Page images


into the garden, Maud," and the rest poet and the nation combine in a of Mr Tennyson's roses, and swal- benevolent overflow of music, various, lows, and brooklets, and not such a diversified, brilliant, yet full of a constormy trumpet-note of battle as his sistent and personal unity; and one March of the Six Hundred, which no longer wonders, in Paris, where people among us sing and set to every one was more or less indebted music.

to him, where all sang songs, and On the contrary, Beranger, before thought his thoughts, and where everything else chansonnier and poet- everybody delights in getting up laureate of the people, takes up every impromptu ovations and drainatic event of the life he lives. In the

scenes, that Beranger had sometimes sparkling regularity of his native to seek the protection of the authoritongue he finds material the happiest ties, and to fly with precipitation and most handy; it is the genius of from the popular embrace. his language no less than of himself It is but a few months since this which gems those brilliant little old man ended his long, honest, periods. He sends the ouvrier to his kindly, and sensible life. He had a work, singing something which he public funeral, a long procession of would have been thinking, only less mourners, and an unlimited shower delicately and gaily, had the master- of immortelles upon his pall and grave. singer failed to provide this expres- He has had, besides, his share of those sion for him. He throws into delight- literary funeral garlands, which are ful verse the village grandmother's pretty much of the same character as recollections, yet leaves them pre- the immortelles; but he has fortunatecisely as she will tell them by the ly prevented any one from operating cottage fireside in Champagne or upon his life, by leaving behind him Normandy. The sempstress in her this brief and simple autobiography,* solitary little room, the tailor at his which, without any great pretensions board, the host of artisans of higher to eloquence, presents to us not only class, workmen with clever heads and an admirable portrait of the great delicate fingers, who make pretty popular poet of France, but an exthings for all the world, and have in tremely clear and simple picture of their own manners and life a species the manners of his rank and time. of refinement in consonance with Beranger was born in 1780, in the their work—every individual of them house of a Parisian tailor, his mother's takes up the refrain of Beranger with father. She was a modiste,“ pretty, a familiar delight. They are all sprightly, and of a beautiful figure. thinking more or less with the lively His father, at the time of his marand superficial intellectual activity riage, was book-keeper to a grocer in common to their country; and in the street where the tailor's house those sparkling lines, which of them- was, the Rue Montorgueil,“one of the selves are a pleasure to their quick dirtiest and most turbulent streets of ears—with the sharp and brilliant Paris." The elder Beranger pleased logic which delights and suits their himself by prefixing the aristocramental faculties—with all the enthu- tic De to his name, and made consisiasm of their own effervescing power, derable pretensions to nobility of and the glitter of satirical wit which birth pretensions which his son they can best appreciate, their poet seems to have taken some pleamakes his comment upon life and sure in renouncing for himself: but politics as they themselves would have whether noble or not, his fortunes made it, and furnishes them with an were sufficiently humble. He was the inexhaustible fountain of expression son of an innkeeper in the little for their thoughts. They are not a country town of Peronne—who, notreserved and silent people as we are ; withstanding his position, held the they must speak or die, all those same pretensions-and had been clerk throngs of vivacious and restless to a notary in the country before he Frenchmen. So the genius of the came to Paris, to keep the books of

* Ma Biographie, by BERANGER. Perrotin, Paris. English copyright translation : Hurst & Blackett, London.



[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


the épicier. Not many gifts of for- seems, indeed, just such a little boy tune, consequently, surrounded the as one would set down as a little cradle of Beranger. The newly-mar- dunce, of whom nothing ever could ried couple had been but a few months come, except some mechanical nicety together when they separated, tired of labour. He sat in a corner cutting of each other—the wife to return paper figures, and making "little to her occupation and her father's baskets of cherry-stones, skilfully house, the liusband to seek his for- hollowed out, and delicately carved; tune in the country; and it was in the tiny masterpieces of art, which kept house of the Père Champy, his tailor me employed whole days, and excitgrandfather, that Beranger was born. ed the admiration of all my relations."

The sketch of this household, and of He was great in making excuses and these nearest relatives of the poet, is inventing pretexts for staying at home extremely French and characteristic. from school. He managed, by some The father, who has nothing save his odd method of his own, to jump at wits for a patrimony, disappears into the art of reading, so far as to comthe provinces to live upon that in- prehend the meaning of what he read, alienable fortune. The mother, who though " incapable,” as he says, of seems always totally without any connecting and pronouncing even two feeling of responsibility for her child, syllables aloud," and the only break leaves her father's house presently, to in this lonely childhood was an occaadopt for herself that extraordinary sional visit to his mother, who lived kind of female bachelorship (for no near the Temple, and who somemore feminine word seems to express times took him to the theatres on the it) common to the workwomen of Boulevard, to balls, or on pleasure Paris. The boy is sent to a village excursions to the country. All this in the country to be nursed, and after- might be told of a Parisian bourgeois wards returns to his grand-parents, household to-day, but for the strange who,“ though they had not regarded gleams of terror which break once or their own children with much affec- twice across the scene. The times in tion,” did their utmost to spoil their which Beranger's grandmother read grandchild. These two old French Voltaire, were those in which the old tradespeople have a great taste for world nodded to its fall, and the fires literature. “ I remember my grand- of the coming volcano smouldered ; mother carefully perusing the roman- and it is strange to read, in a briefer ces of Prévot and the works of intimation than that which he makes Voltaire,” says Beranger, “and my about the cherry-stones, how the child grandfather commenting aloud on from the roof of his school saw the the work of Raynal, which at that capture of the Bastille, and how his time enjoyed great popularity. I nemory burned all his life with a may since have doubted whether my recollection of another scene more kind grandmother understood much dreadful and ominous. When crossing of what she read, passionately addict- the street upon a holiday, the boy ed as she was to her books. She was found himself in the midst of a crowd constantly quoting M. de Voltaire, of men and women, who carried on which, however, did not lead her to the points of long pikes the heads of neglect what she considered her reli- the gardts du corps, who had been gious duty to me, and on the occur- massacred at Versailles. “This specrence of the sacred ceremonies of the tacle inspired me with such horror," Fête Dieu I was made to join in the he says, that when I now think of celebration of the holy sacrament.” it, I seem to behold, in imagination,

In the midst of this household-and one of those blood-stained heads that where but in France could it be pos- passed quite close to me.” It would sible to find a family of working have been little wonder had it hauntpeople, where the grandmother de- ed him night and day; and nothing fighted herself with the works of a can well be more strange than to turn profane philosophy ?--the little Bar- from our usual pictures of the time of anger remained till he was nine years the French Revolution, with all its old. He was a delicate child, and ferocious and diabolical excitement, had no inclination for school. He and find how the little households

revolve all the same in their quiet united Voltaire to Telemachus and little orbits without disturbance, how Racine in her little library, that the grisette still goes to the ball, and Beranger owed all that he knew of. the child to school, and the grand the care of a mother; and a picture mamma still reads Voltaire.

more pleasant and more true to In the mean time, however, the nature could scarcely be than that poet has so much of his personal presented to us in these incidental history to tell, that he passes very glimpses of the life of this kind lightly over the grievous publicevents widow and her boy. She was reliof his childhood. No one need fear gious, so she sent him to church, to find here the oft-repeated story of and even had him employed as a the Revolution. He thanks Heaven kind of acolyte in the ministrations that he was removed from Paris dur- of the mass, while yet churches and ing the Terror, and passes on, accord- masses were in that age of the Revoingly, with little further reference to lution. She took him with her to this horrible era. For the elder Beran- the prison, where some of her friends ger turns up once more, again a notary were confined, making a little moral in the country, but not rich enough application of the circumstance, as to educate his son. The old grand- such good women use. She sat with father retires from business, and is him in the evening at the door of no longer able to keep the boy, and her house, listening with indignant he is sent to the hereditary auberge alarm to the thunder of the canin Peronne, his parents caring nothing non when the English and Austrians for him, to see whether his aunt, his besieged Valenciennes—while ever father's sister, will receive the poor stronger and stronger in their reaclittle outcast. At the door of the tion upon each other grew the patrilittle inn, unexpected and unwel- otism of the solitary woman and the come, the child drops suddenly, a little child. They listened together with waif of fortune, but falls into mother- triumph to the proclamation of their ly hands, and is henceforward safe Republic's victories ; and the boy's for the days of his childhood. Here heart beat so violently at the anis another picture of a humble nouncement of one of them, that he Frenchwoman, the innkeeper of a had to throw himself down on the little country town, in the end of last grass to recover his breath. In this century. Either Beranger saw those friendshipand conjunction the "auldfriends of his through rose-coloured farrant” child gave as well as reglasses, or nature had been bountiful ceived. The good woman frequently to those nurses of the coming poct. asked advice of her pupil, and some

“ Endowed by nature with a su- times, to her cost, did not take it, as perior mind, she had supplied the in her second marriage, to which her defects of her education by serious wise little nephew was not favourand select reading. Inspired with able. She who was " sincerely reenthusiasm for all that was great, even ligious" was in the habit of sprinkin the last years of her life, she con- ling the house with holy water on tinued dwell with interest on the the approach of a storm, to defend announcement of new discoveries, it from the thunder. Notwithstandthe progress of industry, and even ing this precaution, her boy was the embellishment of the city. As struck by lightning at the door of she was capable of the most sanguine her house, as the fairy, according to exaltation of temperament, the Re- his own showing, had predicted. volution hadinfluence enough to make They thought him dead, and his aunt her as ardent a republican as was was in despair ; but when, after consistent with her humane disposi- great exertions, he was restored to tion; and she was always able to consciousness, the young critic turned associate with her patriotism as a upon her with his quick-witted childFrench woman those religious senti- ish intelligence, “Well, then, what ments for which a feeling soul is was the use of your holy water ?” often more indebted to its own inhe- Altogether a pleasanter representarent nature than to early education.” tion of the strange, beautiful, amusIt was to this woman, who still ing friendship which often exists

Let all young

between a wise child and a simple Being then somewhere under twelve mind of mature age, is scarcely to years old! These poor little souls, be found than this account of the in their little coats, dressed after the little establishment of the Epée Roy- fashion of the Directory, sending ale at Peronne.

addresses and delivering orations like At Peronne also there was a school, the bigger schoolboys who played which makes another amusing illus- with life and death how strange, tration of the temper of the times- how odd, how laughable, and how a school established by a provincial melancholy is the scene ! magistrate and disciple of Rousseau, After this period of home life it according to one of the educational became necessary to find a trade for theories so abundant at the time, and the little patriot. After one or two intended to turn out citizens made unsuccessful efforts he at last settled according to the most perfect rules, into a printing-office, a not unconand ready to take their place at once genial occupation, though the neoin the political economy of the State. phyte retained an obstinate aversion “ The school was supposed to form to spelling. At this time, and even a little community; the pupils elect- before this time, the future poet had ed from among themselves judges, begun to make verses, which he remembers of districts, a mayor, muni- gulated by “ drawing two pencil lines cipal officers, a justice of peace. The from the top to the bottom of his system included also an armed force, paper,” and making all the lines of composed of the whole body of the the same length. pupils, who were divided into chas- versers take courage ! but observe no seurs, grenadiers, and artillery, and less the careful conscientiousness of who also elected their own officers. this little hero, who could not spell. In our promenades we carried our However, he was not very long perlances and sabres, and were attended mitted to remain at this occupation, by our ammunition-waggon and a with which he himself seems to have small piece of cannon, which was been perfectly satisfied. De Berandragged after us, and in the manæu. ger, père, appears again on the stage. vring of which we were instructed.” He has been a conspirator, a prisoner, Theseunfortunate little men, of course, and in peril of his head, during this did not stop there; being like the tranquil period of his son's existgrown-up people so far, they pro- ence, and, fresh from his sufferings ceeded to the still more delightful as a Royalist, finds with horror what privilege which remained.“

We had a revolutionary they have made of also a club, the meetings of which his child. This reckless, gay, goodattracted a number of the people of humoured scapegrace of a father has Peronne of all ages. The interests great ideas for the boy. He means of the Republic had far greater attrac- him to be a page of Louis XVIII., tions for us than lessons in language; when that personage comes into exand as every member of my family istence, having no conception in his sang, it was there doubtless that the

own casy mind what a pertinacious gift of song was awakened in me. I little republican he has to deal with ; imight also have acquired the power and finally carries him off to Paris of public speaking, for I was invaria- to assist himself (in the mean time, bly appointed the president of our pending the return of the legitimate club, and the duty was imposed on sovereign) in "the operations of the me of pronouncing addresses to the Bourse. It was the time of depremembers of Convention who came to ciated assignats and high rates of Peronne. Besides, in all the national interest, all commercial matters ceremonies we had our appointed being thrown into utter confusion place. On such occasions I usually by the hurry of events. The young delivered an oration of my own com- poet developed almost immediately position; and I may add, that in a great gift of mental calculation, times of more than ordinary import- was the most useful of coadjutors, ance I was appointed to draw up and is half ashamed to confess addresses to the Convention and to that this new kind of business Robespierre."

amused him very much at first. A little further insight, however, into diately, to the intense vexation of the the concern disgusts him, especially honourable lad, who felt his own as he is in the midst not only of credit involved, though he had no reckless speculators, but of men who longer any share in the management. live in a perpetual ferment of con- Some of the capitalists, who had spiracy against his beloved Republic. trusted to his evident conscientious“I, poor little patriot, was obliged ness, young though he was, reto carry gold to the conspirators," he proached him; others offered him says; but he consoles himself with the means of embarking again in the thought that they used it for business ; in the mean time the boy, their own wants rather than for the in his rigid honesty, lodged in a purposes of their plot. In the mean garret without fire, where the snow time he amused himself by making and rain came in at the roof, steadily epigrams upon these schemers, over refusing all inducements to return to which even his father chuckled in his commercial occupation, bitterly secret. At this period a most regretting that he had been taken whimsical incident occurs for the from the trade which even now he confirmation of the young republican would have been glad to return to, in his former opinions. He is di- and as his only refuge in his youthrected to an old chevalier of the ful troubles, arranging for himself party to be converted to Legitimism, the system of poetry from which he when it suddenly turns out, to the never afterwards departed. Up to amazement of the pupil, that the this time, he says, he had made bad legitimacy which his ancient in- verses. Now, under the pressure of structor believes in, is that, not of care, poverty, and humiliation, he Louis XVIII., but of a certain M. escaped into the harder work of his Vernon, a descendant of the Man real craft, and began to study the with the Iron Mask, who turns out nature and genius of the language of to have been the eldest son of Louis which he soon became so great a XIII., and, consequently, the true master. When he was not in his elder branch, to the confusion of the garret, he was taking long walks in Grand Monarque and his successors ! the neighbourhood of Paris, carefully This odd romance of course made avoiding the streets in which he an end of any chance of conversion might meet “the victims or the witwhich might have remained to the nesses of our disaster,” and punishing witty young financier, who did not himself with the intense youthful laugh, he says, because the mystery chagrin of a high-spirited and indeinterested his lively imagination; pendent boy for the ruiu which he however, it proved an infallible an- had done his best to avert while it swer ever after to the arguments of was possible, and for which he was M. Beranger, père.

not in any way to blame. The wise boy did his best, but in- The elder Beranger, however, was effectually, during this busy time, to a Jack-in-a-box whom nothing could moderate his father's speculations, long keep down. He appears again and withdraw him from politics; presently, intrusting to his son the failing that, when the imprudent management of a reading-room, and conspirator got himself imprisoned, plunging once more into all kinds of the lad, smothering his personal dis- conspiracies. During this time the likes, took the entire business in Revolution has been working itself hand at seventeen, and managed it out into a feebleness which prostrates with the greatest success, until the all the powers of the country--the elder and less sensible partner was re- timid are in despair, the bourgeois leased. This French Micawber was wish for the triumph of the Coalition charmed with the success of his son. army, and such a good republican As it was no longer likely that he as young Beranger is overwhelmed could be a royal page, he should be with distress and shame. Order, the first banker in France; and M. finance, credit, the reputation of the de Beranger set himself to ruin the country, and the safety of the people, business by, way of a beginning. are all at stake ; and even victories The downfall followed alnıost imme- abroad do not make up for the drift

« PreviousContinue »