Victor Hugo

VICTOR HUGO, a politician, one of the most prominent living French writers, was born February 26, 1802. The political contrariety which has marked his career may be said to have been inherited by Hugo, his father having been one of the first volunteers of the republic, and his mother, a Vend4an by birth and sentiment, a proscribed royalist, wandering while yet a girl in the Bocage of La Vendée. At the date of his birth, his father was a colonel in the army of Napoleon; and the child, born almost amid the roar of cannon, followed with its mother the steps of Bonaparte. From Besancon he was carried to Elba, from Elba to Paris, from Paris to Rome, from Rome to Naples, before he was five years of age, so that he exclaims, made the tour of Europe before I began to live.' In Naples he resided about ten years, his father having been appointed governor of Avellino. In 1809 he returned to France with his two brothers and his mother, by whom he was educated within the walls of the convent of the Feuillantes, where the family had taken up its residence. He here received the benefit of classical instruction from an old general, whom his mother was then concealing from the imperial police. At the close of 1811, his father, then a general and majordomo of Joseph Bonaparte's palace at Madrid, sent for his family to join him in that capital, and Victor accompanied his mother to Spain. He remained at Madrid about a year, and returned to the old convent until the restoration of 1814. This event, by exciting in his mother and father the opposite feelings of joy and indignant grief, led to their separation. Victor was placed by his father in a private academy, where he studied mathematics, it is said with great success, previous to his intended removal to the polytechnic school. In 1816 he published his parable of The Rich and Poor,' and an elegy called the Canadian.' In 1817 he was a competitor for a prize on the 'Advantages of Study,' offered by the academy. In 1819, having committed himself to a literary career with his father's consent, he wrote two odes, entitled The Virgins of Verdun,' and The Restoration of the Statue of Henri IV,' and sent them to the Academy of Floral Fetes, at Toulouse, by which they were both crowned. In 1820 he published his 'Infant Moses in the Nile.' In 1822 appeared the first volume of his Odes and Ballads,' a collection of occasional pieces, all breathing a royalist spirit. His Hans of Iceland,' and Bug-Jargal,' though not published until some years later, were written about this time. Before the close of the same year the young poet married Mdlle. Foucher, and rising into distinction as a royalist writer, he received a pension from Louis XVIII. In 1826 he published a second volume of Odes and Ballads,' which betrayed an inward revolution in his political and literary opinions. In the succeeding year he composed a drama, called Cromwell,' intended to assert the freedom of the Christian and romantic drama, against the theory of Aristotle's unity, as understood and practiced by Racine. He prefaced it with a dramatic theory of his own, to which, however, he hardly gave a fair chance of success, since its accompanying illustration contained scarcely a feature of merit. In 1828 he published his Orientals,' a poem of finished versification, but destitute of force or spirit. In 1829, Victor Hugo published his Last Days of a Condemned Prisoner,' and so vividly depicted the anticipated tortures of a man left for execution, that the terrific interest of the work gave it an immense success. Hugo now prepared to make a second attack on the stiff and unnatural dramatic system prevalent in his country. On the 26th February, 1830, his Ernani was played at the Théâtre Français. The indignation of the old and the enthusiasm of the new party knew no bounds. The academy went so far as to lay a complaint against the innovation at the foot of the throne, but Charles X, with a good sense which would have been very serviceable to him four months later, replied, that matters of art he was no more than a private person.' Meanwhile the drama, which was far superior in construction to Cromwell,' succeeded. Shortly after the revolution of July, his 'Marion de Lorme,' embodying his new political tastes, and which had been suppressed by the censorship under the restoration, was brought out, and was considered theatrically successful. In January, 1832, his play, Le Roi S'amuse, was performed at the Théâtre Français, and the next day interdicted by the government. This was scarcely necessary, the piece had not been warmly received; in fact, people, however willing to be amused, especially at the expense of monarchs, did not like to see the quondam royalist employed in burlesquing the historical heroes of their country. M. Hugo afterward published a number of dramatic pieces of various merit; among them are Lucrece Borgia,' Marie Tudor,' 'Angelo,' and 'Ruy Blas.' His greatest novel is 'Notre Dame de Paris.' He has since produced Chants du Crépuscle,' and Voix Intérieures.' In the works of this poet may be found some of the sublimest creations of French poetry. It is to be regretted that, side by side with these, the author's preverted taste led him to place images the most monstrous and disgusting. He was created a peer of France by Louis Philippe, and, on the downfall of that monarch, avowing the principles of the revolution, was returned to the constituent, and afterward to the national assembly, of which he was one of the few eloquent speakers. He is also a leading member of the Peace Congress, and was its president in 1849 - a position remarkable enough for the author of the bellicose Lettres du Rhin.' He was an energetic opponent of Louis Napoleon in December, and on that account was compelled to fly to Brussels in an assumed name.