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we turn from Regnard and Beaumarchais, from Sheridan and Goldsmith, from Musset and Pailleron and Labiche, to that crowded world of your creations. "Creations" one may well say, for you anticipated Nature herself: you gave us, before she did, in Alceste a Rousseau who was a gentleman, not a lackey; in a mot of Don Juan's, the secret of the new Religion and the watchword of Comte, l'amour de l'humanité.
Before you where can we find, save in Rabelais, a Frenchman with humor; and where, unless it be in Montaigne, the wise philosophy of a secular civilization? With a heart the most tender, delicate, loving, and generous, a heart often in agony and torment, you had to make life endurable (we cannot doubt it) without any whisper of promise, or hope, or warning from Religion. Yes, in an age when the greatest mind of all, the mind of Pascal, proclaimed that the only help was in voluntary blindness, that the only chance was to hazard all on a bet at evens, you, Monsieur, refused to be blinded, or to pretend to see what you found invisible.
In Religion you beheld no promise of help. When the Jesuits and Jansenists of your time saw, each of them, in Tartufe the portrait of their rivals (as each of the laughable Marquises in your play conceived that you were girding at his neighbor), you all the while were mocking every credulous excess of Faith. In the sermons preached to Agnès we surely hear your private laughter; in the arguments for credulity which are presented to Don Juan by his valet we listen to the eternal self-defense of superstition. Thus, desolate of belief, you sought for the permanent element of life - precisely where Pascal recognized all that was most fleeting and unsubstantial-in divertissement; in the pleasure of looking on, a spectator of the accidents of existence, an observer of the follies of mankind. Like the Gods. of the Epicurean, you seem to regard our life as a play that is played, as a comedy; yet how often the tragic note comes in! What pity, and in the laughter what an accent of tears, as of rain in the wind! No comedian has been so kindly and human as you; none has had a heart, like you, to feel for his butts, and to leave them sometimes, in a sense, superior to their tormentors. Sganarelle, M. de Pourceaugnac, George Dandin, and the rest - our sympathy, somehow, is with them, after all; and M. de Pourceaugnac is a gentleman, despite his misadventures.
Though triumphant Youth and malicious Love in your plays may batter and defeat Jealousy and Old Age, yet they have not
all the victory, or you did not mean that they should win it. They go off with laughter, and their victim with a grimace; but in him we, that are past our youth, behold an actor in an unending tragedy, the defeat of a generation. Your sympathy is not wholly with the dogs that are having their day; you can throw a bone or a crust to the dog that has had his, and has been taught that it is over and ended. Yourself not unlearned in shame, in jealousy, in endurance of the wanton pride of men (how could the poor player and the husband of Célimène be untaught in that experience?), you never sided quite heartily, as other comedians have done, with young prosperity and rank and power.
I am not the first who has dared to approach you in the Shades; for just after your own death the author of "Les Dialogues des Morts" gave you Paracelsus as a companion, and the author of "Le Jugement de Pluton" made the "mighty warder" decide that "Molière should not talk philosophy." These writers, like most of us, feel that, after all, the comedies of the Contemplateur, of the translator of Lucretius, are a philosophy of life in themselves, and that in them we read the lessons of human experience writ small and clear.
What comedian but Molière has combined with such depths -with the indignation of Alceste, the self-deception of Tartufe, the blasphemy of Don Juan-such wildness of irresponsible mirth, such humor, such wit! Even now, when more than two hundred years have sped by, when so much water has flowed under the bridges, and has borne away so many trifles of contemporary mirth (cetera fluminis ritu feruntur), even now we never laugh so well as when Mascarille and Vadius and M. Jourdain tread the boards in the Maison de Molière. Since those mobile dark brows of yours ceased to make men laugh, since your voice denounced the "demoniac" manner of contemporary tragedians, I take leave to think that no player has been more worthy to wear the canons of Mascarille or the gown of Vadius than M. Coquelin of the Comédie Française. him you have a successor to your Mascarille so perfect, that the ghosts of play-goers of your date might cry, could they see him, that Molière had come again. But, with all respect to the efforts of the fair, I doubt if Mdlle. Barthet, or Mdme. Croizette herself, would reconcile the town to the loss of the fair De Brie, and Madeleine, and the first, the true Célimène, Armande. Yet had you ever so merry a soubrette as Mdme. Samary, so exquisite a Nicole?
Denounced, persecuted, and buried hugger-mugger two hundred years ago, you are now not over-praised, but more worshiped, with more servility and ostentation, studied with more prying curiosity than you may approve. Are not the Molièristes a body who carry adoration to fanaticism? Any scrap of your handwriting (so few are these), any anecdote even remotely touching on your life, any fact that may prove your house was numbered 15 not 22, is eagerly seized and discussed by your too minute historians. Concerning your private life, these men. often write more like malicious enemies than friends; repeating the fabulous scandals of Le Boulanger, and trying vainly to support them by grubbing in dusty parish registers. It is most necessary to defend you from your friends - from such friends as the veteran and inveterate M. Arsène Houssaye, or the industrious but puzzle-headed M. Loiseleur. Truly they seek the living among the dead, and the immortal Molière among the sweepings of attorneys' offices. As I regard them (for I have tarried in their tents), and as I behold their trivialities, the exercises of men who neglect Molière's works to write about Molière's great-grandmother's second-best bed, I sometimes wish that Molière were here to write on his devotees a new comedy, "Les Molièristes." How fortunate were they, Monsieur, who lived and worked with you; who saw you day by day; who were attached, as Lagrange tells us, by the kindest loyalty to the best and most honorable of men, the most openhanded in friendship, in charity the most delicate, of the heartiest sympathy! Ah, that for one day I could behold you, writing in the study, rehearsing on the stage, musing in the lace-seller's shop, strolling through the Palais, turning over the new books at Billaine's, dusting your ruffles among the old volumes on the sunny stalls. Would that, through the ages, we could hear you after supper, merry with Boileau, and with Racine, not yet a traitor, laughing over Chapelain, combining to gird at him in an epigram, or mocking at Cotin, or talking your favorite philosophy, mindful of Descartes. Surely of all the wits none was ever so good a man, none ever made life so rich with humor and friendships.
HOMER!-if by that name it pleases thee to be called, to what man, or what multitude of men, in what age, on what
shore, does my thought wing forth? “As a bird, as a thought," my spirit flies, whither? And in what shrine shall she find thee, among what oak-trees oracular, in rugged Ithaca, in Mycenae of the mighty walls, by Erechtheus' fane in Athens, or by the waters of Smyrna? The wild Roman emperor dreamed that the Sea came to his bedside and spake to him in human voice. Thy voice, though of a man, is as the voice of the sea. Comes its multitudinous music from one mouth, or, as it were, from a wilderness of waves on the waters of Time? "Others abide our question, thou art free,” — alone with Shakspeare in thy freedom. "Far off from men thou dwellest," like thine own Phoenicians, "in the midst of the wash of the waves that break on the shores of Greece. The old scholar sought to raise thy spirit and question it, but it came not. From no Oracle of the Dead dost thou utter thy response, -dwelling where Lucian saw thee among the souls of heroes in the Islands Fortunate.
Glad and sad are thy fates, as those of Thamyris, whom the Muses reft of sight, but they gave him the gift of song. Song they have given thee, song immortal, but have borne thee, like thine own Odysseus, out of eyesight and ear-shot of mankind. The later learned have called thee, not "one form of many names," but one name of many forms. A hundred voices in varying centuries sang, so they tell us, some well, some ill, and all the voices blended in these thy two deathless poems, making an unison, making an anthem, making a ceaseless harmony in the ears of the world, blending magically in the enchanted tales that have shaped history and murmured at the cradles of Empires. So the innumerable atoms, falling, falling, through the limitless ether, have mingled, by chance, in one universe, or so they tell us. But, even if the universe came thus, uncreated, and is not bound by golden chains beneath the throne of Zeus, not so, methinks, came thy poems. Not so did any such poems ever come into the light; nay, mens agitat molem, as the Roman singer says of the whole cosmos, and a mind shaped thy lay out of atoms of old song and old story, and that mind, O unknown minstrel! was thine.
Chance builds not up these palaces of Romance, perfect in design, from the goddess on the temple crest to the lowest stone of the altar. To Apollo's song did "Ilion, like a mist, grow into towers;" nay, not to Apollo's song, but to thy harping. Chance builds no city, much less does chance people it