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strange ways of feeling and thought in which, by him afterwards to send their roots back from time to time, his spirit found itself alone; into the beginnings of life. and in the tears shed in such absences there Let me note first some of the occasions of seemed always to be some soul-subduing fore- his recognition of the element of pain in taste of what his last tears might be.
things --- incidents, now and again, which And the sense of security could hardly have seemed suddenly to awake in him the whole been deeper, the quiet of the child's soul being force of that sentiment which Goethe has one with the quiet of its home, a place “en- called the Weltschmerz,' and in which the conclosed” and “sealed.” But upon this assured centrated sorrow of the world seemed suddenly place, upon the child's assured soul which to lie heavy upon him. A book lay in an old resembled it, there came floating in from the book-case, of which he cared to remember one larger world without, as at windows left ajar picture a woman sitting, with hands bound unknowingly, or over the high garden walls, behind her, the dress, the cap, the hair, folded two streams of impressions, the sentiments of with a simplicity which touched him strangely, beauty and pain -- recognitions of the visible, as if not by her own hands, but with some tangible, audible, loveliness of things, as a very ambiguous care at the hands of others real and somewhat tyrannous element in them Queen Marie Antoinette, on her way to exe--- and of the sorrow of the world, of grown cution --we all remember David'sdrawing, people and children and animals, as a thing meant merely to make her ridiculous. The not to be put by in them. From this point face that had been so high had learned to be he could trace two predominant processes of mute and resistless; but out of its very resistmental change in him — the growth of an lessness, seemed now to call on men to have almost diseased sensibility to the spectacle of pity, and forbear; and he took note of that, suffering, and, parallel with this, the rapid as he closed the book, as a thing to look at growth of a certain capacity of fascination by again, if he should at any time find himself bright colour and choice form - the sweet tempted to be cruel. Again he would never curvings, for instance, of the lips of those quite forget the appeal in the small sister's who seemed to him comely persons, modu- face, in the garden under the lilacs, terrified at lated in such delicate unisons to the things a spider lighted on her sleeve. He could trace they said or sang, -- marking early the ac- back to the look then noted a certain mercy tivity in him of a more than customary sen- conceived always for people in fear, even suousness, “the lust of the eye,”1 as the of little things, which seemed to make him, Preacher says, which might lead him, one day, though 1. it for a moment, capable of almost how far! Could he have foreseen the weari- any sacrifice of himself. Impressible, susness of the way! In music sometimes the ceptible persons, indeed, who had had their two sorts of impressions came together, and sorrows, lived about him; and this sensibility he would weep, to the surprise of older people. was due in part to the tacit influence of their Tears of joy too the child knew, also to older presence, enforcing upon him habitually the people's surprise; real tears, once, of relief fact that there are those who pass their days, from long-strung, childish expectation, when as a matter of course, in a sort of "going he found returned at evening, with new roses quietly.” Most poignantly of all he could rein her cheeks, the little sister who had been to call, in unfading minutest circumstance, the a place where there was a wood, and brought cry on the stair, sounding bitterly through the back for him a treasure of fallen acorns, and house, and struck into his soul forever, of an black crow's feathers, and his peace at find- aged woman, his father's sister, come now to ing her again near him mingled all night with announce his death in distant India; how it some intimate sense of the distant forest, the seemed to make the aged woman like a child rumour of its breezes, with the glossy black- again; and, he knew not why, but this fancy birds aslant and the branches lifted in them, was full of pity to him. There were the little and of the perfect nicety of the little cups sorrows of the dumb animals too — of the that fell. So those two elementary appre- white angora, with a dark tail like an ermine's, hensions of the tenderness and of the colour and a face like a flower, who fell into a lingerin things grew apace in him, and were seen
1 world-sorrow ? Jacques Louis David (17481 cf. I John, ii : 16
1825), a French historical painter
ing sickness, and became quite delicately hu- feet, and fill softly all the little hollows in the man in its valetudinarianism, and came to banks on either side. Always afterwards, have a hundred different expressions of voice summer by summer, as the flowers came on,
how it grew worse and worse, till it began the blossom of the red hawthorn still seemed to feel the light too much for it, and at last, to him absolutely the reddest of all things; after one wild morning of pain, the little soul and the goodly crimson, still alive in the works flickered away from the body, quite worn to of old Venetian masters or old Flemish tapesdeath already, and now but feebly retaining it. tries, called out always from afar the recollec
So he wanted another pet; and as there tion of the flame in those perishing little petals, were starlings about the place, which could be as it pulsed gradually out of them, kept long taught to speak, one of them was caught, and in the drawers of an old cabinet.
Also then, he meant to treat it kindly; but in the night for the first time, he seemed to experience a its young ones could be heard crying after passionateness in his relation to fair outward it, and the responsive cry of the mother-bird objects, an inexplicable excitement in their towards them; and at last, with the first presence, which disturbed him, and from light, though not till after some debate with which he half longed to be free. A touch of himself, he went down and opened the cage, regret or desire minglcd all night with the and saw a sharp bound of the prisoner up to remembered presence of the red flowers, and her nestlings; and therewith came the sense of their perfume in the darkness about him; and remorse,
- that he too was become an accom- the longing for some undivined, entire possesplice in moving, to the limit of his small sion of them was the beginning of a revelation power, the springs and handles of that great to him, growing ever clearer, with the coming machine in things, constructed so ingeniously of the gracious summer guise of fields and trees to play pain-fugues ? on the delicate nerve- and persons in each succeeding year, of a cerwork of living creatures.
tain, at times seemingly exclusive, predomiI have remarked how, in the process of our nance in his interests, of beautiful physical brain-building, as the house of thought in things, a kind of tyranny of the sense over which we live gets itself together, like some him. airy bird's-nest of floating thistle-down and In later years he came upon philosophies chance straws, compact at last, little accidents which occupied him much in the estimate of have their consequence; and thus it happened the proportion of the sensuous and the ideal that, as he walked one evening, a garden gate, elements in human knowledge, the relative usually closed, stood open; and lo! within, a parts they bear in it; and, in his intellectual great red hawthorn in full flower, embossing scheme, was led to assign very little to the heavily the bleached and twisted trunk and abstract thought, and much to its sensible branches, so aged that there were but few vehicle or occasion. Such metaphysical specgreen leaves thereon
- a plumage of tender, ulation did but reinforce what was instinctive crimson fire out of the heart of the dry wood. in his way of receiving the world, and for him, The perfume of the tree had now and again everywhere, that sensible vehicle or occasion reached him, in the currents of the wind, over became, perhaps only too surely, the necessary the wall, and he had wondered what might be concomitant of any perception of things, real behind it, and was now allowed to fill his arms enough to be of any weight or reckoning, in with the flowers — flowers enough for all the his house of thought. There were times when old blue-china pots along the chimney-piece, he could think of the necessity he was under 'making fête 2 in the children's room. Was it of associating all thoughts to touch and sight, some periodic moment in the expansion of soul as a sympathetic link between himself and within him, or mere trick of heat in the heavily- actual, feeling, living objects; a protest in laden summer air? But the beauty of the favour of real men and women against mere thing struck home to him feverishly; and in gray, unreal abstractions; and he rememdreams all night he loitered along a magic bered gratefully how the Christian religion, roadway of crimson flowers, which seemed to hardly less than the religion of the ancient open ruddily in thick, fresh masses about his Greeks, translating so much of its spiritual
verity into things that may be seen, conde1 elaborately interwoven compositions of pain scends in part to sanction this infirmity, if so 2 festival
it be, of our human existence, wherein the
world of sense is so much with us, and wel- ished portly bodies upon cakes and cream! comed this thought as a kind of keeper and Here they all lie, to be trodden in the mud; sentinel over his soul therein. But certainly, the large estate and the small, sounding virtue he came more and more to be unable to care and adroit or powerful vice, in very much the for, or think of soul but as in an actual body, same condition; and a bishop not to be disor of any world but that wherein are water tinguished from a lamplighter with even the and trees, and where men and women look, strongest spectacles. so or so, and press actual hands. It was the Such was Villon's cynical philosophy. trick even his pity learned, fastening those Four hundred years after his death, when who suffered in anywise to his affections by surely all danger might be considered at an a kind of sensible attachments. He would end, a pair of critical spectacles have been think of Julian, fallen into incurable sickness, applied to his own remains; and though he as spoiled in the sweet blossom of his skin like left behind him a sufficiently ragged reputapale amber, and his honey-like hair; of Cecil, tion from the first, it is only after these four early dead, as cut off from the lilies, from hundred years that his delinquencies have golden summer days, from women's voices; been finally tracked home, and we can assign and then what comforted him a little was the him to his proper place among the good or thought of the turning of the child's flesh to wicked. It is a staggering thought, and one violets in the turf above him. And thinking that affords a fine figure of the imperishaof the very poor, it was not the things which bility of men's acts, that the stealth of the most men care most for that he yearned to private inquiry office can be carried so far give them; but fairer roses, perhaps, and back into the dead and dusty past. We are power to taste quite as they will, at their not so soon quit of our concerns as Villon ease and not task-burdened, a certain desir- fancied. In the extreme of dissolution, when able, clear light in the new morning, through not so much as a man's name is remembered, which sometimes he had noticed them, quite when his dust is scattered to the four winds, unconscious of it, on their way to their early and perhaps the very grave and the very toil.
graveyard where he was laid to rest have been forgotten, desecrated, and buried under populous towns, -- even in this extreme let
an antiquary fall across a sheet of manuROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON script, and the name will be recalled, the old (1850-1894)
infamy will pop out into daylight like a toad out of a fissure in the rock, and the shadow
of the shade of what was once a man will be FRANÇOIS VILLON, STUDENT, POET, heartily pilloried by his descendants. A little AND HOUSEBREAKER
while ago and Villon was almost totally for
gotten; then he was revived for the sake of Perhaps one of the most curious revolutions his verses; and now he is being revived with a in literary history is the sudden bull's-eye light vengeance in the detection of his misdemeancast by M. Longnon on the obscure existence ours. How unsubstantial is this projection of of François Villon. His book is not remark- a man's existence, which can lie in abeyance able merely as a chapter of biography exhumed for centuries and then be brushed up again after four centuries. To readers of the poet it and set forth for the consideration of posterity will recall, with a flavour of satire, that char- by a few dips in an antiquary's inkpot! acteristic passage in which he bequeaths his This precarious tenure of fame goes a long spectacles - with a humorous reservation of way to justify those (and they are not few) the case - to the hospital for blind paupers who prefer cakes and cream in the immediate known as the Fifteen-Score. Thus equipped, present. let the blind paupers go and separate the good
A WILD YOUTH from the bad in the cemetery of the Innocents ! For his own part the poet can see no distinc- François de Montcorbier, alias François des tion. Much have the dead people made of Loges, alias François Villon, alias Michel their advantages. What does it matter now Mouton, Master of Arts in the University of that they have lain in state beds and nour- Paris, was born in that city in the summer of 1431. It was a memorable year for France lon joined the University, it seems to have on other and higher considerations. A great- been taken as the average wage for a day's hearted girl and a poor-hearted boy made, manual labour. In short, it cannot have the one her last, the other his first appearance been a very profuse allowance to keep a on the public stage of that unhappy country. sharp-set lad in breakfast and supper for On the 30th of May the ashes of Joan of Arc seven mortal days; and Villon's share of the were thrown into the Seine, and on the 2d of cakes and pastry and general good cheer, to December our Henry Sixth made his Joyous which he is never weary of referring, must Entry dismally enough into disaffected and have been slender from the first. depopulating Paris. Sword and fire still The educational arrangements of the Uniravaged the open country. On a single April versity of Paris were, to our way of thinking, Saturday twelve hundred persons, besides somewhat incomplete. Worldly and monkish children, made their escape out of the stary- elements were presented in a curious coning capital. The hangman, as is not unin- fusion, which the youth might disentangle teresting to note in connection with Master for himself. If he had an opportunity, on Francis, was kept hard at work in 1431; on the one hand, of acquiring much hair-drawn the last of April and on the 4th of May alone, divinity and a taste for formal disputation, sixty-two bandits swung from Paris gibbets. he was put in the way of much gross and A more confused or troublous time it would flaunting vice upon the other. The lecture have been difficult to select for a start in life. room of a scholastic doctor was sometimes Not even a man's nationality was certain; for under the same roof with establishments of the people of Paris there was no such thing a very different and peculiarly unedifying as a Frenchman. The English were the Eng- order. The students had extraordinary privlish indeed, but the French were only the ileges, which by all accounts they abused exArmagnacs, whom, with Joan of Arc at their traordinarily. And while some condemned head, they had beaten back from under their themselves to an almost sepulchral regularity ramparts not two years before. Such public and seclusion, others fled the schools, swagsentiment as they had centred about their gered in the street “with their thumbs in dear Duke of Burgundy, and the dear Duke their girdle," passed the night in riot, and had no more urgent business than to keep out behaved themselves as the worthy foreof their neighbourhood. ... At least, and runners of Jehan Frollo in the romance of whether he liked it or not, our disreputable Notre Dame de Paris.1 Villon tells us himself troubadour was tubbed and swaddled as a sub- that he was among the truants, but we hardly ject of the English crown.
needed his avowal. The burlesque erudition We hear nothing of Villon's father except in which he sometimes indulged implies no that he was poor and of mean extraction. His more than the merest smattering of knowlmother was given piously,' which does not edge; whereas his acquaintance with blackimply very much in an old Frenchwoman, guard haunts and industries could only have and quite uneducated. He had an uncle, a been acquired by early and consistent immonk in an abbey at Angers, who must have piety and idleness. He passed his degrees, prospered beyond the family average, and was it is true; but some of us who have been to reported to be worth five or six hundred modern universities will make their own
Of this uncle and his money-box reflections on the value of the test. As for the reader will hear once more. In 1448 his three pupils, Colin Laurent, Girard Francis became a student of the University of Gossouyn, and Jehan Marceau — if they Paris; in 1450 he took the degree of Bachelor, were really his pupils in any serious sense and in 1452 that of Master of Arts. His what can we say but God help them! And bourse, or the sum paid weekly for his board, sure enough, by his own description, they was of the amount of two sous. Now two turned out as ragged, rowdy, and ignorant sous was about the price of a pound of salt as was to be looked for from the views and butter in the bad times of 1417; it was the manners of their rare preceptor. price of half-a-pound in the worse times of At some time or other, before or during his 1419; and in 1444, just four years before Vil- university career, the poet was adopted by
1 of pious tendencies
I by Victor Hugo
Master Guillaume de Villon, chaplain of Saint Benoît-le-Bétourné near the Sorbonne. From him he borrowed the surname by which he is known to posterity. It was most likely from his house, called the Porte Rouge,1 and situated in a garden in the cloister of Saint Benoît, that Master Francis heard the bell of the Sorbonne ring out the Angelus while he was finishing his Small Testament at Christmastide in 1456. Toward this benefactor he usually gets credit for a respectable display of gratitude. But with his trap and pitfall style of writing, it is easy to make too sure. His sentiments are about as much to be relied on as those of a professional beggar; and in this, as in so many other matters, he comes toward us whining and piping the eye, and goes off again with a whoop and his finger to his nose. Thus, he calls Guillaume de Villon his "more than father," thanks him with a great show of sincerity for having helped him out of many scrapes, and bequeaths him his portion of renown. But the portion of renown which belonged to a young thief, distinguished (if, at the period when he wrote this legacy, he was distinguished at all) for having written some more or less obscene and scurrilous ballads, must have been little fitted to gratify the self-respect or increase the reputation of a benevolent ecclesiastic. The same remark applies to a subsequent legacy of the poet's library, with specification of one work which was plainly neither decent nor devout. We are thus left on the horns of a dilemma. If the chaplain was a godly, philanthropic personage, who had tried to graft good principles and good behaviour on this wild slip of an adopted son, these jesting legacies would obviously cut him to the heart. The position of an adopted son toward his adoptive father is one full of delicacy; where a man lends his name he looks for great consideration. And this legacy of Villon's portion of renown may be taken as the mere fling of an unregenerate scapegrace who has wit enough to recognise in his own shame the readiest weapon of offence against a prosy benefactor's feelings. The gratitude of Master Francis figures, on this reading, as a frightful minus quantity. If, on the other hand, those jests were given and taken in good humour, the whole relation
1 Red Door 2 a college of the University 3 a summons to a devotional service pretending to weep
between the pair degenerates into the unedifying complicity of a debauched old chaplain and a witty and dissolute young scholar. At this rate the house with the red door may have rung with the most mundane minstrelsy; and it may have been below its roof that Villon, through a hole in the plaster, studied, as he tells us, the leisures of a rich ecclesiastic.
It was, perhaps, of some moment in the poet's life that he should have inhabited the cloister of Saint Benoît. Three of the most remarkable among his early acquaintances are Catherine de Vauselles, for whom he entertained a short-lived affection and an enduring and most unmanly resentment; Regnier de Montigny, a young blackguard of good birth; and Colin de Cayeux, a fellow with a marked aptitude for picking locks. Now we are on a foundation of mere conjecture, but it is at least curious to find that two of the canons of Saint Benoît answered respectively to the names of Pierre de Vaucel and Etienne de Montigny, and that there was a householder called Nicolas de Cayeux in a street the Rue des Poirées - in the immediate neighbourhood of the cloister. M. Longnon is almost ready to identify Catherine as the niece of Pierre; Regnier as the nephew of Etienne, and Colin as the son of Nicolas. Without going so far, it must be owned that the approximation of names is significant. As we go on to see the part played by each of these persons in the sordid melodrama of the poet's life, we shall come to regard it as even more notable. Is it not Clough who has remarked that, after all, everything lies in juxtaposition? Many a man's destiny has been settled by nothing apparently more grave than a pretty face on the opposite side of the street and a couple of bad companions round the
Catherine de Vauselles (or de Vaucel - the, change is within the limits of Villon's license) had plainly delighted in the poet's conversation; near neighbours or not, they were much together; and Villon made no secret of his court, and suffered himself to believe that his feeling was repaid in kind. This may have been an error from the first, or he may have estranged her by subsequent misconduct or temerity. One can easily imagine Villon an impatient wooer. One thing, at least, is sure: that the affair terminated in a manner bitterly
1 cf. his Amours de Voyage