Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

when I read to him fragments from the Natchez, Atala, and Réné; he could not make those productions square with the common rules of criticism; but he felt that he was entering a new world; he beheld a new nature; he understood a language which he did not speak. He gave me excellent advice; to him I am indebted for whatever correctness there is in my style; he taught me to regard the ear; he prevented me from falling into the extravågance of invention and the roughness of execution of my disciples, if, however, I have any disciples.

The 18th of Fructidor drove M. de Fontanes to London. We frequently took walks into the country: we stopped beneath some of those large elm-trees which are scattered over the fields. Reclining against the trunk of one of these elms, my friend gave me an account of his former visit to England before the revolution; he recited the lines which he had then addressed to two young ladies, who had grown old beneath the towers of Westminster Abbey—towers which he found standing just as he left them, whilst at their foot were buried the illusions and the hours of youth. We dined at some solitary tavern at Chelsea, on the Thames, talking of Shakspeare and of Milton, who,

au pied de Westminster, Et devinait Cromwell et rêvait Lucifer *.

* “ Les Conversations,” by Sainte Beuve.

Milton and Shakspeare had seen what my friend and I saw: they had sat like us on the margin of that river, to us the foreign river of Babylon, to them the nourishing river of their country. We returned at night to London by the glimmering rays of the stars, which were lost one after another in the fog of the city, We regained our dwelling guided by uncertain lights which scarcely showed us the way, amidst the coal smoke reddening around every lamp. Thus passes the life of the poet.

RE-ACTION.-LITERARY TRANSFORMATION.

HISTORIANS.

WHEN we became enthusiastic imitators of our neighbours, when every thing was English in France-dress, dogs, horses, gardens, books—the English, from their instinctive hatred of us, became anti-French; the more we strove to approach them the more they kept aloof from us. Exposed to the public derision on their stage, there was to be seen in all John Bull's parodies a meagre Frenchman, in an apple-green taffeta suit, his hat under his arm, with spindle-shanks, long queue, and the air of a famished dancing-master or hair-dresser ; he suffered his nose to be pulled, and he ate frogs. An Englishman on our stage was always a lord or a captain, a hero of sentiment and generosity. The re-action in London extended to the entire literature; the French school was attacked. Sometimes striving to re-produce the past, at others attempting unknown routes, our neighbours, proceeding from

innovation to innovation, arrived at the modern English school.

When, in 1792, I took refuge in England, I found it necessary to reform most of the opinions which I had borrowed from the criticisms of Voltaire, Diderot, La Harpe, and Fontanes.

As for the historians, Hume was reputed a Tory Jacobite writer, heavy and retrograde ; he was accused, as well as Gibbon, of having overloaded the English language with Gallicisms; his continuator Smollett, of whig and progressive principles, was preferred to him. Gibbon was just dead; he passed for a rhetorician: a philosopher during his life, having become a Christian at his death, he was as such charged and convicted of being a weak man; Hallam and Lingard had not yet

appeared.

People still talked of Robertson, because he was dry; one cannot say of the reading of his history what M. Lerminier says of the reading of the history of Herodotus at the Olympic Games: “Greece trembled and Thucydides wept.” The learned Scottish divine would have tried in vain to match that speech which Thucydides puts into the lips of the Platæans, pleading their cause before the Lacedæmonians, who condemned them to death because they had continued faithful to the Athenians.

“ Turn your eyes to the graves

of
your

fathers slaughtered by the Medes, and buried in our furrows; to them we every year pay public honours, as to our old companions in arms. Pausanias buried them there, conceiving that he was depositing them in hospitable earth. If ye take away our lives; if ye make the field of Platæa a field of Thebes; will it not be abandoning your kindred in an enemy's country and leaving them among their murderers? Will you not be enslaving the soil on which the Greeks conquered their freedom? Will you not be abolishing the ancient sacrifices of the founders of these temples? We become supplicants to the ashes of your ancestors; we implore those dead that we may not be enslaved to the Thebans. We will remind you of the day when the most glorious deeds shed a lustre over us, and we conclude this address-a necessary and terrible conclusion, for it may perhaps be but to die that we shall cease to speak.”

Have we amidst our fields graves where we every year perform libations ? Have we temples which remind us of memorable deeds? The Grecian history is a poem, Latin history a picture, modern history a chronicle.

« VorigeDoorgaan »