« AnkstesnisTęsti »
violence to the idea which we have of maternal love; he has not compelled us to detest the woman and love the mother in the same person.
In Lucrece Borgia, on the contrary, the poisoner remains constantly by the side of the mother, and the author has wished, until the denouement, to make us love the one and hate the other. The human heart cannot accommodate itself to this dividing of its sentiments; it does not go to the Theatre to remain neutral and uncertain; it wishes to conclude by taking a part; it wishes to end in a decisive emotion of hatred or pity. This kind of satisfaction is wanting in Lucrece Borgia; and in violating this law of moral unity, which is so closely connected with unity of action and interest, the poet has at the same stroke perverted the expression of maternal love. In vain he has exaggerated and magnified this love, and has taken away from it the virtuous efficacy which we are accustomed to attribute to it. If Lucrece Borgia is a good mother, she cannot be the impious and wicked woman which you show us. This is what the human conscience silently exclaims, and for this reason she protests against the efforts which the dramas and romances have made for the last twenty years in order to make it approve those strange combinations of virtue and vice; and as there is no literature which can continue to exist without the approbation of conscience, these improbable personages who act in opposition to the moral laws of the human heart, have fallen by degrees into discredit. They are tired of the Grandisons because they were too virtuous, but they are also tired of the Lovelaces, especially since the Lovelaces have piqued themselves, as those in our days, on their great virtues, and have pretended to inspire esteem and admiration. The fault of the literature of our times is that it has treated with levity this desire which we all feel of esteeming what we love. It wished to create types of our sentiments, and it has created them contrary to the moral laws of the human mind; it wishes to make an ideal-for the object of all literature is to give to man an ideal representation of himself; but this ideal of good and evil, these models of our sentiments, these types of our affections, it has taken them in their exceptions or in fancy, instead of taking them in the true moral nature of man. is for this cause that it has failed.
We will take the liberty of adding to this idea some general observations which relate to it.
LITERATURE OFTEN EXPRESSES THE STATE OF THE IMAGINATION OF A PEOPLE, RATHER THAN THE STATE OF ITS SOCIETY.
We have endeavored to compare the manner in which the most general sentiments of the human heart have been represented at different epochs; and we fear that in spite of what we have said, this comparison has been unfavorable to modern society. The expression of four or five principal sentiments of the human heart, which are the subject of the dramatic art, seems in our days to have lost its ancient truth. It has become violent, exaggerated, and affected; grief has fallen into melancholy, tenderness into sensibility, meditation into revery; every where the shadow, if we may so speak, has taken the place of the body: the shadow, it is true, greater and more supple than the substance, but more empty and uncertain.
"Et sol crescentes decedens duplicat umbras."*
Is the change of expression a sign of a change of the most general sentiments of the human heart? Do men nowadays love life in a more cowardly and effeminate manner, than they did in former times, because Catarina, in the Tyrant of Padua, is less resigned than Iphigenia, in Euripides or in Racine? Are paternal and maternal love less noble and less ardent nowadays than formerly, because Lucrece Borgia and Father Goriot love their children with an affection less pure and refined, than Merope and Don Diego? Are there no longer any genuine and natural griefs, because our novels abound in false despairs? In a word, is literature nowadays the true expression of society? This is the question upon which we propose to make a few remarks.
* VIRGIL, Ecl. 2. v. 67.
Ours is certainly not the age of violent and inordinate passions. Yet, if we were to judge from our literature, never did the passions seem to be held in higher esteem. Our Theatrical heroes all seem to aim at expressing great energy of feeling, and it is for this reason that they are so pleasing. We adore ardent and passionate characters, we deify vice itself, if it has a bold and defiant air; in our romances, the lovers are enthusiastic and full of passion, the young ladies are dreamy and melancholy. In the world, however, marriages are daily more and more made from considerations of convenience and interest. Society, in a word, writes and speaks in one way, and acts in another; and the most sure way to mistake it, is to take it at its word.
Shall we say that society is hypocritical, because it speaks differently from the manner in which it acts? No! Hy. pocrisy mimics virtue; here, on the contrary, society seems to affect the faults which it does not possess. It is its grimaces which slander it, and its actions which absolve it; for it acts better than it speaks, and even better than it thinks.
This discrepancy between the society which speaks or writes, and the society which acts, is a fruitful source of errors and mishaps; for society inwardly laughs at the dupes who wish to put in action, in ordinary life, this ardent and passionate morality, which is good only in circulating libraries. It does with morality, what the free-thinking Abbés of the eighteenth century did with religion, who laughed at the Church and yet lived by it; it does what the public does, who, at the Theatre, laughs at marriage, and yet marries itself. If, however, any one makes too visible a breach of morality in his actions, society does not hesitate to apply to him the penalties of the Penal Code; it punishes him for having believed in paradoxes, the very paradoxes which it encourages; and what is remarkable, it often punishes more than it disapproves, especially if the offender exhibits great effrontery and no repentance. Effrontery, in our eyes, passes for a kind of heroism; so certain is it that in losing the relish for the true, we at the same time lose the sentiment of the great! A criminal who knows how to produce effect, is scarcely considered guilty; the crime disappears in the curiosity which the man inspires; and if we condemn him at the assizes, we speak of him in the drawing-room with so much interest, that his notoriety almost makes him pass for inno
How shall we express this singular state of a society, where the taste and love of depravity are rather a literary *mania, than a moral malady? You yourselves remember the time when, in the Festin de Pierre, the young and bold Don Juan, tired of seeing his age attribute his passions to him as a crime, determines to take the mask of hypocrisy, as being the most sure and convenient manner of being a libertine with impunity. Don Juan becomes a pupil of Tartuffe, this holy man of pious words and modest looks. This hypocrisy of Don Juan is, like that of Tartuffe, an involuntary homage rendered, we do not say to the manners, but at least to the moral opinions, of his age. In our days, all is changed. Don Juan can no longer be tempted to take the part of Tartuffe; it would ruin him. If he has ardent and lively passions, he must show them; let him exhibit them openly, and above all, let him preach them before the public; for vice in our days, if it wishes to succeed, must not be content with enjoying itself alone; it must propagate its doctrines and make a school of them. Society applauds his indiscretions while he speaks, while he makes dramas and romances. But let him not undertake to put his maxims into practice; let him not be so indiscreet as to act as he speaks. Our society approves of Don Juan only at the Theatre; it dreads him and frowns upon him in the world; a strange contradiction, which Don Juan does not understand. "What!" says he, "what I have wished to do once, I have said it a hundred times, and you have applauded me!—It is true.—I have laughed a hundred times at the faithfulness of wives and the honor of husbands, and you have laughed with me!-It is true.—I am become the defender of the young girls who believed themselves sacrificed, and of young men of genius who were not appreciated, and you have encouraged me !-It is true.Why then now, strange people that you are, why this secret repugnance which I feel against myself? Why this abandonment of me, which I do not understand?" We will tell you, Don Juan; but we do not know if you will understand Our society lives and is sustained by the aid of the last virtue which remains to reasoning people, viz. inconséquence. Men choose their wives otherwise than their heroines, and their sons-in-law otherwise than their tribunes and their prophets; they are more prudent in their affairs than in their ideas. If you wish to succeed, Don Juan, be always a dra
ma or a poem, never seek to be a man of the world; otherwise M. Dimanche, whom you laughed at so much formerly, M. Dimanche will laugh at you, now especially that he is elector, deputy, or minister; and you, on your side, are no longer a gentleman, since that character no longer exists, and you are only a man of genius, since they are so common.
Thus, so far from modern literature representing faithfully the condition of society, we might believe that it did the reverse, so much does society belie itself by its morals and its actions. Shall we therefore say that society has contributed nothing to literature? No: these unbridled passions, these hideous characters, these extraordinary and outrageous crimes which constitute the staple of our literature, have been taken from the thoughts, if not from the manners of our society; from our imagination, if not from our character.
We now come to the second point of view, which we propose to explain.
In literature, there are two kinds of sentiments, and these correspond to the two different phases of the literary history of a nation. There are sentiments which man finds in his heart, and which constitute the basis of all societies; there are also sentiments which he finds in his imagination, and which are only the shadow and the altered reflection of the former. Literature begins with the one, and ends with the other.
When literature arrives at these last sentiments, when the imagination, which was formerly contented with painting the natural affections, endeavors to replace them by substituting other affections, then books no longer represent society; they only represent the state of its imagination. But the imagination, above all, loves and seeks that which does not exist. When society becomes agitated by civil war, the imagination willingly makes idyls, and preaches peace and virtue; when on the contrary it becomes quiet, and enjoys repose, the imagination recovers its taste for crimes. It is like the merchant of Horace, who praises the security of the land, when the tempest is raging; but loves the waves and the storms when the vessel is in port. We may add to this natural contradiction of the human mind, the recollections, still fresh, of war and revolution, a relish for adventures, the dissatisfaction with repose, the hope of glory and fortune, the dislike of living in obscurity, a dislike which is more sen