« AnteriorContinuar »
that has lost that particular fashion of sensibility, without realising for the honour of its ancestors the physiological truth of the power of the will over the secretions.
The characters seem as stiff as some of the language, to us who are accustomed to an Asiatic luxuriousness of delineation. Yet the New Heloïsa was nothing less than the beginning of that fresh, full, highlycoloured style which has now taught us to find so little charm in the source and original of it. Saint Preux is a personage whom no widest charity, literary, philosophic, or Christian, can make endurable. Egoism is made thrice disgusting by a ceaseless redundance of fine phrases. The exaggerated conceits of love in our old poets turn graciously on the lover's eagerness to offer every sacrifice at the feet of his mistress. Even Werther, stricken creature as he was, yet had the stoutness to blow his brains out, rather than be the instrument of surrounding the life of his beloved with snares. Saint Preux's egoism is unbrightened by a single ray of tender abnegation, or a single touch of the sweet humility of devoted passion. The slave of his sensations, he has no care beyond their gratification. With some rotund nothing on his lips about virtue being the only path to happiness, his heart burns with sickly desire. He writes first like a pedagogue infected by some cantharidean philter, and then like a pedagogue without the philter, and that is the worse of the two. Lovelace and the Count of Valmont are manly and hopeful characters in comparison.
Werther, again, at least represents a principle of rebellion, in the midst of all his self-centred despair, and he retains strength enough to know that his weakness is shameful. His despair, moreover, is deeply coloured with repulsed social ambition. He feels the world about him. His French prototype, on the contrary, represents nothing but the unalloyed selfishness of a sensual love for which there is no universe outside of its own fevered pulsation.
Julie is much less displeasing, partly perhaps for the reason that she belongs to the less displeasing
At least, she preserves fortitude, self-control, and profound considerateness for others. At a certain point herfirmness even moves a measure of enthusiasm. If the New Heloïsa could be said to have any moral intention, it is here where women learn from the example of Julie's energetic return to duty, the possibility and the satisfaction of bending character back to comeliness and honour. Excellent as this is from a moral point of view, the reader may wish that Julie had been less of a preacher, as well as less of a sinner. And even
as sinner, she would have been more readily forgiven if she had been less deliberate. A maiden who sacrifices her virtue in order that the visible consequences may force her parents to consent to a marriage, is too strategical to be perfectly touching. As was said by the cleverest, though not the greatest, of all the women whose youth was fascinated by Rousseau, when one has renounced the charms of
E.g. Letters, 40-46.
virtue, it is at least well to have all the charms that entire surrender of heart can bestow.) In spite of this, however, Julie struck the imagination of the time, and struck it in a way that was thoroughly wholesome. The type taught men some respect for the dignity of women, and it taught women a firmer respect for themselves. It is useless, even if it be possible, to present an example too lofty for the comprehension of an age. At this moment the most brilliant genius in the country was filling France with impish merriment at the expense of the greatest heroine that France had then to boast. In such an atmosphere Julie had almost the halo of saintliness.
We may say all we choose about the inconsistency, the excess of preaching, the excess of prudence, in the character of Julie. It was said pungently enough by the wits of the time. 2 Nothing that could be
i Madame de Stael (1765-1817), in her Lettres sur les écrits et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau, written when she was twenty, and her first work of any pretensions. Euv., i. 41. Ed. 1820.
2 Nowhere more pungently than in a little piece of some halfdozen pages, headed, Prédiction tirée d'un vieux Manuscrit, the form of which is borrowed from Grimm's squib in the dispute about French music, Le petit Prophète de Boehmischbroda, though it seems to me to be superior to Grimm in pointedness. Here are a few verses from the supposed prophecy of the man who should come--and of what he should do. “Et la multitude courra sur ses pas et plusieurs croiront en lui. Et il leur dira : Vous êtes des scélérats et des fripons, vos femmes sont toutes des femmes perdues, et je viens vivre parmi vous. Et il ajoutera tous les hommes sont vertueux dans le pays où je suis né, et je n'habiterai jamais le pays où je suis né. . . . Et il dira aussi qu'il est impossible d'avoir des mæurs, et de lire des Romans,
said on all this affected the fact, that the women between 1760 and the Revolution were intoxicated by Rousseau's creation to such a pitch that they would pay any price for a glass out of which Rousseau had drunk, they would kiss a scrap of paper that contained a piece of his handwriting, and vow that no woman of true sensibility could hesitate to consecrate her life to him, if she were only certain to be rewarded by his attachment. The booksellers were unable to meet the demand. The book was let out at the rate of twelve sous a volume, and the volume could not be detained beyond an hour. All classes shared the excitement, courtiers, soldiers, lawyers, and bourgeois.Stories were told of fine ladies, dressed for the ball, who took the book up for half an hour until the time should come for starting; they read until midnight, and when informed that the carriage waited, answered not a word, and when reminded by and by that it was two o'clock, still read et il fera un Roman ; et dans son Roman le vice sera en action et la vertu en paroles, et ses personages seront forcenés d'amour et de philosophie. Et dans son Roman on apprendra l'art de suborner philosophiquement une jeune fille. Et l'Ecolière perdra toute honte et toute pudeur, et elle fera avec son maître des sottises et des maximes. ... Et le bel Ami étant dans un Bateau seul avec sa Maitresse voudra le jetter dans l'eau et se précipiter avec elle. Et ils appelleront tout cela de la Philosophie et de la Vertu,” and so on, humorously enough in its way.
1 See passages in Goncourt's La Femme au 18ième siècle, p. 380.
? Musset-Pathay, ii. 361. See Madame Roland's Mém., i 207.
on, and then at four, having ordered the horses to be taken out of the carriage, disrobed, went to bed, and passed the remainder of the night in reading. In Germany the effect was just as astonishing. Kant only once in his life failed to take his afternoon walk, and this unexampled omission was due to the witchery of the New Heloïsa. Gallantry was succeeded by passion, expansion, exaltation; moods far more dangerous for society, as all enthusiasm is dangerous, but also far higher and pregnant with better hopes for character. To move the sympathetic faculties is the first step towards kindling all the other energies which make life wiser and more fruitful. It is especially worth noticing that nothing in the character of Julie concentrates this outburst of sympathy in subjective broodings. Julie is the representative of one recalled to the straight path by practical, wholesome, objective sympathy for others, not of one expiring in unsatisfied yearnings for the sympathy of others for herself, and in moonstruck subjective aspirations. The women who wept over her romance read in it the lesson of duty, not of whimpering introspection. The danger lay in the mischievous intellectual direction which Rousseau imparted to this effusion.
The stir which the Julie communicated to the affections in so many ways, marked progress, but in all the elements of reason she was the most perilous of reactionaries. So hard it is with the human mind, constituted as it is, to march forward a space further VOL, II.