Vietor Marie Hugo, a French poet and novelist, born in Besancon, Feb. 26, 1802. The son of an officer whose military duties called him out of France, he was carried in childhood to Elba, Corsica, Switzerland, and Italy. In 1809 he was taken to Paris; and here for two years, under the exclusive supervision of his mother and the care of an old priest, he commenced his classical studies in company with an elder brother, Eugene, and a young girl who afterward became his wife. In 1811, his father having been made general and appointed major-domo of Joseph Bonaparte, the new king of Spain, Victor went to Madrid, and entered the seminary of nobles with a view of becoming one of the pages of Joseph; but subsequent events defeated this design. In 1812 Mme. Hugo returned to Paris with her two sons, and had their classical education continued by the same clergyman who had already instructed them. On the fall of the empire a separation took place between the general and his wife; and thenceforth the young man was placed entirely under the control of the former. He entered a private academy to prepare himself for admission to the polytechnic school.
Here he evinced some taste and ability for mathematics, but a much stronger inclination toward poetry; and his first poems gave promise of such talent that his father was finally persuaded to allow him to follow literature as his vocation. In 1817 he presented to the French academy a poem upon Les avantages de letude. He afterward won three prizes in succession at the Toulouse academy of floral games. His first volume of Odes et ballades (1822) created a sensation. Two novels, Han d'Islande (1823) and Bug-Jargal (1825), exhibited him as an original and forcible prose writer, but already displayed that predilection for the horrible and monstrous which characterizes most of his greater productions. His second volume of Odes et ballades appeared in 1826. About this period, in conjunction with Sainte-Beuve, An-toine and Smile Deschamps, A. de Vigny, Bou-langer the painter, and David the sculptor, he formed a kind of literary association, called the Cenacle, in the meetings of which new literary and artistic doctrines were debated. They also established a periodical, called La muse francaise, which attracted little attention.
The drama of Cromwell (1827), although unsuitable for the stage, was presented as a specimen of the literary reforms aimed at by the new school; but it had much less importance than the preface, which was a treatise on esthetics. Thenceforth Victor Hugo was the acknowledged leader of the romanticists, who waged earnest war against their opponents, the classicists. His claims to this distinction were strengthened in 1828 by the publication of Les orientales. Le dernier jour d'un con-damne, which followed, fascinated the public by its vivid delineation of the mental tortures of a man doomed to execution. The contest between the two opposite schools reached its climax when, on Feb. 26, 1830, the drama of Hernani was produced at the Theatre Fran-Cais. In 1831 Hugo won another dramatic triumph with Marion Delorme, while his lyrical poems Les feuilles d'automne and his novel Notre Dame de Paris were received with enthusiasm. The performance of his dramas, Le roi s'amuse (1832), Lucrece Borgia and Marie Tudor (1833), Angelo, tyran de Padoue (1835), Ruy Blas (1838), and especially Les burgraves (1843), drew forth marked approbation; his political poems, Les. chants du crepuscule (1835), Les voix interieures (1837), and Les rayons et les ombres (1840), were highly popular; and his miscellaneous writings, Claude Gueux, Etude sur Mirabeau, Littera-ture et philosophie melees (1834), and Le Rhin (1842), were scarcely less successful.
His literary reputation had secured his election to the French academy in 1841, notwithstanding the opposition of the members attached to the old classic school; and having thus reached the highest distinction in literature, he now indulged in political aspirations, which were partly gratified by his being created in 1845 a peer of France by King Louis Philippe. On the revolution of February, 1848, he was elected a deputy to the constituent assembly, where he generally voted with the conservative party. On his reelection to the legislative assembly, he evinced more democratic and socialistic tendencies. In vehement speeches he denounced the reactionary tendencies of the majority, and the secret policy of President Louis Napoleon. On the coup d'etat of Dec. 2, 1851, Hugo was among those deputies who vainly attempted to assert the rights of the assembly and to preserve the constitution. His conduct led to his proscription; he took refuge in the island of Jersey, where, while resuming his literary pursuits, he continued his opposition to Louis Napoleon, publishing Napoleon le Petit (1852), and his bitter satires Les chd-timents (1853). Two years later he was compelled, on account of some hostile manifestation to the French government, to remove to the island of Guernsey. He refused to accept the amnesty offered to political exiles in 1859. In 1856 he published Les contemplations, a collection of lyrical and personal poems, and in 1859 La legende des siecles (2 vols. 8vo), a series of poems mainly of an epical character.
Les miserables, a romance which had been announced several years before, appeared in nine languages simultaneously at Paris, London, Brussels, Madrid, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Turin, and New York (April, 1862). Its success equalled that of any of his previous works. An illustrated edition, published in parts (Paris, 1863-'5), attained a sale of 150,000 copies. In 1865 he published Chansons des rues et des bois, in which all the peculiarities of the author were exhibited in an exaggerated degree. Les travailleurs de la mer (1866) was also very popular; but Vhomme qui rit (1869), in which the author's fondness for monstrous caricature was carried to its height, did not attain so great a success. In 1869 he again refused to avail himself of the privilege of returning to France afforded him by the emperor's proclamation of amnesty of Aug. 15. He published in the Rappel a protest against the plebiscite of May 8, 1870, ratifying the new reforms of the empire, the violence of which caused it to be officially condemned.
After the fall of the emperor and the proclamation of the republic he returned to Paris, and soon after issued an address to the Germans calling upon them to proclaim a German republic and extend the hand of friendship to France. On Feb. 8, 1871, he was elected one of the 43 representatives of the department of the Seine in the national assembly. He there vehemently opposed the parliamentary treaty of peace between France and Germany. This aroused against him the anger of the party of "the right," and on March 8, when he attempted to address the assembly, the opposition was so violent that he left the tribune and immediately resigned his seat. Returning to Paris when the insurrection of the commune broke out, he vainly protested in the Rappel against the destruction of the Vendome column, and soon after went to Brussels, where on May 26 he wrote a letter protesting against the course of the Belgian government in regard to the insurgents of Paris, and offering an asylum to the soldiers of the commune. This excited the hostility of the Belgian government and of the populace of Brussels; his house was surrounded in the night by a mob, and he escaped only by the intervention of the police.
Being required by the government to quit Brussels, he went to London, and after the condemnation of the leaders of the commune he returned to Paris and interceded with M. Thiers energetically, though vainly, in behalf of Rossel, Rochefort, and others of the communist leaders. At the election in Paris on Jan. 7, 1872, he was presented by all the radical newspapers as their candidate, but was defeated. During the siege of Paris a new edition of Les chatiments was published, and more than 100,000 copies were sold. In 1872 he published a volume of poetry entitled L'Annee terrible, depicting the misfortunes of France. On May 10 of that year he commenced, in company with his son Francois and others, the publication of a democratic journal called Le Peuple Souverain. His latest novel, Quatre-vingt-treize (1874), relates to the war in the Vendue, and introduces Robespierre, Danton, and Marat. It was published simultaneously in French, English, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Hungarian, and other languages, Hugo deriving 80,000 francs from these translations alone.
The latest edition of Hugo's works, complete to the time of publication, was published in Paris in 1862-'3, in 20 vols. 12mo. - Two of his sons, Charles Victor (born in 1826, died March 16, 1871), and Francois Victor (born in 1828, died Dec. 26, 1873), distinguished themselves as pupils of the Charlemagne college, and in 1848-'50 contributed to the newspaper L'Evenement, which supported the politics of their father. The elder, on account of an article on the death penalty, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Both accompanied their father in his exile, and devoted their leisure hours to literature. Charles published several light novels, among which La Boheme doree was especially successful. Francois, after translating with considerable success the sonnets of Shakespeare into French, began in 1859 a translation of his dramatic works, which he completed in 1865. The brothers returned to France in 1869, and commenced the publication of the Rappel in company with Rochefort, who however soon separated from them. Francois at the time of his death had nearly completed an edition of a posthumous work by his brother Charles, Les hommes de l'exil. - One of the two brothers of Victor Hugo, Jules Abel (born in 1798, died in 1855), deserves mention as a literary man.
Among his many publications were: Histoire de la campagne d'Espagne en 1823 (2 vols. 8vo, Paris, 1824); France pit-toresque, ou Description des departments et colonies de la France, etc. (3 vols. 4to, 1833); France militaire, histoire des armees francaises de terre et de mer de 1792 d 1833 (5 vols. 4to, 1834); and France historique et monumentale, histoire generale de France depuis les temps les plus recules jusqu'd & nos jours (5 vols. 4to, with maps and plans, 1836-'43).