« PreviousContinue »
when the archdeacon happens to be watching her; she makes an appointment with him, which the archdeacon happens to discover, and he makes acquaintance, in disguise, with the officer, and quarrels with him, and they agree to fight next day. In the mean time, he lends him a crown, and the officer places him in a closet to witness the love scene between him and Esmeralda. He loses patience in the midst of it, rushes upon the officer, stabs him, kisses Esmeralda, and jumps out at the window, leaving her to be arrested as a murderess and sorceress, her learned goat, which she had strangely enough brought along with her to the rendezvous, being at once, in the days of Louis XI., her accomplice, and a sufficient witness against her. It is to be remarked, that when Quasimodo was arrested for attempting to carry Esmeralda off, he was whipped severely, and left for an hour in the pillory, exposed to the brutalities and derision of the mob. He bore all resolutely except a burning thirst, which vanquished him at last, and he demanded water in piteous tones, which were answered with fresh insults. Esmeralda alone had compassion on the miserable monster ; she brought him some water, and he drank, and remembered her as one more object of adoration which henceforth divides his heart with Claude Frollo. She is tried for murder and sorcery; she confesses every thing under the torture, and is condemned, as it should seem, for murder only, as the sentence is hanging. The archdeacon visits her in her dungeon, and offers to save her and fly with her; she refuses; she has long known his face, and remarked and feared his terrible eye, and she knew it as it looked over her lover's shoulder when he stabbed him. She scorns and repulses him, and he leaves her to her fate. But when she is brought out for execution, and as she comes first to go through some religious ceremonies in front of Notre Dame, Quasimodo pounces upon her, knocks down two of the guards, and, by means of a rope he has ready, gets her up so quickly into a gallery of the cathedral, that the officers cannot recover her, and she is there secure. The church, therefore, is watched, to prevent her escape, and measures are taken to obtain an order to violate the asylum, and take her out. Quasimodo knows nothing of all this; he gives her a cell in one of the towers, and watches over her and nourishes her, and comes to adore her as she sleeps, disappearing when she wakes, lest his ugliness offend her. He gives her a whistle to call him with, and once she makes use of it, upon occasion of a visit from the archdeacon, her hatred for him being as intense as her love for Phæbus, who, as she has now learned, is not dead. But she has been missed in Alsatia, and the kingdom is astir ; 'six thousand beggars and thieves move upon Notre Dame to her rescue; at the last moment, too, for
one more day would have seen her dragged from her asylum to the gibbet. Quasimodo mistakes the object of the turnult, he thinks the populace come to murder her; and by the aid of the strong, gates of the church, and throwing down beams and melted lead, &c. he makes a terrible defence. The guards arrive and disperse the mob; but Pierre Gringoire and Claude Frollo have carried off Esmeralda in the confuson. They cross the river together, and the poet abandons her to the archdeacon, who leads her to the Place de Grêve, where, at the foot of the gallows, he offers her her choice between it and him. She chooses the gallows; and he carries her then to the cell of the recluse, her mother, described above, knowing that she is an object of special hatred to the old crone, whom he calls to her barred windows to hold the gipsy; while he calls the guard. The hag accepts the task with joy, and executes it ferociously; but, in the midst of the raving scene that ensues, the shoe story comes out, and brings about a recognition. The old woman bursts the bars of her window, takes her daughter in, and when the officers arrive, she swears to them the gipsy has escaped. They are quite ready 10 believe her, after some discussion, when the voice of Phæbus of Chateaupas is heard without, and Esmeralda rushes to the fatal window to cry, "Oh, my Phæbus," and to betray herself.' Tristan l'Hermite, who is present in person, orders her to be hung forthwith; her mother makes a terrible defence, and dies as she loses her last grasp of her at the foot of the gallows. The archdeacon is watching the scene from a tower of Notre Dame, and he laughs a horrid laugh as he sees his vengeance accomplished, and Quasimodo, in the instant, throws him off from the tower. Quasimodo then disappears from the church; he lies down in the charnel house by the side of Esmeralda, and long after, their skeletons are found together.
In attempting to estimate the merits of a performance like this, we naturally ask, in the first place, where are they? Are they in the invention, or in the style; in the story itself, or in the manner of telling it? If in the story, to speak first of the first, we enquire, again, what are the peculiar merits of a good story? and the answer is easy; the characters of the persons introduced should be striking at once and natural, and so should the incidents related. It is an easy and a vulgar artifice to make your giants ten feet taller than any which have been heard of yet, your monsters ten shades uglier, and your cruel hearts ten degrees harder. But it is not easy to bring such phenomena upon a stage of human action, in shapes that shall look at all probable or possible; to construct a series of events springing credibly and harmoniously out of each other, and exhibiting the persons in situations adapted to their characters, and acting
consistently with them. These difficulties are the test of power; he who makes good his passage through them, brings us out creations full of life and individuality; he who passes round by the beaten track of improbability and incongruity, gathers nothing but commonplaces—the abstractions of a stupid wax museum.
Now, let us look a little at this spectacle of Notre Dame de Paris, and see if it be a living panorama, or a contrived showbox; and whether its actors are inspired by nature, or grossly worked by wires. And first, Claude Frollo, the archdeacon. How happens it that so many of the personages are, in some way or other, worked on to and made dependant upon him? Quasimodo is the child of his adoption, whom he took, in the goodness of his heart, from the exposure at the Foundlings, and nourished and provided for. Pierre Gringoire, the nominal husband of Esmeralda, was another deserted, friendless wretch, whom he took pity on in a somewhat similar way; and Jehan Frollo, his own brother, happens to be a wild rake, and the confidant and companion of Phæbus of Chateaupas, whom Esmeralda loves. Then Jacques de Charmolue, the procureur du roi, is the companion of Claude Frollo's secret experiments in alchemy, and this intimący:enables him to be present, in disguise, among her judges, and, at her torture. Then for the places: the Place de Parvis happens to be Esmeralda's favourite resort for her public dancing; it happens to have Claude Frollo's cell on one side, and her brother's on the other; the window of Fleur de Lys, whom Phæbus is to marry, happens to look out upon it too; and with Quasimodo, in the towers of Notre Dame, always watching it, the author has all his people always at hand there, and so keen of sight are they all, that the archdeacon, from his cell in the tower, falls desperately in love with Esmeralda on the pavement; and, in a variety of instances, the eyesight of various people, looking up and down, appears to be equally piercing. As for Esmeralda's goat and its tricks, they are simply impossible; and the author's mistake, in ascribing such powers to such an animal, is, no doubt, owing to his having adopted an incorrect theory of the learned pig. No pig can read, nor any goat; but M. Victor Hugo, in representing his goat as possessed of that accomplishment, and of an actual knowledge of the hour of the day, and day of the month, erred probably from ignorance of the fact that the exhibiters of these marvellous animals merely teach them to pick out successively the letters or figures designated to them by a sign, which is always the same. It is very slight, and usually escapes the bystanders, but it is known to the animal, and much more easy to make him know than an alphabet. The talents and taste of the goat for mimicry, and its perpetual presence with its mistress,
through adventures where it would be impossible she should keep it, are gratuitous marvels, merely tending to show the contempt of the author for probability, or his loss of proper feeling of what it is. Again, look at the circumstances connected with the stabbing of Phæbus of Chateaupas. He is stabbed, and supposed to be dying; his deposition is taken, to serve on the trial of Esmeralda for killing him; he gets better, and retires into the country to get well. Esmeralda is condemned for the murder, and he is at the window of his affianced bride to see her led to execution; his intended has never heard of his accident, and he trumps up a story of a duel to account for his absence. He sees her led to execution, and never hears of her marvellous escape to Notre Dame, and, consequently, does not visit her there, though, from her cell in the tower, she has recognised him in the street, and sent Quasimodo to him with a message, which he treats as madness. And thus is prepared the claptrap scene where her ungovernable transport at hearing his voice betrays her to her pursuers. As for character, no such thing as consistency is dreamt of. Claude Frollo is, at the outset, benevolent, and conscientious, and affectionate; therefore he obtains power over Quasimodo and Pierre Gringoire. When he falls in love, he becomes morose and fanatical; therefore he inspires Esmeralda with hatred, because his secret design is to deliver her into the hands of justice as a sorceress, and she sees his malignity, without comprehending it. Thus far he is still conscientious; at last, when it is quite too late, he throws conscience aside too, and his persecutions of Esmeralda, with love and vengeance together, and the uses he makes of his ascendant over Quasimodo, set all these cords pulling different and opposite ways, and the music this author loves is the result.
To serve one purpose, he is a far-sighted philosopher, who finds, in the then infant art of printing, the visible germ of all the marvels that have sprung from it; for another, he is a narrow bigot, a dealer in nonsense, a fanatic, and an alchemist. Quasimodo is another mass of contradictions. In the feast of the Pope of fools he is almost an idiot, taking the mock homage of the mob, who enthrone him for his monstrosity, as all in earnest, and gloating with delight at it. He is treated with more respect on that occasion, too, because he is known to be malignant and dangerous; but who can recognise this character in Esmeralda's cell in the tower-in his refined delicacy of serving her every want, guarding her from every danger, watching delighted over her sleep, and shunning her waking eye? Who can reconcile the maimed and incomplete mind he is expressly furnished with at the outset, with his pretty metaphors and poetical conversation when he speaks to the object of his adoration ? Again, of Pierre Gringoire: he is represented
as a coward; and yet, in the midst of danger, he is cool and flippant, and arriving with Claude at the cell of Esmeralda to save her, in the midst of the horrors of the attack, he begins to put the goat through its tricks, quite forgetful, apparently, that a minute may make the difference of his life. But, enough of this. Let us consider some of the incidents, leaving the author to reconcile the parts played with the characters who play them, and the characters with themselves, as he may. Such criticisin would be inexhaustible.
The whole art of the incident is directed to the bringing out of what are technically called situations; and plenty of these, as may be supposed, résult from such free use of unnatural characters, and impossible coincidences and conduct. What the author likes best is a situation of fear-to hold the reader on the gasp with the protracted agony of some one who expects every instant the approach of death or torture. Pierre Grin. goire, in the hands of the Argotiers, is one instance. Esmeralda furnishes two or three; but the most laboured one is that where she is delivered into her mother's hands, who holds her through the bars of her grated window, while the archdeacon goes for the executioner. How, in this position and relation, they could fall into conversation, discover the circunstance of the shoes, compare and identify them, and recognise each other, let the reader guess, if he can. And then the archdeacon, when Quasimodo throws him over the edge of the tower, and he holds on by the ends of his fingers till the blood gushes from his nails—his feelings, as he looks down--his fall on the sharp roof of a building below, and his rebound and fall to the pavement, where he is crushed, all this makes a first-rate agony; but such a one as very many people could invent and describe, though certainly very few would ; and it is chiefly to this last sort of forbearance that M. Hugo owes much of his distinction. It is thought to be a proof of power to stir, and excite, and impress the mind, no matter with what feelings; and yet, the agony of a dog, that is crushed in the street, will sometimes so print itself on a spectator's memory, that he will turn pale, years after, at the thought of it. Now, a painter who should represent, in very mediocre pictures, but with mechanical faithfulness, a series of such scenes, would make a deep impression on the minds of all whom he could induce to look at his work, and such is the falseness of feeling, that probably spectators would not be wanting. But, if he set out such things in a tawdry gallery, with flowers, and gay lights, and music; if he arranged them in a series, and connected the whole together by a story, however indifferently contrived, he would entice many, even of the reluctant, and would so thrill, and dazzle, and horrify them, that, though all his apparatus might be mean, all his ideas VOL. XX.--NO. 40.