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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Adolphe Cohn (1851–1930)
 
VICTOR MARIE HUGO, always mentioned as Victor Hugo, is unquestionably the greatest literary figure of nineteenth-century France. By almost universal consent he is recognized as the greatest French poet; he is one of the greater poets of the world.  1
  His birthplace was Besançon, an old town and fortress of the East of France; which, having belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy, passed with all their possessions to the Emperor Charles V., King of Spain, and grandson by his father of Duchess Mary of Burgundy, the only child of the celebrated Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold. Besançon did not return to France until 1677, when it was ceded to King Louis XIV. by the treaty of Nimeguen. This explains how, in a kind of autobiographical poem, Hugo could call the city of his birth “an old Spanish town.” In the same poem he says: “The century was two years old…. Already, under Bonaparte, Napoleon was appearing.” Thus he states the year of his birth, and the political condition of France when he first saw the light of day, on February 26th, 1802,—or, according to the calendar then in use, on the seventh day of the month of Ventôse, in the year Ten of the French Republic.  2
  His father, Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo, a major in the service of the Republic, later rose to the rank of general; accompanied Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, first to Naples and then to Madrid, when Joseph reluctantly gave up the crown of Naples for the title of King of Spain; and died in the year 1828, a lieutenant-general in the armies of Louis XVIII., King of France. The son was already famous, and was ardently defended and as ardently attacked as the foremost leader in that literary and artistic revolution which has received the name of Romanticism.  3
  He was still very young, only twenty-six, but his name had been before the public for six years,—his first volume of verse, ‘Odes and Diverse Poems,’ having appeared in 1822. From the beginning, readers had been struck by the passionate fervor, the dazzling color, the splendid imagery, and the magnificent rhythm of his lyric utterances. Most of these were qualities that French poetry had not known before, at least till the publication of Lamartine’s first ‘Meditations’ in 1820; and their appearance in Hugo’s first productions is, at least partly, to be ascribed to the circumstances of his education.  4
  To a certain extent he had shared his father’s wandering existence. With his mother and brothers he had left Paris, where the family had come after leaving Besançon, and joined General Hugo in Madrid; there he became a boarding pupil in an institution reserved for the children of Spanish noblemen, among whom he was entitled to be educated on account of the title of “count” granted to his father by King Joseph. The disasters that overtook the French in Spain compelled the Hugo family to seek safety in flight, and soon he was in Paris again. One morning his mother stopped him in front of a poster announcing that a number of officers concerned in the almost successful plot of General Malet to overthrow Napoleon, had been court-martialed and shot in the plains of Grenelle. In the list, Madame Hugo directed her son Victor’s attention to one name, that of General Laboise; adding simply these words: “He was your godfather.” In fact, Laboise had been more than a godfather to young Victor and his brothers. While they were living in a part of the old convent of the Feuillantines, he, proscribed and compelled to hide, had one day mysteriously appeared, and had soon become the boys’ chief instructor. Then he had as mysteriously disappeared, soon to end his life by the bullets of the executing platoon. Upon a mind gifted with remarkable receptivity, upon an imagination which transformed everything into a visible picture, upon an eye which seized small details and absorbed color with lightning rapidity, such scenes, such dramas, such contrasts, could not fail to produce the deepest impression.  5
  These gifts were, however, not the first that manifested themselves when the youth began to pass from impression to expression. His mastery of words, his power of verbal combination, is the only one of his great characteristics which is visible in his first poetical outpourings. The old classical school of French poetry was then dying a lingering death; like those rivers which, after carrying a majestic and beneficent flow of water through magnificent landscapes, finally turn into myriads of small rivulets soon absorbed by barren sands. The poetical forms that had been so powerful in the hands of Corneille and Racine, now handled by inferior writers possessing depth neither of thought nor of feeling, were gradually destroyed under a heap of barren periphrases and circumlocutions. To hint instead of naming, to use twenty words when one would have sufficed, seemed to be the highest achievement of these writers; and good Abbé Delille came to be considered a great poet. Young Hugo first followed in the footsteps of the so-called great man of his time, and thus won a number of prizes in the poetical competitions of his early years.  6
  The catastrophes in which Napoleon’s power disappeared, the strange events which accompanied and followed the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France, soon gave to his poetry a more serious tone. To him, as to every lover of French poetry, the success of Lamartine’s ‘Meditations’ was a revelation, a beacon showing new pathways to greatness. Not simply general ideas, but individual thought and personal emotion, were seen to be legitimate subjects for poetical treatment. Hugo’s first Odes, published in 1822, chiefly expressed the thoughts awakened in the young man by the dramatic scenes just enacted upon the stage of the world. While Lamartine at thirty mainly sang of his loves, and turned every sigh of his heart into a harmonious stanza, Hugo at twenty attempted to give to the French people lessons in political philosophy,—a phenomenon not to be wondered at: the man of thirty had lived and suffered, the youth of twenty had merely followed with intelligent and passionate interest the development of one of the most awful dramas in history.  7
  The small collection published in 1822 grew little by little until 1827, when it appeared in the form and with the title it has preserved ever since: four books of Odes and one of Ballads being collected under the title of ‘Odes and Ballads.’ The growth of the book is the growth of the man. The author of the first Odes—of ‘Moses on the Nile,’ for instance—was hardly more than a child; the poet of 1827 was a man, who several times already, conscious of bringing to France a new kind of poetry, had assumed in the prefaces in which he explained and justified it a tone of authority.  8
  The most remarkable piece in the collection shows Hugo for the first time in a character which was often to be his in later years,—that of spokesman of public opinion, of interpreter of public feeling. It is the famous ‘Ode to the Colonna,’ which he wrote as a protest, on hearing that at a reception at the Austrian Embassy the servant, in announcing several of Napoleon’s marshals, had by order of the ambassador refused to give them the titles of nobility won by them on the battle-fields of Europe. The publication of such a poem was the more remarkable that the poet, till then, had been known as a fervent royalist, as an enemy of Napoleonic pretensions, and that he had in the same volume an earlier Ode, ‘Buonaparte,’ in which the great warrior is represented almost as a “messenger of hell.”  9
  The same year that witnessed the completion of the ‘Odes and Ballads’ saw also the publication of Hugo’s first drama, ‘Cromwell.’ The poet had begun the work with the intention of having the title part acted by the great tragedian Talma, who had accepted it. But Talma died before the drama was ready, and Hugo then determined to pay no attention to the requirements of the stage, and to make his drama a work for the reading public, not for the play-goer; but at the same time he wrote for his ‘Cromwell’ a preface which was at once considered as the manifesto of the “Romantic School.” In this preface he attacks the dramatic system then in vogue, which consisted of a slavish adherence to the rules followed by Corneille and Racine, after the reasons for these rules had long ceased to exist. He especially assailed the rule of the “three unities,”—of place, time, and action,—affirming his allegiance only to the third rule, unity of action; and at the same time he advocated introducing into the plays what soon came to be called “local color,” and invited young dramatic writers to study Shakespeare rather than the masters of the French classical stage.  10
  In novel-writing also, in which Hugo so greatly distinguished himself afterward, he had already manifested his activity. In 1825 he published his novel ‘Hans of Iceland,’ a weird story; which had been preceded by a tale of San Domingo, full of descriptions of violent passions, ‘Bug Jargal.’ These two works are to be remembered only as the forerunners of Hugo’s great novels of later years, ‘Notre Dame de Paris,’ ‘Les Misérables,’ and ‘Ninety-three.’  11
  All this work Hugo had achieved when twenty-six years of age.  12
  In 1829 came out his second collection of lyrics, ‘Les Orientales.’ Almost all these poems deal with the East, the bright colors of which the poet was fond of reproducing. But there was something in the book besides its æsthetic value. All Europe was then enthusiastic for the cause of Greek independence. A few years before had occurred Byron’s death at Missolonghi. The Turkish fleet had just been annihilated in the Bay of Navarino by the united squadrons of England, France, and Russia. In his ‘Orientales’ Hugo gave expression to the feelings of admiration with which Canaris and the other heroes of Greece filled all his countrymen. His fiery lines were often written under the direct inspiration of Byron’s poems,—the poem ‘Mazeppa,’ for instance, under the title of which stands a motto taken from the English bard’s ‘Mazeppa.’ The book created a great deal of discussion, and was warmly defended by its author in brilliant prefaces introducing rapidly succeeding editions.  13
  But Hugo was then thinking of the stage more than of anything else. The Romantic School, of which he was now the acknowledged head, was, in spite of some successes won by Alfred de Vigny and Alexandre Dumas, taunted with being unable to produce any dramatic masterpiece. The publication of ‘Cromwell,’ the performance of which its author himself admitted to be impossible, seemed to justify the taunt. Hugo had to take up the challenge and answer it. This he did in the most striking fashion. The first work he prepared for the stage was his drama of ‘Marion Delorme.’ It was received by the Comédie Française, and was about to be performed, when the ministers of King Charles X. bethought themselves that the character of his ancestor Louis XIII. was presented in the drama in a way not calculated to increase the public respect for royalty. The performance was forbidden. The manager was almost heart-broken. But within a few weeks, under the excitement produced by the royal government’s arbitrary act, the poet wrote his immortal drama of “Hernani’; full of the passions of love and honor, one of the great poems of youthful enthusiasm for what is lovable and beautiful.  14
  ‘Hernani’ was performed on February 25th, 1830, on the last day of the poet’s twenty-eighth year. The date is considered one of the great dates in the history of French literature. It is known as the “Battle of Hernani.” The advocates of the old and new schools met, determined to give decisive battle to each other. Applause and hissing mingled; more direct arguments were used; blows even were given and received. On each night the fight was renewed, with this result: that the applause grew stronger every time the play was given, until criticism was finally silenced and drowned under the majestic flow of poetry that came from the lips of Hernani and Doña Sol, Don Carlos and Ruy Gomez de Silva.  15
  Attention has often been called to the fact that in their most poetical plays, both Corneille and Hugo treated Spanish subjects. But while Corneille found in the plays of Guilhen de Castro the plot of his ‘Cid,’ the plot of ‘Hernani’ is entirely original. No incident in the life of Hugo’s Don Carlos—that is, of the Emperor Charles V.—ever happened, upon which to build such a drama as the one in which the French poet gives him such a conspicuous part. But Hugo had retained a very vivid memory of his stay in Spain as a boy, and both the country and time in which he places the development of his plot were favorite ones with the Romanticists. Both offered great opportunities for the display of that local color in scenery, costumes, and even speech, upon which the new school so much depended; and by the impression left in the minds of men they also somewhat justified and made acceptable to the public the exaggerations, the sharp contrasts, which had from the start formed an important part of Hugo’s literary equipment. ‘Hernani’ presents to us a struggle between a bandit and a king, both in love with the same woman. The king experiences within his own heart a struggle of no mean importance, in which his better nature finally triumphs, when by his election as Emperor he is called to higher responsibilities. The girl who is loved by him and by Hernani, Doña Sol, is also loved by an old uncle, a pattern of nobility and loftiness, and none the less passionate because of his years; so that we have the contrast not only of king and bandit, but also of old age and youth. The poet carries us through the phases best calculated to set off his scenes of love and his contests of passions: the castle of Silva, Charlemagne’s tomb, the illuminated palace of the former bandit, now “Don Juan of Aragon,” on the night of his bridal fête. But more than any of the features of the plot, which after all is hardly more than a very skillfully constructed melodrama, that which caused the success of the play, and makes it one of the masterpieces of literature, is the enchanting poetry of all the love passages. All the joys and all the torments, all the hopes and all the doubts, the triumph and the despair of this eternally young passion, find there melodious expressions which remain forever in the mind and ear of readers and spectators. When Hernani and Doña Sol, their vital parts already withered by the deadly poison which old Silva had prepared for one of them, and which both have absorbed, say,—one had almost written sing,—“Toward new and brighter lights we shall expand our wings. With even flight we set forth towards a better world,” we all envy their happiness; and in their final embrace, Death disappears under the tread of all-conquering Love.  16
  It need hardly be said that in the construction of his play Hugo departed entirely from the old classical system: there was no unity of time, no unity of place. But he is, it must be admitted, still further away from Shakespeare than from Racine and Corneille. Nothing differs more from Shakespearean simplicity of style than Hugo’s majestic, harmonious, and dazzlingly rhetorical, metaphorical, dodecasyllabic lines. Indeed, the beauties of this play are decidedly more lyrical than dramatic. But the fact remained that a French play which is a masterpiece had been written in a system different from the old one; and the victory had been won for the “new school.”  17
  The triumph of ‘Hernani’ was nothing less than a literary revolution. It was soon followed by a political revolution. In July 1830, the government of the Bourbons, which had been reinstated in France by the victorious foreigners after the defeat and fall of Napoleon, was brought to an end by a rising of the Paris population, enthusiastically applauded by the whole of France. Hugo, who had been in youth a stanch supporter of the Bourbons, had like many others been estranged, little by little, by the contempt which the Bourbons and the court circles showed for the glorious soldiers of the Revolution and the Empire, and by a succession of arbitrary measures which showed that the spirit of the ancien régime was far from dead and still threatened the dearly bought liberty of France. He shared the popular enthusiasm for the Revolution of 1830, hailed it as a promise of greatness for France and of enfranchisement for the people, and returned to his literary labors with a faith in his own powers increased by the ever growing applause of the public.  18
  The thirteen years that followed may be called Hugo’s happy years. They were years of remarkable productiveness. In 1831 he published his first great novel, ‘Notre Dame de Paris.’ The same year witnessed the first performance of ‘Marion Delorme’; and six other dramas—three in prose, ‘Marie Tudor,’ ‘Lucrèce Borgia,’ and ‘Angelo, Tyran de Padua,’ and three much greater in verse, ‘Le Roi s’Amuse’ (The King’s Diversion), ‘Ruy Blas,’ and ‘Les Burgraves’—followed each other between 1832 and 1843. In the same period appeared four collections of lyrics, in no way inferior to those that had preceded them: ‘Les Feuilles d’Automne’ (Autumn Leaves), ‘Les Chants du Crépuscule’ (Twilight Songs), ‘Les Voix Intérieures’ (Inner Voices), and ‘Les Rayons et les Ombres’ (Sunbeams and Shadows). This alone would suffice for the glory of a great writer. It is only a small part, and assuredly not the highest, of Hugo’s magnificent production.  19
  Perhaps the most successful of these works was ‘Notre Dame de Paris,’ the great novel often bearing the English title ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’—a title to some extent misleading. Quasimodo the Hunchback, though undoubtedly a very important character, is certainly not the center of the novel. The bewitching gipsy girl, Esmeralda, plays as important a part in it as he does; and perhaps the same may be said of the terrible priest, Claude Frollo. In Hugo’s mind the center of the novel was the church of Notre Dame itself. True to the tendencies of the literary school which acknowledged him as its head, after seeking inspiration in the East and in Spain he undertook to do for the Middle Ages what Chateaubriand, in ‘Atala’ and in ‘Les Martyrs,’ had attempted to do for Christianity. Both of these themes had been kept out of French literature by the Classical School. Their right to be in it was one of the tenets of the Romanticists, and ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ gloriously established the soundness of their position. The Gothic cathedral is the center of the novel, as it was the center of mediæval life: everything and everybody, king and poet, priest and Bohemian, the knight clad in brilliant armor and Clopin Trouillefou the hideous truand, Quasimodo the hunchback and La Sachette the bestialized lunatic,—in whom still survives the saintliest feeling of mankind, maternal love,—move in and around the majestic building whose uplifted towers carry up to heaven the prayer and lamentation of suffering humanity. The central character is the relentless force under which every human destiny bends: the Fate of the ancients, whose Greek name, Anankè, deciphered by the poet on an old forgotten wall, is taken as title of one of the most astonishing chapters of this prodigious work.  20
  The dramas were not all equally successful. ‘Marion Delorme’ did not win, and did not deserve, the same popularity as ‘Hernani.’ ‘Le Roi s’Amuse’—the plot of which has become so popular with opera-goers in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto,’ and with theatre-goers under its English name of ‘The Fool’s Revenge’—was taken from the boards after its first performance, by order of the government, which declared it to be an immoral play. The real reason was that an immoral part in it is ascribed to a king of France, Francis I.; the proscription being one of the signs that though crowned by a revolution, King Louis Philippe the citizen king cared more for his crown than for the liberal aspirations to which he owed it. The poet claimed redress from the courts, without any satisfaction save the opportunity of delivering a superb oration in defense of the rights of authors. The drama was at last revived, under the Third Republic, fifty years after its first performance.  21
  The prose dramas were not very favorably received. It seemed that the public could hardly conceive of Hugo’s characters expressing themselves otherwise than in verse. One of these dramas, ‘Lucrèce Borgia,’ provided Donizetti with the libretto of his famous opera.  22
  ‘Ruy Blas’ was a decided success, and with ‘Hernani’ and ‘Les Burgraves’ represents the best work that Hugo has done as a dramatist. Like ‘Hernani,’ ‘Ruy Blas’ is a Spanish play; that is, the action takes place in Spain, and the characters are Spanish. But there is this difference between the two dramas: that while in ‘Hernani’ Hugo drew everything from his imagination, in ‘Ruy Blas’ he made use of a great deal of historical material. The plot itself—the story of the lackey who under an assumed name rises to the highest dignities of the State, and who, filled with the purest love and reverence for the unhappy queen, is rewarded by the gift of her heart—is entirely imaginary; but the picture of the court of Spain under Charles II. is in many respects a historical picture, except that everything which Hugo ascribes to Charles II.’s second wife was true not of her, but of his first wife,—a French princess, daughter of Henrietta of England, Duchess of Orléans, who died but a short time after her marriage with the King of Spain.  23
  In ‘Ruy Blas,’ as in ‘Hernani,’ the means chiefly used by the poet to produce emotion in the spectator is contrast. The characters are a queen, who is no better than a prisoner; a nobleman, Don César de Bazan, who is a beggar and a tramp; a lackey, Ruy Blas, who loves a queen. The mover of the plot, Don Salluste de Bazan, is a disgraced nobleman, who, after being dismissed by the influence of the queen, suddenly disappears, and while moving in the darkness tries to ensnare her into a situation in which her honor and reputation are bound to perish. She is saved by the devotion and readiness of Ruy Blas, but not until he has given up his life with the last sigh of his love for her. ‘Ruy Blas’ is perhaps a better constructed drama than ‘Hernani,’ and yet it does not hold the spectator as powerfully as its predecessor. The reason is that while the love passages are supremely poetical, the situation is too impossible to be made credible. But with all its shortcomings, ‘Ruy Blas’ remains a beautiful drama, which may perhaps share with ‘Hernani’ the honor of remaining on the stage long after the other dramas of Hugo shall be known only by the reading public.  24
  Can we say the same of ‘Les Burgraves’? It is hard to answer. When first performed, in 1843, the drama was a failure. It has never been revived since; and yet it is a favorite with Hugo’s greatest admirers, and every year some of its scenes are successfully presented in France by the young men and women who are preparing to enter the dramatic profession. The lassitude of the public toward a drama full of the most extraordinary contrasts may well be understood. Would it, however, strike in the same way spectators who had not had presented to them in a dozen years all the dramatic works of Hugo? The question is likely to receive some day a practical answer, for ‘Les Burgraves’ holds such a place in the affections of lovers of French poetry that it is sure to be put upon the boards again. Some of the characters of this play are almost too great and too powerful to be human. Barbarossa, Job, Magnus, the relentless old woman Guanhumara, might be accepted in a music drama; but when they use the words and the voice which are used in everyday life, we cannot but see in them men and women like ourselves, while their actions are impossible for such men and women. And yet there is a logic in the drama, a nobleness of inspiration, that compel admiration. Side by side with the gigantic and the degenerate figures that battle against each other, and call up before our eyes the robber barons of mediæval Germany, we have the fresh love idyl of Otbert and Regina, which casts a ray of sunshine over the darkness of the background. Whatever verdict may be ultimately passed upon ‘Les Burgraves’ as a drama, it is certainly a powerful poem, and in parts an exquisite one.  25
  But for the highest poetical outpourings of Victor Hugo during this period of his life, we must turn to his collection of lyrics. He is essentially a lyric poet; and his glory rests more upon such productions as ‘Les Feuilles d’Automne’ and ‘Les Chants du Crépuscule’ than upon any of his dramas save ‘Hernani.’  26
  The lyric poems published between 1830 and 1843 cover as wide a range of private and public events as anything a poet ever wrote. All the qualities for which Hugo has been praised appear in them, carried to the highest degree. His poems on childhood, a theme which perhaps no poet ever treated so felicitously, are especially notable. Later in life, in 1877, he published a volume of verse entirely devoted to children, ‘L’Art d’Être Grand-père’ (The Art of Grandfatherhood), the heroes of which were his grandchildren George and Jeanne. In the earlier book the children were his own children, Charles and François-Victor, Adèle and Léopoldine,—fated, alas! all to precede him to the grave save one, whose fate was sadder than death itself, since her vanished reason did not even allow her to know whether her illustrious father remained among the living or slept among the dead! But the greatest poems undoubtedly are those that deal with themes of public interest. It is the period in which the worship of Napoleon reached its highest point. It came to its climax on December 15th, 1840, when, under a dazzling sky and through the crispest and coldest air Paris ever knew, the remains of the great soldier, given back to France by England, were carried to the home of the old soldiers of France, and laid under the dome of the Invalides, giving fulfillment at last to the wish of the Emperor: “I wish to rest on the banks of the Seine, among those Frenchmen whom I have loved so much!” No writer so constantly and fervently joined, or rather led, in this Napoleonic worship as Victor Hugo; and we must add that in no subject was he so much at ease as in these Napoleonic themes. The greatness of the man, the greatness of the events, the contrast between the height of power to which he attained and the depth of misery which succeeded the splendor of his triumphs,—all these elements admirably blended with the love of the gigantic, the admiration for contrast and antithesis, the gorgeous imagery which distinguished Hugo’s muse. The poet took hold of every occasion that presented itself of celebrating the hero of the century. When Napoleon’s son died, he wrote his ‘Napoleon II.,’ one of his most perfect productions; when the Chamber of Deputies refused to replace Napoleon’s statue on the top of the Vendôme column, he wrote his second ‘Ode to the Column of the Place Vendôme’; when Napoleon’s remains returned to France, the ‘Return of the Emperor’s Ashes,’ etc. These various pieces, which at a later period culminated in the ‘Expiation,’ form together a Napoleonic epic of great splendor and stateliness, in every way worthy of the prodigious man around whom it centers.  27
  For nearly ten years after the performance of ‘Les Burgraves’ Hugo published very little. He wrote a great deal, for he was an indefatigable worker; but completed no drama, no novel, brought no collection of verse to that point of perfection which he required of his productions before submitting them to the public. The reason we find in a terrible domestic calamity which befell him in the fall of 1843. His oldest daughter, Léopoldine, who had but a few months before become the wife of a young man of great promise, M. Charles Vacquerie, was with her husband drowned in the Seine, at Villequier, not very far from the mouth of the river. The exact circumstances of the catastrophe have never been discovered. Its effect was to destroy in the poet, so happy till then, this joy of life which some natures need as much as the air which they breathe. Hugo sought diversion from his grief in the study of public questions and in political activity. Louis Philippe made him a peer of France; and the people, after the fall of Louis Philippe and the establishment of the Republic (1848), made him a member of the National Assembly.  28
  There Hugo for a while hesitated between the Conservatives and the Democrats. The savage measures which, after the socialistic insurrection of June 1848, were adopted and enforced by the victorious bourgeoisie against the deluded, rebellious, but thoroughly honest and moreover starving workingmen of Paris, put a stop to his hesitations. He cast in his lot with the party of mercy, that is, with the advanced Republicans. In their camp he soon became one of the foremost leaders. He soon discerned in Louis Bonaparte an ambition which foreboded evil to the republic of which, as the nephew of Napoleon the Great, he had been elected President, and in a memorable and fiery oration dubbed him Napoleon the Little.  29
  The military coup d’état of December 2d, 1851, by which the republican constitution was violently destroyed, found Hugo among the citizens most energetically determined to resist by force the violation of the supreme law. He risked his life in defending the rights of the people against the imperial usurper, and after the final defeat of the Constitutionalists had to flee from the country, swearing not to return as long as liberty itself remained an exile from France.  30
  His exile lasted longer than he had expected, but was not an unfruitful one. During the eighteen years 1853–1870—which he spent first in Brussels, whence he was soon expelled by the Belgian government; then in the Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey, where he finally bought an estate, Hauteville House, which became to him a real home—he published a political pamphlet, ‘Napoleon the Little,’ four great collections of verse,—‘Les Châtiments’ (The Chastisements), ‘Les Contemplations,’ ‘La Légende des Siècles’ (The Legend of the Ages), ‘Les Chansons des Rues et des Bois’ (Songs of the Streets and Woods); and three novels, of which ‘Les Misérables’ is considered one of the masterpieces of the century, the other two being ‘Les Travailleurs de la Mer’ (The Toilers of the Sea), and ‘L’Homme Qui Rit’ (The Man Who Laughs).  31
  This does not include all that he wrote during his exile. Indeed, the first work which he composed after leaving France, the ‘History of a Crime,’—which, begun on December 13th, 1851, was completed on May 5th, 1852,—was not published until twenty-five years later, in 1877. Instead of the history of the political crime committed by Louis Bonaparte on December 2d, 1851, Hugo published in 1852 his immortal pamphlet ‘Napoleon the Little,’ every page of which reads as though his pen had been dipped in incandescent lava; and a year later (1853) ‘The Chastisements,’ which must perhaps rank in the whole range of poetry as the highest masterpiece of political invective. These two works, ‘Napoleon the Little’ and ‘The Chastisements,’ are inseparable from each other; the latter is the poetical commentary of the former. As long as Napoleon III. reigned, their circulation was absolutely forbidden in France, and nearly every Frenchman who took a trip out of the country was asked by his friends to smuggle in some copies of the forbidden books on his return.  32
  The chief beauty of ‘The Chastisements,’ the most perfect production of Hugo’s poetical genius, lies in the incredible variety of the book. It is not all political invective: it contains superb pieces of pure narrative poetry, like the ‘Memory of the Night of the Fourth,’ the simple story of the death and burial of a child killed by a stray bullet of Napoleon’s soldiers; comic songs; pieces of poetical fancy, like the ‘Imperial Mantle’; weird and severe dialogues between man and his conscience, like ‘The Seaside’; humorous dialogues, like ‘The Three Horses’; and amid this profusion of minor pieces one composition of truly epic grandeur, ‘L’Expiation,’ where the greatness of the first Napoleon is contrasted with the unworthiness of his successor, and where the poet, discovering by the light of events the stain on his former hero’s escutcheon,—that is, the insatiable ambition which led him early in his career to the coup d’état of the 18th Brumaire of the year VIII. (November 9th, 1799), by which he substituted his own personal power for the free republican institutions then possessed by France,—shows in the success of the nephew’s nefarious deed the punishment of the uncle’s insufficiently requited sin.  33
  ‘Contemplations,’ which followed in 1856, is a very different work. The book contains pieces belonging to various and widely distant years of the poet’s life. Some pieces are dated 1834, some 1854. It is a record of the poet’s inner being. A whole division of the work, ‘Pauca Meæ,’ consists of pieces devoted to the memory of his dead daughter. Hugo never wrote anything finer, purer, more touching, than these verses. And in another part of the book we find an ‘Answer to an Impeachment,’ which is an admirably witty (we had almost said saucy), poetical, and lucid explanation of what he had considered his literary mission to be.  34
  In 1859 he published the ‘Legend of the Ages,’ or rather a volume containing a number of the pieces which now form, in the complete collection of his writings, a much larger work by the same title. The finest pieces of the ‘Legend of the Ages’—‘The Consecration of Woman,’ ‘The First Meeting of Christ at the Tomb,’ ‘Roland’s Marriage,’ ‘The Little King of Galicia,’ ‘Aymerillot the Satyr’—belong to the collection of 1859. It is of this book alone that Theodore de Banville, a poet himself, was thinking when he said that nothing finer in French poetry has been written than the ‘Legend of the Ages.’ Hugo’s purpose had been to select in the historical and imaginative life of mankind a number of episodes sketching out the development of the race in the past, and opening some vistas into the farthest distant future. The Bible both in the Old and New Testaments, the traditions of classical Greece, the mediæval poems, the heroic deeds of the great discoverers and conquistadores of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, provided him with themes, the treatment of which affords a singularly striking combination of his personal gifts with the spirit of his sources of inspiration. In the ‘Legend of the Ages’ his power of verbal invention and arrangement is almost beyond belief, while yet the expression is always as translucid as the waters of the purest mountain spring.  35
  The universal applause with which the ‘Legend of the Ages’ was received was still audible when in quick succession, between April 3d and June 30th, 1862, appeared the five parts of Hugo’s longest work, his novel ‘Les Misérables.’ The success of the work was astounding. For the great mass of the reading public it has a decided superiority over all the other productions of Hugo, in that it is entertaining. Even for one who does not care for Hugo’s magnificence of style, or for his striking way of presenting humors and social problems, or for the stream of poetry that runs through everything he wrote, the story told in ‘Les Misérables’ is as fascinating as anything written by that greatest of amusers, Alexandre Dumas. Jean Valjean—who appears at the beginning of the work as a kind of ticket-of-leave man, who has just served his term in a penitentiary where he had been sent for a theft committed under stress of starvation; who several times builds up anew for himself the modest edifice of a small social position, and every time is thrown ruthlessly down when his antecedents are discovered—passes through so many strange adventures that he who does not want to think need not think, while simply looking upon the succession of incidents. He thus visits Monseigneur Myriel, the venerable bishop, the very incarnation of Christian philanthropy; as well as the old member of the National Convention, now shunned by all for having conscientiously declared Louis XVI. guilty of a capital crime. He roams over the battle-field of Waterloo, and witnesses the whole of that gigantic military tragedy; he stops at the infamous inn of the Thénardiers, and passes through all sorts of emotions until he utters a sigh of relief at the failure of the murderous thieves’ dastardly plot. Calmer but none the less touching scenes await him in hospital wards, or in the halls, gardens, and class-rooms of the quiet Picpus convent. He is thrilled with the enthusiasm of young republicanism on the Paris barricades erected against the government of Louis Philippe; he meets strange acquaintances,—Javert the police official, who, placed between his professional duty of arresting an offender and the moral and sentimental impulse to save the man who had saved him and as to whose real guilt he is far from satisfied, sees no solution to the riddle and rushes into suicide; Gavroche, the gay, sentimental, heroic, but decidedly cynical Paris street urchin: Fantine, the Quartier Latin girl; and Cosette, the waif. He has no time to be bored. If he wishes to think, he has social problems placed before him that may well occupy his mind. Are these people, whom society cannot but declare law-breakers, really guilty? Are they responsible for their deeds, or does the responsibility belong elsewhere? Is the real offender the man who performs the deed, or the man who places him in a position whence he could hardly escape sinning against social and moral order? Above all, are not those people to be pitied,—that is, Miserable, in the full etymological sense of the word?  36
  And if such a reader has a taste for the beautiful in literature, how many admirable descriptions, how many fine touches in the dialogue, how many quaint or powerful combinations of words, come to the surface here and there, such as could appear only under Victor Hugo’s pen!  37
  The other works published by the master during his exile—a collection of verse, ‘Songs of the Streets and the Woods,’ and two novels, ‘The Toilers of the Sea’ and ‘The Man Who Laughs’—were only indifferently successful, and did not add much to his fame; although there are a few charming poems in the first, some beautiful pages in the second, and in the last a curious idea,—that of the man whose disfigured features take the appearance of laughter as soon as he opens his mouth, while he never raises his voice save for the defense of the noblest and loftiest ideas.  38
  Another work of the same period must be mentioned, a work of literary criticism: the book on Shakespeare. A short time after settling in the Channel Islands, the poet’s younger son, François-Victor, had determined to undertake a complete French translation of Shakespeare’s works. For this translation, which the son carried to completion, and which is a remarkable piece of work, the father wrote an introduction intended to set forth his view of the nature of the great English poet’s genius. This introduction, which fills a whole volume, is a very brilliant and suggestive performance, which shows how high he might have risen as a literary critic.  39
  Politics, which now occupied a great deal of Hugo’s time and thought, had stirred him much during the last years of Napoleon III.’s reign. He assailed the alliance, every day more manifest, of the imperial with the papal government. His poems ‘Guernsey’s Voice’ and ‘Mentana’ were fierce invectives against the attempts of the French government to bolster up the tottering administration of Pio Nono. The poet was soon to speak to France not from Guernsey, but from Paris itself. But the price of his return was a high one. He returned to the city as soon as France was again a republic (September 5th, 1870); but the revolution which made it again a republic was produced by the disasters which culminated in the surrender to the victorious Prussians of a whole French army, after the battle of Sedan (September 2d, 1870). Victor Hugo spent in Paris the five months of the siege; and at the close of the war the Parisians rewarded him for his stanch opposition to the government of Napoleon III. by a triumphant election to the National Assembly, which met at Bordeaux in February 1871, with the sad mission of making peace with the conquerors on the best obtainable terms. He did not stay there long. That Assembly, which was strongly royalist, was hostile to nearly all the ideas which he defended. He was listened to with but scant respect, and he soon resigned his seat. Before he had time to return to Paris, a terrible domestic affliction added to the sadness which was then, on public grounds, so deep in every French heart. His eldest son, Charles, suddenly dropped dead of heart disease (March 13th, 1871). He carried the dead body back to Paris, there to bear it to the grave on the very day when the insurrection of the Commune broke out (March 18th).  40
  He was soon again on foreign soil, but for a few weeks only, witnessing with an aching heart the terrible events in which not a few people thought that the French nation was disappearing forever. What he felt during all these months of public and private suffering he has recorded in a strong book of poems, ‘L’Année Terrible’ (The Terrible Year).  41
  Victor Hugo was then nearly seventy years old, but he had become so used to regular work and he preserved such remarkable health that he could not think of rest. He lived about fourteen years longer, and during these fourteen years added no less than ten works to the already long list of his productions. The first to appear was also the most remarkable of the list: his historical romance of ‘Ninety-three,’ in which, by simply narrating an imaginary incident of the wars of the Revolution against the royalist insurrections in the West of France, he revives again the spirit of that grand and terrible epoch. His aristocratic marquis Lantenac, his liberal nobleman Gauvain, his revolutionary priest Cimourdin, are all instinct with the fierce energy of the struggle out of which modern France emerged. ‘Ninety-three’ is certainly a far from unworthy successor to ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ and ‘Les Misérables.’  42
  ‘The History of a Crime,’ published in 1877, was not new: it was that history of the coup d’état of December 2d, 1851, which he had written before publishing ‘Napoleon the Little’ in 1852. The most surprising of these later books was certainly his ‘Art of Grandfatherhood,’ because it is the one which, entirely composed during this period of his life, shows no decay whatever of his remarkable powers. A collection of poems, it is a glorification of childhood. The poet, who then had no son or daughter of his around him (François-Victor had died not very long after Charles, and Adèle was demented), expresses in a thousand different ways the joy with which he watches every motion, hears every word, notices every progress of his two grandchildren. The book is full of simplicity and sincerity, and equal to the best of the ‘Autumn Leaves,’ though written more than forty years later. This cannot be said of the second part of the ‘Legend of the Ages,’ of ‘The Pope,’ of ‘Supreme Mercy,’ or even of ‘The Four Winds of the Mind’; though the fourth part of the last-named work, the Epic Book representing the statues of Henry IV., Louis XIII., and Louis XIV. face to face with the scaffold of Louis XVI., contains some of the most striking passages Hugo ever wrote.  43
  The last works he published were a drama written many years before, ‘Torquemada,’ and the third part of the ‘Legend of the Ages.’  44
  He died on May 22d, 1885. His last years had been surrounded by universal admiration, amounting almost to worship. As soon as the republican constitution had been adopted, the city of Paris had elected him one of its senators. The street in which he lived had had its name changed to Avenue Victor Hugo. On February 27th, 1881, his entrance into his eightieth year had been celebrated almost as a national holiday. His death caused national mourning. It was decided to give him obsequies such as no Frenchman had ever had. His coffin was placed under Napoleon’s Triumphal Arch, draped in black, and for the first time in nearly seventy-five years Soufflot’s Pantheon, again turned into a kind of French Westminster Abbey, opened its doors for the reception of the illustrious dead.  45
  But though dead, the indefatigable worker had not ceased to produce. His literary executors discovered an enormous mass of unpublished manuscripts almost equal in bulk to that which he had published during his life, and at intervals something new has been added to the list of Victor Hugo’s posthumous works: ‘The Theatre at Liberty,’ ‘Things Seen,’ ‘The End of Satan,’ and especially ‘God,’ a remarkable book of poems, are among the works thus published. The complete edition of his works now (1917) in course of publication at the hands of his literary executors contains a bulky volume of accounts of travels from his hitherto unpublished notes, and some of his finest descriptive passages are contained therein. Three volumes of his letters have also been published, two belonging to his general correspondence, and one containing the letters written by him to Adèle Foucher, the girl he was going to marry, ‘Lettres à la Fiancée’ (Letters to the Intended Bride). The power of expression possessed by the very young man Hugo was when writing them is simply marvelous.  46
  Posterity, in placing Victor Hugo among the greatest writers of all ages, will single out ‘Hernani’ as his dramatic masterpiece; ‘Les Misérables’ as his best novel; and far above all the rest his most stupendous collection of lyrics, ‘Les Châtiments.’  47
 
 
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