Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Art. V.-1. Tableau de la Poésie française au XVI ne

Siècle. 2 vols. 8vo. Paris : 1828. 2. Pvésies complètes. 2 vols. 8vo. Paris : 1869. 3. Critiques et Portraits littéraires. 5 vols. 8vo. Paris :

1836-39. 4. Portraits contemporains et divers. 4 vols. Paris : 1869-70. 5. Portraits de Femmes. 1 vol. 1870. 6. Volupté. 1 vol. 5me édition. Paris : 1862.

. 7. Histoire de Port-Royal. 6 vols.

6

3me édition. 1867. 8. Chateaubriand et son Groupe. 2 vols. 2me édition. 1870. 9. Causeries de Lundi. 15 vols. 1852-60. 10. Étude sur Virgile. 2me édition. 1870. 11. Étude sur Jomini. 1869. 12. Nouveaur Lundis. 12 vols. 1863–70. 13. Étude sur Talleyrand. 1 vol. 1870. 14. À propos des Bibliothèques populaires. 1870. 15. De la Liberté de l'Enseignement supérieur. 1870. 16. De la Loi sur la Presse. 1870. ON N a gloomy day in the early part of last November,

a modest house in the little suburban Rue Montparnasse, in the Parisian capital, was the centre of great but mournful interest. One of the chief literary stars of France was extinguished. Sainte-Beuve, Senator and Academician, who had passed the greater part of his life in this quiet habitation, was dead, and about five thousand persons of all classes assembled to accompany his remains to the grave. Among the crowd were to be remarked poets, historians, novelists, critics, artists, and journalists of every grade of distinction, together with a body of Parisian students and a multitude of citizens of every class. The assemblage was perhaps the larger by reason of the directions contained in the will of the deceased. He had requested that his remains should not be taken to any church, that no religious rites should be observed, and no discourse be pronounced over his grave. Moreover, his recent speeches in the Senate had found great favour with the Liberal party, so that the funeral itself had something of the nature of a demonstration on behalf of political and religious freedom. The funeral, as conducted according to the desire of the deceased, was for that reason of more than usually

a

solemn import. It was but a few steps from the house to the tomb in the neighbouring Cimetière Montparnasse. After the coffin was lowered, and

a single crown of violets deposited upon it; and after one of the executors advancing to the head of the grave had simply uttered the words, ' Adieu, Sainte· Beuve! adieu, notre ami, adieu !'' he turned to the crowd and thanked them for their attendance-the ceremony was over, and the mystery of death weighed blank upon the soul in all its dark and unadorned reality. Groups of friends and admirers, however, were observed lounging about the cemetery, discussing the life and the career of the deceased. By most of these he had been seen in the little study, which was also his bedroom, in the first story of his dwelling-house in the Rue Montparnasse surrounded by his papers and his books. The window, in front of which was his chair and table, looked towards the south and down on a small garden, planted, we think, with five trees, of which he was as proud as a lover and sympathiser with Horace and Horatian desires was bound to be. Through the window the author's favourite pigeons might sometimes be seen either flying across the garden or perched upon the sill, where they were fed daily by his hand. He was easily accessible, and that even to the poor of his vicinity, who knew him for a charitable neighbour; and few were his visitors who did not come away charmed by an interview with the homely-looking ‘man, the marked but not handsome lines of whose closely shaven face bore during late years traces of suffering from a painful inward malady endured with patience, as well as of a lifetime of thought and study. With his black skull-cap, his composed features, and his quiet placid demeanour, he bore no small resemblance to a little somewhat stout abbé of the eighteenth century-a pleasant aspect and manner was indeed his habitual characteristic-yet on occasion the large eyes, somewhat à fleur de tête, would glisten and the full lips would curve as he would deliver himself of a mot or sarcasm, none the less piercing for its excessive fineness and the calmness of its delivery.

It is somewhat difficult to review comprehensively the life and literary labours of a man of so versatile and various a genius as Sainte-Beuve, whose literary activity dealt with a multitude of subjects, and produced but one work of any length; it were as hopeless to attempt, by describing the track of a bee across the countless flowers of a garden, to give a flavour of its honey, as to try to give a notice of the literary qualities of Sainte-Beuve to those who have not read his writings; nevertheless, as his literary career of nearly half a century had

a

a

points of contact and intersection with those of nearly every great contemporary writer, and as the successive phases of literary and other creeds through which he passed were in a measure common to him and to his time, some estimate of his whole activity may serve not only to render the leading points of his character more apparent, but to show also through what rapid transformations the course of French literature has passed in a single lifetime. Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve,* a posthumous child, was

a , born at Boulogne-sur-mer, on December 23, 1804. His father held a civil appointment under Government in that town, and died in the very year of his marriage, two months before the birth of his son. Sainte-Beuve has written

• Je naquis en deuil, Et mon berceau d'abord posa sur un cercueil.' The mournful circumstances which attended his birth probably had some influence on his nature, for Sainte-Beuve was not gay by temperament. His father had some taste as well as erudition ; he left a library of books annotated on the margin with his own hand, which Sainte-Beuve did not fail to peruse with the sympathy of a literary nature and a reverent spirit it was the only communion possible with the author of his existence.

"Si né dans sa mort même
Ma mémoire n'eût pas son image suprême,
Il m'a laissé du moins son âme et son esprit,

Et son goût tout entier à chaque marge écrit.' His mother, to whose undivided care he was thus left, was the daughter of an English lady, and to her influence may be traced the predilection which Sainte-Beuve evinced for Cowper, Crabbe, and the Lake writers, whose style of poetry he endeavoured to rival in the French tongue. He received a rudimentary course of education at Boulogne, and was then removed to Paris, to the Collège Charlemagne. After a brilliant course of academical success, he repressed at first the temptations of a literary career, and commenced the study of medicine. In his first volume of poetry he sets forth, under the pseudonym of Joseph Delorme--the considerations which led him to adopt medicine as a profession.

"La raison de Joseplı, fortifiée dès l'année par des habitudes sérieuses, et soutenue d'une immense curiosité scientifique, s'élève d'elle-même contre les inclinations du poète pour les dompter. Elle lui parla

The father of Sainte-Beuve, it may be observed, wrote his name de Sainte-Beuve. Sainte-Beuve, however, dropped the particle.

[ocr errors]

6

l'austère langage d'un père, lui représenta les illusions de la gloire, les vanités de l'imagination, sa propre condition, si médiocre et si précaire, l'incertitude des temps, et de toutes parts autour de lui les menaces des révolutions nouvelles. Que faire d'une lyre en ces jours d'orages ?-la lyre fut brisée !'

Nevertheless external circumstances, by which the career of so many authors has been directed to literature, came in to change the fate of Saint-Beuve. He had succeeded so far in the practice of medicine that, though poor and living an almost solitary life in a humble furnished apartment, he was named an élève erterne of the Hospital of Saint-Louis. When M. Dubois, one of his old professors at the Collège Charlemagne, who entertained great hopes of his talents, became editor of the Globe, invited the collaboration of his former pupil, Sainte-Beuve responded by supplying some critical articles which attracted attention, and which were especially noticed by a critic of pure and refined taste-M. Jouffroy. M. Jouffroy became his friend and counsellor in the initiatory steps of the literary career which he now resolved on adopting. In 1827 the Odes . et Ballades' of Victor Hugo-the first outbreak of that singular genius-astonished the public, and was said to have drawn from Chateaubriand himself the epithet of enfant sublime,' and to Sainte-Beuve was intrusted the task of delivering the judgment of the Globe. His criticism was favourable, but not without some restrictions in which he signalised the extravagant comparisons, the distorted metaphors and faulty diction, which have continued to characterise the productions of this gigantic but deformed writer, then about to be proclaimed chief of the Romantic School in process of formation. This article by Sainte-Beuve led to an acquaintance with Victor Hugo, and the critic submitted his own poetry to the notice and obtained the approval of the rising poet. T'he acquaintance ripened into intimacy, and Sainte-Beuve, with characteristic facility, became an enthusiastic admirer of the doctrines of the Romantic School and of the genius of its chief. He was invited to listen to the preliminary readings of Victor Hugo's drama of Cromwell’and its famous preface, and became a member of the fraternity who styled themselves somewhat profanely the · Cénacle, where his associates were Alfred de Vigny, Alfred de Musset, and the two brothers Antoine and Emile Deschamps. Under the influence of such associations and at the suggestion of M. Daunou, an academician well versed in the early literature of France, he composed his first book, published in 1828, and called Tableau de la Poésie française au XVI° siècle. The work was declared by the · Revue française' to be a marvel of criticism,

VOL. CXXXII. NO. CCLXIX.

[ocr errors]

K

cause.

and was accepted by the chiefs of the Romantic School as a brilliant service rendered by a valuable ally to their common

It transported the reader back to what may be called the præ-classical period of the literature of France, to the period antecedent to Boileau and Malherbe. Not but what Ronsard and the poets of the Pléiade who were popular for fifty years in France may in a certain sense be called classical, since they imitated largely the ancient writers; but they reigned before the classical period of the French tongue, before the Enfin Malherbe vint of Boileau. The work of Sainte-Beuve was an attempt to find ancestors for the Romantic School in the earlier French literature, and an effort at the same time to secure the fame of Ronsard from the strange oblivion into which he had fallen after astonishing popularity. In both respects he must be admitted to have been partially successful. The shade of Ronsard certainly owes a tribute of gratitude to Sainte-Beuve, whose delicacy of judgment has selected from the mass of forgotten stanzas of the poet of the Valois and of Mary Stuart various pieces which exhibit a freshness of language and a truth of nature not to be found in similar compositions under the classical régime.

In the following year Sainte-Beuve appealed himself to the public as a poet in a volume which purported to be the poetical and literary remains of a deceased student of medicine, Joseph Delorme. The volume is well worth the attention of all who would understand the character of SainteBeuve, besides containing much that is undeniably of high poetic merit. No notice of Sainte-Beuve, indeed, would be complete without some account of his poetry. The poetic fibre did undoubtedly exist in him, and though what he has written never became popular, yet he succeeded at least in earning the title of poet from such poets themselves as Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, and the two Deschamps, and from such critics as Jouffroy, Magnin, and Duvergier de Hauranne. Sainte-Beuve cherished with fondness to the last his early poetical productions; nothing gave him greater pleasure than to have the old poetic chords stirred within him, and no visitor could find an easier way to his heart than by giving him some token that he was acquainted with the pages of Joseph Delorme' and the · Consolations. In fact, we believe he looked with greater tenderness on the two volumes which contain his poetry as finally collected and revised by himself, than on all his prose writings put together. He never ceased to write verses in his leisure hours, although the failure of his last volume, the · Pensées d'Août,' in point of popularity

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »