Page images

ing it of its simplicity. Love then assumes a character at once sublime and formidable, when the most serious occupations, the holy temple itself, the sacred altars, the terrible mysteries of religion all recal the idea of it, are all associated with its recollections. *

The history of Madame de Gange did not present M. Gilbert with as powerful an engine as religion. Yet fraternal affection, contrasted with jealousy, might have fur. nished him with some very pathetic situations. In the Heroide of Dido, the poet has translated some of the verses of the Eneïd very happily, particularly the non ignara malis.

In woe myself, I learned to weep for woe.

I know not however whether this sentiment be in it self as just as it is amiable; it is certain at least that there are men whose hearts adversity seems to harden; they have shed all their tears for themselves.

Nature had given M. Gilbert some fancy and much assurance; so that he sưcceeded better in the Ode, than in Heroics. The exordium of his Last Judgment is

very fine.

What benefits have all your savage virtues produced
Justly you have said, God protects us as a father
Oppressid on all sides, cast down, you crouch
Under the feet of the wicked whose boldness is prosperous.

Let this God come then if ever he existed !
Since virtue is the subject of misfortune
Since the child of sorrow calls and is not heard
He must sleep in Heaven beneath his silent thunders.

The sound of the trumpet which awakens the dead from the tomb, answers alone to the question of the wicked. It would be difficult to find a turn more animated, more lyric. Every one knows the lines which conclude this ode.


The Prodigal Son.

The Eternal has broken his useless thunder,
And of wings and a scythe for ever depriv’d
Upon the world destroyed time stands motionless.

The fine expression widow of a king people, speaking of Rome, which is in the ode addressed to Monsieur upon his journey to Piedmont:~the apostrophe of the impi. ous to Christ in the ode upon the Jubilee: we have irre- . trievably convicted thee of imposture oh Christ! with the poet's reflection in speaking again in his own character, after this blasphemy: thus spoke in past times a people of false sages ;— Thunder personified which would select the head of the blasphemer to crush it with its power, if the time of mercy were not come ;—the people marching in the steps of the cross, those old warriors who to appease the vengeance of the lord go to offer laurels, and the sufferings of a body of which the tomb already possesses the half ;-all these things appear to us in the true nature of the ode which :

Winging to heaven its ambitious flight
Holds in its measures, commerce with the gods.

Why then should M. Gilbert, who joins boldness of expressian to the lyric movement, not be placed in the same rank with Malherbe, Racine, and Rousseau ?-It is that he fails frequently in harmony of numbers, without which there can be no real poetry. Poetic imagery and thoughts, cannot of themselves constitute a poet, there must be also harmony of versification, a melodious combination of sounds; the chords of the lyre must be heard to vibrate. Unfortunately the secret of this divine harmony cannot be taught, a happy ear is the gift of nature. M:

Gilbert does not understand those changes of tone which cross each other, and, by the mixture of their accords, often communicate a heavenly transport a delicious rapture to the soul.* In some few strophes he has somewhat seized this harmony so necessary to the lyriac ge. nius. In speaking of the battle of Ushant be exclaims :

Haste to revenge, the time's arrived
When these our haughty foes so oft forsworn
Their pride, their still enduring wrongs shall expiate.

Too long with patience have our souls endur'd
The servile peace which they elate

With victory impos’d.
Dunkirk invokes you, hear you not her voice
Raise, raise again the towers that guard her shores,

Release her port, by slavery long restrain'd
From the harsh doom that bound her to obey

At once two sovereign lords.

M. Gilbert has sometimes laid down the lyre, to assume the voice of the orator. “ There was once a coun. try,” says he, in the peroration of his eulogium of Léopold Duke of Lorraine, “there was once a country in which the subjects had a right to judge their master, at the moment when Providence calls monarchs to himself to require from them an account of their actions. They assembled in a throng around his body, which was exposed on the side of the tomb, when one insulted the unfortunate corpse by saying: My innocent family were poisoned by thy orders. Another exclaimed: He plundered me of all my property.--Another: Men were in his eyes no more than the flocks that graze the fields ; all condemned him to become the prey of ravenous birds. But if he had been just, then the whole nation with hair dishevelled, uttering dreadful cries, assembled to deplore their loss, and to raise for him a superb mausoleum, while the orators made the temples resound with celebrating his glory. Well, my friend, the time which has elapsed since the death of Léopold gives us the same privilege that these people enjoyed. We have nothing to apprehend from the resentment' of his son, his sceptre is broken, his

* Longinus, chap. 32.

, throne is annihilated. There are here citizens of all ranks and descriptions; some have lived under his laws, others have learnt from their fathers the history of his reign. Let them rise.And thou shade of Léopold, come forth from the tomb, come and receive the tribute of praise or of malediction which is owed to thee by this august as. sembly. Speak, citizens, speak, this great shade is here

. present, Have ye any thing wherewith to reproach Leo

, pold?--Not one speak ?--Have ye any thing, I ask, wherewith to reproach Leopold ? —Wherever I turn my eyes I see countenances cast down, I see vain tears flow. Ungrateful men! dare you wrong your benefactor by this injurious silence ? Speak, I say once more, Have ye any thing wherewith to reproach Leopold ?--Alas! I understand ye. You have no reproaches to make, unless to heaven, that so soon cut short his days. Let us then


This is not indeed the eloquence of the Bishop of Meaux, but if this passage had been found in Flechier, it would long ago have been cited with honour and dis. tinction.

In many passages of his works, M. Gilbert complains bitterly of his fate, “What folly," said a woman once,

“ “to open our hearts to the world; it laughs at our weaknesses, it does not believe in our virtues, it does not pity our sorrows." The verses that follow, the effusion of a man under misfortunes, are only remarkable for the acçent of truth which they bear. The poet shews himself struggling by turns against the noble thirst of fame, and the chagrins inseparable from the career of letters,

[ocr errors]

Heaven placed my cradle in the dust of earth,
I blush' not at it master of a throne
My lowest subject had my bosom envied.
Asham'd of owing aught to blood alone
I had wished to be reborn, to raise myself.

This is truly the language of a young man who feels, for the first time, a generous passion for glory. But he is soon reduced to regretting his primitive obscurity; he draws a picture of the happiness of a friend, whom he has quitted in the country:

“Justice, peace, every thing smiled around Philemon. Oh how should I delight in that enchanting simplicity while expecting the return of an absent husband, assembles all the fruits of their tender love; while directing the yet feeble steps of the elder, and Carrying the youngest in her


she hastens with them to the foot of the path by which their father is to descend.” Here the softened feelings of misfortune have mingled themselves with the accents of the poet, we no longer see the satyrist armed with his bloody lines.

We are sorry to find M. Gilbert dwelling so often upon his hunger. Society, who always find indigence troublesome, that they may avoid being solicited to relieve it, say that it is noble to conceal our misery. The man of genius struggling against adversity, is a gladiator who fights for the pleasures of the world, in the arena of life; one wishes to see him die with a good grace. M. Gilbert was not ungrateful, and whoever had the happiness of alleviating his sorrows received a tribute from his muse, how small soever might have been the boon. Homer, who like our young poet, had felt indigence, says, that the smallest gifts do not fail to soothe and rejoice us.

In the piece entitled the Complaints of the Unhappy, we find a passage truly pathetic :

Woe, woe, to those alas! who gave me birth!
Blind, barbarous father, mother void of pity,

« PreviousContinue »