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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Has experienced Victor Hugo still


[87]

The description is worth comparing with that of Gautier's _Chateau de la Misere_--the difference between all but complete ruin and mere, though extreme, disrepair being admirably, and by the later master in all probability designedly, worked out.

[88] _Et fugit ad salices et se cupit ante videri._

[89] Note, too, a hint at a never filled in romance of the captain's own.

[90] I must ask for special emphasis on "beauty." Nothing can be _finer_ or _fitter_ than the style of Steenie's ghostly experiences. And the famous Claverhouse passage _is_ beautiful.

[91] As Rossetti saw it in "Sibylla Palmifera":

"Under the arch of Life, where Love and Death, _Terror_ and Mystery guard her shrine, I saw Beauty enthroned."

[92] Perhaps there are few writers mentioned in this book to whose lovers exactly the same kind of apology is desirable as it is in the case of Nodier. "Where," I hear reproaching voices crying, "is _Jean Sbogar_? Where is _Laure Ruthwen ou les Vampires_ in novel-plural or _Le Vampire_ in melodrama-singular? Where are a score or a hundred other books, pieces, pages, paragraphs, passages from five to fifty words long?" They are not here, and I could not find room for them here. "But you found more room for Paul de Kock?" Yes: and I have tried to show why.

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CHAPTER III

VICTOR HUGO

[Sidenote: Limitations.]

At the present day, and perhaps in all days hitherto, the greatest writer of the nineteenth century in France for length of practice, diversity of administration of genius, height of intention, and (for a long time at least) magnitude and altitude of fame, enjoys, and has enjoyed, more popular repute in England for his work in prose fiction than for any other part of it. With the comparative side of this estimate the present writer can indeed nowise agree; and the reasons of his disagreement should be made good in the present chapter. But this is the first opportunity he has had of considering, with fair room and verge, the justice of the latter part of Tennyson's compliment "Victor _in Romance_"; and it will pretty certainly be the last. As for a general judgment of the positive and relative value and qualities of the wonderful procession of work--certainly deserving that adjective whatever other or others may be added--which covers the space of a full half-century from _Han d'Islande_ to _Quatre-Vingt-Treize_, it would, according to the notions of criticism here followed, be improper to attempt that till after the procession itself has been carefully surveyed.

Nor will it be necessary to preface, to follow, or, except very rarely and slightly, to accompany this survey with remarks on the non-literary characteristics of this French Titan of literature. The object often of frantic political and bitter personal abuse; for a long time of almost equally frantic and much sillier political and personal idolatry; himself the victim--in consequence partly of his own faults, partly of ignoble jealousy of greatness, but perhaps most of all of the inevitable reaction from this foolish cult--of the most unsparing rummage into those faults, and the weaknesses which accompany them, that any poet or prose writer, even Pope, has experienced--Victor Hugo still, though he has had many a _vates_ in both senses of _sacer_, may almost be allowed _carere_ critico _sacro_,[93] in the best sense, on the whole of his life and work. I have no pretensions to fill or bridge the whole of the gap here. It will be quite task enough for the present, leaving the life almost alone, to attempt the part of the work which contains prose fiction. Nothing said of this will in the least affect what I have often said elsewhere, and shall hold to as long as I hold anything, in regard to the poetry--that its author is the greatest poet of France, and one of the great poets of the world.


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