Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

than they experience anywhere else, are in general infinitely less durable than those excited by real transactions; and a ludicrous incident or blunder in the performance, will carry the whole house in an instant, from sobbing to ungoverned laughter: and even in real life we have every day occasion to observe how quickly the busy, the dissipated, the frivolous, and the very youthful, can pass from one powerful and engrossing emotion to another. The daily life of Voltaire, we think, might have furnished Diderot with as many and as striking instances of the actual succession of incongruous emotions, as he has collected from the theatrical life of Sophie Arnoud, to prove that one part of the succession must necessarily have been fictitious.

There are various traits of the oppressions and abuses of the government, incidentally noticed in this work, which maintains, on the whole, a very aristocratical tone of politics. One of the most remarkable relates to no less a person than the Marechal de Saxe. This great warrior, who is known never to have taken the field without a small travelling seraglio in his suite, had engaged a certain Madlle Chantilly to attend him in one of his campaigns. The lady could not prudently decline the honour of the invitation, because she was very poor; but her heart and soul were devoted to a young pastry cook of the name of Favart, for whose sake she at last broke out of the marechal's camp, and took refuge in the arms of her lover; who rewarded her heroism by immediately making her his wife. The history of the marechal's lamentation on finding himself deserted, is purely ludicrous, and is very well told; but our feelings take a very different character, when, upon reading a little farther, we find that this illustrious person had the baseness and brutality to apply to his sovereign for a lettre de cachel to force this unfortunate woman from the arms of her husband, and to compel her to submit again to his embraces--and that the court was actually guilty of the incredible atrocity of granting such an order! It was not only granted, M. Grimm assures us, but executed-and this poor creature was dragged from the house of her husband, and conducted by a file of grenadiers to the quarters of his highness, where she remained till his death, the unwilling and disgusted victim of his sensuality! It is scarcely possible to regret the subversion of a form of government that admitted, but once in a century, of abuses so enormous as this :--and the tone in which M. Grimm notices it, as a mere foiblesse on the part of le Grand Maurice, gives us reason to think that it was by no means without a parallel in the cotemporary history. In England, we verily believe, ihere never was a time in which it would not have produced insurrection, or assassination.

One of the most remarkable passages in this philosophical journal, is that which contains the author's estimate of the advantages

and disadvantages of philosophy. Not being much more of ag optimist than ourselves, M. Grimm thinks that good and evil are pretty fairly distributed to the different generations of men; and that, if an age of philosophy be happier in some respects than one of ignorance and prejudice, there are particulars in which it is not so fortunate. Philosophy, he thinks, is the necessary fruit of a certain experience and certain maturity; and implies, in nations as well as individuals, the extinction of some of the pleasures as well as the follies of early life. All nations, he observes, have begun with poetry, and ended with philosophy_or, rather, have passed through the region of philosophy in their way to that of stupidity and dotage. They lose the poetical passion, therefore, before they acquire the taste for speculation; and, with it, they lose all faith in those illusions, and all interest in those trifles which make the happiness of the brightest portion of our existence. If, in this advanced stage of society, men are less brutal, they are also less enthusiastic ;-if they are more habitually beneficent, they have less warmth of affection. They are delivered, indeed, from the yoke of many prejudices; but at the same time deprived of many motives of action. They are more prudent, but more anxious are more affected with the general interests of mankind, but feel less for their neighbours; and, while curiosity takes the place of admiration, are inore enlightened, but far less delighted with the universe in which they are placed.

The effect of this philosophical spirit on the arts, is evidently unfavourable on the whole. Their end and object is delight, and that of philosophy is truth; and the talent that seeks to instruct, will rarely condescend to aim merely at pleasing. Racine, and Moliere, and Boileau, were satisfied with furnishing amusement to such men as Louis XIV., and Colbert, and Turenne; but the geniuses of the present day pretend to nothing less than enlightening their rulers; and the same young men who would formerly have made their debut with a pastoral or a tragedy, now generally leave college with a new system of philosophy and government in their port-folios. The very metaphysical, prying, and expounding turn of mind that is nourished by the spirit of philosophy, unquestionably deadens our sensibility to those enjoyments which it converts into subjects of speculation. It busies itself in endeavouring to understand those emotions which a simpler age was contented with enjoying ;--and seeking, like Psyche, to have a distinct view of the sources of our pleasures, is punished, like her, by their instant annihilation.

Religion, too, continues M. Grimm, considered as a source of enjoyment or consolation in this world, has suffered from the progress of philosophy, exactly as the fine arts and affections have done. It has no doubt become infinitely more rational, and less

liable to atrocious perversions; but then it has also become much less enchanting and ecstatic-much less prolific of sublime raptures, beatific visions, and lofty enthusiasm. It has suffered, in short, in the common disenchantment; and the same cold spirit which has chased so many lovely illusions from the earth, has dispeopled heaven of half its marvels and its splendours.

We could enlarge with pleasure upon these just and interesting speculations; but it is time we should think of drawing this article to a close ; and we must take notice of a very extraordinary transaction which M. Grimm has recorded with regard to the final publication of the celebrated Encyclopedie. The redaction of this great work, it is known, was ultimately confided to · Diderot; who thought it best, after the disturbances that had been excited by the separate publication of some of the earlier volumes, to keep up the whole of the last ten till the printing was finished; and then to put forth the complete work at once. A bookseller by the name of Breton, who was a joint proprietor of the work, had the charge of the mechanical part of the concern; but, being wholly illiterate, and indeed without pretensions to literature, had of course no concern with the correction, or even the perusal of the text. This person, however, who had heard of the clamours and threatened prosecutions which were excited by the freedom of some articles in the earlier volumes, took it into his head that the value and security of the property might be improved, by a prudent castigation of the remaining parts; and accordingly, after receiving from Diderot the last proofs and revises of the different articles, took them home, and, with the assistance of another tradesman, scored out, altered and suppressed, at their own discretion, all the passages which they, in their wisdom, apprehended might give offence to the court, or the church, or any other persons in authority-giving themselves, for the most part, no sort of trouble to connect the disjointed passages that were left after these mutilations and sometimes soldering them together with masses of their own stupid vulgarity. After these precious ameliorations were completed, they threw off the full impression; and, to make all sure and irremediable, consigned both the manuscript and the original proofs to the flames! Such, says M. Grimm, is the true explanation of that mass of impertinences, contradictions and incoherences, with which all the world has been struck, in the last ten volumes of this great compilation. It was not discovered till the very eve of the publication; when Diderot, having a desire to look back to one of his own articles, printed some years before, with difficulty obtained a copy of the sheets containing it from the warehouse of M. Breton-and found, to his horror and consternation, that it had been garbled and mutilated in the manner we have just stated. His rage and vexation on the discovery are well expressed in a Vol. II. New Series.

48

long letter to Breton, which M. Grimm has engrossed in his register. The mischief, however, was irremediable, without an intolerable delay and expense; and as it was impossible for the editor to take any steps to bring Breton to punishment for this “horrible forfait,” without openly avowing the intended publication of a work which the court only tolerated by affecting ignorance of its existence, it was at last resolved, with many tears of rage and veration, to keep the abomination secret-at least till it was proclaimed by the indignant denunciations of the respective authors whose works had been subjected to such cruel mutilation. The most surprising part of the story however is, that none of these authors ever made any complaint about the matter. Whether the number of years that had elapsed since the time when most of them had furnished their papers had made them insensible of the alterations—whether they believed the change effected by the base hand of Breton to have originated with Diderot, their legal censor -or that, in fact, the alterations were chiefly in the articles of the said Diderot himself, we cannot pretend to say ; but M. Grimm assures us, that, to his astonishment and that of Diderot, the mutilated publication, when it at last made its appearance, was very quietly received by the injured authors as their authentic production, and apologies humbly made, by some of them, for imperfections that had been created by the beast of a publisher.

There are many curious and original anecdotes of the Empress of Russia in this book; and as she always appeared to advantage where munificence and clemency to individuals were concerned, they are certainly calculated to give us a very favourable inpression of that extraordinary woman. We can only afford room now for one, which characterizes the nation as well as its sovereign. A popular poet of the name of Sumarokoff, had quarrelled with the leading actress at Moscow, and protested that she should never again have the honour to perform in any of his tragedies. The Governor of Moscow, however, not being aware of this theatrical feud, thought fit to order one of Sumarokoff's tragedies for representation, and also to command the services of the offending actress on the occasion. Sumarokoff did not venture to take any step against his excellency the governor; but when the heroine advanced in full Muscovite costume on the stage, the indignant poet rushed forward from behind the scenes, seized her reluctantly by the collar and waist, and tossed her furiously from the boards. He then went home, and indited two querulous and sublime epistles to the empress. Catharine, in the midst of her gigantic schemes of conquest and improvement, had the patience to sit down and address the following good humoured and sensible exhortation to the disordered bard.

"Monsieur Sumarokoff

, j'ai été fort étonnée de votre lettre du 28 Janvier, et encore plus de celle du premier Février. Toutes deux contiennent, à ce qu'il me semble, des plaintes contre la Belmontia qui pourtant n'a fait que suivre les ordres du comte Soltikoff. Le feld-maréchal a désiré de voir représenter votre tragédie ; cela vous fait honneur. Il était convenable de vous conformer au désir de la première personne en autorité à Moscou ; mais si elle a jugé à propos d'ordonner que cette pièce fût représentée, il fallait executer sa volonté sans contestation. Je crois que vous savez mieux que personne cornbien de respect méritent des hommes qui ont servi avec gloire, et dont la tête est couverte de cheveux blancs; c'est pourquoi je vous conseille d'éviter de pareilles disputes à l'avenir. Par ce moyen vous conserverez la tranquillité d'âme qui est nécessaire pour vos ouvrages, et il me sera toujours plus agreable de voir les passions représentées dans vos drames que de les lire dans vos lettres.

“Au surplus, je suis votre affectionnée. Signé CATHERINE.”

" Je conseille," adds M. Grimm,“ à tout ministre chargé du département des lettres de cachet, d'enregistrer ce formulaire à son greffe, et à tout hasard de n'en jamais délivrer d'autres aux poëtes et à tout ce qui a droit d'être du genre irritable, c'est-à-dire enfant et fou par état. Après cette lettre qui mérite peut-être autant l'immortalité que les monumens de la sagesse et de la gloire du règne actuel de la Russie, je meurs de peur de m'affermir dans la pensée hérétique que l'esprit de gâte jamais rien, même sur le trône."

But it is at last necessary to close these entertaining volumes though we have not been able to furnish our readers with any thing like a fair specimen of their various and miscellaneous contents. Whoever wishes to see the economists wittily abused-to read a full and picturesque account of the tragical rejoicings that filled Paris with mourning at the marriage of the late king-to learn how Paul Jones was a writer of pastorals and love songs—or how they made carriages of leather, and evaporated diamonds in 1772 ---to trace the debut of Mad. dc Staël as an author at the age of twelve, in the year

to understand M. Griinm's notions on suicide and happiness--to know in what the unique charın of Madlie Thevenin consisted--and in what manner the dispute between the patrons of the French and the Italian music was conducted—will do well to peruse the five thick volumes, in which these, and innumerable other matters of equal importance are discussed, with the talent and vivacity with which the reader inust have been struck, in the least of the foregoing extracts.

We add but one trivial remark, which is forced upon us, deed, at almost every page of this correspondence. The profession of literature must be much wholesomer in France than in any other country :--for though the volumes before us may be regarded as a great literary obituary, and record the deaths, we suppose, of more than a hundred persons of some note in the

in

« AnteriorContinuar »