Page images
PDF
EPUB

be found in all the ethnographical divisions. The country of my choice' (to quote Madame de Staël) is with the chosen souls. I feel no greater inclination towards the French, the Germans, the Swiss, the English, the Poles, the Italians, than towards the Brazilians or the Chinese. The illusions of patriotism, of Chauvinist, family, or professional feeling, do not exist for me. My tendency, on the contrary, is to feel with increased force the lacunæ, deformities, and imperfections of the group to which I belong. My inclination is to see things as they are, abstracting my own individuality, and suppressing all personal will ana desire ; so that I feel antipathy, not towards this or that, but towards error, prejudice, stupidity, exclusiveness, exaggeration. I love only justice and fairness. Anger and annoyance are with me merely superficial; the fundamental tendency is towards impartiality and detachment. Inward liberty and aspiration towards the true

these are what I care for and take pleasure in.

4th June 1877. - I have just heard the Romeo and Juliet of Hector Berlioz. The work is entitled — Dramatic symphony for orchestra, with choruses.'

The execu

tion was extremely good. The work is interesting, careful, curious, and suggestive, but it leaves one cold. When I come to reason out my impression I explain it in this way. To subordinate man to things to annex the human voice, as a mere supplement, to the orchestra — is false in idea.

make simple narrative out of dramatic material, is a derogation, a piece of levity. A Romeo and Juliet in which there is no Romeo and no Juliet is an absurdity. To substitute the inferior, the obscure, the vague, for the higher and the clear, is a challenge to common sense. It is a violation of that natural hierarchy of things which is never violated with impunity. The musician has put together a series of symphonic pictures, without any inner connection, a string of riddles, to which a prose text alone supplies meaning and unity. The only intelligible voice which is allowed to appear in the work is that of Friar Laurence: his sermon could not be expressed in chords, and is therefore plainly sung. But the moral of a play is not the play, and the play itself has been elbowed out by recitative.

The musician of the present day, not being able to give us what is beautiful,

torments himself to give us what is new. False originality, false grandeur, false genius! This laboured art is wholly antipathetic to me. Science simulating genius is but a form of quackery.

Berlioz as a critic is cleverness itself; as a musician he is learned, inventive, and ingenious, but he is trying to achieve the greater when he cannot compass the lesser. Thirty years ago, at Berlin, the same impression was left upon me by his Infancy of Christ, which I heard him conduct himself. His art seems to me neither fruitful nor wholesome; there is no true and solid beauty in it.

I ought to say, however, that the audience, which was a fairly full one, seemed very well satisfied.

nor rose.

17th July 1877. Yesterday I went through my La Fontaine, and noticed the omissions in him. He has neither butterfly

He utilises neither the crane, nor the quail, nor the dromedary, nor the lizard. There is not a single echo of chivalry in him. For him, the history of France dates from Louis XIV. His geography only ranges, in reality, over a few square miles, and touches neither the Rhine nor the Loire, neither the mountains nor the sea. He never invents his subjects, but indolently takes them ready-made from elsewhere. But with all this what an adorable writer, what a painter, what an observer, what a humorist, what a story-teller! I am never tired of reading him, though I know half his fables by heart. In the matter of vocabulary, turns, tones, phrases, idioms, his style is perhaps the richest of the great period, for it combines, in the most skilful way, archaism and classic finish, the Gallic and the French elements. Variety, satire, finesse, feeling, movement, terseness, suavity, grace, gaiety, at times even nobleness, gravity, grandeur, everything, — is to be found in him. And then the happiness of the epithets, the piquancy of the sayings, the felicity of his rapid sketches and unforeseen audacities, and the unforgettable sharpness of phrase! His defects are eclipsed by his immense variety of different aptitudes.

One has only to compare his · Woodcutter and Death' with that of Boileau in order to estimate the enormous difference between the artist and the critic who found fault with his work. La Fontaine gives you a picture of the poor peasant under the monarchy ; Boileau shows you nothing but a man perspiring under a heavy load. The first is a historical witness, the second a mere academic rhymer. From La Fontaine it is possible to reconstruct the whole society of his epoch, and the old Champenois with his beasts remains the only Homer France has ever possessed. He has as many portraits of men and women as La Bruyère, and Molière is not more humorous.

His weak side is his epicureanism, with its tinge of grossness. This, no doubt, was what made Lamartine dislike him. The religious note is absent from his lyre; there is nothing in him which shows any contact with Christianity, any knowledge of the sublimer tragedies of the soul. Kind nature is his goddess, Horace his prophet, and Montaigne his gospel. In other words, his horizon is that of the Renaissance. This pagan island in the full Catholic stream is very curious; the paganism of it is so perfectly sincere and naïve.

But indeed, Rabelais, Molière, Saint Evremond, are much more pagan than Voltaire. It is as though, for the genuine Frenchman, Christianity was a mere pose or costumesomething which has nothing to do with the heart, with the real man, or his deeper

« PreviousContinue »