The drawing-rooms of Madame Girardin were among the most celebrated of the French capital. There might be seen the most distinguished authors, political celebrities, and soldiers of the time, and she was the leading spirit among them. Her husband rarely condescended to attend their reunions, as he had no taste for society and conversation. In the late revolutions which have swept over France, Girardin continued to save himself from exile or imprisonment. The truth is, he always loved money and power too well to make a sacrifice of himself for the cause of the people, and his course has been too much that of a demagogue from the first. His great object, during the latter part of his life, seems to have been to gain the portfolio of a minister—and without success, for from the days of the 1848 revolution, his influence rapidly declined.
[Illustration: VICTOR HUGO.]
France has given birth to few men, in modern times, who exceed Victor Hugo in all that is noble and great. He is not simply a man of genius, a poet, and an orator, he is in its full sense a man. Too many of the brilliant men of France have lacked principle, have been ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder. It has not been so with Victor Hugo, and for that reason he is now an exile from the shores of his native land. His passionately eloquent orations, delivered on various sad occasions since he was exiled, have awakened the interest of the world, and people who cared little for him as the successful author, feel a deep sympathy for the noble exile.
Victor Hugo was born at Besancon in 1803, and of a rich family. His father was a general in the service of Joseph Bonaparte, who was then king of Naples. He followed him into Spain, where he distinguished himself by his valor. He returned in 1814, and journeyed through Italy. Victor was then very young, but accompanied his father on his Italian tour. When but fourteen years old, Victor wrote a poem, to compete with many older persons for a prize, and though his poem was undoubtedly deserving of the reward, yet from his extreme youth, only honorable mention was made of his effort. This early poetical ambition, however, was an indication of his future career.
When he was twenty-two years of age, Charles X. gave him an audience, and Victor Hugo presented his majesty with some of his poetry. The king handed it to Chateaubriand, who was near, and demanded his opinion.
“Sire,” said he, “the youth has a sublime genius!”