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Louis XIII. and of Cardinal Richelieu; it deals with
all the court intrigues which led up to the horrible
assassination of De Thou and of Henri d'Effiat, Marquis
de Cinq-Mars. Anne of Austria is a foremost figure
on the scene of it. Cinq-Mars, a very careful study
in the manner of Walter Scott, was afterwards enriched
by notes and historical apparatus, and by an essay
" On Truth in Art," written in 1827. It has passed
through countless editions, but it is overfull of details,
the plot drags, and the reader must be simple to find it
an exciting romance. It is interesting to notice in it
the Anglophil tendencies of its author betrayed in
quotations from Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron, and
the restricted circle of his friends by frequent introduc-
tion of the names of Delphine Gay, Soumet, Nodier,
Lammenais. Cinq-Mars will always be remembered
as the earliest French romantic novel of the historical

The marriage of Alfred de Vigny, the facts and even
the date of which have been persistently misreported
by his biographers — even by M. Paleologue — took place,
as M. Seche has proved, at Pau, on February 3, 1825. He
married Miss Lydia Bunbury, the daughter of Sir Henry
Edward Bunbury, a soldier and politician not without
eminence in his day. She was twenty-six years of age,
of a " majestic beauty " which soon disappeared under

14 French Profiles

the attacks of ill-health, and everything about her
gratified the excessive Anglomania of the poet. She
could not talk French with ease, and curiously enough
when she had for many years been the Comtesse Alfred
de \'igny, it was observed that she still spoke broken
French with a strong English accent. It appears that
this was positively agreeable to the poet, who had a
little while before written that his only penates were
his Bible and " a few English engravings," and whose
conversation ran incessantly on Byron, Southey, Moore,
and Scott. It is certain that some French critics have
found it hard to forgive the intensity of Vigny's early
love of all things English.

French writers have laboured to prove that the
marriage of Alfred de Vigny was an unhappy one. It
was certainly both anomalous and unfortunate, but
there is not need to exaggerate its misfortunes. Lydia
Bunbur}' appears to have been limited in intelligence
and sympathy, and bad health gradually made her
fretful. Yet there exists no evidence that she ever
lost her liking for her husband or ceased to be soothed
by his presence. He, for his part, had never loved when
he proposed to Lydia Bunbury, and their relations
continued to be as phlegmatic on the one side as on the
other. For four or five years the}' lived together in
sober friendship, Lydia sinking deeper and deeper into
the condition of a chronic invalid. She was then
nursed and tended by her husband with the tenderest
assiduity and patience, and in later years he was a
constant visitor at her sofa. She had exchanged a
husband for a nurse, and doubtless renunciation would
have been the greater part for Vigny also to play. But
over his calm existence love now, for the first and only
time, swept like a whirlwind of fire. In the tumult of

Alfred de Vigny 15

this passion it is to his credit that he never forgot to
be patient with and soUcitous about the helpless invaUd
at home. If morality is offended, let this at least be
recollected, that Lydia de Vigny knew all, and expressed
no murmur which has been recorded.

The fust period of Alfred de Vigny's life closed in
1827, when he left the army, on the pretext of health.
He travelled in England Vv^ith his wife, and it was at
Dieppe, on a return journey in 1828, that he wrote the
most splendid of his few lyrical poems, La Frigate
' La Serieuse.' This ode is too long for its interest,
but contains stanzas that have never been surpassed
for brilliance, as for example : —

" Comme un dauphin elle saute,

EUe plonge comme lui
Dans la mer profonde et haute

Ou le feu Saint Elme a fui.
Le feu serpente avec grace;
Du gouvernail qu'il embrasse
11 marque longtemps la trace,

Et Ton dirait un eclair
Qui, n'ayant pu nous atteindre,
Dans les vagues va s'eteindre,
Mais ne cesse de les teindre

Du prisrne enflamme de I'air."


It is remarkable to notice how many English influences
the nature of Alfred de Vigny obeyed. In May 1828
the performances of Edmund Kean in Paris stirred his
imagination to its depths. He immediately plunged
himself into a fresh study of Shakespeare, and still
further exercised his fancy by repeated experiences of
the magic of Mrs. Siddons during a long visit he paid to
London. The result was soon apparent in his attempts
to render Shakespeare vocal to the French, who had
welcomed Kean's " Othello " with " un vulgaire le plus

1 6 French Profiles

profane que jamais I'ignorance parisienne ait dechaine
dans une salle de spectacle " (May 17, 1828). Vigny
translated The Merchant oj Venice, Romeo and Juliet,
and, above all, Othello, which was acted in October,
1829, amid the plaudits of the whole romantic camp of
Paris. That night \'igny, already extremel}' admired
within a limited circle, became universally famous, and
a dangerous rival to Victor Hugo, with whose Hernani
and Marion de Lorme, moreover, comparison soon grew

But Alfred de Vigny cared little for the jealousies of
the Cenacle. He was now absorbed by a very different
passion. It appears to have been on May 30, 1829,^
that, after a performance of Casimir Delavigne's romantic
tragedy of Marino Faliero, Vigny was presented to the
actress, Marie Dorval. This remarkable woman of
genius had been born in 1798, had shown from the age
of four years a prodigious talent for the stage, had made
her debut in Paris in 1818, and had been a universal
favourite since 1822. She was, therefore, neither very
young nor very new when she passed across the path of
Alfred de Vigny with such fiery results. She was highly
practised in the arts of love, and he a timid and fastidious
novice. It may even be said, without too great a
paradox, that the romance of J^loa was now enacted in
real life, with the parts reversed, for the poet was the
candid angel, drawn to his fall by pity, curiosity, and
tenderness, while Madame Dorval was the formidable
and fatal demon who dragged him down. " Demon,"
however, is far too harsh a word to employ, even in jest,
for this tremendous and expansive woman, all emotion
and undisciplined ardour. M. Seche has put the position
very well before us : " When, at the age of thirty-two,
1 See M. Leon Seche's monograph, pp. 53-56.

Alfred de Vigny 17

she saw kneeling at her feet this gentleman of ancient
lineage, his charming face framed in his blond and curly
hair and delicately lighted up by the tender azure of his
eyes, she experienced a sentiment she had never felt
before, as though a cup of cold well-water had been lifted
to her burning lips."

Reserved, irreproachable, by temperament obscure
and chilly, it was long before Alfred de Vigny succumbed
to the tumult of the senses. For a long time the ani-
mated and extravagant actress was dazzled by the
mystical adoration, the respectful and solemn worship
of her new admirer. She was accustomed to the rough
way of the world, but she had never been loved like
this before. She became hypnotised at last by the gaze
of Alfred de Vigny fixed upon her in what Sainte-Beuve
has called " a perpetual seraphic hallucination." A
transformation appeared to come over herself. She
fell in love with Vigny as completely as the poet had
with her, and she became, in virtue of the transcendent
ductiUty of her temperament as an actress, a temporary
copy of himself. She was all reverie, all abstract devo-
tion, and the strange pair floated through the stormy
hfe of Paris, a marvel to all beholders, in a discreet and
delicate rapture, as a poet with his muse, as a nun with
her brother. This ecstatic relation continued until 183 1,
and during these years Alfred de Vigny scarcely wrote
anything in prose or verse, entirely supported by the
exquisite sentiment of his attachment. He fulfilled
the dream of Pascal, " Tant plus le chemin est long dans
I'amour, tant plus un esprit dehcat sent de plaisir."

The circumstances under which this seraphic and

mystical relation came to an end have but recently

been made pubhc. The wonder is that Madame Dorval,

so romantic, violent, and susceptible, should have been


1 8 French Profiles

willing so long to preserve such an idyllic or even angelic
resers'e. George Sand, who saw her at this time, selects
other adjectives for her, " Oh ! naive et passionnee, et
jeune et suave, et tremblante et terrible." But she
determined at last to play the comedy of renunciation
no longer, and Vigny's subtlety and platonism were
burned up like grass in the flame of her seduction. He
was Eloa, as I have said ; she was the tenebrous and
sinister archangel, and he sank in the ecstatic crisis of
her will. For the next few years, Mme. Dorval possessed
the life of the poet, swayed his instincts, inspired his
intellect. His genius enjoyed a new birth in her; she
brought about a palingenesis of his talent, and during
this period he produced some of the most powerful and
the most solid of his works.

Under the influence of these novel and violent emo-
tions, Vigny began at the close of 183 1 to write Stello ;
he composed it in great heat, and it was finished in
January 1832, and immediately sent to press. Stello
is a book which has been curiously neglected by modern
students of the poet ; it is highly characteristic of the
author at this stage of his career, and deserves a closer
examination than it usually receives. It is a triad of
episodes set in a sort of Shandean framework of fantastic
prose ; the influence of Sterne is clearly visible in the
form of it. It occupies a single night, and presents but
two characters. Stello, a very happy and successful
poet, wealthy and applauded, nevertheless suffers from
the " spleen." In a fit of the blue devils, he is stretched
on his sofa, the victim of a headache, which is described
in miraculous and Brobdingnagian terms. A mystic
personage, the Black Doctor, a physician of souls, attends
the sufferer, and engages him in conversation. This
conversation is the book called Stello.

Alfred de Vigny 19

The Black Doctor will distract the patient by three
typical anecdotes of poets, who, in Wordsworth's
famous phrase,

" began in gladness.
But thereof came, in the end, despondency and madness."

He tells a story of a mad flea, which develops into the
relation of the sad end of the poet Gilbert. To this
follow the history of Chatterton, and an exceedingly full
and close chronicle of the last days of Andre Chenier.
The friends converse on the melancholy topic of the
rooted antipathy which exists between the Man of
Action and the Man of Art. Poets are the eternal helots
of society ; modern life results in the perpetual ostracism
of genius. Stello, in whom Alfred de Vigny obviousl}^
speaks, is roused to indignation at the charge of inutilit}'
constantly brought against the fine arts, and charges
Plato with having given the original impetus to this
heresy by his exclusion of the poets from his repubUc.
But the Black Doctor is inclined to accept Plato's view,
and to hold that the great mistake is made by the men
of reverie themselves in attempting to act as social
forces. The friends agree that the propaganda of the
future must be to separate the Life Poetic from the Life
Politic as with a chasm.

Then in eloquent and romantic pages the law of
conduct ^is laid down. The poet must not mix with the
world, but in solitude and liberty must withdraw that
he may accomplish his mission. He must firmly re-
pudiate the too facile ambitions and enterprises of active
life. He must keep firmly before him the image of
those martyrs of the mind, Gilbert, Chatterton, and
Chenier. He must saj^ to his fellow men, what the
swallows say as they gather under our eaves, " Protect

20 French Profiles

us, but touch us not." Such is the teaching of Siello,
a book extraorchnary in its own day, and vibrating still ;
a book in which for the first time was preached, without
the least reserve, the doctrines of the aristocracy of
imagination and of the illusiveness of any theor}' of
equality between the artist and the common proletariat
of mankind. Alfred de Vigny wrote Stello in a passion
of sincerity, and it is in its pages that we first see him
retiring into his famous " ivory tower." It is the credo
of a poet for whom the charges of arrogance and narrow-
ness do not exist ; who doubted as little about the supre-
macy of genius as an anointed emperor does about Right

The stage now attracted ^'igny. In the summer of
1831 he wrote, and in 1834 brought out on the stage of
the Second Theatre Fran^ais, La Marechale d'Ancre, a
melodrama in prose, of the beginning of the seventeenth
century, a poison and dagger piece, thick with the
intrigues of Concini and Borgia. In May 1833 he pro-
duced Qiiitte pour la Peur, a trifle in one act. These
unimportant works lead us up to what is perhaps the
most famous of all Vigny 's writings, the epoch-making
tragedy of Chaiterton. This drama, which is in very
simple prose, was the work of seventeen nights in June
1834, when the poet was at the summit of his infatuation
for Madame Dorval. The subject of ChaUerton had been
already sketched in Stello, and the play is really nothing
more than one of the episodes in that romance, expanded
and dramatised. Vigny published ChaUerton with a
preface which should be carefully read if we are to
appreciate the point of view from which the poet desired
his play to be observed.

The subject of Chatterton is the perpetual and in-
evitable martyrdom of the Poet, against whom all the

Alfred de Vigny 2i

rest of the successful world nourishes an involuntary
resentment, because he will take no part in the game
of action. Vigny tells the story of the young English
writer, with certain necessary modifications. He repre-
sents him as a lodger at the inn of John and Kitty Bell,
where at the end he tears up his manuscripts and com-
mits suicide. The English reader must try to forgive
and forget the lapses against local colour. Chatterton
has been a spendthrift at Oxford, and has friends who
hunt the wild boar on Primrose Hill ; Vigny keeps to
history only when it suits him to do so. These eccen-
tricities did not interfere with the frenetic joy with which
the play was received by the young writers and artists
of Paris, and they ought not to disturb us now. Chat-
terton drinks opium in the last scene, because a news-
paper has said that he is not the author of the " Rowley
Poems," and because he has been offered the situation
of first flunkey to the Lord Mayor of London. But these
things are a symbol.

Much of the plot of Chatterton may strike the modern
reader as mere extravagance. The logic of the piece is,
nevertheless, complete and highly effective. It was the
more strikingly effective when it was produced because
no drama of pure thought was known to the audience
which witnessed it. Classics and romantics alike filled
their stage with violent action ; this was a play of
poignant interest, but that interest was entirely in-
tellectual. The mystical passion of Chatterton and
Kitty Bell is subtle, silent, expressed in thoughts; here
were brought before the footlights " infinite passion
and the pain of finite hearts that yearn " without a
sigh. It is a marvellous tribute to genius that such a
play could succeed, yet it was precisely in the huge
psychological sohloquy in the third act — where the

2 2 Fiench Profiles

danger seemed greatest — that success was most eminent.
When the audience hstened to Chatterton murmuring
in his garret, \\ith the thick fog at the window, all the
cold and hunger supported by pride alone, and when
they listened to the tremendous words in which
the pagan soul of Alfred de V'igny speaks through
the stoic boy, their emotion was so poignant as to be

The Poet as the imaginative pariah — that is the theme
of Chatterton ; the man of idealism crushed by a material-
istic society. It is a case of romantic neurosis, faced
without shrinking. Chatterton, the dramatist admits,
is suffering from a malady of the mind. But why, on
that account, should he be crushed out of existence ?
Why should there be no pity for the infirmities of in-
spiration ? Has the poet really no place in the state ?
Is not the fact that he " reads in the stars the pathway
that the finger of God is pointing out " reason enough
for granting him the trifle that he craves, just leisure
and a little bread ? Why does the man of action
grudge the inspired dreamer his reverie and the necessary
food ? Everybody in the world is right, it appears,
except the poets. I do not know that it has ever been
suggested that, in his picture of Chatterton, Vigny was
thinking of the poet, Hegesippe Moreau, who, in 1833,
was in hospital, and who eminently " n'etait pas dc
ceux qui se laissent proteger aisement."

Chatterton is Alfred de Vigny's one dramatic success.
Its form is extremely original ; it expresses with great
fulness one side of the temperament of the author, and
it suits the taste of the young artist not only in that but
in every age. It is written with simphcity, although
adorned here and there, as by a jewel, with an occasional
startUng image, as where the Quaker (a chorus needed

Alfred de Vigny 23

because the passion of Chatterton and Kitty is voiceless)
says that " the peace that reigns around you has been
as dangerous for the spirit of this dreamer as sleep
would be beneath the white tuberose." Whatever is
forgotten, Chatterton must be remembered, and in each
generation fresh young pulses will beat to its generous
and hopeless fervour. Vigny was writing Httle verse at
this time, but the curious piece called " Paris : Eleva-
tion " belongs to the year 1834, and is interesting as a
link between the otherwise unrelated poetry of his
youth and the chain of philosophical apologues in which
his career as a poet was finally to culminate. But his
main interest at this time was in prose.

Tenacity of vision was one of the most remarkable
of Vigny 's characteristics. When an experience had
once made its impression upon him, this became deeper
and more vivid as the years went on. He concealed it,
he brooded on it, and suddenly the seed shot up and
broke in the perfect blossom of imaginative writing.
Hence we need not be surprised that the military
adventures of his earliest years, when the yellow curls
fell round the candid blue eyes of the boy as he rode in
his magnificent scarlet uniform, although long put aside,
were not forgotten. In the summer of 1835, with that
curious activity in creation which always followed his
motionless months of reverie, Alfred de Vigny suddenly
set about and rapidly carried through the composition
of the finest of his prose works, the admirable classic
known as Grandeur et Servitude Militaires. The subject
of this book is the illusion of military glory as exemplified
in three episodes of the great war. The form of the
volume is very notable; its stories rest in an auto-
biographical setting, and it was long supposed that
this also was fiction. But a letter has recently been

24 French Profiles

discovered, written to a friend while the Grandeur et
Servitude was being composed, in which the author says
categorically, " wherever I have written ' I,' what I
relate is the truth. I was at Vincennes when the poor
adjutant died. I saw on the road to Belgium a cart
driven by an old commander of a battalion. It was I
who galloped along smging Joconde." This testimony
adds great value to the delightful setting of the three
stories, Laurette, La Veillee de Vincennes, and La Canne
de J one. It is the confession of a sensitive spirit, striking
the note of the disappointment of the age.

Laurette is an experience of 1815, in which a tale of
1797 is told; the poet makes a poignant appeal to the
feelings by relating a savage crime of the Directory. A
blunt sea captain is ordered to take a very young man
and his child-wife to the tropics, and on a certain day
to open a sealed letter. He becomes exceedingly
attached to the charming pair of lovers, but when at
last the letter is opened, he finds that he is instructed
to shoot the husband for a supposed political offence.
This he does, being under the " servitude " of duty, and
the little wife goes mad. Nothing can exceed the
exquisite simplicity of the scenes on shipboard, and the
whole narrative is conducted with a masterly and almost
sculptural reserve. The moral of Laurette is the illusion
of pushing the sentiment of duty to its last and most
inhuman consequences.

Somewhat later experiences in Vigny's life inspire
La Veillee de Vincennes, a story of 1819. This episode
opens with a delicious picture of a summer evening in
the fortress before the review, the soldiers lounging
about in groups, the white hen of the regiment strutting
across the courtyard in her scarlet aigrette and her
silver collar. It is full of those marvellous sudden

Alfred de Vigny 25

images in which Vigny delights, phrases that take pos-
session of the fancy; such as, " Je sentais quelque chose
dans ma pensee, comme une tache dans une emeraude."

As a story La Vcillee de Vincennes is not so interesting
as its companions, but as an illustration of the poet's
reflection upon life, it has an extreme value. The theme
is the illusion of mihtary excitement ; the soldier only
escapes ennui by the magnificent disquietude of danger,
and in periods of peace he lacks this tonic. The curious
and quite disconnected narrative of the accidental blow-
ing up of the powder magazine, towards the close of
this tale, is doubtless drawn directly from the experience
of Vigny, who narrates it in a manner which is almost a
prediction of that of Tolstoi.

In La Canne de Jonc we have the illusion of active
glory. In the military life, when it is not stagnant,
there is too much violence of action, not space enough
for reflection. The moral of this story of disappointment
in the person of Napoleon is that we should devote
ourselves to principles and not to men. There are two
magnificent scenes in La Canne de Jonc, the one in
which the Pope confronts Napoleon with the cry of
" Commediante ! " the other in which the author pays
a noble tribute to CoUingwood, and paints that great
enemy of France as a hero of devotion to public duty.
The whole of this book is worthy of close attention. It
is one of the most distinguished in modern literature.
Nothing could have been more novel than this exposure
to the French of the pitiful fallacies of their military
glory, of the hollowness of vows of poverty and obedience
bhndly made to power, whose only design was to sur-
round itself by a bodyguard of gladiators. Of the
reserve and sobriety of emotion in Grandeur et Servitude
Militaires, and of the hmpid, delicate elegance of its

26 French Prohles

style, there cannot be any question. It will be a joy
to readers of refinement as long as the French language

At the close of 1835 Alfred de \'igny made the dis-
tressing discovery — he was the only member of the
circle who had remained oblivious of the fact — that
Madame Dorval was flagrantly unfaithful to him. He
became aware that she was in nitrigTjc with no less a
personage than the boisterous Alexandre Dumas. Re-
cent investigations have thrown an ugly light on this
humiliating and painful incident. Wounded mortally
in his pride and in his passion, he felt, as he says. " the
earth give way under his feet." He was from this time
forth dead to the world, and, in the hne phrase of M.
Faleologue, he withdrew into his own intellect as into
" an impenetrable Thebaid where he could be alone in
the presence oi his own thoughts." Alfred de Vigny
survived this blow tor more than a quarter of a century,
but as a hermit and a stranger among the people.


When Alfred de \"igny perceived the treason of
Madame Porval in December 1S35. his active life
ceased. Something snapped in hnn — the chords of
illusion, of artistic ambition, of the hope of happiness.
He never attempted to forgive the deceiver, and he
never forgave woman in her person. His pessimism
grew upon him: he lost all interest in the public and in
his friends; after a brief ^x^litical etTort he sank into a
soundless is«.>Uition. He jx^ssfssed a country house.
ciilled Le Maine-Giraud. in the west of France, and

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