THAT sentence from Les Miserables

A few students, when struggling with the idea of writing complicated, lengthy sentences, have been shocked to hear that Victor Hugo wrote an extremely long and complicated sentence in his 1862 masterpiece, Les Miserables, recently made into a film featuring Wolverine and Catwoman singing songs. 

Anyway, it’s true – he did, and here is that sentence. It describes King Louis Philippe. Enjoy! 

“The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances, but also as worthy of esteem as that 
father had been of blame; possessing all private virtues and many public virtues; careful of his health, of his fortune, 
of his person, of his affairs, knowing the value of a minute and not always the value of a year; sober, serene, 
peaceable, patient; a good man and a good prince; sleeping with his wife, and having in his palace lackeys charged with 
the duty of showing the conjugal bed to the bourgeois, an ostentation of the regular sleeping-apartment which had become 
useful after the former illegitimate displays of the elder branch; knowing all the languages of Europe, and, what is 
more rare, all the languages of all interests, and speaking them; an admirable representative of the “middle class,” but 
outstripping it, and in every way greater than it; possessing excellent sense, while appreciating the blood from which 
he had sprung, counting most of all on his intrinsic worth, and, on the question of his race, very particular, declaring 
himself Orleans and not Bourbon; thoroughly the first Prince of the Blood Royal while he was still only a Serene 
Highness, but a frank bourgeois from the day he became king; diffuse in public, concise in private; reputed, but not 
proved to be a miser; at bottom, one of those economists who are readily prodigal at their own fancy or duty; lettered, 
but not very sensitive to letters; a gentleman, but not a chevalier; simple, calm, and strong; adored by his family and 
his household; a fascinating talker, an undeceived statesman, inwardly cold, dominated by immediate interest, always 
governing at the shortest range, incapable of rancor and of gratitude, making use without mercy of superiority on 
mediocrity, clever in getting parliamentary majorities to put in the wrong those mysterious unanimities which mutter 
dully under thrones; unreserved, sometimes imprudent in his lack of reserve, but with marvellous address in that 
imprudence; fertile in expedients, in countenances, in masks; making France fear Europe and Europe France! 
Incontestably fond of his country, but preferring his family; assuming more domination than authority and more authority 
than dignity, a disposition which has this unfortunate property, that as it turns everything to success, it admits of 
ruse and does not absolutely repudiate baseness, but which has this valuable side, that it preserves politics from 
violent shocks, the state from fractures, and society from catastrophes; minute, correct, vigilant, attentive, 
sagacious, indefatigable; contradicting himself at times and giving himself the lie; bold against Austria at Ancona,
obstinate against England in Spain, bombarding Antwerp, and paying off Pritchard; singing the Marseillaise with 
conviction, inaccessible to despondency, to lassitude, to the taste for the beautiful and the ideal, to daring 
generosity, to Utopia, to chimeras, to wrath, to vanity, to fear; possessing all the forms of personal intrepidity; a 
general at Valmy; a soldier at Jemappes; attacked eight times by regicides and always smiling; brave as a grenadier, 
courageous as a thinker; uneasy only in the face of the chances of a European shaking up, and unfitted for great 
political adventures; always ready to risk his life, never his work; disguising his will in influence, in order that he 
might be obeyed as an intelligence rather than as a king; endowed with observation and not with divination; not very 
attentive to minds, but knowing men, that is to say requiring to see in order to judge; prompt and penetrating good 
sense, practical wisdom, easy speech, prodigious memory; drawing incessantly on this memory, his only point of 
resemblance with Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon; knowing deeds, facts, details, dates, proper names, ignorant of 
tendencies, passions, the diverse geniuses of the crowd, the interior aspirations, the hidden and obscure uprisings of 
souls, in a word, all that can be designated as the invisible currents of consciences; accepted by the surface, but
little in accord with France lower down; extricating himself by dint of tact; governing too much and not enough; his own 
first minister; excellent at creating out of the pettiness of realities an obstacle to the immensity of ideas; mingling
a genuine creative faculty of civilization, of order and organization, an indescribable spirit of proceedings and 
chicanery, the founder and lawyer of a dynasty; having something of Charlemagne and something of an attorney; in short, 
a lofty and original figure, a prince who understood how to create authority in spite of the uneasiness of France, and 
power in spite of the jealousy of Europe, — Louis Philippe will be classed among the eminent men of his century, and 
would be ranked among the most illustrious governors of history had he loved glory but a little, and if he had had the 
sentiment of what is great to the same degree as the feeling for what is useful.”

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About PS

English teacher in Shanghai.
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