« ZurückWeiter »
pounds a year; which offer D'Alembert declined, though his income was but about seventy pounds. His determination was to keep his independence and freedom; and his moderation was worthy of praise, though it should be stated that Frederic's promises to pay were at a considerable discount, particularly with those victims who had once tasted his bounty, and could not be hired to expose themselves to the same blessing again. He received, some years after, a more tempting proposal from Catharine of Russia, to undertake the education of her son, with a salary of four thousand pounds. The profligate old woman was willing to pay liberally for the instruction of her boy. But whether he foresaw the impediments in the way of educating a young emperor without brains, where the teacher might be expected to do what nature had found beyond her, or whether he was too much attached to the social atmosphere of Paris to be willing, on any terms, to leave it, he wisely determined to be his own master ; that service, unlike the other, being one which he could renounce at will.
His attachment to Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse is a curious passage in his history. She was a young person of romantic character and brilliant talents, who lived with Madame du Deffand, as a companion, with a salary of next to nothing a year, in consideration of which, she was to bear the intolerable temper of her patroness, and to read her to sleep in the morning ; for she rose when the sun set, and went to sleep when he rose, so that the two luminaries were seldoin seen above the horizon together. The attendant found but one comfort in her life, which was to receive D'Alembert, and one or two other friends, before the old lady appeared in the eastern sky. Unhappily the patroness discovered the proceeding, and falling into a passion with her morning star, dismissed it from her heaven. The young lady's friends procured her a residence and a small pension ; and D'Alembert having been taken dangerously sick, she nursed him with the greatest kindness and care. As they were thus thrown together, he continued to reside with her through the twelve remaining years of her life. She, being susceptible in her disposition, was meantime sending her affections abroad; she forced them, so it would seem, at the same time on Guibert, a French officer, and Mora, a young Spanish grandee. But though she had thus two, if not three, strings to her bow, she was put out of tune by the failure of one ; for on the death of Mora, she took his loss so much to heart, that she began to decline, and two years after she died. Now D'Alembert had gone regularly every morning to the post-office, to get her letters from the young Spaniard ; at her instigation, he had obtained from a celebrated French physician a medical opinion that the air of Paris was good for him, in order that his relations might consent to his return to France, from which they had recalled him ; but after her decease, we find him bitterly complaining of his discovering that her affections were not his own, and asking, with some simplicity, what security he could have for believing that she had ever loved him. His uncertainty was a distress, no doubt; but it resembled that of another unfortunate hypochondriac, who, waking one morning with a grievous colic, said that “it was just as like as not that he had had it all night,” a reflection which added tenfold to the bitterness of his woe.
Lord Brougham so much laments the desertion of D'Alembert from science, that he is not inclined to allow him much merit in his literary career. He says that he came to it without the right preparation, not rich in classical attainments, nor indeed in any kind of learning, upacquainted with the principles of criticism, and deficient also in correctness and simplicity of taste. But his style was eminently simple ; and as the style is an expression of the character of the mind, it can hardly be that he was viciously defective in those respects, though he may have been misled by partiality or prejudice in some of his literary opinions. . But the great difficulty with him was his excessive admiration of Voltaire, a man so distinguished by his variety of talent that it was impossible he should excel in all. It was bad enough in him to place Corneille and Racine far below the footstool of Voltaire ; but so far did he carry his reverence, that he appears to have been more delighted with Voltaire's approbation of his mathematical works than that of seven men who were able to understand them. Such deference to such a genius was very apt to betray.
In private life, D'Alembert appears to have been always amiable and everywhere welcome. He came into society with the unconscious freedom of a child, never oppressed by the weight of his reputation, not concerned what impression he made, but always speaking from the overflow of his mind and the dictation of his heart. There never was a trace of reserve, suspicion, or pride about him ; sometimes he was gently satirical, but never bitter. He entered with all his heart into the enjoyment of the hour, and, like every such person, exerted a sunny influence round him, keeping all in good-humor with him and with themselves. But he had other recommendations of a higher order. As soon as his income rose above poverty, half of it was spent in acts of charity and kindness; and in every way in his power he served those who needed or deserved his aid. To aristocratic influence he did not pay much regard, but merit was sure of his respect. Thus, the celebrated Laplace, when a young man, came to Paris, bringing letters to him from divers magnates in his native city. Finding that these were not attended to,
student wrote him a letter on the principles of mechanics, which received immediate attention, and in the course of the week obtained for him a professorship in the military school.
This great man died at the age of sixty-seven ; and after his death it was discovered that his sympathies on the subject of religion had taken the side of unbelievers. While he lived, he had avoided the subject, and never wrote any thing in reference to it which could give offence or pain ; but in communicating with Frederic and Voltaire, their selfish and sneering natures appear to have overborne the moderation and kindness of his own. As for Frederic, it is some comfort to think that he was not a Christian, since Christianity cannot be made responsible for the stony hardness of his heart; and even Voltaire, though there was much of a redeeming nature about him, was a sort of person whom Christianity might be well content to disown. But it is unfortunate that D'Alembert, with his kind heart and genial nature, should have mistaken the Christianity of Christians for that of the gospel, and thus have rejected a religion which he was never fortunate enough to know. And yet, as Lord Brougham suggests, there is great excuse for those who formed their impressions of the religion of Jesus from what they saw in the church; it was no wonder that their minds and hearts rose up against it ; but had they endeavoured to inform themselves on the subject, they would have seen that the sentence which the gospel pronounced against it was even severer than theirs.
We need say no more of these portraits, which are painted with a bold and confident, but of course an able, hand. They are instructive and entertaining, and the sooner the rest follow, the more welcome they will be. Considering his Lordship's mathematical tastes and talent, it might have been well to have devoted himself exclusively to men of science ; yet few will be inclined to complain that his range was more extended.
Art. III. – 1. La Divine Comédie avant Dante. Par
M. CHARLES LABitte. [La Revue des Deux Mondes.
Septembre, 1842.] Paris. 2. Études sur les Sources Poétiques de la Divine Comédie.
Par A. J. OZANAM. Paris : Lecoffre & Cnie. 1845.
The object of these two interesting essays is to show the sources whence Dante drew his poetic inspiration. Such an undertaking would have excited general disapprobation some forty or fifty years ago, and the two learned persons whose works we have before us would have been accused of wishing to depreciate the genius of the great Florentine poet. No such feeling is now entertained ; literary criticism having made so much progress of late years, we are all convinced, that to subject the works of men of genius to such an analysis is not to diminish their glory, but rather to add to it, inasmuch as it shows their superiority to their predecessors. In the proper sense of the word, it is not given to man to create ; God alone possesses this power. The man of genius, like the architect who in executing the plan he has conceived makes use of the rough stone, may collect and ar. range those materials which he finds dispersed in the world, but he can never give life to that which is not. His task is to put order in the place of disorder, to give light to that which was veiled in darkness. Thus it is with Dante. He found the materials which he used for the composition of his immortal poem, he collected them, and gave them the unity and harmony which the man of genius alone can impart to his works. To require that he should lead us through the three regions of eternal life, without following any other light than that of his own genius, without having gathered any of VOL. LXIV. No. 134.
the flowers which bloom so profusely through the works of the ancients, without any precedents to justify the bold imaginings of his Muse, and without having profited by those legends so frequent in the poetic and imaginative religion of the Middle Ages, is to ask more than man can give.
On studying with attention the Divina Commedia, it is impossible not to see that Dante was indebted to his predecessors and contemporaries for some of the greatest beauties of his poem. The treasures of antiquity, as well as those of Christianity, were made to contribute to the formation of
" the sacred work that made Both heaven and earth copartners in the toil,” • a work which, after a lapse of five hundred years, still excites the admiration of all, of the Protestant as well as the Catholic, and even of those who are, in general, averse to meditating upon death and eternity, the two great subjects which Dante sang.
We may trace in the Divina Commedia three distinct sources of inspiration ;- the writings of the ancients, the poetic visions of the Middle Ages, and external circumstances, including the works of art which in Dante's time were so plentifully scattered throughout Europe. We shall endeavour to examine successively how far Dante was indebted to each of these sources. To those who, from their admiration for the great poet, or from their taste for literary antiquities in general, may feel interested in this subject, we recommend the perusal of the two works now under review. They are, we believe, with the exception of an article in the Edinburgh Review for September, 1818, written by Ugo Foscolo, the only attempts which have as yet been made to elucidate a subject of so much interest to the literary world.
The first source from which sprung the Divina Commedia is to be found in the works of antiquity. At all times the imaginations of the Greeks were accustomed to visions of things beyond this world. Homer had led Ulysses into the realms of Pluto ; Euripides, in the Alcestis and the Hercules Furens, had represented bis heroes descending into Hades ; Sophocles had shown the son of Jupiter and Alcmene carrying off
*“Il poeina sacro Al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra." - Paradiso, Cant. XXV.