Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ber, 1827, and lasted only three years. mie Française. His fame reached its highest They reäppeared to give lectures, after an point towards 1827, at the time he reäsaterruption of many years, occasioned by cended, after an intermission of some years, be blind and bigoted policy of the old his chair at the Sorbonne. His eloquence Bourbons; they thus reäppeared with the reëchoed through every part of France ; restige of unjustly silenced and persecuted each of his lectures became a literary event; jen. Public opinion was anxious to atone every sentence, every opinion, whatever it ** this persecution, and eager to avenge might be, that fell from his lips, was bailed nd glorify the popular professors. Hence, like the voice of prophecy; his influence was umbined with their splendid and really su- immense. Collected by stenography, these [<rior abilities, the extraordinary éclat which lectures have been printed in five volumes, grzeted their lecturing, the enthusiasm and of which two are on the middle ages, and Efluence which they produced throughout three on the seventeenth and eighteenth cenFrance and even Europe.

turies. But the latter century was not comTwo thousand persons, the élite of soci- pleted; and some years afterwards, in 1837, ets, but mostly young men between twenty he published two additional volumes, careand twenty-five years of age, crowded, long fully composed in the closet, to supply the -fore the appointed hour, in the vast hall deficiency left in the literary history of that

the old Sorbonne, anxiously awaiting the age. We will say something hereafter of coming of the professor, and when he was these two volumes

, which differ materially sen, they broke out in a perfect storm of in character from the preceding. audits.' These lectures, collected by expe- The oral lectures at the Sorbonne seemed panced phonographists, were printed by to flow extempore. They had in effect the housands in the shape of books, and spread stamp of improvisation,-the abandon, the rough all Europe.

vivacity, the digressions, the flashes of wit Very few literary men have begun their or high flights of eloquence, which have so career as splendidly as M. Villemain. At magical an attraction. But we doubt not twenty-four years of age, he had obtained that they were carefully meditated and premany crowns from the Académie Française, pared, when at home. It was easy to per

r eulogiums upon distinguished men, Mon-ceive a deliberate order in a seeming disoraigne, Montesquieu, &c., and had won a der. But never did he avail himself of a

lebrated name. The public had been sheet of paper as a help to memory. He -truck with surprise and admiration in find- occasionally brought a few volumes from 13 in the writings of a very young man, which to make quotations; and yet he was arcely out of college, the purity of taste, gifted with so wonderful, so well-stocked a e maturity of thought, the superior style memory, that in a great many instances we and eloquence, which are so rarely met in a heard him deliver from memory long extracts debul. In 1816, he was appointed to the from orators or gods, without any hesitation, whair of French Literature and Eloquence at and with delightful expression and empbasis. the Faculty of Letters in Paris. Ho signal. He began usually in a conversational manzed his advent to that position by inocu- ner, calm and dispassionate. But soon the Liting criticism with a judicious compound spirit roused up, and his voice assumed an

vivacity, imagination, biography, and his oratorical energy. His voice, sonorous, flexbry; and gradually, as his studies extended ible, and vibrating, was admirably suited to over a wider circle, his ideas acquired greater the expression of strong passions, as well as energy and originality, his eloquence became to that of irony and sarcasm. He varied more glowing, and his admiration of intel- his intonations with a consummate skill; his actual greatness more enthusiastic. His delivery kept the hearers in breathless derctures possessed in the highest degree all light. And when it is recollected that from the attractions of a fascinating conversation. these lips burst forth ingenious thoughts, witty

There are no records of his lectures during allusions, profound reflections, brilliant and the first years after his appointment. Mean unexpected expositions, it will be easily conwhile, M. Villemain took an active part, at ceived how attractive and powerful was the different periods, in political affairs, and in lecture. His fluency and felicity of language that career exhibited a firm progressive spi- was extraordinary. He found always, as by rt. In 1821, he was called to the Acade-I inspiration, the proper or imaginative word, to give to a sentence the utmost strength first years of the empire of Napoleon. or elegance. He excelled in biographical Emperor welcomed him in the most gras sketches, in parallels, in great characteristics way. Well,' said he, one day, in a pri of a literary period, as well as in what the conversation, you have lately left Germ: ancients call the playfulness of an orator, how did you leave your mother affe consisting of the attractive anecdote and the towards me? I have been told that jocular sally.

cordially detests me. Is there any hope Those alone who have heard M. Villemain she will ever love me?' 'Sire,' replied can bear testimony to the brilliant variety of Count, with a respectful bow, 'it ma his words, to the deep and impressive into- that her feelings are still confined to nation of his voice, to the playfulness of his admiration.' Could it be possible to fi allusions, to his eloquent and compressed more felicitous reply, to show respect action, and to those numerous instances to truth and to high rank ?” when his soul, heaving like a wave ready to Speaking of England one day, he burst, pauses and calmly subsides, resuming expatiated upon the genius of the nat the dignity becoming a lecturer, and leaving the far-sighted and skilful government an ineffable thrill of pleasurable emotion in wonderful increase of power and wealt the mind.

spite of the tremendous struggle and He was fond of relating anecdotes to illus- which she had sustained against Franc trate the wit or character of celebrated men. twenty-five years.

“ Look at the pri They were short, lively, and told en passant. situation of England,” said he. “Wh This kind of dainties relished very well with it? Under the influence of her represi the audience. One day, he was speaking of tive and free government, and througł Voltaire, and of his wit

, always ready with most able and efficient administration ingenious and sarcastic replies, so character- has triumphantly emerged from this ter istic of the man. “An Englishman,” said warfare, which was very near hurling h he, “after travelling over Switzerland, came ruin and destruction. Look at what s one fine morning, with a proper introduc- now in Europe, and throughout the gl tion, to pay him a visit at his Château de Her conquests and possessions have so r Ferney. The gentleman was a scholar, and increased, that she is everywhere presen the conversation took a literary turn. The powerful! It was formerly said of P traveler said he had had the honor of being gal that the accessory of its empire w introduced to M. de Haller, and he had Europe, and the principal scattered ove been very much pleased with him. M. the world. This, in the decayed prosp de Haller! exclaimed Voltaire, forgetting of Portugal, is no longer true ; but that at this very time there was a coldness strictly true, if applied to England. Shi between them, M. de Haller ! he is a great boast, as Spain of old, that the sun i man, a superior man, Sir! great poet, great sets upon her dominions. To-day, she scholar, profound naturalist ' The English- an immense colonial empire, which emb man waited till the eulogy was over, and one hundred and thirty millions of inh then candidly said: “This is very fair and ants ! creditable to you, Sir, for I know that M.

of the world : you will de Haller has the misfortune of not speaking England proudly conspicuous in almost in such fair and high terms of you.' 'Alas!' part of it. In America, she has unde smartly replied Voltaire, with a peculiar domination the northern portion of the smile, perhaps, my dear Sir, we both are nent, Canada, New-Brunswick, Nova Sc mistaken !?”

the greatest part of the West India Isl Speaking of the wits and of the accom- Honduras ; in Africa, the fine colony a plished courtiers of the eighteenth century, Cape of Good Hope, Sierra Leone, Gai he related the following:

and Mauritius; in Asia, the splendid " The Count of Narbonne belonged to immense India and Ceylon, with one the highest nobility. Though he was a dred and twenty millions of inhabitant friend to liberty and reformation, he was Oceanica, New South Guinea, Van Dier carried out to foreign countries by the tor- Land, Western and South Australasia rent of emigration and the exigences of his New Zealand; in Europe, Gibraltar, N birth. He came back to France during the Corfu, and the Ionian Islands ! She

« Take a map

almost encircled the globe with an uninter-tellect; it is history elucidated by the prorupted chain of forts, factories, settlements, gress of arts and letters ; it becomes a vast possessions and colonies, over which runs, picture, presenting within its frame a suclike the electric fluid, the spirit of this cession of illustrious individuals, renowned mighty nation. And do you know how in their day for their deeds or writings, to much time it took to conquer, to organize, gether with all that has happened in the and to secure this gigantic colonial empire ? world, attended by striking and important Hardly one hundred years ! A wonderful, effects, thus forming the most instructive prodigious, and immense achievement !” ensemble that can be offered to the study and

The professor had delivered this tableau contemplation of mankind. Nations succeed with so much spirit and eloquence, (and each other; governments are established and alas ! after twenty years, I can find only in fall to the ground; great battles have been my brain a faint and languid sketch of it,) fought in every era; all these worldly comthat here he was interrupted by enthusiastic motions reěcho from the powerful intellects applause ; upon which, assuming a stern of each period, insomuch that criticism, or look, he said, in a grave, but with half ban- the history of letters, is the most animated tering smile: "Gentlemen, I should be much part of history itself. When nations have pleased to know if it is me you intend thus disappeared from the earth, the literature to applaud, or the colossean and wide-spread that survives them serves as the beacon to power of our proud rival, which I tried to guide explorers in the path of discovery and delineate as an historical fact." The audience research. broke into a laughter, with new plaudits, M. Villemain was the first to feel that and the lecturer passed on to other topics. mere scholastic and literary inquiry could

The originality of M.Villemain as a critic- not satisfy the demands of our time, so that originality which elevated him to a posi- aspiring in its objects of study, and so deeply tion unequalled in France-was of a lofty agitated by political passions. He was the character. Before him, criticism kept in a first to blend political science with art, to special narrow path, aiming solely to teach seek what had been the influence of an epoch the art of writing correctly and of expressing on a writer, and, availing himself of a prothoughts rationally; or, if it exceeded the found knowledge of history, of antiquity, and prescribed limits, under pretense of deducing of several modern literatures, to draw historithe laws of nature, it fell into the strangest cal pictures of a period, and to appreciate, aberrations. Before him, it was either cold, with the searching impartiality of philosodidactic, and fettered, like that of Laharpe, phy, the life and genius of an author. History or lyrical and highly paradoxical, like that with him vivifies the imagination, and rheof Diderot. He opened new and higher torical precepts form but the ground-work of paths; he effected a great revolution in the the picture. history of literature.

M. Villemain possessed abundant sources In what consists the excellence of high of knowledge for his critiques, and what he critical literature ! Undoubtedly in com- drew from them, skilfully combined, formed bining a profound and comprehensive know- the great material of his literary eloquence. ledge of history with great powers of ima- The first of those sources consisted in a progination, in order to vivify the past. Criti- found knowledge of antiquity and of classic cism must follow the tide of ages, marking authors. The second was derived from an not only the vigorous intellects that speak arduous study of the Fathers of the Church, with the action and tone of their nation and who may be said to form the Christian antiepoch, but also the political condition, whose quity. After having abundantly nourished practical influence is so powerful and uni- his genius with those inestimable and inexversal on the development of genius. The haustible remains of human intellect, the critic, in following the stream of time, must third mine he worked was England—Milton, alternately fix his eyes on the ruins he passes Shakspeare, and the English orators. by and the abodes of the living; he must many was overlooked. In fact, M. Villemain listen to the tumult that arises from the cities had, by his investigations on England, imnow flourishing, and note also the traces left parted an impulse so great to the study of on communities by preceding ages. Criti- English literature, as to be justly deemed a cism, thus understood, is the history of in- I mighty step for France, a country that had

before been so exclusive ; and a knowledge under the influence of the men he judges,
of Germany is only now beginning to be and is partially dazzled by the splendor of
generally appreciated among writers. The their talents. We think him deficient in
fourth and last, but most prolific source of religious feeling, and, for that sole reason,
M. Villemain's criticisms lay in his immense we consider that his works are not destined
historical studies; he has plunged into all to exercise a lasting influence on future
the darkness of the middle ages, and generations.
proved himself as erudite an historian as When M. Villemain takes up the

pen,

he able and sagacious a critic. Such is the vast ceases to be the literary orator; he no longer. stock of knowledge whence M. Villemain possesses the same vivacity nor the same drew the multitude of parallels, the luminous style. When he writes, his phraseology is, illustrations, which characterize his lectures no doubt, more polished and perfect, fitting on French literature.

the thought with precision ; but it bears at At the time when he gave them, the re- the same time a character of frigidity or public of letters was violently distracted by rather paleness, when compared to the vivid the strife of classicists and romanticists. animation sparkling in the oral lectures. He preserved a medium between the rival Furthermore, in general, the written style of schools. Although praised by the latter, he M. Villemain is of the utmost correctness, has not shown himself duly sensible of their elegance, and brightness ; but it is somewhat eulogiums ; for, in his lectures on the seven- deficient at times in energy, pithiness, and teenth century, he often throws out indirect vivid and soul-inspired eloquence. This is but warm reproaches on a school that had the case in the two additional volumes of M. spoken irreverently of the polished language Villemain, published within the last few of Louis the Fourteenth's time, and even of years, on the eighteenth century. Neverthe magnificent style of Bossuet. On the theless, they breathe a spirit of wholesome other hand, his propensity to extend the cir- criticism, and abound in admirable disquisicle of literature and of language, his evident tions. There are some delightful pages on partiality for some of the most decided Vauvenargues, whose lofty and pensive soul modern innovations, clearly absolve him is wreathed in the purest virtue ; some refrom the imputation of being blindly opposed markable ones on Rousseau, who is tenderly to all efforts for breaking the fetters of the treated by the critic, notwithstanding the old school.

few partial chidings he addresses to the philHis opinions on the eighteenth century osopher of Geneva towards the close of the steer equally clear of the fervent admiration chapter. Secondary names, as Prevost, Rolentertained by many for the philosophy of lin, Louis Racine, D'Aguesseau, &c., are that period, and, on the other hand, of the often revived with a peculiar charm and full furious wrath with which it is regarded by appreciation of their merit. by the brethren of the modern Catholic After the Revolution of 1830, M. Villeschool. Whilst sentiments and ideas remain main was transferred from the stage of Sorin such conflict as at present, there is nothing bonne to a higher, more splendid and influso difficult as to form a candid judgment, a ential, but somewhat dangerous theatreair appreciation of that extraordinary epoch. politics and administrative station. He beThe historical critic could not fail to appre- came a peer of France, Minister of the Public hend the great mission of this century as an Instruction, and a man of political eminence intermediate agency to terminate all that and importance ; but he was no longer a belonged to the middle ages, and to prepare brilliant lecturer at Sorbonne, though he rethe way for modern society. All the thinkers tained among his titles that of professor. of the eighteenth century were heralds of the The storm of 1848 having swept away the new era; but M. Villemain scarcely seems Chamber of Peers, M. Villemain renounced sufficiently convinced of the error of many the political scene, to live in a quiet and of those philosophers who labored to involve literary retirement. He has scarcely attained in one

common destruction institutions the age of sixty. May he avail himself of founded on piety and faith, and abuses that his leisure to prepare and to perfect, for the had become burdensome and oppressive ; enjoyment of his admirers and of the literary andd, however studious his efforts to attain a public, a new book of the same stamp as the

impartiality, he is nevertheless often Coriner!

[ocr errors]

J. CI.

SOME SHAKSPEARIAN AND SPENSERIAN MSS.

THE LEARNING OF SHAKSPEARE,

HalEs was a contemporary of Shakspeare, favor. Thus, Pope and Theobald, consentand disinterested; and if his opinion of his ing in nothing else, agree in assigning him Learning had been positive, it would have a considerable quantity of classical learning. been entitled to the utmost deference. It Upton, a man of deep and critical erudition, is however, any thing but conclusive ; for it carried his belief of our poet's scholarship is put forward as a purely hypothetic case. perhaps to an excess. Whalley, the learned - If," said he, speaking of Shakspeare's editor of Ben Jonson, unswayed by partiality learning, “if he had not read the classics, he for his own hero, wrote a very able defense had likewise not stolen from them;" [a sly of his rival's skill in the languages; and the hit, by the way, at Ben Jonson ;] "and if elder Colman, the translator of “Terence," any topic was produced from a poet of anti- found evidence in the works of Shakspeare quity, he [Hales) would undertake to show enough to convince him that the author was somewhat on the same subject at least as not deficient in classical attainments. Auwell written by Shakspeare." Of this thorities such as these, and so numerous, testimony we make the opponents of our ought at least to suffice to set the reader's poet's learning a generous present. Next judgment in equilibrio until he shall have comes Milton ; but might not the same time to examine the question for himself; thing, with equal truth, be applied to him and we believe that nothing more is necesself, without the slightest impeachment sary than an unprejudiced examination of of his profound acquaintance with the his works, to lead to the conclusion that our whole range of literature, ancient and mod-poet was, to say the least, as well acquainted ern, as it was then known ? The “wood with the writings of the ancients and such notes wild” of “ Fancy's child” are as dis- other branches of human learning as are tinctly to be heard in the “Comus," the cultivated in colleges, as if he had been a "Arcades," the “ Lycidus," " L'Allegro," and university student. We do not arrogate - Il Penseroso" of Milton, as in the “ Mid for him the highest attainments in the simmer Night's Dream," the “Winter's learned languages. We would not compare Tale," the "As You Like It” of Shakspeare; his learning with Thomas Heywood's, and and in neither case do they derogate from admit him to have been as inferior to Ben the scholarship of the respective poets. Jonson in scholarship as Ben himself was Powe's opinion, founded on a vague tradi- probably inferior to Dr. Farmer ; but, with tion, inconsistent with the well-known facts those exceptions, we maintain (and the matof the case, and picked up some century too ter is capable of critical proof) that his late, is a mere inference of prepossession, works exhibit him a better classical scholar sod is worth nothing; and as to Dr. Far- than any of his dramatic contemporaries, mer's essay, it is really surprising how very Greene, Marlow, Peele, Lodge, Lylie, Nash, little it contains seriously affecting the ques- Duher, &c., &c.,—though they were all memtion at issue. We shall return to it pres-bers of one or other of the universities, and ently more in detail ; meanwhile, we must many of them of both. We have neither observe that the received opinion of Shak-time nor space for such a comparison here; speare's ignorance of the learned languages nor, in fact, could it be made in any way so is far from having the general assent of the satisfactory as by a perusal of the productions erities. Men of competent learning and of those worthies, contrasting them with uteservation have declared in favor of his these of our poet throughout; but whoso erudition, however acquired; and were a ever will encounter such a task (as we have trus finding to be taken from the votes of incidentally done) will not fail to come to the the majority, the verdict would run in his same conclusions as ourselves. If, then, he

vor TY

[ocr errors]

NRW

SRRIRS

2

« AnteriorContinuar »