This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 9. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 62-64.

During the reign of Louis Philippe, Victor Hugo became a candidate for the Academy. But, though his position as the greatest lyric poet and dramatist could not be disputed, it was five years before he was able to overcome the conservative inertia of that great institution. Even then the dramatists Delavigne and Scribe voted against him. But Balzac, to his honor, withdrew from competition, let Hugo's chances should be impaired. The name of Balzac, like that of Molière, is wanting to the glory of the Academy. In 1845 Hugo was made a peer of France, and in the Senate advocated giving permission for the return of the Bonaparte family to France. His poems had already shown a certain fervor in the Napoleonic cult. But he was not politically active until after the Republic of 1848 was established. Then, from being a moderate, he showed strong inclination to democracy. There was some talk of making him President of the Republic, but his old Bourbon attitude effectually prevented the attempt. His opposition to Louis Napoleon was intense, and when the coup d'état of December, 1851, was accomplished, Victor Hugo's name headed the list of the proscribed. He escaped to Belgium, and, after some months, fixed his residence on the island of Jersey, belonging to England but close to France. In 1855 he removed to Guernsey. Besides political pamphlets, which were widely circulated in France, he wrote many long poems.


In 1862 Hugo's most famous romance, Les Misérables, was issued simultaneously in Paris and ten other leading cities of the world. It is an enormously large work, described by Hugo himself as "a sort of planetary system, making the circuit about one giant mind that is the personification of all social evil." The central story relates to a condemned criminal, who, after reformation, has, under an assumed name, led an honorable life and has been rewarded with election to a high office, and then years later publicly confesses his identity with the galley-slave. But around this are gathered a host of other characters, stories and descriptions. Hugo is the supreme representative of one type of French genius, and in this colossal work his merits and defects are fully displayed. Brilliant, eloquent and rhetorical, he is urged on my impulse rather than reason. His Misérables was, indeed, one of the most successful romances of the age; nor has the lapse of nearly half a century detracted from its popularity; for the work belongs to a genus per se, and in the field which it covers there has been nothing like it before or since.

The sensational success of this romance led to the production of others. In Les Travailleurs de la Mer he described Guernsey and its fishermen. L'Homme qui Rit is an improbable story of a showman's life in England in the seventeenth century. But at intervals while working on these long romances Hugo issued volumes of beautiful poetry and appeals to various governments on behalf of the oppressed. Like a prophet of Israel, he summoned kings and nations to work righteousness and show mercy, warning them of the judgment to come.


When the hateful Second Empire of France was overthrown in 1870, the illustrious exile hastened to Paris and vainly besought the Germans to withdraw from France. He opposed the Commune, but joined the Radicals in the new division of parties. In 1876 he was elected a Senator for life. Thenceforth the literary patriarch lived in Paris, idolized by the people as the national hero. From time to time he issued poems, records of his past life, letters and dissertations on various subjects of public interest. His last powerful romance, Quatre-vingt-treize, treated of the royalist revolt in Brittany in 1793. His last drama, Torquemada, published in 1882, dealt with the Spanish Inquisition.

On February 25, 1880, the fiftieth anniversary of the first performance of Hernani was celebrated by a repetition of that famous play at the Comédie Française. The great actress, Sarah Bernhardt, took the part of Doña Sol, and at the close crowned the bust of Hugo on the stage. The seventy-ninth anniversary of his birth was joyously celebrated, and a procession of children testified their love for the writer. He died on the 22nd of May, 1885, and France in a memorable funeral testified her grief at the loss.



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