Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli/Béranger

The following are excerpts from Margaret Fuller's letters chosen by Ralph Waldo Emerson as examples of her critical writing.

Sept. 1839. — I have lately been reading some of Béranger’s chansons. The hour was not propitious. I was in a mood the very reverse of Roger Bontemps, and beset with circumstances the most unsuited to make me sympathize with the prayer —

“Pardonnez la gaieté
De ma philosophie;”

‘yet I am not quite insensible to their wit, high sentiment, and spontaneous grace. A wit that sparkles all over the ocean of life, a sentiment that never puts the best foot forward, but prefers the tone of delicate humor, to the mouthings of tragedy; a grace so aerial, that it nowhere requires the aid of a thought, for in the light refrains of these productions, the meaning is felt as much as in the most pointed lines. Thus, in “Les Mirmidons,” the refrain —

“Mirmidons, race féconde,
 Mirmidons
Enfin nous commandons,
Jupiter livre le monde,
Aux mirmidons, aux mirmidons, (bis,)”

‘The swarming of the insects about the dead lion is expressed as forcibly as in the most sarcastic passage of the chanson. In “La Faridondaine” every sound is a witticism, and levels to the ground a bevy of what Byron calls “garrison people.” “Halte là! ou la système des interpretations” is equally witty, though there the form seems to be as much in the saying, as in the comic melody of sound.

‘In “Adieux à la Campagne,” “Souvenirs du Peuple,” “La Déesse de la Liberté,” “La Convoi de David,” a melancholy pathos breathes, which touches the heart the more that it is so unpretending. “Ce n’est plus Lisette,” “Mon Habit,” “L’Indépendant,” “Vous vieillirez, O ma belle Maîtresse,” a gentle graceful sadness wins us. In “Le Dieu des Bonnes Gens,” “Les Etoiles qui filent,” “Les Conseils de Lise,” “Treize à Table,” a noble dignity is admired, while such as “La Fortune” and “La Métempsycose” are inimitable in their childlike playfulness. “Ma Vocation” I have had and admired for many years. He is of the pure ore, a darling fairy changling of great mother Nature; the poet of the people, and, therefore, of all in the upper classes sufficiently intelligent and refined to appreciate the wit and sentiment of the people. But his wit is so truly French in its lightness and sparkling, feathering vivacity, that one like me, accustomed to the bitterness of English tonics, suicidal November melancholy, and Byronic wrath of satire, cannot appreciate him at once. But when used to the gentler stimuli, we like them best and we also would live awhile in the atmosphere of music and mirth, content if we have “bread for to-day, and hope for to-morrow.”

‘There are fine lines in his “Cinq Mai;” the sentiment is as grand as Manzoni’s, though not sustained by the same majestic sweep of diction, as, —

“Ce rocher repousse l’espérance,
L’Aigle n’est plus dans le secret des dieux,
Il fatiguait la victoire à le suivre,
Elle était lasse: il ne l’attendit pas.”

‘And from “La Gérontocratie, ou les infiniment petits:”

“Combien d’imperceptibles êtres,
De petits jésuites bilieux!
De milliers d’autres petits prêtres,
Lui portent de petits bons dieux.”

‘But wit, poet, man of honor, tailor’s grandson and fairy’s favorite, he must speak for himself, and the best that can be felt or thought of him cannot be said in the way of criticism. I will copy and keep a few of his songs. I should like to keep the whole collection by me, and take it up when my faith in human nature required the gentlest of fortifying draughts.

‘How fine his answer to those who asked about the “de” before his name! —

“Je suis vilain,
Vilain, vilain,” &c.
 
“J’honore une race commune,
Car, sensible, quoique malin,
Je n’ai flatté que l’infortune.”

‘In a note to “Couplets on M. Laisney, imprimeur à Peronne,” he says: “It was in his printing-house that I was put to prentice; not having been able to learn orthography, he imparted to me the taste for poetry, gave me lessons in versification, and corrected my first essays.

‘Of Bonaparte, —

“Un conquérant, dans sa fortune altière,
Se fit un jeu des sceptres et des lois,
Et de ses pieds on peut voir la poussière
Empreinte encore sur le bandeau deg rois.”

‘I admire, also, “Le Violon brisé,” for its grace and sweetness. How fine Béranger on Waterloo! —

“Its name shall never sadden verse of mine.