THE STORY OF THE HUGOS





Victor Hugo, after all criticisms have been made, stands as a

literary colossus. He had imaginative power which makes his finest

passages fairly crash upon the reader's brain like blasting

thunderbolts. His novels, even when translated, are read and

reread by people of every degree of education. There is something

vast, something almost Titanic, about the grandeur and

gorgeousness of his fancy. His prose resembles the sonorous blare

of an immense military band. Readers of English care less for his

poetry; yet in his verse one can find another phase of his

intellect. He could write charmingly, in exquisite cadences, poems

for lovers and for little children. His gifts were varied, and he

knew thoroughly the life and thought of his own countrymen; and,

therefore, in his later days he was almost deified by them.



At the same time, there were defects in his intellect and

character which are perceptible in what he wrote, as well as in

what he did. He had the Gallic wit in great measure, but he was

absolutely devoid of any sense of humor. This is why, in both his

prose and his poetry, his most tremendous pages often come

perilously near to bombast; and this is why, again, as a man, his

vanity was almost as great as his genius. He had good reason to be

vain, and yet, if he had possessed a gleam of humor, he would

never have allowed his egoism to make him arrogant. As it was, he

felt himself exalted above other mortals. Whatever he did or said

or wrote was right because he did it or said it or wrote it.



This often showed itself in rather whimsical ways. Thus, after he

had published the first edition of his novel, The Man Who Laughs,

an English gentleman called upon him, and, after some courteous

compliments, suggested that in subsequent editions the name of an

English peer who figures in the book should be changed from Tom

Jim-Jack.



"For," said the Englishman, "Tom Jim-Jack is a name that could not

possibly belong to an English noble, or, indeed, to any

Englishman. The presence of it in your powerful story makes it

seem to English readers a little grotesque."



Victor Hugo drew himself up with an air of high disdain.



"Who are you?" asked he.



"I am an Englishman," was the answer, "and naturally I know what

names are possible in English."



Hugo drew himself up still higher, and on his face there was a

smile of utter contempt.



"Yes," said he. "You are an Englishman; but I--I am Victor Hugo."



In another book Hugo had spoken of the Scottish bagpipes as

"bugpipes." This gave some offense to his Scottish admirers. A

great many persons told him that the word was "bagpipes," and not

"bugpipes." But he replied with irritable obstinacy:



"I am Victor Hugo; and if I choose to write it 'bugpipes,' it IS

'bugpipes.' It is anything that I prefer to make it. It is so,

because I call it so!"



So, Victor Hugo became a violent republican, because he did not

wish France to be an empire or a kingdom, in which an emperor or a

king would be his superior in rank. He always spoke of Napoleon

III as "M. Bonaparte." He refused to call upon the gentle-mannered

Emperor of Brazil, because he was an emperor; although Dom Pedro

expressed an earnest desire to meet the poet.



When the German army was besieging Paris, Hugo proposed to fight a

duel with the King of Prussia, and to have the result of it settle

the war; "for," said he, "the King of Prussia is a great king, but

I am Victor Hugo, the great poet. We are, therefore, equal."



In spite, however, of his ardent republicanism, he was very fond

of speaking of his own noble descent. Again and again he styled

himself "a peer of France;" and he and his family made frequent

allusions to the knights and bishops and counselors of state with

whom he claimed an ancestral relation. This was more than

inconsistent. It was somewhat ludicrous; because Victor Hugo's

ancestry was by no means noble. The Hugos of the fifteenth and

sixteenth centuries were not in any way related to the poet's

family, which was eminently honest and respectable, but by no

means one of distinction. His grandfather was a carpenter. One of

his aunts was the wife of a baker, another of a barber, while the

third earned her living as a provincial dressmaker.



If the poet had been less vain and more sincerely democratic, he

would have been proud to think that he sprang from good, sound,

sturdy stock, and would have laughed at titles. As it was, he

jeered at all pretensions of rank in other men, while he claimed

for himself distinctions that were not really his. His father was

a soldier who rose from the ranks until, under Napoleon, he

reached the grade of general. His mother was the daughter of a

ship owner in Nantes.



Victor Hugo was born in February, 1802, during the Napoleonic

wars, and his early years were spent among the camps and within

the sound of the cannon-thunder. It was fitting that he should

have been born and reared in an age of upheaval, revolt, and

battle. He was essentially the laureate of revolt; and in some of

his novels--as in Ninety-Three--the drum and the trumpet roll and

ring through every chapter.



The present paper has, of course, nothing to do with Hugo's public

life; yet it is necessary to remember the complicated nature of

the man--all his power, all his sweetness of disposition, and

likewise all his vanity and his eccentricities. We must remember,

also, that he was French, so that his story may be interpreted in

the light of the French character.



At the age of fifteen he was domiciled in Paris, and though still

a schoolboy and destined for the study of law, he dreamed only of

poetry and of literature. He received honorable mention from the

French Academy in 1817, and in the following year took prizes in a

poetical competition. At seventeen he began the publication of a

literary journal, which survived until 1821. His astonishing

energy became evident in the many publications which he put forth

in these boyish days. He began to become known. Although poetry,

then as now, was not very profitable even when it was admired, one

of his slender volumes brought him the sum of seven hundred

francs, which seemed to him not only a fortune in itself, but the

forerunner of still greater prosperity.



It was at this time, while still only twenty years of age, that he

met a young girl of eighteen with whom he fell rather

tempestuously in love. Her name was Adele Foucher, and she was the

daughter of a clerk in the War Office. When one is very young and

also a poet, it takes very little to feed the flame of passion.

Victor Hugo was often a guest at the apartments of M. Foucher,

where he was received by that gentleman and his family. French

etiquette, of course, forbade any direct communication between the

visitor and Adele. She was still a very young girl, and was

supposed to take no share in the conversation. Therefore, while

the others talked, she sat demurely by the fireside and sewed.



Her dark eyes and abundant hair, her grace of manner, and the

picture which she made as the firelight played about her, kindled

a flame in the susceptible heart of Victor Hugo. Though he could

not speak to her, he at least could look at her; and, before long,

his share in the conversation was very slight. This was set down,

at first, to his absent-mindedness; but looks can be as eloquent

as spoken words. Mme. Foucher, with a woman's keen intelligence,

noted the adoring gaze of Victor Hugo as he silently watched her

daughter. The young Adele herself was no less intuitive than her

mother. It was very well understood, in the course of a few

months, that Victor Hugo was in love with Adele Foucher.



Her father and mother took counsel about the matter, and Hugo

himself, in a burst of lyrical eloquence, confessed that he adored

Adele and wished to marry her. Her parents naturally objected. The

girl was but a child. She had no dowry, nor had Victor Hugo any

settled income. They were not to think of marriage. But when did a

common-sense decision, such as this, ever separate a man and a

woman who have felt the thrill of first love! Victor Hugo was

insistent. With his supreme self-confidence, he declared that he

was bound to be successful, and that in a very short time he would

be illustrious. Adele, on her side, created "an atmosphere" at

home by weeping frequently, and by going about with hollow eyes

and wistful looks.



The Foucher family removed from Paris to a country town. Victor

Hugo immediately followed them. Fortunately for him, his poems had

attracted the attention of Louis XVIII, who was flattered by some

of the verses. He sent Hugo five hundred francs for an ode, and

soon afterward settled upon him a pension of a thousand francs.

Here at least was an income--a very small one, to be sure, but

still an income. Perhaps Adele's father was impressed not so much

by the actual money as by the evidence of the royal favor. At any

rate, he withdrew his opposition, and the two young people were

married in October, 1822--both of them being under age, unformed,

and immature.



Their story is another warning against too early marriage. It is

true that they lived together until Mme. Hugo's death--a married

life of forty-six years--yet their story presents phases which

would have made this impossible had they not been French.



For a time, Hugo devoted all his energies to work. The record of

his steady upward progress is a part of the history of literature,

and need not be repeated here. The poet and his wife were soon

able to leave the latter's family abode, and to set up their own

household god in a home which was their own. Around them there

were gathered, in a sort of salon, all the best-known writers of

the day--dramatists, critics, poets, and romancers. The Hugos knew

everybody.



Unfortunately, one of their visitors cast into their new life a

drop of corroding bitterness. This intruder was Charles Augustin

Sainte-Beuve, a man two years younger than Victor Hugo, and one

who blended learning, imagination, and a gift of critical

analysis. Sainte-Beuve is to-day best remembered as a critic, and

he was perhaps the greatest critic ever known in France. But in

1830 he was a slender, insinuating youth who cultivated a gift for

sensuous and somewhat morbid poetry.



He had won Victor Hugo's friendship by writing an enthusiastic

notice of Hugo's dramatic works. Hugo, in turn, styled Sainte-

Beuve "an eagle," "a blazing star," and paid him other compliments

no less gorgeous and Hugoesque. But in truth, if Sainte-Beuve

frequented the Hugo salon, it was less because of his admiration

for the poet than from his desire to win the love of the poet's

wife.



It is quite impossible to say how far he attracted the serious

attention of Adele Hugo. Sainte-Beuve represents a curious type,

which is far more common in France and Italy than in the countries

of the north. Human nature is not very different in cultivated

circles anywhere. Man loves, and seeks to win the object of his

love; or, as the old English proverb has it:



It's a man's part to try,

And a woman's to deny.



But only in the Latin countries do men who have tried make their

attempts public, and seek to produce an impression that they have

been successful, and that the woman has not denied. This sort of

man, in English-speaking lands, is set down simply as a cad, and

is excluded from people's houses; but in some other countries the

thing is regarded with a certain amount of toleration. We see it

in the two books written respectively by Alfred de Musset and

George Sand. We have seen it still later in our own times, in that

strange and half-repulsive story in which the Italian novelist and

poet, Gabriele d'Annunzio, under a very thin disguise, revealed

his relations with the famous actress, Eleanora Duse. Anglo-Saxons

thrust such books aside with a feeling of disgust for the man who

could so betray a sacred confidence and perhaps exaggerate a

simple indiscretion into actual guilt. But it is not so in France

and Italy. And this is precisely what Sainte-Beuve attempted.



Dr. George McLean Harper, in his lately published study of Sainte-

Beuve, has summed the matter up admirably, in speaking of The Book

of Love:



He had the vein of emotional self-disclosure, the vein of romantic

or sentimental confession. This last was not a rich lode, and so

he was at pains to charge it secretly with ore which he exhumed

gloatingly, but which was really base metal. The impulse that led

him along this false route was partly ambition, partly sensuality.

Many a worse man would have been restrained by self-respect and

good taste. And no man with a sense of honor would have permitted

The Book of Love to see the light--a small collection of verses

recording his passion for Mme. Hugo, and designed to implicate

her.



He left two hundred and five printed copies of this book to be

distributed after his death. A virulent enemy of Sainte-Beuve was

not too expressive when he declared that its purpose was "to leave

on the life of this woman the gleaming and slimy trace which the

passage of a snail leaves on a rose." Abominable in either case,

whether or not the implication was unfounded, Sainte-Beuve's

numerous innuendoes in regard to Mme. Hugo are an indelible stain

on his memory, and his infamy not only cost him his most precious

friendships, but crippled him in every high endeavor.



How monstrous was this violation of both friendship and love may

be seen in the following quotation from his writings:



In that inevitable hour, when the gloomy tempest and the jealous

gulf shall roll over our heads, a sealed bottle, belched forth

from the abyss, will render immortal our two names, their close

alliance, and our double memory aspiring after union.



Whether or not Mme. Hugo's relations with Sainte-Beuve justified

the latter even in thinking such thoughts as these, one need not

inquire too minutely. Evidently, though, Victor Hugo could no

longer be the friend of the man who almost openly boasted that he

had dishonored him. There exist some sharp letters which passed

between Hugo and Sainte-Beuve. Their intimacy was ended.



But there was something more serious than this. Sainte-Beuve had

in fact succeeded in leaving a taint upon the name of Victor

Hugo's wife. That Hugo did not repudiate her makes it fairly plain

that she was innocent; yet a high-spirited, sensitive soul like

Hugo's could never forget that in the world's eye she was

compromised. The two still lived together as before; but now the

poet felt himself released from the strict obligations of the

marriage-bond.



It may perhaps be doubted whether he would in any case have

remained faithful all his life. He was, as Mr. H.W. Wack well

says, "a man of powerful sensations, physically as well as

mentally. Hugo pursued every opportunity for new work, new

sensations, fresh emotion. He desired to absorb as much on life's

eager forward way as his great nature craved. His range in all

things--mental, physical, and spiritual--was so far beyond the

ordinary that the gage of average cannot be applied to him. The

cavil of the moralist did not disturb him."



Hence, it is not improbable that Victor Hugo might have broken

through the bonds of marital fidelity, even had Sainte-Beuve never

written his abnormal poems; but certainly these poems hastened a

result which may or may not have been otherwise inevitable. Hugo

no longer turned wholly to the dark-haired, dark-eyed Adele as

summing up for him the whole of womanhood. A veil was drawn, as it

were, from before his eyes, and he looked on other women and found

them beautiful.



It was in 1833, soon after Hugo's play "Lucrece Borgia" had been

accepted for production, that a lady called one morning at Hugo's

house in the Place Royale. She was then between twenty and thirty

years of age, slight of figure, winsome in her bearing, and one

who knew the arts which appeal to men. For she was no

inexperienced ingenue. The name upon her visiting-card was "Mme.

Drouet"; and by this name she had been known in Paris as a clever

and somewhat gifted actress. Theophile Gautier, whose cult was the

worship of physical beauty, wrote in almost lyric prose of her

seductive charm.



At nineteen, after she had been cast upon the world, dowered with

that terrible combination, poverty and beauty, she had lived

openly with a sculptor named Pradier. This has a certain

importance in the history of French art. Pradier had received a

commission to execute a statue representing Strasburg--the statue

which stands to-day in the Place de la Concorde, and which

patriotic Frenchmen and Frenchwomen drape in mourning and half

bury in immortelles, in memory of that city of Alsace which so

long was French, but which to-day is German--one of Germany's

great prizes taken in the war of 1870.



Five years before her meeting with Hugo, Pradier had rather

brutally severed his connection with her, and she had accepted the

protection of a Russian nobleman. At this time she was known by

her real name--Julienne Josephine Gauvin; but having gone upon the

stage, she assumed the appellation by which she was thereafter

known, that of Juliette Drouet.



Her visit to Hugo was for the purpose of asking him to secure for

her a part in his forth-coming play. The dramatist was willing,

but unfortunately all the major characters had been provided for,

and he was able to offer her only the minor one of the Princesse

Negroni. The charming deference with which she accepted the

offered part attracted Hugo's attention. Such amiability is very

rare in actresses who have had engagements at the best theaters.

He resolved to see her again; and he did so, time after time,

until he was thoroughly captivated by her.



She knew her value, and as yet was by no means infatuated with

him. At first he was to her simply a means of getting on in her

profession--simply another influential acquaintance. Yet she

brought to bear upon him the arts at her command, her beauty and

her sympathy, and, last of all, her passionate abandonment.



Hugo was overwhelmed by her. He found that she was in debt, and he

managed to see that her debts were paid. He secured her other

engagements at the theater, though she was less successful as an

actress after she knew him. There came, for a time, a short break

in their relations; for, partly out of need, she returned to her

Russian nobleman, or at least admitted him to a menage a trois.

Hugo underwent for a second time a great disillusionment.

Nevertheless, he was not too proud to return to her and to beg her

not to be unfaithful any more. Touched by his tears, and perhaps

foreseeing his future fame, she gave her promise, and she kept it

until her death, nearly half a century later.



Perhaps because she had deceived him once, Hugo never completely

lost his prudence in his association with her. He was by no means

lavish with money, and he installed her in a rather simple

apartment only a short distance from his own home. He gave her an

allowance that was relatively small, though later he provided for

her amply in his will. But it was to her that he brought all his

confidences, to her he entrusted all his interests. She became to

him, thenceforth, much more than she appeared to the world at

large; for she was his friend, and, as he said, his inspiration.



The fact of their intimate connection became gradually known

through Paris. It was known even to Mme. Hugo; but she,

remembering the affair of Sainte-Beuve, or knowing how difficult

it is to check the will of a man like Hugo, made no sign, and even

received Juliette Drouet in her own house and visited her in turn.

When the poet's sons grew up to manhood, they, too, spent many

hours with their father in the little salon of the former actress.

It was a strange and, to an Anglo-Saxon mind, an almost impossible

position; yet France forgives much to genius, and in time no one

thought of commenting on Hugo's manner of life.



In 1851, when Napoleon III seized upon the government, and when

Hugo was in danger of arrest, she assisted him to escape in

disguise, and with a forged passport, across the Belgian frontier.

During his long exile in Guernsey she lived in the same close

relationship to him and to his family. Mme. Hugo died in 1868,

having known for thirty-three years that she was only second in

her husband's thoughts. Was she doing penance, or was she merely

accepting the inevitable? In any case, her position was most

pathetic, though she uttered no complaint.



A very curious and poignant picture of her just before her death

has been given by the pen of a visitor in Guernsey. He had met

Hugo and his sons; he had seen the great novelist eating enormous

slices of roast beef and drinking great goblets of red wine at

dinner, and he had also watched him early each morning, divested

of all his clothing and splashing about in a bath-tub on the top

of his house, in view of all the town. One evening he called and

found only Mme. Hugo. She was reclining on a couch, and was

evidently suffering great pain. Surprised, he asked where were her

husband and her sons.



"Oh," she replied, "they've all gone to Mme. Drouet's to spend the

evening and enjoy themselves. Go also; you'll not find it amusing

here."



One ponders over this sad scene with conflicting thoughts. Was

there really any truth in the story at which Sainte-Beuve more

than hinted? If so, Adele Hugo was more than punished. The other

woman had sinned far more; and yet she had never been Hugo's wife;

and hence perhaps it was right that she should suffer less. Suffer

she did; for after her devotion to Hugo had become sincere and

deep, he betrayed her confidence by an intrigue with a girl who is

spoken of as "Claire." The knowledge of it caused her infinite

anguish, but it all came to an end; and she lived past her

eightieth year, long after the death of Mme. Hugo. She died only a

short time before the poet himself was laid to rest in Paris with

magnificent obsequies which an emperor might have envied. In her

old age, Juliette Drouet became very white and very wan; yet she

never quite lost the charm with which, as a girl, she had won the

heart of Hugo.



The story has many aspects. One may see in it a retribution, or

one may see in it only the cruelty of life. Perhaps it is best

regarded simply as a chapter in the strange life-histories of men

of genius.





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