Unacknowledged Legislators by Roger Pearson

8259cc9ed1084f6-261x361.jpg Author Roger Pearson
Isbn 9780198754473
File size 2.3MB
Year 2016
Pages 624
Language English
File format PDF
Category poetry


U n a c k n ow l e d g e d L e g i s l ato r s Unacknowledged Legislators The Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France Chateaubriand—Staël—Lamartine—Hugo—Vigny Ro g e r Pe a r s o n 1 1 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. © Roger Pearson 2016 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2016 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2015950682 ISBN 978–0–19–875447–3 Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World. (Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Defence of Poetry) I sink my crowbar in a chink I know under the masonry of state and statute, I swing on a creeper of secrets into the Bastille. My wronged people cheer from their cages. (Seamus Heaney, ‘The Unacknowledged Legislator’s Dream’) Un peuple affranchi n’est point une mauvaise fin de strophe. (Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare) Poetry is a republican discourse: a discourse that is its own law and its own purpose, in which all parts are free citizens who have an equal say. (Friedrich Schlegel, Lyceum Fragment, no. 65) Acknowledgements I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Leverhulme Trust for the award of a Major Research Fellowship to carry out work on a project entitled ‘Orpheus or Moses? The Poet as Lawgiver in Nineteenth-Century French Literature’. During the period of the Fellowship (2009–11) the foundations of the present book and its potential sequel(s) were laid and some of the research and writing completed. Without the generosity of the Trust this project would not have achieved the initial momentum that has allowed me to bring this first part of the project to fruition. I am particularly grateful also to Professor Bertrand Marchal, Professor Clive Scott, and Professor Dame Marina Warner for their early and crucial support. The author and publisher are grateful for permission to reproduce the following: Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Liverpool’. Copyright © Carol Ann Duffy. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 IJN. Excerpt from Seamus Heaney, North, first published 1975; Heaney copyright 1996. By permission of Faber and Faber Ltd Excerpt from ‘The Unacknowledged Legislator’s Dream’, from Poems 1965–1975 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1980 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Excerpt from Geoffrey Hill, ‘G.F. Handel, Opus 6’. By kind permission of the author. Contents Prologue 1 I . I n t ro d u c t i o n : Th e P o e t a n d t h e L aw 1. Unacknowledged Legislators Shelley’s Defence of Poetry Plato and Rich: The Nomos and the honeyed Muse The poet’s authority: Moses or Orpheus? 7 9 20 25 2. The Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France The work of Paul Bénichou (1908–2001) Beyond Bénichou 31 32 44 II .  Ava n t l e D é lu g e ( 1750 – 1789 ) 3. Towards a Happy Revolution The death of poetry? Drama in the theatre: Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarchais, Mercier The poet as magistrate The rebirth of poetry? 55 58 61 73 77 III . A p r è s l e D é lu g e : Ch at e aub r i a n d ’ s M e l a n c h o ly 4. Revolution, Religion, and Poetry Essai sur les révolutions (1797) Génie du christianisme (1802) Atala (1801) and René (1802) 93 100 107 122 5. Politics and Writing The poet as politician An unacknowledged legislator The solitary walker and the je ne sais quoi 131 131 140 146 I V. A p r è s l e D é lu g e : S ta ë l’ s E n t hu s i a s m 6. The Woman Writer as Lawgiver Women and literature: The Lettres sur Rousseau (1788) 157 160 x Contents The woman writer as political mediator: The early Réflexions (1793–1795) Moralist or legislator? De l’influence des passions sur le bonheur (1796) The writer and the republic: Des circonstances actuelles (1798) 165 171 176 7. Literature and Progress: ‘De la littérature’ (1800) Progress and freedom: The ‘Discours préliminaire’ Progress and philosophy: A new literature of ideas for a new republic Progress and poetry: The union of north and south 183 184 189 196 8. The Lawgiver as Novelist: ‘Delphine’ (1802) Staël and the novel Freedom of opinion, freedom from opinion The freedom of women and the literature of enthusiasm 205 205 208 214 9. The Lawgiver as Poet and Outlaw: ‘Corinne ou L’Italie’ (1807) Corinne the poet: A new enthusiasm North and South: A new geography of the soul A tale of two melancholies Poetry and landscape Enthusiasm and the religion of poetry Verse or prose? Poetry and the enthusiasm of love 223 223 228 233 237 242 247 250 10. The Lawgiver as Poet: ‘De l’Allemagne’ (1810/1813) Literature, religion, and progress: Towards a new map of Europe Poetry and the future of literature: Germany versus France Poetry and idealism: Kant and Staël versus Plato and Winckelmann Enthusiasm and religion: Poetry and politics Staël the post-Romantic, the post-Christian 255 256 263 271 277 283 11. Poetry as Self-Legislation Writers as exiles: Dix années d’exil Public freedom and private independence Heaven on earth: A pact of souls 285 285 287 291 V.  L e f t o r R i g h t ? 12. Poetry after the Revolution 299 V I . L a m a rt i n e ’ s M u r mu r : P o e t ry, P o l i t i c s , a n d P r ay e r 13. The Poet as Lawgiver God’s instrument 323 326 Contents xi The problem of human language The poet at work 334 343 14. The Poet as Politician The Christopher Columbus of Liberty The new Homer 351 351 361 15. The Poet at Prayer Poetry as murmur Poetry as mystery 371 371 380 V II .   H u g o ’ s I n t i m a c y: Th e P r i vat e , t h e Pub l i c , a n d t h e V i s i o n a ry 16. Private or Public? A poem of one’s own (1818–1828) A public dramatist (1827–1843) A public poet? (1821–1829) A private poet? (1830 and after) 389 392 397 404 412 17. Olympio Towards Olympio (1831–1840) ‘Le Poème de l’Homme’ 421 421 430 18. The Poet as Lawgiver and Visionary The poet as public arbiter The poet as seer and ghost 437 438 445 19. The Poet as Genius and Promontory The Magi Shakespeare and company The poet as cosmic historian The poet as promontory Conclusion 473 473 475 483 492 500 V III .  V i g n y ’ s E l i x i r : P i t y, E n m i t y, and Posterity 20. A Purpose for Sadness: ‘Poèmes antiques et modernes’ (1826) 507 21. Poets and Their Enemies Stello (1832) Chatterton (1834–1835) De Mademoiselle Sédaine et de la propriété littéraire (1841) 523 523 534 541 xii Contents 22. Words of Honour: ‘Les Destinées: Poèmes philosophiques’ (1838–1864) 549 23. Afterlives: ‘Daphné’ and the Poetry of the Future 561 IX . C o n c lu s i o n : B e yo n d M e l a n c h o ly, o r a M i n i s t ry o f P o e t s 24. 1789 and After 573 25. 14 July 1889 587 Epilogue 597 Bibliography Index 601 623 Prologue If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make all the laws of a nation. (Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655–1716) )1 Following the death of Seamus Heaney on 30 August 2013 the many tributes paid to Ireland’s most recent Nobel Laureate for Literature provided a revealing snapshot of contemporary attitudes towards the role of the poet. Central to these tributes were, of course, Heaney’s own signal attributes: his gift for language, his accessibility, his sharp critical intellect, his deft protection of an honourable domain for poetry during a time of violence and political crisis, and, most of all, his own grace and warm humanity: his wit, his humility, the excellence of his company. But among the tributes the age-old conception of the poet as a lawgiver also displayed its perennial resilience. The Observer newspaper, for example, reported the words of a woman from Galway, a solicitor, who had come to sign the book of remembrance in the Guildhall in Derry: ‘He was a great prophet, not just for Ireland but the entire world. He spoke to everyone, his poems were universal.’2 Similarly, Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) mourned his country’s loss: ‘For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people’; and he recalled how when Heaney had donated his archive to the nation, the poet himself had described it as ‘bound words . . . portable altar stones . . . unleavened elements’.3 Paul Muldoon commented similarly, and with a fellow poet’s feeling, on his friend and former tutor’s skill in combining the roles of poet and public figure, but as ‘one who was never involved in propaganda’: ‘It was in many ways a difficult role: people looked to him as one might to the Delphic Oracle.’4 Countless further examples could be adduced to demonstrate the enduring propensity of human beings to hold great poets in especial awe, as if indeed they were 1 This ‘famous dictum’ is alluded to in George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, ed. Graham Handley (Oxford: Oxford University Press [Oxford World’s Classics], 1984), 604 (see note on p. 721). Cf. also Klesmer’s comment earlier in the novel: ‘A creative artist is no more a mere musician than a great statesman is a mere politician. We are not ingenious puppets, sir, who live in a box and look out on the world only when it is gaping for amusement. We help to rule the nations and make the age as much as any other public men. We count ourselves on level benches with legislators. And a man who speaks effectively through music is compelled to something more difficult than parliamentary eloquence’ (206). 2  The Observer, 1 Sept. 2013 [p. 23].    3  The[Irish] Independent [online], 30 Aug. 2013. 4  The Guardian [online], 30 Aug. 2013. 2 Prologue Moses or the Pythia at Delphi. Among other tributes the playwright Frank McGuinness called Heaney ‘a great ally for the light’, remarking that ‘during the darkest days of the Northern Ireland conflict he was our conscience: a conscience that was accurate and precise in how it articulated what was happening’.5 This idea of the poet as keeper of the human conscience has proved particularly influential through the centuries and perhaps even more influential when seen, as here, in strictly secular terms. For with receding religious faith, at least in modern Western society, has come a mounting concomitant need for moral and spiritual witness. The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praised Heaney for his ‘contribution to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity’ and for ‘all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience’.6 Here, as so often in the past—and notably the French past—the republic of letters has seemed like a safe haven for the spirit, an alternative polity against which to measure—and from which perhaps to inhibit—the ills and atrocities of public governance. Even in the non-republican United Kingdom, holders of the apparently quaint and old-fashioned office of Poet Laureate have been ready to brandish their laurels at the official lawgivers and institutions that rule their country. Thus on 14 September 2012 the current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, published a poem in the Liverpool Echo to mark publication of the report into the Hillsborough Disaster that exposed the cover-up by public authorities and the emergency services of their criminal mishandling of events. This report finally gave the lie to the twenty-threeyear-old libel originally published by The Sun tabloid newspaper that drunken supporters of the Liverpool football team had been responsible for the crush that killed ninety-six fans on 15 April 1989: The Cathedral bell, tolled, could never tell; nor the Liver Birds, mute in their stone spell; or the Mersey, though seagulls wailed, cursed, overhead, in no language for the slandered dead… not the raw, red throat of the Kop, keening, or the cops’ words, censored of meaning; not the clock, slow handclapping the coroner’s deadline, or the memo to Thatcher, or the tabloid headline… but fathers told of their daughters; the names of sons on the lips of their mothers were prayers; lost ones honoured for bitter years by orphan, cousin, wife— not a matter of football, but of life. Over this great city, light after long dark; and truth, the sweet silver song of a lark.7 5  The Guardian [online], 30 Aug. 2013. 6  The[Irish] Independent [online], 30 Aug. 2013. 7  Carol Ann Duffy (with artwork by Stephen Raw), Ritual Lighting (London: Picador, 2014), 18 (this version is slightly amended from the original which appeared in the Liverpool Echo and has been given the title ‘Liverpool’). Prologue 3 Here is a poet celebrating and sharing in the satisfaction and relief—of the victims’ relatives and of other inhabitants of the city where she had been a university student—that justice may at last be done. Now that truth can be heard, her own stony silence—like that of the mute Liver Birds—ends; and her poem builds to a climax of lyrical solidarity with the words of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (‘the sweet silver song of the lark’)—the anthem of Liverpool football fans, of the Kop that sings of solidarity and of a ‘golden sun’ that awaits ‘at the end of the storm’, while the cops doctor the evidence. Enjoined by tradition to write, however slantishly, about grand public occasions—royal weddings, the Olympics, the Queen’s jubilees—the Poet Laureate hereby celebrates poetry itself in its most artful form (a sonnet that rhymes unusually in pairs, as though to suggest that words, too, never walk alone), poetry as a worthy sister of justice and the enemy of slander, of bad language, of secular blasphemy. For Duffy as for Heaney, Higgins, McGuinness, and so many others, poetry offers a way of bearing witness in the court of conscience. Poets have their own laws to give. In an interview conducted in 2004 with the Lebanese poet and rights activist Joumana Haddad, Yves Bonnefoy—arguably the greatest French poet alive today— offers a comparable perspective on the public value of poetry. One of Bonnefoy’s abiding concerns has been the manner in which the conceptual use of language removes us from our lived presence within everyday reality, from our human being within the finitude of the here and now. ‘Être poète’, he tells Haddad, ‘ce n’est pas simplement exprimer avec éloquence des sentiments que chacun partage et qu’on reconnaîtra dans les autres langues, c’est travailler sur les mots pour les faire s’emplir de l’intensité que nous ressentons parfois dans la présence des choses ou des êtres mais que la parole ordinaire voile, parce qu’elle a d’autres soucis, parce qu’elle s’intéresse à l’avoir et non pas à l’être.’ ‘Le rôle de la poésie’, he elaborates, ‘[c]’est de rouvrir la question de l’être dans une société qui ne sait plus que de l’objet, achetable ou vendable, possédable: le néant même.’8 From consumerism to climate change, from rampant desertification to dwindling biodiversity, Bonnefoy views the contemporary world with a sense ‘à la fois de responsabilité personnelle et d’impuissance’. ‘La vraie vie est absente’, wrote Rimbaud, and Bonnefoy agrees, especially for the young people of the Parisian suburbs with whom he shares the desire to ‘changer la vie’ and whom, amongst other things, an impoverished educational system has deprived of all contact with poetry.9 For Bonnefoy, as he remarked in a public lecture on ‘La Parole poétique’ in 2000, Rimbaud is the poet who would have defined the poem as ‘une transgression des valeurs et des habitudes qui emprisonnent et appauvrissent la vie des individus, considérée par lui comme la seule réalité qu’il importe de prendre en compte’.10 And Bonnefoy agrees: 8  ‘Entretien avec Joumana Haddad’ [2004], in Yves Bonnefoy, L’Inachevable: Entretiens sur la poésie 1990–2010 (Paris: Albin Michel, 2010), 425–44 (426, 425–6). 9  See ‘Entretien avec Joumana Haddad’, 436–8. 10  ‘La Parole poétique’, in Yves Bonnefoy, Le Siècle où la parole a été victime (Paris: Mercure de France, 2010), 191–212 (192). I am grateful to Dr Emily McLaughlin for drawing my attention to these Bonnefoy texts. 4 Prologue Il faut la poésie […] pour que le rapport de l’être parlant à ses proches échappe, par exemple, aux dégradations que lui fait subir la production d’idéologies. Ce qui signifie que son rappel à la vérité est le ferment de l’esprit démocratique, dont la seule définition radicale est qu’il demande à chacun de nous de reconnaître à chaque autre son droit, sa dignité, autrement dit de le vivre comme une pleine présence. Sans poésie pas de démocratie, bientôt. C’est en cela aussi que la poésie est nécessaire. Qu’elle manque, et la société s’effondre.11 For Bonnefoy, poetry means using language in such a way that it brings each of us as closely and powerfully into the conscious presence of our own individual lived experience and thereby of our own shared reality with others. Poetry is an alternative and superior legislation, a communal making sense of the world that escapes the dehumanizing abstractions of concept and ideology. And the poet makes common cause with other human beings not by activism or personal sacrifice but by the ‘poetic word’, and this ‘avec l’espérance on ne peut plus légitime qu’une raison avertie par la poésie de la finitude, une raison rénovée par l’alliance du philosophique et du poétique, pourrait apporter des solutions à des problèmes tout à fait concrets de la société, mettant fin par exemple aux guerres que l’idéologie entretient’.12 For Heaney, Duffy, and Bonnefoy—to take but three poets of our time—poetry continues to matter profoundly: just as it mattered profoundly to the writers and poet-lawgivers of post-revolutionary France, and in particular to Chateaubriand, Mme de Staël, Lamartine, Hugo, and Vigny. 11  ‘La Parole poétique’, 208.    12  ‘La Parole poétique’, 212. Pa rt I I n t ro d u c t i o n The Poet and the Law Repetition of theme a reaffirming, like figures in harmony with their right consorts, with the world also, broadly understood; each of itself a treatise of civil power, every phrase instinct with deliberation both upon power and towards civility. (Geoffrey Hill, ‘G. F. Handel, Opus 6’, in A Treatise of Civil Power (2007)) 1 Unacknowledged Legislators Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance. (William Wordsworth, ‘The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement’ (1805), later included in The Prelude, Book XI) What is poetry? What distinguishes it from other forms of linguistic and literary discourse? Does poetry have value, and, if so, in what does this value lie? Does it matter only to individuals, on some private, intimate basis, or does it have a wider value to the community at large, to individuals as participants in a group—as members of a society, of a nation, of the human race? How do poets themselves conceive of their own role and function? And what do we, their readers, expect from them? Do lyric poets sing to us for their own sake or for ours? Or both? Do they—should they?—seek to shape public opinion and behaviour? Do they hope to govern us, and, if so, with what policies? Do they perhaps offer alternatives— imaginative alternatives, perhaps even sacred alternatives—to prevailing social, political, and religious ideologies? Are they what Shelley famously called ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the World’? And what might that mean? This book will consider how these questions were articulated and debated in relation to the lyric poetry of nineteenth-century France, and with particular reference to five major writers: Chateaubriand, Mme de Staël, Lamartine, Hugo, and Vigny. It is proposed to examine the work of these five authors strictly on its own terms, without predetermined regard to conventional literary-historical constructions, and this with a view to providing a coherent and faithful account of how each writer envisaged poetry and—in the case of Lamartine, Hugo, and Vigny— their own role as lyric poets. In order to understand the context in which these three poets wrote, it will be necessary to examine first the work of Chateaubriand and Mme de Staël, the two commentators who set the most influential agendas for poetry in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution. And before coming to Chateaubriand and Mme de Staël it will in turn be helpful to consider the role and status of poetry in the years immediately leading up to the Revolution.

Author Roger Pearson Isbn 9780198754473 File size 2.3MB Year 2016 Pages 624 Language English File format PDF Category Poetry Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare What is the public value of poetry? How do poets envisage their own role and function within society? How do we? Do poets seek to shape public opinion and behavior? Should they? Or do they offer alternatives–perhaps sacred alternatives–to political and religious ideologies? Are they what Shelley in 1821 called ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the World’? And what might that mean? During the decades immediately preceding the Revolution of 1789 the status of contemporary poetry in France was at its lowest ebb. At the same time the perceived power of the writer to influence public events reached a high-water mark with Voltaire’s triumphant return to Paris in 1778. In the course of the next century French poetry enjoyed an extraordinary renaissance and flowering, perhaps its greatest. But what of the poet’s public influence? In 1881 the people of Paris processed for six hours past the home of Victor Hugo on the occasion of his 79th birthday, and in 1885 an estimated two million people witnessed his state funeral. But who or what were they acknowledging? Poetry or republicanism? Or perhaps their own power? For with each Revolution that passed–1789, 1830, 1848–French poets themselves felt increasingly marginalized. This study addresses the first part of this story and focuses on the role and function of the poet during the so-called Romantic Period. Beginning with an account of the literary climate in pre-revolutionary France it then maps the changes in that climate wrought by the events of the 1789 Revolution. It describes the new politico-literary agendas set by Chateaubriand and others on the monarchist Right, and by Stael and others on the liberal Left. Against this background it then analyzes in detail the poetic output and public exploits of the three major French poets of the period: Lamartine, Hugo, and Vigny. The Romantic figure of the poet as prophet and magus is habitually dismissed as a cliche. But by focusing on the role of the poet as lawgiver this book reveals the rich and complex terms in which the public function of poetry was debated in post-revolutionary France–and how amidst the centenary celebrations of 1889, as Romanticism gave way to Symbolism, the poet as lawgiver continued to play a central part in that debate.     Download (2.3MB) Seventeenth-Century Spanish Poetry The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire Leaving Parnassus: The Lyric Subject in Verlaine and Rimbaud. (Faux Titre) Why Write Poetry?: Modern Poets Defending Their Art Active Romanticism: The Radical Impulse in Nineteenth-Century and Contemporary Poetic Practice Load more posts

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