dream ; elsewhere he thinks.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 287
VVe say more : where he dreams, he still thinks ;
with a profundity different, but not inferior.
Let men of genius remain in peace in their ori-
ginality. There is something wild in these mysteri-
ous civilizers. Even in their comedy, even in their
buffoonery, even in their laughter, even in their
smile, there is the unknown. In them is felt the
sacred dread that belongs to art, and the all-power-
ful terror of the imaginary mingled with the real.
Each of them is in his cavern, alone. They hear
each other from afar, but never copy. We are not
aware that the hippopotamus imitates the roar of
Lions do not ape each other.
Diderot does not recast Bayle ; Beaumarchais
does not copy Plautus, and has no need of Davus
to create Figaro ; Piranesi is not inspired by
Daedalus; Isaiah does not begin again the work
One day, at St. Helena, M. de las Casas said,
" Sire, had I been like you, master of Prussia, I
should have taken the sword of Frederick the Great
from the tomb at Potsdam, and I should have worn
it." "Fool," replied Napoleon, "I had my own."
Shakespeare's work is absolute, sovereign, im-
perious, eminently solitary, unneighborly, sublime
in radiance, absurd in reflection, and must remain
without a copy.
To imitate Shakespeare would be as insane as to
imitate Racine would be stupid.
288 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Let us agree, by the way, respecting a designa-
tion much used on every hand, — " profanum vul-
gus," a word of a poet emphasized by pedants.
This " profanum vulgus " seems to be everybody's
missile. Let us fix the meaning of this word.
What is the "vulgar herd"? The school says,
" It is the people." And we, for our part, say, " It
is the school."
But let us first define this expression, " the
school." When we say " the school," what must
be understood? Let us explain. The school is
the resultant of pedantry ; the school is the liter-
ary excrescence of the budget; the school is in-
tellectual mandarinship governing in the various
authorized and official teachings, either of the
press or of the state, from the theatrical fetiilletou
of the prefecture to the biographies and encyclo-
paedias duly examined and stamped and hawked
about, and made sometimes, by way of refinement,
by republicans agreeable to the police ; the school
is the classic and scholastic orthodoxy, with its
unbroken girdle of walls, Homeric and Virgiiian
antiquity traded upon by official and licensed lit-
erati, — a sort of China calling itself Greece ; the
school is, summed up in one concretion which
forms part of public order, all the knowledge of
pedagogues, all the history of historiographers,
all the poetry of laureates, all the philosophy of
WILLI A Af SHAKESPEARE. 289
sophists, all the criticism of pedants, all the ferules
of the teaching friars, all the religion of bigots, all
the modesty of prudes, all the metaphysics of par-
tisans, all the justice of placemen, all the old age
of dapper young men bereft of their virility, all
the flattery of courtiers, all the diatribes of censer-
bearers, all the independence of flunkeys, all the
certitudes of short sights and of base souls. The
school hates Shakespeare. It detects him in the
very act of mingling with the people, going to and
fro in public thoroughfares, " trivial," having a
word for every man, speaking the language of
the people, uttering the human cry like any other,
accepted by those whom he accepts, applauded
by hands black with tar, cheered by the hoarse
throats of all those who come from labor and from
weariness. The drama of Shakespeare is for the
people ; the school is indignant, and says, " Odi
profanum vulgus." There is demagogy in this
poetry roaming at large ; the author of ' Hamlet *
** panders to the mob."
Be it so. The poet " panders to the mob."
If anything is great, it is that.
In the foreground everywhere, in full light,
amidst the flourish of trumpets, are the powerful
men, followed by the gilded men. The poet does
not see them, or, if he does, he disdains them.
He lifts his eyes and looks at God ; then he drops
his eyes and looks at the people. There in the
depths of shadow, wellnigh invisible by reason of
its submersion in darkness, is that fatal crowd, that
vast and mournful heap of suffering, that venerable
populace of the tattered and of the ignorant, —
290 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
a chaos of souls. That crowd of heads undulates
obscurely like the waves of a nocturnal sea. From
time to time there pass over that surface, like
squalls over the water, catastrophes, — a war, a
pestilence, a royal favorite, a famine. This causes
a tremor of but brief duration, the deeps of sor-
row being calm, like the deeps of the sea. Despair
leaves in the soul a dreadful weight, as of lead.
The last word of the abyss is stupor. This is the
night. Such is, beneath the mournful glooms
amid which all is indistinct, the sombre sea of the
These burdened ones are silent ; they know
nothing, they can do nothing, they think nothing :
they simply endure. Plectutititr Achivi. They
are hungry and cold. Their indelicate flesh ap-
pears through their tatters. Who makes those
tatters? The purple. The nakedness of virgins
comes from the nudity of odalisques. From the
twisted rags of the daughters of the people fall
pearls for the Fontanges and the Chateauroux. It
is famine that gilds Versailles. The whole of this
living and dying shadow moves ; these spectral
forms are in the pangs of death; the mother's
breast is dry, the father has no work, the brain has
no light. If there is a book in that destitution it
resembles the pitcher, so insipid or corrupt is
what it offers to the thirst of the mind. Mournful
The group of the little ones is wan. This whole
mass expires and creeps, not having even the
power to love; and perhaps unknown to them,
while they bow and submit, from all that vast
WILLI A Af SHAKESPEARE. 29 1
unconsciousness in which Right dwells, from the
inarticulate murmur of those wretched breaths
mingled together proceeds an indescribable, con-
fused voice, a mysterious fog of expression, suc-
ceeding, syllable by syllable in the darkness, in
uttering wonderful words : Future, Humanity,
Liberty, Equalit}'-, Progress. And the poet lis-
tens, and he hears; and he looks, and he sees;
and he bends lower and lower, and he weeps ; and
then, growing with a strange growth, drawing from
all that darkness his own transfiguration, he stands
erect, terrible and tender, above all these wretched
ones — those of high place as well as those of low
— with flaming eyes.
And with a loud voice he demands a reckoning.
And he says. Here is the effect ! And he says,
Here is the cause ! Light is the remedy. Eru-
dimini. He is like a great vase full of humanity
shaken by the hand within the cloud, from which
should fall to earth great drops, — fire for the
oppressors, dew for the oppressed. Ah ! you deem
that an evil? Well, we, for our part, approve it.
It seems to us right that some one should speak
when all are suffering. The ignorant who enjoy
and the ignorant who suffer have equal need of
instruction. The law of fraternity is derived from
the law of labor. The practice of killing one
another has had its day; the hour has come for
loving one another. It is to promulgate these
truths that the poet is good. For that, he must
be of the people; for that, he must be of the
populace: that is to say, the poet, as he leads in
progress, should not draw back before the elbow-
292 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
ing of facts, however ugly the facts may be. The
actual distance between the real and the ideal
cannot otherwise be measured. Besides, to drag
the ball and chain a little completes a Vincent de
Paul. To steel themselves, therefore, to promis-
cuous contact with trivial things, to the popular
metaphor, to the great life in common with those
exiles from joy who are called the poor, — such is
the first duty of poets. It is useful, it is necessary,
that the breath of the people should traverse these
all-powerful souls. The people have something to
say to them. It is good that there should be in
Euripides a flavor of the herb-dealers of Athens,
and in Shakespeare of the sailors of London.
Sacrifice to " the mob," O poet ! Sacrifice to
that unfortunate, disinherited, vanquished, vaga-
bond, shoeless, famished, repudiated, despairing
mob ; sacrifice to it, if it must be and when it must
be, thy repose, thy fortune, thy joy, thy country,
thy liberty, thy life. The mob is the human race
in misery. The mob is the mournful beginning of
the people. The mob is the great victim of dark-
ness. Sacrifice to it! Sacrifice thyself! Let thy-
self be hunted, let thyself be exiled like Voltaire
to Ferney, like D'Aubigne to Geneva, like Dante
to Verona, like Juvenal to Syene, like Tacitus to
Methymna, like ^schylus to Gela, like John to
Patmos, like Elijah to Horeb, like Thucydides
to Thrace, like Isaiah to Ezion-geber! Sacrifice
to the mob. Sacrifice to it thy gold, and thy blood
which is more than thy gold, and thy thought
which is more than thy blood, and thy love which
is more than thy thought ; sacrifice to it every-
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 293
thing except justice. Receive its complaint;
listen to it touching its faults and touching the
faults of others ; hear its confession and its accu-
sation. Give it thy ear, thy hand, thy arm, thy
heart. Do everything for it, excepting evil. Alas !
it suffers so much, and it knows nothing. Correct
it, warn it, instruct it, guide it, train it. Put it to
the school of honesty. Make it spell truth, show
it the alphabet of reason, teach it to read virtue,
probity, generosity, mercy. Hold thy book wide
open. Be there, attentive, vigilant, kind, faithful,
humble. Light up the brain, inflame the mind,
extinguish selfishness ; and thyself give the ex-
ample. The poor are privation ; be thou abnega-
tion. Teach ! irradiate ! they need thee ; thou art
their great thirst. To learn is the first step; to
live is but the second. Be at their command :
dost thou hear? Be ever there in the form of
light ! For it is beautiful on this sombre earth,
during this dark life, brief passage to something be-
yond, — it is beautiful that Force should have Right
for a master, that Progress should have Courage as
a leader, that Intelligence should have Honor as a
sovereign, that Conscience should have Duty as
a despot, that Civilization should have Liberty as
a queen, and that the servant of Ignorance should
be the Light.
THE MINDS AND THE MASSES.
EMORABLE things have been done during
the last eighty years. The pavement is
cluttered with the rubbish of a vast demolition.
What is done is but little compared with what
remains to be done.
To destroy, is mere task-work ; the work of the
artist is to build. Progress demolishes with the
left hand ; it is with the right hand that it builds.
The left hand of Progress is called Force; the
right hand is called Mind.
A great deal of useful destruction has, up to this
hour, been accomplished ; all the old cumbersome
civilization is, thanks to our fathers, cleared away.
It is well; it is finished, it is thrown down, it is
on the ground. Up, now, O intelligences ! gird
yourselves for work, for travail, for fatigue, for
duty ; it becomes necessary to construct.
Here are three questions, —
To construct what?
To construct where?
To construct how?
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 295
We reply, —
To construct the people.
To construct it according to the laws of progress.
To construct it by means of light.
To work for the people, — this is the great and
It is important, at the present time, to bear in
mind that the human soul has still greater need of
the ideal than of the real.
It is by the real that we exist ; it is by the ideal
that we live. Would you realize the difference?
Animals exist, man lives. ^
To live, is to understand. To live, is to smile
at the present ; it is to be able to see over the
wall of the future. To live, is to have in one's self
a balance, and to weigh in it good and evil. To
live, is to have justice, truth, reason, devotion,
probity, sincerity, common-sense, right, and duty
welded to the heart. To live, is to know what one
is worth, what one can do and should do. Life is
conscience. Cato would not rise before Ptolemy,
Cato really lived.
Literature secretes civilization, poetry secretes
the ideal. That is why literature is one of the
1 Perhaps it should be noted that, in the original, existence is
made the higher, more absolute mode of being; e.g.^ "Les ani-
maux vivent, rhomme existe." — Tr,
296 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
wants of societies ; that is why poetry is a hunger
of the soul.
That is why poets are the first instructors of the
That is why Shakespeare must be translated in
That is why Moli^re must be translated in
That is why comments must be made on them.
That is why there must be a vast public literary
That is why all the poets, all the philosophers,
all the thinkers, all the producers of nobility of
soul must be translated, commented on, published,
printed, reprinted, stereotyped, distributed, hawked
about, explained, recited, spread abroad, given to
all, given cheaply, given at cost price, given for
Poetry evolves heroism. M. Royer-Collard, that
original and ironical friend of routine, was, taken
for all in all, a wise and noble spirit. Some one
we know heard him say one day, " Spartacus is
That dreadful and consoling Ezekiel, the tragic
revealer of progress, has all kinds of singular pas-
sages full of a profound meaning: "The voice
said to me, Fill thine hand with coals of fire from
between the cherubim, and scatter them over the
city." And elsewhere : " The spirit having gone
into them, whithersoever the spirit was to go they
went." And again : " Behold, a hand was sent
unto me; and lo, a roll of a book was therein.
The voice said unto me : Eat this roll. Then did
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 297
I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for
sweetness." ^ To eat the book is a strange and
striking image, embodying the whole formula of
perfectibility, which is made up of knowledge
above, and of instruction below.
We have just said : " Literature secretes civiliza-
tion." Do you doubt it? Open the first statistics
you come across.
Here is one fact which we find under our hand :
Toulon Penitentiary, 1862. Three thousand and
ten prisoners. Of these three thousand and ten
convicts, forty know a little more than to read and
write, two hundred and eighty-seven know how to
read and write, nine hundred and four read badly
and write badly, seventeen hundred and seventy-
nine can neither read nor write. In this wretched
crowd, all the merely mechanical trades are repre-
sented by numbers decreasing as you rise toward
the enlightened professions ; and you arrive at
this final result, — goldsmiths and jewellers in the
prison, four; ecclesiastics, three; attorneys, two ;
actors, one; musicians, one; men of letters, not
The transformation of the crowd into the people,
— profound task ! It is to this labor that the men
called Socialists have devoted themselves during
the last forty years. The author of this book,
however insignificant he may be, is one of the oldest
in this labor. ' The Last Day of a Condemned Pris-
oner' dates from 1828, and 'Claude Gueux ' from
1834. If he claims his place among these philoso-
1 In this passage, as elsewhere, the quotations appear to be
made from memory. — Tr.
298 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
phers, it is because it is a place of persecution. A
certain hatred of Socialism, very blind, but very
general, has raged for fifteen or sixteen years, and
is still raging most bitterly among the influential
classes (classes, then, are still in existence?). Let it
not be forgotten that true Socialism has for its end
the elevation of the masses to the civic dignity, and
that, therefore, its principal care is for moral and
The first hunger is ignorance ; Socialism wishes,
then, above all, to instruct. That does not hinder
Socialism from being calumniated, and Socialists
from being denounced. To most of the infuriated
tremblers who have the public ear at the present
moment, these reformers are public enemies ; they
are guilty of everything that has gone wrong. " O
Romans ! " said Tertullian, " we are just, kind,
thinking, lettered, honest men. We meet to pray,
and we love you because you are our brethren. We
are gentle and peaceable like little children, and
we wish for concord among men. Neverthe-
less, O Romans, if the Tiber overflows, or if the
Nile does not, you cry, *To the lions with the
Christians ! ' "
The democratic idea, the new bridge of civiliza-
tion, is just now undergoing the formidable trial
of overweight. Every other idea would certainly
give way under the load that it is made to bear.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 299
Democracy proves its solidity by the absurdities
that are heaped upon it without shaking it. It
must bear everything that people choose to place
upon it. At this moment they are attempting to
make it carry despotism.
"The people have no need of liberty," — such
was the password of a certain innocent but deluded
school, the head of which has been dead some
years. That poor honest dreamer sincerely be-
lieved that progress can continue without freedom.
We have heard him put forth, probably without in-
tention, this aphorism : " Freedom is good for the
rich." Such maxims have the disadvantage of not
being prejudicial to the establishment of empires.
No, no, no ; nothing without freedom !
Servitude is the soul blinded. Can you picture
to yourself a man voluntarily blind ? This terrible
thing exists. There are willing slaves. A smile
in irons! Can anything be more hideous? He
who is not free is not a man ; he who is not free
has no sight, no knowledge, no discernment, no
growth, no comprehension, no will, no faith, no
love ; he has no wife and children, he has only
a female with young: he lives not. Ab luce
priiicipitifn. Freedom is the apple of the eye ;
freedom is the visual organ of progress.
To attempt, because freedom has inconveniences
and even perils, to produce civilization without it,
would be like attempting to cultivate the ground
without the sun, — which is also a not unexcep-
tionable star. One day, in the too beautiful summer
of 1829, a critic, now forgotten, — and wrongly, for
he was not without some talent, — M. P., feeling
300 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
too warm, exclaimed as he mended his pen: "I
am going to write down the sun."
Certain social theories, very distinct from Social-
ism as we understand it and desire it, have gone
astray. Let us discard all that resembles the con-
vent, the barrack, the cell, and the straight line.
Paraguay minus the Jesuits is Paraguay just the
same. To give a new shape to the evil is not a useful
task. To remodel the old slavery would be stupid.
Let the nations of Europe beware of a despotism
made anew from materials which to some extent
they have themselves supplied. Such a thing,
cemented with a special philosophy, might easily
endure. We have just mentioned the theorists,
some of them otherwise upright and sincere, who,
through fear of a dispersion of activities and ener-
gies, and of what they call " anarchy," have arrived
at an almost Chinese acceptance of absolute social
centralization. They turn their resignation into a
doctrine. Provided man eats and drinks, all is
right. The happiness of the beast is the solution.
But this is a happiness which others might call by
a different name.
We dream for nations something besides a felicity
made up solely of obedience. The bastinado sums
up that sort of felicity for the Turkish fellah, the
knout for the Russian serf, and the cat-o'-nine-tails
for the English soldier. These Socialists outside
of Socialism derive from Joseph de Maistre and
from Ancillon, perhaps without suspecting it ; for
these ingenious theorists, the partisans of the " deed
accomplished," have — or fancy they have — dem-
ocratic intentions, and speak energetically of " the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 30I
principles of '89." Let these involuntary philoso-
phers of a possible despotism reflect that to indoc-
trinate the masses against freedom, to allow appetite
and fatalism to get a hold upon the minds of men,
to saturate them with materialism and expose them
to the results, — this would be to understand pro-
gress in the fashion of that worthy man who ap-
plauded a new gibbet and exclaimed, "Excellent!
We have had till now only an old wooden gallows ;
but times have changed for the better, and here
we are with a good stone gibbet, which will do for
our children and our grandchildren I "
To enjoy a full stomach, a satisfied digestion, a
satiated belly, is doubtless something, for it is the
enjoyment of the brute. However, one may set
one's ambition higher.
Certainly, a good salary is a fine thing. To
have beneath one's feet the firm ground of good
wages, is pleasant. The wise man likes to want
nothing. To assure his own position is the char-
acteristic of an intelligent man. An official chair,
with ten thousand sesterces a year, is a graceful
and convenient seat; liberal emoluments give a
fresh complexion and good health ; one lives to an
old age in pleasant well-paid sinecures ; the high
financial world, abounding in profits, is a place
agreeable to live in; to be on a good footing at
302 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
court settles a family well and brings a fortune.
As for myself, I prefer to all these solid comforts
the old leaky vessel in which Bishop Quodvultdeus
embarks with a smile.
There is something beyond satisfying one's ap-
petite. The goal of man is not the goal of the
A moral lift is necessary. The life of nations,
like the life of individuals, has its moments of de-
pression ; these moments pass, certainly, but no
trace of them ought to remain. Man, at this day,
tends to fall into the stomach : man must be re-
placed in the heart, man must be replaced in the
brain. The brain, — this is the bold sovereign that
must be restored ! The social question requires
to-day, more than ever, to be examined on the side
of human dignity.
To show man the human goal ; to ameliorate
intelligence first, the animal afterward ; to contemn
the flesh as long as the thought is despised, and to
set the example upon their own flesh, — such is
the actual, immediate, urgent duty of writers.
This is what men of genius have done at all
You ask in what poets can be useful. Simply
this, — in permeating civilization with light.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 303
Up to this day there has been a literature for
the lettered. In France particularly, as we have
already said, literature tended to form a caste. To
be a poet was something like being a mandarin.
Words did not all belong by right to the language ;
registration was granted or refused by the dictio-
nary. The dictionary had a will of its own. Imag-
ine the botanist declaring to a vegetable that it
does not exist, and Nature timidly offering an in-
sect to entomology which refuses it as incorrect !
Imagine astronomy cavilling at the stars ! We
recollect having heard an academician, now dead,
say before the full Academy that French had been
spoken in France only in the seventeenth century,
and then for but twelve years, — we no longer re-
collect which years. Let us abandon — for it is
time — this order of ideas; democracy requires
it. The present enlargement of thought demands
something else. Let us forsake the college, the
conclave, the cell, trivial tastes, trivial art, the
Poetry is not a coterie. An effort is now being
made to galvanize things that are defunct. Let us
strive against this tendency. Let us insist on the
truths that are urgent The masterpieces recom-
mended by the manual for the bachelorship, com-
pliments in verse and in prose, tragedies serving
merely as canopies over the head of some king,
304 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
inspiration in full dress, decorated big-wigs laying
down the laws of poetry, the manuals of poetic art
which forget La Fontaine and for which Moliere is
a " perhaps," the Planats emasculating the Cor-
neilles, prudish tongues, thought shut in between