Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the doctrine of the equality of man and woman. Not only have clubs been established, having this as their watch-word, and not only do popular novelists boast of advocating this reform as an act of justice, but they even find amongst the misguided public many to applaud them. The controversy is carried on in the name of reason, and who would be willing to contradict what is brought forward as reasonable. Whilst this war for the pretended rehabilitation of woman is carried on, the novel writers have found out that in a certain state of civilization many shameful actions do not bring dishonour upon men, and have hence come to the conclusion that the same holds good with regard to women. But logic and reason are by no means one and the same thing, and nothing can better prove this than the consequences drawn from the principle of the equality of man and woman, which consequences are, for the most part, only so many satires upon reason. This doctrine of theirs by equalizing only degrades both. With regard to shame, for instance; there are some emotions, as timidity, which are disgraceful in man but not so in women, and vice versa. It may be more justly affirmed that, as in many other things, there should exist an equilibrium, but not an equality, between the sexes. The desire on the part of woman to enjoy the rights of man, is as rational as it would be for man to wish to acquire all feminine charms. Providence has bestowed its gifts impartially on both sexes, but has granted to each different qualities. Besides, Christianity nearly two thousand years ago, secured to woman as much social equality as is compatible with her destiny ; to go beyond this is an unreasonable attempt, and pregnant with evil. The self-styled emancipators of woman, the asserters of her rights, whether male or female, will accomplish nothing beyond reducing that beautiful creation of maiden, wife, and mother, to a mere impure being. The French novels of the present day are but narrations of the metamorphosis of woman into that vile type; representing, as it were, a second fall of Eve from tasting a new fruit of knowledge. Warning and animadversions on these French doctrines are the inore called for at present, inasmuch as the contagion has already begun to spread amongst ourselves. In addition to Mr. Owen's mad theories, female authors have also raised their voices; some demanding for women equal political rights with men; others trying to prove, not the equality of woman to man, but her superiority to him, and setting forth how she has been invariably oppressed by him. Some too come forward to teach woman her mission, of which, it is to be concluded, she has known nothing up to the present day. Learned authors, beware of what you are about; you are per

haps unconscious that your voices may be as tempting unto evi. as that of the first seducer of our parents. Eritis sicut Deus.

The fatal influence of such a low standard of morality may be best exemplified by the works of Victor Hugo, His “ Cromwell” and “ Hernani,” dramas of considerable merit, deserve to be excepted from the Littérature Extravagante, but not so his drama of Marion Delorme, and all his subsequent compositions. Victor Hugo, a poet, is at the same time a theorist, and he has made up a particular system for himself, which, not relying on the sagacity of his readers to discover, he has developed in the prefaces to his dramatic works. He says plainly that the surest way of producing dramatic effect consists in mixing up with physical or moral deformity, no matter how great, abominable and vile, some pure and sublime sentiment, and the result of this contrast will be the making such physical or moral deformity appear interesting, touching, nay almost lovely. In accordance with this theory Marion Delorme, a degraded woman, appears on the stage purified by a bit of love ; “ the author," these are his own words, “ will not bring Marion Delorme upon the stage without purifying the courtesan with a little love."*

The horrid dwarf Triboulet, a court jester and the minister to the king's profligacy, is the model of a good father. The abominable Lucretia Borgia is the affectionate mother of a son born of incest. His three dramas, Marion Delorme, Le Roi s'amuse, and Lucrece Borgia, were composed expressly to develope this theory, of which to speak in the most moderate terms, it can only be said that it is the theory of a quack rather than of a poet. He degrades all the sentiments which ought to remain for ever sacred, and violates all sympathies both of nature and reason. He strives to beautify what is deformed, and seeks out with the utmost industry the least appropriate and the least expected means of deceiving the public into making common cause with crime, and this is, in fact, the cardinal sin of the extravagant school.

Whilst Victor Hugo was endeavouring to discover some new secret of art, which only ended in bringing forth a monster, a powerful rival to him arose in the person of A. Dumas. The latter also, like V. Hugo, began his career better than he has continued it, as if the French atmosphere at present were poisonous to talent, rendering dizzy every brain. His first drama, Henri III., is full of truth and beauty, for which it is vain to look in his subsequent compositions. « La Tour de Nesle" is full of exaggerated horrors; and in his pieces, Antony, Angela, Thereza, and Richard D’Arlington, rape, incest, and murder, are the every-day occupations of the crowds that frequent the boulevards of Paris and the saloons. Had these two men, with their superior talents, followed a right course, they might have ruled the spirit of their age. But they chose rather to become its slaves. Their servility is conspicuous in all their works. When, for instance, V. Hugo declares to an applauding audience, “ that the Countess of Shrewsbury' has the honour to marry a workman, not because he is an honest man, or a skilful mechanic, but merely because he is a workman, it must be confessed that no courtier ever more unblushingly flattered his master. Their sole aim seems to be to invent continually new modes of flattering the public; it is with the view of pleasing the public that they blacken all the former history of their nation, at the same time that they represent this saine public and the whole present generation as inflamed with some mad fury and shameless cynicism, and tormented as with so many ulcers in its social organization—by perjury in marriage, adultery, incest, desertion of children, &c. Can there be, in fact, any natural sympathy between society in a certain state and deformity and crime? For the honour of man we would rather think that this is but the aberration of these two misguided minds.

* “ L'auteur ne mettra pas Marion Delorme sur la scène sans purifier la courtisanne avec un peu d'amour."

Whilst V. Hugo and Dumas drag upon the stage all the turpitude they can rake up from the ancient history of France, Paul Lacroix, under the pseudo name of Bibliophile Jacob, does the same in his historical novels, as La Danse Macabre, La Loi des Ribaud, &c. Like his predecessors forty years ago, Bibliophile during this reign of literary terrorism may be said to guillotine all the history of ancient France. He tears from the grave the misfortunes, the prejudices, the ignorance, every loathsome detail of the life of a wretched people; all the deformities of kings and princes, and triumphantly sets them before the eyes of the public, as by way of apology for the past having been repudiated and covered with ignominy. It would seem that of the various departments of political radicalism, which the French authors have seized upon, Bibliophile had appropriated that of calumniating to the people the ancient institutions of his country, affecting to paint them with all the accuracy and minuteness of an antiquarian; whilst at the same time no pictures can be more at variance with historical truth than are his.

Amongst the French novelists there is one class who especially affect nautical subjects. The boundless ocean and not the evertrodden land is with them the theatre of new and unheard-of horrors and of tragic incidents. Eugene Sue holds the trident of Littérature Extravagante, and one example will suffice to show the measure of his talent. In his novel, entitled “La Salamandre,” he has conceived a strange character in the person of M. de Schaffie. This hero is a kind of Satan whose inission seems to be that of tormenting all that come within his reach, and for this purpose is happily gifted with an iron will for whatever is evil. Neither pain nor misfortunes can make any impression upon him; neither innocence nor virtue have power to influence him. When La Salamandre has been wrecked, and the unhappy victims of hunger devour each other, M. de Schaffie, acting upon a systematic desire of wreaking his vengeance on the human race, looks coolly on amid the terrors of a stormy sea, whilst a son feeds on the limbs of his father, a sailor murders his comrade in order to eat his Aesh, until at length they sink in the boiling abyss; although at the very time he is possessed of the means whereby to satisfy their cravings for food. Thus has M. E. Sue outdone both the shipwreck of Byron and Dante's celebrated death of Ugolino. The Littérature Extravagante can also boast of its Quintilian in the person of M. Jules Janin, the judge, from whose sentence there is no appeal, of many thousand dramas, folies and novels. As a consistent system of any kind is not à l'ordre du jour in French literature, Jules Janin, himself the author of some curious tales, as, for instance, “A Donkey killed and a Woman guillotined,” “Sold Retail," &c., occasionally appears as the censurer of the extravagant school, though he powerfully contributes to support it by his criticisms of its products. Thus not long since, he passed an enthusiastic eulogium on a tale by a young author, which describes the ennui and regrets of a man imprisoned by Napoleon, and who discovers through the grating of his dungeon a flower growing in the midst of a paved court-yard. Having no object wherewith to occupy his heart, he is smitten with a violent passion for the flower; curses the winter which withers it; calls on the spring to revive it; in short, faute de mieux, he becomes its empassioned and devoted lover. In giving an account of this phenomenon of sentimentality, M. Jules Janin congratulates himself that the madness of literary terrorism is passing away, and that young authors are returning to true sentiment and to the pourtraying of what is real. This avowal deserves attention, for it proves better than any thing else, how far the judgment of the critic must have been distorted by the horrors of the Liltérature Extravagante for him to consider such sickening sentimentality as a true and moral sentiment.

Simultaneously with this commendation of genuine sentiment M. Jules Janin gave to the world bis celebrated novel “Un Cour pour deux Amours." We shall cite some of its contents because it is desirable that our readers should know to what a pitch of excellence in composition the first critic of France has been able to elevate himself; he who asserts that he has thoroughly learned all the mysteries of his art. The story is as follows: During the time that the Siamese twins were exhibited in Paris, the author went frequently to see that extraordinary phenomenon, the caprice or fortuitous mistake of nature. Amongst the numerous visitors was a young man of sad and pensive demeanour, and of handsome face and figure, whom the terrible condition of the two brothers thus grown together seemed to fill with painful sensations; and who whilst predicting to them an early death, sought to console them with the sweet hope of being united to two sisters in the same predicament who had gone before to heaven. The melancholy of the young man, and the bitter recollections by which he seemed to be oppressed, made a strong impression on our author; he contrived to become acquainted with him, and the narration of the latter constitutes the whole of Jules Janin's strange tale.

Don Martinez Juan Rodriguez Scribbler, a Spanish grandee of the first class (this was the name of the young man), inquired of our author the cause of his impertinent curiosity and desire to hear a tale full of strong and horrible facts. " Ah if you knew,” replies the author, “what borrible events we constantly hear of, what strange improbabilities are told to us for truth, what descriptions are sent to us of women branded on the forehead, or immured alive by their jealous husbands, in short what monstrous imaginings we now see and read; you would perhaps not refuse to gratify me with an authentic tale, however extraordinary or dreadful.” Then after mentioning some of the leading characters and incidents in the novels of Balzac, M, Jules Janin pronounces an anathema against them, as improbable and untrue : let us now see how he has avoided in his tale the faults which he proscribes.

The Spaniard proceeds to relate, that in a certain provincial town in France, he happened to be present at the sale of some fine and rare wild beasts, such as hyenas, lions, tigers, &c. When the sale of the beasts was concluded, the seller brought forward two young girls between twelve and fifteen years of age, poor and sickly, and in rags that scarcely covered them. These two unhappy beings were bargained for as if they had been tigers or hyenas, when the irritated Spaniard run up the price and bought them. He then first became aware that these two creatures were united and made up only one person. Having restored them to health, he had them baptized, giving them the names of Anna and Louisa, the same which had been borne by his mother. He acted as a father to them, and the poor children repaid him with affection and true piety. Owing to some mysterious cause these two beings always felt alike; both suffered grief or partook of

« AnteriorContinuar »