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Victor Hugo – The French Convention of 1793

March 22, 2015

            “The Convention is perhaps the culminating point of History.

            During its lifetime – for it lived – men did not quite understand what it was. It was precisely the grandeur which escaped its contemporaries; they were too much scared to be dazzled. Everything grand possesses a sacred horror. It is easy to admire mediocrities and hills; but whatever is too lofty, whether it be a genius or a mountain, – an assembly as well as a masterpiece, – alarms when seen too near. An immense height appears an exaggeration. It is fatiguing to climb. One loses breath upon acclivities, one slips down declivities; one is hurt by sharp, rugged heights which are in themselves beautiful; torrents in their foaming reveal the precipices; clouds hide the mountain-tops; a sudden ascent terrifies as much as a fall. Hence there is a greater sensation of fright than admiration. What one feels is fantastic enough, – an aversion to the grand. One sees the abyss and loses sight of the sublimity; one sees the monster and does not perceive the marvel. Thus the Convention was at first judged. It was measured by the purblind, – it, which needed to be looked at by eagles.”

(from Ninety-Three [1874], Hugo’s last novel, translated by Frank Lee Benedict)


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