In his later period, indeed, he is optimist enough to believe that the sufferings of life cleanse and ennoble. By tortuous ways of sin he at last achieves the simple faith of a Christian. He originally revolted from this faith more through irritation than from principle. One feels that, with happier nerves and a happier environment, he might easily have passed his boyhood as the model pupil in the Sunday-school. It is significant that we find him in The Confession of a Fool reciting Longfellow’s Excelsior to the first and worst of his wives. Strindberg may have been possessed of a devil; he undoubtedly liked to play the part of a devil; but at heart he was constantly returning to the Longfellow sentiment, though, of course, his hungry intellectual curiosity was something that Longfellow never knew. In his volume of fables, In Midsummer Days, we see how essentially good and simple were his ideas when he could rid himself of sex mania and persecution mania. Probably his love of children always kept him more or less in chains to virtue. Ultimately he yielded himself a victim, not to the furies, but to the still more remorseless pursuit of the Hound of Heaven. On his death-bed, Miss Lind tells us, he held up the Bible and said: “This alone is right.” Through his works, however, he serves virtue best, not by directly praising it, but by his eagerly earnest account of the madness of the seven deadly sins, as well as of the seventy-seven deadly irritations. He has not the originality of fancy or imagination to paint virtue well. His genius was the genius of frank and destructive criticism. His work is a jumble of ideas and an autobiography of raw nerves rather than a revelation of the emotions of men and women. His great claim on our attention, however, is that his autobiography is true as far as the power of truth was in him. His pilgrim’s progress through madness to salvation is neither a pretty nor a sensational lie. It is a genuine document. That is why, badly constructed though his plays and novels are, some of them have a fair chance of being read a hundred years hence. As a writer of personal literature, he was one of the bold and original men of his time.
“THE PRINCE OF FRENCH POETS”
It is difficult nowadays to conceive that, within half a century of his death, Ronsard’s fame suffered so dark an eclipse that no new edition of his works was called for between 1629 and 1857. When he died, he was, as M. Jusserand reminds us, the most illustrious man of letters in Europe. He seemed, too, to have all those gifts of charm—charm of mood and music—which make immortality certain. And yet, in the rule-of-thumb ages that were to follow, he sank into such disesteem in his own country that Boileau had not a good word for him, and Voltaire roundly said of him that he “spoiled the language.” Later, we have Arnauld asserting that France had only done herself dishonour by her enthusiasm for “the wretched poetry of Ronsard.” Fenelon, as M. Jusserand tells us, discusses Ronsard as a linguist, and ignores him as a poet.