was venal, ā he received a thousand pounds ster-
ling for his Latin apology for regicide : * Defensio
pro se,'i etc. Who says these things? who re-
lates these stories? That good person, your old
fawning friend, O tyrants ; your old comrade, O
traitors; your old auxiliary, O bigots; your old
comforter, O imbeciles ! ā Calumny.
Let us add one particular, ā diatribe is, upon
occasion, a means of government.
Thus in the print of * Diderot flogged,' the
hand of the police appeared, and the engraver of
the Gray Friar must have been of close kin to the
turnkey of Vincennes. Governments, more pas-
sionate than is necessary, fail to keep aloof from
the animosities of the crowd below. The political
persecution of former days ā it is of former days
that we are speaking ā willingly availed itself of
a dash of literary persecution. Certainly, hatred
1 The work referred to is probably Milton's ' Defensio Populi
Anglicani,' written by way of reply to Salmasius. ā Tr.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 255
hates without being paid for it. Envy, to do its
work does not need a minister of state to encourage
and pension it, and there is such a thing as unofficial
calumny. But a money-bag does no harm. When
Roy, the court-poet, rhymed against Voltaire,
" Tell me, daring stoic," etc., the position of
treasurer of the excise office of Clermont, and the
cross of St. Michael, were not likely to damp his
enthusiasm for the court, and his spirit against Vol-
taire. A gratuity is pleasant to receive after a ser-
vice rendered. The masters upstairs smile; you
receive the agreeable order to insult some one you
detest ; you obey amply ; you are free to bite ad
libitum; you take your fill: it is all profit; you
hate, and you give satisfaction. Formerly, autho-
rity had its scribes. It was a pack of hounds as
good as any other. Against the free rebellious
spirit, the despot would let loose the scribbler. To
torture was not sufficient; teasing was resorted to
likewise. Trissotin would hold a confabulation
with Vidocq, and from their tete-a-tete a complex
inspiration would result. Pedantry, thus supported
by the police, felt itself an integral part of authority,
and strengthened its aesthetics with legal means.
It grew haughty. No arrogance is equal to that
of the base pedant raised to the dignity of bum-
bailiff. See, after the struggle between the Armin-
ians and the Gomarists, with what a superb air
Sparanus Buyter, his pockets full of Maurice of
Nassau's florins, denounces Joost Vondel, and
proves, Aristotle in hand, that the Palamedes of
Vondel's tragedy is no other than Barneveldt ! ā
useful rhetoric, by which Buyter obtains against
256 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Vondel a fine of three hundred crowns, and for
himself a fat prebend at Dordrecht.
The author of the book, ' Literary Quarrels,' the
Abbe Irail, canon of Monistrol, asks of La Beau-
melle, " Why do you insult M. de Voltaire so
much ? " " It is because it sells well," replies La
Beaumelle. And Voltaire, informed of the ques-
tion and of the reply, concludes : " Precisely so :
the simpleton buys the writing, and the minister
buys the writer. It sells well."
Fran9oise d'Issembourg de Happoncourt, wife
of Francois Hugo, chamberlain of Lorraine, and
celebrated under the name of Madame de Graf-
figny, writes to M, Devaux, reader to King Stan-
islaus : " My dear Pampan, Atys being sent away
(Read: Voltaire being banished), the police cause
to be published against him a swarm of small writ-
ings and pamphlets, which are sold at a sou in the
caf^s and theatres. That would displease the Mar-
quise,^ if it did not please the King."
Desfontaines, that other insulter of Voltaire, ā
who had rescued him from the mad-house of
Bicetre, ā said to the Abbe Prevost, who advised
him to make his peace with the philosopher : " If
Algiers did not make war, Algiers would die of
This Desfontaines, also an abb6, died of dropsy ;
and his well-known tastes gained for him this epi-
taph : " Periit aqua qui meruit igne."
Among the publications suppressed in the last
century by decree of parliament, is found a docu-
ment printed by Quinet and Besogne, and destroyed
1 Madame de Pompadour.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 257
doubtless because of the revelations which it con-
tained, and of which the title gave promise : ' The
Aretiniad ; ^ or, Price-list of Libellers and Abusive
Men of Letters.'
Madame de Stael, exiled to a distance of forty-
five leagues from Paris, stops exactly at the forty-
five leagues, ā at Beaumont-sur-Loire, ā and thence
writes to her friends. Here is a fragment of a let-
ter addressed to Madame Gay, mother of the illus-
trious Madame de Girardin : " Ah, dear madame,
what a persecution are these exiles ! " (We sup-
press some lines.) " You write a book ; it is for-
bidden to speak of it. Your name in the journals
displeases. Permission is, however, fully given to
speak ill of it"
Sometimes the diatribe is sprinkled with quick-
All these black pen-nibs end by digging dismal
Among the writers abhorred for having been
useful, Voltaire and Rousseau stand in the first rank.
Living, they were lacerated ; dead, they were man-
gled. To have a hack at these renowned ones was
a splendid deed, and set down as such in the bills
of service of literary catchpolls. To insult Voltaire
even once, was enough to give one the rank of
1 From Pietro Aretino, the literary jackal of_ the sixteenth cen-
tury. ā Til
258 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
pedant-laureate. Men of power egged on the men
of libel. A swarm of mosquitoes settled upon
these two illustrious men, and the insects are still
Voltaire is the more hated, being the greater.
Everything was good for an attack on him, every-
thing was a pretext: the princesses of France,
Newton, Madame du Chatelet, the Princess of Prus-
sia, Maupertuis, Frederick, the Encyclopaedia, the
Academy, even Labarre, Sirven, and Calas. Never
a truce. His popularity suggested to Joseph de
Maistre this line : " Paris crowned him ; Sodom
would have banished him." Arouet was translated
into A rouer} At the house of the Abbess of
Nivelles, Princess of the Holy Empire, half recluse
and half wordling, ā having recourse, it is said, in
order to make her cheeks rosy, to the method of
the Abbess of Montbazon, ā charades were played ;
among others, this one : " The first syllable is his
fortune; the second should be his duty." The
word was Vol-taire.^ A celebrated member of the
Academy of Sciences, Napoleon Bonaparte, seeing
in 1803, in the library of the Institute, this inscrip-
tion in the centre of a crown of laurels, " To the
Great Voltaire," scratched with his nail the last
three letters, leaving only " To the Great Volta ! "
Around Voltaire especially there is a sanitary
cordon of priests, the Abbe Desfontaines at the
head, the Abbe Nicolardot at the tail. Freron,
although a layman, is a critic after the priestly
fashion, and belongs to this band.
* Deserving of bein^ oroken on the wheel. ā Tr.
* Vol, " theft," taire, " to be .Hent. " ā Tr.
WILLI AM SHAKESPEARE. 259
It was at the Bastile that Voltaire made his dibut.
His cell was next to the dungeon in which Bernard
Palissy had died. Young, he tasted the prison ;
old, he tasted exile. He was kept twenty-seven
years away from Paris.
Jean-Jacques, being wild and somewhat solitary,
was, in consequence of these traits, hunted about.
Paris issued a writ against his person ; Geneva ex-
pelled him ; Neufchatel rejected him : Motiers-
Travers condemned him ; Bienne stoned him ;
Berne gave him the choice between prison and
expulsion; London, hospitable London, scoffed
Both died at about the same time.^ Death
caused no interruption to the outrages. A man is
dead ; insult does not slacken pursuit for such a
trifle. Hatred can feast on a corpse. Libels con-
tinued, piously rabid against such glory.
The Revolution came, and placed them in the
At the beginning of this century, children were
often brought to see these two graves. They were
told, " It is here ! " That made a strong impression
on their minds. They carried forever in their
thought that vision of two sepulchres side by
side: the elliptical arch of the vault, the antique
form of the two monuments provisionally covered
with wood painted like marble ; these two names,
Rousseau, Voltaire, in the twilight ; and the
hand bearing a torch which was thrust out of
the tomb of Jean-Jacques.
Louis XVIII. returned. The restoration of the
1 Voltaire died May 30, x-jf: .jusseau, four days later. ā Tr.
260 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Stuarts had torn Cromwell from his grave; the
restoration of the Bourbons could not do less for
One night, in May, 1814, about two o'clock in
the morning, a cab stopped near the city-gate of
La Gare, opposite Bercy, at a door in a board fence.
This fence surrounded a large vacant piece of
ground, reserved for the projected warehouses, and
belonging to the city of Paris. The cab had come
from the Pantheon, and the coachman had been
ordered to take the most deserted streets. The
fence-gate was opened. Some men alighted from
the cab and entered the inclosure. Two carried
a sack between them. They were conducted, so
tradition asserts, by the Marquis de Puymaurin,
afterward deputy to the Invisible Chamber^ and
Director of the Mint, accompanied by his brother,
the Comte de Puymaurin. Other men, some in
cassocks, were awaiting them. They proceeded
toward a hole dug in the middle of the field. This
hole ā according to one of the witnesses, who has
since been a waiter at the Marronniers inn at La
Rap6e ā was round, and looked like a dry well.
At the bottom of the hole was quicklime. These
men said nothing, and had no lanterns. The wan
daybreak gave a ghastly light. The sack was
opened. It was full of bones. These were the
intermingled bones of Jean-Jacques and of Voltaire,
which had just been withdrawn from the Pantheon.
The mouth of the sack was brought close to the
hole, and the bones were thrown into that black
1 " Chambre introuvable," referring to the French Chamber of
Deputies of 181 5. ā Tr.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 26 1
pit. The two skulls struck against each other: a
spark, not likely to be seen by such men as those
present, was doubtless exchanged between the head
that had made 'The Philosophical Dictionary' and
the head that had made 'The Social Contract/ and
reconciled them. When that was done, when the
sack had been shaken, when Voltaire and Rousseau
had been emptied into that hole, a digger seized a
spade, threw into the opening the heap of earth at
the side, and filled up the grave. The others
stamped with their feet on the ground, so as to
remove from it the appearance of having been
freshly disturbed; one of the assistants took for
his trouble the sack, ā as the hangman takes the
clothing of his victim ; they left the inclosure,
shut the gate, got into the cab without saying a
word, and hastily, before the sun had risen, these
men got away.
Salmasius, that worse Scaliger, does not com-
prehend ^schylus, and rejects him. Who is to
blame? Salmasius much; ^schylus little.
The attentive man who reads great works feels
at times, in the midst of his reading, certain sudden
chills, followed by a kind of excess of heat, ā
" I no longer understand ! . . . I understand ! " ā
shivering and burning, something which causes
him to be a little upset at the same time that he
is very much struck. Only minds of the first
262 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
order, only men of supreme genius, subject to
absences in the infinite, give to the reader this
singular sensation,ā -stupor for the most, ecstasy for
a few. These few are the children of light. As
we have already observed, these select few, gather-
ing from century to century, and continually gain-
ing recruits, at last become numerous, and make
up the supreme company, the definitive public of
genius, and like it, sovereign.
It is with this public that, first or last, one must
Meanwhile there is another public; there are
other appraisers, other judges, to whom we have
just now given a word. These are not content.
The men of genius, the great minds, ā this
.^schylus, this Isaiah, this Juvenal, this Dante,
this Shakespeare, ā are beings imperious, tumul-
tuous, violent, passionate, hard riders of winged
steeds, " overleaping all boundaries," having their
own goal, which itself " is beyond the mark,"
" exaggerated," taking scandalous strides, flying
abruptly from one idea to another, and from the
North Pole to the South Pole, crossing the heavens
in three steps, making little allowance for the scant
of breath, shaken by all the winds of space, and
at the same time full of some unaccountable
equestrian confidence amidst their bounds across
the abyss, intractable to the " Aristarchs," refrac-
tory to official rhetoric, not amiable to asthmatic
literati, unsubdued to academic hygiene, preferring
the foam of Pegasus to ass's-milk.
The worthy pedants are kind enough to fear for
them. The ascent occasions a calculation of the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 263
fall. Compassionate cripples lament for Shake-
speare. He is mad ; he mounts too high ! The
mob of college scouts (they are a mob) look on in
wonder, and get angry. .^schylus and Dante
make these connoisseurs blink every moment.
This iEschylus is lost ! This Dante is near falling !
A god spreads his wings for flight: the Philis-
tines cry out to him, " Mind yourself! "
Besides, these men of genius are disconcerting.
There is no reckoning with them. Their lyric
fury obeys them ; they interrupt it when they like.
They seem wild. Suddenly they stop. Their
frenzy becomes melancholy. They are seen among
the precipices, alighting on a peak and folding
their wings ; and then they give way to meditation.
Their meditation is not less surprising than their
transport. Just now they were soaring, now they are
sinking shafts. But their audacity is ever the same.
They are pensive giants. Their Titanic revery
needs the absolute and the unfathomable for its
expansion. They meditate as the suns shine, con-
ditioned by the medium of the abyss around them.
Their roving to and fro in the ideal dizzies the
observer. Nothing is too high for them, and noth-
ing too low. They pass from the pigmy to the
Cyclops, from Polyphemus to the Myrmidons,
from Queen Mab to Caliban, from a love-affair to
a deluge, from Saturn's rings to a child's doll.
264 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Sinite panndos venire. One of their eyes is a tele-
scope, the other a microscope. They investigate
famiharly those two frightful inverse depths, ā the
infinitely great, and the infinitely little.
And one should not be angry with them ! and
one should not reproach them for all this ! In-
deed, what would result if such excesses were to
be tolerated ? What ! No scruple in the choice
of subjects, horrible or sad ; and the thought, even
if it be distressing and formidable, always relent-
lessly followed up to its extreme consequence !
These poets see only their own aim ; and in every-
thing they have an immoderate way of doing things.
What is Job? A maggot upon a sore. What is
the Divina Commedia? A series of torments.
What is the Iliad? A collection of plagues and
wounds. Not an artery cut which is not com-
placently described. Go about for opinions of
Homer ; ask Scaliger, Terrasson, Lamotte, what
they think of him. The fourth of a canto to the
shield of Achilles ā what want of proportion ! He
who does not know when to stop, never knew how
to write. These poets agitate, disturb, trouble,
upset, overwhelm, make everything shiver, break
things occasionally here and there ; they may do
mischief, ā the thing is serious ! Thus speak the
Athenaea, the Sorbonnes, the sworn professors, the
societies called " learned," Salmasius, successor of
Scaliger at the University of Leyden, and the
Philistines after them, ā all who represent in liter-
ature and art the great party of order. What can
be more natural? The cough quarrels with the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 265
Those who are poor in wit are joined by those
who have too much wit. The sceptics join hands
with the simpletons. Men of genius, with few ex-
ceptions, are proud and stern ; that is in the very-
marrow of their bones. They have in their com-
pany Juvenal, Agrippa d'Aubigne, and Milton ;
they are prone to harshness; they despise the
paneni et circenses ; they seldom grow sociable, and
they growl. People do well to rally them in a
Aha, Poet ! Aha, Milton ! Aha, Juvenal ! So
you keep up resistance ! you perpetuate disinter-
estedness ! you bring together those two firebrands,
faith and will, in order to draw flame from them !
So there is something of the Vestal in you, old
grumbler ! So you have an altar, ā your country !
you have a tripod, ā the ideal! you believe in the
rights of man, in emancipation, in the future, in
progress, in the beautiful, in the just, in what is
great ! Take care ; you are behindhand ! All
this virtue is infatuation. You emigrate with honor,
ā but you emigrate. This heroism is no longer in
good form. It no longer suits the spirit of the
time. There comes a moment when the sacred
fire is no longer fashionable. Poet, you believe in
right and truth; you are behind your age. Your
very immortality makes you a thing of the past.
So much the worse, without doubt, for those
grumbling geniuses accustomed to greatness, and
scornful of what is not great. They are slow of
movement when honor is at stake ; thei'*' back is
struck with anchylosis for anything like bowing
and cringing ; when success passes along, deserved
266 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
or not, but saluted, they have an iron bar stiffening
their vertebral column. That is their affair. So
much the worse for those antique Romans. They
are ready to be relegated to antiquarian museums.
To bristle up at every turn may have been all very
well in former days ; these unkempt manes are no
longer worn; lions went out of fashion with the
perukes. The French Revolution is nearly seventy-
five years old ; at that age dotage comes. The
people of the present time mean to belong to their
day, and even to their minute. Certainly, we find
no fault with this. Whatever is, must be ; it is
quite right that what exists should exist ; the
forms of public prosperity are diverse ; one gen-
eration is not bound to imitate another, Cato took
example from Phocion ; Trimalchio, who is suf-
ficiently unlike either, embodies the idea of inde-
pendence. You bad-tempered old fellows, you
wish us to emancipate ourselves? Let it be so.
We disencumber ourselves of the imitation of
Timoleon, Thrasea, Artevelde, Thomas More,
Hampden. This is our way of emancipating our-
selves. You wish for a revolt, ā there it is. You
wish for an insurrection, ā we rise up against our
rights. We enfranchise ourselves from the solici-
tudes of freedom. Citizenship is a heavy burden.
Rights entangled with obligations are shackles to
one who desires mere enjoyment. It is fatiguing
to be guided by conscience and truth in all the
steps that we take. We mean to walk without
leading-strings and without principles. Duty is a
chain ; we break our shackles. What do you mean
by speaking to us of Franklin ? Franklin is a rather
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 267
too servile copy of Aristides. We carry our horror
of servility so far as to prefer Grimod de la Reyniere.
To eat and drink well is an aim in life. Each epoch
has its peculiar manner of being free. Feasting is
freedom. This way of reasoning is triumphant ; to
adhere to it is wise. There have been, it is true,
epochs when people thought otherwise. In those
times the things which were trodden on would
sometimes resent it, and would rebel; but that
was the ancient fashion, ridiculous now; and tire-
some people and croakers must just be allowed to
go on affirming that there was a better notion of
right, justice, and honor in the paving-stones of
yore than in the men of the present
The rhetoricians, official and officious, ā we have
pointed out already their wonderful sagacity, ā take
strong precautions against men of genius. Men of
genius are but slightly academic; what is more,
they do not abound in commonplaces. They are
lyrists, colorists, enthusiasts, enchanters, possessed,
exalted, "rabid," ā we have read the word, ā beings
who, when everybody is small, have a mania for
creating great characters ; in fact, they have every
vice. A doctor has recently discovered that genius
is a variety of madness. They are Michael Angelo
chiselling giants, Rembrandt painting with a pal-
ette all bedaubed with the sun's rays ; they are
Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, ā excessive. They
bring with them a style of art wild, howling, flam-
ing, dishevelled like the lion and the comet. Oh,
shocking ! People are right in forming combina-
tions against them. It is a fortunate circumstance
that the " teetotallers " of eloquence and poetry
268 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
exist. " I admire pallor," said a literary Philistine
one day, ā for there is a literary Philistine. Rhet-
oricians, solicitous on account of the contagions
and fevers which are spread by genius, recommend,
with a lofty wisdom which we have commended,
temperance, moderation, " common sense," the art
of keeping within bounds ; writers expurgated,
trimmed, pruned, regulated; the worship of the
qualities that the malignant call negative, ā conti-
nence, abstinence, Joseph, Scipio, the water-drinkers.
All this is excellent ; only young students must be
warned that by following these sage precepts too
closely they run the risk of glorifying the chastity
of the eunuch. Perhaps I admire Bayard; I ad-
mire Origen less.
Summary statement: Great minds are impor-
tunate; it is judicious to restrain them a little.
After all, let us admit it at last, and complete
our statement : there is some truth in the re-
proaches that are hurled at them. This anger is
natural. The powerful, the grand, the luminous,
are, from a certain point of view, things calculated
to offend. To be surpassed is never agreeable ;
to feel one's own inferiority is to feel a pang. The
beautiful exists so truly by itself that it certainly
has no need of pride; nevertheless, given human
mediocrity, the beautiful humiliates at the same
time that it enchants : it seems natural that beauty
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 269
should be a vase for pride, ā a brimming vase;
so that the pleasure beauty gives is tainted with
resentment, and the word " superb " comes finally to
have two senses, one of which breeds distrust of the
other. This is the fault of the beautiful, as we
have already said. It wearies : a sketch by Pira-
nesi disconcerts you ; the hand-grasp of Hercules
bruises you. Greatness is sometimes in the wrong.
It is ingenuous, but obstructive. The tempest
thinks to sprinkle you : it drowns you ; the star
thinks to give light: it dazzles, sometimes blinds.
The Nile fertilizes, but overflows. Excess does
not comport with comfort : the deeps of space
form but an inhospitable dwelling-place ; the
infinite is scarcely tenantable. A cottage is badly
situated on the cataract of Niagara, or in the circus
of Gavarnie ; it is awkward to keep house with
these fierce wonders : to frequent them regularly
without being overwhelmed, one must be a cretin
or a genius.
The dawn itself at times seems to us immoderate :
he who looks straight at it, suffers; the eye at
certain moments thinks very ill of the sun. Let
us not, then, be surprised at the complaints made,
at the incessant protests, at the fits of passion and
prudence, at the poultices applied by a certain
school of criticism, at the chronic ophthalmy of
academies and teaching bodies, at the precautions
suggested to the reader, at all the curtains drawn
and at all the shades set up against genius.
Genius is intolerant unawares, because it is genius.
What familiarity is possible with iEschylus, with
Ezekiel, with Dante?
2/0 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
The self is one's title to egoism. Now, the first
thing that those beings do, is to shock the self of
every man. Exorbitant in everything, ā in thoughts,
in images, in convictions, in emotions, in passion,
in faith, ā whatever may be the side of yourself
to which they address themselves, they disturb it.
They overshoot your intelligence ; they dazzle the
inner eye of imagination ; they question and search