« VorigeDoorgaan »
The French were ever a nation devoted to effect. The ancient courtier was satisfied with the painter who drew a god in the attitude of a dancing-master—and the modern mob admire the author whose hero is writhed into the grotesque contortions of a devil. The old drama was calculated for effect--the new drama is calculated for effect. The old drama was calculated for effect in the reign of Louis XIV.- the new drama is calculated for effect in the reign of Louis-Philippe. The writer, as I began by saying, is not to blame for writing differently to a different audience—the audience is not to blame because it has different feelings, derived from different habits, different pursuits, different educations. I do not blame the audience, then, for being less refined in its taste; I do not even blame the writer for being violent in the energy and ostentatious in the colouring of his piece. The milliner on Ludgate-hill does not make up the same goods for her customers as the milliner near Berkeley-square. I blame the dramatic author in France, not for the materials he uses, but-I return to the accusation for the use he makes of those materials. I blame him, because, with the same energy of action, with the same floridity of colouring, he might be moral and magnificent where he is immoral and extravagant; he might elevate his audience where he abases it; he might instruct his audience where he misleads it. I blame him for saying, that “as the political revolution of 1789 must have had its scaffolds, so the literary revolution of the present day must have its nightmares.”* I blame him for saying this, , because I believe that the one was no more necessary to public liberty than the other is to dramatic excellence.
sition, ill suited to the artificial and ostentatious character of the French-the beautiful certainly is little calculated for the restless, agitated, adventurous, and vulgar crowd, that expects to be startled at once, and cannot afford the time to have its feelings gradually and quietly developed.
The unity of the beautiful is the consequence of its perfection—but the round and graceful dome of a Greek temple, the full image of which swells out as it were over your mind while you examine it, neither surprises nor arrests your attention, like the thousand and one figures of a Gothic cathedral, which strike you as much by their variety as their horror.
But do we not see here, and in all I have just been saying, the effects of that diffusion of property of which I spoke before ? Do we not see that it is this which has removed the critics who governed the state from the stage? Do we not see that it is this which has made the persons to please, who were formerly a small set, more easily shocked by errors than struck by beauties - a great crowd, composed of that class who in every country are most struck by the marvellous, and most inclined to mistake the extraordinary for the sublime? Do we not see that it is this which has taken away the few who criticised, to leave the many who applaud ?
* M. Victor Hugo.
When the energy which had been born of a new epoch, and the equality which was based, not merely on the statute, but on the soilwhen that energy and that equality were drawn into the armies of the empire, those armies, whatever the character of their chief, were inspired by popular passions, and formed and conducted upon popular principles. It is the passions and the principles which animated the armies of France, that animate her drama. The same persons are to have the honours and enjoyments of the one, that had the honours and the dangers of the other. You must look at everything in modern France with the recollection, that it is for no polished or privileged class, but for an immense plebeian public. You must look at everything in modern France with the remembrance, that almost every Frenchman has some interest in the property of France, and expects to have some influence in her honours, emoluments, and amusements.
“ But how is this?” I can fancy my reader saying ; “ you have shown us the advantages that the division of property has had upon one branch of literature, and now you point out to us the defects as well as the beauties—the extravagance as well as the force—that it has given to another! I thought, at all events, when you entered upon the subject, that you had some startling theory to develop, and that you would prove that this division of property produced every evil or every good.” This is not what I believe; and, indeed, my object was to show, not so much how this great and pervading cause had affected the modern French literature, as to show that it had affected that literature: for if it has affected the literature, it has still more deeply affected the philosophy, the religion, the society, the agriculture, the industry, the government of France; and it is only when I have traced it through all these, and balanced its various advantages and disadvantages together, that I can be justified in giving an opinion upon one of the most important problems that modern society has to solve.
I wished to have shown in this book the literature of the day in all its branches-history, the drama, and lighter works. But I now defer the consideration of these topics, as I defer other subjects, to a succeeding portion of the present work; wherein my course will be-after reviewing the state of the periodical press, of philosophical and religious opinion-each so singular—to come to the great question with which I connect these, and shall connect other phenomena,
1,—and to take at once a view of the state of property, and its various ramifications into the literature, the philosophy, the religion, the industry, the social state, and the government of the French people.
Here we shall have opened to us the question of centralization, now so interesting, and the opportunity will occur for considering where this mode of government is an effect, where it is a cause — how far the evils it brings upon France ought to be dreaded by ourselves, how far the advantages it secures to France may be required or attained by us.
Many subjects, in reality as much domestic as political -- the army, the two chambers, the church, the budget, the system of education in France — subjects replete with questions that come home to the heart and hearth of
every Englishman, are present to my mind.
To pass by these questions in a work of this kind, I need hardly say, is far from my design;
but to have treated of them without first