Puslapio vaizdai

that Hugo needs the restraint of verse, | speech which blinds us at first to the lack and that he is at his best when working of inner and vital poetry in the structure it under the limitations of the Alexandrine decks so royally. Although, therefore, his limitations which, as I have said, are fatal to plays are immensely effective in performance, dramatic poetry of the highest rank. Putting and his characters wear at times the exterthis and that together, I find that Hugo's nals of poetic conception, Victor Hugo is plays are melodramas, written by a poet, not that rare thing, a great dramatic poet— who is not, however, a dramatic poet. In a thing so rare, indeed, that the world as yet Molière's plays, as in Shakspere's, the man has seen but a scant half-score. is superior to the event; but in Hugo's, as in Calderon's and in Corneille's, the situation dominates the characters. Unlike Calderon's and Corneille's, Hugo's plays are not poetic in conception, however poetic they may be in verbal clothing. Neither the plots nor the personages are poetic in conception. The plot is melodramatic, but the best of melodramas because of its simplicity and strength, and because it is the work of a man of heavier mental endowment than often takes to melodrama. Nor are the characters more poetic than the situations; they are not saturated with the spirit of poesy and lifted up by the breath of the muse. Most of Hugo's people, especially the tragic, are drawn in outline, in monochrome; they are impersonations of a single impulse. Miss Bailey wrote a series of Plays of the Passions; Hugo gives a passion apiece to each of his people, and lets them fight it out. Take one of Hugo's villains, the Don Salluste of "Ruy Blas," say, a sharp silhouette, all black,—and set it by the side of Iago, and note the rounded and life-like complexity of Shakspere's traiOr compare Hugo's characters to Molière's, and see how thin their substance seems, how petty their natures, in spite of their attempts to stand on tiptoe; they have not the muscle and the marrow, they have not the light and the air, of Molière's poetically conceived creatures.


But, melodramatic as situations and characters are, the best of Hugo's plays are still poetic-in appearance, at least. And this is because Victor Hugo is a great poetalthough not a great dramatic poet. It is because his plays, although melodramas in structure, are the work of an artist in words. The melodramatist, when he has once constructed the play, calls on the poet to paint it-for in Hugo are two men, a melodramatist doubled by a lyric poet. The joints of the plot are hidden and the hollowness of the characters is cloaked by the ample folds of a poetic diction of unrivaled richAnd it is the splendor of this lyric


There is no need to say that Victor Hugo's glory does not depend on his dramas, nor, indeed, upon his work in any single department of literature. His genius has, turn by turn, tried almost every kind of writing, and on whatsoever it tried it has left its mark. He is a master-singer of lyrics and a master-maker of satires. The song is as pure as the spring at the hill-side, and the satire is as scorching as the steel when it flows from the crucible. He is mighty in romance, and moving in history; giving us in "Notre-Dame de Paris" historical romance, and in the "Story of a Crime" romantic history. Even in criticism and philosophy he has done his stint of labor. But his best work is not merely literary. Literature is too small to hold him, and the finest of him is outside of it. The best part of him has got out of literature into life. What he has done in politics and philanthropy is on record; and he who runs may read, if he will. The politics may at times have been a little erratic, and the philanthropy may have seemed sentimental and opinionated; but these defects are but dust in the balance when weighed against the nobler qualities of the man. In times of doubt and compromise, it is worth much to see one who holds fast to what he believes, and who stands forth for it in lofty and resolute fashion. During the darkest and dirtiest days of the Second Empire, a beacon-light of liberty and hope and faith flashed to France from a rocky isle off the coast, where dwelt one exile from the city he loved, one man at least who refused to bow the head or bend the knee before the man of December. Beyond and above Hugo's great genius is his great heart. He is the poet of the proletarian and of the people; he is the poet of the poor and the weak and the suffering; he is the poet of the overworked woman and of the little child; he is the friend of the downtrodden and the outcast, and his is the truly Christian charity which droppeth like the gentle dew from heaven.

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

for a screen-were really beautiful, nevertheless the majority, and the majority clearly preponderating, bore witness to the rather meager sense of decorativeness which we suppose Americans, as a people, must for a while yet own to. The designs submitted came from all over the country, and one could hardly help drawing the same inferences from them, as to the national faculty for the lighter qualities of fine-art, that the exhibition in the same rooms, some months before, of the Prang Christmas-card competitive designs induced. Though certainly in a smaller degree, there was evident the same lack of spontaneity of conception, and a similar lack of freedom in execution. In many of the designs, the limitations of machine-work were traceable, betraying the fact that the eye had been thoroughly familiarized with machine-work only; in many others, a rather unnatural variety, evidently due to the easily obtained notion that vari

[ocr errors][merged small]

ety is the sign manual of hand-work, betrayed an affectation perfectly innocent, to be sure, but on the whole as uninteresting as machine monotony. But the real point to be observed is that a few years ago any exhibition at all of this kind would have been an impossibility. When any one who knows what it is possible to do, or, at all events,which is much the same thing, we suppose,

what has already been done in art, reminds us, with the tone of a pessimist, of the actual æsthetic condition of America outside the circles of influence of the studios of two or three cities, it is considerations of this sort that are encouraging. It is not that a few of our painters-and we may now add sculptors, and perhaps architects-compare favorably with the analogous few of England or Holland or the Latin countries, which gives us the most satisfactory ground for gratulation; but the general and truly popular æsthetic progress that has

been made here within a very few years -a progress which is, relatively speaking, surprising, and which really affords some reason for assuring ourselves that there is something particularly sympathetic and apprehensive in the American infusion in Anglo-Saxon character, that discloses itself as soon as it becomes convinced of the seriousness and dignity of any department of human effort. It would be an extravagant thing to say that we now have many painters superior to Stuart and Allston, for example, taking them all around, and laying stress upon the most dignified and severe of the intellectual qualities; but it is certain-and this, as we say, is the significant circumstance that Allston and Stuart themselves enjoy among their countrymen today an intelligent and critical vogue which neither in their own time nor even a decade ago was theirs. So with the lighter departments of art, to the development of American excellence in which the Society of Decorative Art has set itself. The Society's accomplishment is to be measured by comparative, rather than absolute, standards; and to judge the original work exhibited at their recent display with the same eyes which one would bring to the inspection of the admirable loan collection of Italian and other embroideries exhibited with it, would be obviously irrational. Indeed, we are inclined especially to remind visitors to that exhibition of the least captivating portion of it, viz., the three sides

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

special aptitude and after little study, has been rewarded with a reasonable measure of success.


of the gallery upon which were exposed the contributions of amateurs who had only indirectly, in many instances, come within the Society's influence. The south wall was hung, in the main, with work done under the immediate supervision of, and designed especially for, the Society itself, and it made an excellent showing. A large portière, designed by Mr. Samuel Colman and executed by the Society's corps of workers, with its beautiful arabesques embroidered upon a ground of yellow chosen with the nicest taste and any one who knows the widely different qualities of yellow, without, at the same time, having an acquaintance with what has been done in oriental work, will appreciate success in using this color as a basis, so easy is it to be disagreeable with it -was of itself enough to stamp the work of the Society as excellent work. It was natural that it alone should have overbalanced any contribution by a mere amateur. Mr. Colman is something more than an amateur, and work for which he provides the design and of which he overlooks the execution is sure to rival the very best work of the sort made. And, in a smaller degree, the same may be said of the other direct contributions of the Society. But the competitive designs sent were satisfactory evidence that the notion of attempting something in decorative art has penetrated many inhospitable regions of the country, and the manifest effort of many persons, without

The growth of this department of household art may probably be considered to date from that really-to us-epoch-making event, the Centennial Exposition at Phila delphia. The showing America then made in art of any kind was not too flattering to Americans, and in decorative art especially there was a noticeable inferiority which struck forcibly a few ladies of cultivation and public spirit. Hence the Society of Decorative Art. At first, a single room in Madison Avenue was found sufficient to meet the demands of the new scheme, and at all events answered for the modest beginnings of a rivalry of South Kensington. Soon, however, such narrow quarters proved inadequate. The "popular response" to the initiative thus taken was prompt and really significant of the need and opportunity for such an institution. From all over the country inquiries began to be received, asking for information and work. There is certainly little that is surprising in this. Everybody remembers, though it has already become a distinct effort of memory to recall it, the general condition of our household art less than a decade ago. In many houses there was unquestionably a great deal of feminine taste and tact displayed; this had been the case since the good old colony days and afterward, when women took pride in the varied product of the spinning-wheel, in samplers and quilts and tidies, and so on. There is hardly a "home

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]
[graphic][ocr errors]


stead" in New England in one of whose "chambers" or "best rooms" there is not a framed worsted representation of "Samuel Anointing Saul," or some similar object of feminine accomplishment, the relic of two or three generations back. But, aside from the primitive crudity of all this, which of course requires no mention, the object and pursuit of it related distinctly to what are called "accomplishments," and the idea of beautifying one's home by such work went to no greater lengths than could be comprised, also, in taking care of the India china and polishing the brass "skillets" and other utensils of housekeeping. To speak heroically, the household art ideal of that day was the notion of neatness allied with industry. When, a generation

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

or two-varying according to place-later, the notion of beauty, of having pretty things, instead of having things ship-shape, succeeded, the notion of making anything at all lapsed, and household decorations were purchased almost altogether. This has lasted until within a very few years, and though it has not been universal, we are not here concerned with exceptions, but with the general view and practice. When, then, people in general began to hear about "the South Kensington stitch," and to see the Walter Crane books, and to learn of the existence of Japan, they naturally-being Americans-became interested in a novelty so interesting. The English college of propaganda upon such subjects had been for some time putting forth its literature; the pre-Raphaelite movement and its echo here

[blocks in formation]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »