when ignored, avenges them when persecuted, re-
enthrones them when dethroned : it venerates them,
but it does not proceed from them. The nineteenth
century has for family itself, and itself alone. It
is the characteristic of its revolutionary nature to
dispense with ancestors.
Itself a genius, it fraternizes with men of genius.
As for its source, it is where theirs is, ā beyond
man. The mysterious gestations of progress suc-
ceed each other according to a providential law.
372 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
The nineteenth century is a birth of civilization.
It has a continent to bring into the world. France
has borne this century, and this century bears
When civilization was coexistent with Greece; it
was at first circumscribed by the narrow limits of
the Morea, or Mulberry Leaf; then, widening by
degrees, it spread over the Roman group of na-
tions. To-day it distinguishes the French group ;
that is to say, all Europe, with beginnings in
America, in Africa, and in Asia.
The greatest of these beginnings is a democracy,
the United States, whose first tender growth was
fostered by France in the last century. France,
sublime essayist in progress, founded a republic in
America before making one in Europe. Et vidit
quod esset bonum. After having lent to Washington
an auxiliary, Lafayette, France, returning home,
gave to Voltaire, dismayed within his tomb, that
formidable successor, Danton. When the Past,
that grisly monster, being brought to bay, was
hurling all its thunderbolts, exhaling all its mias-
mas, belching black vapors, protruding horrible
talons. Progress, forced to use the same weapons,
suddenly put forth a hundred arms, a hundred
heads, a hundred fiery tongues, a hundred bel-
lowings. The good took the form of the hydra.
And this is what is called the Revolution.
Nothing can be more august.
The Revolution ended one century and began
An agitation in the world of mind preparatory
to an upheaval in the world of fact: such is the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 373
eighteenth century. The political revolution, once
accomplished, seeks its expression, and the literary
and social revolution takes place : such is the nine-
teenth century. It has been said with truth, al-
though with hostile intent, that romanticism and
socialism are the same fact Hatred, wishing to
injure, often affirms, and, so far as in it lies,
A parenthesis. This word " romanticism " has,
like all war-cries, the advantage of sharply epito-
mizing a group of ideas ; it is brief, which pleases
in the contest: but it has, to our mind, through
its militant signification, the inconvenience of ap-
pearing to limit to a warlike action the movement
that it represents. Now this movement is intelli-
gence, an act of civilization, an act of soul; and
this is why the writer of these lines has never used
the words '* romanticism " and " romantic." They
will be found in none of the pages of criticism that
he has had occasion to write. If to-day he departs
from his usual prudence in polemics, it is for the
sake of greater rapidity, and with every reservation.
The same observation may be made on the subject
of the word " socialism," which admits of so many
The triple movement ā literary, philosophical,
and social ā of the nineteenth century, which is
one single movement, is nothing but the current of
the revolution in ideas. This current, after having
swept away so many facts, flows on, broad and
deep, through the minds of men.
The term "literary '93," so often repeated in
1830 against the contemporaneous literature, was
374 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
not so much an insult as it was meant to be. It
was certainly as unjust to employ it to characterize
the whole literary movement as it is wrong to em-
ploy it to describe the whole political revolution ;
there is in these two phenomena something besides
'93. But this term, " literary '93," was so far rela-
tively exact that it indicated, confusedly but truth-
fully, the origin of the literary movement of our
epoch, while endeavoring to dishonor that move-
ment. Here again the clairvoyance of hatred was
blind. Its daubings of mud upon the face of Truth
are gilding, light, and glory.
The Revolution, that grand climacteric of hu-
manity, is made up of several years. Each of these
years expresses a period, represents an aspect, or
realizes a phase of the phenomenon. Tragic '93
is one of these colossal years. Good news must
sometimes be spoken through a brazen mouth;
such a mouth is '93.
Listen to the tremendous proclamation issuing
from It. Bow down, remain awestruck, and be
touched. In the beginning God himself said,
" Fiat lux ; " the second time, He had it said.
By whom ?
Hence it is that we men of the nineteenth century
glory in the reproach, "You are of '93."
But we must not stop here. We are of '89 as
well as of '93. The Revolution, the whole Revo-
lution, ā this is the source of the literature of the
Then put this literature on trial, or seek its
triumph; hate it or love it; according to the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 375
amount of your faith in the future, insult it or
salute it : little does it care for your animosity and
fury. It is a logical deduction from the great
chaotic and primordial fact which our fathers wit-
nessed, and which has given the world a new point
of departure. He who is against that fact is against
that literature ; he who is for that fact is on its side.
What the fact is worth the literature is worth.
Reactionary writers are not at fault. Wherever
there is revolution, patent or latent, the Catholic
and Royalist scent is unerring. These ancient
men of letters award to contemporary literature
an honorable portion of diatribe; their aversion
is convulsive. One of their journalists, who is,
I believe, a bishop, pronounces the word " poet "
with the same accent as the word " Septembrist ; "
another, less episcopal but equally angry, writes:
" I feel in all this literature Marat and Robes-
pierre." This latter writer is slightly in error;
Danton, rather than Marat, is to be felt in this
But the fact is true; this literature is full of
The Revolution forged the bugle ; the nineteenth
century sounds it
Ah ! this avowal suits us, and in truth we do
not shrink from it; let us admit our glory, ā we
are the Revolutionists. The thinkers of this time
ā poets, publicists, historians, orators, philoso-
phers ā trace their Hneage, every one, to the French
Revolution. From it they descend, and from it
alone. '89 demolished the Bastile ; '93 discrowned
the Louvre. Deliverance sprang from '89 ; victory
3/6 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
from '93. '89 and '93, ā from that source issue
the men of the nineteenth century. This is their
father and their mother. Seek for them no other
lineage, no other inspiration, no other breath of
life, no other origin. They are the democrats of
thought, successors to the democrats of action.
They are liberators. Freedom was the nurse that
bent over their cradles ; that ample breast suckled
them all ; they all have her milk in their bodies,
her marrow in their bones, her granite in their
will, her rebellion in their reason, her fire in their
Even those among them (and there are some)
who were by birth aristocrats, who came into the
world strangers in old-time families, who received
that fatal early training whose stupid endeavor it
is to counteract progress, and who began their
message to the century by some unmeaning stam-
mering of royalism, ā even these (they will not
contradict me) felt within them, even from their
infancy, the sublime monster. They felt the in-
ward ferment of the vast reality. In the deeps of
consciousness they felt an uprising of mysterious
thoughts ; their souls were shaken by the profound
perturbation of false certitudes ; little by little they
perceived the sombre surface of their monarchism,
Catholicism, and aristocracy, trembling, quaking,
gaping open. One day the swelling of truth
within them abruptly culminated, and suddenly
the crust was rent, the eruption took place, and
behold them opened, shivered by a light which fell
not upon them from without, but ā nobler miracle !
ā issued from these astonished men, and illumi-
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 377'
nated them while it set them aflame. All unawares,
they had become volcanic craters.
They have been reproached with this phenom-
enon, as with treason. In fact, they passed over
from right divine to human rights. They turned
the back upon false history, false tradition, false
dogmas, false philosophy, false daylight, false truth.
That dawn-summoned bird, the free-soaring spirit,
is offensive to minds saturated with ignorance and
to embryons preserved in alcohol. He who sees,
offends the blind ; he who hears, enrages the deaf;
he who walks, insults the cripple in his wooden
bowl. In the eyes of dwarfs, abortions, Aztecs,
myrmidons, and pigmies forever stunted with the
rickets, growth is apostasy.
The writers and poets of the nineteenth century
have the admirable good fortune of proceeding
from a genesis, of arriving after an end of the
world, of accompanying a reappearance of light,
of being the organs of a new beginning. This
imposes on them duties unknown to their prede-
cessors, ā the duties of intentional reformers and
direct civilizers. They continue nothing ; they
form everything anew. The new time brings new
duties. The function of thinkers in our days is
complex: it no longer suffices to think, ā one
must love; it no longer suffices to think and to
love, ā one must act. To think, to love, and to
act, no longer suffice, ā one must suffer. Lay
down the pen, and go where you hear the grape-
shot. Here is a barricade ; take your place there.
Here is exile; accept it. Here is the scaffold, ā
be it so. Let the Montesquieu be able, in case of
378 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
need, to act the part of John Brown. The Lucre-
tius of this travailing century should contain a
Cato. iEschylus, who wrote ' The Oresteia,' had
a brother, Cynegirus, who grappled the enemy's
ships ; that was sufficient for Greece at the time of
Salamis, but it no longer suffices for France after
the Revolution. That .^schylus and Cynegirus
are brothers, is but little ; they must needs be the
same man. Such are the present requirements of
progress. Those who devote themselves to great
and urgent causes can never be too great. To set
ideas in motion, to heap up evidence, to scaffold
up principles, ā such is the formidable endeavor.
To heap Pelion on Ossa is the labor of infants
beside that work of giants, the establishing of right
upon truth. Afterward to scale that height, and
to dethrone usurpations in the midst of thunders,
ā such is the task.
The future presses. To-morrow cannot wait.
Humanity has not a minute to lose. Quick !
quick! let us hasten. The wretched have their
feet on red-hot iron; they hunger, they thirst,
they suffer. Alas ! terrible emaciation of the poor
human body. Parasitism laughs, the ivy grows
green and thrives, the mistletoe flourishes, the
soHtary slug is happy. How frightful is the pros-
perity of the tapeworm ! To destroy that which
devours, in that is safety. Within your life death
itself lives and thrives robustly. There is too
much poverty, too much privation, too much im-
modesty, too much nakedness, too many houses of
shame, too many convict prisons, too many tat-
ters, too many defalcations, too many crimes, too
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 379
much darkness; not enough schools; too many-
little innocents growing up for evil ! The pallet
of the poor girl is suddenly covered with silk and
lace, ā and in that is the worst misery; by the
side of misfortune there is vice, the one urging on
the other. Such a society requires prompt suc-
cor. Let us seek out the best. Go, all of you, in
this search ! Where are the promised lands ?
Civilization must march forward ; let us test theo-
ries, systems, ameliorations, inventions, reforms,
until the shoe for that foot shall be found. The
experiment costs nothing, or costs but little. To
try is not to adopt. But before all, above all, let
us be lavish of the light. All sanitary purifica-
tion begins by opening the windows wide. Let
us open wide all intellects; let us supply souls
Quick, quick, O thinkers ! Let the human race
breathe. Shed abroad hope, sow the ideal, do
good. One step after another, horizon after hori-
zon, conquest after conquest; because you have
given what you promised, do not hold yourself
quit of obligation. To perform is to promise.
To-day's dawn pledges the sun for to-morrow.
Let nothing be lost. Let not one force be iso-
lated. Every one to work ! the urgency is supreme.
No more idle art. Poetry the worker of civili-
zation, ā what could be more admirable ? The
dreamer should be a pioneer; the strophe should
mean something. The beautiful should be at the
service of honesty. I am the valet of my con-
science ; it rings for me : I come. " Go." I go.
What do you require of me, O Truth ! sole mon-
380 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
arch of this world? Let each one have within
him an eagerness for well-doing. A book is some-
times looked forward to for succor. An idea is a
balm ; a word may be a dressing for wounds ;
poetry is a physician. Let no one delay. While
you tarry, suffering man grows weaker. Let men
throw off this dreamy laziness. Leave hashish to
the Turks, Let men labor for the welfare of all ;
let them rush forward, and put themselves out of
breath. Do not be sparing of your strides. Let
nothing remain useless. No inertia. What do
you call dead nature? Everything lives. The
duty of all is to live. To walk, to run, to fly, to
soar, ā such is the universal law. What are you
waiting for? Who stops you? Ah! there are
times when one might wish to hear the stones cry
out against the sluggishness of man.
Sometimes one wanders away into the woods.
To whom does it not sometimes happen to be
dejected? ā one sees so many sad things. The
goal does not appear, the results are long in com-
ing, a generation is behindhand, the work of the
age languishes. What! so many sufferings yet?
One would say there had been retrogression.
There is everywhere increase of superstition, of
cowardice, of deafness, of blindness, of imbecility.
Brutishness is weighted down by penal laws. The
wretched problem has been set, ā to augment
comfort by neglecting right ; to sacrifice the supe-
rior side of man to the inferior side ; to yield up
principle to appetite. Csesar takes charge of the
belly, I make over to him the brains : it is the old
sale of the birthright for the mess of lentils. A
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 381
little more, and this fatal counter-movement would
set civilization upon the wrong road. The swine
fattening for the knife would no longer be the king,
but the people. . . . Alas ! this ugly expedient
does not even succeed ; there is no diminution
of wretchedness. For the last ten years ā for the
last twenty years ā the low-water mark of prostitu
tion, of mendicity, of crime, has been constantly
visible ; evil has not fallen a single degree. Of
true education, of free education, there is none.
Nevertheless, the child needs to be told that he is
a man, and the father that he is a citizen. Where
is the promise? Where is the hope? Oh! poor,
wretched humanity, one is tempted to shout for
help in the forest, one is tempted to claim sup-
port and material assistance from vast and sombre
Nature. Can this mysterious union of forces be
indifferent to progress? We supplicate, we call,
we lift our hands toward the shadow. We listen,
wondering if the rustlings will become voices.
The duty of the springs and streams should be to
babble forth the word " Forward ! " and one could
wish to hear the nightingales sing new Marseil-
But, after all, these seasons of halting have in
them nothing but what is normal. Discourage-
ment would be weakness. There are halts, rests,
breathing-times in the march of nations, as there
are winters in the progress of the seasons. The
gigantic step, '89, is none the less a fact. To
despair would be absurd, but to stimulate is
To stimulate, to press, to chide, to awaken, to
382 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
suggest, to inspire, ā these are the functions which,
fulfilled everywhere by writers, impress on the
literature of this century so marked a stamp of
power and originality. To remain faithful to all
the laws of art, while combining them with the law
of progress, ā such is the problem triumphantly
solved by so many noble and lofty minds.
Thence the word " Deliverance," shining aloft in
the light as if it were written on the very brow of
The Revolution is France sublimated.
There came a day when France entered the fur-
nace, ā the furnace breeds wings upon such warrior
martyrs, ā and from these flames the giantess came
forth an archangel. Throughout the earth to-day the
name of France is revolution ; and henceforth this
word "revolution" will be the name of civilization,
until it can be replaced by the word " harmony."
Seek nowhere else, I repeat, the starting-point and
the birthplace of the literature of the nineteenth
century. Ay! every one of us, great and small,
powerful and despised, illustrious and obscure, in
all our works, good or bad, whatever they may
be, poems, dramas, romances, history, philosophy,
at the tribune of assemblies as before the crowds
of the theatre or in solitary meditation; ay!
everywhere and always; ay! to combat violence
and imposture; ay! to restore those who are
stoned and run down; ay! to draw logical con-
clusions and to march straight onward; ay! to
console, to succor, to relieve, to encourage, to
teach; ay! to dress wounds, in hope of curing
them; ay! to transform charity into fraternity,
WILL/AM SHAKESPEARE. 383
alms into helpfulness, sloth into industry, idleness
into usefulness, to make centralized power give
place to the family, to convert iniquity to justice,
the bourgeois into the citizen, the populace into
the people, the rabble into the nation, nations
into humanity, war into love, prejudice into free
inquiry, frontiers into welded joints, barriers into
thoroughfares, ruts into rails, vestry-rooms into
temples, the instinct of evil into the desire of good,
life into right, kings into men ; ay ! to deprive
religions of hell, and societies of the prison-den;
ay ! to be brothers to the wretched, the serf, the
fellah, the poor laborer, the disinherited, the
victim, the betrayed, the conquered, the sold,
the shackled, the sacrificed, the harlot, the con-
vict, the ignorant, the savage, the slave, the negro,
the condemned, the damned, ā ay ! for all these
things we are thy sons, O Revolution !
Ay! men of genius; ay! poets, philosophers,
historians ; ay ! giants of that great art of the
early ages which is all the light of the past, ā O
men eternal, the minds of this day salute you, but
do not follow you. Concerning you they hold
this law: Admire everything, imitate nothing.
Their function is no longer yours. They have to
do with the manhood of the human race. The
hour of man's majority has struck. We assist, un-
der the full light of the ideal, at the majestic union
of the Beautiful with the Useful. No present or
possible genius can surpass you, ye ancient men of
genius ; to equal you is all the ambition allowed :
but to equal you we must provide for the needs
of our time, as ye supplied the wants of yours !
384 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Writers who are sons of the Revolution have a
holy task. Their epic must sob, O Homer ! their
history must protest, O Herodotus ! their satire
must dethrone, O Juvenal ! their " thou shalt be
king " must be said to the people, O Shakespeare !
their Prometheus must smite down Jupiter, O
-^schylus ! their dunghill must be fruitful, O Job !
their hell must be quenched, O Dante ! thy Baby-
lon crumbles, O Isaiah ! theirs must be radiant
with light ! They do what you have done, ā they
contemplate creation directly, they observe human-
ity directly ; they accept as lodestar no refracted
ray, not even yours. Like you, they have for their
sole starting-point, outside themselves the Uni-
versal Being, within themselves the soul ; as the
source of their work they have the one source
whence flows Nature and whence flows Art, the
Infinite. As the writer of these lines declared
nearly forty years ago : ^ " The poets and the
writers of the nineteenth century have neither
masters nor models." No, in all that vast and
sublime art of all nations, among all those grand
creations of all epochs, they find neither masters
nor models, ā not even thee, O ^Eschylus ! not
even thee, O Dante ! not even thee, O Shakespeare !
And why have they neither masters nor models?
It is because they have one model, Man, and be-
cause they have one master, God.
1 Preface to ' Cromwell.'
TRUE HISTORY. ā EVERY ONE PUT IN HIS
BEHOLD the rising of the new constellation !
It is now certain that what has hitherto been
the light of the human race begins to pale its inef-
fectual fire, and that the ancient beacons are flick-
From the beginning of human tradition men of
force alone have glittered in the empyrean of his-
tory; theirs was the sole supremacy. Under the
various names of king, emperor, chief, captain,
prince, ā epitomized in the word " hero," ā this
apocalyptic group shone resplendent. Terror
raised acclamations to salute them, dripping with
the blood of victories. They were followed by a
train of tumultuous flames ; their dishevelled light
gleamed portentous upon the children of men. If
they lit the sky, it was with flames. They seemed
to wish to extend their sway over the Infinite.
Amid their glory was heard the crash of ruin.
That red glare ā was it the purple? was it blood?
was it shame? Their light suggested the face of
386 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Cain. They hated one another. They exchanged
flashing bolts. At times these vast stars crashed
together amid volleys of lightning. Their look
was furious. Their radiance stretched into sword-
blades. All this hung terrible above us.
Such is the tragic glare that fills the past; to-
day it is rapidly waning.
There is decline in war, decline in despotism,
decline in theocracy, decline in slavery, decline in
the scaffold. The sword-blade grows shorter, the
tiara is fading away, the crown is vulgarized, war
is coming to seem but madness, the plume is
abased, usurpation is circumscribed, shackles are
growing lighter, the rack is out of joint. The
antique violence of the few against all, called right
divine, is nearing its end. Legitimate sovereignty
by the grace of God, the Pharamond monarchy,
nations branded on the shoulder with the fleur-de-
lys, the possession of nations by the fact of birth,
rights over the living acquired through a long line
of dead ancestors, ā these things still maintain the
struggle for existence here and there, as at Naples,
in Prussia, etc. ; but it is a struggle, not a battle, ā
it is death straining after life. A stammering, which
to-morrow will be speech, and the day after to-
morrow a gospel, proceeds from the bruised lips
of the serf, of the vassal, of the laboring-man, of
the pariah. The gag is breaking between the teeth
of the human race. The patient human race has
had enough of the path of sorrow, and refuses to
Already certain kinds of despots are no longer
possible. The Pharaoh is a mummy, the Sultan is
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 38/
a phantom, the Caesar is a counterfeit. This sty-
lite of the Trajan columns is anchylosed upon its
pedestal ; its head is covered with the excrement of
the free eagles ; it is nonentity rather than glory ;
this laurel garland is bound on with grave-clothes.
The period of the men of violence is past. They
have been glorious, certainly, but with a glory that
melts away. That species of great men is soluble
in progress. Civilization rapidly oxidizes these
bronzes. The French Revolution has already
brought the universal conscience to such a degree
of maturity that the hero can no longer be a hero
without rendering account; the captain is dis-
cussed, the conqueror is inadmissible. A Louis
XIV. invading the Palatinate would, in our day, be
regarded as a robber. Already in the last century
these truths began to dawn. Frederick II. in the
presence of Voltaire felt and owned himself some-