« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
were religious: their taste would have been stigmatized as bad-that is to say, they would have offended against the fashion in the time of Louis XIV. had they not been eminently religious. Moliere, who was no believer, affected to believe. Bayle, who ventured to doubt every thing, was regarded as a kind of original ; and the Court of Louis the Fourteenth, which admired talent, and which had need of wit for its amusement, was so unjust towards Bayle that he was scarcely read. All at once, however, Voltaire, on his return from England, came forward as a freethinker. Literature seemed to awaken from a long slumber, and a general eagerness was shown to imitate English writers, who, doubtless, were reprehensible on the score of religion, but who, nevertheless, were men of great talent. Such were Shaftesbury, Lord Bolingbroke, who had been personally known at Paris, Collins, Tindal, &c. In France, about the year 1730, a whole class of society, that class which we call the gens d'esprit, was in a very disagreeable situation. At that time, this class was raised into respectability by Voltaire, and it triumphed in 1790, in the person of Bailly, when he was appointed Mayor of Paris, a place which, under its old denomination of “ Prévôt des Marchands," had always been occupied by some fat wealthy citizen, the perfect contrast of a man of letters. One of the evils which tended to agitate society in Paris, during the eighteenth century, was the situation in which men of talent were placed, who, if they were not of high birth, or possessed of great fortune, could make no progress in France. Rousseau, D'Alembert, Diderot, were poor during the whole of their lives. Fortunately for Montesquieu, whose studies were of so profound a nature, and whose writings produced a great effect in France, he had an uncle who left him a fortune, and he became President of the Parliament of Bourdeaux. But he was on the point of being compelled to sacrifice part of his advantages to his genius. Montesa quieu saw the danger, and guarded against it by becoming the intimate friend of a great lady who had a powerful influence at Court. Voltaire, on his part, connected himself with a rich man of business who had a contract for supplying the army with beef. This contractor, proud of protecting a man of such talent, gave him a share in the contract. Voltaire gained by this business and by literature from 600,000 to 800,000 francs (about 30,0001). His good fortune surprised him, and made him so proud, that all his life after he seems to have spoken in derision of poverty. This silliness injures the finest pleasantries in his novels, Candide, Zadig, the Princess de Babylon, &c., which have no equals in our language. M. Villemain said much the same as this to his crowded audience, but he said it more reservedly, because he wishes to displease nobody. M. Villemain observed, that at one time Voltaire wished to imitate your Richardson. The heroine of the novel entitled the “ Ingenu," dies like Clarissa, and from the same causes; but M. Villemain remarked that Voltaire, on account of his impiety, was inferior to the English author, notwithstanding that he affected to despise him. In all the histories of the French Revolution, even in the best, those of MM. Thiers and Mignet, it has been neglected to point out the influence of the class of gens d'esprit, who, in 1730, took upon themselves the task, at Paris, of furnishing all the rest of the society with ideas. In the present day the successors of D'Alembert, Diderot, and Collé, hold about ten or twelve places of two thousand francs each ; but unfortunately there is a dreadful want of talent among them.
Proceeding with his lecture, M. Villemain stated, that about the year 1740 every thinking mind in France began to be tinctured with impiety. The Popes were allowed to be endurable for political ends, but were no longer. regarded with veneration. Singular enough, however, as we became irreligious, England, as if determined never to agree with us, ceased to be so, and all her writers turned pious. In fact, nowadays, there is no real religion except in Protestant countries. The French, however, who are not disposed to believe what they can neither see nor understand, are the least pious people in Europe. This is the conclusion to which M. Villemain's lectures naiurally lead, but which he took good care not to express ; and he did right,
considering the youthful audience he was addressing. In general, this clever Professor, who so well knows how to avoid the slightest approach of the ridiculous, and who always calculates how far he may venture to go by the degree of admiration and enthusiasm which he perceives in the eyes of his auditors, is ignorant of all those truths relative to the Fine Arts and Literature which depend upon sensibility-which an ardent, feeling, and imaginative mind discovers within itself, and calls up, as it were by improvisation, whenever it contemplates the master-pieces of art, or the sublime aspects of nature. A feeling of the beautiful in landscape, for example, which is so very common in England, is not, as far as I know, professed by any man of letters in France; and perhaps I might say the same of music. Our French writers seem to think this kind of taste incompatible with that quality which we choose to denominate d'esprit. Voltaire is never completely ridiculous except when he attempts to describe a picturesque view, and when he speaks of music or painting.
Throughout the whole of his course, M. Villemain said nothing new on the theory of the Fine Arts, and even mangled the ideas which he borrowed ; but he triumphed in the historical and anecdotic department. He sketched, with a spirited and graceful facility, the relations which subsisted between Richardson and the celebrated Duke of Wharton, so notorious for his talents and his irregularities, and who, when he fell into disgrace, turned påmphleteer. Had it not been for the lucky chance which brought this rake with his pamphlets to Richardson's press, how could the honest printer ever have hit on such a character as Lovelace? In this part of his lecture, M. Villemain was listened to with breathless attention.
The young Duke de Chartres, who will perhaps one day be King of France, was seated at the distance of about three paces from M. Villemain's chair, and listened with great attention. The Professor took care, with his accustomed dexterity, to make his young pupils understand that this illustrious Prince was among them; and, of course, all the youths of eighteen in the lecture-room were proud to consider themselves on a footing of companionship with the Duke de Chartres. This was natural enough ; for, though the distinction of rank is regarded with contempt in France, when a man in an elevated station gives reason to suppose that he possesses talent, he is sure to obtain respect and admiration. Now, it will readily be inferred, that a prince of the blood who comes to M. Villemain's lectures, and is satisfied with the first seat he finds vacant, is neither a fool nor a Jesuit. On the entrance of the Prince, no one rose to offer him a place; in former times, no one would have remained seated.
The Professor called the attention of his auditors to other English writers who succeeded Richardson in exercising an influence over the literature of France. David Hume, of course, was not forgotten. He adverted to the letter which that philosopher wrote to a great lady of the French Court three days before his death-a letter worthy to find a place in a biography the finest of those that have proceeded from the pen of Plutarch. Hume, who, notwithstanding his heavy and ungraceful appearance, was a great favourite in France, never had that intercourse with active life which was necessary to render him a perfect historian. A stranger to that vivacity, that sort of disorder which seems to pervade the affairs of the world, he fell into the error fatal to all philosophers who lead a tranquil and retired life. His reasoning made him despise every thing that was contrary to his reason. Instead of despising, he ought to have painted. But both Hume and Robertson wanted imagination.
M. Villemain distinguishes three kinds of history :
1. Conjectural history, like that which M. Niebuhr has given us in the early ages of Rome.
2. Critical history. 3. Complete history.
The composition of critical history depends on the investigation of endless details, which are to most men tedious and disgusting. The most entertain
ing work of this description is Voltaire's “ Essai sur les Meurs et l'esprit des Nations,” This was the model which Robertson followed. The defect of Voltaire is, that when he comes to a strange or barbarous custom, he ridicules rather than describes. In one of his satirical sallies, he said of Montesquieu's immortal work, that it was “ l'Esprit sur les Lois.” Montesquieu might have replied, had he seen the “ Essai sur les Meurs,” that it was “l'ironie sur l'histoire.” Irony, when perfect, like Voltaire's, conveys a lively pleasure to the mind; but it is not to be compared with that profitable pleasure which is afforded by a well-digested, complete, and picturesque narrative,- such as that given by Cardinal de Retz in his “ Memoires," when he depicts the dread which came over himself and Turenne, when, as they were returning from the country at day break, they saw, in the distance, three hundred Capuchins advancing to bathe in the Seine. In the obscurity, they took the monks for a legion of devils coming to carry them off. This amusing example, the necessity of too much abridging which I regret, shows that a well-told narrative fixes itself in the memory, while an ironical sally amuses for a moment and is no longer remembered. Such is the effect often produced by Voltaire in "l'Essai sur les Mæurs.”
M. Villemain very ably criticised Robertson. That historian, who is still admired in France, adopted, in his “ History of Charles V.” the singular idea of throwing every thing interesting, every thing picturesque, every thing calculated to engrave an historical trait in the mind, into the Notes at the end of his work. “Robertson,” he said, “was so deficient in imagination, that, though far from wishing it, he is sometimes guilty of infidelity. For example, he describes Luther as perfectly cool and tranquil on receiving the Bull fulminated against him by Leo X. But, unless the reader be quite childish, it is natural that he should ask, how it is possible that a man who so powerfully agitated his contemporaries could be so calm and reasonable.
Such a phenomenon would be greater, more extraordinary, than the Reformation itself. The fact is, and could not otherwise be, that Luther was one of the most violent of men. His fiery writings are examples of theological fury and popular fury. Luther was Rabelais in the pulpit, but Rabelais overflowing with hatred and violence. Instead of writing cool remarks on the Pope's Bull, as Robertson pretends, he replied to it by a pamphlet, which he entitled, “ Against the execrable Bull of Antichrist." It is clear, M. Villemain observed, that to write like Robertson is to mislead the reader -to falsify history, but probably without intending it.
Here M. Villemain compared the cold narrative given by Robertson, of the last moments of the interesting Mary Stuart, with
the unpretending page left by Brantome, who was merely a man of the world. Brantome's page is picturesque and true, and almost sublime because it is true; while the laboriously polished narrative of Robertson is, at bottom, a mere fiction. And why is this? Because Brantome wrote with the feeling and the simplicity of his age; while Robertson was merely a citizen of Edinburgh, who had become learned by poring over the works of old authors, but he wanted that turn of mind which was necessary to enable him to see events as they really happened. Now, what is history but the art of representing events as they actually took place?
Robertson's defects are in some measure the same as those of M. de Sismondi, who is labouring at Geneva on a history of the French, eight volumes of which are published. M. de Sismondi's defect is, that his characters appear natives of Geneva, so greatly are they imbued with political rationalism. Now, the rude warriors, of which Clovis was the chief, had very few notions of the balance of power, the laws of nations, or the laws of war, which ought only to sanction that mischief which is inevitable. They thought only of fine horses and well-tempered swords, like those made by Henry Smith in “ The Fair Maid of Perth. Their only policy consisted in securing the esteem of their general, Clovis, by rendering themselves useful to him.
This political rationalism, this academical colouring, is also observable in
M. Guizot's history of the last Stuarts. But it is a defect which is infinitely more pardonable in the writer who retraces the age of the Puritans, which was a very reasoning, if not a very reasonable age. Though you, Sir, may have but little idea of the wise policy from which a French writer who wishes to make his way never departs, you must be aware that M. Villemain has not pointed out with sufficient clearness the circumstances which, in spite of the puffing of the journals, oppose the success of the otherwise estimable histories of MM. Sismondi and Guizot. Taking thus the prudent view of the question, it may be said that M. Villemain's lectures on the history of Literature are very entertaining, and even very useful, though the author has in an eminent degree the defect for which he reproaches Robertson. M. Villemain has not sufficient imagination to form a just conception of the heroic spirits of the fifteenth century, those naturally gifted but ignorant men, who were utterly regardless of what their neighbours might think of them. The empire of decorum, which holds so important a place in modern minds, was a thing utterly unknown to a Du Guesclin, a Talbot, and the other great men of the middle ages.
Their greatest cruelties were in reality much less odious than they appear to us, now when drawing-room habits have heightened our susceptibility.
Perhaps, Sir, I ought to apologize for having entered into so long an analysis of one of M. Villemain's lectures. But the courses of Villemain, Guizot, and Cousin engage the interest of all Paris. Guizot and Cousin have ob tained permission to recommence their courses only since the fall of M. de Villele and the disgrace of the Jesuits. M. Cousin professes a philosophy which he renders entirely obscure, and which consists of ideas in the style of Kant and Plato. A little journal, entitled “ The Figaro,” has just given an amusing dialogue between the absolute and the contingent, two words of very frequent occurrence in the lectures of M. Cousin. This little dialogue has been found so diverting that it is pronounced worthy
of Voltaire. M. Raisson, the author of a clever satire entitled " The Civil Code, or the Art of being well received in the World,” has just published a romance entitled “
Mary Stuart,” which is much praised. “ La Jaquerie,” by the author of Clara Gazul, is another very popular production.
ON A GIFT OF FLOWERS.
La memoria de los bienes perdidos
Es el ultimo bien de los desgraciados.
LETTERS TO THE STUDENTS OF GLASGOW.
BY T. CAMPBELL.
LETTER VII. In following the sketch of ancient Italy which I have been endeavouring to trace to you, we come next to its VIth province, Picenum, which lying along the Adriatic, between the rivers Æsis and Matrinus and the Apennines on the west, corresponds on the modern map to the territories of Ancona, Macerata, and Ascoli. This region appears in its ancient history like an inn that often changed its occupants. The Aborigines had yielded to the Tyrrheni, who left here written characters similar to the Etruscan: the Liburni, the first voyagers of the Adriatic, had made settlements on the coast : the Sabines, guided by Picus, had invaded those invaders : the Gallic Senones had burst thus far into the South of Italy: and the Syracusans had founded Ancona before the Romans invaded Picenum.
This people submitted to Rome in the year of the city 485. From their population of 360,000 free souls, a portion was dragged to colonize other places, and the remainder, under the title of Allies, continued vassals of the Romans until the Social War, when Picenum figured among the Italians in their struggle with Rome.
The most pleasingly remarkable place in this quarter of Italy is Ancona, founded 2400 years ago by Sicilian patriots who had fled from the tyranny of Dionysius. It still continues to be, next to Venice, the most populous and trading city on the Adriatic. Of old it was famed for its temple of Venus ; and its scenery sheltered by a semicircular hill, and open only to the breezes of the west, is said still to deserve the mythological compliment. The inhabitants of its whole territory are also remarked as finer in form and complexion than all other Italians.
In spite of their mixed population, it is attested that the Picentes were chiefly descended from the Sabines, one of whose kings after his decease guided his people into Picenum in the august form of a woodpecker. How childishly credulous the ancients appear to have been ! But the modern world has also had its turn for the marvellous. At Loretto, in this very region, is still shown the house of the Virgin Mary, brought hither by angels from Nazareth in the year 1294, together with a camblet gown that she wore, and the crockery-ware that was used by her family, Absurd as this legend was, it made Loretto the Delphi of modern Europe. The treasures there deposited were so consecrated by religious awe, that the Turks trembled to invade them, and the shrine was annually visited by 2000 pilgrims.
VII. Proceeding on the map southward from Ancona, in the direction of Rome and through the north of Naples, we come to the Seventh division of ancient Italy, comprising the Sabini, Æqui, Marsi, Peligni, Vestini and Marrucini. The country of the Sabines still retains its name, and their ancient character has the glory of proverbial honesty and virtue. The places of the other tribes are in modern AbTuzzo. There lay the Marsians who pretended to skill in charming serpents, and to magic cures for their bites; and to this day, the jugglers who amuse the people of Rome and Naples by handling those reptiles, come out of the same territory.
Of all those tribes, the Sabines, who were apparently a branch of the Umbri, may be considered as the ancestors. A pure and indigenous August, 1828. —VOL. XXIII. NO. XCII.