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enthusiasm for poetry (not always, no doubt, the best poetry as we count the best to-day) with which Scott and Byron and some lesser luminaries had fired the generation which lived after Waterloo. It is said to be the most popular lyric in Italian : and one occasionally comes across curious proofs of its former English popularity. I was once sitting with a very old lady who had partly lost her mind. I happened, without any thought of her, to read aloud the first few words of Manzoni's poem. They at once struck some hidden spark in her memory and in a moment she was, as it were, on fire with excitement, and recited the whole poem with the kind of sonorous enthusiasm which one supposes to have been the fashion set by Mrs. Siddons. And not at all a bad fashion either! It suited well with that old poetic eloquence, the eloquence of an age of oratory, an age which delighted in Cicero and knew Virgil by heart, which had heard Fox and Pitt challenge the glories of the ancient orators, and Burke, perhaps, surpass them. How magnificently the ode begins !
Ei fu ! Siccome immobile,
Dato il mortal sospiro
La terra al nunzio sta,
Ora dell'uom fatale ;
A calpestar verrà. The thought is obvious enough, of course, as that of so much great poetry seems to be. It is one which could hardly fail to occur to every man of imagination. It recurs in Shelley's poem on the occasion :
What ! alive and so bold, O Earth ?
Are not the limbs still when the ghost is fled,
Part of it, the greatest and most universal part, earth's amazement at the fall of what looked like omnipotence, was uttered in ancient days, by a greater poet than Manzoni or even Shelley, at the death of one whose subjects were wont to hail him with the salutation ' O King live for ever!'
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations ! Art thou also become weak as we ? art thou become like unto us ? ... They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms ?' Isaiah's wonder has no admiration in it: it is a wonder of hatred and scorn. Manzoni's is very far from that. It has more of love than of hate in it, and notes that the exile of St. Helena was the mark of suspicion and of pity, of inexhaustible hatred and unquenchable love. The day of final judgment is not yet, says Manzoni : that must be left to future generations : we who saw and felt him cannot judge him : we only know that he was the mightiest of the sons of men.
Fu vera gloria ? Ai posteri
L'ardua sentenza : noi
Più vasta orma stampar. Something of the same note is struck in the Lui of Victor Hugo which is, as might be expected, cleverer and far more brilliant than Manzoni's poem. Hugo, as usual, calls in all history and all geography to furnish him with the gorgeous colours which he seldom denies himself. And certainly Napoleon provides him with a better justification than he often has for his far-fetched and exotic splendours. The poet who celebrates the spoiler of the world is entitled to some fine things to do it with. And if Lui lacks that sense of the seriousness of things which makes a large part of the greatness of Manzoni's poem, if its postures and flourishes occasionally cross the line which separates the sublime from the ridiculous, as in the line :
Napoléon ! soleil dont je suis le Memnon ! that is no more than every reader of Hugo will expect. The poem has many resemblances to Il Cinque Maggio especially, of course, the idea of the all-pervading greatness, almost immensity, of the man. So it begins :
Toujours lui ! Lui partout !Ou brûlante ou glacée,
But apart from the effective opening there is nothing very wonderful in this. It is the poorest of tributes to Napoleon to say that his image set a flood of words flowing from Hugo's mouth. There were very few things which could not do that. But the flow certainly runs on through some twenty brilliant stanzas which are so many lantern flashes of the various scenes of Napoleon's career. And then, at last, comes the really fine thing in the poem, which, characteristically enough, is a simile. No modern poet, I suppose, approaches Hugo in the prodigious abundance, variety and beauty of his similes, and he has seldom excelled this one in all the things which mind and eye and tongue could bring to the making of a simile. When he did excel it, as he sometimes did, it was because he was able to call in the help of something which is not here—his heart. He has just said, in a line which could only come from him or from Byron to whom he owed so much :
Tu domines notre âge : ange ou démon, qu'importe ? and then the great picture, with its lovely lines and its entire fitness for the work it has to do, begins, in the stately way of the old epics:
Ainsi, quand, du Vésuve explorant le domaine,
Saisie un jour par le volcan ;
Toujours le noir géant qui fume à l'horizon ! A graver note is struck in the Napoléon II of Les Chants du Crépuscule. The poem begins with the happiest moment in the Emperor's life when the guns announced to listening Paris that Marie Louise had given birth to a boy, and Napoleon dreamed that nothing could fail him now, that the future as well as the present had been delivered into his hands :
L'avenir ! l'avenir ! l'avenir est à moi ! • Non !' replies the poet :
Non, l'avenir n'est à personne !
Non, si puissant qu'on soit, non, qu'on rie ou qu'on pleure,
Ouvrir ta froide main,
Et qu'on nomme demain !
Dieu garde la durée et vous laisse l'espace ;
Mais tu ne prendras pas demain à l'Éternel ! And so the poem goes on to describe, with that rhetoric of Hugo's which has scarcely ever been surpassed, the short and tragic life of the child whose birth seemed to promise such splendours : and then the death of the father in his lonely island, so soon followed, and in a worse kind of exile, by that of the son who inherited nothing from him but his name and his defeat.
There is not very much else about Napoleon in Hugo ; much less, indeed, than one would expect. He appears in the famous opening of the first poem of Les Feuilles d'Automne, the volume that came next after the Orientales :
Ce siècle avait deux ans. Rome remplaçait Sparte,
Déjà Napoléon perçait sous Bonaparte : and again in a finer poem, the Rêverie d'un Passant, where a ragged old woman turns away from the gala entry of a foreign king visiting the Tuileries with the contemptuous
Un roi ! sous l'empereur, j'en ai tant vu, des rois ! But the subject of the poem, which ends with another magnificent simile of democracy coming in like the tide on the shore, is not Napoleon but the People. Then he is the central figure of the tremendous ' Expiation' of Les Chatiments where, conscious all through his life of a sin for which he must pay the penalty, he thinks first that the Russian