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Chapter 1



It was at Rheims that I heard the name of Shakespeare for the
first time. It was pronounced by Charles Nodier. That was in
1825, during the coronation of Charles X.

No one at that time spoke of Shakespeare quite seriously.
Voltaire's ridicule of him was law. Mme. de Staël had adopted
Germany, the great land of Kant, of Schiller, and of Beethoven.
Ducis was at the height of his triumph; he and Delille were
seated side by side in academic glory, which is not unlike
theatrical glory. Ducis had succeeded in doing something with
Shakespeare; he had made him possible; he had extracted some
"tragedies" from him; Ducis impressed one as being a man who
could chisel an Apollo out of Moloch. It was the time when Iago
was called Pezare; Horatio, Norceste; and Desdemona, Hedelmone.
A charming and very witty woman, the Duchess de Duras, used to
say: "Desdemona, what an ugly name! Fie!" Talma, Prince of
Denmark, in a tunic of lilac satin trimmed with fur, used to
exclaim: "Avaunt! Dread spectre!" The poor spectre, in fact,
was only tolerated behind the scenes. If it had ventured to put
in the slightest appearance M. Evariste Dumoulin would have
given it a severe talking to. Some Génin or other would have
hurled at it the first cobble-stone he could lay his hand on--a
line from Boileau: ~L'esprit n'est point ému de ce qu'il ne croit
pas~. It was replaced on the stage by an "urn" that Talma
carried under his arm. A spectre is ridiculous; "ashes," that's
the style! Are not the "ashes" of Napoleon still spoken of? Is
not the translation of the coffin from St. Helena to the
Invalides alluded to as "the return of the ashes"? As to the
witches of Macbeth, they were rigorously barred. The
hall-porter of the Théâtre-Français had his orders. They would
have been received with their own brooms.

I am mistaken, however, in saying that I did not know
Shakespeare. I knew him as everybody else did, not having read
him, and having treated him with ridicule. My childhood began,
as everybody's childhood begins, with prejudices. Man finds
prejudices beside his cradle, puts them from him a little in the
course of his career, and often, alas! takes to them again in
his old age.

During this journey in 1825 Charles Nodier and I passed our time
recounting to each other the Gothic tales and romances that have
taken root in Rheims. Our memories and sometimes our
imaginations, clubbed together. Each of us furnished his
legend. Rheims is one of the most impossible towns in the
geography of story. Pagan lords have lived there, one of whom
gave as a dower to his daughter the strips of land in
Borysthenes called the "race-courses of Achilles." The Duke de
Guyenne, in the fabliaux, passes through Rheims on his way to
besiege Babylon; Babylon, moreover, which is very worthy of
Rheims, is the capital of the Admiral Gaudissius. It is at
Rheims that the deputation sent by the Locri Ozolae to
Apollonius of Tyana, "high priest of Bellona," "disembarks."
While discussing this disembarkation we argued concerning the
Locri Ozolae. These people, according to Nodier, were called
the Fetidae because they were half monkeys; according to myself,
because they inhabited the marshes of Phocis. We reconstructed
on the spot the tradition of St. Remigius and his adventures
with the fairy Mazelane. The Champagne country is rich in
tales. Nearly all the old Gaulish fables had their origin in
this province. Rheims is the land of chimeras. It is perhaps
for this reason that kings were crowned there.

Legends are so natural to this place, are in such good soil,
that they immediately began to germinate upon the coronation of
Charles X. itself. The Duke of Northumberland, the
representative of England at the coronation ceremonies, was
reputed fabulously wealthy. Wealthy and English, how could he
be otherwise than ~a la mode~? The English, at that period, were
very popular in French society, although not among the people.
They were liked in certain salons because of Waterloo, which was
still fairly recent, and to Anglicize the French language was a
recommendation in ultra-fashionable society. Lord
Northumberland, therefore, long before his arrival, was popular
and legendary in Rheims. A coronation was a godsend to Rheims.
A flood of opulent people inundated the city. It was the Nile
that was passing. Landlords rubbed their hands with glee.

There was in Rheims in those days, and there probably
is to-day, at the corner of a street giving on to the square,
a rather large house with a carriage-entrance and a balcony,
built of stone in the royal style of Louis XIV., and facing the
cathedral. About this house and Lord Northumberland the
following was related:

In January, 1825, the balcony of the house bore the notice:
"House for Sale." All at once the "Moniteur" announced that the
coronation of Charles X. would take place at Rheims in the
spring. There was great rejoicing in the city. Notices of
rooms to let were immediately hung out everywhere. The meanest
room was to bring in at least sixty francs a day. One morning a
man of irreproachable appearance, dressed in black, with a white
cravat, an Englishman who spoke broken French, presented himself
at the house in the square. He saw the proprietor, who eyed him

"You wish to sell your house?" queried the Englishman.

"How much?"

"Ten thousand francs."

"But I don't want to buy it."

"What do you want, then?"

"Only to hire it."

"That's different. For a year?"

"For six months?"

"No. I want to hire it for three days."

"How much will you charge?"

"Thirty thousand francs."

The gentleman was Lord Northumberland's steward, who was looking
for a lodging for his master for the coronation ceremonies. The
proprietor had smelled the Englishman and guessed the steward.
The house was satisfactory, and the proprietor held out for his
price; the Englishman, being only a Norman, gave way to the
Champenois; the duke paid the 30,000 francs, and spent three
days in the house, at the rate of 400 francs an hour.

Nodier and I were two explorers. When we travelled together, as
we occasionally did, we went on voyages of discovery, he in
search of rare books, I in search of ruins. He would go into
ecstasies over a _Cymbalum Mound_ with margins, and I over a
defaced portal. We had given each other a devil. He said to
me: "You are possessed of the demon Ogive." "And you," I
answered, "of the demon Elzevir."

At Soissons, while I was exploring Saint Jean-des-Vignes, he had
discovered, in a suburb, a ragpicker. The ragpicker's basket is
the hyphen between rags and paper, and the ragpicker is the
hyphen between the beggar and the philosopher. Nodier who gave
to the poor, and sometimes to philosophers, had entered the
ragpicker's abode. The ragpicker turned out to be a book
dealer. Among the books Nodier noticed a rather thick volume
of six or eight hundred pages, printed in Spanish, two columns
to a page, badly damaged by worms, and the binding missing from
the back. The ragpicker, asked what he wanted for it, replied,
trembling lest the price should be refused: "Five francs," which
Nodier paid, also trembling, but with joy. This book was the
_Romancero_ complete. There are only three complete copies of
this edition now in existence. One of these a few years ago
sold for 7,500 francs. Moreover, worms are vying with each
other in eating up these three remaining copies. The peoples,
feeders of princes, have something else to do than spend their
money to preserve for new editions the legacies of human
intellect, and the _Romancero_, being merely an Iliad, has not
been reprinted.

During the three days of the coronation there were great
crowds in the streets of Rheims, at the Archbishop's palace,
and on the promenades along the Vesdre, eager to catch a glimpse
of Charles X. I said to Charles Nodier: "Let us go and see his
majesty the cathedral."

Rheims is a proverb in Gothic Christian art. One speaks of the
"nave of Amiens, the bell towers of Chartres, the façade of
Rheims." A month before the coronation of Charles X a swarm of
masons, perched on ladders and clinging to knotted ropes, spent
a week smashing with hammers every bit of jutting sculpture on
the façade, for fear a stone might become detached from one of
these reliefs and fall on the King's head. The debris littered
the pavement and was swept away. For a long time I had in my
possession a head of Christ that fell in this way. It was
stolen from me in 1851. This head was unfortunate; broken by a
king, it was lost by an exile.

Nodier was an admirable antiquary, and we explored the cathedral
from top to bottom, encumbered though it was with scaffolding,
painted scenery, and stage side lights. The nave being only of
stone, they had hidden it by an edifice of cardboard, doubtless
because the latter bore a greater resemblance to the monarchy of
that period. For the coronation of the King of France they had
transformed a church into a theatres and it has since been
related, with perfect accuracy, that on arriving at the entrance
I asked of the bodyguard on duty: "Where is my box?"

This cathedral of Rheims is beautiful above all cathedrals. On
the façade are kings; on the absis, people being put to the
torture by executioners. Coronation of kings with an
accompaniment of victims. The façade is one of the most
magnificent symphonies ever sung by that music, architecture.
One dreams for a long time before this oratorio. Looking up
from the square you see at a giddy height, at the base of the
two towers, a row of gigantic statues representing kings of
France. In their hands they hold the sceptre, the sword, the
hand of justice, and the globe, and on their heads are antique
open crowns with bulging gems. It is superb and grim. You push
open the bell-ringer's door, climb the winding staircase, "the
screw of St. Giles," to the towers, to the high regions of
prayer; you look down and the statues are below you. The row of
kings is plunging into the abysm. You hear the whispering of
the enormous bells, which vibrate at the kiss of vague zephyrs
from the sky.

One day I gazed down from the top of the tower through
an embrasure. The entire façade sheered straight below
me. I perceived in the depth, on top of a long stone
support that extended down the wall directly beneath me
to the escarpment, so that its form was lost, a sort of
round basin. Rain-water had collected there and formed
a narrow mirror at the bottom; there were also a tuft
of grass with flowers in it, and a swallow's nest. Thus
in a space only two feet in diameter were a lake, a
garden and a habitation--a birds' paradise. As I gazed
the swallow was giving water to her brood. Round the
upper edge of the basin were what looked like crenelles,
and between these the swallow had built her nest. I
examined these crenelles. They had the form of
fleurs-de-lys. The support was a statue. This happy little
world was the stone crown of an old king. And if God were asked:
"Of what use was this Lothario, this Philip, this Charles,
this Louis, this emperor, this king?" God peradventure
would reply: "He had this statue made and lodged a swallow."

The coronation occurred. This is not the place to describe
it. Besides my recollections of the ceremony of May
27, 1825, have been recounted elsewhere by another, more
ably than I could set them forth.

Suffice it to say that it was a radiant day. God seemed
to have given his assent to the fête. The long clear
windows--for there are no more stained-glass windows at
Rheims--let in bright daylight; all the light of May was
in the church. The Archbishop was covered with gilding
and the altar with rays. Marshal de Lauriston, Minister of
the King's Household, rejoiced at the sunshine. He came
and went, as busy as could be, and conversed in low tones
with Lecointe and Hittorf, the architects. The fine morning
afforded the occasion to say, "the sun of the coronation,"
as one used to say "the sun of Austerlitz." And in the
resplendent light a profusion of lamps and tapers found
means to beam.

At one moment Charles X., attired in a cherry-coloured
simar striped with gold, lay at full length at the
Archbishop's feet. The peers of France on the right,
embroidered with gold, beplumed in the Henri IV. style, and
wearing long mantles of velvet and ermine, and the Deputies
on the left, in dress-coats of blue cloth with silver
fleurs-de-lys on the collars, looked on.

About all the forms of chance were represented there:
the Papal benediction by the cardinals, some of whom had
witnessed the coronation of Napoleon; victory by the marshals;
heredity by the Duke d'Angoulême, dauphin; happiness
by M. de Talleyrand, lame but able to get about;
the rising and falling of stocks by M. de Villèle; joy by
the birds that were released and flew away, and the knaves
in a pack of playing-cards by the four heralds.

A vast carpet embroidered with fleurs-de-lys, made expressly
for the occasion, and called the "coronation carpet,"
covered the old flagstones from one end of the cathedral
to the other and concealed the tombstones in the pavement.
Thick, luminous smoke of incense filled the nave.
The birds that had been set at liberty flew wildly about in
this cloud.

The King changed his costume six or seven times. The
first prince of the blood, Louis Philippe, Duke d'Orleans,
aided him. The Duke de Bordeaux, who was five years
old, was in a gallery.

The pew in which Nodier and I were seated adjoined those
of the Deputies. In the middle of the
ceremony, just before the King prostrated himself at the
feet of the Archbishop, a Deputy for the Doubs department,
named M. Hémonin, turned towards Nodier, who was close to
him, and with his finger on his lips, as a sign that he
did not wish to disturb the Archbishop's orisons by
speaking, slipped something into my friend's hand. This
something was a book. Nodier took it and glanced over it.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"Nothing very precious," he replied. "An odd volume
of Shakespeare, Glasgow edition."

One of the tapestries from the treasure of the church
hanging exactly opposite to us represented a not very
historical interview between John Lackland and Philip
Augustus. Nodier turned over the leaves of the book for a
few minutes, then pointed to the tapestry.

"You see that tapestry?"


"Do you know what it represents?"


"John Lackland."

"Well, what of it?"

"John Lackland is also in this book."

The volume, which was in sheep binding and worn at
the corners, was indeed a copy of _King John_.

M. Hémonin turned to Nodier and said: "I paid six
sous for it."

In the evening the Duke of Northumberland gave a
ball. It was a magnificent, fairylike spectacle. This
Arabian Nights ambassador brought one of these nights
to Rheims. Every woman found a diamond in her bouquet.

I could not dance. Nodier had not danced since he was
sixteen years of age, when a great aunt went into ecstasies
over his terpsichorean efforts and congratulated him in the
following terms: "~Tu est charmant, tu danses comme rim
chou~!" We did not go to Lord Northumberland's ball.

"What shall we do tonight?" said I to Nodier.
He held up his odd volume and answered:

"Let us read this."

We read.

That is to say, Nodier read. He knew English (without
being able to speak it, I believe) enough to make it out.
He read aloud, and translated as he read. At intervals,
while he rested, I took the book bought from the ragpicker
of Soissons, and read passages from the _Romancero_. Like
Nodier, I translated as I read. We compared the English
with the Castilian book; we confronted the dramatic with
the epic. Nodier stood up for Shakespeare, whom he could
read in English, and I for the _Romancero_, which I could
read in Spanish. We brought face to face, he the bastard
Faulconbridge, I the bastard Mudarra. And little by little
in contradicting we convinced each other, and Nodier became
filled with enthusiasm for the _Romancero_, and I with
admiration for Shakespeare.

Listeners arrived. One passes the evening as best one
can in a provincial town on a coronation day when one
doesn't go to the ball. We formed quite a little club. There
was an academician, M. Roger; a man of letters, M. d'Eckstein;
M. de Marcellus, friend and country neighbour of
my father, who poked fun at his royalism and mine; good
old Marquis d'Herbouville, and M. Hémonin, donor of the
book that cost six sous.

"It isn't worth the money!" exclaimed M. Roger.

The conversation developed into a debate. Judgment
was passed upon _King John_. M. de Marcellus declared
that the assassination of Arthur was an improbable incident.
It was pointed out to him that it was a matter of history.
It was with difficulty that he became reconciled to it. For
kings to kill each other was impossible. To M. de
Marcellus's mind the murdering of kings began on January 21.
Regicide was synonymous with '93. To kill a king was
an unheard-of thing that the "populace" alone were capable
of doing. No king except Louis XVI. had ever been
violently put to death. He, however, reluctantly admitted
the case of Charles I. In his death also he saw the
hand of the populace. All the rest was demagogic lying
and calumny.

Although as good a royalist as he, I ventured to insinuate
that the sixteenth century had existed, and that it was the
period when the Jesuits had clearly propounded the question
of "bleeding the basilic vein," that is to say of cases
in which the king ought to be slain; a question which,
once brought forward, met with such success that it resulted
in two kings, Henry III. and Henry IV., being stabbed,
and a Jesuit, Father Guignard, being hanged.

Then we passed to the details of the drama, situations,
scenes, and personages. Nodier pointed out that
Faulconbridge is the same person spoken of by Mathieu Paris as
Falcasius de Trente, bastard of Richard Coeur de Lion.
Baron d'Eckstein, in support of this, reminded his hearers
that, according to Hollinshed, Faulconbridge, or Falcasius,
slew the Viscount de Limoges to avenge his father Richard,
who had been wounded unto death at the siege of Chaluz;
and that this castle of Chaluz, being the property of the
Viscount de Limoges, it was only right that the Viscount,
although absent, should be made to answer with his head
for the falling of an arrow or a stone from the castle upon
the King. M. Roger laughed at the cry of "Austria
Limoges" in the play and at Shakespeare's confounding
the Viscount de Limoges with the Duke of Austria. M.
Roger scored the success of the evening and his laughter
settled the matter.

The discussion having taken this turn I said nothing
further. This revelation of Shakespeare had moved me. His
grandeur impressed me. _King John_ is not a masterpiece,
but certain scenes are lofty and powerful, and in the
motherhood of Constance there are bursts of genius.

The two books, open and reversed, remained lying upon
the table. The company had ceased to read in order to
laugh. Nodier at length became silent like myself. We
were beaten. The gathering broke up with a laugh, and
our visitors went away. Nodier and I remained alone and
pensive, thinking of the great works that are unappreciated,
and amazed that the intellectual education of the
civilized peoples, and even our own, his and mine, had
advanced no further than this.

At last Nodier broke the silence. I can see his smile now
as he said:

"They know nothing about the Romancero!"

I replied:

"And they deride Shakespeare!"

Thirteen years later chance took me to Rheims again.

It was on August 28, 1838. It will be seen further on
why this date impressed itself on my memory.

I was returning from Vouziers, and seeing the two towers
of Rheims in the distance, was seized with a desire to
visit the cathedral again. I therefore went to Rheims.

On arriving in the cathedral square I saw a gun drawn
up near the portal and beside it gunners with lighted fuses
in their hands. As I had seen artillery there on May 27,
1825, I supposed it was customary to keep a cannon in the
square, and paid little attention to it. I passed on and
entered the church.

A beadle in violet sleeves, a sort of priest, took me in
charge and conducted me all over the church. The stones
were dark, the statues dismal, the altar mysterious. No
lamps competed with the sun. The latter threw upon the
sepulchral stones in the pavement the long white silhouettes
of the windows, which through the melancholy obscurity
of the rest of the church looked like phantoms lying
upon these tombs. No one was in the church. Not a
whisper, not a footfall could be heard.

This solitude saddened the heart and enraptured the soul.
There were in it abandonment, neglect, oblivion, exile, and
sublimity. Gone the whirl of 1825. The church had resumed
its dignity and its calmness. Not a piece of finery,
not a vestment, not anything. It was bare and beautiful.
The lofty vault no longer supported a canopy. Ceremonies
of the palace arc not suited to these severe places; a
coronation ceremony is merely tolerated; these noble ruins are
not made to be courtiers. To rid it of the throne and
withdraw the king from the presence of God increases the
majesty of a temple. Louis XIV. hides Jehovah from sight.

Withdraw the priest as well. All that eclipsed it having
been taken away, you will see the light of day direct.
Orisons, rites, bibles, formulas, refract and decompose the
sacred light. A dogma is a dark chamber. Through a
religion you see the solar spectre of God, but not God.
Desuetude and crumbling enhance the grandeur of a temple.
As human religion retires from this mysterious and
jealous edifice, divine religion enters it. Let solitude reign
in it and you will feel heaven there. A sanctuary deserted
and in ruins, like Jumièges, like St. Bertin, like Villers,
like Holyrood, like Montrose Abbey, like the temple of
Paestum, like the hypogeum of Thebes, becomes almost an
element, and possesses the virginal and religious grandeur
of a savannah or of a forest. There something of the real
Presence is to be found.

Such places are truly holy; man has meditated and
communed with himself therein. What they contained of
truth has remained and become greater. The ~à-pcu-prês~
has no longer any voice. Extinct dogmas have not left their
ashes; the prayer of the past has left its perfume. There
is something of the absolute in prayer, and because of this,
that which was a synagogue, that which was a mosque, that
which was a pagoda, is venerable. A stone on which that
great anxiety that is called prayer has left its impress is
never treated with ridicule by the thinker. The trace left
by those who have bowed down before the infinite is always

In strolling about the cathedral I had climbed to the
triforium, then under the arched buttresses, then to the top
of the edifice. The timber-work under the pointed roof is
admirable; but less remarkable than the "forest" of
Amiens. It is of chestnut-wood.

These cathedral attics are of grim appearance. One
could almost lose one's self in the labyrinths of rafters,
squares, traverse beams, superposed joists, traves,
architraves, girders, madriers, and tangled lines and curves. One
might imagine one's self to be in the skeleton of Babel.
The place is as bare as a garret and as wild as a cavern.
The wind whistles mournfully through it. Rats are at home
there. The spiders, driven from the timber by the odour
of chestnut, make their home in the stone of the basement
where the church ends and the roof begins, and
low down in the obscurity spin their webs in which you
catch your face. One respires a mysterious dust, and the
centuries seem to mingle with one's breath. The dust of
churches is not like the dust of houses; it reminds one of
the tomb, it is composed of ashes.

The flooring of these colossal garrets has crevices in it
through which one can look down into the abysm, the
church, below. In the corners that one cannot explore are
pools of shadow, as it were. Birds of prey enter through
one window and go out through the other. Lightning is
also familiar with these high, mysterious regions. Sometimes
it ventures too near, and then it causes the conflagration
of Rouen, of Chartres, or of St. Paul's, London.

My guide the beadle preceded me. He looked at the
dung on the floor, and tossed his head. He knew the bird
by its manure, and growled between his teeth:

"This is a rook; this is a hawk; this is an owl."

"You ought to study the human heart," said I.

A frightened bat flew before us.

While walking almost at hazard, following this bat, looking
at this manure of the birds, respiring this dust, in this
obscurity among the cobwebs and scampering rats, we came
to a dark corner in which, on a big wheelbarrow, I could
just distinguish a long package tied with string and that
looked like a piece of rolled up cloth.

"What is that?" I asked the beadle.

"That," said he, "is Charles X.'s coronation carpet."

I stood gazing at the thing, and as I did so--I am telling
truthfully what occurred--there was a deafening report
that sounded like a thunder-clap, only it came from below.
It shook the timber-work and echoed and re-echoed through
the church. It was succeeded by a second roar, then a third,
at regular intervals. I recognised the thunder of the cannon,
and remembered the gun I had seen in the square.

I turned to my guide:

"What is that noise?"

"The telegraph has been at work and the cannon has
been fired."

"What does it mean?" I continued.

"It means," said the beadle, "that a grandson has just
been born to Louis Philippe."

The cannon announced the birth of the Count de Paris.

These are my recollections of Rheims.

Victor Hugo