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were met by the plaudits of the reformers. Phrases which now pass without notice were then jeered and hooted. Extra-hazardous expressions were cheered before they were fairly out of the actors' mouths. When the curtain fell, the victory lay with the young author. But the end was not yet. The fight was renewed with the same bitterness at every performance. Speeches, roughly received one night, were rapturously applauded the next. A scene, lost by the Romanticists to-day, was taken by assault to-morrow. At last there was not one single line in the whole five acts which, at one time or another, had not been hissed. The theater was crowded night after night. The excitement was not confined to the capital, and provincial towns echoed the animated discussions of Paris. At Toulouse, a quarrel about "Hernani" led to a duel, in which a young man was killed.
It was the position of the play as a manifesto, and not its merits, remarkable as they were, which called forth such demonstrations. Yet it needs no wide acquaintance with the works then holding the stage in France to understand that a play as fresh and as full of force as "Hernani" would make a strong impression. The rapid rush. of its action carries the spectator off his feet; the lyric fervor of its language is intoxicating; and it is only a sober second thought which lets us see the weak points of the piece. If this is its effect now, when the play has no longer the charm of novelty, when, indeed, its startling innovations have been worn threadbare in the service of second-rate and often clumsy followers, we may guess what its effect was then on the ardent generation of 1830, surfeited with the sickly inanities of the self-styled Classic school. Whatever we may now think of Doña Sol and her three lovers, the young artists of half a century ago took them for types of a dramatic renascence. What we do now think of them is that all four characters, although full of movement and rich in color, are hollow and without real life. They live, move, and have their being in a world that never was; in brief, they are operatic impossibilities, ruled by an inexorable fate and the firm hand of the author, who has decided on ending a picturesque play with a pathetic situation.
"Giaour." The King of Spain also loves Doña Sol, and bears her away with him. Hernani owes his life to Ruy Gomez, to whom he gives his hunting-horn, agreeing to take that life himself whenever he hears the horn; and then Ruy Gomez and Hernani, for revenge, join in a conspiracy against the King. But Don Carlos, the King of Spain, is elected Roman Emperor, and he surprises the conspirators. Changed by his higher office, he pardons. Hernani is restored to all his rank and titles, and Doña Sol is wedded to him. In the midst of the marriage feast comes the sound of the horn; Ruy Gomez is implacable; Hernani has sworn to die; and his poison serves also for his bride. "Castilian Honor," the sub-title of the play, seems a very queer thing when we consider this story in cold blood. For the plot not to look ludicrous, one must be almost as hasty and hot-headed as the hero himself. And the incidents are as like each other as the whole play is unlike life. As an English critic has remarked, every act ends with somebody sparing the life of somebody else, save the last, in which all the chief characters, except Charles V., die together. The catastrophe, although it is the logical sum total of the situations, would be revolting if it were not so extravagant. The lugubrious tooting of the horn it was that Goethe, doubtless, had in mind when he called "Hernani" "an absurd composition."
But to detect these demerits takes afterthought. While the play is acting before us, we are under the spell; we are moved, thrilled, excited. The pleasure it gives is not of the highest kind intellectually, if, indeed, it may be termed intellectual at all; but as to the amount of pleasure it gives, there can be no question. The quality of its power may be doubted, never the quantity. It is a very interesting play-melodramatic in its motive, poetic in its language, and picturesque at all times.
The plot may be recalled briefly. Ruy Gomez intends to marry his niece, Doña Sol, who, however, loves a mysterious bandit, Hernani-own brother to Lord Byron's
The same phrase describes fairly enough. "Marion Delorme," and "Le Roi s'Amuse," which followed "Hernani" upon the stage. "Marion Delorme," forbidden by the Bourbon censors, waited a few months till the revolution of 1830 overturned the Bourbon throne; and then, in a few months more, on August 11, 1831, it was brought out at the Porte St. Martin Theater. It was received with the same outburst of contending prejudices and preferences which had been let loose upon "Hernani." To my mind, it is a better play than its predecessor on the
Marion Delorme is one of the fair and fragile beauties who has come down to us from history, leaving her character behind her.
boards. To the full as moving and as picturesque, it bears study better. For one thing, it mingles humor and passion far more skillfully. It may, perhaps, be called the only one of Hugo's plays which fulfills the conditions of the new drama, as laid down by the author in the preface to "Cromwell." And from this freer use of humor results a great superiority in the presentation of character. In no other play of Hugo's are the characters as natural as in "Marion Delorme." They are not mere profile masks set in motion to face each other in a given situation. Louis XIII. and Saverny are real flesh and blood. The King is a royally well-conceived character. Hugo brings before us, by a few light and humorous touches, the feeble, melancholy, pious, moral, fearful, restive, and helpless monarch, chafing under the iron curb of his red ruler, and yet inert in self-assertion. True to his tory or not, the portrait is true to itself which is of greater importance in dramatic as in other art. The scene between Louis and his solemn jester, who seeks to gain his end by playing on the King's failings, is in the true comedy vein, and would greatly surprise those who, knowing only Hugo's later works, say that he does not know what humor is. Saverny is a figure filled in with a few easy strokes of an airy fancy; he is the embodiment of light-hearted grace and true-hearted honor. He is a young fellow who wears feathers in his cap, it is true, but he bears down in his heart the motto of his order,-" Noblesse oblige,”—and he acts up to it when time serves. His is a poetic portrait of a characteristic Frenchman, with the national quality of style and a capability for lofty sacrifice. There is true comedy, again, in his attitude when his friend De Brichanteau tries to console Saverny's uncle for his supposed death, by pointing out his faults and dwelling on them at length, until at last Saverny revolts. There is, perhaps, a slightly too epigrammatic emphasis in the final self-possession of Saverny, which lets him coolly point out three mistakes in the spelling of his own death-warrant. Emphasis and epigram, how-how on a much lower level than those in ever, are kept more subordinate in "Marion verse; and this is in spite of the fact that Delorme" than in any other of Hugo's plays. the meter Hugo used, the rhymed AlexanMarion Delorme, the heroine, and Didier, drine, is hopelessly unfit for the quick work the hero, are simpler figures, and more like of the stage. Before Mr. Matthew Arnold, those to be found in the "Hernani." Didier Stendhal* had dwelt on the insufficience of is another brother of the giaour-mysterious, melancholic, misanthropic. Like Hernani, he is a wanderer on the face of the earth, and has great capacity for suffering.
In the next piece,-" Le Roi s'Amuse,”the protagonist is the court-fool, Triboulet, the jester of Francis I. of France. This play was brought out at the Théâtre-Français, in Paris, one evening in November, 1832. Before the first-night audience it failed, and it had no chance of recovery, for, the next morning, the Government forbade the performance of the play on the ground that it libeled Francis I. So "Le Roi s'Amuse" has had but one performance, and yet the plot of no play of Hugo's is so well known out of France, for it served Verdi as the libretto of "Rigoletto." Space fails to consider it here in detail. In form and spirit it does not differ from "Hernani" or "Marion Delorme," although it rises to a greater height of passion than they. If any one wishes to see how a strong story can be watered into symmetrical sentimentality, he may take up the "Fool's Revenge,”drama in three acts, by Mr. Tom Taylor,— just after putting down "Le Roi s'Amuse." The essential tragedy of the motive is weakened to a triumph of virtue and conversion of the vice. The desperation and death which are the vitals of the French play, are in the English anodyned for the sake of the conventional happy ending.
Now we come to a curious change of manner. "Le Roi s'Amuse," "Marion Delorme," and "Hernani" are all written in a rich and ample verse, full of fire and color; but the three plays which followed-"Lucrèce Borgia," "Marie Tudor," and "Angelo "—are in prose; and the effect of the change of medium is most surprising. Of course verse is not always poetry, and prose may aim as high and be as lofty as verse; but in Hugo's case the giving up of verse seems like a giving up of poetry. The elevation, the glow, and the grace of "Hernani" are all lacking in "Lucrèce Borgia" and its two companions in prose. There is no falling off in the ingenuity of invention, or in the constructive skill of the author; but the plays in prose seem some
* "Les vers italiens et anglais permettent de tout dire; le vers Alexandrin seul, fait pour une cour dédaigneuse, en a tous les ridicules." (Racine et Shakspere, p. 36, note.)
the Alexandrine for high poetry. The jigginess of the meter, and the alternating pairs of male and female rhymes, are fatal to continued elevation of thought. Shakspere and Dante could not have been sublime in Alexandrines; yet the meter has a certain fitness to the French intellect to its love of order and balance; and, moreover, it is the recognized and regular meter of the higher theater; so a French dramatist must needs make the best of it. Victor Hugo is a master in versification; it has no mysteries for him, and in his hands even the stubborn Alexandrine is bent to his bidding; so, when he drops verse, he gives up a great advantage. His plays in verse may pass for poetic dramas, but his plays in prose are of a truth prosaic.
of "Marion Delorme" becomes grim and saturnine. It is less frequent and more forced, as though the author was beginning to make fun with difficulty. In "Marie Tudor," written and acted in the same year, 1833, the humor has wholly disappeared, and hence we may detect a growing extravagance of speech and structure. The Marie Tudor of M. Hugo is the Queen Mary of Mr. Tennyson; and the poets themselves are scarcely more unlike than the pictures they present to us of the miserable monarch who went down to history as Bloody Mary." Mr. Tennyson could probably give chapter and verse for every part of his play. M. Hugo has no warrant for dozens of his extraordinary assertions and assumptions as to the manners and customs of the English. Mr. Tennyson is patriotic, and always seeks the subjects of his plays in the national history, which he has reverently studied. M. Hugo has laid the scene in France of but two of his plays; he prefers foreign countries, which offer more frequent opportunities for sharp contrasts and strange mysteries. Spain, Italy, England, even Germany, can be taken by storm with less fear of the consequences. But, in "Marie Tudor," the joke is really carried a little too far. The play is absurd where it is not ridiculous. It is a caricature of history, a wanton misreading of records, and, worse yet, a passing over of the truly dramatic side of the reign to invent vulgar impossibilities. The play, as a play even, is inferior to all its predecessors. It has action, and it is shaped solely with an eye to effect before the foot-lights; but the piece is cheap, even as a specimen of journeyman play-making. There is no touch or trace of poetry anywhere. The unfortunate queen is transformed into a sanguinary and lascivious virago, a Madame Angot of a monarch, scolding like a fish-wife and threatening like a fury.
The third play in prose, " Angelo," written and acted in 1835, though inferior to "Lucrèce Borgia," is superior to "Marie Tudor," because it does not make history to suit itself, and because its story is simpler and more pathetic. The contrast of the chaste patrician lady with Tisbe, the lawless woman of the people, is capable of development into affecting situations. The two parts were originally acted by Mlle. Mars and Mme. Dorval. Tisbe was afterward acted by Rachel, and in America an adaptation was played by Charlotte Cushman.
A garment of verse veils "Hernani" and "Marion Delorme," but "Lucrèce Borgia" and "Marie Tudor" are naked melodrama, without any semblance of poetry. "Lucrèce Borgia," written in the summer of 1832, immediately after "Le Roi s'Amuse," and acted in 1833, is strangely like "Inez de Castro," its predecessor in prose. It is simply a melodrama, owing its merit mainly to its simplicity. We have an adroit and cunning handling of a single fertile theme. There is none of the involute turgidity of the ordinary melodramatic playwright; but, for all its simplicity, the play is a melodrama -even in the etymological sense, which requires the admixture of music. With all her accumulated vices, Lucrèce Borgia herself has no grandeur, no touch of the wand, which transfigures the wicked woman of Webster or Ford. It is not imaginative, it is not poetic, and it is immensely clever. In spite of the magnitude of her crimes, and the force with which she is depicted, she remains commonplace, and arouses the latent instinct of caricature. When, in the first act, she tries special pleading for herself, and lays the blame and the burden of her sins on her family,-" C'est l'exemple de ma famille qui m'a entrainée,”—one involuntarily recalls the fair Greek heroine of M. Offenbach's" Belle Hélène," who complains of "la fatalité qui pèse sur moi !"
Coincident with the change from verse to prose is a sudden falling off in the humor which lightened the somber situations of the metrical plays. The romantic formula which prescribed the mingling of comedy and tragedy to make the model drama is disregarded already in "Lucrèce Borgia," in the Gubetta of which the humor we found frank and free in the Saverny
Outside of these two parts, there is little in the piece. Homodei is not very like a man of God, though he is represented as the personification of ubiquitous omniscience. It is one of Hugo's first attempts at embodying an abstraction, or rather at clothing a really commonplace character with marvelous attributes. He looms up as something far more wonderful than he appears when seen close to. There is an effort to pack a quart into a pint, to the resulting fracture of the vessel. "Angelo has no more humor than "Marie Tudor," so the extravagance has a chance to grow. There is a perceptible increase in the affectations of plot and dialogue, and an equally perceptible increase in Hugo's fondness for mystic devices. In all his plays there are sliding panels and secret passages and hidden staircases in plenty; spies and hireling bravos and black mutes are to be found in them; subtle Italian poisons and sudden antidotes thereunto, and strange narcotics, at an instant's notice are ready to hand; in short, there is no lack of tools for the most Radcliffean mysteries and mystifications. Of poison, especially, is there no miserly use. Hernani poisons himself, and so does his bride; Ruy Blas takes poison; Angelo thinks to poison his wife; and Lucrèce Borgia poisons a whole supper-party. In fact, to read Hugo's plays straight through is as good as a course in toxicology. And the dagger is abused as freely as the bowl. To call the death-roll of all the dramatis persone who die by the sword or the ax would be as tedious as unprofitable.
In 1838, three years after "Angelo," came Ruy Blas," in many ways Hugo's finest play. It is a happy return to verse and the earlier manner. The plot-suggested possibly by the story of Angelica Kaufmann, and slightly similar to Lord Lytton's "Lady of Lyons "-is at once simple and strong. Verse again throws its ample folds over the characters, and cloaks their lack of the complexity of life. And again we have the wholesome and lightsome humor which kept the metrical dramas from the exaggerations and extravagances of the prose plays. It is as though the exuberant genius of Victor Hugo needed the strait-jacket of the couplet. There is true comedy in the conception of Don César; and very ingenious and comic is the scene in the fourth act when he drops into the house occupied by Ruy Blas (who has assumed the name of Don César), and is astonished at the adventures which befall
him, and does, in everything, the exact reverse of what would be done by Ruy Blas, for whom the adventures were intended. It is only in this scene, and in one or two in "Marion Delorme," that we can see anything in Hugo's work approaching to large and liberal humor. Wit he has in abundance, and to spare. Grim humor, ironic playfulness, grotesque fancy, are not wanting; but real comic force the enjoyment of fun for its own sake-the vis comica of Molière, for example, or of Shakspere or Aristophanes-is nowhere to be found. I have already dwelt on the utter absence from the prose plays of any kind of comedy. If it were not for "Ruy Blas," which seems to come out of its proper chronological order, since it is closely akin to its fellow metrical dramas, and not to the prose plays which preceded it—if it were not for "Ruy Blas," we might trace the gradual decay of Hugo's feeling for the comic. After "Ruy Blas," after 1838, neither in play nor in any other of the multifarious efforts of Victor Hugo can I recall any attempt at comedy, or even any consciousness of its existence. It is as though, born with a full sense of humor, in the course of time he had allowed his vanity to spring up and choke it; for, oddly enough, as his humor died, his vanity grew apace. It is an aggressive vainglory, and may best be seen in his prefaces. In that to "Cromwell," he is defiant, and not on the defensive; in those to later plays, we can see the undue humility which is the chief sign of towering vanity. Just after "Hernani," Chateaubriand, who was gifted with no slight self-esteem, hailed Victor Hugo as his fit successor. And Hugo has inherited, not only some of the literary methods and some of the authority of Chateaubriand, but a full share of his intellectual arrogance.
It was this intellectual arrogance which prompted him to withdraw from the stage after the popular failure of his next play. The " Burgraves," written in October, 1842, and acted in March, 1843, is an attempt to set on the stage something of the epic grandeur of medieval history. It sought to make dramatic use of the legend of the mighty and undying Barbarossa. As a poem, it is one of Hugo's noblest; as a play, it is his poorest. We have a powerful picture of Teutonic decadence and of imperial majesty; but, in aiming high, Hugo naturally missed the heart of the play-goer. There is nothing human for the play-goer to
count in the "Lucrezia Borgia" of Donizetti. These transformations were not always to the poet's taste, as was shown in one of his later plays by the savage way in which he warned off the librettist.
take hold of and carry away with him. The plot, with but little of the melodramatic machinery Hugo directs so effectively, is uninteresting, and, in its termination, undramatic. The characters, grandly conceived as they are, seem like colossal statues, larger than life, and not flesh and blood. No real passion was to be expected from such stony figures, perfect as may be their cold and chiseled workmanship. The "Burgraves" is the most ambitious of Hugo's dramas and the least successful in performance. Its career was short. Besides, an anti-romantic reaction had set in, and Ponsard's "Lucrèce" was hailed as a return to common sense. Victor Hugo took umbrage, and declared that it was unbecoming to his dignity to submit himself to the hisses of a chance audience. Although he had two plays nearly ready for acting, he has never again presented himself as a dramatist. One of these plays, "Les Jumeaux," was about finished in 1838; and since then he has written "Torquemada," a drama of the Spanish Inquisition-a most promising subject for his peculiar powers-neither of which is to be acted until after Hugo's death. A recent biographer refers to still other pieces of the poet, among them a fairy play called "La Forêt Mouillée," in which trees and flowers speak.
In this enumeration of Hugo's plays I have omitted only one-the libretto of an opera, "Esmeralda," produced at the Opéra of Paris, in November, 1836. It was a lyric dramatization of his romance, "Notre-Dame de Paris," made for Mlle. Bertin, the daughter of a friend, after he had refused to do it for Meyerbeer. Dramatizations of the same story and of "Les Miserables," by one or the other of his sons, have been acted; the former recently ran over a hundred nights in Paris. If his own libretto chanced upon an incompetent composer, certain of his dramas are better known to the world at large as Italian operas than in their original and more literary form as French plays. "Hernani" and "Le Roi s'Amuse" served Verdi as the books of "Ernani" and "Rigoletto." "Ruy Blas" has been turned into a libretto several times, latest for Marchetti; and “Lucrèce Borgia," the final act of which, full of contending emotions and scenic contrasts, and culminating in the thrilling commingling of the bacchanalian lyrics of the supper-party with the dirge for the dying of the approaching priests a situation which almost sets itself to music-has been turned to excellent ac
All Victor Hugo's plays are the work of his youth; he was not forty when the "Burgraves" was acted; and they are thus free from the measureless emphasis which is the besetting sin of his later work. And, unfortunately, Hugo has not obeyed Goethe's behest not to "take the faults of our youth into our old age; for old age brings with it its own defects." This is just what has happened to Hugo. No author of his years and fame has ever changed so little since he first came forward; there has been extension, of course, but there has not been growth. So, although Hugo stopped short his dramatic production, we may doubt whether the future would have had any surprise in store for us. Had he written more for the stage, we may fairly enough discount what manner of plays they would have been. We should have found the lively feeling of situation and the power to express it which, Goethe tells us, make the poet; but now and then the situation would have been overcharged, and the expression extravagant. We should have had plays in the highest degree ingenious in device, thrilling in incident, and, if they chance to be in verse, full of lyric melody. But these are not the chief attributes of a great dramatic poet. Indeed, excess of ingenuity is fatal to true grandeur -as Hugo himself seems to have felt, for in his one attempt at a lofty theme, the
Burgraves," he instinctively cast aside cleverness and strove for a noble simplicity. In the three chief qualities of a great dramatic poet-knowledge of human nature, power of creating character true to nature, and unfailing elevation of thought,-in all these Victor Hugo is deficient.
If one seek proof that Hugo is not a great dramatic poet of the race and lineage of Shakspere, but rather a supremely clever playwright,-an artificer of dramas, not because the drama was in him and must out, but because the stage offered the best market and the most laurels, one has only to consider "Marie Tudor," or "Angelo." No great dramatic poet, no one who was truly a dramatic poet, could have written such stuff; in spite of all their cleverness, they are unworthy of a poet who has any sense of life. That these plays are so inferior to the metrical dramas goes to show