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Ferdinand Brunetiere

ACCORDING to most of the critics who have dealt with the history of the Romantic Movement in French Literature, the French poetry of the nineteenth century began with the period--and, indeed, with the verse--of Andre Chenier. Several among the Romantic poets themselves, Sainte-Beuve, for instance, and Theodore de Banville, were of the same opinion. No greater error could be made. It is because Andre Chenier was a great poet, and above all, a great artist--as Racine and Ronsard were artists--that he is so clearly distinguished from all the versifiers of his time, from Lebrun and Delille, from Roucher (with whom he is often associated for no better reason than that they two mounted the scaffold on the same day of the Terror), and from the Chevalier de Parny, too. He had not even one of the characteristics of the Romantic School. His Elegies breathe the ardent, yet exquisite, sensuousness of his age, but in his Idylles one finds again the classic, the contemporary of Ronsard, the pagan, the Alexandrian, the pupil of Callimachus and of Theocritus. It must be noted, too, that his Poesies, of which, for more than twenty-five years, only scattered fragments were known, were not published until 1819; and their influence may be traced in the first Poemes of Alfred de Vigny, which appeared in 1822, but not in the first Odes of Victor Hugo, also published in 1822, nor yet in the Premieres Meditations of Lamartine, which bear the date 1820. The truth is, that at the very source of nineteenth-century French poetry, one finds the inspiring Influence of two great prose writers, and of one woman of genius: the author of the Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau; the author of the Genie du Christianisme, Chateaubriand; and the author--too often forgotten--of l'Allemagne, Mme. de Stael. Rousseau had freed the Ego from the dungeon in which, for two centuries, it had been confined, victim of a tradition founded upon an essentially social conception of the literary art. Through all these two hundred years, neither the Salons, nor the Court which made and unmade the literary reputations of the period, would permit a writer to talk about himself, his love-affairs, or his domestic life. The privilege of that freedom was accorded only to those who wrote a volume of Memoirs, or compiled a selection of letters, and the canon held that even this measure of liberty could be extended only to cases of posthumous publication. Rousseau--whose whole literary product was a prolonged personal confidence, whose features appeared through the meshes of a veil so transparent that it was no more than a literary convention --broke away from this tradition, and opened again to the world one of the most important and profound sources of truly great poetry; a source not the less important, because it is neither the most abundant nor the purest.

Chateaubriand did even more. He was a traveller, and he restored the perception of nature, of animation, of colour, to a literary period cramped by the narrow routine of fashion; to a people who knew nature only as it appeared on the trim terraces of Versailles and of Fontainebleau, who, if they did not altogether forget that nature existed, at any rate ignored it, and kept their gaze narrowly fixed upon the moral and intellectual aspects of human life. A historian, as well as a traveller, Chateaubriand aroused his contemporaries to an appreciation of the difference between one age and another, he showed them how the man of one century departs from the type of a previous century, he emphasised the contrast between a feudal baron and a courtier of Louis XV. He was a Christian, too, and he informed the art of his time with the religious sentiment which had been lacking in the eighteenth century poets--a deficiency which made their creations the more definite and clearly cut, but left them, always, dry and hard.

To Mme de Stael we owe, in turn, the last stage of this gradual transformation. Our poets needed a fresh inspiration, and she supplied it when she gave them her Litteratures du Nord. It cannot, indeed, be said that Lamartine, Hugo, or VIgny imitated Goethe or Byron, and her achievement may perhaps be more justly defined if one says that she enlarged the skies of France, and tempted the wings of our poets to a broader flight, beyond our frontiers, towards new horizons which she, first, rose high enough to see. A new inquiry, a new curiosity, shone in our eyes. We began to doubt if the old ideals were the only ideals. Fresh processes added themselves to our habits of intellection, new elements came, silently as the dews, to our spiritual soil. There awaited new poets, if they should arise,--a liberty which had been denied to their predecessors; the taste of the people, the conditions of the age, were ready for the literary revolution, which even a genius could hardly have operated without the subministration of his environment.

In these conditions lie the secret of the success achieved by Lamartine's first Meditations, a success which bears to the history of our lyric poetry the same relation that the success of the Cid or of Andromaque bears to the history of the French stage. But the Meditations gave rise to no such controversy as that which marked the days of Andromaque or of the Cid ; opinion was unanimous in recognising the poet; and when the Nouvelles Meditations, the Mort de Socrate, the Dernier Chant du Pelerinage de Childe Harold, the Harmonies Poetiques were, between 1820 and 1830, added to the Meditations, the most obstinate of the Classics were forced to acknowledge that a new school of poetry had been born to France. The Poesies of Alfred de Vigny, published in 1822, and republished in 1826; the Odes of Victor Rugo, in 1822, followed by his Ballades in 1824 and by his Orientales in 1829; soon gave firmness of definition to the essential quality of the new school.

These three great poets had much in common, notwithstanding the orIgInality which distinguished each of them from his two fellows: Lamartine, the more pure, more harmonious, more vague; Hugo, the more precise, more colorous, more sonorous, the more barbaric to the French ear; and Vigny, who was more delicate, more elegant, more mystical, but whose note was less sustained. It may be that all three had masters among their predecessors of the nineteenth century,--Lamartine in the person of Parny, and in Millevoye, too; Hugo in Fontanes, in Lebrun, and in Jean Baptiste Rousseau; Vigny in Chenier; but their originality becomes apparent when one compares them with the survivors of the pseudo-classic epoch, such as Casimir Delavigne with his Messeniennes or Beranger in his Chansons. A perspicacious critic might perhaps have foreseen that all three of them would soon diverge upon separate paths: Lamartine becoming more the idealist, Hugo more the realist, Vigny already more the "philosopher"; but for the moment, between 1820 and 1830, they formed a group, if not precisely a school, and it is that group which we must endeavour to describe.

It must first be noted that no one of them belonged to the party which was then called the "Liberals," the party of Benjamin Constant or of Manuel. They were all three "royalists," extremists in their royalism, and they were of the Catholic party, too, the party of Joseph de Maistre, of Bonald, and of Lamennais. Hugo was, even at that time, the most absolute, the most uncompromising of the three; horror and hatred of the Revolution is nowhere more energetically declared than in his first poems, Les Vierges de Verdun, Quiberon, Buonaparte. Their devoutness is as sincere and as ardent as their royalism; and it colours all their ideas, as the religiosity of their master, Chateaubriand, coloured all his. Their conception of Love is a religious conception; it is from the religious point of view that they admire God's work in the domain of Nature; and their conception of the poet's funetion is, again, religious. Their religion is not always very lasting, nor very firmly grounded upon reason, nor is it even altogether orthodox. Lamartine's piety evaporates in a sort of Hindu pantheism; Hugo glides insensibly from Christianity to Voltairianism; Vigny, from year to year, progresses towards a pessimism not greatly unlike that of Schopenhauer. These changes, however, came later; and, in the meantime, the beginning of nineteenth-century French poetry is marked by a permeation even by an exaltation, of religous sentiment.

This body of verse is, furthermore, personal or individual, the poet himself supplies not only the occasion of hIs verse, but its purpose, its habitual subject matter. A French ode and even an elegy, had, up to that time, been always of the broadest origin, built upon generalisations, abstractions, which the poet, in the process of elaboration, sedulously deprived of any particularity his premises might have possessed. Any one copy of verse resembled every other. There is no reason why an elegy of Chenier's should not have been Parny's instead; and if the printer had put Lebrun's name on the title-page of a volume of odes by Lefranc de Pompignan, the poets themselves would hardly have perceived the error. The Meditations of Lamartine, the Poemes of Vigny, the 0rientales of Hugo are, on the other hand, no more than metrical journals of the poet's daily impressions. Lamartine spends an hour on the Lake of Bourget, accompanied by the woman he loves, the Elvire of the Meditations, and he writes Le Lac; he passes Holy Week at the house of a friend, and writes the Semaine Sainte a la Roche Guyon. Vigny is interested by a paragraph in the Journal des Debats of July 18, 1822, and he finds the pretext for the Trappiste. As for Victor Hugo the mere titles of his Orientales: Canaris, Les Tetes du Serail, Navarin, show their close relation to what we call, nowadays, "actuality." There are, no doubt, distinctions to be made; Vigny is, of the three, the most objective in his attitude, the most epic, one is almost tempted to say, in his Eloa or in Moise. Victor Hugo often loses the sense of his own personality when he is confronted by something that seems very real to him; in the Feu du Ciel, in the Djinns, in Mazeppa, he is borne out of himself not only by his pictorial instinct, but by the current of a word-flow so ample that it betrays the rhetorician. Lamartine himself, the most subjective of the three, has here and there a dissertation,--in his Immortalite, for instance,--or a paraphrase, as in his Chant d' Amour which overruns the narrow limits of personal poetry. Yet, after all is said, every one of them found his inspiration in himself, his emotions, his recollections. The suggestion of the moment guides them. Whether it is Bonaparte dying at St. Helena in 1821, or Charles X receiving the crown at Reims in 1825, these poets confide to us their own impressions. It is not the inherent and intrinsic beauty of the subject that provokes their song, but the subject's suitability to the especial character of the poet's genius. More precisely yet: the subject is a mere pretext for the disclosure of the poet's point of view, the confession of his own fashion of feeling. It is this, and nothing else, that one means when one formulates the second characteristic of Romantic Poetry as opposed to Classic Poetry: its dominant personality or individuality.

A third and last characteristic springs from this second: the freedom or novelty of the Romantic School. "Let us set new thoughts to the old rimes," said Andre Chenier, in a line which has preserved its fame,--a line often overpraised, for that matter. The Romantic poets, better inspired, perceived that these "new thoughts" could only be expressed in the terms of an art as novel, and it is that renovation of style and metre for which they have been most admired. Vigny shows more preciosity, more seeking after words, more embarrassment in his manipulation of rhythm, and for that reason is far less varied. His French, too, is less rich and less abundant. Lamartine's is not always very novel, nor yet very correct; this great poet was a careless writer; and yet his liquidity is incomparable; the form of his verse is faultlessly classic, and not even Racine found more exquisite associations of sound. Victor Hugo unquestionably shares with Ronsard the pinnacle of eminence as a creator of rhythms; and his French, somewhat commonplace in his earlier work, in the first Odes, had attained, at the time of the Orientales, a freedom, a vigour, an originality which may with truth be described as democratic. No one, certainly, did more than he to abolish the old distinction between the Grand French and the Familiar French, to put, as he said, "the Cap of Liberty on the head of the aged Dictionary." It was in this fashion that these three poets, unaided, shook off the yoke of the eighteenth-century grammarians; restored to words their pictorial value as mediums of expression or of description; and freed French verse from the shackles which prevented its yielding to the requirements of the poet. There is no poetry without music, no music without movement, and movement was precisely what the French alexandrine lacked.

These being, then, the three essential and original charactenstics of eighteenth-century French poetry when it first took definite shape, it may be said that its history, from that time, has been the history of a conflict between the three. Their strife is still unsettled. Is the poet to be only an artist, looking down, from the height of his "ivory tower," at the fruitless bustle of his fellow men? Is he to be a thinker? Or is he to turn aside from philosophy as well as from esthetics, and be only a "sonorous echo" indifferently stirred by all the vibrations of the air? Or should he try only to be himself?

Before tracing the successive stages of the unending struggle, it is due alike to the decorum of chronology and to literary justice that one should say a word about the author--popular, and even famous, for a moment--of the Iambes : Auguste Barbier. His lot was that of a middle-class Parisian, and when he had sung his brief song he fell back into his dull routine, and survived himself for nearly fifty years, never again finding the poet that was in him. Yet three or four of his Iambes, such as the Curee, the Popularitee, the Idole, are among the masterpieces of French satire. I do not know, indeed, where one can more distinctly perceive the affinity, more clearly trace the consanguinity, between lyric and satiric verse; and the Iambes contain two or three of the most beautiful similes in all French poetry. That is, in itself, something, from the point of view of art. But it is a reason, too, for regretting that even in these few pieces, there is a twang of vulgarity which debars Barbier from the rank of a true poet. No such fault is to be found in the other three men who are, with him, the most illustrious representatives of the second generation of Romantic Poets: Sainte-Beuve, Alfred de Musset, and Theophile Gautier.

Personal poetry is triumphant in the persons of the two first Sainte-Beuve, whose Confessions de Joseph Delorme appeared in 1829, to be followed in 1831 by Consolations; and Alfred de Musset, whose Premieres Poesies saw the light between 1830 and 1832. Here are two poets who occupy themselves solely with themselves; tell us only of themselves, their predilections, their desires, their dreams of personal happiness. Nor is this the limit of their subjectiveness: Lamartine and Hugo chose, for expression in their verses, those of their impressions which seemed to them to be most general, those which they thought would have been shared by their contemporaries; Sainte-Beuve, on the contrary, in the Confessions de Joseph Delorme turns away from this very class of impressions, and devotes himself only to the observation, the analysis, and the expression of that which he believes to be exclusively his own, that which distinguishes and differentiates him from other men. In this respect and for this reason the Confessions de Joseph Delorme is morbid poetry, almost pathological: it seems the work of a neurasthenic or a neurotic. Add to this that Sainte-Beuve displays, as an artist and as a versifier, refinements and elaborate researches, of which the restless subtlety is equalled only by the utter ineffectiveness. These elaborations escape the unaided eye, they can be appreciated only when one is cautioned to look closely for them. It is in quite another fashion that Musset is "personal," he displayed another sort of affectation; he is foppish, he is ultra-Parisian. He becomes more simple after .a few years; passion makes a new man of him. At first, in the Marrons du Feu, in Mardoche, in Namouna, he is the Lovelace, the Brummell, of the Romantic School, notwithstanding the poetic gift which already places him so far above the level of the disguise he assumes,--and above Sainte-Beuve's level too. He makes verses for mere pastime, laughing at himself for making them, even; they are his diversion from graver pursuits. These more serious occupations were--his brother tells us-- "to hold grave conferences with the best tailors in Paris," "to waltz with a genuine Marquise." We learn, too, from other sources, that to these ponderous duties he added a routine of attendance at the gambling-clubs and at even less decorous resorts. It is for this reason that, if his inspiration differs from that of Sainte-Beuve, it rests upon the same foundation; it is "personal" to the verge of egoism, and no man ever carried farther the pretension of individuality. His contemporaries took this view of him, and a legion of imitators crowded upon his footsteps and upon those of Sainte-Beuve, imitators who possessed none of the originality of theIr models, and who occupy no place in the history of French poetry. The first requisite for a "personal" poet, although not the only qualification necessary, is that he should possess a personality, and that is a gift few can claim. Men of originality are rare!

Theophile Gautier perceived all this, instinctively, and If the issue had been in his hands, the Romantic School would at once have turned to the impersonal phase of art. The description of places, the picturesque presentment of the past, faithfulness of imitative work, the submergence of self in objective studies, would then have become the chief aims of the poets. Neither nature nor history, however, proceed by sudden transformations and revolutions. The possibilities of "personal" poetry had not yet been exhausted, the fertility latent in its formulae had not yet given place to sterility. None of Gautier's great contemporaries had yet said all that he had to say, completed the outpouring of his confessions. The whole period, too (more especially the years that immediately followed 1830), was inauspicious for the epicurean pursuit of art for art's own sake. New problems presented themselves to the poets of the day. Religion, which had preoccupied the poets of the past decade, ceased to preoccupy the poets of a society which doubted everything, and they became "socialists" and "philosophers."

The evidence of this change is to be found in Victor Hugo's Feuilles d'Automne, of 1831, in the Chants du Crepuscule, of 1835, and in the Voix Interieures, 1837; or in Lamartine's Jocelyn, of 1836, and his Chute d'un Ange, in 1838. Jocelyn is, in fact, the only long poem in the French language, and the Chute d'un Ange,-- although it remained unfinished,--is neither the least important of Lamartine's works, nor the least conclusive manifestation of his genius. In both these poems all the qualities of the Meditations are again to be found, some of them, indeed, in an exaggerated degree: liquidity and fertility, for example. Other qualities add themselves to these, qualities which are not generally admired, and which failed to bring Lamartine the applause they deserved. It was he who created philosophical poetry in France; for Andre Chenier, who hoped to do so, has left us only the outline of his Hermes, with a bare half hundred lines; and Voltaire's Discours sur l'Homme is a moral, rather than a philosophical, work--and furthermore is only prose. Lamartine has more than once succeeded in expressing, without the slightest loss of clearness or of harmony, ideas of the most abstract, the most purely metaphysical, sort that the human mind can conceive. It is another of his merits, pre-eminently shown in Jocelyn, that he could write in a familiar strain without becoming prosaic, and even without losing his nobility of expression. Nor was his point of view a mere pose, as Sainte-Beuve, not without a tinge of jealousy, asks us to believe. If ever a poet was naturally and involuntarily a poet, it was Lamartine, a poet even when he wrote in prose, and even in his political utterances. Nowhere is this more strikingly shown than in his Jocelyn, unless, indeed, it be in the Chute d'un Ange, or in the larger conception of the philosophical epic of which the Chute d'un Ange is itself only an episode. One certainly regrets that the hasty execution of the work is not always in keeping with the grandeur of the project, but that disparity is characteristic of Lamartine's genius. Is it not possible, indeed, that in the altitudes where metaphysics and poetry melt one into the other, a want of precision adds a further fitness, a new charm and beauty?

Yet, as one is about to think so and to say so, the shade of Victor Hugo interposes. Whether Hugo's visions be filled with realities, or only with possibilities, no poet has ever made his dreams more vivid, given to them a firmer form, made them more palpable. A blind man could perceive how boldly Victor Hugo's verse brings its subject into relief. Lamartine purifies and idealises the real--dissolves it, sometimes, in the liquidity of his lines; but Hugo, in the architecture of his poetry, captures the ideal, makes it concrete and material. He is as "personal" as ever in his Feuilles d' Automne or his Voix Interieure, it may even be said that he is nowhere more "personal" than in his Orientales or his Odes. It is in these poems that he is most prodigal of confidences and avowals, and yet he is not the less attentive to "actuality." Half hIs poems are poems of occasion; their titles show it: Reverie d'un passant a propos d'un Roi; Dicte en presence du glacier du Rhone; Pendant que la fenetre etait ouverte; Apres une lecture de Dante. But. he begins, at this stage of his work, to do what he had not done in the days of the Orientales; he begins to inquire into the mysterIes, to wonder at what Baudelaire well calls "the monstrousness whIch envelops man on every side." Lamartine escaped from himself, raised himself above the level of his own personality, as he turned to the heights, ad augusta; Victor Hugo leaves his own person in order to search in mystery itself, per augusta, the explanation of what he has found inexplicable in his own personality. If it is a different sort of philosophising, it is still philosophy, and after twelve years of silence, or of political activity, from 1840 to 1852, when he returns to poetry, he resumes this philosophical preoccupation, never again to abandon it. No doubt his philosophy, at that period, differs widely from the catholicism of his earlier attitude, but nevertheless he had the right to say that the intensity, the continuity, of that preoccupation were always of a religious character. It is that which saves him from the double, yet diverse, excess of purely personal poetry and purely naturalistic doctrine.

Nevertheless--while Lamartine and Hugo thus imparted to romantic poetry and to personal poetry, a tendency toward philosophical and social poetry--Musset, "descending to the desolate depths of the abyss within himself," gave resounding utterance to some of the most energetic notes of passion in all French poetry-- in all the world's poetry. We need only mention a few of his poems: the Lettre a Lamartine, the Nuits, the Souvenir; not a thousand lines in all. They are poems in which fastidious critics have found passages of mere rhetoric; but they will pass down the ages. Other poets may equal, but can never surpass, their bitter sorrow, their poignant eloquence. Musset's Nuits are at once the most realistic and the most personal poems in the language. The adventure had been commonplace; its termination, although it was cruel, was not extraordinary. But the poet suffered so profoundly, his whole life had been so utterly devastated by the blow, that it is impossible to imagine a more irreparable disaster. To express the pride of his passion, his horror of its unfaithful object, his absolute despair, he found words so profoundly pathetic that they wring, even from the driest eyes, tears almost as abundant as those he himself shed over his dead love. He has interposed so slight a veil of "literature" between his readers and his heart, the cry of his agony rises so naturally, that we can never be closer to any man's soul than to his. It is for all these reasons that, whatever one may think of his other works, Musset's Nuits places him in the first rank of poets. And perhaps it is for these reasons, too, that "personal" poetry has become so difficult to the poets of our own day. It is apart from personal poetry, or in antagonism to it, rather, that the evolution continues, in the works of Victor de Laprade, and, above all, in the Poemes which Alfred de Vigny afterwards embodied in his Destinies.

Impelled by circumstances, yet always in accordance with the direction of his own talent, Vigny followed the same general trend as Lamartine and Victor Hugo, turning from personal poetry to objective and philosophical poetry. He lacked the fertility of the first, and was yet farther from the verbal and rhythmical inventiveness of the second. His philosophy was not the same, nor his philosophical temperament; he was born a pessimist of the most thorough sort; one of those who cannot forgive life for being the miserable thing it is, and still less forgive God for not having made it happier. From such convictions as these, the road to despair is short. Yet Vigny had too noble a nature or too elevated a mind to permit himself to sink into the gulf; and the conviction to which his pessimism led him--after a period of hesitation--was what has since been called the religion of human suffering. He proclaimed, in a line which has remained famous, his love for "the majesty of human woes." It is this sentiment which inspired some of his finest verses: the Sauvage, the Mort du Loup, the Flute, the Mont des Oliviers, 1843, the Maison du Berger, 1844, and, later, the Bouteille a la Mer, 1854. It is essential to note that, independently of their other merits, all these poems have the two characteristics of a work of art; each is "a philosophical thought presented in an epic or dramatic form" --the definition is his--and, above all, each is a Poem. By thIs last word one must understand something complete in itself, something of which the development is not left to the caprice or the fantasy of the poet, but depends upon the nature, the importance, and the compass of the subject. This is the limit imposed upon the liberty of purely romantic poetry.

Another poet of the same period restrained that liberty in another fashion: Victor de Laprade, whose Psyche in 1841, Odes et Poemes in 1843, Poemes evangeliques in 1852, unquestionably contain fine lines, but they are cold; they seem enveloped by some indefinable haze. There is no comparison between Victor de Laprade and Lamartine or Vigny, to whom he really owes less, though he may seem to owe more, than to two writers who are somewhat overlooked to-day: Ballanche, the Lyon's printer, who was Mme Recamier's friend, and Edgar Quinet, the friend of Michelet. Whatever may have been his inferiority, the purposes of Victor Laprade were profoundly interesting. Instinctively a pantheist, and an idealist as well, he laboured for ten or twelve years at the task of eliminating the poet's personality by reducing him to the office of an interpreter of the voice of nature. It was a sort of reversal of the romantic point of view, according to which nature herself only served as a pretext or an occasion for displaying the poet's personality. The subjective impression became, with Laprade, almost a matter of indifference; the truthful representation of the object was the important matter. Unfortunately for Laprade, he combined with this purpose, even in his verses, so many vague side-issues that one loses sight of his novel idea. And amid all this philosophy, which at times was little better than theosophy, the sense of form, of style, and even of prosody, was lost. Poets built their manner upon isolated examples of the work of Musset and of Lamartine, and thought that to be as careless, as often incorrect, as they, was the way to equal them.

Upon this theory a whole school of poets founded their work, a school which the barbarous word "Formistes" was coined to describe. Happily the word has not survived the school. They did not at once formulate the doctrines of "art for art's own sake," but they were finding their way to that motto. The Cariatides of Theodore de Banville, 1842, arid his Stalactites, 1846, were born of this suggestion. All that he appropriated from romanticism, and from the Orientales and the Consolations of Sainte-Beuve, was a scrupulous attention to form, to "pure beauty" as it was soon to be called. At the same time, however, he turned back to the Greek and Latin antiques, to the very source of classicism. He looked to Andre Chenier for inspiration, he sang the Venus de Milo, the Triomphe de Bacchus, or the Jugement de paris; and all this was at once an abjuration of the romanticism of the Middle Ages and of that which might have been called Lamartine's neo-Christianism. The same must be said--or almost as much--of Theophile Gautier's collections Emaux et Camees, which appeared in 1852.

Banville and Gautier were true poets, true artists, over-anxious, indeed, to find new and singular expressions of art, but they had the misfortune to be also journalists and "men about town." From this combination there resulted a confusing association of incongruous ideals; strata of the quivering air of Paris and of the serene atmosphere of art. It is not always easy to distinguish their serious utterances from their aesthetic paradoxes. Were they sincere, or were they laughing at their readers? In the case of Banville the suspicion is stronger, for in the earlier work one perceives the "dandysm" of Musset, the Musset of Mardoche and of Namouna. The mere title of one of his collections, Odes Funambulesques, which appeared in 1857, sufficiently indicates the prankish side of his nature, and shows, too, why it is that his influence was so limited. Theophile Gautier, on the other hand, urged by the spur of need, did so much work of all sorts that the hack novelist pressed close upon the heels of the poet. The honour of becoming the true leader of the school was reserved for another; the author of the Poemes Antiques, 1852, and the Poemes Barbares, 1855, 1856: Leconte de Lisle, one of the foremost poets of contemporary France--if not the most perfect among them all.

. He is certainly the most "objective," and in this regard he is the antithesis of the romantic poet and of the lyrical poet; in realIty he is an epic poet. In all his works he only speaks of himself two or three times, and with splendid disinterestedness he soars above all the questions of his day, giving place in his verses only to the thoughts which he believed were for eternity, sub specie aeternitatis. It is this which gives him his sound and lastIng value. He sang of the exchanging aspects of nature, the same before his time, in his time, and in our time. They fill his Midi, his Juin, the Reve du Jaguar, the Sommeil du Condor. He celebrated, too, the traces which have been left to us by the great races and their successive civilisation: Qain, Brahma, Khiron, the Enfance d'Heracles, Hypatie, Mouca al Kebyr, the Tete du Comte, the Epee d'Angantyr, the Coeur d'Hialmar. He gave voice to the resistless melancholy which rises from the mass of ruins, from the dark void in which all human effort seems at last to be lost. He was a great artist, he always prepared himself for his work, adding the breadth of modern erudition to the scrupulous accuracy of the classic school. It was his ambition to give every line the precision of a bas-relief, the durability of bronze or marble. The larger public could hardly have been expected to turn with eagerness to so severe a form of art, but the poets promptly rendered their homage, and one is not surprised to learn that the influence of Leconte de Lisle was felt for a moment by Hugo himself.

This is plainly to be seen, if one compares the Chatiments, 1852, or the Contemplations, 1856, with the Legende des Siecles, 1859. In the two earlier collections we find Hugo still a lyric poet, and more than ever before a personal poet, but in the third he is manifestly inspIred by the dominant note of the Poemes Antiques and the Poemes Barbares. With still greater truth he may be said to have been aroused by the sound of a rival's lyre, and, calling all his skill to his aid, he reasserts his sway over the empire which the newcomer had attacked. But the leopard skin which hangs from the poet's shoulder never altogether changes its spots, and although the Legende des Siecles contains some verses of truly epic ring-- the Sacre de la Femme, for instance, or Booz endormi--the Hugo of the Orientales and the Chants du Crepuscule reappears in the other pieces, the Hugo to whom history and legend are no more than scene-painter's cloths, garnishing the stage from which he expresses his own, his most intimate sentiments. No matter how earnestly he tried to subordinate himself to his task, to mirror faithfully the scene he describes, his powerful imagination inevitably distorts the image, and it is always Hugo that we see. The other school aimed at a diametrically opposed result, and just as the romantic movement had spread from the field of poetry to that of the theatre, to history, and even to criticism, they tried now to impose the canons of the naturalist's aesthetics upon criticism and history, the theatre and the poetic art.

It was the first article of their code that the personality of the poet should be subordinated to nature, that he should become a sworn interpreter; not necessarily impassible, but yet quite impartial and incorruptible. It is no longer the question to know the poet's point of view, whether he is pleased or indignant, or with what sentiments he is agitated by the spectacle of nature or the events of history. It is his function to present things as they are, for what they are, independently of his personal opinions. A line of Horace expresses the new rule: Non mihi res sed me rebus subjungere conor. The nature of things is exterior, anterior, superior; it is not our task to correct or perfect, but to reproduce, and the first of all poetic qualities is the fidelity of presentiment. It is a painter's law, or a sculptor's, perhaps, as much as a poet's, and it may easily be carried to undue extremes; a law, indeed, that was afterwards to bring about strange results. But it worked a great change for good in the years that immediately preceded and followed 1860, it recalled the poet to the observation of nature, to the study of history, to respect for simple truth. We owed to it, between 1866 and 1875, the Trophies of M. J.-M. de Heredia; the popular poems, the domestic and intimate verses of M. Francois Coppee; and, since we are not forbidden to study, in our own persons, the phenomena which Montaigne described as the "changing outlines of man's inner conditIons," we owe to this same law some of the subtle and pathetIc poems in which M. Sully-Prudhomme has so well expressed the complexity of the contemporary spirit.

These three authors, widely alike as they are, have a second characteristic in common; each is almost perfect in his own field of work. There are no more beautiful sonnets in the language than those of M. J.-M. de Heredia. The Dutch painters, Gerard Dow, for instance, and Jean Steen, have painted no interiors more finished than the popular poems of M. Coppee. Finally, M. Sully-Prudhomme has touched our most secret fibres with verses of unparalleled delicacy and acuity. Perfection of form was indeed the second article, as the subjection of the poet's personality was the first article, of the new school's code. If critics forgave Victor Hugo the obscurities which were often darkened depths of meaning, and which never interfered with the correctness of his diction, they were pitiless to the carelessness of Lamartine and of Musset. The poet's art was no longer measured by the abundance or the strangeness of its inspiration, but by the richness and sonority of the rhythm, the fulness and soundness of the line, the precision and elegance of its French. There was a return to the opinions of the past, a renewed perception of "the power of the right word in the right place." People even began to discern in words many qualities which they do not possess. This was a logical change, no doubt, for there is only one way to imitate nature with fidelity, and that is to concentrate upon the perfection of form all the energy which has been repressed in the process of restricting the liberty of imagination.

To these two principles--the perfection of form and the impersonality of the artist--a third added itself: the principle that art exists for art's sake only. Art has no moral or didactic mission, and one has no right to question the poet's choice of a subject; his method of treatment is the only ground for the exercise of the critic's function. Gautier believed this to his last day; his work remains to prove it. Leconte de Lisle violated the principle in some of his poems, but he was not conscious that he did so, even when, finding his inspiration in the Legende des Siecles, he tried to rival Hugo's anti-religious ardour. M. de Heredia has never swerved. It was this central idea that the Parnassians made their rallying-point in 1866. Some illustrious prose writers--Flaubert in the first rank--encouraged them. And if M. Sully-Prudhomme and M. Franqois Coppee escaped from the strict yoke, it was because they were affected by another influence at the same time as Leconte de Lisle's--an influence more subtle and not less powerful, that of Charles Baudelaire and his Fleurs du Mal.

These poems appeared for the first time in 1857; but there are books which make themselves felt as soon as they appear, just as there are others which need, as it were, to be felt from a distance. Of such are, in the history of French prose, Stendhal's Chartreuse de Parme, and, in the history of French poetry, the Fleurs du Mal. At a first glance the critics imagined--fantastic as the idea seems to us--that they detected Catholicism in the Fleurs du Mal; and this was at the moment of a general reaction toward Paganism. The fact is that at a time when the elaboration of form was everything, Baudelaire's verses displayed the mosaicist's care, they suggested the prose writer who has with painful labour morticed a rime upon the end of every line. It was also a moment at which poetry tended to the impersonal; and the inspiration of Baudelaire betrays its debt to that of Vigny, and yet more to that of Sainte-Beuve,--the Sainte-Beuve of the Confessions de Joseph Delorme. He not only imitated, but exaggerated this strange morbidity. While the critics for these reasons despised even what there was of novelty in Baudelaire's product, the youth of his day recognised it, and felt its fascination. Beneath the declamatory tone, and the charlatanism, even, of his lament, they perceived the sincerity of a suffering which was not less genuine because it was purely intellectual. It has been said that of all the sensory suggestions the most material and the most diffusive are those which appeal to the olfactory perceptions, and that no others so immediately stir the memory. And if this be true, it must be remembered that the Fleurs du Mal are permeated by the whole gamut of exotic fragrance. They are full, too, of those subtle values of sensory co-ordination which BaudelaIre hImself indicates when he says that "forms and outlines and sounds all correspond the one to the other." There was novelty in all thIs, a fruitful and a lasting novelty, and as it did not seem to disagree with the lessons of the Parnassians, people listened obediently to the lofty teachings of Leconte de Lisle, but read Baudelaire with infinite delight, like children devouring a book in secret.

I remember trying, twenty-five years ago, in the pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes, to describe this influence which Baudelaire exerted upon M. Franqois Coppee, M. Sully-Prudhomme upon M. Paul Bourget, too, whose first verses had then--in 1875 recently appeared, and upon other writers. Francois Buloz, who was still living at the time, was hugely displeased, although he had printed in the Revue Baudelaire's first verses. "So you take Baudelaire for a master, do you?" he cried. I thought that I had answered him when I said, "No, but he is a master in the eyes of the poets I named." But Buloz was not convinced. I little knew how amply time would justify me; I had not long to wait before a whole generation were invoking the name of the author of the Fleurs du Mal, the generation of Paul Verlaine and of Stephen Mallarme.

Although they still continued to bow to the Parnassian discipline, they began to chafe under it. Despite the poet's dictum, ut pictura poesis, they began to perceive that poetry wilted in this dry perfection of execution. The precision of outline, the richness of metre, the unswerving fidelity of representation combined, embarrassed, cumbered, cramped the freedom of the imagination, the amplitude of visions. It was impossible to escape the accurate grasp of the artist, and when he had clutched you, there was no release. There was no background, no distant perspective, there was none of the indistinctness, the obscurity, the chiaroscuro, which is, nevertheless, one of the elements of true poetry. Save for some among M. Sully-Prudhomme's verses, everything was brought into the whitest light, and if, by chance, the meaning of any worK, as a whole, was not quite clear, each line was in itself uncompromisingly distinct. People began to find, too, that this reproduction of nature was extended, in the past as in the present, to many objects which possessed no real interest. It does not follow that because an event has taken place it is necessarily a poetic event; nor is it true that everything that lives should be immortalised by art. It was said, too, that if ideas were plentiful enough in the masterpieces of the Parnassian School, no one idea ever passed beyond its original limits, or became the mantle and the veil of something more secret, more mysterious: the visible and palpable exterior of that which can neither be seen nor touched. There are, unquestionably, certain correspondences and associations between ourselves and the world in which we live: every sensation should lead us to an idea, and in that idea we ought to find something analogous to the sensation. The reality of things does not manifest itself in their mere exterior, they must be exposed to the light of the truth in accordance with which their forms are defined. Every representation which fails to base itself upon that fact is necessarily incomplete, superficial, mutilated. The Parnassians forgot this, and their forgetfulness created the school of symbolism.

It is difficult to see very clearly the inner meaning of Paul Verlaine's work. He was an "irregular" in the eyes of all the schools, and his emancipation had been no more than a return to the liberty of the Romantic School, and a step beyond even that liberty. He owes his reputation less to the profoundness and the ingenuity of his symbolism than to the cynicism of his Confessions. He was at once violent and feeble, ingeniously perverse, capable, by turn, of the worst sentiments and the most sincere repentances, inheriting from Baudelaire and from Sainte-Beuve the love of sin and of remorse. Poor "Lelian" wrote some wretched verses, and some that were detestable; but he wrote also some that were original and exquisite. His great merit is, perhaps, that he wrote exquisitely diaphanous lines, verse as lightly burdened as French verse ought to be. Stephen Mallarme wrote the most incomprehensible verses, more obscure than any Lycophron ever had made before his time; but he had a poet's soul; he talked limpidly, if he wrote turgidly; he possessed the secret of clothing the strangest ideas in an enchanter's web of apparent truth; he has been, and will no doubt remain, the hierophant of symbolism, as Baudelaire was its precursor. I doubt whether he will be largely represented in the anthologies of the future, but no hIstorIan of nineteenth century French poetry can refrain from mentioning his name. A certain Maurice Sceve, of Lyons, played just such a role in the sixteenth century, only to disappear, when he had played it, in the effulgence of the great Ronsard.

There is one more observation that should perhaps be made before terminating this too hurried essay. It is a Ronsard that symbolism has lacked, and still lacks; it is a Ronsard that we have been awaiting for nearly ten years. It would be easy to name a dozen excellent craftsmen in verse, and three or four poets, among the younger men: M. Henri de Regnier, for instance, and M. Albert Samain. But however much talent, natural or acquired, they may have shown, it must be admitted that no work of theirs has aroused the immediate and universal emotion which Lamartine's Meditations and Ronsard's Amours kindled as soon as they appeared. Why is it so? Is it, perhaps, because the time is not favourable to poets, and that our poets lack the encouragement, the complicity of opinion, so to speak, which is more necessary to their development than to the development of any other sort of artists? Surely this is not the case. On the contrary, our poets find to-day a keener audience, not in France only, but abroad, than could have been hoped for ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago. Are fewer poets born, or is it more difficult for them to find the opportunity of appealing to the verdict of the public? is life less kind to them to-day than formerly? One can hardly say so, in view of the number of volumes of verse which appear each year. Is it that they ripen less rapidly, and that the standard they set themselves is higher, more complex, and demands longer effort? Are they awaiting a rounder maturity? As they are all young, let us hope that this is the case; and if the close of the nineteenth century, so abundant in poetic talent, is somewhat barren of poetic product, we can only wait, in the hope that the expected masterpiece is taking form, somewhere in silent seclusion, and that the sudden radiance of its appearance will greet the beginning of the new century. Sic aliud ex alio nunquam desistit oriri.

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