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Ranlet, Philip. Rigal, Laura. Robarge, David. Rohrs, Richard C. Capital in Sargent, Sarah E. Nature herself forbade to Victor Hugo the gloomy walk of indifference, callousness, or cynicism, and pointed out to him the sunny path of [Page ] enthusiasm, hope, and sympathy, as that alone where he ought to wander. The first, Hans of Iceland , is a northern romance, in which the youthful novelist has turned to great account the savage wilds, gloomy lakes, stormy seas, pathless caves, and ruined fortresses of Scandinavia.
A being savage as the scenery around him,—human in his birth, but more akin to the brute in his nature; diminutive, but with a giant's strength; whose pastime is assassination, who lives literally as well as metaphorically on blood,—is the hero; and round this monster are grouped some of the strangest, ghastliest, and yet not wholly unnatural beings which it is possible for the imagination to conceive,—Spiagudry, the keeper of the dead-house or Morgue of Drontheim, and Orugex, the state executioner;—while gentler forms, the noble and persecuted Schumacher, and the devoted and innocent Ethel, relieve the monotony of crime and horror.
Hugo's second romance, Bug Jargal , a tale of the insurrection in St Domingo, was never much to our taste. The essential improbability of such a character as Bug Jargal, a negro of the noblest moral and intellectual character, passionately in love with a white woman, yet tempering the wildest passion with the deepest respect, and sacrificing even life at last in her behalf and that of her husband, is too violent a call upon the imagination; but laying aside the defects of the plot, considered as a whole, we fancy there is no reader of the tale, who can forget the entrancing interest of the scenes in the camp of the insurgent chief Biassou, or the death-struggle between Habibrah and D'Auverney, upon the brink of the cataract.
The latter, in particular, is drawn with such intense force, that the reader seems almost to be a witness of the changing fortunes of the fight, and can hardly breathe freely till he comes to the close. Like the Confessions of an Opium-Eater , it is merely the picture of a peculiar state of mind; the exciting cause in the one case being opium,—in the other, the certainty of an approaching death by the guillotine.
Hugo , like Sterne , has taken a single captive, shut him up in his dungeon, and then looked through the twilight of the grated door, to take his picture. We acquit him of the absurdity which some of his friends have imputed to him, that of seriously [Page ] intending this sketch as a pleading- against the punishment of death; had such been his intention, his conclusions would follow from his premises about as logically as those of Janin.
And such is the power of genius, that he has completely succeeded in enchaining the interest of the reader throughout, without at the same time pushing the subject beyond the verge of physical pain. There is, in truth, less that revolts or harasses the mind in this dungeon-drama, where, perhaps, we should have most expected it, than in any other of his compositions; and as the work is less known here than its companions, we shall take the liberty of extracting from it two passages, each exquisite in their way—the one, when the criminal enters the court, to receive his sentence, on a lovely morning in August; the other, when a dream of his youth revisits him on the day before his execution.
Alors il se fit un grand silence. Cependant mon avocat arriva. On l'attendait. Et mes yeux revenaient se fixer sur la jolie fleur jaune au soleil. Une sueur froide sortit de tous mes membres; je m'appuyai au mur pour ne pas tomber. There are incidents even in the life of the prison. How beautifully, amidst the gloomy despairing reflections of the prisoner, breaks in the following vision of youth and innocence! Il y a une jeune fille dans le solitaire jardin. Pourtant, il n'y a encore qu'un an, nous courions, nous luttions ensemble. Elle pleurait; je disais: "C'est bien fait!
Nous marchons lentement, nous parlons bas. Elle laisse tomber son mouchoir; je le lui ramasse. Nos mains tremblent en se touchant. Nous disons des choses innocentes, et nous rougissons tous deux. La petite fille est devenue jeune fille. Avez-vous un livre? Mon esprit allait moins vite que le sien.
Toute ma vie! A life of twenty-four hours! Notre Dame de Paris , the last and best known of Victor Hugo 's productions, is in a strain of a higher mood than any he [Page ] had previously attempted. The idea, we have seen it mentioned is taken from the "Gitanilla" of Cervantes. Here the author has brought his antiquarian learning to bear with effect, not, like another well-known French novelist, Le Bibliophile Jacob — the fictitious name of Paul Lacroix , overlaying his story with erudition, but vivifying the dry bones of history by the warmth and brilliancy of his fancy; while an extraordinary effect of unity is given to the whole, by making the whole movement of the tale emanate from and revolve round the gipsy heroine Esmiralda, and concentrate itself about the venerable terrors of Notre Dame.
This sentence seems to us to embody the leading idea of the work. Love makes the learned archdeacon forget his studies, his clerical character, his reputation for sanctity, to court the favour of a volatile Bohemian. Love for this same Parisian Fenella softens the human savage Quasimodo—the dumb one-eyed bell-ringer of Notre Dame —and transforms him into a " delicate monster " —a devoted humble worshipper of the Bohemian;—while she, who is the cynosure of neighbouring eyes, the object of adoration to these singular lovers, is herself hopelessly attached in turn to a giddy-pated captain of the guard, who can afford to love no one but himself.
The charm of the romance unquestionably lies in the conception of the character of Quasimodo, and in the singular art by which this monster, who first awakens our terror or disgust, comes at last, when his mind, like Cymon's, begins to expand and refine under the passion of love, to be an object of our pity and admiration. Frollo, the archdeacon, on whose character the author seems to have bestowed much pains, is, on the contrary, a complete failure.
Esmiralda herself, a sort of Marion L'Escaut in character, is a very beautiful creation. There is exquisite pathos in that scene where she is brought in to exhibit in presence of him to whom her heart has attached itself, and of his intended bride; and in that where she again catches his eye on the balcony as she passes to execution, as well as in the heart-rending scene where the Penitent, who had betrayed her into the hands of justice, discovers her to be his own daughter.
In power Hugo is never deficient; but certainly nothing in any of his former works is to be compared to his description of Notre Dame , and the mysterious adaptation, and pre-established harmony, as it were, which seemed to exist between it and [Page ] its monstrous child Quasimodo;—of the attack of the Truands the Alsatians of Paris upon the cathedral, and their repulse by the superhuman exertions of the bell-ringer;—and finally, of that awful scene where the archdeacon, gazing down from the tower of Notre Dame upon the execution of his victim in the square beneath, is seized by Quasimodo—who has now relapsed into the savage, since the destruction of the only being to whom his heart had opened—and hurled from a height of two hundred feet "plumb down" upon the pavement below.
This description is terrible beyond conception. Every motion, every struggle of the wretched priest, every clutch of his nails, every heave of the breast, as he clings to the projecting spout which has arrested his fall; then the gradual bending of the spout itself beneath his weight; the crowd shouting beneath, the monster above him—weeping;— for he had loved the priest, and only the fury of disappointed attachment had urged him to this crime; — the victim balancing himself over the gulf, his last convulsive effort ere he resigns his hold, even the revolutions of his body as he descends, his striking on the roof, from which he glides off like a tile detached by the wind, and then the final crash and rebound upon the pavement—all are portrayed with the most horrible minuteness and reality.
Two other works are already announced by this indefatigable artist, Le Fils de la Bossue , and La Quinquengrogne ,—in the latter of which, it is said, he proposes to do for the military architecture and manners of the middle ages, what he has so admirably performed, in Notre Dame , for the cathedral and sacerdotal. Eugene Sue is, or would wish to be, the Cooper of France, the founder of a maritime school of romance; and he had the advantage, at least, of a field perfectly unoccupied.
Even in our own country, prior to the appearance of Cooper 's romances, how little had been done for the poetry of the sea! Trunnions and Hatchways, indeed, we had in abundance,—the comic side of a naval life had been displayed with ample detail; but for its loftier and more tragic aspect,—its alternations of tempest and calm, of labour and listless idleness, of battle and giddy revelry, of bright moonlights and weary days, when mists obscure the sun,—what had been attempted?
Almost nothing, save the Corsair of Byron. If in our own country, where so much naval enthusiasm prevailed, so little had been effected in this way, it may easily be imagined the French were still more defective in any literature of the kind; but it would seem as if the defect was now likely to be supplied by an over-production. Of these, the only one of distinguished talent is the first, though it is of a kind for which we must confess our dislike—the talent of crowding horrors upon each other with such vehemence and rapidity, arid of deepening these by intervening scenes of debauch, or ferocious gaiety, in such a manner, that the reader, at once stimulated by curiosity, and repelled by disgust, lays down the book a dozen times in the course of its perusal, and yet feels himself again attracted to it as by a spell.
Sue 's picture of the French marine he correct, one would think every ship was a floating Pandemonium, commanded and manned by the devil himself and his angels. On shipboard, massacres and piracies, robberies and rapes, brutal orgies and Thracian quarrels, imprecations and blasphemies, an atmosphere of sulphur, smoke, and wine vapours, decks strewed with carcasses and fragments of flesh; on shore, tornadoes, insurrections, assassinations, treasons, conflagrations, monstrous serpents introduced into a nuptial-chamber to strangle the bride upon her wedding night,—such are the indispensable accompaniments of M.
Sue 's Tales of the Sea! One would think his idea of the naval life had been taken from the actual atrocities which took place among the despairing, famishing, blaspheming crew of the Medusa, drifting on their raft in the midst of a tempestuous ocean. It would be unfair to deny to the author, at the same time, a large portion of comic talent, and some command of the pathetic, when he chooses to exercise it; which is an event of very unfrequent occurrence.
Of his works, Plik et Plok , Atargull , La Salamandre , La Coucaratcha , there may be others of a later date, for the author writes and prints with a rapidity most formidable to reviewers, all resemble each other very closely in their general character. We think Atargull the best, and La Salamandre the worst. He repays his attachment with a devotion which is unbounded.
A hideous series of calamities, however, suddenly plunges the [Page ] planter into ruin. His daughter, the beloved of his heart, is bit to death by a serpent in her bedroom on her wedding night; her death is followed by that of her intended husband and her mother; the crops of the planter are destroyed, the negroes and cattle carried off by disease, his habitation burned; and he himself, bankrupt in fortune, broken in heart, attended only by his faithful slave Atargull, whom no misfortune can separate from his beloved master, embarks for France.
The slave toils for him, supports him by his labours, watches over the dying man, all whose faculties are fast failing him, with the apparent devotion of a son. Then, when at last stretched upon his deathbed, in his miserable apartment, on the fifth floor in the Rue Tirechape , and clasping the hand of Atargull in his own, the wretched planter just retains enough of sense to feel the pang which is about to be inflicted upon him. The slave bending over him, as Zanga does over the prostrate Alonzo, thunders in his ear,— "Twas I that introduced the serpent into the apartment of your daughter; 'twas I that caused the deaths of your wife and son-in-law; 'twas I that poisoned your negroes and cattle, wasted your crops, burned your habitation!
You caused my father to be executed for a crime of which he was guiltless, and thus I repay the obligation! I hated, I despised, and I destroy!