Page images
PDF
EPUB

vere, was the Administration entitled to our gratitude. Had the ex-emperor but landed once in this country, even as the most abject prisoner, he would not have departed till be had raised a ferment in the nation, which nothing but its best blood could have allayed. The turbulent, the factious, the disaffected would have found in him a rallying point of conspiracy and treason; this they knew; and we doubt not but that the tears which they daily shed for the departure of their exiled friend, are tears of unfeigned regret.

Art. IV. Adolphe; Anecdote trouvée dans les Papiers d'un

Inconnu, et publiée par M. Benjamin de Constant. THE lively concern which, according to Terence's observation, mankind take in the feelings and actions of their fellow.men, is 80 powerful, that every fiction, professing to give an analysis of their emotions, or a representation of their actions, possesses an interest principally dependant on the vraisemblance of the execution, and in a very small degree on the merits or attractions of the object represented. Details of feelings and pictures of the heart, only require to be faithfully executed to find the way to our sympathies. Shakespeare has called them forth occasionally in favour of beings of no moral attraction, and it has been the apparent attempt of some popular modern writers to ascertain the exact quantum of mental depravity and enormity of conduct which might be forced upon the attention of readers by dint of an anatomical delineation of the internal machinery of passion and motive. There is a charm in truth and nature which demands no other passport to the heart. The most interesting works of imagination, are those which have imagined nature as it is, drawing faithfully from the living subject, without sacriticing truth to bienseance, or omitting, for the sake of grace or harmony, one individual mark of identity, however little else it might have to recommend it. The work before us, from the well-known M. B. de Coustant, who has tigured in Buonaparte's council, in the French pamphlet shops, the French Chamber of Deputies, the Dictionary of Gironettes, and the petils soupers of revolutionary ladies, has a considerable share of the attraction we have been describing. It is a mere history of an unhappy passion, without variety of incidents, or of character, or clecatinou ot thought, or eloquence of style, involving the fate of but tivo persons; and resting its sole claims on its close and graphic deli. Bcations of passion, its various indications, operations, and effects,

M. Constant

M. Constant has given tbat sort of interest to the work whicha
will, we dare say, give it currency through many bands; to us it.
possesses as little attraction as most books of the sort. It is full
of all the gross faults of that ill-regulated school of which its
anilor is a distinguished luminary; a school which, in politics,
have united splendid theory with detestable practice; in morals,
extravagant retinement with gross depravity; and in sentiment,
a sort of morbid romance with the coarsest indelicacy. The
present sample teems with that rage for vagaries—that wild re-
vulsion from extreme to extreme-and that spirit of determined
fatalism, which makes giants of trivial impulses by habits of
self-indulgence and unrestrained gratification. It is however,
not without some salutary lessons, and considered as a book pre-
senting a collection of faults to be avoided, without one example
to be imitated, there is no objection to its being read; and it may
serve as a beacon to avert young minds from a too ardent pursuit
of the romanesque in real life.

M. Constant calls it “an anecdote found in the papers of an unknown;" and introduces it to the world with a detailed statement of the mode in which he professes to have become possessed of it; viz. by means of the landlord of an Auberge in Italy, where M. Constant had chanced to meet with Adolphe, the hero, living in a misanthropic seclusion. Some months after quitting it, he received from Boniface a packet containing the MS. of the said " anecdote," a portrait of a woman, and many letters with the addresses and signatures effaced. Mons. C. preserved them ten years, till mentioning the circumstance at a town in Germany, a person present eagerly requested the perusal of the MS. which M. C. sent him, and received back in a few days, with a letter which we have at the end of the volume, stating, that this anonymous and curious person had known Adolphie and Ellenore, and the chief persons mentioned in the volume, and desiring him to publish it by way of example, as it would no longer give pain to any one. This M. Constant does, but begs to disclaim the only motive which can at all justify the publication; " having no hope of its utility, because," says he, is no one learns in this world,

but at his own espence;"-a miserable maxim of those to whom the lessons of experience are in fact nothing, because, with their eyes open, they resign themselves to the dominion of passion, and fancy themselves impelled by a certain blind destiny, to stumble through a certain quantity of crinies into the exercise of a little reason, when age senders reason scarcely a virtue. As to M. Constant's elaborate programme, we must say, we care very little whether the ge. nuine Adolphe has in fact spent his days at an inn iu Calabria, or in the thick of Parisiau intrigues ; but there is something in this

9

roundabout

1

roundabout preamble which, with many persons, will have the effect of exciting a suspicion which it appears to have been introduced to obviate. Auto-biography has become so fashionable an employ, and is obviously one which it is so desirable for many persons to indulge in, that though they indulge in it with every precaution to avoid detection, when stories of a certain description come out in a certain way, the world is almost compelled to suspect their authors of a more than commou kuowledge of the originals of their portraits. We should not be astonished if it turned out that Mons. B. de Constant had been indulging in this grateful field of description. The temptation is generally most strong in minds which are the most interesting to themselves and the least so to others; and if our conjecture is right, that he should take more than ordivary pains to shroud himself in a modest veil of mystery, will not be surprising to any one who knows M. Constant, or reads the story of Adolphe.: A few words will give our readers some little idea of the narrative.

Adolphe is the son of a minister of a German elector; who, after quitting the “ University of Gottingen,” at twenty-two, takes up his abode at a little town, the residence of a German prince. He is not without talent, and has made some progress in study; but withal, is given to be gloomy, reserved, silent, and sarcastic; and in short, the whole secret of his character is a consummate morbid vanity, the enormous demands of which he finds it difficult to satisfy in society. All of a sudden, while this restless appetite is pining for something which he canuot define, one of Adolphe's friends falls in love, and contrives to make himself loved by the object of his flame. This decides our young misanthrope ; he sees at once the cause of all his apathy and dejection-he must needs fall in love toomor rather il veut être aimé ; and after looking round for a fit object for his essay, he fixes upon Ellenore, the mistress of the Count de P. a woman of beauty, sense, and some merit; who seeks an indemnification for the errors of lier conduct in the most staunch upholding of the principles it violates; she admires regularity of conduct because her own is any thing else; very religious because religion condemns' her mode of life; strict in conversation, to avoid a resemblance with other women of her condition. With this woman our hero sets about very diligently to fall in love-that is to say, (as he frankly confesses,) to make a conquest which he considers worthy of him; and when he conceives he has stimulated himself into something sufficiently like a mortal passiou for her, he makes his declaration in due form in an appropriate letter, the style of which so warms him as be pens it, that he lays down bis pen, actually feeling the passion which he had been racking his brains to describe with tolerable vraisemblance.

His VOL. VI. DECEMBER, 1816.

Ss

His overtures are at first treated lightly; the difficulty redoubles : his ardour, and be at length succeeiis, elle se donna enfin toute entière; and, after the tirst joys of success are over, he finds he has managed the matter to a miracle; he has gained the affections of Ellenore without entrapping his own. Ellenore, without ceremony, leaves the Count de P. her protector, and her children by him, to join her new gallant. Adolphe is summoned by his father to join him at court; at the instance of Ellenore, he gains a short delay; ibis over, he still finds it impossible to escape from her importunities, and in this state of vacillation, forming and breaking resolutions, he wastes his youth and his talents, with a woman whom te does not love, but whose tears his vanity cannot resist; continually embroiled in quarrels and reconcilia.' tions, and punished by the importunate fondness of a woman he has been at pains to conquer by way of sport. Worn out by agitation and chagrin, Ellenore at last dies in his arms, extorting from him a promise to forbear reading a certain letter addressed to bim among her papers; which letter, this precious lover Diakes a point of reading as soon as the breallı is out of his mis. tress's body.

Such is the story of Adolphe. Two specimens of the tone of morality and sentiment of the book are enough, and furnish abundant illustrations of that utter dissolution of all moral and honourable ties, thai derasement of the tinest feelivgs of the heavi, ulich are the inevitable result of the sad sophistry of French philosophers. The desertion of her children by Ellenore, and the violation of a promise to a dying person, are passed over without a comment, as matiers of course, quite fa. miliar to the characters and modes of thinking of the persons concerned. There is a cold absence of all generous sentiment in these crimes, which is repugnant 10 any but the visionary refiners of feeling, whose triumph it is to leave it a glittering, bantom without substance when put to the test. But though pictures of depravity like these are not often to be found in nature ; and ihough the inaterial instinct generally survives the extinction of almost every moral tie, yet assuredly if ever this sinks with the rest, it is in instances of illicit connections, which familiarize the heart with rice, and destroy self esteem, that powerful safeguard of virtue. It almost seems as if the weakness of human nature required the support of reputation, and the encouragement of public esteem, to keep it upright in the performance even of its pleasantest duties, The example of Ellenore therefore, is so far beneficial : but it is the character and sentiments of M. Constant, and writers of his culibre, that we wish to point out to our readers. It might have been supposed, that a moderate share of good taste, without any higher feeling, would have told bim that such an instance of

wretched

[ocr errors]

vitetched depravity, must destroy whatever charm his narrative might possess, and disgust every reader of common decency or feeling. But the thivg is so much a matter of course to M. Constant that this never entered into his head; he has no notion of this sort of squean isless, with him it is quite in the ordinary run of things, that a woman should abandon the children of one lover for another, if she takes a fancy to one. M. Constant is happy to make out to the world, that women of this sort are not altogether so despicable as we are apt to imagine them; bit, on the contrary, very noble, very generous, very sensible; they like to make out that angels are not the less so for falling; and to pave the way for their own practice, by breaking down and confounding the obvious unalierable canons of propriety and morality, by which the world have been accustomed to judge of conduct and character.

Considering the work as a literary effort of M. Constant, (and so we inust consider it, for we are tired of being duped by mysterious prefaces, it is not without merit. It is evidently the work of a man of observation and discrimination of character. He has studied the human heart with some success; and whoever may be the subjects on which he has made iis experiments, le certainly has a much more than superficial acquaintance with those mental arcana, which it is almost every one's business to conceal. Where he has gained his lishts he best knows. The character of Adolphe is vigorously marked, and with an impara tiality which is not often remarkable iu looking-glass portraits.

“ Vous le verrez dans bien des circonstances diverses et toujours la victime de ce mélange d'égoïsme et de sensibilité qui se combinait en lui pour son malheur et celui d'autres : prévoyant le mal avant de le faire et reculant avec désespoir après l'avoir fait pani de ses qualités plus encore que de ses défauts, parceque ses qualités prenoient leur source dans ses émotions et non dans ses principes tour à tour le plus devoué et le plus dur des hommes, mais ayant toujours fini par la dureté après avoir commencé par le devouement et n'ayant ainsi laissé de traces que de ses torts."

As a work of fiction, the story is meagre and uninteresting. There is neither adventure, nor variety, nor interest, nor incident; nor can one say, what Milord Edouard said to St. Preux of his narrative, “ mais les catastrophés d'um roman m'attacheront beaucoup moins tant les sentimens suppleent aur situations." The whole merit of the book is a graphic accuracy in the delineation of a character, and if this character is not a real one, the portrait is of no value, for then it becomes an outrageous fiction, without any foundation in ordinary nature. There is nothing generic in the character of Adolphe. He is either a living in

SS 2

dividual,

« PreviousContinue »