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undermined the social and political system of ancient France; but they hid themselves before the men of the pike, and slowly and servilely crawled to light again only to prostrate themselves before the men of the sword, who, in the natural course of the revolutionary cycle, erected out of the ruins of former governments a military despotism. During this long series of political change, while everything else was assuming new forms and deviating into unexplored routes, literature alone adhered to its ancient traditions, and the critical dogmas of the age of Louis XIV. were, with little variation, in full force on the day of the downfall of Napoleon. The reason of this was two-fold: first, that until the Restoration, France never really enjoyed anything like freedom of the press ; and secondly, that, up to the same period, men's minds were irresistibly engrossed by, and their energies directed to, more practical objects; political ambition and military enthusiasm absorbed almost all the talents of the nation; and those who in a state of liberty and peace would have exerted the vigour of their characters in opening new paths of literature, were obliged to seek their fortunes in the public offices, or in the ranks of the army. We speak, of course, only of imaginative or popular literature, -that which more immediately appeals to, and depends upon public opinion and the nature of the government. The higher sciences are cultivated by a small class of recluses, who, in the safe obscurity of the study, are little affected by political changes; and the more practical branches are excited, if not encouraged, by rapid changes in the social system. Geometry, therefore, and physics pursued their silent and equable courses, while chemistry, geology, medicine, and all the utilitarian class of studies, partook in some degree of the general movement; but novels, poetry, and the drama, were repressed and restricted to their old paths—under the republic by fear—and under the empire by a better disguised, but not less effective, coercion—by that power which has been so well characterized as an iron hand in a velvet glove! But whatever may be thought of the theory by which we account for it, the fact is equally certain and curious, that the popular literature of France has, from the reign of Louis XIV. to that of Louis XVIII., exhibited, amidst the wonderful mutability of that volcanic century, little alteration in its principles, and little novelly in its productions.
sure, that by contraction and concentration of matter this number contains nearly twice as muchmor, we should rather say, advances nearly twice as far in the same number of pages-as either of the former three. Still, however, computing the length of the work by the diminished scale of this number, it will be, at least, twice as long as the Prospectus gave reason to expect; nor do we see how it can be brought at all within anything like the promised size, without injury to the work, unless the plan be altered so as to omit all those hundreds of names of persons and places, most of them quite uninteresting, which now occupy so large a space. And then, after all, what between the different relays of editors, and their different modifications of the ori. ginal plan, what an incongruous whole must poor Stephanus become!
The Restoration did not, at first, effect any sensible change. Though the press was freer than it had ever been before, it was still subject to the censorship of the government; and the first tendency of a return to legitimate monarchy was to give additional authority to the literary doctrines of l'ancien régime—the circumstances which recalled to power the descendants of Louis XIV. naturally revived the influence of the admirers of Boileau and Racine.
But a state of freedom, the first France had ever known, and a state of tranquillity, the first she had experienced for fifty years, soon began to operate on the minds of the literary youth. The censure politique became every day less rigid, and the censure littéraire of Geoffroy, Martainville, and other periodical critics of the old school, having wholly vanished, considerable deviations from the beaten tracks were soon observable. These deviations became more frequent and more striking as the authority of Charles X. declined under the pressure of the various engines which were directed against it, and as the students in the different professions, and particularly the young littérateurs, began to find that they were a power in the state.
There had been for some years two schools in French literature, which they chose to designate as the Classical and the Romantic; the Classicals adhered to the elegant regularity of Boileau, Racine, and Voltaire; the Romantics professed to imitate the livelier independence of the Germans and the English. The Classicals were the Roman Catholics of literature-they reverenced a kind of papal infallibility in Aristotle and his successors, and, by too rigorous an adherence to antiquated errors and abuses, brought into contempt a system, which, though originally founded in nature and truth, was disfigured by absurd formalities and incredible fictions. On the other hand, the Romantics, like the Calvinists, pushed their contempt of the ancient authority so far, that, in eradicating the errors, they sacrificed many of the decencies of the old school, and have at length, since the Revolution of July 1830, run into all the immoral and mischievous extravagance of freethinking. But as it was in religion-so it is in literature :-there was and is a happy mean—which we flatter ourselves England has had the good taste to discover, and the good sense to adopt-between the antiquated formalities of the old school, and the extravagant licence of the new :- but the French nation is not fitted for a juste milieu~its literature divided itself into the Clussical and the Romantic-which might better be denominated the pedantic and the extravagant
but no one amongst them seems to have once thought of the Natural! and it is not a little amusing to see that, while the Pedantics called Shakspeare a buffoon, the Romantics have outHeroded Herod, and exaggerated into monstrous absurdities all the errors with which the old classical critics used to reproach the great Poet of nature.
This slight sketch of the progress of modern French literature - which we at present have neither time nor space to explain as it deserves--will prepare our readers for an examination of some of the most fashionable productions of the present Parisian stage. We shall confine our observations to the drama, because, as being the most popular walk of literature, it affords the best test of the new taste of the nation, and it supplies also examples of that taste, more striking—we may add, more astonishing—than even their poetry and their novels ;—both of which, however—and particularly the latter-exhibit the same extravagance, absurdity, and immorality which we shall have to reprobate in their drama.
We are induced to undertake this subject less by literary than by moral considerations. The English public, which cares so little about its own stage, cares still less about that of our neighbours—but there is something in the general aspect of the modern French theatre which indicates so irregular a state of society, that the matter seems to belong rather to politics than to criticism; and we propose to examine a series of the extraordinary productions of the last three years, less with a view to their individual merits, than to the general effects and ultimate tendency of the whole.
The two authors who, both in novels and plays, (but at present we shall confine ourselves to the latter,) have pushed extravagance farthest, and who are, of course, the most popular dramatists in France, are Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. They also exhibit the gradations by which men with more talents than taste, and more power than judgment, are led to outbid not only one another, but themselves, when they have once commenced the career of vulgar popularity.
Hugo began with Hernani, and Dumas with Henry III., which we still think their best works. They both have enough of the Romantic character-enough of that vivacity which disregards the tame unities of time and place-enough of the spirit which seeks for interest on the extreme verge of possibility-enough of extravagant sentiments and of extraordinary situations; but without that gross dereliction of decency, that abandonment of all moral principle, that unhappy curiosity after the worst and most scandalous motives of human actions, which mark in successive gradations their subsequent works—like opium-eaters who begin with a moderate and exhilarating portion, but increase the successive
doses doses till they reach intoxication, fury, debility, and idiotcy. Hernani and Henry III. (under the title of Catherine of Cleves) have been some time before the English public in the excellent translation of Lord Francis Egerton. With them, therefore, we may suppose our readers are acquainted; at all events they do not fall within our present scope-they belong to the Restoration ; and it is the reign of Louis Philippe that has engendered the monsters which it is our purpose to exhibit. ..
Some considerations, however, which bear on the ulterior question, are suggested by these earlier dramas. • Henry III.' is in prose, while · Hernani' appears in the old court-dress of rhyme. Lord Francis, in his translations, gives the first in blank verse, but in the second, he has adhered to his original even to the rhyme, for which, in his prologue, he offers the following apology :
• Yet the time was when that strange path along
pp. 119, 120. These are good verses, but we can by no means concur in this opinion. Rhyme unnecessarily adds another to the improbabilities inseparable from the stage. It is hard enough, even when the persons speak plain prose, to maintain the scenic illusion-still harder when they talk blank verse; but rhyme-if uttered so as to be perceptible-heightens the improbability; and, when it is not perceptible to the ear, it increases the difficulty, and fetters the powers of the writer for no adequate object. It is but justice to Lord Francis to admit that he has done all that it was possible to do-his rhymed version is at once exact and spirited ; and the mere English reader who may wish to see the most perfect approximation to the peculiarities of a French play that our language affords, will read, with great pleasure, this translation of Hernani.
But, even in France, the reign of rhyme is past: its trammels were quite inconsistent with the freedom of the new school; and Hugo, Dumas, and their imitators, have gradually thrown them off, and with them all regularity, all order— we may almost add
all decency. There is, literally, neither rhyme nor reason in the majority of their recent productions.
In the conception of a remarkable class of these modern dramas, there is an obvious imitation of Shakspeare. His historical dramas, which-beside their intrinsic beauties-interest us so much by the introduction of the names and the representation of the events of our national annals, excited long ago the emulation of Voltaire: but his failure in this line was signal;—and the result of his grecising of Adelaide du Guesclin and the Seigneur de Coucy, in the same style in which he frenchified Semiramis and Orestes, disgusted his audience and himself with that class of subjects. Chenier, taking advantage of the revolution, produced his historical tragedy of Charles IX. with a temporary success, which was due altogether to the delight of the mob in seeing a king of France exposed in odious colours, and to the connexion which their absurd ferocity traced between that royal monster and Louis XVI. But even if the powers of Chenier had been greater, the pedantic trammels of the old French theatre were quite inconsistent with the representation of real life, and, above all, of national manners. Some other similar attempts failed, from the same reasons; and it was not till the license of these latter days, when Hugo and his associates threw off the critical as well as the political yoke, that anything like an approach to nature and reality was made : vulgar nature it undoubtedly is, and mean reality; and although they are certainly much more exciting than the decent tediousness of the old school, we doubt whether they will maintain a more lasting popularity.
M. Hugo, in several of his prefaces, avows his admiration and imitation of Shakspeare; and in that to his sixth and last piece, • Mary Tudor,' gives us the chief points of his actual creed :
• There are two methods,' he says, “ to create interest in an audience--the grand and the true ;* the grand affects the mass—the true the individuals. A dramatic author ought, then, above all, to attempt either the grand, like Corneille, or the true, like Molière; or, still better, to unite the true and the grand, as in Shakspeare.
For let us observe, en passant, it has been given to Shakspeare —and that it is which constitutes the sovereignty of his genius-tó conciliate, to unite, to combine in his works these two qualities grandeur and truth ; qualities, if not opposite, at least so distinct, that a failure in either constitutes an offence against the other-the risk of the over-true is to become mean, the risk of the over-grand is to become false. In all Shakspeare's works, there is grandeur which is true, and truth which is grand. In all his compositions, we
* Le vrai, which perhaps might be better rendered by the natural; but as the author had, in his own language, the word naturel, if he had chosen to use it, we think it right to translate his opinion literally,