Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

of age was married on the 12th May, tions into which rural France was then 1814, to a fair bride of only eighteen, divided. Scarcely less mischievous was of whose society he grew weary in a

the insolence of the mayors and other few weeks. By way of a change he

municipal officers, whose petty tyranny went off by himself to his farm in

inflicted much serious suffering upon Touraine, and shortly afterwards pro- the helpless peasantry. As soon as it jected a voyage to “the ancient Lusi- was known that Courier no more held tania." The tender remonstrances and with the Royalists than with their loving appeals of his young wife at predecessors, he became a butt for all last succeeded in inducing him to sorts of annoyance and spoliation. renounce this design, and after a while, His trees were cut down and carted as one of his biographers remarks, he away by individuals to whom he was became " acclimatised to a matrimonial able to bring home the trespass and life.”

robbery, but the mayor took them Under the first Restoration and under his protection, and no redress during the troublous scenes of the

could be obtained. Others filched Hundred Days Courier kept aloof from away entire roods of land, or withheld politics. At the beginning of the their rents, and the law, when set in second Restoration he was favourably motion by one of the disaffected, was regarded by the returned exiles as powerless to coerce the evildoers. All one who had long since broken with this greatly disquieted Courier, not the Empire; but his constitutional merely on bis own account, but through opinions soon gave umbrage to the his generous sympathy with the weak ultra-Royalists, who were taking an

and unfriended. unwise revenge for their long exclu- It was not enough for him to unsion from power. Towards the close burden his mind to his wife. He felt of 1815 he happened to be in Touraine, that humanity and patriotism alike and, as he wrote to his wife, dined required of him to do something for on one occasion in the company of

bis harassed and down-trodden neighChouans, Vendéens, and ultra-Roya

bours. Under this conviction he wrote lists, who had toasted her health :

his memorable Pétition aux Deux Chambres,' dated the 10th December,

1816, a brilliant little pamphlet of ten “There were two priests there,” he continued, “both of whom got tipsy. One of them

pages. The clear statement of facts and had to conduct a funeral service, which was

incidents that outraged the commonest the first thing that escaped his memory:

On feelings of humanity, the fearless and returning home, at ten o'clock at night, he found that the corpse and the mourners had

uncompromising tone, the pungent, been waiting for him since noon.

incisive diction-all combined to create

He at once busied himself with burying the body. He

a sensation through all classes of chanted at the top of his voice, and set the the Parisian world, and ministers bells ringing-a hideous uproar. The other, who was farther gone than his neighbour,

were forced to acknowledge that they wanted to fight me.

had strained to the utmost the forbearBeing told that I had a young and pretty wife, he indulged in several ance of the nation, and that it would hussar-like jokes, which greatly diverted the be necessary henceforth to temper the company.

zeal of their subordinate agents. M.

Decazes, the Minister of the Interior, Many of the Royalist priests, in- is supposed to have been far from disdeed, had acquired the license of pleased at the check so unexpectedly camps, and were a disgrace to their inflicted upon his ultra-Royalist colsacred calling. Men of that stamp leagues and the Court, untaught by were little calculated to command the the lessons of adversity. In any case, respect of their parishioners, and

, it is certain that such rigorous proseldom concerned themselves to act as ceedings were thenceforth discounpeacemakers between the hostile fac

tenanced, though too much license was

6

[ocr errors]

6

one

still allowed to rural and municipal grave of the deceased ; but liberal laws are authorities.

seldom rigorously enforced, and, for the most

NowNo one seems to have been more

part, nothing was paid for killing us.

adays, it costs a mayor seven and a half sous surprised than Courier himself at the

for stamped paper merely to put a workingsuccess of his first essay as a political man into prison, and the magistrates interfere. writer; but, instead of immediately

Inquiries are instituted, and then only is pursuing the path that invited him

judgment pronounced, conformably to the

good pleasure of the mayor or the prefect. onward to popularity and usefulness,

Does it seem to you, sir, a small thing what he turned aside to translate that not we have gained in the course of five or six very edifying tale commonly known as hundred years? We were subject to forced “The Ass' of Lucian which was subse

labour, to arbitrary taxation, we could be

killed at pleasure ; now, we can only be quently published in 1818. A serious thrown into prison.” attack of illness, which well-nigh proved fatal, followed by the death of In an evil hour for himself he his father-in-law, whom he sincerely next ventured to publish Le Simple esteemed and loved, reduced him to Discours de Paul Louis, Vigneron de such a state of physical prostration la Chavonnière, aux Membres du that the management of his property Conseil de la Commune de Veretz.' devolved upon his wife, who ever It is

of the most forcible afterwards kept it in her own hands. pamphlets that ever proceeded from While suffering in mind and body his pen, and was written in opposiCourier unwisely offered himself as a tion to a project for purchasing by candidate for one of the three vacant voluntary subscription the domain and chairs at the Academy. His canvass château of Chambord, to be presented was hopeful, and he secured the promise to the infant Duke of Bordeaux. of a considerable number of votes. The sum of fifteen hundred thousand Nevertheless, he was unanimously re- francs was, nevertheless, wrung from jected. He felt the disappointment the servility of the rural communes, keenly, and had not the good sense to and the domain of Chambord behide his feelings. "Irritated by the im- came once more an appanage of the pertinence of some second-rate journal, Crown. For his part Paul Louis which had reminded him that to be- Courier was brought to trial upon a come an Academician something more charge of having outraged public was needed than Greek, he dashed off morality by maintaining that the a truculent undignified letter to the vicinity of a Court is bad for the Academy, in which he not only stooped peasantry of the district. Being found to pick up the challenge of the jour- guilty he was sentenced to two months' nalist, but ungraciously sneered at imprisonment and a fine of two hunhis more fortunate rivals. This un- dred francs, time, however, being alwise effusion naturally did not increase lowed him to arrange his private his reputation, but a better reception affairs. His letters to his wife from was accorded to his ten letters to the Ste. Pelagie are very touching, and editor of the Censeur,' all full of the evince a tenderness of heart scarcely keenest irony and caustic humour. In in harmony with his usual deportthe first he plunged, as usual, head- ment. In prison he became acquainted long into his subject :

with Béranger, to whom he oddly enough alludes as “the

" the man who “You compassionate us peasants, and you writes pretty songs.” The song writer

are so far right that our lot might undoubtedly be better. We are at the mercy of a mayor

employed his compulsory leisure in and a garde-champêtre, whose tempers are publishing a collected edition of his easily disturbed. Fine and imprisonment are poems, ten thousand copies of which no trifles. But bear in mind that in the olden

were sold in a week! time we could be killed for five sous parisis : that was the law. Any noble who killed a

On the expiration of his term of villein was bound to cast five sous upon the imprisonment Courier returned to his

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

more

on.

home in the country, vowing never capital. It was apparently his inagain to come within the clutches of tention to dispose of all his landed the public prosecutor. For some time property

property a (small estate, in truth) he adhered to this prudent resolution, and withdraw entirely from country but the old Adam was not to be so life, devoting himself thenceforth to easily cast out, and in 1822 appeared literary pursuits.

Whatever may his · Pétition à la Chambre des have been his plans they were frusDeputés pour les Villageois que l'on trated by his violent death on the empêche de danser.' For this clever 10th April, within a few paces of his brilliant trifle he was again summoned own house. Five years afterwards a before the tribunal, but escaped with peasant and a young girl deposed that, a reprimand. This second experi- while concealed in a thicket, they saw ence, however, made him

three men approach Courier, one of cautious for the future, and thence- whom tripped him up, whereupon forth he published his political papers

another fired at him and killed him with so much secrecy that not even on the spot, the third merely looking his most intimate friends were aware The first assailant having died to what press he had recourse.

His in the meantime, and the actual murindustry appears to have been stimu- derer, Courier's own garde-champêtre, lated by the obstructions placed in lying at the point of death, the two his way, but the hour of repose was hidden witnesses, no longer afraid of at hand. In the early months of 1824 evil consequences to themselves, came he brought out his wonderful 'Pamph- forward and told what they had seen. let des Pamphlets,' which proved the The dying man confessed the truth of crowning-stone of his literary reputa- their statement, but died without distion. This brilliant effusion, the last closing the motive that had prompted as well as the most powerful of the him to kill his master, and apparently political writings of Paul Louis without revealing the name of the Courier, has been characterised as third accomplice. The murder thus “the song of the swan.” Nothing remained still hidden in mystery, nor short of the translation of the entire does it appear that any great trouble pamphlet would give an adequate idea was ever taken to investigate the of the vigour and eloquence of this remarkable production. According to Courier has been called the Rabelais one of his editors, “it is the defini. of politics, the Montaigne of the pretion, the theory, the apotheosis of sent century, the successful rival of pamphlets." Armand Carrel is still .

Pascal ; and no doubt there are many more enthusiastic, and describes it as points of resemblance between him and "a fragment of irresistible fascination, those illustrious writers. But in his the style of which, from one end to the pre-eminently does Buffon's other, harmonising with the impulse saying hold good—the style was the of a most capricious and daring in- man himself.

The touches of grim, spiration, may be quoted as an ex- often grotesque, humour, the keen, ample in our language of what is most biting sarcasm, the classical illustrarefined as taste and most marvellous tions, the intolerance of wrong, the as art."

scorn for all that is mean and ignoble, After spending the months of Janu. the untameable love of independenceary and February, 1825, in Paris, all that was Courier's own, and marked Courier made his last journey to La

him as

man distinct from his Chavonnière, leaving his wife in the fellows.

JAMES HUTTON.

case.

case

а

THE TERRIFIC DICTION.

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

gave Sir

6

Who now reads Johnson? At times the tale might still serve.

But the we will read about him, when some local colouring (to use

one of our one of our greatgeniuses good-naturedly pretty, popular phrases) puts it so lectures on the poor dead bones. Here . hopelessly out of court. Those imand there one will furbish up a dull possible Abyssinians! As well expect page with one of those historic im- to be stirred by the passage of the pertinences, those exercises in tossing Vapians through the equinoctial of and goring (the phrase is Bozzy's) Queubus! And for the “ solemn yet which will sometimes prompt the un- pleasinghumour which Macaulay grateful thought, how much does the found in those reflections on the memory of Samuel Johnson owe of its passing scene which the old man sent enchantment to distance ? But to out week by week from his lonely read him—to read those writings which garret (a sort of writing which one were once as the voice of an oracle : might have fancied likely still to keep the “Rambler' (“Pure wine, sir !” fresh), that is least of all to our said the old man) and its successors, taste. Solemn enough in truth should the • Adventurer' and the ‘Idler'; we find it. He prided himself on or 'Rasselas’; or • The Vanity of writing trifles with dignity; but that Human Wishes' (which

is not the way we have decided that Walter Scott, as he vowed, more plea- trifles should be written. Nay, on sure than any other poetical compo- this side he seems himself to have sition he knew); possibly even the anticipated the verdict of posterity. • Lives of the Poets '—that, we sus- “ As it has been my principal design, pect, is a task very few of us have a he confessed in the Rambler's farewell mind for now.

to his readers, “to inculcate wisdom It is not perhaps surprising. The or piety, I have allotted few papers to qualities which attract readers to-day the idle sports of the imagination. were not Johnson's; and his is not a Some, perhaps, may be found of which name of that pre-eminent lustre with the highest excellence is harmless which readers with a care for their merriment; but scarcely any man is literary reputation must at least pro- so steadily serious as not to complain fess to be familiar. His capital dis- that the severity of dictatorial instructinction as a writer is one not now tion has been too seldom relieved, and universally prized—the distinction of that he has been driven by the stern

Even his criticisms, ness of the Rambler's philosophy to grossly and provokingly unjust as more cheerful and airy companions.' they so often are, at their very worst, That is enough; and we pass on to the as has been well said, mean something, cheerful and airy company that Count which does not seem to have been Paul Vasili and others of his kidney invariably the first aim among critics of provide for us--companions who, at later times. But when this distinction least, cannot say with the Rambler has been duly set to his credit, there that they have never complied with

a remains little, if anything, likely to temporary curiosity," and that in their bring Johnson into fashion again. writings “no man can look for censure * Rasselas,' to be sure, is as empty of of his enemies or praise of himself.” incident and as full of talk as any It is not then surprising that Johnmodern novel; and were the Happy son, as a personality probably the most Valley in Kensington, and Imlac an familiar to us of all dead men, should art-critic or a magazine philosopher, yet remain one of the Great Unread.

common sense.

[ocr errors]

6

a

6

Yet it is a pity. Though the world he Aningait and Ajut, or the transmigra
looked on was a narrow and a bounded tion of Pug the monkey compared
world, within its limits his vision was with the Revolution of a Garrett.
exact and keen. One cannot say of But most striking of all is the con-
him that he “ saw life steadily and trast between those papers in which
saw it whole;" yet the side of life he Addison played with his inimitable
knew he saw steadily enough, and grace and lightness round the humours
judged acutely. It is when in vain of fashion, of female fashion especially,
concession to those who fretted under and those in which Johnson, with a
his dictatorial instruction) he travels hand heavy as the bludgeon which
out of his familiar round to laugh, was to answer the threats of the
somewhat hoarsely, at the whims of a author of Ossian,' essayed to dissect
world he was neither of nor among, the manners of a society which he came
that he becomes really tedious. To to know only late in life and then but
borrow a well-known metaphor of his very superficially. Sir John Falstaff,
own, it is like a dog walking on his aş Macaulay happily says, never wore
hind-legs; it is not well done, but we his petticoats with a worse grace. And
marvel that it is done at all. The no one, it must in fairness be owned,
question of precedence between him could have been more conscious of this.
and Addison was a favourite subject than Johnson himself. Reams have
of discussion in his own day. Futile been written on Addison since the
as they almost always are, no question *Lives of the Poets' were published,
of comparison between two writers was but never has his peculiar charm been
ever so futile as this. Though handling more pertinently praised than in the
the same class of subjects, and employ- pages there devoted to him. It is
ing the same form, the method of impossible to read from the paragraph
Addison and the method of Johnson beginning, “ As a describer of life and
are as far apart as the method of manners,'' to the end, without feeling
Thackeray and the method of Dickens. sure that so acute and just a critic
A glance at those papers in which the must have felt his own withers not a
Rambler and his fellows have essayed
to tread in the footsteps of the Spec- But there was

one phase of hutator will show the dullest reader how manity which Johnson knew to the wide a gulf separates the creator of finger-tips. The changes and chances Sir Roger de Coverley from the creator of a literary life, its foibles and its of Squire Bluster. Cut his words any- vanities, its sorrows and its pleasures, where, said Emerson of Montaigne, he knew as hardly one before or since and they will bleed. One may say has known them to record them. the same of any page of the Coverley The strange sad story of Grub Street papers. They are as fresh, as full of he had by heart from the first page to life to-day as on the morning they the last. It was familiar to him both were sent to the press, and it is hard to by learning and experience. Literary conceive that the day will ever come biography was his favourite reading, when that rich humanity will be still and naturally enough this was the and cold. Turn over the pages which subject on which he wrote best. There tell the tale of the Busys and of the are still, let us hope, a few to whom Club of Antiquaries, and one might the 'Lives of the Poets' are not all fancy oneself at Cairo unwrapping the unknown; but buried here and there mummy of that Pharaoh whose heart

among the unexplored pages of the was hardened not to let the children 'Rambler,' and its still less rememof Israel go. It is the same with the bered successors, are many papers more imaginative papers, the allegories treating of the same subject, and and tales and fantastic pieces gene- treating it with a fund of good sense, rally; with the story of Hilpah and of wisdom, of pity, and of humour Shalum compared with the story of which it is sad to think no one now

little wrung.

« PreviousContinue »