« AnteriorContinuar »
upon the Jesuits, crowds, such as never at work with his pen. There was no had attended a professor before since the mistaking, however, the artist's hand. days of the middle ages, thronged his lec- “The Bird” displays all the qualities ture-hall even more than that of Quinet, of style, and more than all the poetical till the two professors grew to be almost fancy, of Michelet's best historical days. a power in the state, and had to be It begins by telling “how the author silenced by authority?
was led to the study of nature.” “The The enormous popularity which the “time is heavy, and life, and work, and lecturer thus reached may be considered “the violent catastrophes of the time, as opening the second period of his “and the dispersion of a world of intelcareer. Though not, I repeat it, a ligence in which we lived, and to genuine historian, yet his works hitherto “which nothing has succeeded. The have all an historical character; they “rude labours of history had once for are full of materials for history, his- “ their recreation teaching, which was torical sketches, curiosities of history, my friendship. Their halts are now Now, the turbulence of the partisans of only a silence. Of whom should I monasticism, which had interrupted his “ ask moral refreshment unless of and Quinet's courses, seems to have nature ? ” The health of one dear to stung him up into a politician, a dealer him, a passionate observer of nature, mainly with the things of the present; made him leave Paris, at first for a and though he may write history so- mere suburban home, from whence he called that of the “Revolution," form- returned to town every day. But the ing the last volumes of his “History of turmoil of the great city, its abortive France"), this he will be henceforth revolutions, sent him farther off. He took above all, not indeed as a partisan, but up his quarters near Nantes, and here as one of those who, wandering on the he wrote the latter part of his “History border land between the political and of the Revolution," already wakening what may be called the psychical realm, up to the beauty and interest of nature, contribute often far more powerfully already longing for leisure to study her. towards impressing a general direction But the climate was too damp, and upon the public mind than does the drove him, in ill-health, further south. mere politician, who points it to a He now "placed his moveable nest in a definite aim. The “Jesuits," which fold of the Apennines, at two leagues of reached four editions in six weeks, Genoa.” And here, with no company “Priests, Women, and Families,” the but lizards, and living the life of a " History of the Revolution, the lizard himself, he felt a revolution take “People," belong to this period.
place within him. He seemed to see Then came the strange downfall of the all living creatures claiming their place liberties of France under the weight of a in the great democracy. Such, he tells dead man's name, the sudden hushing us, was his renovation, “that late vita of her most eloquent voices, except nuova which gradually brought me to from beyond the sea, at the blare of the the natural sciences." imperial trumpet. Michelet was silent, “The Bird,” however, is still a work or nearly so, like others for awhile, and of mere natural history rather than of then spoke out as a student, not of physiology. It deals with the outside historic facts, but of actual organisms. of living nature; with form, colour, His book, “ The Bird," opens what may habits; with these mostly in reference be called the physiological portion of to man as a prototype; whatever of his career. So remarkable a transform- anatomy occurs in it is derived from ation, exhibited by man on the shady the study of Dr. Auzoux's models. “The side of fifty, is a singular phenomenon Insect” travels over much of the same in literary history, and many, foreigners ground, though in a lower stratum of especially, could scarcely believe that life, but opens up another field. The there was not a second “ J. Michelet” author tells us how he bought a micro
scope, how he placed under it a woman's of a nameless couple, from the weddingfinger, a spider's leg; how coarse ap- day to the grave. The book teems with peared the structure of that which to us tender and delicate passages, though is living satin, how the repulsive coarse- placed in startling contact with the ness of the latter opened out into mar- coarse and the trivial. There are pages vellous beauty. It is from this point in it which it is impossible to read withthat the naturalist grows into the phy- out emotion. But the whole is sickly; siologist. The microscope is a cruel
As one closes the book, one teacher; no one who has once experi- seems to be coming out of some stifling enced the fascination of its powers can boudoir, leaving an atmosphere mawkish stop over outward form, but must pierce with the mingled smell of drugs and perthe mysteries of structure ; and the fumes, heavy with the deadly steam of life. study of structure, except in a few You miss in the true love" of the book transparent organisms generally of the both the free buoyancy of health, and lowest class, means disruption, dissec- (except in a page here and there) the tion. Whilst even apart from structure, noble martyrdom of real suffering. Its the world of form and life which the aim seems to be to coax men into purity, microscope unveils to us is one so well- by showing them a virtue more volupnigh entirely extra-human,--the limbs tuous than vice, into tenderness towards which unite us to it are so few and so woman by dwelling on her infirmities. loose,-those which unite its members The whole sense and substance of the among themselves so many and so pro- book seems to be this,-Given, an enminent,—that the temptation is strong lightened young Frenchman of the for a fervid, fickle mind to be alto- nineteenth century, with a competent gether carried away by the new specta- knowledge of anatomy, a fair income, cle,—to change altogether the pivot large ideas of the perfectibility of the of its contemplations; and instead of species, kindly feelings towards religion seeing in the creature the shadow of the in general, and what may be called a man, to see in man henceforth only the bowing acquaintance with the idea of more highly organized creature. Hence God, on the one hand, and on the other, already in this volume pages painful a sickly Parisian girl, brought up in a and repulsive to read.
Romish convent or quasi-convent, — And now we come to the more essen- how the one is to make the best of the tially physiological works of the ex- other? professor of history. “L'Amour,”
Looked at in this way—remembering at its fourth edition,—represents the the writer's popularity--not forgetting climax of this period. I hardly know that he speaks with the authority of how to characterize this work fairly for sixty years of life, I do not mean to an English public, so immoral would it say that the book is not likely to do be if written by an Englishman, so essen- some good to the class for which it is tially does it require to be judged from written. That class is a narrow one. It a French point of view. I hardly know has been said ere this, in France, that how even to give an adequate idea of M. Michelet's ideal “woman" would it, so greatly does it depart from any require from 15,000 to 45,000 francs standard within reach of English hands a year to keep her. To the great bulk by which it can be decently measured. I of the French population his book itself am convinced that never was a book writ- would be as Greek; and, indeed, it is ten with honester intentions. The writer quite amusing to see how entirely the is full of good impulses ; his object, as writer ignores the possibility that the he sets it forth in the first page of his red-cheeked country girl, whom he asintroduction, is a noble one,—“Moral signs for servant to his ideal couple in enfranchisement by true love." That their suburban home, should ever have object he seeks to carry out by exhibit- a claim to “true love" on her own ing to us the picture of the married life account. He admits himself, that whilst
he does not write for the rich, he does “For the best, it is through their not write either "for those who have husband himself that for the most part “no time, no liberty, who are mastered, they are attacked.” If he be powerful,
crushed by the fatality of circumstances, M. Michelet shows “ ladies in " those whose unceasing labour regulates honourable positions, esteemed, often " and hastens all their hours. What pious, active in good works, whom she “advice can one give to those who are has seen at charitable gatherings," “not free ?” But the class of men whom coming to the virtuous wife in order he addresses no doubt does exist, and to present some
young son, an inteis but too numerous for the health and "resting young man, already capable of well-being of the French body-politic; serving the husband, devoted to his nor are samples of it, God knows, want- ideas, quite in his line ;” who has ing amongst ourselves. It must have been “a solitary student,” “ needs the startled some of these to be told, by a polish of the world.” He shows us man whose voice has often charmed female friends assiduously praising the them, who is one of themselves by his young man into favour; the lady's intellectual training and sympathies, maid soon breaking the ice, to tell who starts from no old-world notions her mistress, whilst doing her hair, that of right and duty, but from the last new he is dying of love. Formerly, M. Midiscoveries in medical science, that mar- chelet asserts, Lisette had to be bought. riage, and faithful love in marriage, are No need now. She knows well that to give them their “moral enfranchise- the lady being once launched in such ment.” Certainly, as compared with adventures, having given a hold upon the coarse cynicism, or the still coarser her, and let a secret be surprised, she attempts at morality, of the French herself will be her mistress's mistress, novel or the French press under the will be able to rule and rob unconimperial régime, M. Michelet's work, trolled. unreadable as it is in the main for The case is still worse, if the husband, English women,-certainly unfit to be instead of protecting, needs protection, read by English girls, -may well stand if he is a small official waiting for proout as a very model of purity.
motion, a worker in want of a capitalist The indications indeed, which it gives, to push him. Here the female friend of the growth of immorality under that (who seems by M. Michelets account to régime-tallying as they do entirely with be the modern Diabolos of France, vice information from other quarters—are Satan superannuated) works upon the most painful. I do not speak of such young woman, now by dwelling on her facts as M. Michelet quotes from sta- husband's inferiority to herself, now by tistics, and which any one may verify insisting on his need of help from some there, ominous though they be ; a one who should have strength and credit stationary or decreasing population ; to lift him at last from the ground. A an increasing number of young men meeting is arranged somehow between unfit for military service, marriages the lady and the future protector, both rapidly diminishing, widows ceasing to duly instructed beforehand; the young re-marry, female suicides multiplying. woman seldom fails to justify what has Most of these facts might be paralleled been said of her by some slight act of elsewhere ; some amongst ourselves. coquetry, which she deems innocent, I refer to those details, evidently and in her husband's interest founded upon actual facts, which are Audacity, a half-violence, often carries given in the chapters entitled “The
the thing Fly and the Spider," and "Temptation,"
“ You say no.
You believe that as to the corruption of female friend- “such odious acts are only to be seen ships, the abuse of official power, the “ in the lowest classes. You are quite utter, expected, absence of moralstrength, “ mistaken. It is very common ... A even in the pure of life.
“number of facts of this kind have
come to my knowledge, and by most not occur without filling journalists' “ certain channels.”.... She cries, she pens with fire instead of ink, from John will tell all, she does nothing ... “My O’Groats to the Land's End. The “ dear, in your husband's name, I be- leprosy of half-starved officialism has “seech you, say nothing. He would not tainted us so far as to endure such “die of grief. Your children would be things. The moloch of competition has “ruined, your whole life upset. That not yet in the trading world, even if it “man is so powerful to do harm. He have in the working, claimed female “is very wicked when he hates, and is virtue for its holocausts. Whilst England “provoked. But, one must admit it, is free England, such enormities by the “he is zealous also for those he loves, influential protector, capitalist, or offi“he will do everything for your familycial are, thank God, as unheard of, as “for the future of your children.” in free France they some day will be.
And so the nauseous tale of corrup- But it is not only through its incition through family interest rolls on. dental revelations of these effects of The young woman is entrapped into the poison of a despotic centralization, writing a letter, which henceforth both in corrupting the relations beestablishes her shame. Now, “She is tween man and man, and in taking “spoken to in another tone. Command away all fear on the one side, all con“succeeds entreaty. She has a master, fidence on the other, in the might of “—on such a day, at such an hour, justice and public morality that this “ here or there, she is bid to come, and book is valuable. It is far more so as “she comes.
The fear of scandal, I a testimony, all the more precious be“know not what fascination, as of a cause unconscious, to that which M. “ bird towards the snake, draw her Michelet in his nineteenth century “ back in tears. She is all the prettier. enlightenment well-nigh completely “The promises are little remembered. ignores,—God's Bible, Christ's Gospel. “When he has had enough, is she
M. Michelet exalts physiology, half pro“ free at least ? Not a whit. The scribes the Bible. He forgets that there “ female friend has the paper. . . . She is a certain amount of physiological “must go on, sold and resold, must knowledge which is absolutely essential "endure a new protector, who she is to the understanding of the Bible, and “ told will do more, and often does yet which no mother who really reve“nothing. Fearful slavery, which lasts rences God's word will withhold, in “while she is pretty and young, which due time, from her daughter. But the
plunges her deeper and deeper, de- moral truths which he evolves from “ bases, perverts her.”
physiological teaching are all, as far Now, it would be too much to say as I can see, anticipated in the Bible. that such tales are without analogy If M. Michelet has satisfied himself amongst ourselves.
There were a few by means of physiology that man is a years ago, there may still be, factories monogamic animal, so much the better. in Lancashire and Cheshire, where the But he who believes that from the young master, or even more so the over- mouth of Wisdom herself proceeded the looker, views the female hands simply words: “And they twain shall be one as a harem, of which he is the sultan. flesh,” knows as much as he. If M. There are still agricultural parishes Michelet has learned from medical men where no girl field-worker's virtue is safe that woman is not the impure creature against the squire's bailiff or gamekeeper. that unnatural middle-age asceticism There are sweater's dens in London made of her, so much the better. But where living wages are utterly out of he who has read in Genesis that she the reach of the poor tailoress, unless was made man's “help-meet,”—bone of she be also the favourite for the time his bone, and flesh of his flesh,-can being. But in the classes to which never be tempted, unless bewildered M. Michelet assigns the tale, it could with lying traditions or puffed up with
false spiritual pride, to think otherwise divides; gathering up successively all of her. If he insist that by her consti- desire into a nobler object, all life into tution she has a constantly recurrent a mightier focus,man the head of the cause of disease within her, St. Paul's woman,-Christ the head of man,words, “the weaker vessel,” command God the head of Christ. of stronger man all the deference and And for want of these, his whole indulgence to which M. Michelet would
purpose makes shipwreck. He promises persuade him. In short, mix together woman her enfranchisement; but it is the few texts I have alluded to, with only to jail her within her own physical those other ones of Gen. ii. 25, and constitution, with her husband for turnGen. iii 16, and dilute them with key. He lavishes his fancy on what an infinite quantity of French fine may be called the lyrics of the flesh; writing, and you have the whole of but he does not trust that poor flesh for " L'Amour," so far as it has any moral a moment; he is always watching it, worth whatever. And he who chooses spying it ; his “medication ” of heart or to meditate upon the “Song of Songs,” body presupposes and leaves it as frail both in itself, as the divine sanction of and false as any Jesuit folio of casuistry. sensuous love as being the only ade- It has been well said, indeed, of the quate mirror of spiritual, and in its work by M. Emile Montégut that it is position in the sacred volume between essentially a Romanist book, which had Ecclesiasticus, the book of worldly ex- been unwritable and incomprehensible perience, and Isaiah, the book of pro- anywhere else than in a Roman Catholic phetic insight, as indicating the link
country. The whole, in fact, of M. which earthly love supplies between the Michelet's work affords evidence of that two, will feel that 450 pages of French “invincible ignorance”—to use a term of prose are but a poor exchange for its Romish theology-of Christ and of the lyric lessons.
Bible which Romanism leaves behind it What is wanting indeed to M. in most souls, if it should come to Michelet's “ true love"? Not self-con- depart from them. M. Michelet has templation; not the effort to be self- no doubt read the Bible; he is familiar wrapped. But everything below- with religious works, both Protestant everything above. The rock of a divine and Romish; he has himself written command on which man or woman can “ Memoirs of Luther.” And yet it may stand and say, I ought, and to the not be too much to say that he has never Tempter, Thou shalt not. The sense of once seen Christ. This is even more an Almighty Love by whom each is up- evident in his last work, “ La Femme," held, on whose bosom each may sink, of which I have now to say a few and feel that “underneath are the ever- words. lasting arms." The light of a Word “La Femme" is in some parts a made Flesh, who has suffered all our mere repetition, in many a dilution, of sufferings, borne all our sins. The help “ L'Amour." It is on the whole less of a Spirit of Truth, who will guide us mawkish, but more wearisome. The into all truth, though through never so writer's dissective tendencies rise in it much of doubt, and darkness, and de- to absolute rapture. A child's brain spair. The beholding of the joy of a becomes in his pages “a broad and divine marriage, of the redeemed church mighty camellia,” “the flower of flowers," with its Saviour, of which every
smallest “the most touching beauty that nature wedded joy of earth is a ray, towards has realized.” But the work covers in which every truth of pure human love some respects a new field. The hypois an aspiration. The abiding and thetical wife whom he exhibited in restful sense of subordination in har- “L'Amour was after all, as I have monic unity, link after link in a divine said, some existing Frenchwoman chain ; a subordination that lifts and brought up in Romanism, having, acdoes not lower, that joins and not cording to the writer, everything to