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M. Doumic devoted his third lecture on French Romanticism to Victor Hugo. A translation of his summary of the lecture follows:
The poetry of Victor Hugo came from without. His soul is an echo of the voices of the century. We shall try to see how his temperament, his education and his surroundings determined the choice of the subjects which developed the poet. We shall consider his main subjects and we shall examine into his treatment of them.
Victor Hugo was of plebian origin; hence the vigor of his physical constitution, the violence of his anger, his intellectual and moral health; hence also a certain lack of taste, of tact and of delicacy. During his youth he wandered abroad, in Italy and Spain, where he accumulated a stock of impressions. These impressions received in the course of his travels became fruitful in the dreams of his later years.
As a husband and father, Victor Hugo is the type of the French bourgeois. The French Bourgeois is a settled, sensible and prudent person; he is a man of the home; he distrusts passion; he loves his wife and loves his children even more; he is idle and talkative; he takes a deep interest in politics; he is a patriot and loves all things military; he is not very religious and not at all mystic; on the other hand, he has a distinct taste for morality and for commonplaces. Victor Hugo was all this: a bourgeois with genius.
From this fact it will be seen what determined the choice of subjects which occupied Victor Hugo's imagination. Love hardly inspired him. On the other hand he celebrated family affection; and was almost the only one in France who could write about children. In the third place, he busied himself in his verse with the chronicle of daily life, especially political life. In his various collections of works he transcribed the opinions which swayed the French mind. He was a royalist in his "Odes," an advocate of independence in his "Orientales," a revolutionist in his "Feuilles d'Automne," and in his "Chants du Crepuscule" and through all his writings he never ceased celebrating Napoleon. He was one of the most powerful creators of the "Legende Napoleonienne." Finally he developed the great commonplaces of morality.
Such is the matter of Victor Hugo's poetry. What was its form?
Victor Hugo's originality is shown in his "Orientales." There we find light, color and material visions. Later in his best compositions it is to be noticed that objects and things have the most important position and are the most magnificently rendered. The poetry of Victor Hugo is material.
Victor Hugo strengthens his images by his science of composition and by his rhetoric. As to his rhythm, no one has ever had a more delicate feeling for the harmony of the syllables of the French language. Now all these methods of Victor Hugo's can be imitated. It is for this reason that he has had disciples and that his methods of composition and rhythm have had imitators. For this reason he has exerted an enormous influence on the literature of the whole century. He has opened our eyes to new images and colors. He has opened our ears to new harmonies.
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