The glory of Shakespeare reached England from
abroad. There was almost a definite day and hour
when one might have been present at the landing
of his fame at Dover.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 355
It required three hundred years for England to
catch those two words that the whole world shouted
in her ear, — " William Shakespeare."
What is England? She is Elizabeth. No incar-
nation is more complete. In admiring Elizabeth,
England worships her own image in the glass.
Proud and magnanimous, but strangely hypo-
critical, great but pedantic, able but haughty,
at once daring and prudish, having favorites but
no masters, even in her bed her own mistress, all-
powerful queen, inaccessible woman, — Elizabeth
is a virgin as England is an island. Like England,
she calls herself Empress of the sea, Basilea maris.
A dreadful deep, swept by the wraths that spare
not even Essex, and by the tempests that engulf
armadas, defends this virgin and this island from
all approach. The ocean is the guardian of this
modesty. A certain celibacy, in fact, constitutes
the genius of England. Alliances there may be,
but no marriage. The world must always keep
its distance. To live alone, to go alone, to reign
alone, to be alone, — such is Elizabeth, such is
On the whole, a remarkable queen, and a won-
Shakespeare, on the contrary, is a sympathetic
genius. To him, insularity, far from being a source
of strength, is a bond which he would gladly break,
A little more, and Shakespeare would be European.
He loves and praises France ; he calls her " the
soldier of God." Moreover, in that prudish nation
he is the free poet
England has two books, one which she has
h m-T ■ ~ r ii I I i r- ' ~ • '~ i — ' - ~ - • ■ -n 11 ■ -Timfi n II MM
356 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
made, the other which has made her, — Shakespeare
and the Bible. These two books do not altogether
agree ; the Bible opposes Shakespeare.
(^ertainly, as a literary book, the Bible — that
vast Oriental beaker, brimming with poetry even
more than Shakespeare — might harmonize with
him ; but from a social and religious point of view
it abhors him. Shakespeare thinks, Shakespeare
dreams, Shakespeare doubts. There is in him
something of that Montaigne whom he loved.
\ The " To be, or not to be," comes from the "What
; do I know?" of Montaigne.
Moreover, Shakespeare has the grievous habit
of invention. Faith excommunicates imagination.
In respect to fables. Faith is a bad neighbor, and
licks none but her own cubs. One recollects
Solon's staff raised against Thespis ; one recol-
lects Omar's firebrand waved over Alexandria.
The situation is always the same. Modern fanati-
cism has inherited that staff and that firebrand.
This is true in Spain, and is not false in England.
I have heard an Anglican bishop, in discussing
the Iliad, sum up all in this crushing assertion :
" It is not true." Now, Shakespeare can be de-
scribed, much more truly than Homer, as " a liar."
Two or three years ago the journals announced
that a French writer had just sold a novel for four
hundred thousand francs. This made a noise in
England. A conformist paper exclaimed, " How
can a falsehood be sold at such a price?"
Besides, two words, all-powerful in England,
range themselves against Shakespeare and block
his way, — " Improper ! " " Shocking ! " Let it be
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 357
noted that in a multitude of places the Bible also is
"improper," and Holy Writ is "shocking." The
Bible, even in French, and through the rough lips
of Calvin, does not hesitate to say, "Tu as paillard^,
Jerusalem." ^ These crudities form a part of poe-
try as well as of anger, and the prophets, those angry
poets, do not abstain from them. Coarse words
are constantly on their lips. But England, which
is continually reading the Bible, pretends not to
notice this. Nothing equals the power of volun-
tary deafness in fanatics. Would you have another
example of this deafness? Roman orthodoxy has
not to this day admitted the brothers and sisters of
Jesus Christ, although authenticated by the four
Evangelists. It is in vain that Matthew says :
" Behold, his mother and his brethren stood with-
out. . . . And his brethren, James, and Joses, and
Simon, and Judas. And his sisters, are they
not all with us?" In vain Mark insists: "Is not
this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother
of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon?
and are not his sisters here with us?" In vain
Luke repeats : " Then came to him his mother
and his brethren." In vain John adds : " He, and
his mother and his brethren. . . . Neither did
his brethren believe in him. . . . But when his
brethren were gone up," — Catholicism does not
To make up for this deafness, Puritanism turns
a sensitive ear toward Shakespeare, — of whom the
Rev. John Wheeler says, he is " like all poets,
something of a Pagan." Intolerance and incon-
1 Ezekielxvi. 28, and passim. — Tr.
358 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
sistency are sisters. Besides, in the matter of
proscribing and damning, logic is superfluous.
When Shakespeare, by the mouth of Othello,
calls Desdemona " whore," there is general in-
dignation, unanimous revolt, universal scandal.
Who is this Shakespeare? All the Biblical sects
stop their ears, forgetting that Aaron applies
exactly the same epithet to Sephora, wife of
Moses. It is true that this occurs in an apoc-
ryphal work, 'The Life of Moses;' but the
apocryphal works are quite as authentic as the
Hence the dogged coldness of England toward
Shakespeare. Her attitude toward him is still that
of Elizabeth, — at least we fear so ; we should be
happy to be contradicted. We are more ambitious
for the glory of England than England is herself.
This cannot displease her.
England has a strange institution, " the poet
laureate," which attests the official, and perhaps
the national admirations. Under Elizabeth, and
during Shakespeare's life, England's poet was
Past, indeed, are the days when the playbills
read : " Macbeth, Opera of Shakespeare, altered
by Sir William Davenant." But if ' Macbeth ' is
played, it is before a small audience. Kean and
Macready have failed in it.
1 This " strange institution " seems not to have existed in
Elizabeth's time ; and it is difficult to understand in what sense
Scotch Drummond of Hawthornden can be called " England's
poet " under Elizabeth, since he was but eighteen when Elizabeth
died, and published his first volume of poetry ten years later. —
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 359
At this hour they would not play Shakespeare
on any English stage without erasing from the text
the word " God " wherever they find it. In the full
tide of the nineteenth century, the Lord Chamber-
lain is still an incubus upon Shakespeare. In
England, outside the church, the word " God " is
not made use of. In conversation they replace
"God" by "Goodness." In the editions or in the
representations of Shakespeare, " God " is replaced
by " Heaven." What matters it that the sense is
perverted, that the verse limps? "Lord! Lord!
Lord ! " the last outcry of expiring Desdemona,
was suppressed by official command in the edition
of Blount and Jaggard in 1623. They do not utter
it on the stage.^ " Sweet Jesus ! " would be a
blasphemy ; a devout Spanish woman on the Eng-
lish stage is bound to exclaim " Sweet Jupiter ! "
Do we exaggerate? Would you have a proof?
Let us open ' Measure for Measure.' There is a
nun, Isabella. Whom does she invoke? Jupiter.
Shakespeare wrote it " Jesus." *
1 The laflt words of Desdemona are, —
" Commend me to my kinde Lord t oh farewell."
Her " kinde Lord " is not, as a Frenchman might naturally think,
her God, but her husband. — Tr.
2 On the other hand, however, in spite of all the Lord Cham-
berlains, it is difficult to beat the French censorship. Religions
are diverse, but bigotry is one, and is the same in all its specimens.
What we are about to write is an extract from the notes added to
his translation by the new translator of Shakespeare • —
" * Jesus I Jesus 1 ' This exclamation of Shallow was expunged in the
edition of 1623, conformably to the statute which forbade the utterance of
the name of the Divinity on the stage. It is worthy of remark that our
modem theatre has had to undergo, under the scissors of the Bourbon
censorship, the same stupid mutilatioas to° which the censorship of the
360 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
The tone of a certain Puritanical criticism toward
Shakespeare is, most certainly, improved ; yet the
cure is not complete.
It is not many years since an English economist,
a man of authority, making, in the midst of social
questions, a literary excursion, affirmed, in a lofty
digression, and without showing the slightest diffi-
dence, this : " Shakespeare cannot live because he
has treated subjects for the most part foreign or
ancient, — 'Hamlet,' 'Othello,' 'Romeo and Juliet,'
* Macbeth,' * Lear,' ' Julius Caesar,' ' Coriolanus,'
* Timon of Athens,' etc. Now, nothing is viable in
literature except matters of immediate observation,
and works relating to subjects of contemporary
interest." What say you to this theory? We
should not mention it if it had not found ap-
provers in England and propagators in France.
Besides Shakespeare, it simply excludes from lit-
erary " life " Schiller, Corneille, Milton, Virgil,
Euripides, Sophocles, ^Eschylus, and Homer. It
is true that it surrounds with a halo of glory Aulus
Stuarts condemned the theatre of Shakespeare. I read what follows in the
first page of the manuscript of ' Hemani,' which I have in my hands : —
' Received at the Th^atre-Franfais, Oct. 8, 1829.
' The Stage-manager.
And below, in red ink :
' On condition of expunging the name of " Jesus " wherever found, and con*
forming to the alterations marked at pages 27, 28, 29, 62, 74, and 76.
' The Secretary of State for the Department of the Interior,
' La Bourdonnavb.'
(Vol. XI. Notes on ' Richard II.' and ' Henry IV.,' note 71, p. 462.) "
We may add that in the scenery representing Saragossa (second
act of * Hemani ') it was forbidden to introduce any belfry or any
church, — a prohibition which made resemblance rather difiScult,
Saragossa having had, in the sixteenth century, three hundred and
nine churches, and six hundred and seventeen convents.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 36 1
GelHus and Restif de la Bretonne. O critic, this
Shakespeare is not viable, — he is only immortal !
About the same time another — English also,
but of the Scotch school, a Puritan of that dis-
contented variety of which Knox is the head —
declared poetry to be childishness ; rejected beauty
of style as an obstacle interposed between the
thought and the reader ; saw in Hamlet's soliloquy
only " a cold lyricism," and in Othello's adieu to
camps and banners only " a declamation ; " likened
the metaphors of poets to colored prints in books,
fit only to amuse babies ; and showed a particular
contempt for Shakespeare, as " bedaubed from one
end to the other with those bright pictures."
Not longer ago than last January, a witty London
paper was asking with indignant irony who is the
more celebrated in England, Shakespeare, or " Mr.
Calcraft, the hangman." " There are localities in
this enlightened country where, if you utter the
name of Shakespeare, they will answer you : ' I
don't know what this Shakespeare may be, about
whom you make all this fuss, but I will back
Hammer Lane of Birmingham to fight him for
five pounds.' But no mistake is made about
1 'Daily Telegraph,' Jan. 13, 1864.
362 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
At all events, Shakespeare has not the monu-
ment that England owes to him.
France, let us admit, is not, in like cases, much
prompter. Another glory, very different from
Shakespeare, but not less grand, Joan of Arc,
waits also, and has waited long, for a national
monument — a monument worthy of her.
This land, which was once Gaul, and where the
Velledas reigned, has, in a Catholic and historic
sense, as patronesses two august figures, Mary and
Joan. The one, holy, is the Virgin; the other,
heroic, is the Maid. Louis XIII. gave France to
the one; the other gave back France to France.
The monument of the second should not be less
lofty than the monument of the first. Joan of Arc
must have a trophy as grand as Notre Dame. '
When shall she have it? ' -
England is insolvent toward Shakespeare, but
France is bankrupt toward Joan of Arc.
These ingratitudes need to be sternly denounced.
Doubtless the governing aristocracies, which blind
the eyes of the masses, are, in the first instance,
guilty. But on the whole, conscience exists for a
people as for an individual ; ignorance is only an
extenuating circumstance ; and when these denials
of justice last for centuries, they remain the fault of
governments, while becoming the fault of nations.
Let us know, when necessary, how to tell nations
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 363
of their shortcomings. France and England, you
are both wrong !
To flatter a people would be worse than to flat-
ter a king. The one is base, the other would be
Let us go farther, and, since the thought presents
itself, make a useful generalization from it, even
should it take us for a moment from our subject.
No, the people are not right in ascribing the blame
indefinitely to the governments. The acceptance
of oppression by the oppressed ends in complicity ;
cowardice is consent whenever the duration of a
bad thing, which weighs upon a people, and which
that people could prevent if it would, goes beyond
the bounds of an honest man's patience ; there is
an appreciable solidarity and a partnership in
shame between the government guilty of the evil
and the people submitting to it. It is venerable
to suffer ; to submit is contemptible. — Let us
It is a coincidence worthy of note that Voltaire,
the denier of Shakespeare, is also the reviler of
Joan of Arc. What are we to think of Voltaire ?
Voltaire (we say it with mingled joy and grief)
is the French mind, — the French mind up to
the Revolution, solely. Since the Revolution, the
French mind has grown with the growth of France,
and tends to become the European mind. It is
less local and more fraternal, less Gallic and more
human. It represents more and more Paris, the
urban heart of the world. As for Voltaire, he
remains what he is, — the man of the future ; but
also the man of the past. He is one of those
364 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
glories which make the thinker say yes and no ;
he has against him two sarcasms, — Joan of Arc,
and Shakespeare. He is punished through what
he sneered at.
Wherefore, indeed, a monument to Shake-
speare? The statue he has made for himself, with
all England for a pedestal, is better. Shakespeare
has no need of a pyramid ; he has his work.
What do you suppose marble could do for him?
What can bronze do, where there is glory? Mala-
chite and alabaster are of no avail ; jasper, serpen-
tine, basalt, red porphyry like that at the Invalides,
granite, marble of Paros and Carrara, are a waste
of pains: genius is genius without them. What
though every variety of stone had its place there,
would that add a cubit to this man's stature?
What arch shall be more indestructible than this, —
' The Winter's Tale,' ' The Tempest,' * The Merry
Wives of Windsor,' * The Two Gentlemen of Verona,'
* Julius Caesar,' ' Coriolanus ' ? What monument
sublimer than * Lear,' sterner than ' The Merchant
of Venice,' more dazzling than ' Romeo and Juliet,'
more amazing than ' Richard HI.' ? What moon
could shed about the pile a light more mystic than
that of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream'? What
capital, were it even London, could rumble around
it as tumultuously as Macbeth's perturbed soul?
What framework of cedar or of oak will last as
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 365
long as ' Othello ' ? What bronze can equal the
bronze of ' Hamlet'? No construction of lime, of
rock, of iron, and of cement, is worth the deep
breath of genius, which is the respiration of God
through man. A head containing an idea, such is
the summit; no heaps of brick and stone can rival
it. What edifice equals a thought? Babel is less
lofty than Isaiah ; Cheops is smaller than Homer ;
the Colosseum is inferior to Juvenal ; the Giralda of
Seville is dwarfish by the side of Cervantes; St.
Peter's of Rome does not reach to the ankle of
Dante. What architect has skill to build a tower
as high as the name of Shakespeare?
Add anything, if you can, to a mind !
Imagine a monument. Suppose it splendid,
suppose it sublime. A triumphal arch, an obelisk,
a circus with a pedestal in the centre, a cathedral.
No people is more illustrious, more noble, more
splendid, more high-minded, than the English peo-
ple. Wed these two ideas, England and Shake-
speare, and let their issue be a monument. Such
a nation celebrating such a man, — the spectacle
would be superb. Imagine the monument, imagine
the inauguration. The Peers are there, the Com-
mons follow, the bishops officiate, the princes join
the procession, the Queen is present. The virtuous
woman, in whom the English people, royalist as we
know, see and revere their living personification,
this worthy mother, this noble widow, comes, with
the deep respect which is befitting, to incline ma-
terial majesty before ideal majesty, — the Queen
of England salutes Shakespeare ; the homage of
Victoria repairs the disdain of Elizabeth. As for
366 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Elizabeth, she is probably there also, sculptured
somewhere on the surbase, with Henry VIII. her
father, and James I, her successor, — pigmies be-
neath the poet. Cannons boom, the curtain drops,
the unveiled statue seems to say: "At length!"
It has grown in the darkness for three hundred
years, — three centuries, the youth of a colossus ;
how vast it is ! To compose it, the bronze statues
of York, of Cumberland, of Pitt, and of Peel, have
been utilized ; the public squares have been re-
lieved of a heap of unjustifiable castings ; all sorts
of Henries and Edwards have been blended in that
lofty figure ; for it the various Williams and the
numerous Georges have been melted down; the
Hyde Park Achilles forms its great toe : it is
noble, — behold Shakespeare almost as great as a
Pharaoh or a Sesostris ! Bells, drums, trumpets,
To England this is honorable; to Shakespeare
What is the salutation of royalty, of aristocracy,
of the army, and even of the English populace, —
like almost all other nations, still ignorant, — what
is the acclamation of all these variously enlightened
groups, to one who has the eternal and well-con-
sidered applause of all centuries and of all men?
What oration of the Bishop of London or of the
Archbishop of Canterbury is worth the cry of a
woman before Desdemona, of a mother before
Arthur, of a soul before Hamlet?
When, therefore, a universal voice demands of
England a monument to Shakespeare,- >t is not for
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 367
the sake of Shakespeare, it is for the sake of
There are cases in which the repayment of a
debt is of greater import to the debtor than to
A monument is an example. The lofty head of
a great man is a light. Crowds, like the waves,
require beacons above them. It is good that the
passer-by should know that there are great men.
People may not have time to read : they are forced
to see. One passes that way, and stumbles against
the pedestal; one is almost obliged to raise the
head and to glance a little at the inscription. Men
escape a book ; they cannot escape the statue.
One day on the bridge of Rouen, before the
beautiful statue carved by David d'Angers, a
peasant mounted on a donkey said to me, " Do
you know Pierre Corneille?" "Yes," I replied.
" So do I," he rejoined. " And do you know
«The Cid'?" I resumed. "No," said he.
To him the statue was Corneille.
The people need such an introduction to their
great men. The monument incites them to know
more of the man. They desire to learn to read,
in order to know what this bronze means. A statue
is a nudge to ignorance.
The erection of such monuments is therefore not
merely a matter of national justice, but of popular
In the end, England will certainly yield to the
temptation of performing an act at once useful
and just. She is the debtor of Shakespeare. Te
leave such a debt in abeyance is an attitude hardly
368 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
compatible with national pride. It is a point of
morality that nations should pay their debts of
gratitude. Enthusiasm is probity. When a man
is a glory upon his nation's brow, the nation that
fails to recognize the fact excites the amazement
of the race.
As it was easy to foresee, England will build a
monument to her poet.
At the very moment when we finished writing
the pages you have just read, announcement was
made in London of the formation of a committee
for the solemn celebration of the three-hundredth
anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. This
committee will dedicate to Shakespeare, on the
23d of April, 1864, a monument and a festival,
which will surpass, we doubt not, the incomplete
programme we have just sketched out. They will
spare nothing. The act of admiration will be a
striking one. One may expect everything, in
point of magnificence, from the nation which has
created the prodigious palace at Sydenham, that
Versailles of a people. The initiative taken by the
committee will certainly receive support from the
powers that be. We discard, for our part, and
the committee will discard, we think, all idea of
a testimonial by subscription. A subscription,
unless of one penny, — that is to say, open to all
the people, — is necessarily fractional. What is
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 369
due to Shakespeare is a national testimonial, — a
holiday, a public festival, a popular monument, .
voted by the Chambers and entered in the Budget.
England would do it for her king. Now, what is
the King of England beside the Man of England?
All confidence is due to the Shakespeare Jubilee
Committee, — a committee composed of persons
highly distinguished in the Press, the peerage,
literature, the theatre, and the Church. Eminent
men from all countries, representing the intelli-
gence of France, of Germany, of Belgium, of Spain,
of Italy, complete this committee, which is from all
points of view excellent and competent. Another
committee, formed at Stratford-on-Avon, seconds
the London committee. We congratulate England.
Nations are hard of hearing, but so long of life
that their deafness is in no way irreparable. They
have time to change their minds. The English are
at last awakening to their glory. England begins
to spell that name, Shakespeare, upon which the
World has laid her finger.
In April, 1664, a hundred years after Shake-
speare's birth, England was engaged in applauding
Charles 11. , — who had sold Dunkirk to France
for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling,
— and in looking at something, that was a skeleton
and had been Cromwell, whitening in the northeast
wind and the rain on the gallows at Tyburn. In
April, 1764, two hundred years after Shakespeare's
birth, England was contemplating the aurora of
George III., — a king destined to imbecility, who,
at that epoch, in secret councils, and in somewhat
unconstitutional asides with the Tory chiefs and
the German Landgraves, was sketching out that
poHcy of resistance to progress which was to
strive, first against Hberty in America, then against
democracy in France, and which, under the single
ministry of the first Pitt, had in 1778 raised the
debt of England to the sum of eighty millions
sterling. In April, 1864, three hundred years
after Shakespeare's birth, England raises a statue
to Shakespeare. It is late, — but it is well.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
THE nineteenth century holds tenure of itself
only ; it receives its impulse from no ancestor ;
it is the offspring of an idea. Doubtless Isaiah,
Homer, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, have been
or could be great starting-points for important
philosophical or poetical growths; but the nine-
teenth century has for its august mother the
French Revolution. This redoubtable blood flows
in its veins. It honors men of genius, and if need
be salutes them when despised, proclaims them