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admiration and my censure may be equally misplaced, that my conclusions may appear impertinent and ridiculous on the other side of the Channel.
When the merit of an author consists especially in his style, a foreigner never can properly comprehend that merit. The more talent is innate, individual, national, the more its mysteries escape the understanding which is not, if I may use the expression, compatriot with that talent. · We admire upon parole the Greeks and the Romans; our admiration comes to us from tradition, and the Greeks and the Romans are not there to laugh at the judgments of us, Barbarians. Which of us can conceive any idea of the harmony of the prose of Demosthenes and Cicero, of the cadence of the verse of Alcæus and Horace, such as they were seized by a Greek and Latin ear! It is asserted that real beauties are of all times, of all countries : the beauties of sentiment and thought assuredly are; the beauties of style are not. Style is not, like thought, cosmopolite; it has a native land, a sky, a sun, of its own.
The nations of the North, writing all languages, have no style in those languages. The various vocabularies which encumber the memory render the perceptions confused : when the idea occurs to you, you know not in what veil to wrap it, what idiom to employ in order to express it best. Had you known only your own language and the Greek and Latin glossaries from which it is derived, this idea would have presented itself to you clothed in its natural form: your brain not having thought it at once in different languages, it would not have been a multiplex abortion, the undigested produce of simultaneous conceptions; it would have had that character of unity and simplicity, that type of paternity and race, without which works of the understanding are but nebulous masses, resembling everything and nothing. The way to be a bad writer is to whistle to the echo of memory, like a parrot, several dialects: a polyglot mind charms scarcely any but the deaf and dumb.. It is very well, very useful, to study, to read, the living languages, when you devote yourself to literature, extremely dangerous to speak them, but most dangerous of all to write them.
Thus henceforward there will arise no more of those colossal reputations, whose greatness is alike acknowledged by nations and ages. In respect to the moderns, therefore, the reader must take in a limited sense what I have said above of those mother-geniuses, which seem to have brought forth and suckled all the others : this remains true as to the fact, not as to a universal reputation. In Vienna, in Petersburg, in Berlin, in London, in Lisbon, in Madrid, in Rome, in Paris we shall never have, of a German, an English, a Portuguese, a Spanish, an Italian, a French poet, one and the same idea that we form of Virgil and Homer. We modern great men count upon filling the world with our renown, but, do what we may, it will scarcely pass the limits where our language expires. Is not then the time of supreme dominations past ? Are not all aristocracies finished ? Do not the useless efforts that have recently been made to discover new forms, to find out new numbers, a new cesura, to refresh the colour, to make young the turn, the word, the idea, in order to make old the phrase, to return to the natural and the popular, seem to prove that we have travelled all round the circle! Instead of advancing, we have retrograded ; without perceiving that we were returning to the first lispings of the tongue, to the nursery tales, to the infancy of the art. To maintain that there is no art, that there is no ideal, that we ought not to select, but to paint everything; that the deformed is as fine in its way as the beautiful—is merely a jeu d'esprit in these, a depravity of taste in those, a sophism of indolence in some, of impotence in others.
OTHER CAUSES WHICH TEND TO DESTROY
LASTLY, besides that division of languages which is hostile to universal reputations among the moderns, another cause is labouring to destroy them : liberty, the spirit of levelling and incredulity, hatred of superiority, anarchy of ideas, democracy, in short, has penetrated into literature as well as into the rest of society. Now these things, favouring the passion of self-love and the feeling of envy, act in the sphere of letters with double force. We no longer acknowledge masters and authorities; we no longer adınit rules; we no longer adopt ready-made opinions ; free examination is received at Parnassus, as it is in politics and religion, as a consequence of the progress of the age. Every one judges, and thinks that he has a right to judge, according to his capacity, his taste, his system, his hatred, or his love. Hence a host of immortals, celebrated in their own street, enclosed by the circle of their own school and of their own friends, but who are unknown or hissed in the next district.
Truth formerly had great difficulty to spread itself; it lacked a vehicle ; the daily and free press was not then in existence; the literati formed a separate world ; their estimate of each other was scarcely known to the public. Now, that assailing or admiring, journals sound the charge or victory, a person must be very unlucky not to know during his life-time his precise value. With these contradictory sentences, if our glory commences sooner, it also finishes sooner; in the morning an eagle, at night a bittern.
Such is human nature, particularly in France : if we possess any talents, we take the greatest pains to depreciate them. After raising them to the pinnacle, we roll them in the mud; we then recover our former position, and then degrade ourselves afresh. Who has not for a few years past seen opinions change twenty times concerning the same name? Is there then at present any thing certain and true upon earth? We know not what to believe: we hesitate about everything, we doubt every thing; the strongest convictions in the morning are extinguished before night. We cannot endure reputations; all admiration seems to be a robbery of us; our vanities take umbrage