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of Englishmen from becoming subscribers; for although it does not effect the articles of science, yet these alone escape its influence; history, literature, and philosophy, have a Catholic coloring which is not acceptable to Protestant readers.
Apart from these considerations, the work is on the whole a creditable and useful one. Some articles are insufficient, as is the case with all Cyclopædias: some of them elaborate and worthy of all praise. ‘Alienation' is excellent; so is “Accouchement;’ so also is ‘Abbaye.” Voltaire has no justice awarded him. Is M. Philarète Chasles really insensible to the greatness of that astonishing writer, or is he merely following the prejudices of the party to which he belongs The article “Sublime' is contemptible, being a few illustrations, without the least philosophical inquiry. The article ‘Art,’ by Buchez, will find great favor in the eyes of the party he addresses, but in the eyes of no other mortals.
Some of the biographies appear to us to be very nearly models of Cyclopædia articles; brief yet satisfactory. It has been well said that—
- Who narrates The stature of a man, his gait, his dress, The color of his hair, what meats he loved, Where he abode, what haunts he frequented, His place and time of birth, his age at death, And louch crape and cambric mourned his en (1Writes a biography / But who records The yearnings of the heart, its joys, its pangs, Its alternating apathy and hope, Its stores of memory which the richer grow The longer they are hived, its faith that stands Upon the grave, and counts it as a beach Whence souls embark for home, its prayers for in an
Its trust in heaven, despite of man—writes fiction 1 Get a new Lexicon.” +
And who that has ever toiled through the dull monotony of facts which most writers deem biography, can help being struck with the graphic impression conveyed by the Beaumarchais of Jules Janin in this Cyclopadia? We do not say that it is unexceptionable; we do not fancy that it could not have been still further improved by the rigorous statement of all facts and dates ; but we ask, is not the image of the man clearly presented In those seemingly careless lines there is more matter than in pages of ponderous dullness priding itself on facts. Instead of facts he gives you a distinct impression; in the place of dates he gives re
sults. Jules Janin, who writes everywhere and on everything, on what he does as well as on what he does not understand, is hardly the sort of writer one would most trust in the pages of a Cyclopaedia. One would doubt his accuracy and sincerity. One would believe nothing on his word. He could not be quoted as an authority even in Grub street; one would as soon believe the ‘Quarterly Review.” In spite of this we pronounce his biographies wonderful. With a keen eye for the salient characteristics, he gives you but few details, and they all tell. With a rattling, somewhat wordy style, he is never dull, never obscure. Reckless enough as to facts, he is never careless as to effect. You may detect him in a hundred blunders without disturbiug his effect one single iota. He does not care for dates and literal facts; he cares only for results. The life of Lesage has been attempted a hundred times; it has been written only once, and that once by Jules Janin. Compare his introductory memoir to the illustrated edition of “Le Diable Boiteux,’ with every other memoir, and the graphic force with which it is executed will call forth your admiration. So also we would ask you to interrogate yourself as to what sort of an idea you have of the author of ‘Le Barbier de Seville 7” Then read Janin's account of Beaumarchais :— “Of all the fame, nay more, of all the noise which this man once made, what now remains? nothing but some long, licentious, withered comedies, which are now painful to behold; like vice when it has grown old and wretched, with no other refuge than the truckle bed of an hospital. That Beaumarchais who wore out his life in overthrowing authority, and overthrew it indeed because in his time it hung upon a breath ; what has this revolution profited him Alone amongst the revolutionists of the eighteenth century, Voltaire still lives and reigns; he is the master, the chief of that rebellion of wits whose names have been absorbed in his fame. The most famous satellites who aided him to make a name, have hardly any share in his glory; they have all fallen into obscurity, Beaumarchais as well as the rest. Beaumarchais is now only represented by an old woman, once the Countess Almaviva, by a cunning and ill-bred servant named Susanna, and by a fat, grisly, wrinkled old man called Figaro, a bad go-between without credit, living from hand to mouth by selling old clothes. Such is the intellectual, philosophical, and moral lumber of a man who overturned as many things as Voltaire, and who perhaps made more noise than Voltaire, that is to say, made a great deal too much. “Beaumarchais was born at Paris in the year 1732; he died in the year 1799. He thus traversed all that troubled portion of the 18th century, of which he was one of the coryphees. He witnessed the birth, growth, and extinction of the French revolution, and escaped its dangers by a miracle, and the remains of that good fortune which attended him through life.— Beaumarchais was a child of chance; his education was chance, his life was all chance, so were his wit, his talent, and his style. What he says of his Figaro might be said of himself, “Enfant trouvé ! Enfant perdu, docteur !” And doubtless, had heaven so willed it, Beaumarchais would have been the son of a prince. Unfortunately heaven did not will it. “Before he became a comic poet he commenced, like Figaro, by being a musician. He gave music lessons to Mesdames, the daughters of Louis XV., virtuous princesses who, without sufficient foresight, granted their all-powerful protection to this clever intriguer; Beaumarchais taught them the guitar, Figaro's instrument. And thus the musician became a courtier ; the courtier soon became litigious; the litigious man ushered in the comic poet; the comic poet preceeded the sellers of guns to the American insurgents. He did every thing, he used every thing, he was by turns rich, poor, glorious, proscribed, carried in triumph, shut up in Saint Lazare, glorified, and treated like a bandit by M. Bergasse, who was an honest man. All his life is contained in his “Mémoires Judiciaires ; he there shows himself not without art, but without paint, such as he saw himself, a little handsomer, perhaps, than he really was. In these memoirs are to be found all that the most creative and remorseless fancy can say of any one, on the spur of the moment. This affair which occupied all Europe, was originally a bagatelle. Beaumarchais, who had worked with Paris Duverney, found himself in Paris Duverney's debt at the death of the latter. The heirs claimed 150,000 francs of Beaumarchais; Beaumarchais, on his side, claimed 15,000. Whilst the cause was pending, Beaumarchais, like Figaro, endeavored to see his judges : “A-t-il-vu mon secrétaire, ce bon-on gar-arcon la 7” One of the councillors of the parlement Maupeou cloOctobra, 1844. 18
sed his door against Beaumarchais. Beaumarchais persevered; he sent the councillor a gold watch, set with brilliants, and a hundred and fifteen louis. At this price, Goezman listened to the pleader, but when the day arrived, Goezman gave judgment against Beaumarchais, who then remembered the line from the Plaideurs : “Mais rendez denc l'argent " And effectively the watch, the brilliants, and a hundred louis were returned to him. Beaumarchais claimed the fifteen louis which still remained due. The councillor Goezman, instead of returning the money, prosecuted Beaumarchais for libel. Beaumarchais defended himself valiantly. He instantly set to work, and with inexhaustible humor recited all his adventures with M. and Madame Goezman, namely, three useless visits on Friday, the 2nd of April : one useful one the next day, the 3rd of April, thanks to Madame Goezman; on the 4th of April an audience promised but not granted ; on the 5th of April, the day of the report, an audience granted by the wife, refused by the husband, and a hundred louis placed in her hands, a watch set with brilliants, and fifteen louis which Madame Goezman not choosing to return, Beaumarchais is threatened with M. de Sartines and M. de la Wrillière; and Gcezman like a fool laying his complaint in the hands of the president, the procureur-géneral is commissioned to inquire ; and the sieur Baculard-Arnaud, lying, accuses the sieur Beaumarchais. And thus Beaumarchais goes on confiding all to the public, and it may be imagined how much this amused the spectators, and what pleasure they took in seeing the parlement Maupeou treated in this fashion. All around Beaumarchais applauded him ; his irony and anger were excited ; Goezman and his wife were devoted to the infernal regions; the corrupt judge was everywhere pointed at. “There was a chapter in these memoirs entitled ‘Confrontation de moi à Madame Goezman,’ which was a real comedy, in which you saw Beaumarchais and Madame Goezman move, and heard them talk. But the public feared that it would end too soon; the public might certainly have trusted Beaumarchais for making the most of scandal. The unfortunate fifteen louis were never allowed to drop. They were the watchword in this great battle. And when he had replied to the wife, he began to reply to the husband ; he heaped physical on moral proofs, and thus dragged the parlement Maupeou through the mud. And when nothing more could be made out of the male and female Goezman, he allowed the parlement to pass sentence, and by that sentence the parlement Maupeou again injured itself, for it gave the right to neither party. But the public had long judged the cause in Beaumarchais's favor. The cause was heard and won ; town and court sided with Beaumarchais ; the Prince de Conti himself, who was extremely jealous of his prerogative as prince of the blood, invited him to dinner; he called Beaumarchais a great citizen, a new expression which was a whole revolution in itself. “This lawsuit gave Beaumarchais a love of lawsuits. He was already accustomed to them, his style also ; success had rendered him quarrelsome. He therefore considered himself very fortunate when his second lawsuit commenced against M. Bergasse the advocate, who prosecuted him in the name of the sanctity of the marriage state ; Beaumarchais was accused of having aided in the seduction of Madame Kornmann. This time the accuser was not a Goezman, but an upright and horrest lawyer, belonging to that courageous young bar which already foreboded the French revolution ; one of those lawyers whom Fabre d'Eglantine has so spiritedly and successfully drawn in the Philinte : “Go, fetch me a lawyer.' Moreover, since the Goezman affair, France laughed less, France at last understood she was marching to her ruin, and then Beaumarchais had to plead with a stronger antagonist, and more than once the man of wit was crushed by the emphatic eloquence of the adverse barrister. Beaumarchais no longer had so many laughers on his side. “He then threw himself into comedy with renewed vigor. He possessed all the qualities which make, not a comic poet, but an inventor of scenes, acts, dialogues, and imbroglios; his was a bantering imagination caring little for truth. He would willingly have exchanged all dramatic improbabilities for a bon mot; he had a confused notion that his comedy had not long to live, and therefore wrote it in haste. To commence and finish his dramatic career (we do not reckon , his melodrama of * Les deux Amis') he had the assistance of one person, which was himself; he represented himself such as he was ; daring to insolence, witty to shamelessness, skeptical to impiety, despising the world and despising himself more than any thing in it,
jesting on every thing sacred; only when he placed himself on the stage, he no longer called himself Beaumarchais but Figaro. “Once his name altered, he struts about the stage with as much freedom and impudence as if he ran no risk of being recognized. He first shows us Figaro, like Beaumarchais, the child of his own works, a poet, a musician, playing the guitar, living from hand to mouth, laughing at the great man who pays him, practising all trades, even the least honorable ones, for a living, flattering aloud the nobles whom he secretly maligns, a leader of intrigues, a chatterer, necessitous, clever, always on his guard against first impulses, for the sole reason that first impulses are almost always good ; such is this newly-invented hero In order to make him more presentable and attractive, Beaumarchais gives Figaro the handsomest dress of all Spain. The Barbier de Seville is but the first act of this long story. Be patient You will soon see all the persons whose amours, passions, hatreds, fears, ambitions, and hopes, Beaumarchais presents to you, busy in an endless drama, complicated by the strangest details. “The ‘Mariage de Figaro' is therefore the second chapter of the immortal story, of which the sieur Beaumarchais is the hero. What a chapter what a long and incredible philippic against the whole of society what a jesting leveller is Figaro ! hat wonderful audacity was required, ever to imagine that such a play should be publicly represented under a monarchy which remenbered Louis XIV. and King Louis XV. And what perseverance and will of iron necessary to get such a piece performed under a king who was an honest man, to whom excesses of all kinds caused as much repugnance as terror. King Louis XVI., to whom the piece had been read, expressed himself frankly on the subject— “Be certain,’ said he, “that this piece will never be played This man sneers at everything. To be consistent, the Bastile should be pulled down, if such a comedy were publicly acted.” Louis XVI. was not aware of the truth of what he said. He was a weak and respectable man, who foresaw evils, but knew not how to prevent them. The king was borne down by the exacting and witty body of nobles, who thought themselves invulnerable, and who did not choose to appear to fear dangerous writings, like the common people. Moreover, after having at first authorized the performance of the ‘Màriage, the king withdrew the permission he had granted ; to which Beaumarchais replied that he would have his piece performed in the choir of Notre Dame. And Beaumarchais himself was not aware how truly he spoke. At last, in spite of the king, in spite of all the right-minded men in France, at least of all those who knew or could foresee the future, the piece was played with a scandalous success, which has no equal in the annals of the theatre. The day preceding this terrible and solemn one, the Théâtre Français was half filled with people who spent the night there. Monsieur, the king's brother, was present at the first performance in a public box. The king, however, anxiously waited for the piece to be played. He hoped, he said, that it would be damned. A vain hope. As if success did not always attend the demolishers. The piece was lauded to the skies. It was listened to with unanimous delight! “If there is anything madder than my play,” said Beaumarchais, “it is its success.’ The piece had all the effect of a revolution. Court and city flocked to it, and it may be imagined with what delight. Some great ladies wished to go in private boxes. Beaumarchais replied that his play was not written for prudes. Prudes, if you please ; but Cherubino, half naked at the countess's feet, is hardly less immoral, seen from a public than a private box. One young man wrote to Beaumarchais to ask for a ticket, even were he to die afterwards. Yes, it is a strange and incredible thing in the annals of a civilized people, that an entire society, the patient work of eighteen centuries, the treasure of morals which nations must amass, but which they, alas! amass but seldom, should be thus remorselessly sacrificed. And sacrificed to what? To a piece of buffoonery, a scandal, an immorai story of love and adultery. Yes, that was all ; on one hand, the ‘Mariage de Figaro;' on the other, the monarchy of Louis XIV. ; —on one hand, the wit of Beaumarchais : on the other, the genius of Bossuet. Oh what would Bossuet have said had he been present at such a scene ! Oh! what would the stern Cardinal Richelieu have said had he been told that one day, and that at no distant period, the King of France himself would not, and could not, venture in his own kingdom to prevent the performance of a stage play! A strange thing ! Oh! the wondrous blindness of nations that are ruining themselves. To ruin themselves
thus. All French society clapping its hands to encourage the comic poet, who dragged it through dirt, shame, infamy, and insult. All the authorities of society are compromised in this fatal drama. First appears a priest, mixed up with all this uncleanliness, flattering, cringing, a trader in love, and sneered at. The nobleman is the laughing-stock of his servant, himself ridiculing law, justice, morals, and marriage, ridiculing himself and every one else. The lady appears on terms of friendship with the servant, who is her rival, burning with a secret flame for a boy of fifteen, an adulteress in her heart before being one with her body. The judge shows himself corrupt and a corrupter, a poor foolish creature, ignoble in appearance. None are spared in this satire on the world. The peasant Antonio is drunk ; his niece is a girl almost ruined by her own folly. Old Marcelina, who has lost a child, is only placed there to make us laugh at the feelings of maternity. Doctor Bartholo holds out his cheek to receive the slap aimed at science. Childhood itself, even childhood, that pure and holy innocence which Juvenal orders should be so respected, is placed there also to be the victim of immoral passions. Poor child ! his heart is filled with bad passions; he is already made a vicious creature, sighing, and his heart beating for every woman, whoever she may be ; Madame Almaviva, Susanna, Fanchette, he pursues them all, even old Marcelina. Poor child ! they pass him from one to the other like some frivolous toy. And all these vices have been portrayed in the same drama, solely to amuse the crowd for five hours every evening. “They all came panting, curious, greedy to be present at this immoral spectacle. And whilst these imprudent men clapped their hands at this debauch of wit, they did not hear the shaking of the falling throne; they did not hear that revolution roaring in the distance; they did not hear the murmurs of the people of '89, who meant to take these members of French society at their word: the people was coming to clutch them in the midst of this joy, this license, these ecstacies, these past vices, and to plunge them into what an abyss' into what despair' into what a revolution ''' This is a striking picture, but an exaggeration. Beaumarchais was able to overturn the monarchy of Louis XIV. and Bossuet, only because France would no longer submit to the burthen. Beaumarchais was
applauded, because he spoke out the convictions of the people. Beaumarchais was powerful, because he was applauded. There was a point in his satire ; there was wit in his attack on society; but this wit would have only raised a passing smile, had not all society been in a state of fermentation and ready to applaud any and every expression of its hatred to established ideas. In the same way Siéyes became powerful, because he first put the question which all his contemporaries were endeavoring to bring into shape. What is the tiers-etat 2 he asked. To ask such a question was to produce a revolution. But if the men of our day look back upon the comedies of Beaumarchais and the pamphlets of Siéyes, we are unable to comprehend their prodigious success; the wit, of the one seems forced and exaggerated; the logic of the other trivial and narrow. Comedies and pamphlets were things of the day; and passed away with the circumstances which gave them birth. Not that Beaumarchais' comedies are, theatrically speaking, contemptible; far from it. They have wit, banter, situation, and lively plots. They may be read with amusement; they will bear representation. But they seem very poor and feeble comedies to have produced such tremendous enthusiasm. As a specimen of Beaumarchais' talent, we think the memoirs infinitely superior to his comedies. They have the same liveliness, the same audacity, the same personality, and greater force. Besides, the talent is shown to greater advantage in creating such amusing scenes out of a law suit, than in creating amusing scenes out of an imaginary story, the imbroglio of which is borrowed from the Spanish stage. The confrontation with Madame Goezman is alone worth all the ‘Mariage de Figaro.' “It must, however, be acknowledged that Beaumarchais' great success was not wholly unmerited. This man had wit equal to his audacity. Even in his animosity he had a certain good-humored smile, which rendered him still more dangerous. He had many kinds of courage, as he proved in Spain to a certain Clavijo, who had promised to marry his sister. In this circumstance, Beaumarchais gave proofs not only of wit and courage, but of a great deal of good feeling. He came frankly to the assistance of a poor afflicted woman, whom he protected in this struggle against the seducer who knelt before him. There are people who place this action of Beaumarchais' far
above all the wit he has displayed in the ‘Mariage de Figaro;' it is a pity that there is something to blame even in that. “Beaumarchais' style, like the rest of him, is an affair of chance. He writes by chance; but when chance favors him, he often writes very well. He strains too often after the final dart ; but when he has found it, he shoots against every thing with indefatigable liveliness. The speech on cal umny is a masterpiece of that materialist style which embodies all things, and dresses up a thought like a living person. Had Beaumarchais come into the world twenty years later, he would doubtless have been one of the active minds of the deliberating assemblies; and no doubt, after destroying every thing on his passage, he would have stopped short like Mirabeau, like him terrified by the ruins he had heaped up. How unfortunate that those dangerous minds arrived just in time to succeed. “What more remains to be told 2 Beaumarchais' literary existence terminates with the ‘Mariage de Figaro.' He endeavored, it is true, to carry out this fatal history, and ended with adultery the drama he had begun with an elopement. The mire coupable had none of the success of la Comtesse Almaviva. The ladies regretted their Cherubino's being killed, the men felt no pity for the woman of a certain age bewailing with so many tears the follies of her youth; Figaro, grown old and steady no longer amused any one. The style of Beaumarchais, left to himself, appeared to all, what it really was—a trick in which grammar and logic have to perform all sorts of dangerous evolutions. The secret of this dazzling wit consists in saying the reverse of things. Thus Beaumarchais had engraved on his dog's collar, Beaumarchais m'appartient " . That betrays the whole man. He has also written an opera called ‘Tarare.’ ‘Tarare' is again Figaro,' or rather Beaumarchais singing burlesque verses. This man soon grows cla; he and all the persons he has created. The revolution, with its iron hand, crushed this mind, retaining only its venom. Beaumarchais, seeing that no one in France, not even himself, had time to be witty, endeavored to take to business again, and lost in it a large portion of his fortune. His supply of sixty thousand guns to America, which paid him only with flattery, and his edition of Voltaire's works, were deplorable speculations. And as he no longer succeeded in any thing, ennui seized him, and