« ForrigeFortsæt »
repentance, and be allowed the intermediate comfort (it seems, after all one hardly knows why or wherefore, the most appropriate thing he can do) of blowing the French horn.' Mr. Abraham Adams has infinite claims on respect and love, nor ever to be forgotten are his groans over Wilson's worldly narrative, his sermon on vanity, his manuscript Eschylus, his noble independence to Lady Booby, and his grand rebuke to Peter Pounce; but he is put to no such trial as this which has been illustrated here, and which sets before us with such blended grandeur, simplicity, and pathos, the Christian heroism of the living father, and forgiving ambassador of God to man.
It was not an age of a particular earnestness, this Hume and Walpole age: but no one can be in earnest himself without in some degree affecting others. 'I remember a passage in the Vicar of Wakefield,' said Johnson, a few years after its author's death, which Goldsmith was afterwards fool enough to expunge. I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing.' The words were little, since the feeling was retained; for the very basis of the little tale was a sincerity and zeal for many things. This indeed it was, which, while all the world were admiring it for its mirth and sweetness, its bright and happy pictures, its simultaneous movement of the springs of laughter and tears, gave it a rarer value to a more select audience, and connected it with not the least memorable anecdote of modern literary history. It had been published little more than four years, when two Germans, whose names became afterwards world-famous, one a student at that time in his twentieth, the other a graduate in his twenty-fifth year, met in the city of Strasburg. The younger, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, a law scholar of the university with a passion for literature, sought knowledge from the elder, Johann Gottfried Herder, for the course on which he was moved to enter. Herder, a severe and masterly though somewhat cynical critic, laughed at the likings of the young aspirant, and roused him to other aspirations. Producing a German translation of the Vicar of Wakefield, he read it out aloud to Goethe in a manner which was peculiar to him; and as the incidents of the little story came forth in his serious simple voice, in one unmoved unaltering tone (just as if nothing of it was present before him, but all was only historical; as if the shadows of this poetic creation did not affect him in a life-like manner, but only glided gently by'), a new ideal of letters and of life arose in the mind of his listener. Years passed on; and
while that younger student raised up and re-established the literature of his country and came at last, in his prime and in his age, to be acknowledged for the wisest of modern men, he never ceased throughout to confess what he owed to those old evenings at Strasburg. The strength which can conquer circumstance; the happy wisdom of irony which elevates itself above every object, above fortune and misfortune, good and evil, death and life, and attains to the possession of a poetical world; first visited Goethe in the tone with which Goldsmith's tale is told. The fiction became to him life's first reality; in country clergymen of Drusenheim there started up Vicars of Wakefield; for Olivias and Sophias of Alsace, first love fluttered at his heart; and at every stage of his illustrious after career, its impression still vividly recurred to him. He remembered it, when, at the height of his worldly honour and success, he made his written Life (Wahrheit und Dichtung') record what a blessing it had been to him; he had not forgotten it when, some seventeen years ago, standing, at the age of eighty-one, on the very brink of the grave, he told a friend that in the decisive moment of mental development the Vicar of Wakefield had formed his education, and that he had lately, with unabated delight, 'read the charming book again from beginning to end, not a little affected by the lively recollection' how much he had been indebted to the author seventy years before.
[THE name of Alphonse de Lamartine will henceforth belong as much to political history as to literary. But we may venture to believe that his enduring fame will be rather that of a writer than a statesman. As a poet and a traveller De Lamartine has an European reputation. As an historian he has raised himself to the highest distinction as an eloquent, earnest, and just lover of freedom, and hater of oppression under every form. We translate the following exquisite narrative from his great work, Histoire des Girondins."]
In a large and populous street running through the city of Caen, the capital of Lower Normandy, and at that time the centre of the Girondine insurrection, at the further end of a courtyard, stood an old house whose grey walls had been discoloured by the rain, and in which many crevices had been made by time. The house was called the Grand Manoir. A foundation with an edge of stone, green with moss, occupied a corner of the court. A low and narrow door, with fluted side-posts meeting at the top in the form of an arch, afforded a glimpse of the well-worn steps of a spiral staircase ascending to the upper floor. Two cross-barred windows, with octagonal panes in leaden compartments, dimly lighted the staircase and the large unfurnished rooms. This sombre light invested the old and obscure house with that air of decay, mystery, and gloom which it pleases the imagination to see spread over the cradles of genius and the dwellings of great minds. Here lived at the beginning of the year 1793 a grand-daughter of the great French tragic poet, Pierre Corneille. Poets and heroes are one The only difference between them is that existing between ideas and actions. The one does what the other conceives. The thoughts are the same. Women are naturally as enthusiastic as the one, as courageous as the other. Poetry, heroism, and love are akin.
This house belonged to Madame de Bretteville, a poor childless widow, old and infirm. A young relation whom she had adopted and educated had lived with her for some years, to be a support to her old age, and to enliven her solitude. This young girl was at that time four and twenty years of age. Her pensive beauty, at once serene and contemplative, though brilliant, seemed to have imbibed its character from her gloomy dwelling and her retired life. She was like an apparition. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood who saw her going to church on the Sunday with her old aunt, or caught a glimpse of her through the gateway, reading for hours together in the courtyard seated in the sun on the step of the fountain, say that their admiration for her was mingled with awe and respect. This may have been the effect either of the radiancy of a lofty spirit which intimidates the eye of the vulgar, or the atmosphere of the soul extending to the countenance, or of the presentiment of a tragical fate written on her brow.
This young girl was of lofty stature, yet not above the ordinary height of the tall and slender women of Normandy. Grace and natural dignity, like internal rhythm, gave poetry to her gait and her move
In her complexion the warmth of the south was mingled with the fairness of the women of the north. Her hair looked dark when gathered in a mass around her head, or when divided into two waves upon her forehead. The extremity of her tresses shone like gold, like the ear of corn which is richer and brighter in its hue than the blade. Her eyes, large and well cut to the temples, changed their colour like the water of the sea, which borrows its tint from light and shade, blue when she was in thought, nearly black when she was animated. Very long eyelashes, darker than her hair, gave depth to her eyes. Her nose joined her forehead with an almost imperceptible curve, and was slightly raised towards the middle. The lips of her Grecian mouth were clearly defined. Their expression alternated momentarily between tenderness and severity, adapted alike to breathe love or patriotism. A protruding chin, divided into two by a deep hollow, gave the lower part of her face an expression of manly resolution, which contrasted strangely with its feminine outline. Her cheeks had the freshnese of youth and the firm roundness of health. She changed colour quickly. Her skin was of a beautiful white, and marbled with life. Her large chest was a sculptured bust with but little undulation. Her arms were strong with muscles, her hands long, her fingers slender. Her costume, suitable to her moderate fortune and to the retirement in which she lived, was sober and simple. She trusted to nature, and despised all the artifices and caprices of fashion in her dress. Those who saw her in her youth describe her as always wearing a robe of dark woollen cloth, in the form of a habit, and a hat of grey felt, turned up at the rim and trimmed with black ribbons, like those usually worn by the women of her rank at that time. The sound of her voice, that living echo which reveals the whole soul in one vibration of the air, left a deep and tender impression on the ear of those to whom she spoke. They still talked of the sound of her voice ten years after having heard it, as of a strange and not to be forgotten music engraven on the memory. She had in the keys of her soul notes so clear and so deep that to hear them, they say, was more than to see her, for sound with her formed a part of her beauty.
This young girl was named Charlotte Corday d'Armont. Though of noble blood, she was born in a hut called le Ronceray, in the village of Ligneries, not far from Argentau. Misfortunes welcomed her to the life she was to quit by the scaffold.
Her father, François de Corday d'Armont, was one of those gentlemen of the provinces whose poverty confounds them almost with the peasantry. Of their ancient superiority they only retained a certain. respect for the family name, and a vague hope of a return of fortune, which at once prevented them from sinking in their morals, or raising themselves by work. The land that this rural nobility cultivated in little inalienable estates maintained them without the humiliation of indigence. Nobility and land seemed inseparable in France, as the aristocracy and the sea at Venice.
M. de Corday added to his agricultural employments some political anxiety and literary taste, which at that time was much spread among the educated class of the noble population. He earnestly desired a speedy revolution. He was tormented by his own inactivity and poverty. He had written some works for the times against despotism and the right of primogeniture. These writings were full of the spirit that was about to manifest itself. He had a horror of superstition, the ardour of a growing philosophy, and the presentiment of a necessary revolution. Either from insufficiency of genius, or restlessness of character, or perversity of fortune, which will swallow up the best talents, he could not reach success amidst surrounding circumstances. He languished in his little fief of Ligneries, in the bosom of a family increasing each year. Five children, two sons and three daughters, of whom Charlotte was the second, made him feel every day more and more the oppressions of poverty. His wife, JacquelineCharlotte-Marie de Gonthier-des-Autiers, died of these troubles, leaving a father to her infant daughters, but in reality leaving them orphans for want of that domestic tradition and daily inspiration of which, with the mother, death deprives the children.
Charlotte and her sisters remained for some years at Ligneries, almost entirely left to nature, dressed in coarse linen like the girls of Normandy, and, like them, weeding the garden, spreading the grass, gleaning the corn, and gathering the apples of their father's little estate. At last, necessity obliged M. de Corday to part with his daughters. They entered, by reason of their nobility and their poverty, into a convent at Caen, of which Madame de Belzunce was abbess. This convent is called the Abbaye aux Dames. The abbey, with its vast cloisters and chapel of Roman architecture, had been constructed in 1066, by Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. Neglected