TYPES OF PEOPLE'S DRAMA
of France, its theater, its drama, its epic. France accomplished what other nations dreamed. We never wrote an Iliad, but we have lived a dozen; the Iliad of Charlemagne, of the Normans, of Godfrey of Boulogne, of Saint Louis, of Jeanne d'Arc, of Henry IV, of the Marseillaise, of the Corsican Alexander, of the Commune, and even in our own days, of Africa. Our heroes have touched the heights as often as our poets. No Shakespeare has celebrated their achievements; but Le Béarnais at the head of his band, or Danton on the scaffold, have spoken and acted genuine Shakespeare. During her existence France has touched the heights of happiness and sunk to the depths of despair; her story is a vast Human Comedy, a series of dramas where strong wills command whole armies of passions. Each epoch is a different poem, and yet throughout them all one is conscious of the persistence of indestructible characteristics, the destiny of a race: this is the grandiose and magnificent unity of the epic.
All this marvelous material remains untouched by French art; for we really cannot count the dime-novel dramas of Dumas the Elder, the sensational trifles of Sardou, and—L'Aiglon! The only writers who, like Vitet, really understood the historical drama, were contemplative souls, who never intended their plays to be acted. "There is something false, something insulting to the intelligence in the disproportionate attention paid nowadays to
- ↑ Vitet, Les Barricades (May, 1586), Les États de Blois (Dec., 1588), and La Mort de Henri III (Aug., 1589).