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 14 of 19)
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do not ; on the other hand, I believe a great many things
that you disbelieve ; but of the two, I think I believe in
more than you.'

To refer again to Victor Hugo's love of those
human flowers children. The grand old man,
like Lear, stood almost alone. He lost his dear wife
some years ago. His brothers, Eugene and Abel,
died many years back. The former Eugene
died insane in 1837. The noble old soldier-father
died of apoplexy, which struck him down like
a bullet. All Victor Hugo's children are dead.
His strong, passionate affections clung to his grand-
children, to whom he addressed the following tender
and beautiful lines :


Children beloved, they will tell you later of me,

How your grandsire held you well pleased on his knee ;

How he adored you, and how he strove on the earth

To do his best always ; how alas ! from his birth

Of joy he had little, and of grief he had much ;

How many maligned him, though he cared not for such :


How at the time you were young and he very old

He never had harsh words and airs fretful or cold

For you or for any, and then how at the close

He left you for ever in the time of the rose ;

How he died, how he was a kind man after all ;

How in the famed winter when rained shell, shot, and ball,

He traversed Paris Paris girt by a horde,

Paris tragic, and full of the gleam of the sword

To get you bright playthings, strange puppets and dolls,

And bearded Jack-in-the-box, whose spring sudden appals,

And sometimes a flower pearled with the bright morning

dews :
Then sadly under the dark trees you will muse.


Oh, I was wild like a madman at first,
Three days I wept tears cruel and accurst ;

those whom God of their hope hath bereft !
Fathers and mothers like me lonely left !
Have ye felt what I felt, and known it all ?
And longed to dash your heads 'gainst the wall 1
Have ye been like me in open revolt

And defied the Hand that had hurled the bolt 1

1 could not believe at all in the thing,

I gazed and I gazed for a light to spring.
Does God permit such misfortunes, nor care
That our souls be filled with utter despair ?
It seemed as the whole were a frightful dream,
She could not have left me thus like a gleam !
Ha ! that is her laughter in the next room !
Oh, no, she cannot be dead in the tomb.


There she will enter come here by this door,
And her step shall be music to me as before.
Oh ! how oft have I said, Silence, she speaks ;
Hark ! 'tis her hand on the key, and it creaks ;
Listen, she comes ! I must hear, she's there ;
Her footstep falls like a flower on the stair.

Victor Hugo has dealt with, the weightiest and
sublimest question which can engage the attention
of man : the soul and its yearning for some answer
to the enigma of life and death.

The Pope I consider to be one of the most pro-
foundly beautiful and religious poems ever written.
It embraces the essence of the Christian religion
truth, justice, and mercy.

The sublime address of the Pope to the people
as he leaves the Vatican will, I think, justify that
opinion. He dreams mind, he only dreams that
he has really become a humble follower of Christ.
He abandons the Vatican, with all its mighty
grandeur, glory, and pomp ; he leaves his crowd
of courtiers and lackeys ; strips the tiara from
aching brow, throws off his pompous robes, and
goes forth poor to feed the poor; he visits them in
their hovels ; comforts the sick ; and becomes instead
of a proud Pontiff a humble Christian bearing the
cross of poverty and humility.

The address to the people is as follows :

' People, I have said to the world :

' No more war civil or foreign. No more scaffolds.


Before the blue heaven, Liberty ; Equality before death ;
Fraternity before the Father of all men. Love ! Strength,
help weakness ! Enlighten those who injure you ; cure
those who wound you. Peace and pardon. Be merciful
to the criminal. The right of the good is to be brotherly
to the wicked ; the just man who is without love does
not obey the Divine command ; and the sun is no longer
the sun if it does not shine on wolves and tigers.

' Pity I let repentance grow. Judges, think ; execu-
tioners, recoil ; live, Cain ! Do not take to-morrow from
the man who has lost to-day; leave to all time to re-
deem their faults.

' Be humble thinkers, be lofty souls. Ye rich, it is
by giving ye will be richer ; sow ! Ye poor, poverty is
not hate ; love I Every good thought is a deliverance.
However black the sorrow, retain hope. Hate is a wind,
gloomy and pestilential ; love, love, love be brothers ! '

A speech by Victor Hugo, delivered at a banquet
given in his honour at Brussels in 1870 by the
principal journalists of Europe, is worth quotation
as a specimen of his oratorical power. In the course
of this speech, Victor Hugo said :

1 What is the auxiliary of the patriot 1 The Press.
What is the terror of the coward and the traitor? The
Press. I know it ! the Press is hated, and that is our
reason for loving it. I recollect a celebrated encyclical,
some remarkable words in which have remained in my
memory. In this encyclical a Pope, our contemporary,
Gregory XVI., the enemy of his age, which is sometimes
the misfortune of Popes, and having ever present in his



mind the old dragon and beast of the Apocalypse, thus
described the Press in barbarous Latin, " Gula ignea,
caligo, impetus immanis cum strepitu liorrendo " (a fiery
throat, darkness, a fierce rush with a horrid noise). I
dispute nothing of the description. The portrait is
striking. A mouth of fire, smoke, prodigious noise !
J ust so. It is a locomotive which is passing ; it is the
Press, the mighty and holy locomotive of progress.
Where is it going ] Where is it dragging civilisation ?
Where is this powerful pilot engine carrying nations ?
The tunnel is long, obscure, and terrible, for we may
truly say that humanity is yet underground, so much
matter envelopes and crushes it, so many superstitions,
prejudices, and tyrannies form a thick vault around it,
and so much darkness is above it. Alas ! since man's
birth the whole of history has been subterranean. We
see nowhere the divine ray ; but in the nineteenth cen-
tury there is hope, there is certainty. Yonder, far in
the distance, a luminous point, a star of hope, appears.
It increases, it increases every moment ; it is the future ;
it is realisation ; it is the end of woe ; it is the dawn of
joy ; it is the Canaan, the future land where we shall
only have around us brothers and above us heaven.
Strength to the sacred locomotive ! Courage to thought !
courage to science ; courage to philosophy ; courage to
all you writers !

' The hour is drawing nigh when mind, delivered at
last from this dismal tunnel of six thousand years, will
suddenly burst forth in all its dazzling brightness ! '

I must conclude my rambling sketch by a short
reference to the sublime exhibition of love by the


people of Paris and France generally to Victor

Four hundred thousand people, principally poor
people, spent a whole day marching past the poet's
house on his seventy-ninth birthday. Men, women,
and children passed the window at which the grand
old poet sat, and, depositing their flowers, walked
on singing, in the most beautiful and orderly way.
Bands of bright-eyed, but, I am afraid, pale-faced
children filled the old man's face with smiles and
his eyes with tears, which now and then, and I
think very often, ran over.



THE rapid readers of sensational novels have for-
gotten Sue's powerful works, which, at one time,
were translated into every European language. The
Mysteries of Paris dealt with the lowest depths of
Parisian life ; but Sue's manner was totally dif-
ferent to that of Zola. The former was an enthu-
siastic humanitarian. He loved and hated his
creations with an intensity equal to Dickens and
Victor Hugo. Zola, especially in his later works,
is merely an expositor of whatever is unclean and
horrible. He appears to look upon an atrocious
villain as a doctor looks on some horrible develop-
ment of disease with acute interest. He seems to
take no interest in manly love or womanly devo-
tion. All is dark with him; no light, no relief.
The horrible odours of a moral cesspool seem to suit
him ; in fact, the more abominable it is, the more
at home he appears to be. . ' Evil, be thou my
good,' appears to be his motto.

Take his most powerful story, Germinal. What


horrors, what human degradation! The life de-
scribed in the coal-mine is doubtless true ; but
there should have been some light of love ; some
relief to the grim horror and unspeakable vileness
of the men and women described.

Germinal is Zola's best work. It is full of
weird, lurid, diabolical force. It is certainly the
handwriting on the wall so far as our present social
arrangements are concerned. On one side we have
luxury, comfort, affluence, vicious indulgence ; and,
on the other, men and women living lives of the
vilest, the most inhuman degradation ; and, what is
worse, that degradation is proved by the author to
be the inevitable and direct outcome of the social
and political system ' devil take the hindmost ! '
and the hindmost are millions, not thousands which
obtains in the so-called civilised world to-day. He
grimly proves, by the inexorable logic of over-
whelming facts, that to millions of men and women
life is a dire and dreadful curse ; and, perhaps, the
world needed to be taught that lesson. His horrible
word-pictures may be wanted by the coarse and the
callous, who might remain untouched by a more
artistic and imaginative presentment of the same
terrible truths. Let such people read Zola. He may
possibly teach them that the luxury in which, and for
which, they live, is in danger: that their brutal
selfishness is producing and sharpening the hunger
of human, or rather inhuman, wild beasts, who will
devour them and theirs, and all they live for, and
live by.


The following scene shows the wonderful de-
scriptive power of Zola ; it is from Germinal.

The wretched, famished miners, half starved when
they work, and quite starved when they don't, are
on strike, and meet at night. Snow is at their feet,
the leafless branches of trees surround them, and
hunger and despair lash them to madness.

' It was the Place des Dames, an open space sur-
rounded by forest trees. There was a slight incline,
around -which was a high hedge; superb beech-trees,
with straight and regular trunks, made a white colon-
nade, partly covered by green lichen : giant trees, lately
felled, lay in the snow, and to the left a heap of
branches was piled. As night closed in the cold in-
creased, the frozen snow crunched under the footsteps.
It was bitterly cold ; the high branches were sharply
etched against a pale sky, where the full moon, slowly
rising from the horizon line, would shortly extinguish
the pale stars.

' Nearly three thousand miners met at this spot ; a
crowd of men, women, and children, filled little by little
the cleared space, appearing from under the dark trees ;
still they came, and their heads, massed together, spread
further and further into the neighbouring paths. A harsh
murmur, like the rushing of a stormy wind, arose in the
forest, before so still and icy.

' Above, commanding the incline, Etienne stood with
Rasseneur and Maheu. A quarrel had commenced,
excited voices were heard. Near them the miners
listened ; Levaque with clenched fists, Pierron turned
his back.



' The quarrel arose through Rasseneur, who wished
to proceed regularly by the election of a committee. His
recent defeat at the Bon Joyeux, enraged him : and he
swore he would be revenged, hoping to reconquer his
ancient authority when he should be face to face, not
with the delegates, but with the miners themselves !'

Rasseneur addresses the miners, but his old in-
fluence has departed, he is laughed at, frozen snow
and stones are thrown at him, and he is obliged to

Then old Bonnemort, one of the most powerful
creations in this extraordinary book, addresses the
crowd. Bonnemort has lived all his life in the
mine; mind, body, and character are utterly dis-
torted. He has been entirely subdued to his horrible
surroundings ; and is as much an animal as the
wretched over- worked, cruelly treated horses used

' After the jeers, which accompanied the retreat of
Rasseneur, the crowd were stirprised to see Father
Bonnemort standing on the prostrate trunk of a tree,
commencing to speak. Up to that moment Moque
and he appeared absorbed, as usual, with their thoughts
of the past. Doubtless he yielded to one of those
sudden desires to talk, which, now and then, took posses-
sion of him with such violence that recollections of the past
rose and flowed from his lips for hours together. There
was silence at once, all listened to the old man, who, in
the white moonlight, looked as pale as a ghost ; and as
he recounted things unconnected with the discussion the
astonishment increased. He spoke of his youth, of the


death of his two uncles crushed in the mine at Voreux ;
then he passed on to the death of his wife.

'But he never lost his one fixed idea, things were
always bad ; always the same. Thus, in this forest,
five hundred of them met, because the king would
not reduce the hours of work ; but he stopped ab-
ruptly, and commenced the story of another strike ;
he had seen them all. They always met under
the trees, here at Place des Dames, yonder at la Char-
bonniere, further still, near Saut du Loup. Sometimes
it froze, sometimes it was hot. One night, it rained so
heavily that they all had to retire without a word being
spoken ; and the king's soldiers arrived and fired at them
as they went. " We raised our right hand like this, we
swore never to descend the mine again. . . . Ah ! I
have sworn. Yes ! I have sworn ! "

' The crowd listened open-mouthed, oppressed, when
Etienne, who had watched the scene, jumped on the tree,
keeping the old man by his side.


' " Comrades, you have heard, this is one of our old
men, behold what he has suffered and think of what our
children will suffer if we do not finish with the robbers
and executioners 1"

' He was terrible, never had he been so violent. With
one arm he supported old Bonnemort ; he held him up as
a flag of starvation and misery, demanding vengeance.
With rapid phrases, he went back to the first Maheu, he
exhibited all his family used up in the mine, devoured
by the Company, more famished after a hundred years
toil than before. Then he sketched the Directors, roll-
ing in money, the shareholders with nothing to do but


look after their pampered bodies. Was not it frightful 1
Thousands of men dying underground, from father to
son, in order to pay for luxuries for ministers, and to
enable great nobles and capitalists to give grand fetes or
to fatten at the corner of their fires ! He had studied
the maladies of the miners ; he described them with
horrible details : scrofula, black bronchitis, stifling
asthma, and rheumatism which paralyses. The con-
temptible wretches cast them as food to their machines,
the great companies absorbed them little by little, re-
gulating their slavery, menacing to enrol them like
soldiers, enslaving millions of arms, to make the fortune
of a thousand do-nothings. But the miner was no longer
an ignorant brute crushed in the belly of the mine. An
army was rising from the bowels of the earth, a harvest
of citizens which would scatter the earth in all directions,
one glorious day. And we would know then if, after
forty years of toil, they dared offer one hundred and fifty
francs pension to an old man of sixty, who spat coal-dust,
and whose legs were swollen through working for years in
water. Yes ! labour demands its account from capital,
that impersonal god, unknown to the workman, crouching
somewhere, in the mystery of its tabernacle, where it
sucked away the life of the starved wretches who
nourished it. They intended to find it, to see its face
by the light of incendiary fires ; they would drown the
unclean beast, that monstrous idol, gorged with human
flesh, in blood ! He was silent, but his arm, always
stretched out, pointed to the void, as if the enemy were
yonder, he knew not where, but at one end of the earth
or the other. The clamour of the crowd was now so
great that the people at Montsou heard it and looked
towards Vaudame, filled with inquietude and fearing an


explosion had occurred. Night-birds flew over the heads
of the trees, in the clear, moonlit air. 7

The strike fails ; the men are conquered by
starvation. The following description of the re-
turn of the men to their work shows the gloomy
power of Zola :

'Little by little the deserted road became peopled,
the miners passed Etienne continually. The Company,
they said, abused its victory. After a strike of two and
a half months, conquered by famine, when they returned
to the mine, they had to accept the new tariff, which
disguised a fall in their wages, execrable now, because
stained by the blood of their comrades. They had stolen
an hour of their work, they had made them break their
oath to never surrender, and that perjury stuck in their
throats, like a bag of gall. Work recommenced every-
where, at Merose, at Madeleine, at Crevecoeur, at la
Victoire. Everywhere, in the mist of the morning,
along roads drowned in darkness, the men stumbled,
with noses to the ground, like sheep going to the
slaughter-house. They shivered under their thin can-
vas clothes, they crossed their arms, their legs trembled
under them, their backs were bent, and the loaf carried
between the shirt and blouse made them appear hump-
backed. And in that universal return to work, hi those
mute shadows, all black and gloomy, withoxit a laugh,
without a look around them, one divined teeth clenched
with rage, hearts swollen with hate ; it was only a sur-
render to the brute necessity of the belly.'

The inner lesson of the horrible book, Nana, is,


that such a creature, beautiful and deadly, corrupt
and corrupting, is born and bred like a dungfly,
in filth, and preys upon and destroys the most
exalted representatives of the society which, by its
neglect and indifference, rendered such a creature

' Our pleasant vices are the whips that scourge us/
But the important lesson taught by Zola in
Nona does not, in my opinion, justify the crude
horrors of the book ; and I firmly believe the harm
done by such a work is ten times greater than the

Take, in contrast, Sue's Mysteries of Paris. In
this most powerful story, we are plunged into the
vilest society ; but there are potential love, self-
sacrifice, and heroism even in the Chironeur and
Fleur de Marie. Sue does not make us despair of
humanity. No real man of genius ever does, or
ever did ; genius imparts faith and love. Fleur de
Marie gradually emerges from the vile life in which
- poor, unprotected victim of the callous selfishness
of the comfortable classes she had been plunged for
sixteen years. "With fine art, Sue shows us the beau-
tiful possibilities of this naturally sweet and tender-
hearted girl He awakens a vivid interest in her.
The Chironeur, too, has noble instincts. When his
heart and courage are appealed to they respond
nobly. Even the hideous Brigand is not alto-
gether lost in utter degradation ; there is a spark
of good in him. The Chouette is, indeed, lost to all
humanity ; she is altogether vile and hideous. She


loathes what is good and beautiful, because of their
goodness and beauty. That is, unfortunately, pos-
sible. The horrible boy, Tortillard, hateful in mind
and body, has a gleam of love for this vile woman.
But the grand lesson in Sue's book and there are
no grand lessons in Zola's abominable Chamber of
Horrors, in thirty volumes is the belief, the potent
belief, he had in the perfectibility of human nature.
Who could support life without that belief? The
influence of the sweet temper and angelic self-for-
getfulness of Fleur de Marie on La Louve, a woman
of ferocious passions, but generous character, is beau-
f ully described ; and, thank God, it is credible ! Zola
never proves that a bad character can become better ;
he painfully tries to prove that nearly every ap-
parently good character can become bad. His crea-
tions are usually moral abortions. He is master of
the apes ; and does not write like a man writing of
men and women, with human sympathy and love;
but like a man looking at the ugly gambols of a lot
of monkeys, spying out all the ugliest tricks they
play, and then dilating, in the most elaborate
manner, on the worst that he has seen. Dickens
overdid his pathos ; Zola overdoes his beastliness.
"VVe can forgive one, but not the other. ' One touch of
nature makes the whole world kin.' One touch of
Zola degrades love, debases friendship, and robs the
human heart of its one priceless solace belief in the
perfectibility of human nature.

We know that a man should not fall into mud-
holes through looking too much at the stars. But


he should not by only studying the mud, forget there
are stars. I am afraid of quoting the crude horrors
of Zola to prove my case. I have only read L'Assom-
moir, Nana, Therese Raquin, Germinal, and La Terre,
and I don't think I am called upon to read any more.
No man can write twenty pages without proving his

Every good and nohle work of fiction should
awaken our love for the good, and intensify our
hatred of evil. Fielding does that ; Sue, Dickens,
Scott, Thackeray, George Eliot, all do the same.
They make us kinder to our kind ; they enlarge our
sympathies, they purify our hearts. Zola's works
take the blue out of the sky ; they dim the stars ;
they rob us of hope ; and when we are robbed of that
we are robbed of all.

To return to Sue. When Rodolphe causes, by
his faith in the Chironeur, the noble chords, never
touched before, of his heart to vibrate, we feel our
heart vibrate too. That is the proper, the noble
function of fiction. To take us out of our narrow
groove of life, and by a broad, sympathetic picture
of humanity to touch the deeper chords of our nature,
producing a nobler music to enrich and beautify our
lives ; that is the noble mission of great fiction. With
all his faults and exaggerations, Sue does that, and
Zola distinctly does not ; it is not in his heart. He
not only does not do that, he does the direct contrary
to it. Sue's Wandering Jew is an imaginative master-
piece ; it refines and elevates by pity and terror. The
picture of Rose and Blanche is pathetic and beau-


tiful ; Rodin arouses horror and detestation. The
generous and enlightened Hardy, the pioneer of sane
socialism. co-operation is painted with warm en-
thusiasm. Sue was a man who did not coldly look
on mankind, as a vivisectionist might look, with
scientific interest, at a cat, but with eyes that were
sometimes filled with tears, and at others flashed and
flamed with indignation. Sue wrote from the heart,
and, therefore, his writings, with all their faults,
touch our hearts. Sue teaches hope, faith, and love.
Zola pronounces the doom of a society which renders
such a writer possible and successful.

Take the following passage where Sue describes a
day spent by Rodolphe and Fleur de Marie, the first
day of pleasure the poor girl had ever enjoyed, out-
side the walls of Paris :

' They arrived at the Quai aux Fleurs, where a car-
riage awaited them. Rodolphe assisted his companion
into it, and, after placing himself at her side, said to the
coachman, " To St. Denis ; I will tell you shortly which
road to take." The horses started ; the sun was radiant,
the sky without a cloud ; but the air was a little sharp as
it circulated briskly through the open windows of the car-
riage. "Hold; there's a woman's cloak," said Marie,
pointing to one on part of which she was seated.

' " Yes, it is for you, my child ; I brought it purposely,
fearing you might feel cold ; wrap yourself well in it.

' Unaccustomed to such care, the poor girl looked at
Rodolphe with astonishment. The species of intimidation
he had caused her increased each moment, and also a vague
sadness she could not account for.

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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 14 of 19)