26 Jun The late Madame Victor Hugo from Guernsey Mail and Telegraph
The late Madame Victor Hugo
Adèle Foucher (for her Christian name was Adèle and not Marie) was born a year or two after Victor Hugo, whose year of birth was 1802. She was married to Victor Hugo in 1823, when both were very young. The ceremony was performed at St Sulpice. The particulars relative to their marriage are fully narrated by her in a biography of her husband, which she published on 1863 whilst living in this island. Rather than describe it, we will quote the following extract from a letter which Lammenais wrote to the bridegroom when he heard of the approaching event: ‘You are a husband and may become a father; reflect, then, reflect frequently on all that is required of you by these two positions. You will never forget it if you remember that you are a Christian, if you seek in the paths of religion the necessary rules to direct your future life, and help you to bear those evils from which none are exempt. You must also seek strength to bear prosperity properly. The joy you now experience is legitimate; it is according to God’s will if only you recognise his hand, and I am sure that you do so from your touching and artless letter. But understand well that there is a happiness belonging to time, and that there is another kind to be sought for eternity. You ought, with all your heart and soul, to seek for the latter.’ This is an interesting letter. It shows the ardent desire of Lammenais for the spiritual well-being of the pair: that celebrated persons have been admonished in ways little known by us; and the deceased lady must have valued it by inserting it in her husband’s memoirs. After the publication of her husband’s Odes et poésies diverses, Louis XVIII gave him a pension of a thousand francs out of his own privy purse. It ought to be an encouragement for young man to know that when the celebrated poet was married he was not possessed of more than £40, except what he might earn by hard literary work. And when we see him now, even after having been a great loser by the coup d’etat of 1851, we can scarcely believe that he began with so little; however, the fact is undoubted. In the year 1843 Madame Victor Hugo received a shock from which she never recovered. In the neighbourhood of Villequier, near Havre, her daughter and son-in-law were drowned in the river about 40ft from the shore. When the corpses were found it was discovered that the husband had shut his eyes when he found that his wife could not be saved. On her body were found the marks of his nails, which he, in the anguish of the moment, and in the anxiety to save her, had made in her body. The corpses were buried in Villequier church yard. The aspect of political affairs in France having changed by Emperor’s taking possession of the throne, the next place in which Madame Hugo figures is in the island to which her husband and family, with a number of friends, had fled after the coup d’etat of 1851. The poet and his family lived at Marine-Terrace, which he thus describes in his ‘Life of Shakespeare.’ ‘Twelve years ago, in an island adjoining the coast of France, a house, with a melancholy aspect in every season, became particularly sombre because winter had commenced. … Evening comes quickly in autumn the smallness of the windows added to the shortness of the days and deepened the sad twilight in which the house was wrapped. The house, which had a terrace for a roof, was rectilinear, correct, square, newly whitewashed. … Why was this group installed in this lodging so little suitable? For reasons of haste, and from a desire to be as soon as possible anywhere but at the inn.’ In Jersey she exerted herself on behalf of the poor, and numerous are the cases which could be detailed of her philanthropic labours. We hasten on to the time when again the family were summoned away from their home to reside in another neighbourhood. The causes which led Victor Hugo to leave Jersey are very little known, and first require a little explanation. The best work on the subject is Les Miettes de l’histoire,’ by M Auguste Vacquerie, who was one of the exiled in that island, and hence an eye-witness. The general version is that Victor Hugo wrote against the Queen, and that consequently he was ordered by the Governor to leave. On the contrary, Hugo wrote nothing against the Queen, but protested by a declaration, signed by thirty-five of the refugees, against the conduct of the authorities of Jersey who had expulsed three of the parties concerned in the publication of the journal L’Homme. For this declaration and protestation the latter were also expelled. With regard to the first expulsion form Jersey (viz., that of the three refugees, by order of the governor), we may inquire whether the authorities of the island of Guernsey would have been permitted by our court to take such a step without its permission. We conjecture that here the authorities would never have acted as those of Jersey did, knowing that our court was not to be trifled with. The expulsion has shown us that the same man was within a short period ordered to leave, and then requested to return. The whole subject is very delicate and very important, and probably such a step will never be taken again on these shores. Public opinion would revolt against a reproduction of such tyrannous conduct. M Vacquerie quaintly remarks that, though Jersey barked, it was England that bit. This, perhaps, is the best resume of the unhappy expulsion. We regret having to describe scenes repellent to the taste, but it was impossible for us to attempt a sketch of her life without alluding to the expulsions, and in doing so it was not possible to refrain from clearing up some of the points on which the public has been misled, to the prejudice both of the exiled and of the people of Jersey. It was the illegal act of the representative of the Queen in the first expulsion, and in the second it was we understand on orders received form the Home Government that the thirty-five ‘consciences,’ as they are termed, were turned out of doors into the sea. In a word, the island of Jersey, through its representatives, never were called upon to decide the matter, and hence we must in justice clear Jersey, as a whole, for having been a party to the transaction. On the 31st October, 1855, Hugo and his sons left the island for Guernsey. Our readers will find a graphic description of this journey in François Victor Hugo’s Normandie inconnue. The introduction, entitled, ‘De Jersey à Guernesey’ is a narrative of great interest to the inhabitants of these islands. We have not space for more than the following extract, which we have translated for this article: ‘We saw before us another white line which pierced the clouds. This line, which increased little by little, allowed us to see soon its conformations. That was the coast of another isle – it was Guernsey. Guernsey! A Norman isle, like Jersey, by its origin, by its language, by its laws, by its climate; Guernsey, younger than Jersey in the age of liberty, but graver, more serious, more thoughtful in its progress: Guernsey, the little sister to which Jersey, the elder sister, had abandoned her birthright. … The Dispatch stopped before a charming town picturesquely situated on the side of a hill. It was St Peter’s, the capital of Guernsey. Vacquerie has truly and cleverly described St Peter’s when he says, in his ‘Profils et Grimaces,’ ‘Figurez-vous Caudebec sur les épaules de Honfleur’ (‘Conceive Caudebec on the shoulders of Honfleur.’) What a good fortune then it was for exiles to find thus unified on the same rock two French towns, Honfleur et Caudebec.’
Madame Hugo and other members of the family proceeded to Guernsey two days after; Hauteville House was chosen by the poet as his abode, and his wife, with her usual kind-heartedness, succoured the poor and needy to an extent little known except to herself and intimate friends. Madame Hugo also assisted her husband in directing the weekly dinner to poor children, which he inaugurated at Hauteville House, and which we are glad to say has been the model of many a similar institution in England. She was two or three times present at the annual fête at Christmas, when Victor Hugo’s oration is delivered, and when food, garments, and playthings are given to the forty children. In all these endeavours to help the poor she was ever foremost. Madame Hugo is not much known as an authoress; the only important work which she wrote is that published in 1863, entitled, Victor Hugo, raconté par un témoin de sa vie. (‘The story of the life of Victor Hugo narrated by a witness.’) It was partly written and entirely prepared for the press at Guernsey. It was translated by Professor Ansted’s wife, who with the professor was residing at Bon Air, St Martin’s. The memoir did not bring the events to the time when the family resided in this group, consequently to us a most important feature – the details fo their life at Marine Terrace and Hauteville House – is omitted. The work would have been completed had she lived, for we are informed that she had been preparing further material for some time previous to her death. Whether this continuation will be concluded by a surviving member of the family, and by the gentleman who is thoroughly acquainted with the history of the family, we are unable to say. Illness, which had compelled her to take care of her health for some years, carried her off in the month of August, whilst her husband was at Brussels, and at her desire she was buried at the side of her daughter and son-in-law at Villequier, a village in the neighbourhood of Havre. Her husband, who has sworn a sacred oath that he will not enter France under the government of the present Emperor, did not proceed further than the Belgian frontier, from which her remains were taken to the quiet village graveyard. Among the distinguished women who have dwelt in the Channel Isles, Madame Victor Hugo will occupy a prominent place. Distant posterity will feel an interest in thinking of her sojourn there.