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the poet's shoulder never altogether changes its spots, and although the Légende des Siècles contains some verses of truly epic ring— the Sacre de la Femme, for instance, or Booz endormi-the Hugo of the Orientales and the Chants du Crépuscule reappears in the other pieces, the Hugo to whom history and legend are no more than scene-painter's cloths, garnishing the stage from which he expresses his own, his most intimate sentiments. No matter how earnestly he tried to subordinate himself to his task, to mirror faithfully the scene he describes, his powerful imagination inevitably distorts the image, and it is always Hugo that we see. The other school aimed at a diametrically opposed result, and just as the romantic movement had spread from the field of poetry to that of the theatre, to history, and even to criticism, they tried now to impose the canons of the naturalist's æsthetics upon criticism and history, the theatre and the poetic art.
It was the first article of their code that the personality of the poet should be subordinated to nature, that he should become a sworn interpreter; not necessarily impassible, but yet quite impartial and incorruptible. It is no longer the question to know the poet's point of view, whether he is pleased or indignant, or with what sentiments he is agitated by the spectacle of nature or the events of history. It is his function to present things as they are, for what they are, independently of his personal opinions. A line of Horace expresses the new rule: Non mihi res sed me rebus subjungere conor. The nature of things is exterior, anterior, superior; it is not our task to correct or perfect, but to reproduce, and the first of all poetic qualities is the fidelity of presentiment. It is a painter's law, or a sculptor's, perhaps, as much as a poet's, and it may easily be carried to undue extremes; a law, indeed, that was afterwards to bring about strange results. But it worked a great change for good in the years that immediately preceded and followed 1860, it recalled the poet to the observation of nature, to the study of history, to respect for simple truth. We owed to it, between 1866 and 1875, the Trophées of M. J.-M. de Hérédia; the popular poems, the domestic and intimate verses of M. François Coppée; and, since we are not forbidden to study, in our own persons, the
phenomena which Montaigne described as the "changing outlines of man's inner conditions," we owe to this same law some of the subtle and pathetic poems in which M. Sully-Prudhomme has so well expressed the complexity of the contemporary spirit.
These three authors, widely alike as they are, have a second characteristic in common; each is almost perfect in his own field of work. There are no more beautiful sonnets in the language than those of M. J.-M. de Hérédia. The Dutch painters, Gérard Dow, for instance, and Jean Steen, have painted no interiors more finished than the popular poems of M. Coppée. Finally, M. SullyPrudhomme has touched our most secret fibres with verses of unparalleled delicacy and acuity. Perfection of form was indeed the second article, as the subjection of the poet's personality was the first article, of the new school's code. If critics forgave Victor Hugo the obscurities which were often darkened depths of meaning, and which never interfered with the correctness of his diction, they were pitiless to the carelessness of Lamartine and of Musset. The poet's art was no longer measured by the abundance or the strangeness of its inspiration, but by the richness and sonority of the rhythm, the fulness and soundness of the line, the precision and elegance of its French. There was a return to the opinions of the past, a renewed perception of "the power of the right word in the right place." People even began to discern in words many qualities which they do not possess. This was a logical change, no doubt, for there is only one way to imitate nature with fidelity, and that is to concentrate upon the perfection of form all the energy which has been repressed in the process of restricting the liberty of imagination.
To these two principles-the perfection of form and the impersonality of the artist-a third added itself: the principle that art exists for art's sake only. Art has no moral or didactic mission, and one has no right to question the poet's choice of a subject; his method of treatment is the only ground for the exercise of the critic's function. Gautier believed this to his last day; his work remains to prove it. Leconte de Lisle violated the
principle in some of his poems, but he was not conscious that he did so, even when, finding his inspiration in the Légende des Siècles, he tried to rival Hugo's anti-religious ardour. M. de Hérédia has never swerved. It was this central idea that the Parnassians made their rallying-point in 1866. Some illustrious prose writers Flaubert in the first rank-encouraged them. And if M. Sully-Prudhomme and M. François Coppée escaped from the strict yoke, it was because they were affected by another influence at the same time as Leconte de Lisle's-a -an influence more subtle and not less powerful, that of Charles Baudelaire and his Fleurs du Mal.
These poems appeared for the first time in 1857; but there are books which make themselves felt as soon as they appear, just as there are others which need, as it were, to be felt from a distance. Of such are, in the history of French prose, Stendhal's Chartreuse de Parme, and, in the history of French poetry, the Fleurs du Mal. At a first glance the critics imagined-fantastic as the idea seems to us that they detected Catholicism in the Fleurs du Mal; and this was at the moment of a general reaction toward Paganism. The fact is that at a time when the elaboration of form was everything, Baudelaire's verses displayed the mosaicist's care, they suggested the prose writer who has with painful labour morticed a rime upon the end of every line. It was also a moment at which poetry tended to the impersonal; and the inspiration of Baudelaire betrays its debt to that of Vigny, and yet more to that of Sainte-Beuve,-the Sainte-Beuve of the Confessions de Joseph Delorme. He not only imitated, but exaggerated this strange morbidity. While the critics for these reasons despised even what there was of novelty in Baudelaire's product, the youth of his day recognised it, and felt its fascination. Beneath the declamatory tone, and the charlatanism, even, of his lament, they perceived the sincerity of a suffering which was not less genuine because it was purely intellectual. It has been said that of all the sensory suggestions the most material and the most diffusive are those which appeal to the olfactory perceptions, and that no others so immediately stir the memory. And if this be true, it must be
remembered that the Fleurs du Mal are permeated by the whole gamut of exotic fragrance. They are full, too, of those subtle values of sensory co-ordination which Baudelaire himself indicates when he says that "forms and outlines and sounds all correspond the one to the other." There was novelty in all this, a fruitful and a lasting novelty, and as it did not seem to disagree with the lessons of the Parnassians, people listened obediently to the lofty teachings of Leconte de Lisle, but read Baudelaire with infinite delight, like children devouring a book in secret.
I remember trying, twenty-five years ago, in the pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes, to describe this influence which Baudelaire exerted upon M. François Coppée, M. Sully-Prudhomme upon M. Paul Bourget, too, whose first verses had then-in 1875recently appeared, and upon other writers. François Buloz, who was still living at the time, was hugely displeased, although he had printed in the Revue Baudelaire's first verses. "So you take Baudelaire for a master, do you?" he cried. I thought that I had answered him when I said, "No, but he is a master in the eyes of the poets I named." But Buloz was not convinced. I little knew how amply time would justify me; I had not long to wait before a whole generation were invoking the name of the author of the Fleurs du Mal, the generation of Paul Verlaine and of Stephen Mallarmé.
bow to the Parnassian disDespite the poet's dictum,
Although they still continued to cipline, they began to chafe under it. ut pictura poësis, they began to perceive that poetry wilted in this dry perfection of execution. The precision of outline, the richness of metre, the unswerving fidelity of representation combined, embarrassed, cumbered, cramped the freedom of the imagination, the amplitude of visions. It was impossible to escape the accurate grasp of the artist, and when he had clutched you, there was no release. There was no background, no distant perspective, there was none of the indistinctness, the obscurity, the chiaroscuro, which is, nevertheless, one of the elements of true poetry. Save for some among M. Sully-Prudhomme's verses, everything was brought into the whitest light, and if, by chance, the meaning
of any work, as a whole, was not quite clear, each line was in itself uncompromisingly distinct. People began to find, too, that this reproduction of nature was extended, in the past as in the present, to many objects which possessed no real interest. It does not follow that because an event has taken place it is necessarily a poetic event; nor is it true that everything that lives should be immortalised by art. It was said, too, that if ideas were plentiful enough in the masterpieces of the Parnassian School, no one idea ever passed beyond its original limits, or became the mantle and the veil of something more secret, more mysterious: the visible and palpable exterior of that which can neither be seen nor touched. There are, unquestionably, certain correspondences and associations between ourselves and the world in which we live: every sensation should lead us to an idea, and in that idea we ought to find something analogous to the sensation. The reality of things does not manifest itself in their mere exterior, they must be exposed to the light of the truth in accordance with which their forms are defined. Every representation which fails to base itself upon that fact is necessarily incomplete, superficial, mutilated. The Parnassians forgot this, and their forgetfulness created the school of symbolism.
It is difficult to see very clearly the inner meaning of Paul Verlaine's work. He was an "irregular" in the eyes of all the schools, and his emancipation had been no more than a return to the liberty of the Romantic School, and a step beyond even that liberty. He owes his reputation less to the profoundness and the ingenuity of his symbolism than to the cynicism of his Confessions. He was at once violent and feeble, ingeniously perverse, capable, by turn, of the worst sentiments and the most sincere repentances, inheriting from Baudelaire and from Sainte-Beuve the love of sin and of remorse. Poor "Lélian" wrote some wretched verses, and some that were detestable; but he wrote also some that were original and exquisite. His great merit is, perhaps, that he wrote exquisitely diaphanous lines, verse as lightly burdened as French verse ought to be. Stephen Mallarmé wrote the most incomprehensible verses, more obscure than any Lycophron ever had made