網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

accurate : scholar was somewhat bedimmed before his work was concluded ; but the fame of Shirley is deeply indebted to the collector of his dramas. Many passages of poetry, which had been crowded into halt and disjointed prose, have been brought back, as near as possible, to their original harmonious flow: in some places, the sense, which might have appeared irrevocably lost, by the dislocation of sentences and the transposition of lines, has been restored by conjectural emendations, both bold and felicitous; in others, where words or lines have been lost, the hiatus is marked, and the reader is spared much unprofitable waste of time, in endeavouring to elucidate the meaning of vocables which might seem cast at random from the types. No one, in short, who has not attempted to acquaint himself with the beauties of Shirley's drama, through the old quartos, can appreciate the luxury of reading them in the clearer letter, and more genuine text of the present edition. Mr. Dyce has performed his humbler task as editor of the poems, with his accustomed ability; and, on the whole, it is no fault of the edition, if justice be not at length fairly done to the merit of Shirley. One of his cotemporary poets ventured to prophesy,

That ages yet to come shall hear and see,

When dead, thy works a living elegy. For the first time, in the nineteenth century, this elegy has been removed from the obscure and inaccessible quarter where it had long mouldered unseen ; it has been transcribed in legible characters; and fully asserts the claim of this last of our Elizabethan draniatists, to be admitted to a high place among the second class of the poetical hierarchy of England.

Art. II.--Mémoires de René Le Vasseur, de la Sarthe, ex-Conventionnel. 4 vols. Paris. 1829-1832.

, old Jacobin and regicide, who is still, or lately was alive, and are preceded by an introduction and a biographical notice avonedly from the pen of an editor, M. Achille Roche. We had not, however, read half-a-dozen pages of the Mémoires before we began to suspect that they were not the actual composition of Le Vasseur-that this was a fresh instance of French fabrication, and that the editor was also substantially the author. As we proceeded in our perusal, this suspicion became certainty. We did not doubt that M. Roche might have had some communication with Le Vasseur and his sanction for the use of his name, but it was evident that Roche was the writer of the whole, and that Le Vasseur's share in the work must be very

* In the fine and eloquent tragedy of Chabot, the obscurity of Chapman's manner, the hardness of which his contemporaries called his 'full and heightened style,' is greatly increased by the incorrectness of the press. This play, as bearing the name of Shirley in its title-page, conjoined with that of Chapman, ought not to have been omitted: yet it is very difficnlt to assign any part of it to Shirley; even the comic scenes are more in Chapman's close and pregnant manner than in the light and airy style of Shirley.

that

inconsiderable. We 'noted, as we read, several proofs of fabrication which we intended to lay before our readers; but when we came to the conclusion of the fourth volume (which was published two years after the first), we found that we might spare ourselves the trouble of a critical examination of that point, for that the fact of fabrication, to the full extent we suspected, had been already established in a court of justice.

The case was this. The two first volumes were published in 1829, and in Feb. 1830 they were prosecuted before the tribunal de police correctionelle, as immoral and seditious-as a justification of regicide, irreligion, and anarchy; and on the trial it appeared, that Roche had been employed by the son of Le Vasseur to edite his father's memoirs under the following circumstances. Le Vasseur the younger says, that his father had a wish to write his own apology, and had in fact made many scattered memoranda, but that his great age and infirmities (he was above eighty) had interrupted his work. He gave, however, these notes to the son, who put them into some kind of order, and with the help of verbal explanations from the old gentleman, and large extracts from the Moniteur, completed a manuscript-equivalent in size to about one volume. On his return to Paris he offered this volume to the bookseller Rapilly. In the then state of France, an apology for regicide and a panegyric on the republic fell in luckily with the conspiracy . de quinze ans,' against the legitimate monarchy, which was already so far matured as to have obtained full possession of the press ; and Rapilly entered readily into the speculation ; but one volume, he said, would never do-it must be swelled into four at least, in order to make it lucrative as well as mischievous-for these liberals have always a careful eye to the main chance. Le Vasseur consented; a young litterateur, M. Roche, was selected for the business—and into his hands the manuscript was delivered. The bookseller's evidence, and the sentence of the court, describe the manuscript delivered to Roche as being only heads of chapters and scattered materials for about one volume; but Le Vasseur the younger, alarmed for his profits, is very indignant with the bookseller for having given so poor an account of his materials ; ' which were not,' he says, 'scattered, but collected by himself into a volume. Both these stories may be true-the bookseller's substantially-Le Vasseur's verbally. The materials were, we have

no

no doubt, mere loosé notes and scattered hints, which, M. Le Vasseur, junior, must permit us to think, would not have acquired much historical authenticity, even if he should have pasted or transcribed them into a volume. The difference, however, is of no great importance; as all parties are agreed that the Mémoires were not written by old Le Vasseur, as they affect to be, but that the original draft was compiled by the son, and that even that portion was all re-written, and three-fourths of additional matter supplied, by the ingenuity of Roche, who never had seen either the son or the father.

How much of the work thus doubly fabricated may really belong to the old Regicide, we must leave to the conjecture of our readers. In our own judgment, the portion is so small and so insignificant, that we should not have thought it worth while to have noticed the book at all, but that it seemed desirable to exhibit so well authenticated an instance of the system of fabrication which is now carried on so impudently in France ;* while it may not be-unamusing nor uninstructive to see the kind of apology which the conscience of the father, the filial piety of the son, and the literary talents of the editor, have combined to make for a period, hitherto, as they tell us, most unjustly stigmatised as the Reign of Terror.

Having thus, however, acquainted our readers with the real history of the production, we shall, in our further observations, treat it as the work of Le Vasseur he elder- not only because it has, to a certain degree, his sanction, but also because it may be considered as expressing the sentiments of the party to which he belongs, and which has lately recovered not a little of authority in France. In fact, M. Thiers, now Secretary of State for the Home Department, in a history of the Revolution published previous to July, 1830, took much the same view of the subject that M. Le Vasseur does or is made to do; though we hear, and indeed could have guessed if we had not heard, that Thiers looks back with no great satisfaction to that foundation of his fame and fortunes. The theories of a young advocate of the Revolution are rather at variance with the duties of the minister of even a citizen-king. Not that Le Vasseur is quite so universal a panegyrist of the Revolution as M. Thiers--for he admits with great sincerity that the course of that Revolution was distinguished by at least one bloody injustice, one lamentable tragedy, in which certain

* There is in this work one instance of impudence so remarkable, that we cannot but notice it. The trial which established that Roche, and not Le Vasseur, was the real author of the book, took place after two volumes only had been published, or even written, yet the two latter volumes proceed gravely in the name of old Le Vasseur; nay, what is still droller, after the son had avowed that in 1828 the octogenarian was incapable of continuing his own notes, we find him in 1832 revived into a lively observer of, and active critic on, current events and recent publications,

friends

friends of the author-Messrs. Danton, Robespierre, and others -were cruelly and wantonly put to death, while he himself narrowly escaped the same unworthy treatment. These victims were all des hommes énergiques, mais que n'avait jamais souillé le crime,' members of a society called the Jacobins, and of a party called the Mountain. It is the object of the book to rescue these much-injured persons from a great deal of unmerited obloquy which has, some how or other, attached itself to their proceedings.

Before we proceed to investigate the merits of this apology, we must premise that we are ready to give it all the weight which is arrogated to it on the score of Le Vasseur's character. The intensity of his conviction, his sincere enthusiasm, we admit without cavil ; and he claims what it is not hazardous to allow to a Frenchman-courage in the field. As a man and a midwife, (his profession united these characters,) we give him his due, and are even willing to believe the story of his sacrificing the expectation of a rich inheritance to the honest maintenance of his opinion, against that of a wealthy relative, on the subject of negro slavery. We fear, indeed, that the race of rich West Indian uncles is extinct in France as elsewhere, or only survives to wind up the denouements of M. Scribe's comedies, and to supply the deus ex machina for the relief of that ingenious dramatist's heroes and heroines. But such things were ; and, without discrediting this anecdote of M. Le Vasseur's early life, we will only add, that when any of our own Buxtons or Lushingtons can give anything like as good proof of their sincerity, we will admit their individual right to complete the robbery of the planter, and the destruction of poor Lord Seaford's remaining sugar mills.

From what we have already said, it is obvious that those who may open these volumes, with the hope of finding in them that fund of personal details which constitutes the charm of memoirs, must be disappointed. They will discover here no counterpart to Madame d'Abrantes' trousseau or accouchement, or Napoleon's master-key of the bed-chambers of St. Cloud ! and they must content themselves with floods of declamation, and a few facts floating here and there-in gurgite vasto. We are told that the ardent patriotism which had procured our cheur the suffrages of his native arrondissement of St. Calais for his election to the Convention, pointed out at once his seat to be on the Mountain ; but that his acquaintances, at the commencement of his Parisian career, were few, and that he was then unknown to the leaders either of the Jacobins or the Gironde. All details as to his own private habits, all anecdotes about his personal society, all accounts of the formation of his political connexions, and, what we more lament, all personal sketches of the public

accou

men

men of the day, are wanting. We could have wished it otherwise: we should have been gratified with a genuine and friendly delineation of Robespierre's powdered precision, and Danton's dishevelled ugliness; but alas ! these memoirs, with the exception of the portions of them which relate to military events, and which have something amusing about them, as being put into the mouth of a man-midwife, are little more than a political treatise by M. Roche on facts with which the reader is already but too well acquainted. It must be admitted, however, that, as the grave apologist of the Mountain, he has chosen well the moment for this appeal to the tribunal of public opinion, when modern Girondes, in the incipient struggle with modern Mountains, are going the way of all justes milieus, and when German liberals are obtaining the applauses of their countrymen by — we shudder as we writeclassing St. Just and Robespierre with Jesus Christ.*

The author was at Paris in May 1790, and was one of that collection of all classes of its inhabitants which turned out with spades and wheelbarrows to prepare the Champ de Mars for the ceremony of the oath to the new constitution. We hear nothing of the incidents of that great solemnity, of its national guards standing up by thousand couples to execute quadrilles, and its mass performed with equal spirit and quite as much religious feeling by Bishop Talleyrand and three hundred priests in tri-coloured sashes. But we recommend to the perusal of M. Lafayette the comments of the author upon a certain fusillade perpetrated also in the Champ de Mars in the following year, 1791, on some four hundred zealous patriots. The old general has taken better care of his head than his coadjutor on that occasion, Bailly : the truth is, that the lighter the head the easier it is carried— Bailly's head had something in it-and we leave Lafayette to settle the matter with M. Le Vasseur as he may.

Before we get to real business, i. e., to the proceedings of the National Convention, in which M. Le Vasseur was himself an actor, we are detained for a moment by a passing allusion to the general gaol delivery of Paris, which took place in September, 1792. We have from him the assurance which, though not resident at Paris at the time, he gives without hesitation, that ' the exalted patriots of the Mountain never provoked those assassinations,' as the author condescends to term them. t This assertion is, however, followed by the admission, that without doubt they might have prevented them, had they chosen to do so. Before

* «The tears which the boy wasted over the mischances of Don Quixote the youth has shed over the death of the sacred heroes of freedom, Agis of Sparta, Caius and Tiberius Gracchus of Rome, Jesus of Jerusalem, Robespierre and St. Just of Paris.' (Heine's Reisebilder, or Pictures of Travel, 1832.)

+ Vol. i. p. 92. VOL. XLIX. NO. XCVII.

D

we

« 上一頁繼續 »