Page images

How near is the great gulf! My skiff is thin as a nutshell, or even more fragile still.

Let the leak but widen a little and all is over for the navigator. A mere nothing separates me from idiocy, from madness, from death. The slightest breach is enough to endanger all this frail, ingenious edifice, which calls itself my being and my life.

Not even the dragonfly symbol is enough to express its frailty ; the soap-bubble is the best poetical translation of all this illusory magnificence, this fugitive apparition of the tiny self, which is we, and

we it.

[ocr errors]

A miserable night enough. Awakened three or four times by my bronchitis. Sadness — restlessness. One of these winter nights, possibly, suffocation will come. I realise that it would be well to keep myself ready, to put everything in order.

To begin with, let me wipe out all personal grievances and bitternesses; forgive all, judge no one ; in enmity and illwill, see only misunderstanding. “As much as lieth in you, be at peace with all men.' On the bed of death the soul should have no eyes but for eternal things. All the


littlenesses of life disappear. The fight is

There should be nothing left now but remembrance of past blessings, adoration of the ways of God. Our natural instinct leads us back to Christian humility and pity. • Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.'

Prepare thyself as though the coming Easter were thy last, for thy days henceforward shall be few and evil.

11th February 1880. — Victor de Laprade 20 has elevation, grandeur, nobility, and harmony. What is it, then, that he lacks ? Ease, and perhaps humour. Hence the monotonous solemnity, the excess of emphasis, the over-intensity, the inspired

the statue-like ga which annoy one in him. He is a muse which never lays aside the cothurnus, and a royalty which never puts off its crown, even to sleep. The total absence in him of playfulness, simplicity, familiarity, is a great defect. De Laprade is to the ancients as the French tragedy is to that of Euripides, or as the wig of Louis XIV. to the locks of Apollo. His majestic airs are wearisome and factitious. If there is not exactly affectation in them, there is at least a kind of theatrical and sacerdotal posing, a sort of professional attitudinising. Truth is not as fine as this, but it is more living, more pathetic, more varied. Marble images are cold.

Was it not Musset who said, • If De Laprade is a poet, then I am not one'?

27th February 1880.-I have finished translating twelve or fourteen little poems by Petöfi. They have a strange kind of savour. There is something of the Steppe, of the East, of Mazeppa, of madness, in these songs, which seem to go to the beat of a riding-whip. What force and passion, what savage brilliancy, what wild and grandiose images, there are in them! One feels that the Magyar is a kind of Centaur, and that he is only Christian and European by accident. The Hun in him tends towards the Arab.

20th March 1880. — I have been reading La Bannière Bleue — a history of the world at the time of Genghis Khan, under the form of inemoirs. It is a Turk, Ouïgour, who tells the story. He shows us civilisation from the wrong side, or the other side,

and the Asiatic nomads appear as the scavengers of its corruptions.

Genghis proclaimed himself the scourge of God, and he did in fact realise the vastest empire known to history, stretching from the Blue Sea to the Baltic, and from the vast plains of Siberia to the banks of the sacred Ganges.

The most solid empires of the ancient world were overthrown by the tramp of his horsemen and the shafts of his archers. From the tumult into which he threw the western continent there issued certain vast results: the fall of the Byzantine Empire, involving the Renaissance, the voyages of discovery in Asia, undertaken from both sides of the globe — that is to say, Gama and Columbus; the formation of the Turkish Empire ; and the preparation of the Russian Empire. This tremendous hurricane, starting from the high Asiatic tablelands, felled the de caying oaks and worm-eaten buildings of the whole ancient world. The descent of the yellow, flat-nosed Mongofs upon Europe is a historical cyclone which devastated and purified our thirteenth century, and broke, at the two ends of the known world, through two great Chinese walls — that which protected the ancient empire of the

Centre, and that which made a barrier of ignorance and superstition round the little world of Christendom. Attila, Genghis, Tamerlane, ought to range in the memory of men with Cæsar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon. They roused whole peoples into action, and stirred the depths of human life, they powerfully affected ethnography, they let loose rivers of blood, and renewed the face of things. The Quakers will not see that there is law of tempests in history as in Nature. The revilers of war are like the revilers of thunder, storms, and volcanoes; they know not what they do. Civilisation tends to corrupt men, as large towns tend to vitiate the air.

Nos patimur longæ pacis mala.' Catastrophes bring about a violent restoration of equilibrium; they put the world brutally to rights. Evil chastises itself, and the tendency to ruin in human things supplies the place of the regulator who has not yet been discovered. No civilisation can bear more than a certain proportion of abuses, injustice, corruption, shame, and crime. When this proportion has been reached, the boiler bursts, the palace falls, the scaffolding breaks down; institutions,

« PreviousContinue »