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change of dress and scene, figure among the left to struggle against Death and Doubt on the poetasters of to-day:
"Savez-vous en quoi Cotin
Diffère de Trissotin?
Cotin a fini ses jours,
Trissotin vivra toujours."
The success of this piece was so palpable, and the state of Molière's health so precarious, that his friends urged him to give up the stage and devote himself exclusively to composition.
The Académie Française offered to make him a member, and commissioned Boileau to ascertain his views. "Votre santé," said Boileau, "dépérit, parce que le métier du comédien vous épuise; que n'y renoncez-vous?" 'Hélas!" replied Molière, with a sigh, "c'est le point d'honneur." The point of honor consisted in not abandoning those poor actors who relied solely on him for their daily bread.* It was this point of honor to which Molière clung to the last, that he so frequently urged as an excuse for wasting his abilities on compositions which were sometimes unworthy of his genius. "If I worked for honor and glory," he said one day, "my works would have a different tendency. But it behooves me to address the groundlings in suitable language, and to keep them amused in order to support my troupe. Lofty sentiments and purity of style would be a mere waste of timemy poor comedians would starve."
Molière's last work, "Le Malade Imaginaire," appeared in the early part of 1673. Its success was not for one moment doubtful. At its fourth representation Molière, who so admirably sustained the chief character, Argan, burst a blood-vessel. The audience noticed the change in his demeanor, but the courage of Molière carried him through the piece. When the curtain fell on the last scene of this inimitable comedy its author sank exhausted to the ground. Four porters bore him gently to his house in the Rue de Richelieu, where he remained for some hours insensible. With returning consciousness sprang a desire to make his peace with God, and Molière bade his attendants summon the pastor of St. Eustache. This divine not only refused his services, but sternly forbade his assistants to visit the dying comedian. After considerable delay a priest was found, but the good man only reached his post to find Molière speechless. Those precious moments which precede death had been wantonly wasted. That priceless consolation which lightens the heart of its burdens 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.
very threshold of the grave, at length quitted the confines of passion and prejudice on February 17, 1673. He was not alone. At his side stood two Sisters of Charity, whose gentleness in this supreme hour amply requited the generosity which, we are told, they never failed to awaken in the author of "Tartufe."
One would have supposed the Church to have reached the limits of persecution when it denied its consolations. Not so. The Archbishop of Paris-Harlay de Champvalon-whose debaucheries were the common talk of the town, and the tenor of whose life was a scandal to his order, absolutely refused to sanction the last rites of the Church. He decreed that Molière be buried like a dog. History says: "Le comédien vertueux ne put trouver grâce auprès de ce comédien hypocrite." Chapelle's indignation knew no bounds. He hurled the weight of his genius at the altar of prejudice, and flooded the town with a torrent of reproach. The following verse was
written at the time:
"Puisqu'à Paris on dénie
Les bigots à la voirie?
Ils sont dans le même cas.' "'*
By the King's order this decree was in some measure set aside, and the Archbishop consented to Molière's burial on condition that his body be taken direct to the cemetery without resting at the church. This seemed like a concession, but the wily prelate had his little plot already hatched. He gave strict orders to the pastor of St. Eustache to refuse his ministry, and at the same time caused a rabble to assemble at Molière's door, so as to prevent the coffin passing down the street. Molière's widow, whose despair may well be imagined, appealed to the rabble in vain. She was at length advised to throw a few "broad pieces" to the crowd. She did so, and showers of sous to boot. The effect was miraculous! Not only was the coffin permitted to pass unmolested, but the mob-which a moment before had vowed to obstruct-now turned its head toward Montmartre, and solemnly followed the body to its haven. In addition to these mercenaries, one hundred persons, mostly his friends, each bearing a lighted torch, reverently escorted the mortal remains of Molière in silence to the grave.
* "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 hostile prejudice, and is still, in general, quite sufficiently disposed to severity. But from time to time France or things French become for the solid English public the object of what our neighbors call an engouement—an infatuated interest. Such an engouement Wordsworth witnessed in 1802, after the peace of Amiens, and it disturbed his philosophic mind greatly. Every one was rushing to Paris; every one was in admiration of the First Consul :
"Lords, lawyers, statesmen, squires of low degree, Men known and men unknown, sick, lame, and blind,
Post forward all like creatures of one kind,
All measure, all dignity, all real intelligence of the situation, so Wordsworth complained, were lost under the charm of the new attraction :
"'Tis ever thus. Ye men of prostrate mind,
One or two moralists there may still be found, who comment in a like spirit of impatience upon the extraordinary attraction exercised by the French company of actors which has just left us. The rush of "lords, lawyers, statesmen, squires of low degree, men known and men unknown," of those acquainted with the French language perfectly, of those acquainted with it a little, and of those not acquainted with it at all, to the performances at the Gaiety Theatre-the universal occupation with the performances and performers, the length and solemnity with which the newspapers chronicled and discussed them, the seriousness with which the whole repertory of the company was taken, the passion for certain pieces and for certain actors, the great ladies who by the acting of Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt were revealed to themselves, and who could not resist the desire of telling her so-all this has moved, I say, a surviving and aged moralist here and there among us to exclaim, "Shame on you, feeble heads, to slavery prone!" The English public, according to these cynics, were exhibiting themselves as men of prostrate mind, who pay to power a reverence anything but seemly; we
of tact, measure, and correct perception, with all that slowness to see when one is making one's self ridiculous, which belongs to the people of our English race.
The sense of measure is certainly not one of Nature's gifts to her English children; but then we all of us fail in it, we have all of us yielded to infatuation at some moment of our lives, we are all in the same boat, and one of us has no right to laugh at the other. I am sure I have not. I remember how in my youth, after a first sight of the divine Rachel at the Edinburgh Theatre, in the part of Hermione, I followed her to Paris, and for two months never missed one of her representations. I will not cast a stone at the London public for running eagerly after the charming company of actors which has just left us, or at the great ladies who are seeking for soul, and have found it in Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt. I will not quarrel with our newspapers for their unremitting attention to these French performances, their copious criticism of them; particularly when the criticism is so interesting and so good as that which the "Times and the "Daily News" and the "Pall Mall Gazette" have given us. Copious, indeed! Why should not our newspapers be copious on the French play when they are copious on the Clewer case, and the Mackonochie case, and so many other matters besides, a great deal less important and interesting, all of them, than the "Maison de Molière"?
So I am not going to join the cynics, and to find fault with the engouement, the infatuation, shown by the English public in its passion for the French plays and players. A passion of this kind may be salutary if we will learn the lessons for us with which it is charged. Unfortunately, few people who feel a passion think of learning anything from it. A man feels a passion, he passes through it, and then he goes his way and straightway forgets, as the Apostle says, what manner of man he was. Above all, this is apt to happen with us English, who have, as an eminent German professor is good enough to tell us, "so much genius, so little method." The much genius hurries us into infatuations; the little method prevents our learning the right and wholesome lesson from them. Let us join, then, devoutly and with contrition, in the prayer of the German professor's great countryman, Goethe, a prayer which is more needful, one may surely say, for us than for him: "God help us, and enlighten 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 which do in reason follow from what we have been seeing and admiring at the Gaiety Theatre, to get a clear notion of them, and frankly to draw them, is the object which I propose to myself here. I am not going to criticise one by one the French actors and actresses who have been giving us so much pleasure. For a foreigner this must always be a task, as it seems to me, of some peril; perilous or not, it has been abundantly attempted, and to attempt it yet again, now that the performances are over and the performers gone back to Paris, would be neither timely nor interesting. One remark I will make, a remark suggested by the inevitable comparison of Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt with Rachel. One talks vaguely of genius, but I had never till now comprehended how much of Rachel's superiority was purely in intellectual power, how eminently this power counts in the actor's art as in all art, how just is the instinct which led the Greeks to mark with a high and severe stamp the Muses. Temperament and quick intelligence, passion, nervous mobility, grace, smile, voice, charm, poetry-Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt has them all; one watches her with pleasure, with admiration, and yet not without a secret disquietude. Something is wanting, or, at least, not present in sufficient force; something which alone can secure and fix her administration of all the charming gifts which she has, can alone keep them fresh, keep them sincere, save them from perils by caprice, perils by mannerism: that something is high intellectual power. It was here that Rachel was so great; she began, one says to one's self as one recalls her image and dwells upon it-she began almost where Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt ends.
But I return to my object-the lessons to be learned by us from the immense attraction which the French company has exercised, the consequences to be drawn from it. Certainly we have something to learn from it, and something to unlearn. What have we to unlearn? Are we to unlearn our old estimate of French poetry and drama? For every lover of poetry and of the drama, this is a very interesting question. In the great and serious kinds of poetry, we used to think that the French genius, admirable as in so many other ways it is, showed radical weakness. But there is a new generation growing up among us-and to this young and stirring generation who of us would not gladly belong, even at the price of having to catch some of its illusions and to pass through them?-a new generation which takes French poetry and drama as seriously as Greek, and for which M. Victor
M. Victor Hugo is a great romance-writer. There are people who are disposed to class all imaginative producers together, and to call them all by the name of poet. Then a great romancewriter will be a great poet. Above all are the French inclined to give this wide extension to the name poet, and the inclination is very characteristic of them. It betrays that very defect which we have mentioned, the inadequacy of their genius in the higher regions of poetry. If they were more at home in those regions, they would feel the essential difference between imaginative production in verse and imaginative production in prose too strongly to be ever inclined to call both by the common name of poetry. They would perceive, with us, that M. Victor Hugo, for instance, or Sir Walter Scott, may be a great romance-writer, and may yet be by no means a great poet.
Poetry is simply the most delightful and perfect form of utterance that human words can reach. Its rhythm and measure, elevated to a regularity, certainty, and force very different from that of the rhythm and measure which can pervade prose, are a part of its perfection. The more of genius that a nation has for high poetry, the more will the rhythm and measure which its poetical utterance adopts be distinguished by adequacy and beauty. That is why M. Henry Cochin's remark on Shakespeare, which I have elsewhere quoted, is so good: "Shakespeare is not only," says M. Henry Cochin, “the king of the realm of thought, he is also the king of poetic rhythm and style. Shakespeare has succeeded in giving us the most varied, the most harmonious verse which has ever sounded upon the human ear since the verse of the Greeks." Let us have a line or two of Shakespeare's verse before us, just to supply the mind with a standard of reference in the discussion of this matter; we may take the lines from him almost at random: "Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
Who twice a day their withered hands hold up Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests Sing still for Richard's soul."
Yes, there indeed is the verse of Shakespeare, the verse of the highest English poetry; there is what M. Henry Cochin calls "the majestic English iambic." We will not inflict Greek upon our readers, but every one who knows Greek will remember that the iambic of the Attic tragedians is a rhythm of the same high and splendid quality.
Which of us doubts that imaginative production, uttering itself in such a form as this, is
altogether another and a higher thing from imaginative production uttering itself in any of the forms of prose? And if we find a nation doubting whether there is any great difference between imaginative and eloquent production in verse and imaginative and eloquent production in prose, and inclined to call all imaginative producers by the common name of poets, then we may be sure of one thing-namely, that this nation has never yet succeeded in finding the highest and most adequate form for poetry. Because, if it had, it could never have doubted of the essential superiority of this form to all prose forms of utterance. And if a nation has never succeeded in creating this high and adequate form for its poetry, then we may conclude that it is not gifted with the genius for high poetry; since the genius for high poetry calls forth the high and adequate form, and is inseparable from it. So that, on the one hand, from the absence of conspicuous genius in a people for poetry, we may assert the absence of an adequate poetical form; and on the other hand, again, from the want of an adequate poetical form, we may infer the want of conspicuous national genius for poetry.
"Non, France, l'univers a besoin que tu vives!
Here we have been attending to the contents of the verses chosen. Let us now attend, so far as we can, to form only, and the result will be the same. We will confine ourselves, since our subject is the French play in London, to dramatic verse. We want an adequate form of verse for high poetic drama. The accepted form with the French is the rhymed Alexandrine. Let us keep the iambic of the Greeks or of Shakespeare, let us keep such verse as
And we may proceed, if our estimate of a nation's success in poetry is said to have been much too low, and is called in question, in either of two ways. We may compare the production of Corneille and Racine which we are said to underrate, we may compare it in power, in penetrativeness, in criticism of life, in ability to call forth our energy and joy, with the production of 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 not ranking him much above Wordsworth. Well, then, compare their production, in cases where it lends itself to a comparison. Compare the poetry of the moonlight scene in "Hernani," really the most poetical scene in that play, with the poetry of the moonlight scene in the "Merchant of Venice." Compare
"This precious stone set in the silver sea
present to our minds. Let us take such verse as
"Le comte d'Onate, qui l'aime aussi, la garde
"... Sur nous, tout en dormant,
La nature à demi veille amoureusement'
"Sit, Jessica; look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold!"
Compare the laudation of their own country, an inspiring but also a trying theme for a poet, by Shakespeare and Wordsworth on the one hand, and by M. Victor Hugo on the other. Compare Shakespeare's
"This precious stone set in the silver sea,
'... Quant à lutter ensemble Sur le terrain d'amour, beau champ qui toujours tremble,
De fadaises, mon cher, je sais mal faire assaut."
The words in italics will suffice to give to us, I think, the sense of what constitutes the fatal fault of the rhyming Alexandrine of French tragedy, its incurable artificiality, its want of the fluidity, the naturalness, the rapid forward movement of true dramatic verse. M. Victor Hugo is said to be a cunning and mighty artist in Alexandrines, and so unquestionably he is; but he is an artist in a form radically inadequate and inferior, and in which a drama like that of Sophocles or Shakespeare is impossible.
It happens, that in our own language we have an example of the employment of an inadequate form in tragedy and in elevated poetry, and can see the result of it. The rhymed ten-syllable couplet, the heroic couplet as it is often called, is 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 was wanting to him; and, if the highest sort of poetic power had been not wanting to him but present, he would have found no adequate form of dramatic verse for conveying it, he would 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 of his nation appears to have not power. But serious spirit and great poet that he was, Molière had too sound an instinct to attempt so earnest a matter as tragic drama with inadequate means. It would have been a heartbreaking business for him. He did not attempt it, therefore.
Traces of it remain in Shakespeare's work to the last, in the rhyming of final couplets. But because he had so great a genius for true tragic poetry Shakespeare dropped this necessarily inadequate form and took a better. We find the rhymed couplet again in Dryden's tragedies. But this vigorous rhetorical poet had no real genius 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 nature stood him in good stead-was a theatrepoet of the very first order. Comedy, too, escapes, as has been already said, the test of entire seriousness; it remains, by the law of its being, in a region of comparative lightness and of irony. What is artificial can pass in comedy more easily. In spite of all these advantages, the "Misanthrope" and the "Tartufe" have, and have by virtue of their poetic form, an artificiality which makes itself felt, and which provokes weariness. The freshness and power of Molière are best felt when he uses prose, in pieces such as the “ Avare,” or the "Fourberies de Scapin," or "George Dandin." How entirely the contrary is the case with Shakespeare; how undoubtedly is it his verse which shows his power most! But so inadequate a vehicle for dramatic poetry is the French Alexandrine that its sway hindered Molière, one may think, from being a tragic poet at all, in spite of his having gifts for this highest form of dramatic poetry which are immeasurably superior to those of any other French poet; and in comedy, where he thought he could use the Alexandrine, and where he did use it with splendid power, it yet in a considerable degree hampered and lamed him, so that this true and great poet is actually most satisfactory in his prose.
The case of the great Molière himself will illustrate the truth of what I say. He is by far the chief name in French poetry; he is one of the very greatest names in all literature. He has admirable and delightful power, penetrativeness, insight; a masterly criticism of life. But he is a comic poet. Why? Had he no seriousness and depth of nature? He had profound seriousness. And would not a dramatic poet with this depth of nature be a tragedian if he could? Of course he would. For only by breasting in full the storm and cloud of life, breasting it and passing through it and above it, can the dramatist who feels the weight of mortal things liberate himself from the pressure, and rise, as we all seek to rise, to content and joy. Tragedy breasts the pressure of life; comedy eludes it, half liberates itself from it by irony. But the tragedian, if he has the sterner labor, has also the higher prize. Shakespeare has more joy than Molière, more assurance and peace. "Othello," with all its passion and terror, is on the whole a work animating and fortifying; more so a thousand times than "George Dandin," which is mournfully depressing. Molière, if he could, would have given us Othellos instead of George Dandins; let us not doubt it. If he did not give Othellos to us,