Puslapio vaizdai

sibly felt by those who have done great things. It is these restless desires, and these confused emotions which the imagination collects and makes the subject of literary speculation. Hence arises the energy which we see in romances, and terror in dramas; hence this literature, which pleases society the more, as it resembles it the less. Society formerly loved to find in literature the adorned image of its sentiments, and this image served both as a lesson, and an encouragement; it seeks, nowadays, only for diversion. Not long since, it said to literature: Study me, so that you may instruct and elevate me;-it says, nowadays: Amuse me. Then the imagination begins to work, and it alone makes all the materials for literature. It does not always succeed in amusing the public; but it consummates the divorce between literature and society, each one going further and further as its wants or its inclinations urge it. Society has its affairs and its labors, every day becoming more gloomy, because every day, art finds less place in it; literature every day has its works more frivolous and vain, because every day, the study and observation of the world are less occupied with it.

Another cause sometimes increases this separation between society and literature, a separation which is one of the characteristic phases of the literary life of a nation: we refer to the imitation of foreign literature.

When literature becomes old, it begins to imitate, believing that it thereby rejuvenates itself. But there are times when foreign imitation serves only to increase more and more the separation between society and literature. What, in fact, can you expect the French genius to become, accustomed since the sixteenth century to that clearness of ideas and sentiments which constitutes its national character, when it finds itself suddenly thrown into the gloomy misanthropy of the English taste, or the dreamy mysticism of the German? It may for a moment, for the sake of fashion or mania, become melancholy and dreamy, but whatever it may do, it will never lose its own nationality. It will in vain put tears in its eyes, and sobs in its voice, dishevel its hair, and assume a gloomy visage; all that will only be for the stage, for romances, and perhaps also for some drawingrooms. But the French genius appears through all these affectations; we perceive that the weepers repeat a lesson

which they have been taught; there is in their groanings a certain irony which does not even seem bitter. Their feigned sadness and false reveries, which the French genius borrows from the English or the German, will never be any thing but a literary exercise; it makes use of them only in writing and not in living; its imagination alone is occupied with them, its character repels them.

It is not that the imitation of foreign literature is not often useful to us; but all depends upon the times. Whilst a literature is still in its infancy and full of sap, imitation is of advantage; it takes possession of this foreign graft, it appropriates it to itself, and becomes improved and more fruitful. Thus Corneille imitated the Spaniards; thus the Cid, become French, acquired a new eclat upon our stage. There are, in the Cid of Corneille, many sentiments which are derived from Spain and chivalry; but whether these sentiments be also French sentiments, or rather human sentiments, they do not contradict the idea which we have of a hero and a lover, and we never need, in understanding them ourselves, to have recourse to our recollections and our reflections. Never, as in modern dramas, have we need to say that such a sentiment which astonishes us, such an idea which shocks us, are adapted to the times and country of the hero; in a word, we are not obliged, in order to relish a character, to place ourselves, as they say nowadays, at his point of view, and to make an effort of memory in order to enjoy the pleasure of the illusion. No! the Spaniards of Corneille, the Greeks or the Romans of Racine, do not please us by the particular trait which characterizes their time or their country; they please us because they reproduce the general traits of humanity, because they represent ourselves as we are.


With this mania for no longer wishing to take its basis in society as it exists, literature must also, in our times, be very subject to instability and it is in this manner that we can very easily account for these rapid vicissitudes which cause the literary taste to change every ten years, and that men of forty years have already seen as many literary revolutions as political ones. We are not then surprised, if in such a state of things society, which has always the instinct of its own preservation, should regulate its customs according to the caprices of literature. It preserves and carefully conceals its moral customs, under the shelter of the domestic

fireside, exhibiting them only with modesty and reserve. But it gives to the first comer, its literary or political opinions. These it seems to take, abandon, and retake, with wonderful facility; sometimes adoring the violent passions and despising rule, which it dishonors by the name of routine; and at other times, resuming its taste for order and duty, and preaching it with fanaticism. But these capricious revolutions are all accomplished under the empire of ideas. Conversations and books change like the decorations of a theatre; manners and habits remain steadfast and firm.

Upon this subject we will make one remark. Criticism is much at its ease in attacking the moral opinions which are alternately dominant in literature; for it knows that these opinions do not hold to the true morals of society. It does not then fear, in remarking the progressive alterations which the expression of the passions and the sentiments of the human heart undergoes, that they would impute to them a desire to attack the morals and sentiments of our age; it does not fear that they will confound them with those who curse, or who despair. It knows all that exists in our society of holy affections, of noble sentiments, of generous beliefs; it knows that the heart of man is no more corrupt now than formerly, although the mind may be singularly exercised and refined. Therefore, what it blames in literature, are the strange characters which, far from being of our time, are of no epoch; they are those odd sentiments which are above or below men; they are those exaggerated passions which are born from the brain, and which the heart does not recognize. In a word, it regrets that literature, instead of painting and representing society in embellishing it, as it is its right and its peculiar province to do, seems to undertake to metamorphose it.

Let us then not be deceived; although the moral opinions of literature do not represent the actual manners of society, criticism has nevertheless the right to take it under its supervision, for two reasons.

The first reason is purely literary. There are moral opinions which aid us in creating the beautiful; there are also those which dispose us to create the deformed. But the duty of criticism, is to show that the beautiful is the aim and the end of literature; and criticism should combat the opinions and ideas which divert the mind from this supreme object.

The second reason is entirely moral. The corruption of the understanding does not always produce, it is true, owing to the inconsistency of the human mind, the bad effects which we may apprehend, and many act better than they either think or speak. We should not, however, create any delusion with regard to the dangers of literary immorality. The bravado of vice, often innocent for the boaster himself, is fatal to his neighbors; it is especially injurious by example; by degrees, the good sentiments are altered by praising the bad; it is tempting too severely the infirmity of human nature, to place an excuse always within its reach, or perhaps even a eulogy upon every fault.

Let us endeavor hastily to sum up the ideas which we have just expressed. Our literature does not represent our society; it only represents the caprices and fancies of the mind. It is not then to condemn the manners of our age, to attack its moral opinions; for these are almost independent of the others. But as, with the time, these opinions have influence, either over our literature, whose creations become less pure, or upon the conscience of the public, which also becomes less decided in rebuking evil, it is the duty of the critic and the moralist to point out the alterations which literature causes the principal sentiments of the human heart to undergo; of those sentiments which are the perpetual subject of dramatic literature. Certainly, whatever ridicule or degradation the grand and simple affections of man, such as paternal and maternal love, may have suffered in dramas and romances, we are always sure of finding them pure and strong in the heart of a father or mother. But the people among whom literature preserves these pious affections in their original purity, at the same time that the family preserves an unalterable deposit of them, have the double glory of good works and good morals.



We cannot resist the desire of citing a curious passage from Livy,* which shows in the most striking manner what idea the Romans had of gladiators; how natural it seemed to them that slaves should come to kill themselves before their eyes, and how much they were astonished if freemen descended into the arena to dispute with them the glory of being the bravest, or to decide a quarrel of honor or ambition.


Scipio celebrated at Carthagena, in Spain, two funeral games in honor of his father and his uncle. They were not slaves, or men selling their lives, who engaged in these gladiatorial combats, which made a part of these games; they were voluntary and gratuitous combatants who descended into the arena; some sent by their princes to give an example of the bravery of their nation, others who declared that they would combat willingly with each other to do honor to Scipio; some from honor and for a challenge, and others to settle their quarrels with arms in their hands; and among these last, there were some illustrious combatants; thus, there were two brothers who disputed with each other about the government of their country. Scipio in vain wished to reconcile them, and to decide their quarrel. They replied, that they wished to have no other arbiter but their swords. They fought with great desperation, and gave to the Roman army a remarkable spectacle, and a great lesson on the evils of ambition among men."

The Spaniards did not understand what the games of the Circus were; and the Romans, on their part, did not understand what was a tourney or a duel, for the sports of Carthagena were a real tournament. At the first glance, à tourney resembles a Circus; but the idea creates a difference in the things. In the Circus, there is the idea of a spectacle; in the tourney, the idea of a combat. In the one there are actors, although the game should continue even to the shedding of blood, in the other there are combatants. The difference of idea produces a difference in the result. The Circus destroys the Theatre, because the man who is interested in seeing blood flow, is not capable of being amused in seeing only tears flow, and the habit

* Livy, b. xxviii. chap. xxvi.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »