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If the reputation of M. de Chateaubriand, already established by works of the greatest merit, has received a considerable addition from the Essay on Ancient and Modern Revolutions, which we have just published, his Recollections of Italy, England and America, with the excellent Essays on Literature and Morals that accompany them, will certainly add to it.
Throughout this collection will be found those energetic ideas, that fine imagination, that picturesque colouring, those ingenious comparisons and original turns of expression which impart a peculiar charm to M. de Chateaubriand's writings. No Author of the present day has, like him, attained the art of connecting literature with morals, by a style abounding in imagery and rich in sen. timents. This happy talent is displayed in every page, and there are even passages, in which it is still more manifest than in his greater works.
Several of the detached Essays appeared in the Mercure de France, between the years 1800 and 1807. The Author at this time finished his Beauties of Christianity, and trusted that he had thereby erected a monument to the religion of his forefathers. It must be acknowledged that, in several parts of this work, he displays a soul fully impressed with the perfections of Christianity. His travels to Palestine, procured us the poem of The Martyrs, and the Itinerary of that country. After his return, M. de Chateaubriand would perhaps have determined to resume his labours in the Mercure, had he not found the spirit of that journal entirely altered, and had he not been disgusted by the despotism of the French ruler, who wished not only to command the writings, but even the con, versation and very thoughts of his subjects ; particularly of those who were distinguished authors. It is true that M. de Chateaubriand had himself praised the despot ; but this was at a period when it was still excusable to be mistaken as to the real character of Buonaparte. None of the enlightened men had penetration enough to prophecy that the general of the expedition to Egypt would be the future opponent to the rights of humanity, and M. de Chateaubriand has the further excuse, that when the Statesmen and Writers of France began to rival each other in meanness, and prostrate themselves at the foot of the throne, the Author of the Beauties of Christianity ceased to worship the unworthy idol of transient glory, recovered by degrees, and silently resumed the noble attitude which belonged to him. It was now the despot's turn to humble himself before the greatest writer of his
Empire, and he adopted measures to draw M. de Chateaubriand into the circle of his slaves, but in vain. All his
power was ineffectual, when exerted to shake the firm and noble soul of a simple individual, who was no longer to be imposed upon by fictitious grandeur. He was in. duced, however, hy dint of persuasion, to become a mem. ber of the first literary body in France. It was necessary that he should make a public oration upon this occasion, and it was then that he prepared the eulogium on liberty, which will be found in the present publication. His in. trepidity astonished the Insitute and Government. He was forbidden to deliver his oration, but he was no longer importuned for his support, which could palpably never be obtained afterwards. From this period his heart, afflicted by the misfortunes of France, and the degradation which literature and the arts bad experienced, was doomed to sigh in secret ; but it experienced consolation when the tyrant began to lose the power of oppressing and ru. ining the nation. Those, who never could have displayed the courage of M. de Chateaubriand, thought proper to criticize his admirable publication in favour of the Bourbons,* as being a work too strongly betraying the passions of the writer. They would perhaps have written in colder blood, because their eyes were then familiarized with the horrors which they saw incessantly renewed. But can the soul of a great writer remain torpid when liberty dawns upon his unfortunate country? Would Cicero and Demosthenes have remained torpid if they had been called upon to expose, the one an incendiary's crimes,
* Of Buonaparte and the Bourbons, 8vo. 1814,
and the other a conquering monarch's artifices and ambition ? And what were these subjects in comparison with the great interests of the world, which were discussed duing April 1814, in the capital of France ? Cold blooded people are often useful ; but still a single energetic man, when fired with honest indignation, can effect more than thousands of frigid disposition. . When the revolution, so ardently desired by all those who possessed hearts not debased by slavery, was effected, the Political Reflections of M. de Chateaubriand were of a calmer nature, and bore reference only to the happiness which France was about to enjoy under the sway of the Bourbons.
That happiness has been, alas, of short duration. The revolutionary system is re-established in France, and M. de Chateaubriand has again quitted his country for the purpose of following his King, and devoting his pen to the instruction of his unfortunate countrymen, by writings similar to those of which all Europe acknowledges the energetic influence.
Though M. de Chateaubriand has gained the applause of all civilized nations, and though his works have been several times printed in his native language, as well as translated into almost all the languages of Europe, it is nevertheless a fact that in his own country a numerous party of calumniators have tried to overwhelm him with criticisms, parodies, satires and injuries. It is true that they have not been able to diminish his reputation as an Author, but they have succeeded so far as to create in the public mind an uncertainty as to the rank which he ought to hold in literature. His imagination is too vivid, and
sometimes carries away his reason, so that he falls occa. sionally into extravagant expressions, and arguments which are more specious than solid. His detractors dwell on his slight imperfections, and represents them as constituting the foundation of his writings. They do not chuse to see that a fine imagination is, in spite of some aberrations, infinitely superior to all those ordinary minds, the productions of which appear wise, because the rules of grammar are observed in them, and the ideas of the day exactly met. Those authors may please, but their reputation will not extend beyond the limits of their country and
age. It is only by taking for their models the superior beauties of M. de Chateaubriand's style, and avoiding his defects, that they can hope to equal his reputation, and to excite, like him, the enthusiasm of all who possess cultivated minds.