Joseph Forster.

Some French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon online

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 12 of 19)
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And garden trees cast shadows deep.


At dawn of day I've sought the wood,
And, oh, what pleasures fell to me !
My mother lives well, Heaven is good !

March merrily,

And do not weep,

Or slowly creep ;
But, old friends, march on merrily.

Who is it that stands blubb'ring there ?

Is it the drummer's widow, pray ?
In Russia, through the icy air,

Her son I carried, night and day ;
Else, like his father, in the snows

They both had died her child and she :
She's praying for me, I suppose.
March merrily,
And do not weep,
Or sadly creep ;
But, comrades, march on merrily.

Hang it ! my pipe has just gone out ;
No, no, I'm merry so ne'er mind.
This is our journey's end, no doubt :
My eyes, I pray you, do not bind.
Be careful, friends don't fire too low :

I'm grieved so troublesome to be ;
Good-bye to heaven I hope you'll go.
March merrily,
And do not weep,
Or sadly creep ;
But, comrades, march on merrily.

The following poem, in quite another key, was


written during the Restoration, and recalls the
sanguine hopes of the enthusiastic boy-poet. The
poem is supposed to be addressed to the actress who
impersonated the Goddess of Reason, then young and
fascinating, now old and wrinkled :


And is it you, who once appeared so fair,

Whom a whole people followed to adore,
And, thronging after your triumphant chair,

Called you by her great name whose flag you bore ?
Flushed with the acclamations of the crowd,
Conscious of beauty (you were fair to see),
With your new glory you were justly proud,
Goddess of Liberty !

Over the Gothic ruins as you passed,

Your train of brave defenders swept along ;

And in your pathway flow'ry wreaths were cast,
While virgins' hymns mixed with the battle-song.

I, a poor orphan, in misfortune bred
For fate her bitterest cup allotted me

Cried, ' Be a parent in my mother's stead,
Goddess of Liberty !'

Foul deeds were done that glorious time to shame ;

But that a simple child I did not know :
I felt delight to spell my country's name,

And thought with horror of the foreign foe.
All armed against the enemy's attack ;

We were so poor, but yet we were so free.
Give me those happy days of childhood back,
Goddess of Liberty !


Like a volcano, which its ashes flings
Until its fire is smothered by their fall,

The people sleep : the foe his balance brings,

And says, ' We'll weigh thy treasure, upstart Gaul.'

When to high Heaven our drunken vows we paid,
And worship e'en to beauty dared decree,

You were our dream the shadow of a shade,
Goddess of Liberty !

Again I see you time has fled too fast :
Your eyes are lustreless and loveless now ;

And when I speak about the glorious past,

A blush of shame o'erspreads your wrinkled brow.

Still, be consoled ; you did not fall alone ;

Though lost thy youth, car, altar, flowers may be,

Virtue and glory too are with thee gone,
Goddess of Liberty !

So that if the Revolution was stained with crime,
the Restoration was altogether infamous. The fol-
lowing rollicking song was written in May, 1813,
and is full of genial satire :


There was a King of Yvetot,

Who, little famed in story,
Went soon to bed, to rise was slow,

And slumbered without glory.
'Twas Jenny crowned the jolly chap

With nothing but a cotton cap,

Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !

What a famous king was he, oh la !


Within his thatched palace, he

Consumed his four meals daily ;
He rode about, his realm to see,

Upon a donkey, gaily ;
Besides his dog, no guard he had,

He hoped for good when things were bad,

Ne'er sad.
Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !

What a famous king was he, oh la !

No costly tastes his soul possessed,

Except a taste for drinking,
And kings who make their subjects blest,

Should live well, to my thinking ;
At table he his taxes got,

From each one's cask he took a pot,

I wot.
Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !

What a famous king was this, oh la !

With ladies, too, of high degree

He was a fav'rite, rather,
And of his subjects I suspect

Rather too much a father.
He never called out troops,

Except to shoot the target, and then
He called them all his men.

Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !
What a famous king was he, oh la !

He did not widen his estates
Beyond their proper measure ;

A model to all potentates,
His only work was pleasure.


And 'twas not till the day he died,

His faithful subjects ever sighed

Or cried.
Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !

What a famous king was he, oh la !

This wise and worthy monarch's face

Is still in preservation,
And as a sign it serves to grace

An inn of reputation.
On holidays, a joyous rout

Before it push their mugs about

And shout,
Ho ! ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha ! ha !

What a famous king was he, oh la !

Before concluding my very imperfect sketch of
Beranger, for whom I hope the reader feels a
friendly interest, I will quote one of the finest songs
ever written ; it is equal to the best of Burns's.
I cannot say more, and it would be unjust to say
less. I will venture to use my own version of ' Le
Vilain.' The poet was sometimes spoken of as de


So, I learn, some criticise

The de before my name ;

Are you then of blue blood ?

No ! well I can say the same.

My humble name is of the lowest rank ;

I have no haughty title-deeds to show.

I love my country, that is all ;

My birth was low, 0, very low !


I should not have a tie before my name,

Because, if in my heart I read aright,

My fathers must have curst the power of kings ;

In which, in truth, I don't delight.

I love my country, that is all ;

My birth was low, 0, very low !

My fathers never to despair drove the poor serf ;
Never their noble swords have drunk the blood of

unarmed men ;

Never when tired of this have they
To dirty work of courts said their ' Amen ! '
I love my country, that is all ;
My birth was low, 0, very low !

In civil wars my ancestors did not take part ;

They ne'er to their own land a foreign foe invited,

Nor when the Church to crush the people tried,

To blacker deeds incited.

I love my country that is all ;

My birth was low, 0, very low !

Leave me alone is all I ask,
Aristos, with the turned-up nose ;
Nobles of the button-hole,
Born legislators, go and doze !
I honour honest labour,
'Tis to pride I deal my blow,
I only bow to sorrow ;
For I am low, 0, very low !
I love my country, that is all ;
My birth was low, 0, very low !

Dr. Charles Mackay, in his vividly graphic and


brightly written Forty Years' Recollections, published
by Messrs. Chapman and Hall, paints a most
characteristic portrait of the poet and wit, Beranger,
with whom he breakfasted in 1847. The poet was
then living at Passy, and, singular to say, the other
guest was, perhaps, the most intensely religious and
enthusiastic humanitarian of the time : Lamennais,
between whom and Beranger, in spite of the immense
gulf dividing their characters and opinions, there was
a warm and intimate friendship.

Dr. Mackay was conducted to a little front-
room in which breakfast was placed. After waiting
a few minutes, the poet entered and cordially
welcomed his visitor, who found his likeness to
Maclise's portrait which had appeared in Fraser
very striking. Beranger was dressed in dressing-
gown and slippers.

A woman of about sixty years of age waited
on them. She bore in her face traces of youthful
beauty, and made Dr. Mackay think of the famous
Lisette of Beranger's early, passionate days. But
Lamennais informed him that Lisette had dis-
appeared from the poet's world many years ago,
and had married or emigrated ; or, perhaps, was,
to a very great extent, made up from many

'Beranger' (to quote Dr. Mackay) 'had a broad,
capacious forehead, a very bald head, and a good-
natured, benign, but somewhat sloveuly appearance.'

We all remember the lines to his dear old
coat !


1 He looked like a man who would not encourage
trouble to come to his door, much less to take up its
abode in his house. He was encased in such a smooth,
well-soldered, and well-fitting armour of Epicurean
content, as to defy the stings and arrows of fate to
pierce it, or even annoy him [he had learned by
experience to properly estimate the " sweet voices "] ; a
good, easy man, who took things as they came, was
satisfied with little, fond of the sunshine and of small
enjoyments, a Diogenes in his contempt of outward
show and in independence of character, but with a
real, unaffected good-nature to which Diogenes had no

There was a good deal of the cool Epicureanism
of the polished pagan, Horace, in Beranger, in
addition to the popular racy richness and splendid
humour of Burns.

'BSranger, was in fact a bonhomme in the French
sense of the phrase kindly, without guile or thought
of evil; fond of his pleasures, but never dreaming of
doing harm to any one in order to obtain them ; a very
child in his simplicity ; and yet a very wise man in his
knowledge of the world. . . . Beranger impressed me
with the idea that he was the most Parisian of all
the Parisians I had ever met; the most unmitigated
badaud, living in Paris for the sake of Paris, and with
no thoughts but such as Paris inspired. ... He had
never seen a mountain in his life; and worse than
all, did not remember to have seen the ocean, or heard
the solemn music of the shore. ... He loved flowers,
he said, and a little garden; but he could not dis-


tinguish one tree from another by its name, and thought
the trees of the Tuileries gardens, the Champs Elyse"es, or
the Bois de Boulogne, superior to the groves of Tempe,
Arcadia, Dodona, or Vallombrosa. He was so unaffected,
so genial, so honest, so modest, and so kind, that it was
impossible to be long in his company without feeling
affection for him; and he was over and above all, so
shrewd and sagacious or, as the Scotch say, so " canny,"
that it was equally impossible to avoid feeling

The above pen-and-ink portrait is masterly,
and depicts the granite common sense of Beranger
on which wit and imagination played like sunshine
on a rock. Before finishing, I must quote the worldly-
wise and level-headed reply of the poet to one of
the high flights of Lamennais' transcendentalism.
It is not difficult to imagine the sly twinkle in the
bright eyes of the poet and the nuance of irony
in the tone of the voice.

{ I own my inferiority to the Abbe 1 ,' said Beranger.
' He dreams of the future, and his dreams are all
celestial. I never dream of the future, but content my-
self with to-day. I take the actual world as I see it ;
and, all things considered, come to the conclusion that
the world has never been very much better than it is,
and that it never will be. Our English friend thinks
I have done much to encourage my countrymen in the
love and admiration of the Great Napoleon. I never
wished to do so. I recognise Napoleon's high qualities.
When he was in power, I passed my opinion freely on his
errors. When he was dying in lonely misery on the


rocks of St. Helena, I forgot his faults and only
remembered his glory and his calamities. But I
want no revival of his glory or his system in our day.
The Republic with as much liberty, equality, and
fraternity as we can command that is my ideal of a
government, and what I hope France will arrive at
sooner or later : through perplexities, perils, and blood-
shed, perhaps ; but predestined, and therefore certain,
whatever may be the sufferings that may fall upon us
before the end is reached. Of one thing we are all
certain, the present regime cannot last. France is a
proud nation, and ce roi bonhomme, as people once called
him cet epicier poltron t as they call him now will not
long be permitted to sit on his present seat. We are not
a very moral nation [in that feature of the national
character, how admirably Be"ranger represented the
French people ; also in his detestation of the ridiculous
and contemptible. Forgive crime and immorality 1 Yes.
Meanness, vulgarity, and absurdity 1 No ! Rochefort
made Napoleon III. impossible because he made him
appear absurd] j but the immorality of his Spanish
intrigues is somewhat too much for us.'

Beranger was not an atheist. He believed in a
God. In his own words : ' There is a God : to Him
I bow ; poor but asking nothing.'

The delicious touch * as much liberty, equality,
and fraternity as we can command ' is the very key
to Beranger' s power as a writer. Genius is after all
common sense in its sublimest form. A few months
after this memorable conversation, the Revolu-
tion of 1848 confirmed the prophecy of the keen-


sighted poet; and the epicier poltron, accompanied by
his umbrella and preceded by immense wealth, visited
the country favoured by his bad faith and insults.
Beranger died in his seventy-seventh year, on the
16th July, 1857. One hundred thousand troops
lined the streets from the poet-patriot's humble
lodging to his grave. But that demonstration
showed fear and not love. Truly, genius is like a
consuming fire. Imagine the Brummagem Caesar
trembling before the dead body of the poor poet !



THE father of Victor Hugo, Joseph Leopold Hugo,
entered the army as cadet, at the age of fourteen
years, in 1788. He became the friend of Kleber
and Desaix, who continued his friends until their
deaths. He was always distinguished by his loyalty
to truth, justice and mercy. But Victor Hugo
has painted the noble and beautiful character of
his father in an exquisite poem, entitled


My sire, the hero with the smile so soft,

And a big trooper, his companion oft,

Whom he loved greatly for his courage high

And stature, as the night drew nigh

Rode out together. The battle was done.

The dead strewed the field. Long sunk was the sun.

It seemed in the darkness a sound they heard,

A feeble moan or some half-uttered word.

'Twas a Spaniard from the army in flight,

Shattered and livid and more than half dead ;

Rattled his throat as quite faintly he said,

4 Water water to drink, for pity's sake !

Oh, one drop of water my thirst to slake ! '


And my father, moved at these words heart-wrung
The flask of wine at his saddle that hung
To his trooper handed, who sharp down sprung.
1 Let him drink his fill,' cried my father ; and ran
The trooper to the sorely wounded man,
A sort of Moor, swarthy, bloody, and grim ;
But soon as the trooper had bent o'er him
He seized his pistol, turned fiercely about,
And aimed at my father's head with a shout.
The ball passed so near that its whistling sound
He heard, while his cap fell pierced to the ground,
And his horse reared back with terror aghast :
' Give him the drink,' said my father, and passed.

The mother of Victor was the daughter of a
Royalist and Catholic who resided at Nantes, and
confounded in one passion his love of God and the
king. He had three daughters ; and one of them,
Sophie, became the mother of Victor Hugo. Leo-
pold Hugo was then a major in the Republican
army: a handsome, spirited officer, who had dis-
tinguished himself as much by humanity as bravery.
Sophie was a small, delicate, spirited girl, with tiny
hands and feet, and she made very short work with
the major's heart. This marriage was at last made,
and the young couple commenced their married life
in a bright, brave, and humble way. As they had
very little money, of course the children came with-
out unnecessary delay. The two first were Abel and
Eugene ; the third was the subject of this sketch.
He was a poor little delicate fellow, without the good
looks of his brothers ; in fact, the doctor said he


would not live. His mother described him as no
longer than a knife. When the fragile little infant
was first dressed, he was placed on a chair, which
would have held a dozen like him. His brothers
were then called to see him. He was so ugly, and
it was his mother who said so, and looked so little like
a human being, that Eugene, who was a big boy and
could hardly speak, called him a little brat !

And this puny, contemptible body contained the
germ of the greatest and noblest poetical genius
since Shakespeare. The greatest miracle I can
conceive is this : that a little piece of pink squalling
humanity can contain the potential powers of a
Raphael, a Mozart, a Beethoven, a Shakespeare, or a
Victor Hugo !

All other miracles become commonplace when
compared with this one.

Although the baby was half dead, his birth was
officially recorded as taking place on the 26th of
February, 1802, under the name of Victor Marie
Hugo. But the half- dead did not die.

He has said, with touching pathos and tearful
humour, ' What pure milk, what ardent wishes, made
him twice the child of his obstinate mother.' What a
stupendous debt the world owes to that mother !
Statues ought to be raised in her honour ! But,
perhaps, while we raise so many hideous monuments
to the destroyers of life, we had better not raise any
to preservers of it. Victor's parents hoped for a
girl after the two first boys, a Victorine instead of a,
Victor. And when the boy was convinced that his


father and mother were not really angry with him
for not being a girl, and that instead of wanting to
get rid of him, were determined to retain him, he
made up his mind to live.

And six weeks after the doctor had prophesied
his death, he made the long journey from Besancon
to Marseilles.

The following letter was written from Paris by
Madame Hugo to her husband :

' Thy Victor enters, he kisses me, I kiss him for you,
and make him kiss this place in my letter [there was here
a blank space] so that you can find in your absence some-
thing of him. I have just given him some bonbons, of
which I always keep a collection in my drawer. He goes
out sadly sucking them."

Victor remembers going to school in the Rue
du Mont Blanc, where he made his first theatrical
appearance in Genevieve de Brabant, Mile. Rose, the
daughter of the schoolmaster, sustaining the part of
the heroine. Little Victor was dressed in a sheep-
skin and was armed with a short lance. He was
very w r earied with the performance, of which he
comprehended nothing, and amused himself in the
most pathetic part of the play by striking the point
of his lance in the leg of Mile. Rose, who, to the
astonishment of the audience, exclaimed, ' Leave off,
you little villain ! ' So that his first appearance on
any stage was a decided failure.

Madame Hugo and her three boys joined her


husband in Italy, and followed him to Naples and
Madrid, where General Hugo was made Marshal of
the Palace by Joseph Bonaparte. This incessant
travelling did not advance the education, at least
apparently, of the boys ; and their father decided
that Madame Hugo should return to Paris and super-
intend their education.

Madame Hugo found a house in the Rue Feuil-
lantines, No. 12 ; the proprietor occupied one part of
the house and she the other. The house had been a
convent, and there was a long, large garden. The
boys were enchanted ; their legs and eyes were not
enough. Every moment they made new discoveries.
' Do you know what I have found ? You have
seen nothing ! Look here ! Look there ! There is
a row of chestnuts ! There are more flowers than
one could dream ! And there are parts of the
garden as wild as the woods ! Why, there is so
much fruit that we cannot pick it all ! '

It was late autumn, and the grapes were ripe ;
the proprietor gave the children permission to pick
them, and they returned intoxicated with pleasure,
and smeared to the roots of their hair with the juice.
But the serious claims of education interfered with
this idyllic life. The two boys, Victor and Eugene,
were sent to a very simple school, kept by a man and
his wife who taught the three R's to workmen's
children. When the schoolmaster commenced
teaching little Victor reading, he was surprised to
find that he had learned simply by looking at the
letters. Then when school was over, what glorious


fun the boys had In the garden, of which they had
undisputed possession.

Madame Hugo passed three years in Paris before
;she received a message from her husband inviting
her to join him in Spain with her children. The
boys commenced the study of Spanish, and in six
weeks could speak the language.

In 1811, Madame Hugo prepared for her
journey to Spain, where her husband did good ser-
vice to Joseph Bonaparte, who had been seated
on a very shaky throne by Napoleon, Even the
garden lost its charm before the vision of a visit
to Spain, and the prospect of embracing their

At last Madame Hugo, her three sons, and two
servants, with as many of their belongings as they
could carry in a diligence, arrived at Bayonne, where
they learned they could not proceed for a month,
because the escort would not be ready till then. I
need hardly say that it would have been very unwise
to travel then without an escort.

The next day a most extraordinary bepatched and
bedizened gentleman waited on Madame Hugo, who
turned out to be the director of the theatre, and
begged her to take a box for the time of her stay.
To the immense delight of the boys, she consented.
A month of the theatre it was too, too much !
Every day a new performance it was intoxicating !
It was a great event formerly to visit the theatre now
and then. The boys had lived on one performance
for a year. That very night there was to be a repre-


sentation. The boys could not eat. They were at
the theatre before the chandelier was lit. They
admired the box draped with red calico, bestuck with
yellow rosettes. They were not even weary with
waiting ; the theatre and the arrival of the audience
amused them. When the band played a short over-
ture very much out of tune they were delighted. The
play was The Ruins of Babylon. It was all beautiful.
There was a good genius, splendidly attired like a
troubadour, whose appearances were looked for with
eager interest ; but his magnificent mantle and
interminable plume were nothing to the scene of
the dungeon. The victim of the tyrant naturally
takes refuge in an underground retreat, where the
good genius visits her with food and cheerful
conversation. The boys enjoyed this piece for four
successive nights. On the fifth they discovered that
the hero talked through his nose. The sixth they
went to sleep at the very climax of the interest. The
seventh they begged their mother to allow them not
to visit the play.

Madame Hugo lodged with a widow who had
one daughter, a little girl of ten years of age.
Victor was nine, and when his brothers went to
see the troops exercise, he remained with the girl.
She would say to him, ' Come with me, and I will
read something to amuse you.' She would lead him
to a corner where there were some stone steps, seat
herself by his side, and read something interesting
of which he did not hear a word, because he was so
occupied in looking at the reader. She had dark


eyes, and her skin, smooth and transparent, had
the delicate whiteness of a camellia. Victor looked
at his ease while her eyes were fixed on the book.
When she looked up his face became crimson. At
times she would be angry with him for his lack
of attention ; then she would angrily say, * Pay
attention, or I will not read to you.' He would
protest that he was paying attention, in order to
induce her to lower her eyes to her book again.

Victor Hugo has since said that every one can
find in his past these infantine love affairs, which
are to real love what the grey light of dawn is to the
full blaze of midday.

Thirty-three years later, in 1844, Victor Hugo
revisited Bayonne. His first journey was to the
house of the widow. Was it the memory of the
widow or the girl-reader that attracted him ? He
found the house, but the stone steps they used to sit
upon were gone. No one could tell him anything of
the widow or of her daughter. Since then he has
seen and heard nothing of either. This was Victor
Hugo's first love affair.

I should like to linger over the voyage to Madrid,
where, after many troubles and dangers, the family
arrived to find only a letter from the husband and
father who had been compelled to leave Madrid, for
a time.

Madame Hugo arrived at the Palace Masserano,

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 12 of 19)