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that conception of immortality, which sustains the faith of the last man amidst the wreck of matter!
TO M. CASIM II: DELAvigne.
LoRD BYRoN and Sir W. Scott, are, at the present day, as well known and as much admired in France as in England. Never before did foreign poets exercise so great an influence over our literary dogmas, and over the inspirations of our youthful authors. But let it not be forgotten, if a revolution was finally effected in our taste, which had long been too exclusive and fastidious, that before Byron and Scott, the genius of Chateaubriand and De Staël had already powerfully excited the imagination of the French. We may discover in the writings of both, the poetry and the first examples of the new school. To me it appertains less than to any other person to be unaware of that entirely national influence.
Although Chateaubriand and Byron defend principles, opposite, in many points of view, there is this analogy between them, that the opposition
appears particularly favourable to their talent,which leans towards declamation and emphasis, like the eloquence of Burke. But that emphasis, which, moreover, is not continual, has nothing hollow in it, because it is most often with them nothing more than the picturesque and vivid expression of a great profusion of ideas, and of what I should call a natural and characteristic exaltation of mind; it is the mens divinior, the non mortale sonans. The scepticism of Byron is a real anti-aristocratic opposition, at an epoch, when the upper class in England wished to proceed undisturbed, if not in vice, as Byron alleges, at least in the enjoyment of its privilegesbehind the shelter of its pretensions to morality and dignity. At the period when the Genie de Christianisme appeared, the Christian religion was also in the opposition; when, as a writer of the same poetical temperament says, “Le christianisme se releva des ruines sanglantes sous lesquelles il avoit paru enseveli, et manifesta par la voix d'un de ses plus eloquens interpretes quil etait la religion immortelle; alors reprirent leur ascendant ces sublimes theories religieuses auxquelles se rattachent toutes les hautes pensečs, toutes les affections genereuses de l'homme, et de ce moment la poesie fut retrouveč,” &c. I have more than once thought, while sketching the most prominent features of contemporary English literature, how fortunate it would be for my work, if I were the first to reveal to France the energetic poetry of Byron, and the prolific inspirations of Walter Scott. If we were now in 1819, these two geniuses would supply materials for half this volume; at present, I am tormented by the care of avoiding repetitions, so much have we already been occupied with Scott and Byron, and so often have I myself made them the subject of publication. In order that I may quote myself as little as possible, I will try to re-ascend to the starting point of my first impressions. I shall say less, in this place, of Sir Walter, than of his noble rival in glory; but not without the prospect of often revoking the former on the stage of his dear Scotland, and, especially, of being animated by his presence, and the creations of his all-potent magic. In 1815, for the first time, I heard the name of Byron pronounced; for the first time I read some of those brilliant descriptions of modern Greece, and of those emphatic appeals to the Hellenists, who then seemed deaf to the accents of his eloquent voice. It was in the climate of the south of France, where there is certainly something of oriental in the pure and balmy atmosphere; something, moreover, of the aspect of the Greek soil in the pompous ruins of antique architecture, its subverted cippas, its columns serving for landmarks, its most sacred vestiges converted to the vilest uses; and, finally, in its temples, which, like the Maison Carrée de Nismes, and the portico of the ancient theatre at Arles, vie with the temple of Theseus, and the marbles of the Parthenon.
It was an epoch of political re-action; when nothing was to be seen around but exaggeration and anarchy. Where was the Frenchman, young or old, unshaken by the general commotion? For my part, I readily confess, that the exalted poetry of Byron filled me with unaffected transport, because it was singularly in harmony with the atmosphere of disorder and passion in which I lived. Those accents of frightful energy, those images of sometimes exaggerated pomp, those repinings expressed with a tone of menace, those characters thirsting for all kinds of extremes, seemed no more than natural to my thoughts. Now that the tranquillity of the political world, and the weight of a few additional years have rendered me more impartial, that poetry still to my view does not seem forced, because exaggeration has not only become the general character of our epoch, but principally because, as I have just now said, it is the true expression of the impassioned soul of Byron. In the emphasis of such a man, there is neither pretence nor rhetoric. While explaining the motives of my enthusiasm, I believe I have not explained them for myself alone. Atala and René, were calculated to excite me at the conclusion of the great republican fermentation, as the Giaour, Harold, Conrad, and Lara, excited me after the last shock of the revolution and the counter-revolution in 1815.
By a singular coincidence, the individual who communicated to me the first writings of Lord Byron, was a mulatto physician de la Trinité, who, for a considerable time had attended the school at Montpellier, after having taken his degree at Edinburgh. He was gifted with one of those strong organizations, one of those physiognomies to which the verses of the poet apply.
* Child of the sun; soul of fire.”
Feeling himself doubly isolated by his origin and features, he experienced on a first introduction a degree of embarrassment. But if a frank deportment re-assured him, and he was invited to some discussion in the light of an equal, his temperament displayed itself; he talked like a superior, and the assumption did not misbecome him. He reminded me of Othello forgetting his African complexion, and feeling himself worthy to command at Venice, and to love Desdemona. He was more inclined to borrow his allusions from the somewhat oriental poetry of Byron, than any other, and one quotation led him to spout the greater part of a poem. When he quoted
“The cold in clime are coldin blood,” &c.
it might readily be perceived that he also concealed “a soul offire” in his bosom. If, in these poetical intercommunications, we were not alone, he grew impatient at being understood by no one but me; he wrote down the verses which he had declaimed, and I, with the lucky or unlucky facility, of which I have never lost the habit, translated them with