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Nineteenth Century Orators of France
unique and highly interesting. Nowhere else
in history can be found the record of a country that had four political revolutions, each followed by a transformation in the government, within a century. Such has been the case in France. The unparalleled revolution of 1789 was followed by feebler copies in 1830, 1848 and 1871, a republic following the monarchy in three of these cases, while a change of dynasty took place in the second. Here was abundant political change, uprooting of old institutions, exposure of administrative abuses, radical variations in conditions. In all this there was abundant occasion for oratory, and that of the most strenuous character. The type of eloquence to which the first revolution gave occasion we have already shown. That of the succeeding ones was less vehement. Only one orator of recent France can be named who in any sense compares in character with those of the age of Mirabeau. This is Victor Hugo, whose assaults on “Napoleon the Little” were as cutting and virulent as the most unbridled diatribes of the days of the guillotine. As a rule, however, the nineteenth century oratory of France was in a quieter and more classical vein, some of the most famous and polished orators winning their reputation on non-political issues. As regards the leaders in political oratory—Lamartine, Thiers, Gambetta and others—those, while vigorous and aggressive in tone, were of a far milder type than the fiery orators of the previous century or the indignant and incisive Hugo of their own.
P | "HE history of France in recent times has been
VICTOR COUSIN (1792-1867)
AN EMINENT ORATOR AND PHILOSOPHER
possessed in the early part of the nineteenth century three lecturers of wide fame, Cousin, Guizot and Villemain, the former two in especial having a world-wide reputation. Cousin was appointed to the chair of philosophy in 1815, and for a number of years delivered eloquent and popular lectures to large audiences, his lectures displaying an admirable combination of sensibility, imagination and reason. His popularity was immense, but his liberal opinions caused him to be deprived of his professorship in 1820, though he was replaced in 1828. His lectures, which were prepared with the care of those of Demosthenes and Cicero in the past, of Tuskin, Emerson and others in the present age, were published in book form, one series of them being on “The True, the Beautiful and the Good.” He wrote various other works, developing an eclectic system of philosophy of high estimation. After the revolution of 1830, Cousin, like Guizot, entered upon a political career, and for a time, in 1840, was Minister of Public Instruction. His speeches in the Chambers displayed superior powers of oratory. He took no part in public affairs after the Revolution of 1848.
SUPREMACY OF THE ART OF POETRY
[The following eloquent passage, in which the claim of poetry to supremacy over its sister arts is effectively presented, is from one of Cousin's lectures on “The
True, the Beautiful and the Good.”] The art par excellence, that which surpasses all others, because it is incomparably the most expressive, is poetry. Speech is the instrument of poetry; poetry fashions it to its use, and idealizes it, in order to make it express ideal beauty. Poetry gives to it the charm and power of measure; is makes of it something intermediary
T HE Sorbonne, a famous college at Paris of ancient institution,
VICTOR COUSIN 607
between the ordinary voice and music—something at once material and immaterial, finite, clear, and precise; like contours and forms, the most definite, living, and animated ; like color pathetic, and infinite like sound. A word in itself, especially a word chosen and transfigured by poetry, is the most energetic and universal symbol. Armed with this talisman, poetry reflects all the images of the sensible world, like sculpture and painting; it reflects sentiment like painting and music, with all its varieties, which music does not attain, and in their rapid succession which painting cannot follow, as precise and immobile as sculpture; and it not only expresses all that, it expresses what is inaccessible to every other art:-I mean thought, entirely distinct from the senses and even from sentiment; thought that has no forms; thought that has no color, that lets no sound escape, that does not manifest itself in any way; thought in its highest flight, in its most refined abstraction. Think of it ! What a world of images, of sentiments, of thoughts at once distinct and confused, are excited within us by this one word—country ! and by this other word, brief and immense—God ' What is more clear and altogether more profound and vast ! Tell the architect, the sculptor, the painter, even the musician, to call forth also by a single stroke all the powers of nature and the soul. They cannot; and by that they acknowledge the superiority of speech and poetry. They proclaim it themselves, for they take poetry for their own measure; they esteem their own works, and demand that they should be esteemed, in proportion as they approach the poetic ideal. And the human race does as artists do; a beautiful picture, a noble melody, a living and expressive statue, gives rise to the exclamation, How poetical This is not an arbitrary comparison; it is a natural judgment which makes poetry the type of the perfection of all the arts; the art far excellence, which comprises all others, to which they aspire, which none can reach. When the other arts would imitate the works of poetry, they usually err, losing their own genius without robbing poetry of its genius. But poetry constructs, according to its own taste, palaces and temples, like architecture; it makes them simple or magnificent ; all orders, as well as all systems, obey it; the different ages of art are the same to it; it reproduces, if it please, the Classic or the Gothic, the beautiful or the sublime, the measured or the infinite. Lessing has been able, with the exactest justice, to compare Homer to the most perfect sculptor; with such precision are the forms which that marvelous chisel gives to all things determined. And what a painter, too, is Homer | And, of a different kind, Dantel Music alone has something more penetrating than poetry, but it is vague, limited, and fugitive.