Disciples du Vivant: Chroniques dune Invitation à la Vie - Tome 8 (French Edition)
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Of these, perhaps, the most marked and most general was an exaggerated sensibility, a kind of melancholy madness.
Young Henri Dubois, who at any other epoch would have been content to learn his trade behind the counter of Dubois and Dupont, cloth merchants, and to settle down into a peaceful home with Mademoiselle Dupont, now plied the yard measure with disgust and yearned for an existence more worthy of his "complicated state of mind. He was quite willing to love Mademoiselle Dupont on the condition that she would lend herself to a tempestuous passion, allow her hands to be bathed in tears for hours together by her prostrate cavalier, receive folios of hysterical ravings by the post, and dread the fatal dagger if she had smiled from her desk at a customer.
She was urged daily to fly to a brighter destiny upon distant shores, and nightly trembled that the coming morning would find Henri transfixed by his own poniard. It was impossible to be reasonable; only a clod, dead to all beauty, could be so brutal. Bourget says,  capable of constant renewal, and a consumption of emotional energy which is irreconcilable with the laws of any organism. If a young man failed for a moment to find food for melancholy broodings in the shortcomings of society, he could always fall back for a good groan upon his own insufficiencies of sensibility.
Now, of course, the "feelings of malediction" which afflicted the Henri Dubois are of small moment in themselves. Time comfortably settled them down. The boundless yearnings that found expression in such lines as these:. You would have thought that life held in chains souls that had caught sight of something superior to terrestrial existence.
We did not aspire to the felicities of paradise: we dreamed of taking possession of the infinite, and we were tortured by a vague pantheism of which the formula was never found The artistic and literary generation which preceded me and that to which I belonged had a youth of lamentable sadness, sadness without cause and without object, abstract sadness, inherent in the individual or in the period We were 'fatal' and 'accursed'; without even having tasted life, we tumbled to the bottom of the abyss of disillusionment.
These exquisite sensibilities, when they were not turned back upon themselves in black despair, roamed far and wide in search of new sensations upon which to exercise themselves.
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This exotisme , as the French have called it, is another of the most marked symptoms of Romanticism. The time was ripe for its satisfaction. An unsatisfied longing for another age and another clime animated every young breast. Societies even were formed in provincial towns in which subscriptions were pooled, and the winner of the lucky number drew the money to take a voyage in Italy. The glories of Greece and the grandeurs of Rome, as savouring of the classical, appealed only to a few; other eclectics fed upon German mysticism and the fantastic weirdness of Hoffmann's supernatural tales.
A far greater number became Celts in imagination; dressed in the dignity of outlawry and the garb of an Irish bard or a Scotch chieftain, they defied the haughty English. Maxime du Camp, for instance, wrote a poem in his school-days called "Wistibrock l'Irlandais. The hero, Patrick FitzWhyte, falls in love with Deborah Cockermouth, daughter of Lord and Lady Cockermouth, the opening dialogue of whom upon the battlements is magnificent.
My lord, who is described as "one of those gigantic fungous and spongy zoophytes indigenous to Great Britain," permits himself to address my lady as "Saint-hearted milk soup! The Spirit of Romanticism. Wild adventures, horrors and tragedies in any age were fondly dwelt upon in comparison with the insupportable monotony of contemporary life; but the Middle Ages made a stronger appeal than any.
There was a perfect mania for medievalism. Nothing pleased overwrought imaginations more than to picture existence amid all the riot and magnificence of those more spacious days.
How they would have rattled a sword and clanked a spur, how defiantly tilted their plume, how breathlessly loved and how destructively fought! Why did they not live in the joyous time when every minute brought an adventure instead of spilling one more drop from the cup of ennui , and when a man shaped his own ends according to his passions, throwing a curse to the poor and a madrigal to the fair? Then, all their life was not grey. Splendour of colour with ample grace of form decked out existence like a picture by Veronese. Costly satin vied with magnificent brocade; all was a riot of velvet and purple dyes, fur and old lace; drinking cups, worthy of giants, chiselled by a Cellini, offered wine worthy of the gods; swords were masterpieces of the finest Toledo; jewelled harness caparisoned fleet Arab horses; feasts were Gargantuan, jests more than Rabelaisian; and all this wonderful wealth of glittering colour was thrown into magnificent relief against the solemnity of antique battlements and the sombre shadows of Gothic architecture.
Victor Hugo, above all, was the chosen bard of the Gothic and the romanesque. Besides his dramas, his "Odes et Ballades" were in the mouth of every child who could pay four halfpence for an hour's luxury in the cabinet de lecture ; and schoolboys would declaim for hours in antiphon such passages as the invocation of "La Bande Noire":.
The star of the Gothic and the medieval was indeed high in the heavens, but it paled before the full sun of Araby and the East. Napoleon had dreamed of a Mohammedan empire, and before his dream could fade Navarino and Missolonghi fired men's minds again. Victor Hugo was also the champion of Oriental rhapsody. His collection of poems entitled "Les Orientales" was published in and took Paris by storm, provoking passionate enthusiasm and equally passionate protest.
In the preface he asserts that Orientalism is a general preoccupation. There are lofty apostrophes to Byron and the Greeks, followed by dreadful tales of Turkish cruelty, gruesome ballads like "La Voile," in which four brothers kill their sister, epigraphs like "O horror! Then, as if Victor Hugo did not whip the passions enough, Alfred de Musset lent a hand in the hurly-burly with his "Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie," which made the young maniacs frantically demand:.
Delacroix, too, was sending the critics into ecstasies of rage with his vivid Eastern scenes and the horrors of his "Massacre of Scio. To be in the movement they had to have at least a poniard and a narghile, a medieval cloak and an Oriental divan. Those with money to spare decorated their rooms like sombre Gothic manors, those with no money enriched their conversations with a wealth of medieval diction.
No make-believe was too ridiculous to shut out the actual place and time in which they lived. Balzac's novel "La Peau de Chagrin," which has won a celebrity far beyond its merits, is most unmistakably marked with the frenzies of The hero, Valentin, is simply a type of his time, and his tirade on taking the supernatural skin is hardly an exaggeration:. As for the "orgy," it was so much a fashion that Gautier in his "Les Jeune France" scores a delightful hit with the story of a society of young men who combine for a colossal feast, in which various sections follow out in exact detail the descriptions of orgies given by their favourite novelists and the end is a farcical confusion.
Building castles in Spain is a fascinating pastime, but the ingenuities of imagination cannot entirely shut out the individual from his surroundings. From to the young man of France was continually running against the sharp corners of the world and receiving the elbow prods of his fellow-men. Exalted by his excited sensibility, he conceived at once a contempt and a hatred for the insensibility of society, which produced in him a feeling of moral superiority and solitude.
One was a romantic worship of energy and strong will, as typified by the career of Napoleon. Given these qualities, a man could rise from the lowest depths to impose his wishes on the world. He reserved his superiority, therefore, more usually, for less material manifestations and conflicts. His rare spirit, susceptible to all "the finer shades," stood mournfully but prudently on high, scorning the base, unfeeling throng below it, and calling out through space for kindred spirits to cherish.
Solitary suffering makes men philosophers or poets.
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Philosophy requiring some intellectual capacity and mental preparation, Henri Dubois often took the further step from crying in the wilderness to enshrining his laments in metre, being encouraged in this by the certain fact that young men and true poets were indeed striking the Romantic harp to a new and surprising tune. Henri accordingly proceeded another stage towards sublimity by way of the faulty syllogism: "The poet has an exquisite soul; I have an exquisite soul; therefore I am a poet.
This was the attitude, above all, of de Vigny; Lamartine and Sainte-Beuve adopted it in their early days, and certain passages of Victor Hugo—for instance:. This was a harmless enough delusion, but it became less harmless when combined with the idea that for the sake of experience the poet should abandon himself entirely to his passions. The great artist, indeed, has his own morality, but Victor Hugo's "Mazeppa" or Lamartine's stanza.
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It was a fatality, too, that several poets of some merit died during these years of want or neglect. It was still more of a fatality that certain other poets attained a momentary celebrity by committing suicide, leaving rhymed farewells to a stony-hearted society and a tedious life.
To win fame by a pathetic death in a pauper's hospital, or to bid defiance to the world with a superb gesture of self-destruction, was a far too common ambition. Louis Maigron shows in his work that I have already cited. Among other strange stories he gives at length the confession of an old man who in his youth was president of a suicide club, formed in a provincial town by a set of romantic schoolboys as late as Happily the club was short-lived, but it resulted in the self-destruction of one of its most gifted members.
In the letter with which he announced his coming death from Lucerne he wrote:.
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I have no precise reason to have done with life except the insurmountable disgust with which it inspires me. Chance of birth gave me a certain fortune; I am not denied an intelligence perhaps slightly above the common level; it would have been in my power to marry an adorable child: so many conditions of happiness, in the eyes of the vulgar.
But my poor soul, alas, cannot content itself with them. They were his breviaries, he said, covered as they were with notes that revealed all his soul.
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The pose of pathetic despair was not, however, the only one in which the feeling of moral solitude showed itself. Another very common attitude was that of revolt against society, an aping of Mephistopheles, the fallen angel doomed to everlasting unhappiness, strong only in his disillusionment and his clear vision of the canker in the heart of every bud.
The word "satanism" summed up this attitude: its breviaries were "Manfred" and Dumas' violent tragedy, "Antony.
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Its effects, in society, were chiefly obtained by the satanic laugh. Gautier soon grew out of his satanic mood, Dumas was never anything more than a fine romancer, while Victor Hugo, Lamartine, and de Vigny were too lofty poets to indulge in such artificialities; but satanism deserves mention because it was a traditional business with one party in the romantic Bohemia—the party of the Bousingots.
The origin of the term Bousingot has been a matter of dispute among French writers.
Charles Asselineau in his "Bibliographie Romantique" says that after some hilarious souls had been arrested for singing too loudly in the streets "Nous avons fait du bousingo"— bousingo being the slang for "noise"—it became a popular designation for the more furious Romantics. He asserts that there never were any self-styled Bousingots , but that after the arrest of the hilarious revellers the affair got into the newspapers and the term remained as a bourgeois hit at the Romantics.
The proper spelling of the word was bouzingo , and Gautier exclaimed one day: "These asses of bourgeois don't even know how bouzingo is spelt! To teach them a little orthography several of us ought to publish a volume of stories which we will bravely call 'Contes du Bouzingo.