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road of poetic fame. It affords a lively example of the erroneous opinions which future generations may form of genius-since the Epistle among the works of Pope may be considered as a mere God-send.
The most perfect ideal painters, or imaginers, in the world are children, and moreover the most scrupulous. We are nearer during that age to our mother nature; our scenic taste is fresh from its birth, and (directly contrary to vulgar opinions) is much more true and much less fantastic, than the conventional taste of educated man. To think upon the delight with which I gazed in childhood on rural scenes, and contemplated them again and again in my memory, is at times almost sufficient to make me a disciple of Berkeley; external things seem to have lost their identities, and are no longer the lovely things they were. Yet the change is in me;-they are but what I make them. The imagination can never recompose the tint, in which all things were clothed for it of old. The "purpureum lumen jurentæ" cannot allude to the cheeks of youth ; it must express the atmosphere that stretches before its vision. And this simple, inimitable colouring is sufficient to illume the then-real far above the ideal of maturity's most lofty flight. And things also wore a magnitude that since has most inconceivably shrunk away-what a huge place was the village we were reared in! how immense were its streets, and how stupendous its steeple! the fields that lay around, and that were the scenes of our daily excursions, how vast, how interminable did they appear, bounded by the horizon of heaven. We go and return, and the giants have dwindled into dwarfs—our miles become inches, and our mountains mole-hills-and the atmosphere of indefinable sentiment that was wont to pervade this space and those objects has evaporated like a mist. We struggle to replace this vanished boon—we call this struggle sentiment—we clothe it in verse, and call it poetry. No marvel if the world laugh at our vanity.
Man endeavours to substitute ideality for the reality of childhood's imaginations ; he composes pictures, the infant copies them—takes them from nature. The first gives himself credit for inventing novelties, and this self-flattery communicates an artificial charm to imaginations strange and idle, which touch not one chord of his sympathy, and appeal not to one genuine principle of his taste. Tales of Araby and Ind are misplaced in the hands of children; for them nature is novelty enough. Phantasms and gauds and toys for man; the child alone is sensible and simple, if fools and story-books would perniit him to re
But the mind at present is reared after a mode, the converse of that which has been found to suit the body: the spirits and strong meats of excitement are ministered to it in infancy, and it has to retrace its steps to the milk-diet of simplicity in its old days.
The poetry read during childhood, if it be a scene, is instantly embodied; if it be a sketch, is immediately filled up. The imagination never flags; but in this, its activity, there is little ideal. Real, familiar scenes, every-day objects are sources of illusion, fertile and varied enough for it. It does not dip its pencil in the rainbow, nor choose for its canvass the fantastic cloud; its little domestic world is paradise and fairy-land for its purposes. Yon castle on the height, the neighbouring mansion, the hill, the grove, the stream-all within a stone's throw of the youthful visionary—possess the freshness of romance for bis unworn
imagination. It is thus that the haunts of our childhood become peopled with the personages of our early reading; and thus the poetry which we have first read, the novels and fictions which we have first perused, live for ever in our recollections, identified with vivid reality. The arbitrary combinations of fancy may be beautiful, but never lasting: they chase one another through the mind like the shadows of clouds flitting over the plain, or like the stories of Ariosto, replacing and obliterating each other. But reality, in the mind, is imperishable, and, unfortunately for our happiness, the only reality we deign to count or to cherish, is that which presented itself to our youthful eyes in the fairy garb of the ideal. It is hence a great blessing for a man of imagination to have spent his childhood amidst beautiful scenes, for at that age the back-ground, as well as the prevailing colour, of the mind is unalterably established, the order and fate of all its future associations arranged, and the germs, in fine, of all its pleasures and its pains take irradicable possession of the soil.
The three first lines of Pope's “ Eloisa to Abelard” strike out a picture more instantaneously than any passage I remember to have met with in English poetry. There can be few poetical readers in whose ear their sound does not dwell, and whose imaginations do not possess a corrosponding scene. In my fancy they formed one of the aboriginal settlements, long even before developed passions led me to sympathize with the ill-fated lovers.
The outline of love-stories is in general exquisite, the glimpse is fascinating. But, strange to tell, the Muses both of History and Fiction have conducted themselves most treacherously towards this first, this purest of passions. We will pass over Sappho, and the themes of the ancient poets; but even in modern times, refined as they were by chivalry and religion, those lovers whose names have been sung and celebrated, and chosen out for record, present but sorry examples of that passion which we worship. Petrarch and Laura, Abelard and Heloise,-perhaps there could not have been two stories worse selected, or less calculated to represent the pure and sublime perfection of modern love. Even if commentators and scholiasts had not utterly tainted the ideality of Laura, and vulgarized the name even beyond poesy's redemption, with their Gothic discoveries about ptubs, &c., the very pages of Petrarch offer but the marks of a frigid and conceited whim. The sonnetteer seems to have worshipped' his mistress chiefly for that quality which Shenstone thanked the stars he wanted—that her name was obnoxious to a pun. The story of Abelard and Heloise offers a still more wretched example of modern taste:-of all the tales that were ever put together by fantastic romancer, it is certainly the most revolting and the most ridiculous. It is like Don Juan, one of those traps of sympathy, that beguile us with concealed sneer into genuine emotion, and then turn us out most impolitely with a broad and avowed grin. In truth the circumstances and fate of these far-famed lovers present so broad a mask for ridicule, that one cannot help being amazed at the preposterous choice of Voltaire, who founded his indecent ribaldry on the pure heroism of the Maid of Orleans, when he might have found in the lives of those canonized lovers so fertile a theme for his powers of burlesque. Thence, indeed, he might have dealt hearty
blows on the monkish religion he hated, and might also have made himself sufficiently merry with impassioned sentiment.
The lovers, however, cannot be considered as answerable for those mishaps in their story, which unfortunately render it so anti-romantic, and which are much more calculated to excite our risibility than our interest. Their names have become ideal, and it is an ill-applied research, that would discover the actual, unadorned causes of their poetical complaints. Were I, with Mr. Berington, to enter into their history, and discuss their merits and demerits-inquire into the sources of their sorrow and celebrity, I am afraid we should find them no better and no more heroic than they ought to be. Abelard might appear the vain, petulant, selfish pedant, who deserved the punishment he underwent; and Heloise, a nun, who, over and above the crying sin of blurism, wrote Latin epistles not very capable of a modest translation.
But let such a learned discussion rest in the inchoate shape of a “may be." Like Mercury, my assumed office only respects the shades ; and if that gossip, tradition, has purified one name or two, among the thousands she has vilified, let 11s take them at her hands as we find them, nor be so rigidly attached to truth, as to restore and refresh the blemishes that time has removed. Therefore, lovers of the Paraclete, closed be the old volume of your history,--we will suppose you, the warmest, the purest, the noblest, and most disinterested pair, that ever sacrificed to the blind god-Abelard shall be the preux chevalier of scholarship and love, and Heloise the ideal of that most rare and most lovely of beings, in whom learning and genius are united with the tenderness and boundless passion of a female heart.
Thus leaving their lives to their proper domicile-our imagination, let us trace the history of their ashes. Abelard died in 1142, at the priory of St. Marcel, near Chalons-sur-Soane, whither he had retired from Cluni, for the sake of recruiting his health. He was buried first at St. Marcel, but at the earnest entreaties of Heloise, then abbess of the Paraclete, the body was taken up privately by night, (to avoid the opposition of the monks) and conveyed to the Paraclete. There Heloise buried the remains of her husband in a chapel, which he had himself constructed, called Petit Moustier. She survived him for the space of twenty-one years, and was laid by his side, according to her dying wish. We need not copy the inscription in barbarous Latin, that graced this her first monument. In 1497 the ashes of the lovers were taken up and buried separately in the great church of the abbey ; till in 1630, the abbess Marie de la Rochefoucault caused these to be placed side by side in the chapel of the Trinity. In 1766, a monument was erected over them, bearing the following inscription, which is still visible on the tomb newly erected in the cemetery of Pere La Chaise ;
* It was in this light that Bayle viewed the story of Abelard and Heloise, and he treated it accordingly.
Olim studiis, ingenio, amore, infaustis nuptiis
Heloissa, XVII Maii M.C.LXII.
M.D.CC.LXXIX. Two years after this was erected, the Paraclete was visited by an English traveller, a letter from whom on the subject is preserved in the Annual Register for 1768. The old abbess told him that no English person had visited the abbey as long as she could remember. It is remarkable that she herself was an Englishwoman, and that the prior of St. Marcel was Irish.*
When all the convents were destroyed in 1792, the inhabitants of Nogent-sur-Seine transported the remains of Abelard and Heloise to the vaults of their own church. From thence they were brought by order of the government to Paris in the year 1800, and placed in the Museum of French monuments, Rue des Petits Augustins, in a neat sepulchral canopy or chapel, built by M. Lenoir out of the ruins of the Paraclete. Previous to their being here deposited, the remains were examined, and the unromantic procès-verbal details the several bones that had as yet escaped dissolution.f The establishment of a Succursal Mont de Piété, or pawnbroker's office, adjoining the Museum, again disturbed the ashes of the lovers in 1814. In 1817 the Museum itself was destroyed, and the coffins, &c. were removed to Père La Chaise, where the sepulchral chapel was re-erected ; and here, it is to be hoped, the bones of Abelard and Heloise have found at length an undisturbed sanctuary.
The sepulchral chapel, as it is called, in which those famed remains rest, does little honour to M. Lenoir. The tomb itself is the same as of old, but the reclining figures of Abelard and Heloise have been evidently plastered up and repaired. The chapel or canopy, that rises above, is not many feet high, wretchedly slated, and surmounted with arabesque pinnacles of wood. The only thought of reverence inspired by it, is owing to its being partially constructed of the ruins of the Paraclete. And the monument altogether is worthy of the nation, that has left Rousseau and Voltaire to crumble in deal boxes, honoured, nevertheless, in burlesque ostentation, with the title of sarcophagi.
“ Before dinner," writes this traveller, “ St. Romain walked with me round the demesne. Mr. Pope's description is ideal, and, to poetical minds, easily conveyed, but I saw peither rocks nor pines. Nor was it a kind of ground, which ever seemed to encourage such objects ; on the contrary it was in a vale," &c.
“ The superstructure of the Paraclete is not the same as we can imagine the 12th century to have produced ; but the vaulted part, as the arches are all pointed, may most likely be such. Adjoining is a low building, now inhabited by a miller, which has some marks of real antiquity; and St. Romain concurred with me in the sentiment. It seems to have been the public hall where Abelard might have given his lectures : for in the wall, on each side, are small apertures, so horizontal, that they have strong appearances of benches, which never rise theatrically in their buildings abroad."
+ There were, the “ femur et tibia, les côtes, les vertèbres, et une grande portion du crane et de la machoire inférieure" of poor Abelard. Of Heloise, there were, “une tête complète, la mâchoire inférieure en deux parties, les ossemens des cuisscs, des bras, et des jambes, conservés dans leur entier.”
The great inscription may be worth preserving, as it is at present very illegible, and it seems to be intended to erase that part of it which alludes to Abelard's having formed three figures from one block of marble, to represent the Trinity.
“ Pierre Abélard, fondateur de cette abbaye, vivait dans le douzième siècle ; il se distingua par son savoir et la rareté de son mérité ; cependant il publia un traité de la Trinité qui fut condamné par un concile tenu à Soissons, en 1120. Il se rétracta aussitôt avec une soumission parfaite; et, pour témoigner qu'il n'avait eu que des sentiments orthodoxes, il fit faire de cette pierre ces trois figures qui représentent les trois personnes divines dans une nature, après avoir consacré cette église au Saint Esprit, qu'il nomma Paraclet, par rapport ayx consolations qu'il avait goûtées pendant la retraité qu'il fit en ce lieu. 1! avait épousé Héloise, qui en fut la première abbesse. L'amour qui avait uni leur esprit pendant leur vie, et qui se conserva pendant leur absence par les lettres les plus tendres et les plus spirituelles, a réuni leurs corps dans ce tombeau. Il mourut le 21 Avril 1143, âgé de soixante-trois ans, après avoir donné l'un et l'autre des marques d'une vie chrétienne et spirituelle.
“ Par très-haute et très-puissante dame Catherine de la Rochefoucault, abbesse, le 3 Juin, 1701."
Abelard, like Rousseau, is one of those, whose fame, during their lives as well as after, is chiefly personal. Even his literary reputation was necessarily of that kind, since the fashion of the age was not so much to write volumes, as to argue in public, read lectures, and support theses. As a scholastic philosopher, his name is perhaps the most eminent in those dark ages, and it is singular, that this man of passion and genius, whose name has been handed down as the hero of love and sentiment, should have been the great and triumphant enemy of the philosophy most akin to those feelings. It was owing chiefly to him, that the writings of Aristotle obtained that reverence and worship, till then bestowed on the mysticism of the Platonists. The change was but from one scheme of nonsense to another, but we are astonished to find that which is the antidote to all poetry and sentiment, preferred by Abelard to the sublime speculations of the academists. From his choice of tenets we should conjecture that in his love he was not much elevated above a sensual passion, and Heloise casts up to him a similar reproach in one of her letters. Heloise was indeed his superior in every respect, and if they are to be looked upon as samples of the sexes, the lords of the creation are humbled far beneath the lovely beings whom they designate as slaves. Not only in disinterestedness, in passion, in pure and exalted affection, is Heloise preeminent, but even in genius, in the art of composition, the famed philosopher whom she loved, is vastly inferior to her. The letters of Heloise are nobly eloquent, and even when they treat of learned subjects, have none of that contemptible affectation and puerility, which fills those of Abelard. She accuses him in the warmth of affectionate reproach, and he in answer divides into his firstly, his secondly, and thirdly, some poor and cold
blooded arguments in reply to her glowing and pathetic letters. But I must respect my former resolution, nor unromance the ideal outline of their story by the obtrusion of impertinent truth.