid symmetry of antithetical half-lines, and the indigence of their perfunctory rimes is complete and shame- less.

The poets had ceased to think in verse. In a broad view, nearly all the verse made in the eighteenth century falls under two kinds — the didactic and the trifling, or, if you like, the instructive and the elegant ; and perhaps all the exceptions to the general sterility should be assigned to the latter class.

It offers models of neatness, niceness, ingenuity, wherever it is enough to scintillate without fatigue and without emphasis — in epistles, madrigals, compliments, anecdotes, and in the comic, acute or merely malicious as opposed to the indignant and lyrical satire, which aims only at raising against the victim 'the laughter of the mind. One of its favourites, the epicurean priest Chaulieu — the easy and vigorous laureate of the Duchess du Maine's merry court at Sceaux, which balanced the morose propriety of Versailles in the last sad years of the old King — is astride between the two ages.

Voltaire, as a fugitive poet, succeeded and far surpassed Chaulieu ; the gallant Dorat continued Voltaire. In Gresset, though he has no real models, the strain of Marot reappears, run somewhat thin. A little of Saint-Amant again, at least the Bacchic part of him, filtered down to 'Le Caveau,' the famous ' shades ' where the poetes crottes clinked glasses — Vade, who brought a sort of Billingsgate into fashion for a moment, Panard, a direct ancestor of Beranger and author of the inimitable description of the Opera, and that wild quarrel- some Piron who wrote many things well, comedies in verse and prose burlesques the delight of suburban booths and the most caustic of epigrams, and jolly drinking-songs; and at least one exquisite rondeau: This is why Voltaire, in his philosophical verse, only clogs the fluidity and honesty of his thought, and almost divests him- self of those capital qualities of his, irony and speed.

Its conception is irremedi- ably systematic and frigid: La Henri- ade is immensely inferior to La Pucelle ; and this is perhaps the place to say that that burlesque epic has the same qualities as the shorter Tales of Voltaire. It is very un- equal, and the grimace of its ricanement lihertin is dis- agreeable: Anatole France have inherited in the effective em- ployment of a certain perfidious, discreet and implacable irony. A particular species of didactic verse — the descriptive — in which the latter half of the period was amazingly prolific, must be mentioned, because nowhere else is the indigence of imaginative resources, the timidity and levity of the poets so conspicuous.

But the polemical conception of some characters, the flatulent diatribes against priests and rulers of the people, were contributory disabilities. They are not for a moment to be compared with the better English ' poets of nature ' who startled the Georgian dullness with their prim but charming preludes to the mighty outburst of our modern lyric. The insipidity of Saint-Lambert's para- phrase is in perfect contrast with Thomson's large harmony of effects and weighty manner.

There is nothing of the humour and naturalness and sensitive colouring, the intense sympathy, the faithfulness of detail that make The Task and Table Talk delightful, to be found in L'Homme des Champs or in La Pitie or in any other work of Jacques Delille, who held the sceptre of Voltaire until the Restora- tion. Nobody was smoother than Delille, nor more glib, nor more uniform, and that ingenuity in devising phrases that neither name an object kitchen utensil or field flower or domestic animal nor suggest its essence, but imply, if you are sharp at guessing, its intelligible notion by discreet allusion, as in some jeu de socieU, had in him its most accomplished master.

The fashion of descriptive poetry is, however, positively interesting for this reason, that it was ostensibly an effort to bring poetry into contact with everyday life and to make it contain more things.


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That was symptomatic of the trend towards comprehensiveness ; and, with a little more sincerity, French verse at this stage might have expressed the impartial yet genuine curiosity in whatever has a character of its own, the instinctive realism, the diffusion of literary interest which belong, for instance, to the careless but nervous and expansive prose of Diderot. But what sincerity of expression could there be without the power of vision, the power of retaining and combining sensations, above all without a concrete vocabulary? The starch and atrophy of classicism were first repudiated in prose — in the magnetical cadenced prose of Rousseau, the logician of instinct whose introspective idealism, at once profoundly unsociable and vehemently expansive, wrought miracles with a faded language long disused to express the correspondence between the inner and the outer world, and the eternal priority of the man who feels over the philosopher who reasons.

And even Rousseau, if we can separate his purely literary influence from the contagion of his politics and the slower infiltration of his domesticity and his theism, caught the taste of his own and the next generation mainly by the elegiac strain in La Nouvelle Helo'ise — a strain which so many reputations besides his had conspired to bring into the favour of drawing-rooms in the last years of the old monarchy.

It is a strain common to prose and verse ; but in all essential indications of a deeper change it was natural that verse should lag behind Rousseau's example and later on behind that of Chateaubriand, whose self-centred chivalry reinforced the protest against the suppression of personal emotion with a rarer visual memory and a more generous gift of verbal structure. The exception is Andre Chenier. The fragments he left show a poetical ambition of infinite variety: He sang for the most part on a scale of easy rationalism and superficial pathos, alternately expressing a modish dalliance and that sanguine humanitarianism of moderate reformers on which the sharp sword of a people in earnest swung suddenly down ; but also the conscientious erudition then reviving, to which more certainly than to a Greek mother we owe the noble familiarity of his reproductions from antiquity — an Alexandrinism vivified, like that of Ronsard, by the experience of his own senses.

Bray and the He de France are his Arcadia, and his nymphs have Christian names ; and, in spite of lapses into the dullest allegory, Andre Chenier stands alone in the century as a poet whose descriptions are properly imaginative, who had, moreover, such skill in French verse as none had proved since Racine.

He is not exempt from the vice of inversions, and on the other hand is sometimes irregular without reason, and it is too much to credit him with having really extended the rhythmical resources of the Alexandrine and shown the way to Victor Hugo ; but he never used it perfunctorily, and visibly took a lesson from the Greeks in the art of varying his periods.

That time of stress held in suspense the hopes of disinterested art. Official encouragement urged some inefficient talents to heroic narrative, and historical accident reinforcing the prestige of Rome and Sparta revived a pseudo-classical poetry in its most odious forms. Ducis, who had adapted Shakespeare with a timidity which belied his real enthusiasm, gave over his efforts to put new life into French tragedy ; Lemercier in mock-heroic satire displayed more boldness than sense of form; abstract description emigrated with Delille and having learned and forgotten nothing returned with him; Chenedolle and Millevoye carried on the feeble fashion of elegant melancholy.

Such was the state of French poetry just before the dawn; while in prose the work of preparation advanced with Madame de Stael, a poor artist but a brilliant desseminator of ideas, whose critical writings accustomed French minds to the notion of relativity in taste and recommended exotic master- pieces to their curiosity; but culminated with Chateau- briand, whose genius awoke the slumbering faculty of images, and, by an apology never before attempted, undermined the disastrous favour of indifferent mythologies and the in- 1 Some of Chenier's alleged enjambements are merely the close of a parenthesis: Upon such antecedents, remote and immediate, followed that long spell of intense imaginative energy of which this book is meant to illustrate the characteristic production in verse.

It is to be sure a subordinate, but still a conspicuous attraction of the French poetry made during the last three or four generations, that within its limits the fluctuations of the poetical ideal have been quick, full and conscious beyond any example in previous ages ; so that, whether we consider the relation of art to the experience of artists, or the elasticity of the instrument, or the alternate supremacy of one or other element in all verbal expression — thought, sensation, feeling — we shall find that the leavening mass of excellent poets has travelled, not illogically and at each stage with a spontaneous and fruitful unanimity, from one extreme to the other of taste and method and intention.

The rapid determination and definite character of the successive movements distinguishable in the recent de- velopment of the French literature must be attributed in great part to the modern concentration of intellectual resources, and especially to those friendships grounded upon sympathies of the brain through which common formulas and doctrines are most surely elaborated. Our own litera- ture has profited little in comparison with the French by such associations of groping talent: But the French intelligence is eminently gregarious.

It will hardly be said that, in the last eighty years at least, genius in France has been sacrificed to system or sterilised by fashion: He who turns from the elder writers to those of the nineteenth century may recognise in their output the several drifts and predilections, the congenital scruples, the sudden apostasies towards alien perfections, to which the French mind from the Crusades to the time of Napoleon had all along been prone.

But the waves that have latterly carried it this way and that have been separated by none of those intervals of languor and stagnation which attenuate the interest of the earlier centuries. The first, fullest and most violent of these waves is called Romanticism. She connected it also with the legends and sentiments of chivalry. After various fortunes it has been long accepted as an inexact but serviceable name for the new and char- acteristic form in which the imaginative spirit, as it rose from its ashes, appeared invested.

That spirit infinitely transcends Romanticism ; but in the dazzlement of his resur- rection, we see little else of the phoenix but his plumage. French poetry recovered because poets were born in France. What determined its common features in the first 1 In the eighteenth century it meant what is now expressed in French by romanesque and is still called romantic in English — an epithet of character.

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It is a derivative of roman, a word which once signified the speech of provincial Romans, and specifically of the Gallic provincials ; thence, any composition in the vernacular, and finally a story in verse or prose. Three factors seem essential: The romantic movement was revolutionary: It affirmed that poetry can better dispense with opinions than fail to touch the soul; that its scope is co-extensive with the whole world sensible and intelligible ; that emotion is its very air, but that its diet must needs be concrete — in a word, that its sovereign faculty is imagina- tion, that power to provoke the return of lively impressions made upon the sight and other senses in combinations in- exhaustibly new, to quicken and humanise ideas by endowing them with the properties of animate beings, the loss of which had been the most conclusive disability of the classical decadence.

It proclaimed all subjects legitimate. Unison is a narrower ideal than harmony ; art fuses fair with foul and tears with laughter. Literary 'kinds' are arbitrary distinctions ; or at least there is no natural or necessary connexion between a particular species of composition and a particular theme or tone. Literature is the expression of society, and therefore governed by the law of change. Peri- phrasis is not a grace, but a mark of impotence, and words which can only be replaced by phrases are good enough to use. The vital principles of verse — variety and order — are secured when a poet receives his measures and invents his rhythms.

But indeed it was not content with re- pudiating Parny and Delille. It was not clearly seen, or at least it was not constantly remembered, that just because literature is the expression of society it is by Moliere and Corneille and La Fontaine and Racine that those ideals are justified; and that the dearth of poets in the eighteenth century is not explained by the survival of a certain concep- tion of poetry, but is the very reason why the eighteenth century had no formulas properly its own.

For between the favourite notions of that contradictory and half-articu- late age — Progress or Perfectibility, the opposition of nature and society — its general tendency to bring more and more things into the domain of literature, — and the old forms to which it clung, the old prejudices which it travestied, there was a fundamental incongruity.

We may assume that such a profound change as should bring poetry into line with life was sooner or later inevitable without the intervention of a social cataclysm or any foreign agency whatever. Did not the Revolution and the wars suspend rather than precipitate an imminent transforma- tion?


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  5. It is easier at any rate to feel the general analogy between those convulsions and Romanticism, as successive affirmations of French energy revived, than to point with any certainty to the positive influence of political vicissitudes upon the new poetry. Here are some of their least doubtful effects. By the Revolution many barriers to a social fusion were thrown down, the ancient provincial frontiers almost trodden out of knowledge, the number of readers and play- goers indefinitely increased, the classical system of education for a time disorganised.

    The realities of glory and peril fired home-keeping imaginations. An interval of conversa- tional anarchy broke the tradition of self-effacement and discretion, and men of intellect learned to balance the loss of patrons with the luxury of talking about themselves. Some persecution, the continual hasard of sudden death, the tremendous demonstrations of providential design, quickened the capacity of prayer and kindled an atmosphere favourable to the aesthetical theodicy of Chateaubriand.

    Undoubtedly also the great upheaval helped to bring the French mind into closer contact with the mind of Europe. It was not quite as when the Valois carried home over the Alps a spiritual booty more precious than many kingdoms: Renaissance belongs to the French eagles ; and its debt is still more evident to the studious wanderings of some French prescripts. But it is easy to overestimate the degree in which foreign examples impregnated French poetry at this critical stage. The fact is that the French have always, except for the brief period in which their classical masterpieces were making, been accessible to intellectual influences from abroad.

    Before the eighteenth century, the attraction was usually Southern: But what distinguishes the exoticism of the Romantic period is not that it was particularly fertile, but that it was above all else dogmatic. The Romantic poets read Shakespeare: Scott and Byron in quite different ways confirmed Chateaubriand; so did what was known of Goethe ; so did Macpherson's Ossian ; and Schiller, who owes so much to Jean-Jacques, gave a sanction to his influence in certain directions. To the enchantment of distance in time and space the picturesque view of history, the prestige of ruins, the joy in diversity , a Romantic element obviously stimulated by foreign literature as well as foreign travel, the French soul has always been sensitive.

    But Rene is independent of Werther and of Childe Harold. Those two Romantic figures impressed the French imagina- tion profoundly, but their racial characteristics — the senti- mental mediocrity of the German student, the insolent misanthropy of the English oligarch — could not really be absorbed. If ' the return to Nature ' means attending to the beauty of landscape, or the perception of its analogies with the character of our passions, both are in Rousseau. There are faithful renderings of natural effects in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.

    The conspicuous place of nature in French Romantic poets may almost be reduced to this — that they studied nature for the sake of metaphors, and that they revived an eternal common- place of all poetry — the contrast between its serenity and our agitations. Nature, for the Romantics, was still a part of man. The study of the inanimate as a basis for interpreting the world, which is as old as Bossuet, and the conception of man as a part of nature, which is as old as Buffon, fertilised much of the French poetry in the next generation: The establishment of a new principle — the principle of freedom in art — was the permanent benefit of Romanticism.

    Successive schools of French poetry have still appealed to this ; and it is indeed the principle of any durable vitality. In its broadest application it means, not that perfection is relative, but that the roads to perfection are innumerable ; not that there are no rules, but that the rule of rules is to be oneself.

    And this is to deny the statical conception of 1 Anthropomorphism is of course the life of poetry: But it may be remarked here that French art in general has resisted the efforts of modern thought to decentralise the universe. The foundation of scepticism in France has been consistently psychological: But in two points the Romantic vindication of artistic freedom was especially fruitful ; and they are of paramount importance, since they have to do with the formal conditions of all poetry.

    The age-long depres- sion of imaginative power, however independent of design or theory, had been aggravated at least by artificial impedi- ments to its free exercise, and especially by that parody of true classical ideals which eschewed not only words so exact as to be technical and so far less broadly human, but words which in Dr. Johnson's splendid phrase are simply ' level with life.

    To the young poets whose noviciate began with the return of the Bourbons, the bounds of the meagre traditional dialect appeared all at once as a preposterous obstacle: The republic of words, wherein domicile and service confer citizenship and from which a conscientious distribution of labour excludes the corruption of synonyms, was not to be founded in a day, though the metaphorical faculty was reawakened and seeking its nourishment in a fresh study of the external world.

    But from the moment when the restraints imposed by cautious elegance and accepted by a sapless ideology were really felt, enfranchise- ment was in sight already ; and the fortunes of the language were committed to the guidance of men whose sure and curious vision, and tenacious memory for whatever had touched their senses or their sympathies, refused to deliver an unfaithful record. So searching and so necessary a reform, as it was hotly resisted, did not triumph without some abuses and exaggerations; but the wonder is not that mere novelty a notion which includes the strangeness of archaisms was sometimes held by the reformers a sufiicient title to preferment, that they some- times affected an ostentatious partiality towards the singular, the exotic, the forgotten, but that upon the whole the tact and learning of the leaders were as conspicuous as their enthusiasm ; that Victor Hugo in particular, and his counsellor Sainte-Beuve and his lieutenant Gautier, were not only rejuvenators but reconcilers, kept a deep respect for the traditions of written French, cared to be understood, and refused the easy honour of creating an esoteric jargon.

    The right to use every genuine word in the language on occasion is a fundamental condition of sincerity. But command of the special instrument is another. After more than a hundred years of mechanical exercises, the making of French verse definitely ceased, with the advent of Lamartine, to be a mere process of adjustment, and became once more the speaking of a mother-tongue. Lamartine was no metrician: The elegiac smoothness, the celestial euphony of his song is all his own and is not, perhaps, a virtue which wears well ; but after Lamartine no French poet could afford to neglect sonority.

    Lamartine's originality did not lie in his form, however. He was content with traditional cadences. Victor Hugo is the sovereign forger of rhythms, as he is the absolute lord of metaphors. He began as a pupil — extraordinarily vigorous and fluent — of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau and the Abbe Delille. His formal genius ripened with the slow conquest of his spiritual personality, as experience nourished a visual memory of singular acuity, an imagina- tion of immense synthetic power: Among lines conforming strictly to the classical type, with its prescribed division into two equal periods of sounds and therefore of sense the nature of stress in French requiring the concurrence , he interspersed, much more liberally than the great poets of the seventeenth century had done, other lines in which the logical or grammatical coherence of the words admits the marking of an interruption after the sixth syllable but suggests its relative efiacement by making it subordi- nate to more effective pauses within the half-lines, occurring here or there at the poet's discretion.

    This sort of equivo- cation, or discord, was no new thing: When, later, adhering still to the traditional formula in far the greater number of his lines, Hugo so distributed his phrasing in the minority that the intention of bridging the median interval is unmistakable, a new type of Alex- andrine was evolved: Thus, while the habits of the French ear were respected, its curiosity was gratified; and the sense of monotony being progressive, the modification was gradual. The introduction of a discord prepared the way for a new concordance which differed from the old by making pros- ody obey instead of governing the purpose of the poet.

    Rhythm, in the Romantic Alexandrine, is expressive, or we might say realistic: Hugo did not limit the operation of this principle to the internal economy of the line: Not only did he enfranchise the elaboration of thought from the care of symmetry, but discreetly and occasionally he even pro- longed an indivisible logical and consequently a rhyth- mical period beyond the last syllable of a line, so that the breathing-space between two lines was suppressed.

    That it should be exact was not enough: This was to return to the precepts of Malherbe; but Hugo's conception of rime is imaginative as well as material. He conceived it as not only sonorous, but suggestive, symbolical — not only a bell which enforces the sensation of time, but a beacon to the vision and the understanding. But these abuses have the excuse of an exuberant genius which is its own tempter; and, when all is said, they are rare in proportion to his output.

    And it remains true that Hugo went to the root of poetry in discerning the mystical collaboration of a consecrated element of form which so easily degenerates into a meretricious accessory in the travail of the spirit.