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ings, it is necessary to inquire whether he hail from the Romance provinces of the sunny South, from the grey ascetic North, or from the debateable lands that border on the Rhine.
Béranger was none of these; he was a Parisian pur sang, with all the attributes and failings of his class, the gayest and least poetic that exists. The criticising, carping spirit of the population found in him a faithful interpreter, for all his life he was to be found in the ranks of opposition. The only landscapes with which he was familiar were those of the Champs Elysées, the Tuileries, and the Bois de Boulogne, and he reproduced an exact photograph of that artificial nature, as pompous as it was hollow. As to the inhabitants, he only knew them as they were in the faubourgs, in the estaminets, and gardens of the ban-lieue, and on the pavement in front of the Invalides; the habits and manners of the rural population were almost unknown to him, for he had never seen the lower orders, except as dressed in uniform or blouse-the world of artisans and soldiers. It it is true that he owed one of his greatest successes to his picture of the sufferings of the rustic poor, and expression of their feelings and ideas, but it was not until a later period that he thus included the whole nation in his songs. The exclusively Parisian spirit is best seen in the first volume he published, before he became a public character, before the dawn of circumstances which compelled him to enlarge his scope, and previously to the duties imposed upon him by success. It was perfectly natural, born and bred with him, and accompanied him faithfully to the very end, often as he digressed and dallied with other enchanters. There were days when his insouciantes or satirical strains were varied by a gentle melancholy, on which tears shone in his eyes as he looked back after his vanishing youth, or gazed at the careless crowds who thronged the streets, or recalled through the mists of memory his old and cherished haunts. Then he consoled himself by singing like a linnet to the God of compensations, who, despite all drawbacks, had given him the gift of song. Listen a moment:
Jeté sur cette boule
Laid, chétif et souffrant,
De ma bouche sortit:
Le bon Dieu me dit: Chante,
This tristesse was always a delightful inspiration, for his tears never overflowed the eyelids; they paused there, and before he had time to wipe them away, caught a ray of light, and reflected all its colours.
Béranger was compared with Horace because he, as well as the Latin poet, expressed moderate sentiments; but there was an essenence between them. Horace sang of the aurea mediocritas,
but the pleasures he extolled were such as could not be tasted without the leisure to enjoy life, and the means of making it comfortable, such as elegant villas, shady groves, Falernian wine, and, in fact, everything which constitutes ease and luxury. Béranger, on the contrary, was the exponent of the jeunesse non dorée, the poet of the poor and thrifty, with all their simple hopes and fears. Ma Vocation,'' Mon vieil Habit,' 'Le Grenier,' and 'Maudit Printemps' express all the meagre poesy there is in the lives of the workman, the poor student, and the youth without resources. All they have felt and seen is there the attic where they once dwelt content, the well-brushed and weather-beaten coat, the passing pleasure caught and made much of, and the view of an opposite window veiled by the green leaves of spring. In them there are no sensual allusions-no envy, no cowardice, and no reflections on the rich and fortunate. How many hearts have they not rejoiced, and how many solitary hearths have they not enlivened! We cannot be surprised at Béranger's immense popularity, when we reflect on the vast sections of humanity to whom his songs appealed. The political ones were echoed by all France, the military strophes rung through the workshops and studios, and for many a long year all the young inhabitants of the garrets have welcomed with him the return of winter in spite of its cold:
C'est l'hiver que mon cœur implore
Le grésil léger qui bondit.
Que me fait tant ton vieil empire,
Tes pleurs, tes zéphyrs, tes longs jours?
Maudit printemps, reviendras-tu toujours ?
But the great blank and void in Béranger's poetry is the absence of passion; his nature was never shaken to its depths; the baptism of fire passed not over his spirit, and his inmost soul was neither hallowed nor awakened. There is no crying of heart to heart, nor any indication of that state of being where true love is lord of all. His harp of life remained untouched by the great master, the chord of self was unshattered, and he knew not what it was to lose himself in another either for weal or woe. Lisette and her compeers amused him; he played with them occasionally, but the merriment was heartless; they were were neither necessary nor beloved. He never experienced the strength of family ties, and the tenderest friendship of which he has left us any record breathes from 'La Bonne Vieille,' which expresses a sentiment of gratitude and a hope that the affection capable of lasting throughout life may be rewarded by immortality. It is an accent, a perfume, a souvenir, an adieu-the whisper of a departed spirit to a friend who remains below, praying her to keep his memory green, to cherish thoughts of him as he was at his best,
and, as she sits in her peaceful chimney corner, to remember and repeat his songs.
He never rose above his auditors; his sentiments were those of the masses, and this it was which made him the national poet. At the moment when France, exhausted with struggles, and miserable by means of too much glory, shudderingly anticipated a second invasion, the sound of a pipe was heard, shrill, piercing, and penetrating, more terrible to the proud and victorious, and more dangerous to the enemy than the most fiery eloquence, or the excesses of the most violent wrath. This little popular whistle was the signal of that truceless and merciless war which swept away the twice-restored monarchy. 'L'Opinion de ces Demoiselles,' in which Béranger coarsely identifies the ideas of the Legitimist party with the covetousness of the lowest stratum of social vermin, embodies all his opposition under the Restoration, and regarded in the light of the present day appears harsh and brutal. Its persistently cruel aspect never changed nor flinched for fifteen years, from the Hundred Days in 1815 until the Revolution of July. This opposition was his strength, and he clung to it as men do to the weapons with which they have conquered in the fight; he loved it as a savage loves his bow, or as Achilles loved his lance and shield. He would probably have indulged in it to a certain extent under any régime, though less bitterly; but his horror of the Restoration was savage, untameable hatred, under the influence of which, like the lion of Scripture, he went to and fro seeking whom he might devour.
It appears above all in his satires; their gaiety is sinister, their infatuation terrible, and their choruses like musket shots. Not only persons and abuses are attacked, but entire classes, and the whole social hierarchy. The refrains have a vitality of their own, a power of spontaneous combustion, and many of them are directed against the various religious orders, especially the Jesuits. Nations as well as individuals come to epochs of existence in which they kick over the traces, and shake off the yoke of their spiritual pastors and masters, and when once kindled, this current of feeling spreads like an epidemic, doing incalculable mischief to puny souls, and saddening the greater ones whose philosophy resolves itself into the indomitable resolution to suffer and be strong.' The language of the Church is flung back into her very teeth in Les Chantres de Paroisse,' and that of the noblesse in Le Marquis de Carabas.' It was far less the literary value than the vox populi that the men of his own day recognised in Béranger; they were familiar with his style, and sympathised heartily with his emphasis, and there came an hour when he gave a voice to public sorrow and dismay. Elastic as are the spirits of our French friends, they are subject to the most terrible fits of depression, and after the double invasion there came a moment of despair. The nation bowed her head, and believed that her part was played out, and that she had no longer any place in the world. In spite of the blessings of peace, in spite of the civil and religious
liberty held out to her, she felt herself vanquished, and the Restora→ tion was not slow in letting her find that instinct had not deceived her; for it omitted nothing that could prove to her mind the fact that she consisted of the conquerors and the conquered. The victors were very numerous, and thought they constituted the whole of France; the vanquished were merely the classes emancipated by the Revolution, and the débris of the armies who had followed her fortunes for twenty years in every clime. This moment of discouragement was marked by Béranger, in the midst of a profound silence broken only by the groans of the victims and threats of their conquerors; his voice arose, and the land stood still to listen. It has been said that he consoled her for the invasion, and the expression is not too strong, for he breathed both consolation and hope, appeased grief and regret, and rekindled the dying embers of courage. Such songs, whatever be their literary merit, deserve the appellation of being patriotic, and they remain attached to the remembrance of the invasion like a poetic commentary on the emotions that then filled and overflowed the heart of France.
Whatever his warmest champions may say of Béranger, they never attempt to deny that, though he fought the Bourbons, it was more in the name of national honour than in that of liberty, and more in memory of the Emperor than of the Republic. Yet he was hardly a thoroughgoing Bonapartist; for he declared over and over again that in Napoleon he exalted the man rather than the sovereign, and reproached his country under the Empire with having mistaken the altar of Victory for the altar of Liberty. What he disliked was neither the man nor the system, but the Imperial title; yet he accepted the hero as the representative of democracy, and his system of organisation as the one best suited to a society new born from the throes of revolution. He made no puppet of the 'great captain,' the warrior or demigod never figured in his lays, but the personification of the armed and powerful masses. The statue descends from its pedestal, and instead of a rival to Cæsar and Alexander we see a popular leader, not robed in purple nor crowned as king, but wearing the familiar uniform and well-known hatno deity, but just one of the people. Around this central figure are grouped the humblest members of the army and empire: no marshals or allies, but the poor peasant who received him in his hut on the eve of the catastrophe, and heard him draw that long deep sigh, the man who crawled from his hiding place to kiss the prohibited standard, and the prisoner of war who saluted the rockbound shore of St. Helena on the day when the caged lion was set free for ever. Other poets have celebrated Napoleon in loftier and more pompous strains; but none are so naïve, so simple, or so profoundly human, and though they may not depict exactly the Napoleon of history, they set forth the popular idol.
The poems of Béranger's old age show him no longer as laughing, dancing, or ridiculing, but with a perpetual smile on his face; they
are all lilies and roses, violets and butterflies, springtime and sunshine. He girds his robes about him, and prepares for the last journey by offering such incense as he has at the footstool of the
Dieu des Bonnes Gens,' for his philosophy has taken a quasi-religious hue with the advance of years; faith in God and in the immortality of the soul have been revealed to him; and his later words are irradiated, though but faintly, with a sunset gleam from the western portals. Very frequently and perhaps too often our eyes see only what they wish to see, and we summon from the recesses of our own imagination fantastic shapes of heroes which are as different from the actual men who lived and breathed and walked the earth as the Angel Gabriel from Mephistopheles, or Tennyson's Lady Godiva from Mrs. Grundy. The Catholic party has thus created for itself one image of Béranger, and the Republicans another, neither of them being very faithful copies of the original, for the simple reason that he was not so single or clearly defined a character as they supposed.
Politically, he was tinged with a nuance of scepticism, and a deeply rooted love of equality was his ruling passion from the beginning to the end of his course. This was the conviction of his heart; liberalism and republicanism were the opinions of his mind which floated lightly hither and thither according to the whims of his capricious mistress-the public. There have been rhymesters who declared that nature was formed for the express purpose of figuring in sonnets, and Béranger in his misanthropic moods has candidly confessed that after all politics are only fit to make songs of!' True liberalism is not a mere opinion, but the mould in which the soul is shaped; it is born with us as much as any other hereditary tendency of mind or body; and this singular being had not an atom of it about him, unless it was when he happened to wear a cockade; he just submitted himself without asking to the leading of the multitude, and never attempted to act against it either in the way of enlightenment or remonstrance. When he felt that he was expected to speak, he railed or lilted as the spirit moved him, and perhaps in the course of his life did so occasionally when conscience bade him hold his peace. In a word, he had neither sufficient elevation of soul nor strength to resist the current of popular opinion, and having no initiative policy of his own, he always followed the multitude, never preceded it, except on one memorable day, and then he took the tide at its flood, and it sufficed to bring him to the greatest popularity attained by any man of his time.
Whatever were his strong or weak points, he was frequently a poet, and invariably a citizen; and though his name may lose its literary importance (as it has already done to a certain extent), it will remain always attached to the history of the nineteenth century, whose annals would have told another story, had it not been for this facile interpreter of French national feeling.