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facts for the child or the savage; but for the civilized man they are symbols of domestic life, of the Church, and of the State. Even where the supra-sensuous world has its purest expression, in the knowledge and will of intelligent beings, it presupposes a sensuous world as the material of ideas and of actions. «This” world and the other world are continuous and inseparable, and all men must live in some degree for both.
From «Essays and Addresses.» Swan,
Sonnesschein & Co.
SAUL BOURGET, essayist, poet, and novelist, was born at Amiens, en France, September 2d, 1852. His father, a mathematician of
an eminence, was rector of the academies of Aix and Cleremont. Beginning his scholastic education under his father, Bourget completed it at the College St. Barbe in Paris. His first notable work as an essayist appeared in a volume of « Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine,” published in 1883. His «Studies and Portraits » appeared in 1888 and his second series of Portraits” in 1891. These had been preceded by “La Vie Inquiète," a volume of poems published in 1874. He became a member of the Legion of Honor in 1885 and of the Academy in 1894. His essay on “Victor Hugo » appeared first in May, 1885, immediately after the announcement of Hugo's death.
ON THE DEATH OF VICTOR HUGO
nur faculties tyrannize over us. We feel the need of using
them as a child does of moving its limbs or a bird of un
folding its wings. The higher gift of expression imposed on Victor Hugo an irresistible necessity to express whatever floated in the air of his time. He made himself, instinctively, the mouthpiece of the ideas of his generation. This does not mean that he has voiced in his verses or in his prose all the aspirations of the nineteenth century. Among those which escaped him was the essential one: — Science. You will seek in vain in his work a trace of that spirit of analysis which is met with in such a high degree in Stendhal and in Balzac. His intelligence, marvelously armed for the burst of lyric strength, was powerless, at the slow task of anatomical observation. He defined himself with a striking justice when he represented himself as the chord of an æolian harp, moved at the slightest breath:«Set in the centre of all things, with a tone like a sonorous echo.”
By an involuntary submission to this destiny, he was, “from his infancy sublime," the poet, not of his own tortures, like Henri Heine or Musset, but of the passions of those who surrounded him. The plaintive voices of the victims of the Terror, still heard in the great silence of the Restoration, passed by in his Odes. Then the trumpet crash of the Napoleonic victories reverberated in other odes, and in superb strophes the appeal of the Hellenes. He was later on to give entrance into his soul the tragic cry of the militant democracy. And what is the « Légende des Siècles,” the masterpiece among his masterpieces, if it is not the echo of the vast clamor of human history? Even his most intimate verses, those of the “Autumn Leaves" and the “Contemplations,” have something almost impersonal by virtue of the simplicity of the sentiments expressed.
It seems as if he gathers the sigh of all families into his verses on home, the inspiration of all lovers into his verses on love. What there is individual and local becomes effaced, and thus it is that even in the elegies, the landscapes, the confidences, thanks to something, I know not what, which is always collective and general, the poetry of Victor Hugo takes, as it were, the character of the epic.
Yes, of the epic! Such is the natural definition of this poetry of unbounded extent, of grand visions, of sublime impersonalities! We may even follow in the works of Hugo the action of the minds by which this epic sensation of life is elaborated. Let us see, for instance, what is the attitude of the creator of Didier and of Ruy Blas towards that personage, so frequent in our times, who is called “the revolted plebeian.” We have in the « Confessions” of Rousseau, in “Le Rouge et le Noir ” of Stend. hal, in the “Jacques Vingtras” of Jules Vallès, monographs of different value where this type of a man is studied. Compare these sharp analyses with the two sketches of heroes delineated by the poet, and notice the metamorphosis that has been accomplished. After having analyzed with M. Taine the psychology of the Jacobin, open «Ninety-Three ” and contemplate the face of Cimourdain. It is not that there is an absolute contradiction between the works of the analysts and the works of Victor Hugo. He also has seen the deep causes which form the base of all characters. But instead of showing these causes with all the miseries that admit of an individual and limited existence, he created beings larger than nature and in so far symbolic that in them the aspiration or suffering of an entire class becomes incarnate. Again, the poet gives expression to the disturbance created by what is unutterable, among the thousands tormented by confused desires. There is a religious interpretation of the Rev. olution diffused through the vague dreams of many Frenchmen. You may find this interpretation rendered with the most astonishing eloquence in certain pages of « Les Misérables » or of « NinetyThree.” Therein lies, properly speaking, his epic power. One must not search elsewhere for the cause of the success of Victor Hugo with the masses. They have loved in him the great writer whose genius vibrated in harmony with their own. They felt in this faculty of the epic transformation of life a kind of intellectual charity which is lacking in the work of those who are purely analysts. They are frequently mistaken, for this charity is at times but flattery and most dangerous. But, as a matter of fact, epic writers are necessary to the vast floating conscience of an epoch. And Hugo felt it so well, that he could write in the preface of the “Contemplations ): “When I speak to you of myself, I speak to you of yourselves. How is it you are not aware of it? Ah! thoughtless one, who believest that I am not thou ! »
Thanks to this dual character of innovation in rhetoric and in its broad generality of conception, the works of Victor Hugo, taken altogether, were admired both by the artists and the people. Gustave Flaubert, were he living, would inscribe with tears his name upon the register deposited at the door of the dead poet, and at his side, Bouvard and Péruchet would also write their names. To this universal glory, there is joined another cause that reaches to the depths of the heart of man. We all have in ourselves, whether we know it or not, what Carlyle called “hero worship,” that is to say, the worship of representative men in whom are expressed the virtues proper to a whole group of individuals. Victor Hugo has been representative to the highest degree. He has been an incomparable literary hero. He was in his lifetime the writer, and the most successful example of that race which it was given to a generation to realize since Goethe. From this point of view, his entire existence may be considered as a work of art to which chance and the will had contributed in the same proportions. He knew how to maintain a perfect equilibrium between the physical and the intellectual life, so well that, at an age of such cruel troubles, he kept to the end the serenity of genius which dominates his art and fulfills his entire task. What a striking contrast with the failure of so many others! The same spirit of reason which had permitted him to maintain his bodily vigor throughout his gigantic labor had preserved him from the mad prodigalities in the hours of success which have to be paid for later by the poverty, and dependence in the last years of life, — the supreme years. His fortune, nobly acquired and wisely husbanded, made of him a grand seigneur of poesy and allowed him to open his house to his faithful friends without asking any. thing from their admiration. His political opinions triumphed for the moment, in a way that surrounded his old age with a popularity equal to that of the most vigorous maturity. He had never abandoned that art of poetizing verses to which he owed the beginning of his renown, so that the happy hazards of his destiny, like the fortunate prudences of his reflection, co-operated for him to the triumph of the poet. This made of his individuality something rare and almost superhuman,- a living poesy, which, unlike his written poesy, could not last forever. And now it happens that this astonishing existence comes suddenly to its end. How full of profound and penetrating reverie is that verse I cannot help writing at the end of this short essay:“O sun, whose setting leaves our sky to night!»