« AnteriorContinuar »
is considered the masterpiece of French poetry. The Fall of an Angel has strange and gigantic proportions. Its imaginative power puts Lamartine in a new light. His last volume of poetry appeared in 1839, just before his entry into the political arena. It was called Poetic Recollections. As a whole, we find that he does not shake himself free from the classic drawbacks. His versification is somewhat monotonous and he is a little chary of using vivid expressions.
Lamartine's chief characteristics have already been noticed. His reputation in France has waxed and waned and waxed again. Highly popular at first, he was afterwards overshadowed by the strength and range of Victor Hugo, until late in the century. Then, about the time of Hugo's death, the inevitable reaction took place, and the pendulum of popular approval swung back to Lamartine. In judging him as a writer it must be remembered that he did not totally let go his hold upon the classic tradition, and, while he was of great importance as far as he went, he did not go far enough. It was left for his younger and more unbiassed suo cessors finally to cut the Gordian knot of classic influence.
There are several other worthy names, but these must be omitted. We are now upon the threshold of the great revolution which changed the whole face of French literature. The forces had been gathering energy for some time. A natural re
action had gradually been setting in against the tyranny of that classic ideal which for so long had held the prime place-almost the only place—in literature. The Revolution had given the first expression to liberalism-practical and physical, but most stimulating mentally. The Napoleonic wars had exerted a broadening effect upon the French mind. Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, and Lamartine stood at the floodgates of romanticism and splashed over the top as it were the first wavelets from the great mass pent up behind those gray and venerable doors. Everything was waiting the event, and the strong waters were chafing angrily against the weakened valves.
At last came one who burst the barriers with the might of his single strength. And the waters swept forth over all the land of France, as a stream dashes headlong down a thirsty valley, with fierce and sudden impetuosity. Soon the trees put on a fresher green, and flowers spring where before was only a waste of sand,
THE VICTORY OF ROMANCE. "HERNANI" AND THE BATTLE. -THE MEN OF 1830.-HUGO.-SAINTE-BEUVE.-BALZAC.GEORGE SAND.-DUMAS.-MÉRIMÉE.-GAUTIER.—DE MUSSET.-VIGNY.
UNDER this name French writers refer to one of the most important years in the history of their literature-1830. It contained the culminating point of the great movement which had been gathering strength for so long, the triumph of the romantic school. Seldom has there been a more definite inception of a great literary epoch.
The battle was fought on the night of February 25, 1830, and the battle-field was the Théâtre Français, in Paris. On that occasion an audience, divided into two distinct parties, assembled to witness the production of a play called Hernani, or Spanish Honor, which had been written by a young man named Victor Hugo who had already gained some success as a poet. The play, as every one knew, was a direct challenge to classicism. Before this the dramas of Cromwell (the famous preface of which contained the statement of the views of the
new school) by Hugo, and Henry III. and his Court by Alexandre Dumas, had shocked the adherents of the classic party; while two years earlier (1828) an English company had carried dismay into their hearts by performing Shakespeare's plays in Paris. It was said that Wellington had sent them over. Cried one of the classicists: "The Academy would do well to pronounce that the importation of such stuff is hurtful to public morals. Good taste has evidently seen its last days." Wherefore the classic upholders of good taste flocked to the Théâtre Français that February evening more than ever determined to crush the insolent pretensions of the younger writers. It was to be a duel to the death. Besides this determined opposition, Hugo met with not a little difficulty from other sources in the preparation of his play. Thus his principal actressan upholder of the classic school-caused him a good deal of worry during the rehearsals. For example: "M. Hugo, I have to speak this line,- Vous êtes mon lion, superbe et généreux.' . . . Do you really like that? It seems so odd to me to call M. Firmin mon lion!" Again, several persons obtained rough drafts of the play under false pretences and then made skits upon the original, or criticised it from the sketch which they had secured. But Hugo persevered in spite of such drawbacks.
Now, his opponents had a pretty good idea of what to expect before the play was produced. And to gauge their opposition we must remember that
Hernani deliberately violated nearly every rule of the old French stage. It neglected the Three Golden Rules-Unity of Time, Place and Action; it disobeyed the law that death should not occur on the stage; it refused to put into the mouth of Kings and noble characters the turgid eloquence which was considered appropriate by sanctioned usage. Even in the form of its verse it was at variance with accepted tradition, committing the heinous crime of enjambement which means that the sense is not coterminous with the line. Lines which show enjambement are called in English "run-on" lines, as opposed to "end-stopt." Thus, the former,
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
Against enjambement the classicists set their faces. And the very subject was essentially romantic. The play hinged upon "the point of honor which compels a noble Spaniard to kill himself, in obedience to a blast of a horn sounded by his mortal enemy at the very moment of his marriage with his beloved." In a word, the whole theory of the drama was altered.
At that time it was customary for an author to hire an organized body of applauders in order to ensure due appreciation of his play. Hugo refused to