Victor Hugo - greatest of the Romanticist poets

Profound thoughts from the author of the French classic Les Miserables.

"God is behind everything, but everything hides God," wrote Victor Hugo in his classic Les Miserables, Book 5, Chapter 4.

Born FEBRUARY 26, 1802, Victor Marie Hugo was hailed as the greatest of the Romanticist poets.

Victor Hugo is best known for writing:

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831;

  • Cromwell, 1827; and

  • Les Miserables, 1862, an epic story of redemption set in Paris after the French Revolution.

Les Miserables begins with a story of a starving jail parolee, named Jean Valjean, who comes to the home of the Bishop. The Bishop invites him in, feed him, gives him clothes and a warm place to sleep.

That night, Valjean stole the Bishop’s silver and ran away.

The next day, the police apprehended Valjean and brought him to the Bishop's home, saying they had found this man who claimed the Bishop had given him the silver.

To their surprise, especially Valjean's, the Bishop said he indeed gave him the silver, and that he had forgotten the most valuable pieces, two silver candlesticks, which he proceeded to give him.

The police released Valjean and departed. The Bishop told Valjean that God had pardoned him, and that he should use the silver to start a new life.

Les Miserables continues, with a plot of redemption, set in tumultuous upheavals of Paris in the middle 1800s.

Victor Hugo wrote near the end:

"The book ... is ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end."

Some of the memorable lines in Les Miserables are:

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

“The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.”

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”

“Not being heard is no reason for silence.”

“You ask me what forces me to speak? a strange thing; my conscience.”

“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.”

“Life's great happiness is to be convinced we are loved.”

“Love is the foolishness of men, and the wisdom of God.”

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

“The pupil (of the eye) dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.”

Victor Hugo's father was a general in Napoleon's army.

Hugo supported Napoleon's nephew and heir, Napoleon III, until he turned out to be a tyrant.

Napoleon III got democratically elected as the President of the Second French Republic, but in 1851 staged a coup d'état and declared himself Emperor.

Hugo opposed him, and as a result was forced into exile for 19 years, living in The Channel Islands in the English Channel.

When Napoleon III was forced from power in 1870, Victor Hugo returned to France.

He was a contemporary of the young French biochemist Louis Pasteur.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831, book 5, Victor Hugo wrote:

"The 15th century everything changes. Human thought discovers a mode of perpetuating itself ...

Gutenberg's letters of lead ... supersede Orpheus's letters of stone ... The invention of printing is the greatest event in history. It is the mother of revolution ...

Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenberg is the precursor of Luther."

In his Preface to Cromwell, 1827, Hugo wrote:

"Lastly, this threefold poetry flows from three great sources -- The Bible, Homer, Shakespeare ...

The Bible before the Iliad, the Iliad before Shakespeare."

Hugo stated:

"England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England."

When Mexico's leader Benito Juarez captured Maximilian I, Victor Hugo sent a telegram pleading for his life. Juárez refused and had Maximillian mercilessly shot on June 19, 1867.

Acclaimed for his knowledge of history, Victor Hugo wrote an epic historical poem, "The Legends of the Centuries" (1859-1876), memorializing how Prince Vlad III stopped the Muslim Sultan from invading into Romania.

In 1459, the Sultan had been demanding payment from Romanian subjects which included an annual tribute of 500 young boys to be handed over to be put into Muslim pederasty -- the sodomy of the Turks.

Vlad's brother Radu had been taken captive and made into a boy-lover of Sultan Murat II's son, Mehmed II. Radu subsequently converted to Islam and joined the Muslims in invading Romania.

Vlad III was made a captive and put in a Muslim prison where he witnessed their torture technique of impalement.

After escaping and returning to Wallachia, Vlad III refused the payment of tribute to the Turks and did not hand over of any more boys.

When the Sultan's messengers refused to remove their turbans, Vlad had them nailed to their heads.

In 1461, Vlad led the Romanian army to cross south of the Danube River where they won several victories against the Sultan near the Black Sea.

In 1462, thirty years before Columbus set sail, the Sultan Mehmed II led 100,000 Muslim troops into Wallachia.

Vlad's soldiers fought ferociously, killing thousands of the Sultan's men.

One night during the battle, Vlad, who knew the Turkish language, dressed as a Turkish officer, stole into the Sultan's camp and found his way into his tent to kill him.

The Sultan, suspicious of an attempt on his life, had switched tents allowing another soldier to be stabbed in his place.

Outnumbered, Vlad retreated, poisoning the wells and burning his own villages so that the invading Muslims would have no food and water.

Muslim warriors pursued, but Vlad escaped capture by nailing the horseshoes on his horse's hooves backwards.

When Vlad rode down the narrow mountain path away from the castle in the snow, the pursuers saw the hoof prints and thought he was riding towards the castle.

The Sultan's army finally reached the capital of Wallachia in June of 1462.

Entering the deserted town of Tirgoviste, they were horrified to see "the Forest of the Impaled."

Vlad, who had witnessed Muslim torture techniques, had impaled 20,000 captives on stakes.

Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles wrote in Proofs of Histories (c1465):

"The Sultan's army entered into the area of the impalements ... About twenty thousand ... had been spitted, quite a sight for the Turks and the Sultan himself.

The Sultan was seized with amazement and said that it was not possible to deprive of his country a man who had done such great deeds ... The rest of the Turks were dumbfounded when they saw the multitude of men on the stakes."

Witnessing this gruesome spectacle, the Muslim warriors lost the stomach to fight and turned back.

Vlad's tactic was to "out terrorize the terrorists."

A political tactic the Sultan used was to bribe some of his enemies to not show up on the day of battle, similar to Mohammed's tactics at the Battle of the Trench, 627 AD, or to hold an enemy king's son hostage and threaten to kill him if the king showed up on the day of battle.

As a result, the Eastern European kings, led by the King Hungary, formed the Order of St. George of the Dragon Slayer, with the dragon being the Sultan.

Vlad was a member of this order. The Romanian pronunciation of dragon was "dracula."

Vlad "The Impaler" -- a member of the Order of St. George of the Dragon Slayer - did not bite necks or drink blood -- that was fabricated by the fiction writer Bram Stoker in his 1897 macabre novel Dracula.

St. George the Dragon Slayer is considered a patron saint in many countries, including:

Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Malta, Montenegro, Genoa, Milan, Greece, Beirut, Ethiopia, Portugal, Lithuania, Moscow, Serbia, Brazil, Aragon, Catalonia, and England.

Victor Hugo mentioned Vlad the Impaler and Sultan Mourad (Mehmed II, son of Murat II) in his epic poem "Legend of the Ages," 1859-1876 (translated from French):

From Aden (port in Yemen) and Erzeroum (port in Greece) he (the Sultan) made broad pits (graves),

A mass grave of Modon (city in Greece) overcome, and three clusters of corpses of Aleppo, Bush and Damascus (piles of dead left by Muslims in cities of Anatolia and Syria);

One day, tie of the arc, he took his son for target,

And killed him; (Sultans would blind or kill siblings or sons to eliminate rival claims to power.)

Mourad Sultan was invincible;

Vlad, boyard (prince) of Tarvis, called Beelzebub,

Refused to pay to the Sultan his tribute,

Takes the Turkish embassy (300 soldiers) and all makes it perish

On thirty stakes, planted at the two edges of a road;

Mourad runs, extreme harvests, barns, attics,

The boyard (Vlad) beats, makes him twenty thousand prisoners,

Then, around one immense and black battle field,

Builds a very broad floor out of large stones,

And made in the crenels (openings in stone wall), full with dreadful plaintive cries,

To build and wall the twenty thousand prisoners,

Leaving holes by where one sees their eyes in the shade,

And leaves, after having written on their dark wall:

'Mourad, mason stone, with Vlad, grower of piles.'

Mourad was believing, Mourad was pious (Muslim);

He burned hundred convents of Christians in Euboea (second largest Greek Island),

Where by chance its lightning was one day fallen;

Mourad was forty years the bright murderer

Sabring (killing with a saber) the world, having God under his clamp;

He had Rhamséion (tomb of Ramses in Egypt) and Généralife (Moorish palace in Granada, Spain);

He was the Pasha, the Emperor, the Caliph,

And the priests said: "Allah! Mourad is great."

Victor Hugo's poem ends, but a story is passed down that the Turks eventually captured Vlad, killed him, and sent his head to the Sultan.

As Vlad was such a threat to the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan reportedly preserved Vlad's head in a barrel of honey, pulling it out every now and then to make sure he was still dead.

Vlad III's success in stopping the Ottoman Turks made him a Romanian hero, similar to:

  • Sigismund, King of Hungary fought the Ottoman Turks, 1387-1437, forming the Order of St. George the Dragon-Slayer, or Order of the Dragon, with the dragon being the Muslim Ottoman Sultan.

  • Prince Fruzhin fought the Turks in Bulgaria, 1406-1444;

  • King Wladyslaw III fought the Turks in Poland, 1434-1444.

  • John Hunyadi fought the Turks in Hungary, 1438-1456.

  • George Kastrioti "Skanderbeg" fought the Turks in Albania, Venice, and Naples, 1444-1479.

  • Stephen the Great, "Athleta Christi," fought the Turks in Moldovia, 1457-1504.

Victor Hugo wrote in Histoire d'un crime, 1852:

"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come."

Ronald Reagan remarked to provincial leaders in Quebec City, Canada, March 18, 1985:

"Victor Hugo once observed: 'No army can stop an idea whose time has come.'

Well, today the tide of freedom is up, lifting our economies ever higher on new currents of imagination, discovery, and hope for our future ...

A role for government that is less interventionist ... a role that creates a climate in which the entrepreneurial genius of the private sector can do what it does best--namely, create new wealth, new possibilities of employment."

On January 27, 1988, Reagan addressed the Reserve Officers Association:

"Victor Hugo once said that 'People do not lack strength; they lack will.'

Well ... the American people looked deep into their souls and proved to the world that they still had the will to be free and the courage to carry the torch of liberty ...

To these brave young men and women, to whom we owe so much, we restored the pride this country has in those who wear the military uniform of the United States of America."

Victory Hugo died May 22, 1885, and over 3 million people attended Hugo's funeral in Paris.

On life and love, Hugo wrote:

"Life is a voyage."

“When a woman is speaking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.”

“Life is a flower of which love is the honey.”

"The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves."

"The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness."

Victor Hugo commented on faith:

“One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.”

"There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees." (Les Miserables)

"You have suffered much ... Do not complain ... It is thus that men are transformed into angels." (Les Miserables)

"Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man."

“Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization.”

"Christianity leads poetry to the truth. Like it, the modern muse will see things in a higher and broader light."

"Courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."

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