Verses Based on the Works of Alfred de Musset

There are a number of suggestions in reviews that Lytton removed from later editions certain verses which tracked quite literally passages in Alfred de Musset's Namouna, An Oriental Tale (1832), and he admits in his 1867 Preface that he has "expunged" them from the Third Edition of Lucile. One of these includes the whole of Part I, Canto VI, verse XXII, which disappears entirely from the 1867 edition, having read in the 1860:


There are so many questions of this kind that pass
My perplex'd comprehension, that were I to place them
On record, no volume would ever encase them.
There is heaven above us ! we see it each day:
But what is the reason, can any one say,
Why what we see most of, we least comprehend ?
Again, if our eyes on earth only we bend,
What suggests that strange doubt—' This appealing Creation,
' Which says . . . Eat, drink, be full I... is it only temptation?'

Tho' divine Aphrodite should open her arms
To our longing, and lull us to sleep on her charms ;
Tho' the world its full sum of enjoyment ensure us;
Tho' Horace, Lucretius, and old Epicurus
Sit beside us, and swear we are happy, what then ?
Whence the answer within us which cries to these men,
' Let it be! you say well; but the world is too old
' To rekindle within it the ages of gold;
' A vast hope hath travers'd the earth, and our eyes
' In despite of ourselves we must lift to the skies' ?
And we lift them; and, lifting them, why do we find
That just when we vindicate sight, we are blind ?
The Sir Ridleys, and other good men of that class,
Bring spectacles, which not a raylet will pass;
And seek to make clear to our vision the sun,
By dimming his splendour, and smoking him dun.
Then we turn to the children of this generation,
Since the children of light deal in light's obscuration.
And O Chaos and Night! what at last do we mark
By the gleam of their corpse-lights enkindling the dark ?
A Liebnitz transfigures clean from us our being:
From whirlpool to whirlpool Descartes sets it fleeing:
With that horrible face, Monsieur Arouet Voltaire
Grins Theology out of its wits at one stare.
Not the first time a dwarf's sword a giant despatch'd;
If it could not cut deep, it disfigured and scratch'd.
Next, man in the image of Jean Jacques we have,
A coward, a liar, a thief, and a slave!
Spinosa finds out for us God everywhere,
Saving just where we, else, could have found Him, in prayer;
Locke (and few will dispute the assertion I ween)
Is a great mechanician if man's a machine:
Kant, the great god of Nothing, takes pains to expound,
But his pains go for nothing—since nothing is found.
And of all human science the last word is this;
Simply Nothing—the name scribble' o'er an abyss.
Is, then, Life one vast question without a reply ?
Must man, like Ulysses, with stopp'd ears sail by
Where'er Thought and Sense (Sirens only) sing to him
Songs over the deeps, that are sure to undo him
If once he should list to the music that mocks
The frail bark it lures to the whirlpools and rocks ?
And to exercise thought, or to satisfy sense,
To the Being that gave both is this an offence ?
Not mine be that creed, whosesoever it be!
My heart humbly whispers this answer to me:
—True! the more we gaze up into heaven, the more
Do we feel our gaze foil'd; all attempt to explore
With earth's finite insight heaven's infinite gladness
Is baffled by something like infinite sadness.
What then, did man's limited science engirth
Heaven's limitless secret, were man's use on earth,
Where he just sees enough of the heaven above him
To be sure it is there, to confirm and approve him
In his work upon earth, whence he works his way to it ?
True! the more that we seek earthly bliss, and pursue it,
The more do we feel it inadequate, wholly
Insufficient for man ; a profound melancholy
At the bottom of all, like the whirlpool, absorbs,
In its own sombre bosom, the brittle bright orbs
Of those painted bubbles call'd pleasures. What then,
If earth in itself were sufficient for men,
Would be man's claim to that glorious promise which arches
With Hope's fourfold bow the black path where he marches
Triumphant to death, chanting boldly, ' Beyond!'
Whilst invisible witnesses round him respond
From the Infinite, till the great Poean is caught
By the echoes of heaven, and the chariot of Thought
Rolls forth from the world's ringing walls to its goal,
Urged by Faith, the bright-eyed charioteer of the soul ?

With removal, verse XXIII was then renumbered XXII, and so on to the end of the Canto.

For further discussion of this verse see an 1881 review in Atlantic Monthly which argues Meredith plagarized Alfted Musset's "Espoir en Dieu" from the line "Tho' divine Aphrodite should open her arms...":

Que la blonde Astarté, qu'idolêtrait la Grèce,
De ses îles d'azur sorte en m'ouvrant les bras;

Quand Horace Lucrêce, et le vieil Epicure, Assis ?
mes cotes, m'appelleraient heureux,

Je leur dirais à tous: 'Quoi que nous puissions faire
Je souffre, il est trop tard; le monde s'est fait vieux.

Une immense espèrance a traversé la terre;<
Malgré noua voua vers le ciel il faut lever les yeux.'

This removal was made for the Third English edition, the 1867 Chapman & Hall edition, and was continued in the 1868 edition illustrated by George DuMaurier and co-published with Ticknor & Fields in Boston. Lytton otherwise edited the 1860-1861 text in preparation for the 1867 edition by changing other passages rather dramatically.


Last revised: 3 May 2020