vendredi 27 février 2015

Eloquence épique

Parmi les qualités qu'il faut reconnaître à Stace, il y a l'éloquence qu'il sait prêter à ses personnages. Plusieurs d'entre eux prononcent de belles tirades et frappent de beaux vers, ce qui est parfaitement approprié au genre épique : les dieux et les rois ne causent pas comme le premier venu. Tenez, en voici un exemple pris au livre XI, la supplique de Jocaste à son fils Etéocle :

"Quelle folie est-ce là ? D'où surgit avec de nouvelles forces l'Euménide de notre royaume ? Vous-mêmes, c'est un comble, vous-mêmes vous allez en venir aux mains ? Est-ce vraiment trop peu d'avoir levé deux armées en les chargeant de vos crimes ? Où finalement reviendra le vainqueur ? Sur le sein que voici ? O cécité heureuse qui frappa jadis mon époux maudit ! Vous êtes châtiés, mes yeux impudents ! Devez-vous voir ce jour ? Où, cruel, diriges-tu ton regard menaçant ? Pourquoi ton visage change-t-il, pâlissant et rougissant tour à tour ? Pourquoi contre tes dents serrées se brisent des murmures de haine ? Pour mon malheur, tu auras le dessus ! Toutefois il faudra d'abord faire chez toi l'essai de tes armes : moi, sinistre présage, vision monstrueuse du crime, je me tiendrai à l'entrée même de la porte. Il te faudra, scélérat, fouler sous tes pieds ces cheveux blancs, cette poitrine, et pousser ton coursier sur le ventre de ta mère. Grâce ! Pourquoi m'écartes-tu de ton chemin avec ton épée et ta parme ? Je n'ai ni lancé aux dieux stygiens de funestes invocations contre toi ni, le visage aveugle, invoqué les Erynies ! Ecoute-moi bien dans ma détresse : c'est ta mère, barbare, qui te supplie, non ton père ; diffère ton crime et mesure ton audace ! Mais ton frère ébranle nos murs et nous déclare une guerre impie ? En effet il n'a pas de mère, pas de soeur pour s'opposer à ce projet ; mais toi, tout le monde te le demande, tous ici nous nous lamentons, tandis que là-bas Adraste est presque le seul à le dissuader de combattre à moins peut-être qu'il ne l'y encourage ; et toi, tu abandonnes ta demeure ancestrale et les dieux, tu t'éloignes de nos bras pour les lancer contre ton frère ?"

Et s'il en est qui trouvent cela grandiloquent, ou qui ne soient pas convaincus de l'intérêt de cette éloquence, je les invite à lire quelques lignes de Chesterton :

"One of the values we have really lost in recent fiction is the value of eloquence. The modern literary artist is compounded of almost every man except the orator. Yet Shakespeare and Scott are certainly alike in this, that they could both, if literature had failed, have earned a living as professional demagogues. The feudal heroes in the 'Waverley Novels' retort upon each other with a passionate dignity, haughty and yet singularly human, which can hardly be paralleled in political eloquence except in 'Julius Caesar.' With a certain fiery impartiality which stirs the blood, Scott distributes his noble orations equally among saints and villains. He may deny a villain every virtue or triumph, but he cannot endure to deny him a telling word; he will ruin a man, but he will not silence him. In truth, one of Scott's most splendid traits is his difficulty, or rather incapacity, for despising any of his characters. He did not scorn the most revolting miscreant as the realist of to-day commonly scorns his own hero. Though his soul may be in rags, every man of Scott can speak like a king.

This quality, as I have said, is sadly to seek in the fiction of the passing hour. The realist would, of course, repudiate the bare idea of putting a bold and brilliant tongue in every man's head, but even where the moment of the story naturally demands eloquence the eloquence seems frozen in the tap. Take any contemporary work of fiction and turn to the scene where the young Socialist denounces the millionaire, and then compare the stilted sociological lecture given by that self-sacrificing bore with the surging joy of words in Rob Roy's declaration of himself, or Athelstane's defiance of De Bracy. That ancient sea of human passion upon which high words and great phrases are the resplendent foam is just now at a low ebb. We have even gone the length of congratulating ourselves because we can see the mud and the monsters at the bottom. In politics there is not a single man whose position is due to eloquence in the first degree; its place is taken by repartees and rejoinders purely intellectual, like those of an omnibus conductor. In discussing questions like the farm-burning in South Africa no critic of the war uses his material as Burke or Grattan (perhaps exaggeratively) would have used it--the speaker is content with facts and expositions of facts. In another age he might have risen and hurled that great song in prose, perfect as prose and yet rising into a chant, which Meg Merrilees hurled at Ellangowan, at the rulers of Britain: 'Ride your ways, Laird of Ellangowan; ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram--this day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths. See if the fire in your ain parlour burns the blyther for that. Ye have riven the thack of seven cottar houses. Look if your ain roof-tree stands the faster for that. Ye may stable your stirks in the sheilings of Dern-cleugh. See that the hare does not couch on the hearthstane of Ellangowan. Ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram.'

The reason is, of course, that these men are afraid of bombast and Scott was not. A man will not reach eloquence if he is afraid of bombast, just as a man will not jump a hedge if he is afraid of a ditch. As the object of all eloquence is to find the least common denominator of men's souls, to fall just within the natural comprehension, it cannot obviously have any chance with a literary ambition which aims at falling just outside it. It is quite right to invent subtle analyses and detached criticisms, but it is unreasonable to expect them to be punctuated with roars of popular applause. It is possible to conceive of a mob shouting any central and simple sentiment, good or bad, but it is impossible to think of a mob shouting a distinction in terms. In the matter of eloquence, the whole question is one of the immediate effect of greatness, such as is produced even by fine bombast. It is absurd to call it merely superficial; here there is no question of superficiality; we might as well call a stone that strikes us between the eyes merely superficial. The very word 'superficial' is founded on a fundamental mistake about life, the idea that second thoughts are best. The superficial impression of the world is by far the deepest. What we really feel, naturally and casually, about the look of skies and trees and the face of friends, that and that alone will almost certainly remain our vital philosophy to our dying day.

Scott's bombast, therefore, will always be stirring to anyone who approaches it, as he should approach all literature, as a little child. We could easily excuse the contemporary critic for not admiring melodramas and adventure stories, and Punch and Judy, if he would admit that it was a slight deficiency in his artistic sensibilities. Beyond all question, it marks a lack of literary instinct to be unable to simplify one's mind at the first signal of the advance of romance. 'You do me wrong,' said Brian de Bois-Guilbert to Rebecca. 'Many a law, many a commandment have I broken, but my word, never.' 'Die,' cries Balfour of Burley to the villain in 'Old Mortality.' 'Die, hoping nothing, believing nothing--' 'And fearing nothing,' replies the other. This is the old and honourable fine art of bragging, as it was practised by the great worthies of antiquity. The man who cannot appreciate it goes along with the man who cannot appreciate beef or claret or a game with children or a brass band. They are afraid of making fools of themselves, and are unaware that that transformation has already been triumphantly effected."

Gilbert K, Chesterton, Twelve Types, 1902.

Ben oui, j'aime bien citer Chesterton.

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