« EdellinenJatka »
Lamartine’s republican principles are universally known. Although descended of a noble family, and largely imbued with feudal feelings, he aided in the revolt which overturned the throne of Louis Philippe in February 1848, and acquired lasting renown by the courage with which he combated the sanguinary spirit of the Red Republicans, when minister of foreign affairs.
Both are chivalrous in heart and feeling, rather than opinions ; and they thus exhibit curious and instructive instances of the fusion of the moving principle of the olden time with the ideas of the present, and of the manner in which the true spirit of nobility, forgetfulness of self, can accommodate itself to the varying circumstances of society, and float, from its buoyant tendency, on the surface of the most fetid stream of subsequent selfishness.
In two works recently published by Lamartine, Les Confidences and Raphael
, certain passages in his autobiography are given. The first recounts the reminiscences of his infancy and childhood; the second, a love-story in his twentieth year. Both are distinguished by the peculiarities, in respect of excellencies and defects, which appear in his other writings. On the one hand, we have an ardent imagination, great beauty of language, a generous heart, the true spirit of poetry, and uncommon pictorial powers. On the other, an almost entire ignorance of human nature, extraordinary vanity, and that susceptibility of mind which is more nearly allied to the feminine than the masculine character. Not but that Lamartine possesses great energy and courage : his conduct, during the revolution of 1848, demonstrates that he possesses these qualities in a very high degree ; but that the ardour of his feelings leads him to act and think like women, from their impulses rather than the sober dictates of reason. He is a devout optimist, and firm believer in the innocence of human nature, and indefinite perfectibility of mankind under the influence of republican institutions. Like all other fanatics, he is wholly inaccessible to the force of reason, and altogether beyond the reach of facts, how strong or convincing soever. Accordingly, he remains to this hour entirely convinced of the perfectibility of mankind, although he has recounted, with equal truth and force, that it was almost entirely owing to his own courage and energy that the revolution was prevented, in its very outset, from degenerating into bloodshed and massacre; and a thorough believer in the ultimate sway of pacific institutions, although he owns that, despite all his zeal and eloquence, the whole Provisional Government, with himself at its head, would on the 16th April have been guillotined or thrown into the Seine, but for the determination and fidelity of three battalions of the Garde Mobile whom Changarnier volunteered to arrange in all the windows and avenues of the Hotel de Ville, when it was assailed by a column of thirty thousand furious revolutionists.
Raphael is the most remarkable and interesting of these sketches of Lamartine's early life. Opinions will probably be generally divided upon it, as they are at present, so long as he continues to be read in the world. The young, the ardent, the enthusiastic, those who have felt or feel the passions of life, will ever dwell on it with deep interest, and class some passages in it with those well-known ones in Romeo and Juliet, or Corinne, which have depicted with most force and power the master passion of the human breast. The middle aged, the elderly, the cautious, the worldly, the great mass, in short, of ordinary men, will regard it as a senseless rhapsody, French in its character, high-flown in its language, fit only to be laughed at by all persons of judgment. The greater part of the critics who have hitherto noticed this remarkable work in the daily press have belonged to the latter class, and treated it with unmeasured severity. But experience has taught us that minorities are generally in the right in the first estimation of books, and that the majority in the end generally comes round to their side; and although none are further removed than we are from the visions of Lamartine as to the perfectibility of human nature, we have an undoubting confidence in the buoyant tendency, in the long run, of works of an elevated and generous character, which this unquestionably is, how far soever it may be removed from the worldly feelings of a selfish age. specimen of the author's style, we translate the following passage, in which he recounts his parting walk, in the gardens of the park of Mousseaux, with the object of his attachment :
“We consecrated to our farewells the day which preceded my departure.
We wished to bid each other adieu, not in the shade of walls which stifle the soul, or in the eyes of others who share not in the affections, but under the heavens, in the light of the sun, in solitude and silence. Nature associates itself to the finest sensations of the soul. She seems to understand, to sympathise with them, like an invisible confidant. She bears them to heaven, where they are received and rendered divine.
" That magnificent park, planted with aged elms, interspersed with meadows, watered with streams, spiritualised by monuments, columns, ruins, images of the past, anticipations of the future, had that day no other spectators save ourselves, but the insects and the birds. Alas! never were its verdant banks and beauteous leaves gazed on by more mournful eyes. The more that the sky was warm and resplendent,the more that the light and the shade deliciously combated on the grass in the breath of summer eve, like the shadow of a bird's wing which pursues another—the more that the nightingales warbled their melodious notes in the air—the more the waters reflected, in their polished mirror, the flocks of aquatic birds which floated on their surface—the more was that gaiety sad to us, and the more did the dazzling brilliancy of that summer evening contrast with the sombre cloud wbich weighed upon our hearts.
In vain we strove to deceive qurselves by exclamations on the beauty of the scene, the lustre of the flowers, the perfume of the air, the depth of the shadows, the solitude of those sites where a world of love might have been shut up in ecstasy.
We cast on these objects, from a mutual wish to distract our minds, a passing gaze; but our eyes soon sank upon the earth. Our voices even, while they re-echoed the vain sounds of joy and admiration, betrayed the void of words and the absence of our souls. They were far distant.
“ In vain we seated ourselves alternately at the foot of perfumed lilac trees, under the shadow of lofty cedars, on the remains of columns, on the banks of the numberless waters which were scattered around, to pass the long hours of our last interview. Scarcely had we chosen one seat before a vague disquietude compelled us to rise and choose another. Here it was the shade, there the light; in one place the inopportune sound of a cascade, in another the ceaseless warbling of a nightingale over our heads, which rendered all that enjoyment sad, and all those beauties unsupportable. When the heart is sad in the breast, Nature herself is felt as oppressiveEden itself would be a pain the more, if it was the scene of the separation of two lovers.
* At last, tired of wandering without finding a refuge from ourselves during an hour, we sat down near a little bridge over a stream, at a little distance from each other, as if the very sound of our respirations would have been felt as inopportune, or as if a secret instinct taught us to conceal mutually from each other the half-stified sighs which escaped from our bosoms. We gazed for long in silence on the water reflecting the verdant banks. As we looked on the body of a young swallow, which had been drowned in attempting to drink in a marble basin above before its wings were sufficiently strong to sustain its weight, another swallow, doubtless its mother, flew backwards and forwards a hundred times under the arch, uttering piercing cries—we looked at each other in silence-our eyes met; we turned them aside and burst into tears. We tried sometimes to speak, but our hearts were full, and we could not. At length we gave way to nature, and continued to shed, during the short time we sat together, silent tears. The earth received them, the air carried them away, the rays of the sun dried them up, but they were numbered in Heaven. Not a drop of the cup of anguish remained untasted by us when we rose up, without speaking, without seeing each other through our overflowing eyes. Such were our adieus : a funeral image, an ocean of tears, an eternal silence. We separated at length without looking at each other, lest our firmness should melt away altogether under the intensity of such a gaze. That garden, the last scene of our love and of our adiens, will never be effaced from my memory; but it shall never again feel the trace of my steps.”—P. 348, 8vo edition.
Chateaubriand is more a man of the world than Lamartine. He has passed through a life of greater vicissitudes, and been much more frequently brought into contact with men in all ranks and gradations of society. He is not less chivalrous than Lamartine, but more practical ; his style is less pictorial but more statesmanlike. The French of all shades of political opinion agree in placing him at the head of the writers of the last age. This high position, however, is owing rather to the detached passages than the general tenor of his writings, for their average style is hardly equal to such an encomium. He is not less vain than Lamartine, and still more egotistical—a defect which, as already noticed, he shares with nearly all the writers of autobiography.in France, but which appears peculiarly extraordinary and lamentable in a man of such talents and acquirements. His life abounded with strange and romantic adventures, and its vicissitudes would have furnished a rich field for biography even to a writer of less imaginative powers.
He was born on the 4th September 1768—the same year with Napoleon-at an old melancholy chateau on the coast of Brittany, washed by the waves of the Atlantic ocean. His mother, like those of almost all other eminent men recorded in history, was a very remarkable woman, gifted with a prodigious memory and an ardent imaginationqualities which she transmitted in a very high degree to her
His family was very ancient, going back to the year 1000 ; but, till illustrated by François René, who has rendered it immortal, the Chateaubriands lived in unobtrusive privacy on their paternal acres. After receiving the rudiments of education at home, he was sent at the age of seventeen into the army ; but the Revolution having soon after broken out, and his regiment revolted, he quitted the service and came to Paris, where he witnessed the horrors of the storming of the Tuileries on the 10th of August, and the massacre in the prisons on 20 September. Many of his nearest relations—in particular his sister-in-law, Madame de Chateaubriand, and sister, Madame Rozambo—were executed along with Malesherbes, shortly before the fall of Robespierre. Obliged now to fly to England, he lived for some years in London in extreme poverty, supporting himself by his pen. It was there he wrote his earliest and least creditable work, the Essai Historique. Tired of such an obscure and monotonous life, however, he set out for America, with the Quixotic design of discovering by land journey the North-west Passage. He failed in that attempt, for which, indeed, he had no adequate means; but he dined with Washington, and in the solitudes of the Far West imbibed many of the noblest ideas, and found the subjects of several of the finest descriptions, which have since adorned his works. Finding that there was nothing to be done in the way of discovery in America, he returned to England. Afterwards he went to Paris, and there composed his greatest works, Atala et Réné and the Génie du Christianisme, which soon acquired a colossal reputation, and raised the author to the highest pinnacle of literary fame.
Napoleon, whose piercing eye discerned talent wherever it was to be found, now selected him for the public service in the diplomatic line. He gives the following interesting account of the first and only interview he had with that extraordinary man, in the saloon of his brother Lucien :"I
was in the gallery when Napoleon entered ; his appearance struck me with an agreeable surprise. I had never previously seen him but at a distance. His smile was sweet and encouraging ; his eye beautiful, especially from the way in which it was overshadowed by the eyebrows. He had no charlatanism in his looks, nothing affected or theatrical in his manner. The Génie du Christianisme, which at that time was making a great deal of noise, had produced its effect on Napoleon. A vivid imagination animated his cold policy ; he would not have been what he was if the Muse had not been there ; reason in him worked out the ideas of a poet. All great men are composed of two natures—for they must be at once capable of inspiration and action—the one conceives, the other executes.
“Buonaparte saw me, and knew me I know not how. When he moved towards me, it was not known whom he sought. The crowd opened ; every one hoped the First Consul would stop to converse with him ; his air showed that he was irritated at these mistakes. I retired behind those around me; Buonaparte suddenly raised his voice, and called out, “Monsieur de Chateaubriand." I then remained alone in front; for the crowd instantly retired, and re-formed in a circle around us. Buonaparte addressed me with simplicity, without questions, preamble, or compliments. He began speaking about Egypt and the Arabs, as if I had been his intimate friend, and he had only resumed a conversation already commenced betwixt us. I was always struck,' said he, when I saw the Sheiks fall on their knees in the Desert, turn towards the East, and touch the sand with their foreheads. What is that unknown thing which they adore in the East ?' Speedily then passing to another idea, he said, ' Christianity! the Idealogues wished to reduce it to a system of astronomy! Suppose it were so, do they suppose they would