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M. Doumic's fourth lecture, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was devoted to Alfred de Musset. A translation of the summary of the lecture follows:
We shall examine the essential traits of de Musset's character, then we shall look to the conceptions he had of poetry and of life. We shall see how sorrow made a great poet of him.
De Musset may be called a great nervous child. All who came into contact with him even in his younger days noticed his mobility and that gaiety of heart which with him always ended in tears. He was a Parisian and the air of Paris is exciting. He was a disciple of Voltaire and of the Eighteenth Century. If he attacked Voltaire most bitterly, it was because he felt Voltaire's spirit within him. He had a taste for the luxuries of life. He was at his ease only in distinguished surroundings. He was mondain.
The de Musset of eighteen, proud and impertinent, was the author of his "Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie," published in 1830. But he was only an untrained schoolboy when he wrote his "Cantique Romantique."
"Les Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie" were very successful; they were admired for their brightness and their gaiety, and because from one end to the other they were bursting with youth. In his "Spectacle dans un Fauteuil" we find him in the middle of his career; and here appears the sadness of his nature.
He thinks that to be a poet is to "hark in his heart to the echo of his genius"; that is to say the poet ought to express only what is in his own heart.
His conception of life is that there is nothing worth living for but love. So he admires "Manon Lescaut" and " Don Juan." Love thus conceived is a sombre passion, a sacred ill.
De Musset's life all tended towards one great passion. De Musset was destined to suffer from this great passion, which was embodied in George Sand. Their relations are perfectly well known. De Musset was very unhappy; but after their separation de Musset was a great poet,- which he was not before.
"Les Nuits" and "Le Souvenir" taken together form the most beautiful love poem in the French language.
De Musset's poetry was personal but on account of its depth has become universal. He is the poet closest to the French heart, not perhaps that he is the most admired but that he is the best loved.
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