« PreviousContinue »
delicacy of the grey-hound. Adam Smith long they have rendered to mankind. No man was ago pointed out the distinction between those who more unassuming than Kepler, but he wrote in refserve and those who amuse mankind ; and the erence to his great discoveries, and the neglect difference, it is to be feared, exists not merely be- they at first met with, “ I may well be a century tween the philosopher and the opera-dancer, but without a reader, since God Almighty has been six between the instructors of men in every depart- thousand years without such an observer as me.” ment of thought, and those whose genius is Yet is this universally felt to have been no undevoted rather to the pleasing of the eye, the melt- worthy effusion of vanity, but a noble expression ing of the feelings, or the kindling of the imagina- of great services rendered by one of his most tion. Yet this observation is only generally, not gifted creatures to the glory of the Almighty. universally, true; and Sir Joshua Reynolds re- Such men as Kepler are proud, but not vain, and mains a memorable proof that it is possible for an proud men do not bring their feelings so promartist to unite the highest genius and most imag- inently or frequently forward as vain ones ; for inative power of mind to the wisdom of a philos- pride rests on the consciousness of superiority, and opher, the liberality of a gentleman, the benevo- needs no external support; vanity arises from a lence of a Christian, and the simplicity of a secret sense of weakness, and thirsts for a perpetchild.
ual solace from the applause of others. We are not at all surprised at the intoxication It is in the French writers that this inordinate which seizes the literary men and artists whose weakness of literary men is most conspicuous, and genius procures for them the favor or admiration in them it exists to such an extent as, on this side of women. Everybody knows it is the most fas- of the Channel, to be altogether ridiculous. Evcinating and transporting flattery which the mind ery Frenchman thinks his life worth recording. It of man can receive. But we confess we are sur- was long ago said that the number of unpublished prised, and that too not a little, at the want of sense memoirs which exist in France, on the war of the which so frequently makes men even of the highest League, would, if put together, form a large abilities mar the influence of their own genius, and library. If those relating to the war of the Revdetract from the well-earned celebrity of their own olution were accumulated, we have no doubt they productions, by the indiscreet display of this van- would fill the Bibliothèque du Roi. The number ity, which the applause they have met with has already published exceeds almost the dimensions produced in their minds. These gentlemen are of any private collection of books. charmed with the incense they have received, and sition and style of these memoirs is for the most of course desirous to augment it, and extend the part as curious, and characteristic of French charcircle from which it is to be drawn. Well, that acter, as their number is descriptive of their ruling is their object : let us consider what means they passion. In the age of the religious wars, every take to gain it. These consist too often in the writer of memoirs seems to have placed himself most undisguised display of vanity in their con- in the first rank, Henry IV. in the second ; in duct, manner, and conversation. Is this the way that of the Revolution, the greater part of the aulikely to augment the admiration which they en- lobiographies scarcely disguise the opinion, that, joy so much, and are so solicitous to extend? Are if the first place may be reluctantly conceded to they not clear-sighted enough to see that, holding Napoleon Bonaparte, the second must, beyond all this to be their aim, considering female admira- question, be assigned to themselves. The Abbé tion as the object of their aspirations, they cannot de Pradt expressed the feeling almost every one in any way so effectually mar their desires as by entertained of himself in France, not the sentipermitting the vanity, which the portion of it they ment of an individual man, when he said, “ There have already received has produced, to appear in was one who overturned Napoleon, and that man their manner or conversation ? Are they so little was me.' Most persons in this country will exversed in the female heart, as not to know that as claim, that this statement is overcharged, and that self-love acts, if not in a stronger at least in a it is incredible that vanity should so generally permore conspicuous way in them than in the other vade the writers of a whole nation. If they will sex, so there is nothing which repels them so take the trouble to read Lamartine's Confidences effectually as any display of that vanity in men and Raphael, containing the events of his youth, which they are all conscious of in themselves, and or his Histoire de la Révolution de 1848, recently nothing attracts them so powerfully as that self-published, they will find ample confirmation of forgetfulness, which, estimable in all, is in a pe- these remarks ; nor are they less conspicuously culiar manner graceful and admirable when it is illustrated by the more elaborate Mémoires d'Outre met with in those whom none others can forget? | Tombe of Chateaubriand, the name of which is Such a quality is not properly modesty—that is prefixed to this essay. the retiring disposition of those who have not yet One thing is very remarkable, and forcibly won distinction. No man who has done so is ig- illustrates the marked difference, in this respect, norant of it, as no woman of beauty is insensible between the character of the French and the Engto her charms. It is more nearly allied to good lish nation. In France all memoirs assume the sense, and its invariable concomitant-a due regard form of autobiographies : and so general is the for the feelings of others. It not unfrequently thirst for that species of composition that, where a exists, in the highest degree, in those who have man of any note has not compiled his own life, the strongest inward consciousness of the services' his papers are put into the hands of some skilful bookmaker, who speedily dresses them up in the forgotten in the ceaseless whirl of present events ; form of an attractive autobiography. This was parliamentary orators are in general unpopular, for done with the papers of Brisset, Robespierre, they are for the most part on the side of power. Marshal Ney, Fouché, and a great many others, Nothing remains but the government of mind. all of which appeared with the name of their au- The intellectual aristocracy is all in all. thors, and richly stored with these private papers, It'makes and unmakes kings alternately; prothough it was morally certain that they could not duces and stops revolutions ; at one time calls a by possibility have written their own lives. In new race to the throne, at another consigns them England nothing of the kind is attempted. Scarce- with disgrace to foreign lands. Cabinets are ly any of the eminent men in the last age have formed out of the editors of newspapers, interminleft their own memoirs ; and the papers of the gled with a few bankers, whom the public convulmost remarkable of them have been published sions have not yet rendered insolvent; prime minwithout any attempt at biography. Thus we have isters are to be found only among successful the Wellington Papers, the Marlborough Papers, authors. Thiers, the editor of the National and the Nelson Papers, the Castlereagh Papers, pub- the historian of the Revolution ; Guizot, the prolished without any autobiography, and only a found professor of history ; Villemain, the eloquent slight sketch, though in all these cases very ably annalist of French literature ; Lamartine, the popdone, of the author's life by their editor. The lives ular traveller, poet, and historian, have been the of the other eminent men of the last age have been alternate prime ministers of France since the Revgiven by others, not themselves ; as that of Pitt, olution of 1830. Even the great name of Napoby Tomline and Gifford ; that of Fox, by Trot- leon cannot save his nephew from the irksomeness ter; that of Sheridan, by Moore ; that of Lord of bending to the same necessity. He named Thiers Eldon, by Twiss; that of Lord Sidmouth, by his prime minister at the time of the Boulogne Pellew. There is more here than an accidental misadventure, he is caressing him now in the salons diversity; there is a difference arising from a dif- of the Elysée Bourbon. Successful authors thus ference of national character. The Englishmen in France are surrounded with a halo, and exposed devoted their lives to the public service, and be- to influences, of which in this country we cannot stowed not a thought on its illustration by them- form a conception. They unite in their persons selves; the French mainly thought of themselves the fame of Mr. Fox and the lustre of Sir Walter when acting in the public service, and considered Scott; often the political power of Mr. Pitt with it mainly as a means of elevation and self-lauda- the celebrity of Lord Byron. Whether such a tion to themselves.
concentration is favorable either to their present In justice to the literary men of France, how- utility or lasting fame, and whether the best school ever, it must be stated that, of late years at least, to train authors to be the instructors of the world they have been exposed to an amount of tempta- is to be found in that which exposes them to the tion, and of food for their self-love, much exceed- combined influence of its greatest temptations, are ing anything previously seen among men, and questions on which it is not necessary now to enwhich may go far to account for the extraordinary ter, but on which posterity will probably have no vanity which they have everywhere evinced. In difficulty in coming to a conclusion. England literary distinction is neither the only nor But while we fully admit that these extraordithe greatest passport to celebrity. Aristocratic nary circumstances, unparalleled in the past history influences remain, and still possess, the deepest of the world, go far to extenuate the blame which hold of the public mind; statesmen exist, whose must be thrown on the French writers for their daily speeches in Parliament render their names as extraordinary vanity, they will not entirely exculhousehold words. Fashion exercises an extraor- pate them. Ordinary men may well be carried dinary and almost inexplicable sway, especially away by such adventitious and flattering marks of over the fairest part of creation. How celebrated their power ; but we cannot accept such an exsoever an author may be, he will in London soon cuse from the first men of the age-men of the be brought to his proper level, and a right appre- clearest intellect, and the greatest acquisitionsciation of his situation. He will see himself at whose genius is to charm, whose wisdom is to inonce eclipsed by an old nobleman, whose name is struct the world through every succeeding age. fraught with historic glory ; by a young marquis, If the teachers of men are not to be above the folwho is an object of solicitude to the mothers and lies and weaknesses which are general and ridicudaughters in the room ; by a parliamentary orator, lous in those of inferior capacity, where are we who is beginning to acquire distinction in the senate to look for such an exemption ? It is a poor exhouse. We hold this state of things to be em-cuse for the overweening vanity of a Byron, a inently favorable to the right character of literary Goëthe, or a Lamartine, or a Chateaubriand, that men ; for it saves them from trials before which, a similar weakness is to be found in a Madame it is all but certain, both their good sense and their Grisi or a Mademoiselle Cerito, in the first cantavirtue would succumb. But in Paris this salutary trice or most admired ballerina of the day. We check upon individual vanity and presumption is all know that the professors of these charming arts almost entirely awanting. The territorial aris- are too often intoxicated by the applause which tocracy is confiscated and destroyed; titles of they meet with ; we excuse or overlook this weakhonor are abolished ; historic names are almostness from respect due to their genius and their
But we know, at the same time, that there Burke has so eloquently described in his portrait are some exceptions to the general frailty; and in of Marie Antoinette. That is the spirit which one enchanting performer, our admiration for tal- pervades the breasts of these illustrious men ; ents of the very highest order is enhanced by re- and therefore it is that we respect them, and forspect for the simplicity of character and generosity give or forget many weaknesses which would of disposition with which they are accompanied. Otherwise be insupportable in their autobiograWe might desiderate in the men who aspire to phies. It is a spirit, however, more akin to a fordirect the thoughts of the world, and have received mer era than the present ; to the age which profrom nature talents equal to the task, the unaffected duced the crusades, more than that which gave singleness of heart, and sterling good sense, which birth to railways; to the days of Godfrey of Bouwe admire, not less than her admirable powers, in illon, rather than those which raised a monument Mademoiselle Jenny Lind.
to Mr. Hudson. We are by no means convinced, The faults, or rather frailties, we have alluded however, that it is not the more likely to be ento, are in an especial manner conspicuous in two during in the future ages of the world ; at least of the most remarkable writers of France of the we are sure it will be so, if the sanguine anticipresent century-Lamartine and Chateaubriand. pations everywhere formed, by the apostles of the There is some excuse for the vanity of these illus- movement of the future improvement of the spetrious men. They have both acquired an enduring cies, are destined in any degree to be realized. fame-their names are known all over the world, Although, however, the hearts of Chateaubriand will continue to be so while the French lan- and and Lamartine are stamped with the impress guage is spoken on the earth ; and they have both, of chivalry, and the principal charm of their writby their literary talents, been elevated to positions ings is owing to its generous spirit, yet we should far beyond the rank in society to which they were err greatly if we imagined that they have not born, and which might well make an ordinary shared in the influences of the age in which they head reel from the giddy precipices with which it lived, and become largely imbued with the more is surrounded. Chateaubriand powerfully aided in popular and equalizing notions which have sprung crushing Napoleon in 1814, when Europe in arms up in Europe during the last century. They surrounded Paris ; with still more honorable con- could not have attained the political power which stáncy he resisted him in 1804, when, in the plen- they have both wielded if they had not done so ; itude of his power he executed the Duke d'En- for no man, be his genius what it may, will ever ghien. He became ambassador to London for the acquire a practical lead among men unless his restoration-minister of foreign affairs, and repre- opinions coincide in the main with those of the sentative of France at the Congress of Verona. majority by whom he is surrounded. ChateauHe it was who projected and carried into execu- briand's earliest work, written in London in 1793 tion the French invasion of the Peninsula in 1823, -the Essai Historique—is, in truth, rather of a the only successful expedition of the restoration. republican and sceptical tendency; and it was not Lamartine's career, if briefer, has been still more till he had travelled in America, and inhaled a dazzling. He aided largely in the movement nobler spirit amid the solitudes of nature, that the which overthrew Louis Philippe ; by the force of better parts of his nature regained their ascendenhis genius he obtained the mastery of the move-cy, and his fame was established on an imperishment, “ struggled with democracy when it was able foundation by the publication of Atala et René, strongest, and ruled it when it was wildest ;” and and the Génie du Christianisme. Throughout his had the glory, by his single courage and energy, whole career, the influence of his early. liberal of saving the character of the revolution from principles remained conspicuous : albeit a royalbloodshed, and coercing the red republicans in the ist, he was the steady supporter of the freedom very tumult of their victory. He has since fallen of the press and the extension of the elective suf
less from any known delinquencies frage; and he kept aloof from the government of imputed to him, than from the inherent fickleness Louis Philippe less from aversion to the semiof the French people, and the impossibility of their revolutionary spirit in which it was cradled, than submitting, for any length of time, to the lead of from an honorable fidelity to misfortune, and hora single individual. The autobiography of two ror at the selfish corrupt multitude by which it such men cannot be other than interesting and was soon surrounded. Lamartine's republican instructive in the highest degree ; and if we see principles are universally known : albeit descendin them much which we in England cannot al- ed of a noble family, and largely imbued with together understand, and which we are accustomed feudal feelings, he aided in the revolt which overto stigmatize with the emphatic epithet “ French," turned the throne of Louis Philippe in February, there is much also in them which candor must re- 1848, and acquired lasting renown by the courage spect, and an equitable spirit admire.
with which he combated the sanguinary spirit of The great thing which characterizes these me- the red republicans, when minister of foreign afmoirs, and is sufficient to redeem a multitude of fairs. Both are chivalrous in heart and feeling, vanities and frailties, is the elevated and chival- rather than opinions ; and they thus exhibit curirous spirit in which they are composed. In this ous and instructive instances of the fusions of the respect they are a relic, we fear, of the olden moving principle of the olden time with the ideas time ; a remnant of those ancient days which Mr. of the present, and of the manner in which the
true spirit of nobility, forgetfulness of self, can he shares with nearly all the writers of autobiogaccommodate itself to the varying circumstances raphy in France, but which appears peculiarly of society, and float, from its buoyant tendency, extraordinary and lamentable in a man of such on the surface of the most fetid stream of subse. talents and acquirements. His life abounded with quent selfishness.
strange and romantic adventures, and its vicissiIn two works recently published by Lamartine, tudes would have furnished a rich field for biogLes Confidences and Raphael, certain passages in raphy even to a writer of less imaginative powers. his autobiography are given. The first recounts He was born on the 4th Septeinber, 1768—the the reminiscences of his infancy and childhood ; same year with Napoleon-at an old melancholy the second, a love-story in his twentieth year. chateau on the coast of Brittany, washed by the Both are distinguished by the peculiarities, in re- waves of the Atlantic ocean. His mother, like spect of excellences and defects, which appear in those of almost all other eminent men recorded in his other writings. On the one hand we have an history, was a very remarkable woman, gifted ardent imagination, great beauty of language, a with a prodigious memory and an ardent imaginagenerous heart—the true spirit of poetry-and tion-qualities which she transmitted in a very uncommon pictorial powers. On the other, an high degree to her son. His family was very almost entire ignorance of human nature, extraor- ancient, going back to the year 1000 ; but, till dinary vanity, and that susceptibility of mind illustrated by François René, who has rendered which is more nearly allied to the feminine than it immortal, the Chateaubriands lived in unobtruthe masculine character. Not but that Lamartine sive privacy on their paternal acres.
After repossesses great energy and courage : his conduct, ceiving the rudiments of education at home, he during the revolution of 1848, demonstrates that was sent at the age of seventeen into the army ; he possesses these qualities in a very high degree; but the revolution having soon after broken out, but that the ardor of his feelings leads him to act and his regiment revolted, he quitted the service and think like women, from their impulse rather and came to Paris, where he witnessed the horthan the sober dictates of reason. He is a devout rors of the storming of the Tuileries on the 10th optimist, and firm believer in the innocence of hu- of August, and the massacre in the prisons on 2d man nature, and indefinite perfectibility of man- September. Many of his nearest relations-in kind, under the influence of republican institutions. particular his sister-in-law, Madame de ChateauLike all other fanatics, he is wholly inaccessible briand, and sister, Madame Rozambo— were exeto the force of reason, and altogether beyond the cuted along with Malesherbes, shortly before the reach of facts, how strong or convincing soever. fall of Robespierre. Obliged now to fly to EngAccordingly, he remains to this hour entirely con- land, he lived for some years in London in exvinced of the perfectibility of mankind, although treme poverty, supporting himself by his pen. It he has recounted, with equal truth and force, that was there he wrote his earliest and least creditait was almost entirely owing to his own courage ble work, the Essai Historique. Tired of such and energy that the revolution was prevented, in an obscure and monotonous life, however, he set its very outset, from degenerating into bloodshed out for America, with the Quixotic design of disand massacre ; and a thorough believer in the covering by land journey the north-west passage. ultimate sway of pacific institutions, although he He failed in that attempt, for which, indeed, he owns that, despite all his zeal and eloquence, the had no adequate means; but he dined with Washwhole provisional government, with himself at its ington, and in the solitudes of the far West imhead, would on the 16th April have been guillo- bibed many of the noblest ideas, and found the tined or thrown into the Seine, but for the deter- subjects of several of the finest descriptions, which mination and fidelity of three battalions of the have since adorned his works. Finding that there Garde Mobile, whom Changarnier volunteered to was nothing to be done in the way of discovery in arrange in all the windows and avenues of the America, he returned to England. Afterwards Hôtel de Ville, when assailed by a column of he went to Paris, and there composed his greatest thirty thousand furious revolutionists.
works, Atala et René and the Génie du ChrisChateaubriand is more a man of the world than tianisme, which soon acquired a colossal reputaLamartine. He has passed through a life of tion, and raised the author to the highest pinnacle greater vicissitudes, and been much more fre- of literary fame. quently brought into contact with men in all Napoleon, whose piercing eye discerned talent ranks and gradations of society. He is not less wherever it was to be found, now selected him for chivalrous than Lamartine, but more practical ; the public service in the diplomatic line. He gives his style is less pictorial but more statesmanlike. the following interesting account of the first and The French of all shades of political opinion only interview he had with that extraordinary man, agree in placing him at the head of the writers in the saloon of his brother Lucien :of the last age. This high position, however, is owing rather to the detached passages than the
I was in the gallery when Napoleon entered ; his general tenor of his writings, for their average i had never previously seen him but at a distance.
appearance struck me with an agreeable surprise. style is hardly equal to such an encomium. He His smile was sweet and encouraging; his eyo is not less vain than Lamartine, and still more beautiful, especially from the way in which it was egotistical—a defect which, as already noticed, lovershadowed by the eyebrows. He had no charlatanism in his looks, nothing affected or theatrical | gauntlet to Napoleon, on occasion of the murder in his manner.
The Génie du Christianisme, which of the Duke d'Enghien :at that time was making a great deal of noise, had produced its effect on Napoleon. A vivid imagina- Two days before the fatal 20th March, I dressed tion animated his cold policy; he would not have myself, before taking leave of Bonaparte, on my been what he was if the Muse had not been there ; way to the Valais, to which I had received a diploreason in him worked out the ideas of a poet. All matic mission ; I had not seen him since the time great men are composed of two natures-for they when he had spoken to me at the Tuileries. The must be at once capable of inspiration and action gallery where the reception was going on was full; the one conceives, the other executes.
he was accompanied by Murat and his aide-de-camp. Bonaparte saw me, and knew me I know not When he approached me, I was struck with an how. When he moved towards me, it was not alteration in his countenance ; his cheeks were known whom he sought. The crowd opened ; fallen in, of a livid hue ; his eyes stern ; his color every one hoped the first consul would stop to con- pale; his air sombre and terrible. The attraction verse with him ; his air showed that he was irri- which had formerly drawn me towards him was at tated at these mistakes. I retired behind those an end ; instead of awaiting, I fled his approach. around me; Bonaparte suddenly raised his voice, He cast a look towards me, as if he sought to recand called out, " Monsieur de Chateaubriand.” i ognize me, moved a few steps towards me, turned, then remained alone in front; for the crowd instantly and disappeared. Returned to the Hôtel de France, retired, and re-formed in a circle around us. Bona- I said to several of my friends,“ Something strange, parte addressed me with simplicity, without ques- which I do not know, must have happened ; Bonations, preamble, or complimenis. He began speak- parte could not have changed to such a degree ing about Egypt and the Arabs, as if I had been unless he had been ill.” Two days after, at eleven his intimate friend, and he had only resumed a con- in the forenoon, I heard a man cry in the streetsversation already commenced betwixt us.
" I was
“ Sentence of the military commission convoked at always struck," said he, “ when I saw the scheiks Vincennes, which has condemned to the pain of fall on their knees in the desert, turn towards the Death Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, born 2d east, and touch the sand with their foreheads. August, 1772, at Chantilly.". That cry fell on me What is that unknown thing which they adore in like a clap of thunder; it changed my life as it the east?" Speedily then passing to another idea, changed that of Napoleon. I returned home, and he said, “Christianity! the Idealogues wished to said to Madame de Chateaubriand—"The Duke reduce it to a system of astronomy! Suppose it d’Enghien has just been shot.". I sat down to a were so, do they suppose they would render Chris- table and began to write my resignation—Madame tianity little? Were Christianity only an allegory de Chateaubriand made no opposition ; she had a of the movement of the spheres, the geometry of great deal of courage. She was fully aware of my the stars, the esprits forts would have little to say; danger; the trial of Moreau and Georges Cadoudel despite themselves, they have left sufficient gran- was going on; the lion had tasted blood ; it was not deur to l'Infame."'*
the moment to irritate him.-(Vol. iv. 228–229.) Bonaparte immediately withdrew. Like Job in the night, I felt as if a spirit had passed before me; After this honorable step, which happily passed the hairs of my flesh stood up. I did not know its without leading to Chateaubriand's being shot, he countenance ; but I heard its voice like a little travelled to the East, where he visited Greece, Conwhisper.
stantinople, the Holy Land, and Egypt, and colMy days have been an uninterrupted succession of visions. Hell and heaven continually have lected the materials which have formed two of his opened under my feet, or over my head, without most celebrated works, L'Itinéraire à Jerusalem, my having had time to sound their depths, or with and Les Martyrs. He returned to France, but did stand their dazzling. I have met once, and once not appear in public life till the allies conquered only, on the shores of the two worlds, the man of Paris in 1814, where he composed with extraordithe last age, and the man of the new- - Washington nary rapidity his famous pamphlet entitled Bonaand Napoleon—I conversed a few moments with parte and the Bourbons, which had so powerful an each—both sent me back to solitude--the first by a effect in bringing about the Restoration. The roykind wish, the second by an execrable crime.
I remarked that, in moving through the crowd, alists were now in power, and Chateaubriand was Bonaparte cast on me looks more steady and pene- too important a man to be overlooked. In 1821 he trating than he had done before he addressed me. was sent as ambassador to London, the scene of his I followed him with my eyes.
former penury and suffering ; in 1823 he was made Who is that great man who cares not
minister of foreign affairs, and in that capacity proFor confiagrations? + (Vol. iv. 118-121.)
jected, and successfully carried through, the expe
dition to Spain which reseated Ferdinand on the This passage conveys a just idea of Chateaubri- throne of his ancestors; and he was afterwards the and's Memoirs ; his elevation of mind, his ardent plenipotentiary of France at the congress of Verona, imagination, his deplorable vanity. In justice to so in 1824. He was too liberal a man to be employed eminent a man, however, we transcribe a passage in by the administration of Charles X., but he exhibited which the nobleness of his character appears in its an honorable constancy to misfortune on occasion of true lustre, untarnished by the weaknesses which the revolution of 1830. He was offered the portfolio so often disfigure the character of men of genius. of foreign affairs if he would abstain from opposiWe allude to his courageous throwing down the tion ; but he refused the proposal, made a last noble
* Alluding to the name l'In fame, given by the King of and eloquent speech in favor of his dethroned sovPrussia, D'Alembert, and Diderot
, in their correspond- ereign in the Chamber of Peers, and, withdrawing ences, to the Christian religion. + Dante.
into privacy, lived in retirement, engaged in literary