« AnkstesnisTęsti »
change of dress and scene, figure among the left to struggle against Death and Doubt on the poetasters of to-day:
very threshold of the grave, at length quitted the
confines of passion and prejudice on February “ Savez-vous en quoi Cotin
17, 1673. He was not alone. At his side stood Diffère de Trissotin?
two Sisters of Charity, whose gentleness in this Cotin a fini ses jours,
supreme hour amply requited the generosity Trissotin vivra toujours."
which, we are told, they never failed to awaken The success of this piece was so palpable, in the author of “ Tartufe.” and the state of Molière's health so precarious,
One would have supposed the Church to have that his friends urged him to give up the stage reached the limits of persecution when it denied and devote himself exclusively to composition.
its consolations. Not so. The Archbishop of The Académie Française offered to make him Paris—Harlay de Champvalon—whose debaucha member, and commissioned Boileau to ascer
eries were the common talk of the town, and tain his views. “Votre santé,” said Boileau, the tenor of whose life was a scandal to his "dépérit, parce que le métier du comédien vous order, absolutely refused to sanction the last rites épuise ; que n'y renoncez-vous?" “ Hélas !” of the Church. He decreed that Molière be replied Molière, with a sigh, “c'est le point buried like a dog. History says: “Le comédien d'honneur." The point of honor consisted in vertueux ne put trouver grâce auprès de ce coménot abandoning those poor actors who relied dien hypocrite." Chapelle's indignation knew no solely on him for their daily bread.* It was this bounds. He hurled the weight of his genius at point of honor to which Molière clung to the the altar of prejudice, and flooded the town with last, that he so frequently urged as an excuse for a torrent of reproach. The following verse was wasting his abilities on compositions which were
written at the time : sometimes unworthy of his genius. If I worked for honor and glory,” he said one day, “my
Puisqu'à Paris on dénie works would have a different tendency. But it
La terre, après le trépas,
A ceux qui, pendant leur vie, behooves me to address the groundlings in suit
Ont joué la comédie, able language, and to keep them amused in order
Pourquoi ne jette-t-on pas to support my troupe. Lofty sentiments and
Les bigots à la voirie? purity of style would be a mere waste of time
Ils sont dans le même cas."* my poor comedians would starve.” Molière's last work,“ Le Malade Imagi
By the King's order this decree was in some naire," appeared in the early part of 1673. Its
measure set aside, and the Archbishop consented success was not for one moment doubtful. At to Molière's burial on condition that his body be its fourth representation Moli re, who so admi- taken direct to the cemetery without resting at rably sustained the chief character, Argan, burst the church. This seemed like a concession, but a blood-vessel. The audience noticed the change the wily prelate had his little plot already hatched. in his demeanor, but the courage of Molière car. He gave strict orders to the pastor of St. Eustache ried him through the piece. When the curtain to refuse his ministry, and at the same time caused fell on the last scene of this inimitable comedy a rabble to assemble at Molière's door, so as to its author sank exhausted to the ground. Four prevent the coffin passing down the street. Moporters bore him gently to his house in the Rue lière's widow, whose despair may well be imade Richelieu, where he remained for some hours gined, appealed to the rabble in vain. She was insensible. With returning consciousness sprang at length advised to throw a few “ broad pieces" a desire to make his peace with God, and Mo- to the crowd. She did so, and showers of sous lière bade his attendants summon the pastor of to boot. The effect was miraculous! Not only St. Eustache. This divine not only refused his
was the coffin permitted to pass unmolested, but services, but sternly forbade his assistants to the mob—which a moment before had vowed to visit the dying comedian. After considerable obstruct—now turned its head toward Montdelay a priest was found, but the good man only martre, and solemnly followed the body to its reached his post to find Molière speechless. haven. In addition to these mercenaries, one Those precious moments which precede death hundred persons, mostly his friends, each bearhad been wantonly wasted. That priceless con- ing a lighted torch, reverently escorted the morsolation which lightens the heart of its burdens tal remains of Molière in silence to the grave. was denied to the man who had scourged the hypocrites and empirics of his time. Molière,
*“Mémoires sur la Vie de Racine," 1747, p. 121.
* "Récréations Littéraires," Cizeron-Rival, p. 72.
THE FRENCH PLAY IN LONDON:
ENGLISH opinion concerning
France, our were conducting ourselves with just that absence neighbor and rival, was formerly full of of tact, measure, and correct perception, with all hostile prejudice, and is still, in general, quite that slowness to see when one is making one's sufficiently disposed to severity. But from time self ridiculous, which belongs to the people of our to time France or things French become for the English race. solid English public the object of what our neigh- The sense of measure is certainly not one of bors call an engouement—an infatuated interest. Nature's gifts to her English children; but then Such an engouement Wordsworth witnessed in we all of us fail in it, we have all of us yielded to 1802, after the peace of Amiens, and it disturbed infatuation at some moment of our lives, we are his philosophic mind greatly. Every one was all in the same boat, and one of us has no right rushing to Paris; every one was in admiration to laugh at the other. I am sure I have not. I of the First Consul :
remember how in my youth, after a first sight of
the divine Rachel at the Edinburgh Theatre, in " Lords, lawyers, statesmen, squires of low degree, Men known and men unknown, sick, lame, and and for two months never missed one of her
the part of Hermione, I followed her to Paris, blind, Post forward all like creatures of one kind,
representations. I will not cast a stone at the With first-fruit offerings crowd to bend the knee,
London public for running eagerly after the In France, before the new-born majesty."
charming company of actors which has just left
us, or at the great ladies who are seeking for All measure, all dignity, all real intelligence of soul, and have found it in Mademoiselle Sarah the situation, so Wordsworth complained, were Bernhardt. I will not quarrel with our newslost under the charm of the new attraction : papers for their unremitting attention to these
French performances, their copious criticism of 'Tis ever thus. Ye men of prostrate mind, A seemly reverence may be paid to power ;
them; particularly when the criticism is so inBut that's a loyal virtue, never sown
teresting and so good as that which the “Times” In haste, nor springing with a transient shower.
and the “ Daily News " and the “ Pall Mall GaWhen truth, when sense, when liberty were flown, zette” have given us. Copious, indeed! Why What bardship had it been to wait an hour ?
should not our newspapers be copious on the Shame on you, feeble heads, to slavery prone !”
French play when they are copious on the Clewer
case, and the Mackonochie case, and so many One or two moralists there may still be found, other matters besides, a great deal less important who comment in a like spirit of impatience upon and interesting, all of them, than the “Maison the extraordinary attraction exercised by the de Molière"? French company of actors which has just left So I am not going to join the cynics, and to
The rush of “lords, lawyers, statesmen, find fault with the engouement, the infatuation, squires of low degree, men known and men un- shown by the English public in its passion for known,” of those acquainted with the French the French plays and players. A passion of this language perfectly, of those acquainted with it a kind may be salutary if we will learn the lessons little, and of those not acquainted with it at all, for us with which it is charged. Unfortunately, to the performances at the Gaiety Theatre—the few people who feel a passion think of learning universal occupation with the performances and anything from it. A man feels a passion, he performers, the length and solemnity with which passes through it, and then he goes his way and the newspapers chronicled and discussed them, straightway forgets, as the Apostle says, what the seriousness with which the whole repertory manner of man he was.
Above all, this is apt of the company was taken, the passion for cer- to happen with us English, who have, as an tain pieces and for certain actors, the great ladies eminent German professor is good enough to tell who by the acting of Mademoiselle Sarah Bern- us, “so much genius, so little method.” The hardt were revealed to themselves, and who could much genius hurries us into infatuations; the not resist the desire of telling her so—all this has little method prevents our learning the right and moved, I say, a surviving and aged moralist here wholesome lesson from them. Let us join, then, and there among us to exclaim, “Shame on you, devoutly and with contrition, in the prayer of the feeble heads, to slavery prone !” The English German professor's great countryman, Goethe, a public, according to these cynics, were exhibiting prayer which is more needful, one may surely themselves as men of prostrate mind, who pay say, for us than for him: “God help us, and ento power a reverence anything but seemly; we lighten us for the future; that we may not stand
in our own way so much, but may have clear Hugo is a great poet of the race and lineage of notions of the consequences of things !"
Shakespeare. To get a clear notion of the consequences M. Victor Hugo is a great romance-writer. which do in reason follow from what we have There are people who are disposed to class all been seeing and admiring at the Gaiety Theatre, imaginative producers together, and to call them to get a clear notion of them, and frankly to all by the name of poet. Then a great romancedraw them, is the object which I propose to my- writer will be a great poet. Above all are the self here. I am not going to criticise one by one French inclined to give this wide extension to the French actors and actresses who have been the name poet, and the inclination is very chargiving us so much pleasure. For a foreigner acteristic of them. It betrays that very defect this must always be a task, as it seems to me, of which we have mentioned, the inadequacy of some peril; perilous or not, it has been abun- their genius in the higher regions of poetry. If dantly attempted, and to attempt it yet again, they were more at home in those regions, they now that the performances are over and the per- would feel the essential difference between imaformers gone back to Paris, would be neither ginative production in verse and imaginative protimely nor interesting. One remark I will make, duction in prose too strongly to be ever inclined a remark suggested by the inevitable comparison to call both by the common name of poetry. of Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt with Rachel. They would perceive, with us, that M. Victor One talks vaguely of genius, but I had never till Hugo, for instance, or Sir Walter Scott, may be now comprehended how much of Rachel's su- a great romance-writer, and may yet be by no periority was purely in intellectual power, how means a great poet. eminently this power counts in the actor's art as Poetry is simply the most delightful and perin all art, how just is the instinct which led the fect form of utterance that human words can Greeks to mark with a high and severe stamp reach. Its rhythm and measure, elevated to a the Muses. Temperament and quick intelli- regularity, certainty, and force very different from gence, passion, nervous mobility, grace, smile, that of the rhythm and measure which can pervoice, charm, poetry—Mademoiselle Sarah Bern- vade prose, are a part of its perfection. The hardt has them all; one watches her with pleas- more of genius that a nation has for high poetry, ure, with admiration, and yet not without a secret the more will the rhythm and measure which its disquietude. Something is wanting, or, at least, poetical utterance adopts be distinguished by not present in sufficient force; something which adequacy and beauty. That is why M. Henry alone can secure and fix her administration of Cochin's remark on Shakespeare, which I have all the charming gifts which she has, can alone elsewhere quoted, is so good : “Shakespeare is keep them fresh, keep them sincere, save them not only,” says M. Henry Cochin, “ the king of from perils by caprice, perils by mannerism: the realm of thought, he is also the king of poetic that something is high intellectual power. It rhythm and style. Shakespeare has succeeded was here that Rachel was so great; she began, in giving us the most varied, the most harmonione says to one's self as one recalls her image ous verse which has ever sounded upon the huand dwells upon it—she began almost where Ma- man ear since the verse of the Greeks.” Let us demoiselle Sarah Bernhardt ends.
have a line or two of Shakespeare's verse before But I return to my object—the lessons to be us, just to supply the mind with a standard of learned by us from the immense attraction which reference in the discussion of this matter; we the French company has exercised, the conse- may take the lines from him almost at random : quences to be drawn from it. Certainly we have
“ Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay, something to learn from it, and something to unlearn. What have we to unlearn? Are we to
Who twice a day their withered hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood ; and I have built unlearn our old estimate of French poetry and
Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests drama ? For every lover of poetry and of the
Sing still for Richard's soul." drama, this is a very interesting question. In the great and serious kinds of poetry, we used to Yes, there indeed is the verse of Shakespeare, think that the French genius, admirable as in so the verse of the highest English poetry; there is many other ways it is, showed radical weakness. what M. Henry Cochin calls “the majestic EngBut there is a new generation growing up among lish iambic.” We will not inflict Greek upon our us—and to this young and stirring generation readers, but every one who knows Greek will rewho of us would not gladly belong, even at the member that the iambic of the Attic tragedians price of having to catch some of its illusions is a rhythm of the same high and splendid qualand to pass through them?-a new genera- ity. tion which takes French poetry and drama as Which of us doubts that imaginative proseriously as Greek, and for which M. Victor duction, uttering itself in such a form as this, is
altogether another and a higher thing from im- or compare Wordsworth's aginative production uttering itself in any of the
“ We must be free or die, who speak the tongue forms of prose? And if we find a nation doubt. ing whether there is any great difference between
Which Shakespeare spake, the faith and morals
hold imaginative and eloquent production in verse and
Which Milton held ... imaginative and eloquent production in prose, and inclined to call all imaginative producers by with M. Victor Hugo's the common name of poets, then we may be sure of one thing-namely, that this nation has never
"Non, France, l'univers a besoin que tu vives !
Je le redis, la France est un besoin des hommes." yet succeeded in finding the highest and most adequate form for poetry. Because, if it had, it Who does not recognize the difference of spirit could never have doubted of the essential supe- here? And the difference is, that the English riority of this form to all prose forms of utter- lines have the distinctive spirit of high poetry, ance. And if a nation has never succeeded in and the French lines have not. creating this high and equate form for its po
Here we have been attending to the contents etry, then we may conclude that it is not gifted of the verses chosen. Let us now attend, so far with the genius for high poetry; since the genius
as we can, to form only, and the result will be for high poetry calls forth the high and adequate the same. We will confine ourselves, since our form, and is inseparable from it. So that, on the subject is the French play in London, to dramatone hand, from the absence of conspicuous ge- ic verse. We want an adequate form of verse nius in a people for poetry, we may assert the for high poetic drama. The accepted form with absence of an adequate poetical form; and on
the French is the rhymed Alexandrine. Let us the other hand, again, from the want of an ade keep the iambic of the Greeks or of Shakespeare, quate poetical form, we may infer the want of let us keep such verse as conspicuous national genius for poetry. And we may proceed, if our estimate of a
“This precious stone set in the silver sea” nation's success in poetry is said to have been much too low, and is called in question, in either present to our minds. Let us take such verse as of two ways. We may compare the production this from “Hernani”: of Corneille and Racine which we are said to
“ Le comte d'Onate, qui l'aime aussi, la garde underrate, we may compare it in power, in pene
Et comme un majordome et comme un amoureux. trativeness, in criticism of life, in ability to call
Quelque reître, une nuit, gardien peu langoureux, forth our energy and joy, with the production of Pourrait bien," etc., etc. Homer and Shakespeare. M. Victor Hugo is said to be a poet of the race and lineage of Shake- Or as this from the same: speare, and I hear astonishment expressed at my
"... Quant à lutter ensemble not ranking him much above Wordsworth. Well,
Sur le terrain d'amour, beau champ qui toujours then, compare their production, in cases where
tremble, it lends itself to a comparison. Compare the po
De fadaises, mon cher, je sais mal faire assaut." etry of the moonlight scene in “Hernani,” really the most poetical scene in that play, with the po- The words in italics will suffice to give to us, I etry of the moonlight scene in the “ Merchant of think, the sense of what constitutes the fatal Venice." Compare
fault of the rhyming Alexandrine of French
tragedy, its incurable artificiality, its want of the “... Sur nous, tout en dormant,
fluidity, the naturalness, the rapid forward moveLa nature à demi veille amoureusement"
ment of true dramatic verse. M. Victor Hugo is with
said to be a cunning and mighty artist in Alex
andrines, and so unquestionably he is; but he is “ Sit, Jessica ; look how the floor of heaven
an artist in a form radically inadequate and inIs thick inlaid with patines of bright gold !"
ferior, and in which a drama like that of Sopho
cles or Shakespeare is impossible. Compare the laudation of their own country, an
It happens, that in our own language we have inspiring but also a trying theme for a poet, by
an example of the employment of an inadequate Shakespeare and Wordsworth on the one hand, form in tragedy and in elevated poetry, and can and by M. Victor Hugo on the other. Compare
see the result of it. The rhymed ten-syllable Shakespeare's
couplet, the heroic couplet as it is often called, is “ This precious stone set in the silver sea, such a form. In the earlier work of Shakespeare, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Eng. adopted or adapted by him even if not altogether land"
his own work, we find this form often employed :
“ Alas! what joy shall noble Talbot have,
it was because the highest sort of poetic power To bid his young son welcome to his grave ? was wanting to him; and, if the highest sort of Away! vexation almost stops my breath,
poetic power had been not wanting to him but That sundered friends greet in the hour of death. present, he would have found no adequate form Lucy, farewell ; no more my fortune can,
of dramatic verse for conveying it, he would But curse the cause I can not aid the man.
have had to create one. For such tasks he had Maine, Blois, Poictiers, and Tours are won away, not power; and this is only another way of say'Long all of Somerset and his delay."
ing that for the highest tasks in poetry the genius Traces of it remain in Shakespeare's work to the of his nation appears to have not power. But last, in the rhyming of final couplets. But be- serious spirit and great poet that he was, Mocause he had so great a genius for true tragic lière had too sound an instinct to attempt so poetry Shakespeare dropped this necessarily in- earnest a matter as tragic drama with inadeadequate form and took a better. We find the quate means. It would have been a heart. rhymed couplet again in Dryden's tragedies. But breaking business for him. He did not attempt this vigorous rhetorical poet had no real genius it, therefore. for true tragic poetry, and his form is itself a The “ Misanthrope" and the “ Tartufe " are proof of it. True tragic poetry is impossible comedy, but they are comedy in verse, poetic with this inadequate form. Again, all through comedy. They employ the established verse of the eighteenth century this form was dominant French dramatic poetry, the Alexandrine. Imas the main form for high efforts in English poe- mense power has gone to the making of them; a try; and our serious poetry of that century, ac- world of vigorous sense, piercing observation, cordingly, has something inevitably defective and pathetic meditation, profound criticism of life. unsatisfactory. When it rises out of this, it at Molière had also one great advantage as a dramathe same time adopts instinctively a truer form, tist over Shakespeare ; he wrote for a more deas Gray does in the “ Elegy.” The just use of veloped theatre, a more developed society. Morethe ten-syllable couplet is to be seen in Chaucer; over, he was at the same time, probably, by naas a form for tragedy, and for poetry of the most ture a better theatre-poet than Shakespeare, he serious and elevated kind, it is defective. It had a keener sense for theatrical situation. Shakemakes real adequacy in poetry of this kind im- speare is not rightly to be called, as Goethe calls possible; and its prevalence, for poetry of this him, an epitomator rather than a dramatist; but kind, proves that those among whom it prevails he may rightly be called rather a dramatist than have for poetry of this kind no signal gift. a theatre-poet. Molière-and here his French
The case of the great Molière himself will il- nature stood him in good stead—was a theatrelustrate the truth of what I say. He is by far poet of the very first order. Comedy, too, esthe chief name in French poetry; he is one of capes, as has been already said, the test of entire the very greatest names in all literature. He has seriousness; it remains, by the law of its being, admirable and delightful power, penetrativeness, in a region of comparative lightness and of irony. insight; a masterly criticism of life. But he is a What is artificial can pass in comedy more easily. comic poet.
Why ? Had he no seriousness and In spite of all these advantages, the “Misandepth of nature ? He had profound seriousness. thrope" and the “ Tartufe " have, and have by And would not a dramatic poet with this depth virtue of their poetic form, an artificiality which of nature be a tragedian if he could? Of course makes itself felt, and which provokes weariness. he would. For only by breasting in full the The freshness and power of Molière are best felt storm and cloud of life, breasting it and passing when he uses prose, in pieces such as the “ Avare,” through it and above it, can the dramatist who or the “Fourberies de Scapin,” or “George Danfeels the weight of mortal things liberate himself din.” How entirely the contrary is the case with from the pressure, and rise, as we all seek to rise, Shakespeare; how undoubtedly is it his verse to content and joy. Tragedy breasts the pres- which shows his power most! But so inadesure of life ; comedy eludes it, half liberates it- quate a vehicle for dramatic poetry is the French self from it by irony. But the tragedian, if he Alexandrine that its sway hindered Molière, one has the sterner labor, has also the higher prize. may think, from being a tragic poet at all, in Shakespeare has more joy than Molière, more spite of his having gifts for this highest form of assurance and peace. “Othello,” with all its dramatic poetry which are immeasurably supepassion and terror, is on the whole a work ani- rior to those of any other French poet; and in mating and fortifying; more so a thousand times comedy, where he thought he could use the than “George Dandin,” which is mournfully de- Alexandrine, and where he did use it with splenpressing. Molière, if he could, would have given did power, it yet in a considerable degree hamus Othellos instead of George Dandins ; let us pered and lamed him, so that this true and great not doubt it. If he did not give Othellos to us, poet is actually most satisfactory in his prose,