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PROBABLY the most interesting newspaper. office I have ever visited is that of the Paris Rappel, which is owned by Victor Hugo and his son. The Rappel is the largest of the radical journals of Paris; it is as ably written as any of the newspapers of that great city, which is no wonder, considering that the great poet himself is a regular contributor to its columns; and it has a circulation so extensive as to make it very profitable property.
I had a letter to Victor Hugo, and, not finding him at his residence in the Rue Deluc, drove to the office of the Rappel, where, I was told, I would be certain to meet him. Le Rappel occupies most elegant apartments in a new five-story building on the Boulevard Montmartre. The editorial sanctum is a splendid room on the second floor, with large windows, and a most delightful view of one of the finest portions of Paris.
When I was ushered in by a young page, I saw a pale, slender gentleman of forty-five or fifty, rising slowly and painfully from a sofa on which he was reclining.
"M. Victor Hugo?" I asked.
"I am M. Hugo's son," he replied. "My father will be here presently. Can I do any thing for you?"
I told him who I was, and what I had come for. Then we were friends at once. He was kind enough to tell me that he had read some of my books, and I was proud to hear from him that his father would be delighted to see me.
Poor fellow! He next told me abont his bad health. He has been an invalid for years; and I saw from his pallid, hollow cheeks that his days are numbered. * Still, although a hopeless consumptive, he is daily at his post, and cheerfully carries on the laborious work of a managing editor. To do so in Paris is not only an arduous and delicate, but also a dangerous task.
I heard with profound emotion the pathetic story which M. Hugo told me about the misfortunes of his illustrious family. He himself is its last representative since the death of his younger brother. He has a wife, but no children. A few years yet, and the world will know no more of the Hugos, who, for nearly three-quarters of a century, have played so conspicuous a part in the history of France-Victor Hugo's father, a general of the First Empire, his elder brother, Abel, a brilliant historian, his sons excellent poets and still better journalists. The poor man with whom I was conversing told me all about his lamented brother, who, an ardent student, undoubtedly worked himself to death, writing in the daytime for Le Rappel, and translating Burns and Walter Scott until late at night.
Half an hour passed in this delightful, and withal saddening manner, when the door opened, and Victor Hugo himself stepped in. I recognized him at once, although nearly thirty years had passed since I had seen him last. That was in 1845, when he delivered a fiery speech in the Chamber of Peers. His hair then was black, now it was white as snow; but his bearing was still as proud and erect as then, and his eye still possessed that magnetic, wonderful brilliancy, which renders his face, although not exactly handsome, so remarkably attractive. Louis Philippe, with whom Victor Hugo was on excellent terms, always said of him:
"Whenever M. Hugo asks any thing of me, I grant it at once. I would not dare to look him in his great, curious eye, and refuse."
Let me add that Victor Hugo never asked any thing wrong of that king.
His welcome was cordial in the extreme. He informed me that Dickens, my poor, dear friend, had told him, in 1858, that I intended to visit him at his retreat on the island of Guerosey. How kind to remember it! We were friends at once. Not a trace of haughtiness is to be found in the manners of this prince of poets. He invited me to dine with him that day at six, and would not hear of any excuses.
He asked me to look at the papers a moment, rang a bell, and took from the entering boy a proof-sheet. I could not help watching him as he glanced over it. It was a brief editorial, but it evidently did not please him. Seizing a lead-pencil, he hastily wrote some lines on the proof-sheet, and then whispered to his son. The latter made a soothing remark to his father, which at once removed the frown from Victor Hugo's fine brow.
I asked him how he liked newspaper work. He laughed, and said he was hardly able to give a competent Opinion about it, as he did so little of it.
"You must ask M. de Girardin abont it" he said, good-naturedly. "He can tell you all about it. I never was much of a journalist."
"You write your editorials in verse," I said; and I complimented him with unfeigned admiration upon the magnificent lines he had recently addressed to the Count de Chambord.
To my astonishment, father and son looked at one another and smiled.
The son explained it all to me. "Father," he said, "blamed me for giving the poem to the printer. He was dissatisfied after finishing it. It was not good enough. I gave it, without his knowledge, to the compositors. Next day he was angry with me. I am glad, M. Andersen, that you side with me.
And thus we chatted on for over an hour. Assistant editors and reporters came in. The younger Hugo gave them their instructions in the kindest manner, his father interposing, now and then, with one of those caustic remarks for which he is noted.
In the course of the conversation he asked me about my eyesight. He said he had read somewhere that I had been in danger of losing it entirely.
"I was twenty-two years old" he said, "when the doctors forbade me to read, under pain of becoming blind. Eighteen months I did not open a book nor write a line; but, whdn my eyes did not get any better, I pursued the Opposite course. Then I did get better. For once the doctors were at fault."
A number of proof-sheets were brought to him, and I rose.
He took both my hands.
"At six," he said, warmly to me; "and you must stay all evening."
At the appointed hour I was at his house. He took me to his dining-room. No one was there but he and I. Still, there were six chairs besides our own. On one of them was the inscription, in letters of gold: "Absentes adsunt." In this manner the great poet honors the memory of his departed dear ones.- ~Goldschmidt's Skandinavisk Review
* Since this article was in type intelligence of his death has been received.