« PreviousContinue »
in speaking of mythology. We believe that a genius, well-directed, may yet draw many treasures from this fruitful vine ; but we also think, and we were perhaps the first to advance it, that there are more sources for dramatic poetry in the Christian religion, than in the religion of the ancients ; that the numberless conflicts of the passions necessarily resulting from a chaste and inflexible religion must compensate amply to the poet the loss of the mythological beauties. Although we should only have raised a doubt upon so important a literary question, upon a question decided in favour of fable by the highest authorities in letters, would not this be to have obtained a sort of victory.*
M. de Bonald also condemns those timid minds who, from respect for religion, would willingly abandon religion itself to destruction. He expresses himself in nearly the same terms that we have done : “Even though these truths, so necessary to the preservation of social order, were disowned from one end of Europe to the other ; would it be necessary to justify ourselves to weak and timid minds, to souls full of terrors, that we dared to raise a corner of the veil which conceals these truths from superficial observers ? -and could there be christians so
* Madame de Stael herself, in the preface to her novel of Delphine, makes some concession when she allows that religious ideas are favourable to the developement of genius ; yet she seems to have written this work for the purpose of combating these same ideas, and to prove that there is nothing more dry and harsh than Christianity, more tender than philosophy. It is for the public to prorounce whether she has attained her end. At least she has given new proofs of those distinguished talents and that brilliant imagination which we were happy to recognize. And although she endeavours to give currency to opinions which freeze and wither the heart, we feel throughout her work effusions of that kindness of soul which no systems of philosophy can extinguish, and of that generosity to which the unfortunate have never appealed in vain.
weak in their faith as to think that they would be the less respected, in proportion as they were more known.”
Amidst the violent criticisms which have assailed us from the very first steps we ventured to take in the paths of literature, we must confessit is extremely flattering and consoling to us to see at this day our humble efforts sanctioned by an opinion so important as that of M. de Bonald. We must, however, take the liberty of saying to him that in the ingenious comparison which he draws between our work and his own, he proves that he knows much better than ourselves how to use the weapons of imagination, and that if he does not employ them more frequently it is because he despises them. He is, notwithstanding any thing that may be urged to the contrary, the skilful architect of that temple of which we are only the unskilful decorator,
It is much to be regretted, that M. de Bonald had not the time and fortune necessary for making one single work of those upon the Theory of Power, upon Divorce, upon Primitive Legislation and his several Treatises upon political subjects. But Providence, who disposes of us, has appointed M. de Bonald to other duties, and has demanded of his heart the sacrifice of his genius. This man, endowed with talents so superior, with a modesty so rare, consecrates himself, at the present moment, to an unfortunate family, and paternal cares make him forget the path of glory. The eulogium pronounced in the Scriptures, upon the patriarchs, may well be applied to him : Homines divites in virtute, pulchritudinis studium habentes ; pacificates in domibus suis.
The genius of M. de Bonald appears to us rather pro. found than elevated ; it delves more than it aspires. His mind is at once solid and acute ; his imagination is not always, like imaginations eminently poetic, led away by an ardent sentiment or a grand image, but it is always ingenious, and abounds with happy turns ; for this reason, we find in his writings more of calm than of motion, more of light than of heat. As to his sentiments, they every
where breathe that true French honour, that probity, which formed the predominant characteristic in the writers of the age of Louis XIV. We feel that these writers discovered truth less by the power of their minds than by the integrity of their hearts.
It is so seldom we have works like this to examine, that I trust I shall be pardoned the length to which the present article has run. When the luminaries which now shine around our literary horizon are gradually hiding themselves, and about to be extinguished, we rest with particular delight upon a new luminary which rises. All these men have grown old with glory in the republic of letters; these writers, so long known, to whom we shall succeed, but whom we can never replace, have seen happier days. They lived while a Buffon, a Montesquieu, a Voltaire still existed : Voltaire had known Boileau, Boileau had seen the great Corneille expire, and Corneille, while a child, might have heard the last accents of Mal. herbe. This fine chain of French genius is broken; the revolution has hollowed out an abyss, which has for ever separated the future from the past. No medium generation has been formed between the writers who are no more and those who are to come. One man alone holds to a link of each chain, and stands in the midst of this barren interval, He, whom friendship dares not name, but whom a celebrated author, the oracle of taste and of cri. ticism, has designated for his successor, will be easily recognized. In any case, if the writers of the new age, dispersed by fearful storms, have not been able to nourish their genius at the sources of ancient authorities, if they have been obliged to draw from themselves; if this be the case, yet have not solitude and adversity been great
sehools to them? Companions alike in misfortunes, friends before they were authors, may they never see revived among them those shameful jealousies, which have too often dishonoured an art so noble and consolatory. They have still much occasion for courage and union. The atmosphere of letters will for a long time be stormy. It was letters that nourished the revolution, and they will be the last asylum of revolutionary hatred. Half a century will scarcely suffice to calm so much humbled vanity, so much wounded self-love. Who then can hope to see more serene days for the Muses? Life is too short; it resembles those courses in which the funeral games were celebrated among the ancients, at the end of which ap. peared a tomb.
Esekephugon duon oson, &C.
On this side,” said Nestor to Antilochus, “the trunk of an oak, despoiled of its branches, rises from the earth, two stones support it in a narrow way, it is an antique tomb, and the marked boundary of your course."
M. de Voltaire has said :
Or sing your joys, or lay aside your songs.
Or sing your woes, or lay aside your songs. Condemned to death during the days of terror, oblig. ed to fly a second time, after the 18th' of Fructidor, the author of this poem was received by some hospitable spirits in the mountains of Jura, and found, among the pictures presented by nature, at once subjects to console his mind and to cherish his regrets.
When the hand of Providence removes us from intercourse with mankind, our eyes, less distracted, fix them. selves naturally upon the sublime spectacles which the creation presents to them, and we discover wonders, of which before we had no idea. From the bosom of our solitude we think upon the tempests of the world, as a man cast upon a desert island, from a feeling of secret melancholy, delights to contemplate the waves breaking upon
the shore where he was wrecked. After the loss of our friends, if we do not sink under the weight of our griefs, the heart reposes upon itself, it forms the project of detaching itself from every other sentiment, to live only