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A SELECTION FROM THE COMEDIES OF MARIVAUX
EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES
EVERETT WARD OLMSTED
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
_All rights reserved_.
To Thomas Frederick Crane, A.M., Of Cornell University, Whose Profound Scholarship, Inspiring Teachings, And Lasting Friendship Are Here Gratefully Acknowledged.
That so typical a representative of eighteenth century society, so gracious a personality, so charming a writer, and so superior a genius as Marivaux should be not only unedited, but practically unknown to the American reading public, is a matter of surprise. His brilliant comedies, written in an easy prose, and free from all impurities of thought or expression, offer peculiarly attractive texts for our classes. It is for these reasons that this edition was undertaken. The plays chosen, _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_, _le Legs_, and _les Fausses Confidences_ are generally considered his best plays, and are fortunately free from dialect, which, in the mouths of certain characters of _l’Epreuve_ and of _la Mere confidente_, charming as are these comedies, makes them undesirable for study in college or school. The text of _les Fausses Confidences_ is that of 1758 (Paris, Duchesne, 5 vols.), the last collective edition published during the lifetime of the author, that of _le Legs_, from the edition of 1740 (Paris, Prault pere, 4 vols.), while that of _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_, which is contained in neither the edition of 1758 nor in that of 1740, is from the first collective edition of his works of 1732 (Paris. Briasson, 2 vols.). It has not seemed wise to retain the curious orthography of these early editions, as the explanation of the same would uselessly burden the notes, and possibly confuse the student. An orthography following the same lines as that of the edition of _les Grands Ecrivains_ has been adopted.
The Introduction is rather extensive, but, as it serves in truth as an introduction to students in American schools of an author as yet little known, a less minute statement of his qualifications would hardly have been pardonable. Many quotations have been given, some from Marivaux himself, or from contemporary biographers, of so authoritative a nature as to add more weight than any summing up by the editor, and others from celebrated French critics, whose views, or whose picturesqueness of expression, have been often invaluable. In fact, the Introduction does not claim to be so much a literary essay as a compilation of authorities.
The notes to a text containing no historical, literary, or biographical allusions are naturally limited to explaining the difficulties of the French, and are less extensive than would otherwise be required.
Words and idioms, which, though unusual or difficult, can be found in any of the small dictionaries accessible to students, have been excluded from the notes as unnecessary, except such as might mislead unless explained, or such as differ from the modern use.
It remains for the editor to acknowledge his indebtedness for sympathetic interest and valuable suggestions to Gustave Larroumet, professor of French Literature at the University of Paris, and perpetual secretary of the Academie des Beaux Arts, to Professor Crane and Mr. Guerlac of Cornell University, and to Professor de Sumichrast of Harvard.
EVERETT WARD OLMSTED.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA, N.Y.,
January 9, 1901.
LE JEU DE L’AMOUR ET DU HASARD
LES FAUSSES CONFIDENCES
Among the treasures of the Comedie-Francaise, interesting alike to students of letters and of art, is a painting by Vanloo. It bears the date of 1753, and represents a man of doubtful age–for it is hard to tell whether he is past his prime or not–yet, if the truth were known, one could not write him down for less than sixty-five. The face is life-like and attractive, full of an expression of gentle breeding, kindliness, wit, and subtlety. The eyes are rather dark, large, fine, and keen; with the thin lips, pursed in a half-smile, they form the most striking features of the countenance, and serve to give it that characteristic of _finesse_ so peculiar to the man. The well-developed brow, the full cheeks, and faint suggestion of a double chin, the powdered hair, the black silk coat, the lace _jabot_, are all in keeping with our conception of this French dramatist, whom a competent critic of to-day has classed as greater than any of his contemporaries in the same field, than Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Regnard, Le Sage, and second only to Moliere, Corneille, and Racine. Marivaux, whose rehabilitation has come but slowly, and in spite of many critics, occupies a place to-day, not only with the ultra-refined, but in the hearts of the theatre-going public, which, I doubt not, even the most enthusiastic admirers among his contemporaries would not have dared to hope for him; for, next to Moliere, no author of comedies appears so often upon the stage of the Theatre-Francais as does the author of _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_.
In the very heart of Paris, and just back of the Hotel de Ville, stands the church of Saint-Gervais, a church of comparatively little fascination to the general student of art or history, although its mingling of Flamboyant and Renaissance styles may attract the specialist in architecture: but to the student of literary history it has a greater interest, for it is here that “poor Scarron sleeps.” and it was in this parish that Pierre Cariet de Chamblain de Marivaux was born, and in this church, doubtless, that he was christened, although the register of baptism was destroyed at the time of the burning of the archives of the Hotel de Ville, in May, 1871.
The date of his birth was February 4, 1688, a year noteworthy as introducing to the public the first edition of the _Caracteres_ of La Bruyere, with whom Marivaux has often been compared. His father was of an old Norman family, which had had representatives in the _parlement_ of that province. Since then the family had “descended from the robe to finance,” following the expression of d’Alembert. Ennobled by the robe, they had assumed the name de Chamblain, but unfortunately the latter name was common to certain financiers, and, to still better distinguish themselves, the family had adopted the additional name of Marivaux. There seems, however, to have been no connection between them and the lords of Marivaux (or Marivaulx), a branch of the house of l’Isle-Adam. Our author signed, himself _de Marivaux_ or _Carlet de Marivaux_.
His childhood was passed at Riom in Auvergne, where his father had been appointed director of the Mint. Gossot declares that Marivaux was six years of age when he was taken to Riom, but does not give his authority for the statement. It is certain, however, that he was so young at the time that some of his contemporaries supposed he had been born there. Marivaux received his early education at Riom, and later at Limoges, where the family went to dwell, and where his father was perhaps again connected with the Mint.
His biographers differ with regard to the education he received. His earliest biographer, de La Porte, maintains that his father “ne negligea rien pour l’education de son fils, qui annonca de bonne heure, par des progres rapides dans ses premieres etudes, cette finesse d’esprit qui caracterise ses ouvrages.”8] Lesbros de la Versane gives the same testimony: “Ses heureuses dispositions lui firent profiter de celle (the education) qu’il recut,” and adds: “Il fut admire de ses maitres, et il a fait les delices de tous ceux qui l’ont connu.” There is no reason why we should not accept the testimony of one who, in general, is so judicious in his statements as is de La Porte, and, particularly, when the adverse testimony comes from so evidently prejudiced a writer as Palissot.
D’Alembert follows the testimony of Palissot and others, although he confesses that they are “in truth very ill disposed” towards Marivaux, and adds that perhaps they have very unjustly accused him of ignorance of Latin. Their pardoning him his lack of knowledge of Greek, d’Alembert cleverly ascribes to that “indulgent equity” which does not require of one’s fellows that which one lacks himself. The following extract from the _Spectateur_ will prove that, while Marivaux could read the Greek writers in translations only, he was able to read Latin in the original: “Si c’est une traduction du grec, et qu’elle m’ennuie, je penche a croire que l’auteur y a perdu; si c’est du latin, _comme je le sais_, je me livre sans facon au degout ou au plaisir qu’il me donne.” It is also known that he completed his law studies and might have practiced, but for the hatred which he, in common with so many other young _litterateurs_ in times past, had conceived for the profession.
Admitted early to the best society of Limoges, Marivaux enjoyed advantages from which he gained the polish that made him acceptable in the Paris salons of which he was later an habitue, When he was but seventeen years of age there occurred an incident, which, if it did not have so serious an effect upon his life as he himself believed, at least was not without its influence in fostering that spirit of observation and inquiry, not to say scepticism, with regard to the motives that influence his fellow man, which was so prominent a characteristic of this writer. Marivaux describes the incident in the first _feuille_ of the _Spectateur francais_, and, inasmuch as the sketch gives an excellent idea of the man, I translate it in full.
“At the age of seventeen I became attached to a young girl, to whom I owe the sort of life which I adopted. I was not uncomely then, I had a mild disposition and affectionate ways. The decorum which I noticed in the girl had drawn my attention to her beauty. I found in her, moreover, so much indifference to her charms, that I would have sworn she was ignorant of them. How simple minded I was at that time! What a pleasure, said I to myself, if I can win the love of a girl who does not care to have lovers, since she is beautiful without observing it, and hence is no coquette! I never left her without my affectionate surprise increasing at the sight of so many graces in a person who was not the more vain because of it. Were she seated or standing, speaking or walking, it always seemed to me that she was absolutely artless, and that she thought of nothing less than appearing to be what she was.
“One day in the country, when I had just left her, a forgotten glove caused me to retrace my steps to get it. I perceived the beauty in the distance, regarding herself in a mirror, and I noticed, to my great astonishment, that she was picturing herself to herself in all the phases in which, during our conversation, I had seen her face, and it turned out that the expressions of her countenance, which I had thought so unaffected, were, to name them correctly, only tricks; I judged from a distance that her vanity adopted certain ones, that it improved upon others; they were little ways that one might have noted down and that a woman might have learned like a musical air. I trembled for the risk which I should have run, if I had had the misfortune to experience again in good faith her deceptions, at the point of perfection to which her cleverness had carried them; but I had believed her natural, and had loved her only on that footing; so that my love ceased immediately, as if my heart had been only conditionally moved. She, in turn, perceived me in the mirror, and blushed. As for me, I entered laughing, and picking up my glove: ‘Ah! mademoiselle, I beg your pardon,’ I said to her, ‘for having, up to this time, attributed to nature charms, the whole honour of which is due to your ingenuity alone.’ ‘What is the matter? What does this speech mean?’ was her reply. ‘Shall I speak to you more frankly?’ I said to her: ‘I have just seen the machinery of the Opera; it will still divert me, but it will touch me less.’ Thereupon I went out, and it is from this adventure that there sprang up in me that misanthropy which has not left me, and which has caused me to pass my life in examining mankind, and in amusing myself with my reflexions.”
We could not have in miniature a more perfect sketch than this of the character of the man, with those peculiarities that were to make of him so original a writer, and little did Marivaux imagine that in the coquette of Limoges he “had seen the living and faithful image of his Muse,” with all its archness, coquettishness, and ingenuity in style and expression. Marivaux had much of the feminine in his nature,–a rare intuition, a marked finesse in observation, an extreme sensitiveness with regard to his own and others’ feelings, a dislike of criticism with a reluctance to reply to it, though never forgetting the attack, a certain timidity with men, a fondness for dress and luxury, an extreme love of conversation, generosity to the point of self-sacrifice, and a religious turn of mind in a sceptical century. His connection with the salons of Paris, where so much of his life was spent in the society of women, probably contributed largely to develop those traits that were doubtless innate.
With something of the coquette in his own nature, Marivaux had no patience with it in others. D’Alembert relates another incident, which will serve to show that not only affectation, but also everything that seemed to him too studied, received his condemnation. “One day, he went to see a man from whom he had received many letters, which were almost in his own style, and, which, as one may well imagine, had seemed to him very ingenious. Not finding him, he determined to wait. He noticed, by chance, on the desk of this man, the rough draughts of the letters which he had received from him, and which he supposed had been written off-hand. Here are rough draughts, said he, which do him no credit: henceforth, he may make minutes of his letters for whomsoever he likes, but he shall receive no more of mine. He left the house instantly, and never returned.”
At the age of eighteen (1706), and shortly after leaving college, Marivaux made his debut in literature as the result of a discussion in which he maintained that a comedy was not a difficult thing to write. Upon being challenged to prove his point, he set to work, and, a few days later, brought to the company a comedy in one act, entitled _le Pere prudent et equitable, ou Crispin l’heureux fourbe_. It is the only one of Marivaux’s comedies written in verse, which form of composition he adopted the better to test himself and to demonstrate his claim; but he took good care not to give to the public his comedy, “pour ne pas perdre en public,” he said, “le pari qu’il avait gagne en secret,” and it was not until nearly fifteen years later, when he had reached the age of thirty-two, that he entrusted a work to the stage. He did well to keep this comedy from the public, for it contained little that gave promise of genius, being juvenile in character, dull and faulty in versification, and largely, though poorly, imitated from Moliere and Regnard.
It must have been shortly after this that Marivaux returned to Paris to continue his studies, and possibly to prepare himself for the life of a literary dilettante. His means were sufficient to enable him to indulge his taste in this way. Here we find him admitted to the salon of Mme. de Lambert, held in her famous apartments, situated at the corner of the rue Richelieu and the rue Colbert, and now replaced by a portion of the Bibliotheque Nationale. It was a rendezvous of select society on Wednesdays, and particularly of the literary set on Tuesdays, and among its habitues may be mentioned such men as Fontenelle, d’Argenson, Sainte- Aulaire, La Motte, and President Henault. “It was,” says Fontenelle, “with few exceptions, the only house which had preserved itself from the epidemic disease of gambling, the only one in which one met to converse reasonably and even with _esprit_ upon occasion.” Its influence was inestimable upon literary questions of the time, and it might be considered almost as the antechamber of the French Academy. The envious dubbed it _un bureau d’esprit_, and its form of _preciosite_, _lambertinage_.
That Mme. de Lambert had a great influence in forming the mind of the young author no one can read his works and doubt. A “_precieuse_ in the most flattering and most exact acceptation” of the term, she promoted a similar turn of mind in Marivaux. His dislike for Moliere may have received its encouragement from her, as she was never quite willing to forgive that great genius for his attack upon _les femmes savantes_. Marivaux, too, had, as Palissot expresses it, “un faible pour les precieuses,” and for the author of those famous attacks, a contempt as unfeigned as absurd. The high moral character of his writings and his ideas on marriage and children may readily have found their origin with Mme. de Lambert.
Mme. de Tencin, to whose salon of the rue Saint-Honore Marivaux was likewise welcomed, was as different a character from the kindly, serious, upright, and judicious Mme. de Lambert as can well be imagined, and it was only after the death of the latter, in 1733, that her salon was particularly brilliant. Her youth had been most disorderly. At an early age she had assumed the veil, but, through the efforts of her brother, the abbe de Tencin, and later cardinal, who, doubtless, saw in her a powerful factor for his own promotion, she obtained her secularization. Coming to Paris a short time before the death of Louis XIV, she was ready to welcome the gross immorality of the Regency, and, for personal advancement, entered into a series of liaisons with Prior, the friend of Lord Bolingbroke, Rene d’Argenson, the Regent himself, Dubois, and the Chevalier Destouches. The latter was the father of her son, whom she abandoned on the steps of the church Saint-Jean-le-Rond, and who, reared by a glazier’s wife, became the celebrated d’Alembert. Another lover, Lafresnaye, whom she had induced to put all of his property in her name, shot himself, or was shot, at her house. Although imprisoned on suspicion at the Chatelet, and later at the Bastille, she soon gained her liberty by the intervention of powerful friends. That she could maintain her position in society as she did is a striking proof of its terribly corrupt condition. In her declining years she sought to veil the disorders of her youth by more serious pursuits, and gathered about her a number of literary spirits of whom she spoke as her _betes_ or her _menagerie_.
Marmontel gives the following description of the habitues of her salon and of the desire that pervaded all to show their wit: “L’auditoire etait respectable. J’y vis rassembles Montesquieu, Fontenelle, Mairan, Marivaux, le jeune Helvetius, Astruc, je ne sais qui encore, tous gens de lettres ou savants, et au milieu d’eux une femme d’un esprit et d’un sens profonds, mais qui, enveloppee dans son exterieur de bonhomie et de simplicite, avait plutot l’air de la menagere que de la maitresse de la maison: c’etait la Mme. de Tencin … je m’apercus bientot qu’on y arrivait prepare a jouer son role, et que l’envie d’entrer en scene n’y laissait pas toujours a la conversation la liberte de suivre son cours facile et naturel. C’etait a qui saisirait le plus vite, et comme a la volee, le moment de placer son mot, son conte, son anecdote, sa maxime ou son trait leger et piquant; et, pour amener l’a-propos, on le tirait quelquefois d’un peu loin. Dans Marivaux, l’impatience de faire preuve de finesse et de sagacite percait visiblement.”
Marivaux, in describing the feelings of Marianne upon being introduced into polite society at the home of Mme. Dorsin, makes an evident allusion to the salon of Mme. de Tencin, and shows how differently from Marmontel he regarded the spirit that marked those gatherings. As though to answer the latter’s accusations, he exclaims: “On accuse quelquefois Ses gens d’esprit de vouloir briller; oh! il n’etait pas question de cela ici.” “Ce n’etait point eux qui y mettaient de la finesse, c’etait de la finesse qui s’y rencontrait; ils ne sentaient pas qu’ils parlaient mieux qu’on ne parle ordinairement; c’etaient seulement de meilleurs esprits que d’autres.” All that was said there, he adds, was uttered with so little effort, so naturally, so simply, and yet with so much brilliancy that one could see that it was a company of persons of exquisite taste and breeding. Society, as depicted here, was not “full of solemn and important trifles, difficult to learn, and, however ridiculous they are in themselves, necessary to be known under penalty of being ridiculous.”  One was made to feel at home, and what one lacked in wit was supplemented by that of the company, without one’s being made to feel that what he seemed to utter was not all his own.
The description of Mme. Dorsin is that of Mme. de Tencin herself, seen through the eyes of an enthusiastic friend, and she knew the art of gaining friends, and of keeping them, too. In fact, she was never weary of doing for them, as Marivaux had reason to know as well as any of them, and, had it not been for her efforts, he would never have belonged to the French Academy. Her judgment of the literary productions of her friends was most unprejudiced and judicious, so that whatever met with an enthusiastic reception in her salon was reasonably certain of success in the world.
After the death of Mme. de Tencin, in 1749, Marivaux frequented the _mercredis_ of the _bonne maman_ Geoffrin, and, through friendship for her, sustained the candidature of Marmontel for the French Academy. However, he must have felt ill at ease in company with the philosophers and encylopedists who gave dignity to her salon, and, with his love of admiration, must have sighed for the days when he shone so brilliantly in the circle that surrounded Mme. de Lambert or Mme. de Tencin; and, perhaps in sheer desperation, was led to seek in the salons of the brilliant but discontented Mme. du Deffand, of that poet too highly valued by her contemporaries, Mme. du Bocage, and of the actress Mlle. Quinault _cadette_, that form of _preciosite_ for which his mind was suited, and which he never found again, because he had outlived the fashion.
Marmontel, in describing the society that frequented the salon of Mme. Geoffrin, mentions d’Alembert as “the gayest, the most animated, the most amusing in his gayety,” and goes on to say that Marivaux, too, “would have liked to have this playful humour; but he had in his head an affair which constantly preoccupied him and gave him an anxious air. As he had acquired through his works the reputation of a keen and subtle wit, he considered himself obliged to constantly display that turn of mind, and was continually on the watch for ideas susceptible of contrast or analysis, in order to set them off against each other or to put them through a test. He would agree that such a thing was true up to a certain point or under a certain aspect; but there was always some restriction, some distinction to be made, which he alone had perceived. This labor of attention was hard for him, often painful for the others; but sometimes there resulted from it happy observations and brilliant hits. However, by the anxiety of his glances, one could see that he was uneasy about the success that he was having or might have. There never was, I think, a more delicate, more tender, and more apprehensive _amour-propre_; but, as he carefully considered that of others, they respected his, and merely pitied him for not being able to determine to be simple and natural.”
Although this characterization by Marmontel may be true, too much must not be attributed to self-conceit, for Marivaux was rather timid and suspicious of himself at heart than self-conceited, and this very lack of confidence, this desire to please and to be thought well of, which caused him, at times, to emphasize before his friends his own worth, is a key to his nature, without which it would be difficult to understand him. This timidity of his explains his fear of being duped by the _ingenue_ of Limoges, as well as his mistrust of the man who made rough draughts of his letters, instead of writing them off-hand. That Marivaux was over- sensitive we must agree, for, although the testimony of his contemporaries may be somewhat biased by jealousy, it is too overwhelmingly unanimous to be gainsaid.
We cannot conclude, however, despite the testimony of Grimm, whose caustic tongue was none too chary of his friends, that intercourse with Marivaux was “epineux et insupportable,” for, were it so, he never would have been so cordially welcomed into society as he was, for which, according to the abbe de La Porte, he possessed all the qualities required, “an exact honesty, a noble disinterestedness,… a pleasing candour, a charitable soul, a modesty without affectation and without pretense, an extremely sensitive courtesy, and the most scrupulous attention to avoid whatever might offend or displease.”
A brilliant conversationalist, Marivaux excelled in the quality, no less rare, of being a good listener, and never gave way to “that distraction which always wounds when it does not provoke laughter.”
The following incident will serve to illustrate the extreme sensitiveness of Marivaux. He had confided to Mme. Geoffrin a certain grievance against Marmontel. She, in turn, spoke to the latter of the fancied slight, although she assured him that, even in his complaints, Marivaux spoke only well of him, a small matter, but one that proves the nobility of our author’s nature. When the occasion presented itself, Marmontel asked for an explanation of his grievance, and, with some difficulty, elicited the following reply: “Have you forgotten that at the house of Mme. du Bocage, one evening, being seated near Mme. de Villaumont, you both kept looking at me and laughing, while whispering together? Assuredly you were laughing at me, and I do not know why, for on that day I was no more ridiculous than usual.” Upon an assurance from Marmontel that he was not the object of their amusement, he declared that he believed him, but it is doubtful whether he ever quite forgave him or forgot the fact.
This habit of suspiciousness grew upon Marivaux with age; but we must return to his early years at Paris and to his first literary attempts, after this long digression, which has served, I hope, to give something of an idea of the _milieu_ in which he moved, and of the influences at work upon the formation of his talent.
He had made his debut, as has been said, with _le Pere prudent_ in 1706. This was followed a few years later by three mediocre novels. The first of these, written in 1712, though not published” until 1737, appeared under the several titles of _Pharsamon_, _les Folies romanesques_, and _le Don Quichotte moderne_, and was, as one of the titles discloses, an attack upon the romantic novel, as exemplified in those of Mlle. de Scudery. It must not be considered a parody, but rather a weak imitation of Cervantes’ _Don Quijote_. He was no more successful in _les Aventures de…, ou les Effets surprenants de la sympathie_ (1713-1714), written, in much the same style, or in _la Voiture embourbee_, which appeared between the two publications of the former. This latter follows a familiar device: that is to say, one of the personages of the main narrative begins a story. which is continued by another when he reaches the end of his imagination, and so on. The purpose of the story was to turn to ridicule romantic love, but, following the expression of Fournier, it advanced only “cahin-caha, comme le pauvre coche dont il contait les accidents, et il finit par s’embourber avec lui.” He somewhat redeemed himself in 1715 with _le Triomphe de Bilboquet, ou la Defaite de l’Esprit, de l’Amour et de la Raison_, a fancy inspired by the game of cup and ball, so much in vogue at that period that it threatened to usurp the time and rights of conversation, and had even made its way upon the stage, in which simple matter Marivaux found occasion for moral observation.
In 1717 he allied himself with _le Nouveau Mercure_, a paper devoted to the interests of the _Modernes_ as against those of the _Anciens_. This quarrel over the comparative merits of the ancient and modern writers, begun in the first half of the seventeenth century with the abbe de Bois- Robert, Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, and later Perrault, Fontenelle, La Motte, and others ranged on the side of the latter, while Boileau, Corneille, Racine, Rollin, Mme. Dacier, and followers strenuously upheld the honor of antiquity, had dragged on through the seventeenth and into the eighteenth century, until apparently the last word had been said by Mme. Dacier in her _Preface a la traduction de l’Odyssee_ (1716). Marivaux, however, by turn of mind and training a modern, and ever the champion of his friend La Motte, and, perhaps more to avenge him for the “grosses paroles de Mme. Dacier” than to depreciate _le divin Homere_ (whom he made a point of always mentioning in that way), would not let the matter rest, and, in 1717, composed a burlesque poem entitled _l’Iliade ravestie_. Had he been familiar with the Greek language, he might never have committed this piece of literary impudence, but he knew Homer only through La Motte’s reduction of the Iliad, which in turn was based upon Mme. Dacier’s translation. If his object was to overthrow the great Greek poet, it must have been a bitter disappointment to Marivaux to see that his burlesque passed almost unnoticed by his contemporaries and was soon forgotten. The same year he wrote a _Telemaque travesti_, a parody on the masterpiece of Fenelon. This work was not published until 1736, when it was received with such disapprobation that he hastened to disavow its authorship.
Marivaux was now some twenty-nine years of age, and had had but little success as a writer. He must have felt that parody was not his forte, and, with his connection with _le Mercure_, an opportunity was presented to deal with actualities, where his powers of observation might come into play. He was, as he says of himself, born an observer. “Je suis ne de maniere que tout me devient une matiere de reflexion; c’est comme une philosophie de temperament que j’ai recue, et que le moindre objet met en exercice.” With his keen eyes constantly on the watch and his subtle mind ever ready to ferret out the eccentricities, defects, or hidden motives which some glance or gesture in his neighbor has revealed to him, and which a less delicate mind would have failed to grasp, going so far sometimes as to impute finesse where he has seen but the reflection of his own nature, he, nevertheless, presents to us, as no other author of the time, a vivid picture of the brilliant and refined society in which he moved, and sometimes, also, bold and clever sketches of the world at large. “C’est une fete delicieuse,” he tells us, “pour un misanthrope, que le spectacle d’un si grand nombre d’hommes assembles; c’est le temps de sa recolte d’idees. Cette innombrable quantite d’especes de mouvements forme a ses yeux un caractere generique. A la fin, tant de sujets se reduisent en un; ce ne sont plus des hommes differents qu’il contemple, c’est l’homme represente dans plusieurs milliers d’hommes.” Wherever he might be, on the street, at the homes of his friends, at church, or at the theatre, he was ever a prey to this demon of observation. Behold him coming from the theatre; forced by the throng to stop a moment, he employs the time to examine the passers-by: “J’examinais donc tous ces _porteurs de visages_, hommes et femmes; je tachais de demeler ce que chacun pensait de son lot; comment il s’en trouvait; par exemple, s’il y en avait quelqu’un qui prit le sien en patience, faute de pouvoir faire mieux; mais je n’en decouvris pas un, dont la contenance ne me dit: Je m’y tiens.”
Whatever he saw became food for meditation, and, if not used at once, was treasured up for future need. Marivaux came at last to surmise that here lay the secret of his inspiration, but it was not for some years yet that he expressed himself, as he did in the _Spectateur francais_: “Ainsi je ne suis point auteur, et j’aurais ete, je pense, fort embarrasse de le devenir… je ne sais point creer, je sais seulement surprendre en moi les pensees que le hasard me fait naitre, et je serais fache d’y mettre rien du mien.”
In the _Mercure_ for August, September, and October, 1717, and for March and June, 1718, appeared from the pen of Marivaux “five letters to M. de M—-, containing an adventure, and four letters to Mme. —-, containing reflections on the populace, the _bourgeois_, the merchants, the men and women of rank, and the _beaux esprits_.” This seems to be a turning point in his literary life. He appears now to have grasped the idea of his own limitations and of his own powers, powers which will be disclosed, not only in his journalistic work, but in his novels and his plays. I refer to those excellences which are the direct result of the acuteness of his observation. These writings gained for him the agnomen of _Theophraste moderne_, which his sense of fitness and natural dislike of over-praise led him to disclaim in a letter to the _Mercure_ of October, 1717. That same year a _Portrait de Climene, ode anacreontique_, proves that he had yet to sustain a real defeat in the line of verse before he came to realize that he should confine himself to prose alone. The _Mercure_ of March, 1719, contained some _Pensees sur divers sujets: sur la clarte du discours, sur la pensee sublime_. The next year, 1720, however, was one of the utmost importance in determining his future career.
The statement has already been made that when Marivaux came to Paris his fortune, if not munificent, was at least ample for his needs, and, fond of his ease and indifferent to business affairs, he might have enjoyed independence for the rest of his life, had he not yielded to the influence of certain friends and entrusted his fortune to the speculations of the Law system. When the crash came, in May, 1720, he lost all that he had. In a letter, written in 1740, he relates the circumstances of the affair in so philosophical a tone that it is well worth reading. He says: “Oui, mon cher ami, je suis paresseux et je jouis de ce bien-la, en depit de la fortune qui n’a pu me l’enlever et qui m’a reduit a tres peu de chose sur tout le reste: et ce qui est fort plaisant, ce qui prouve combien la paresse est raisonnable, combien elle est innocente de tous les blames dont on la charge, c’est que je n’aurais rien perdu des autres biens si des gens, qu’on appelait sages, a force de me gronder, ne m’avaient pas fait cesser un instant d’etre paresseux, je n’avais qu’a rester comme j’etais, m’en tenir a ce que j’avais, et ce que j’avais m’appartiendrait encore: mais ils voulaient, disaient-ils, doubler, tripler, quadrupler mon patrimoine a cause de la commodite du temps, et moitie honte de paraitre un sot en ne faisant rien. moitie betise d’adolescence et adherence de petit garcon au conseil de ces gens senses, dont l’autorite etait regardee comme respectable, je les laissai disposer, vendre pour acheter, et ils me menaient comme ils voulaient… Ah! sainte paresse! salutaire indolence! si vous etiez restees mes gouvernantes, je n’aurais pas vraisemblablement ecrit tant de neants plus ou moins spirituels, mais j’aurais eu plus de jours heureux que je n’ai eu d’instants supportables…”
Marivaux acknowledges his fondness of ease and idleness elsewhere, as well as in this letter, and it would certainly seem natural, from what we know of the man, to accept his own statement. However, all men fond of idleness are not necessarily idle, nor do all lazy men lack industry. There are various motives that force them to labor, often mere pride, and more often still, necessity. Marivaux was a great worker, as his works in ten large volumes (as edited by Duviquet) prove, but they do not in the least disprove his statement that he was not fond of work, and it is undoubtedly true that, had it not been for the spur of necessity, he would not have written “tant de neants plus ou moins spirituels,” and the world would have been deprived of his best writings, for the poorest work that he produced was done while he was rich.
The loss of his fortune was a cruel blow, for it deprived him of the means of gratifying his fondness for dress and good living, and, worst of all, it debarred him largely from indulging his passion for charity. His generosity and fellow-feeling for others were so great that he really suffered at sight of their misfortunes, if he was unable to alleviate them. “Quoi! voir les besoins d’un honnete homme, et n’etre point en etat de les soulager, n’est-ce pas les avoir soi-meme? Je serai donc pauvre avec les indigents, ruine avec ceux qui seront ruines, et je manquerai de tout ce qui leur manquera,” he exclaims in the thirteenth _feuille_ of the _Spectateur_, and it was this spirit of generosity that led him to deprive himself often of the necessities of life for the sake of giving to others, and even, at times, to give unwisely.
The following anecdote, related by both Lesbros de la Versane and d’Alembert, goes to show how far his love of giving sometimes led him. One day he was accosted by a beggar, who seemed to him so young and strong that he was indignant, and, with a desire to shame him, asked him why he did not work. “Helas! monsieur, si vous saviez combien je suis paresseux!” was the unexpected answer of the youth. Marivaux, who hated all deceit, was so struck by the naive frankness of the reply that he gave him money to continue his idle way of life.
Another incident has come down to us from the same Sources. A young actress, lacking in beauty and talent, had entered upon a career which Marivaux saw meant failure, and, to preserve her from the inevitable end, he persuaded her to enter a convent and provided the necessary funds, although at the price of great self-sacrifice.
Meanwhile Marivaux had married, at the age of thirty-three, a Mlle. Martin, “d’une bonne famille de Sens,” whom he had the misfortune to lose within two years (in 1723), and whom he “regretted all his life.” She left him with an only daughter, who later became a nun and took the veil at the Abbaye du Tresor.
The Duke of Orleans, son of the Regent, through fondness for Marivaux, generously met all of the expenses of her installation.
Marivaux numbered among his faithful friends, La Motte, Fontenelle, Helvetius, Mme. de Lambert, Mme. de Tencin, Mme, de Bez, and, toward the end of his life, Mlle. de Saint-Jean, and, had it not been for their generous aid, he would have almost lacked the necessities of life, not to mention the means for his charities. Through the efforts of Mme. de Tencin, he received an annuity of three thousand _livres_ from Mme. de Pompadour, who had the delicacy, however, to spare his pride by allowing him to attribute the gift to the generosity of Louis XV. The chagrin, caused by the discovery that the pension came, not from the king, but from the favourite, is said to have hastened his death, which followed a few months later.
This was not the only allowance that he received, for his income in this way amounted to “some four thousand _livres_,” and with this sum he could have been quite comfortable “had he been less sensitive to the misfortunes of others and less liberal; but he spent only fifteen hundred for his own needs, and the rest was employed for those of others.” His friend Helvetius helped to swell the sum of his annual income, but, although he had succeeded in prevailing upon Marivaux to accept of his benevolence, the latter had at once too much self-respect and too much respect for his friend to feel bound for that reason to smother his own feelings and ideas. “One day, in a dispute, he quite lost his temper with Helvetius, who accepted this attack with the most philosophical tranquillity and contented himself by saying, when Marivaux had departed: ‘How I would have replied to him, if I were not indebted to him for having been kind enough to accept of my services!'” A charming reply, which speaks well for the hearts of both men. At another time, when Marivaux was ill, Fontenelle, fearing lest he might be in need of money, brought him a hundred _louis_, but Marivaux, deeply moved at his friend’s generosity, yet too independent to accept it, said simply: “I regard them as received; I have made use of them, and I return them to you with gratitude.” 
Such a character was not likely to sue for the favour of the great. Only three of his writings, and these among his early works, contain dedications–_l’Homere travesti_ to the Duke de Noailles, _la Double Inconstance_ to Madame de Prie, and the second _Surprise de l’Amour_ to the Duchess du Maine. His whole life exemplified the thought contained in these words from the _Spectateur francais_: “Quand on demande des graces aux puissants de ce monde, et qu’on a le coeur bien place, on a toujours l’haleine courte,” and we shall see this same attitude characterizing his relations with the French Academy.
There were at this time in Paris, besides the Opera, three theatres,  –the Theatre-Francais (known also as the Comedie-Francaise), the Theatre- Italien (or Comedie-Italienne), and the Theatre de la Foire, to name them in order of importance.
The Theatre-Francais had been regularly organized by royal edict on October 21, 1680, when the troupe of the Hotel de Bourgogne and that of the Theatre Guenegaud were united, although its origin is much more ancient, going back as far as 1548, when the theatre of the Hotel de Bourgogne was opened by the Confreres de la Passion. In 1720 it occupied the Theatre de la Comedie-Francaise, on the rue des Fosses-Saint-Germain, since become the rue de l’Ancienne-Comedie. Its reputation, as a criterion of dramatic art, was already established, and this reputation has ever since been sustained.
In 1576 Henry III called from Venice a troupe of Italian actors, the _Gelosi_, and, from the time of their installation at Paris, in 1577, until 1697, when they were expelled from France by Louis XIV, for their temerity in ridiculing Mme. de Maintenon in _la Fausse Prude_, Paris had seen an almost uninterrupted succession of troupes of these Italian actors. Up to this time almost unlimited license in language and themes had been tolerated in them. The plays had been mostly in Italian, but, some time before their banishment, French had also made its way into their repertory, and, in spite of many complaints to the king on the part of the members of the Comedie-Francaise, who found this prejudicial to their interests, the French had held its ground, not, however, to the exclusion of the Italian, until after the time of their recall.
Their exile lasted nineteen years, or until 1716, when they were recalled by the Regent. A new troupe was organized under the direction of Louis Riccoboni, a famous actor, and author, among other works, of a valuable history of the Theatre-Italien. Riccoboni took the young lovers’ parts and the name of Lelio. The rest of the cast was as follows: Joseph Baletti, called Mario, second lover; Thomasso Vicentini, called Thomassin, who took the roles of Harlequin; Alborghetti, as Pantalon; Matterazzi, the doctor; Bissoni, as Scapin; and Giacoppo, as Scaramouche; with Helene Baletti, sister of Joseph Baletti and wife of Louis Riccoboni, who, under the name of Flaminia, for thirty-six years was to take the roles of _premiere amoureuse_, of _soubrette_, and the _travestis_; Silvia, who later married Joseph Baletti, and performed for forty-two years the roles of second _amoureuse_; and Violette, the charming soubrette, with one or two others of less consequence. The characters are those of the old _commedia dell’arte_. However, written plays had now begun to take the place of the improvisation of the earlier Italian comedy.
Not long after the reestablishment of the Theatre-Italien at Paris, and, in fact, as early as the first of June of that same year, we find them housed in the Hotel de Bourgogne, rue Mauconseil, over the principal door of which, after the death of the Regent in 1723, was engraved the following inscription: _Hotel des comediens italiens ordinaires du Roi, entretenus par Sa Majeste, retablis a Paris en 1716_. In 1762 it lost its individuality, and became merged into the Opera-Comique, but that was some years after the last play of Marivaux had been staged, and does not concern us here.
The Theatre, or rather Theatres de la Foire, for there were two that were particularly noteworthy, that of Saint-Germain and that of Saint-Laurent, had had a more humble, though scarcely less early, origin than either of the other theatres just mentioned, for, as early as the year 1595, an ambulant troupe had played at the former of these two fairs. For many years their performances consisted largely of juggling, tumbling, tight- rope walking, and the like, interspersed perhaps with dialogues, which, in time, came to occupy the principal part. The characters were largely borrowed from the Italian _commedia dell’arte_. Extreme license of expression characterized these plays. Music often accompanied them. In fact the Theatre de la Foire was the germ that later developed into the Opera-Comique. Harrassed not only by the Theatre-Francais and the Theatre- Italien, but also by the Opera itself, they saw themselves obliged by the Court to abandon, in turn, dialogue and even monologue, and to depend upon placards as a means of expressing the plot to the audience. However, in spite of difficulties and opposition the Theatre de la Foire maintained its ground.
Among the authors writing for the Theatre-Francais were such celebrities as Crebillon _pere_, Voltaire, Destouches, etc. No lesser names than those of Lesage and Piron were the support of the Theatre de la Foire. It remained for Marivaux to render illustrious the Italian stage.
Here it was, then, on the fourth of March, 1720, that he made his debut before the public with a comedy in three acts, _l’Amour et la Verite_. It may be recalled that _Crispin l’heureux fourbe_ had been presented only in private. Perhaps to give himself confidence in a line as yet almost untried, and which, after his boasting of fourteen years before and his rather unsuccessful attempt, he had come to consider as not so “easy” after all, he may have sought the aid of one of his co-workers on the _Mercure_. At any rate, the play was written in collaboration with the Chevalier de Saint-Jory, and was the only piece in which Marivaux accepted similar aid, “except for the musical diversions of his plays.” _L’Amour et la Verite_ failed to please the public, but, as it was never printed, we cannot judge of its merits.
However, that same year, Marivaux amply retrieved himself in the exquisite fairy-play of _Arlequin poli par l’Amour_, a comedy in one act, presented at the Theatre-Italien, October 20, and which Jules Lemaitre characterizes as perhaps of all his plays “the most purely poetical, in spite of the excess of _esprit_, and the one in which fancy is the freest.” It was greeted by the public with enthusiasm, and even such severe critics of Marivaux as La Harpe could find little to say against it,–that it “lacked intrigue” and had a “weak denouement ” possibly, but after all that he had made of Harlequin, “of that ideal personage, who up to that time had only known how to provoke laughter,” an “interesting” character “by making him in love.”
The plot of the play is as follows: A fairy, enflamed with love for Harlequin, on account of his beauty, has caused him to be brought to her realm, but, in spite of all her charms and graces and her assiduous attentions, she cannot awaken love in him, nor change him from the rude and clownish fellow that he is; and it is not until he meets with Silvia, the shepherdess, that love is seen to be more potent than all the charms of fairy-land to make of simple Harlequin, as of Hawthorne’s Faun, a man. The developing influence of love is the theme of the comedy, and, although the development is rapid, as befits a play, it is nevertheless by graduated stages. Each meeting of the lovers fans the flame, and the need of secrecy but stimulates their wit, until, at last, by a cunning wile, Harlequin gains possession of the fairy’s wand and with it, of her power. This, of course, brings about the natural denouement, and the play ends to the satisfaction of the lovers.
Many of the scenes are characterized by an artlessness and grace that recall Florian’s _les Deux Billets_ or Musset’s _A quoi revent les jeunes Filles_. It is the poetry of an epoch of prose. “All the poetry of the first half of the eighteenth century is in Marivaux, as all the poetry of the second half is in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and in Bernardin de Saint- Pierre.” The first two plays of Marivaux presented to the public were performed upon the stage of the Theatre-Italien, and throughout his life he showed a marked preference for that theatre.
His success was brilliant, and _Arlequin poli par l’Amour_ had twelve representations. At last Marivaux appears to have found his true sphere; but no, he has still to feel his way, and to experience another check, before entrusting himself to the promptings of his genius. His was not a talent to blossom in a night, and only an over-zealous friend could say of him: “Il ne se decida point pour les lettres, il fut entraine par elles. Il ne chercha point a devenir auteur, il fut etonne de l’etre devenu.”
At this time tragedy still held sway over the hearts of the French, although the period of its glory was past. As nearly every writer of the century had produced his tragedy, not to mention the immediate friends of Marivaux, Fontenelle with his _Aspar_ and La Motte with his _Oedipe_ and _Romulus_, it is not strange that Marivaux felt tempted to try his wings in this upper sphere. His _Annibal_, a tragedy in five acts and in verse, was produced at the Theatre-Francais on December 16, 1720. In this play the very qualities, destined later to procure for the author such splendid successes in his comedies, were either lacking or out of place. It survived four representations, three at the Theatre-Francais and one at Court, and then disappeared from the repertory, not to be taken up again until Marivaux was an academician, and as such, in the minds of many, of course worthy of applause.
Marivaux had the good judgment to abandon a style of composition for which he was in no way fitted, and, on May 3, 1722, returned to the Theatre- Italien with _la Surprise de l’Amour_, a comedy in three acts, and a decided success. His predilection for the Theatre-Italien was such that he gave to it twenty of his plays, while only ten were brought out at the Theatre-Francais. “Of the six plays of our author which were to remain in the repertory, only one, _le Legs_, was first played at the Comedie- Francaise; the five others, _la Surprise de l’Amour_, _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_, _l’Ecole des Meres_, _les Fausses Confidences_, _l’Epreuve_, appeared for the first time at the Theatre-Italien.”
L’abbe de La Porte declares, moreover, that, had it not been for his support, through lack of spectators the actors would have been obliged to give up their theatre.
Why was this preference of Marivaux for the Theatre-Italien? In the first place, because he found the Italian actors better fitted to interpret him with that “brillante et abondante volubilite” of the Italian nature, which his plays seem to require, masterpieces, as they are, of dialogue and conversational style. Moreover, the Italians were performing in a foreign language and in a country in which they had a reputation yet to gain, and, consequently, were willing to accept suggestions from the author. At the Theatre-Francais, on the contrary, both actors and audience were under the ban of certain traditions, which hindered the one from performing with the requisite natural grace and the other from accepting without criticism that which at the Theatre-Italien they might have received with enthusiasm.
The prestige enjoyed by the members of the Comedie-Francaise was not calculated to make them readily accept advice, and Marivaux was often heard lamenting over their intractability. The beauty of his plays depends upon the artless grace with which they are rendered. “Il faut … que les acteurs ne paraissent jamais sentir la valeur de ce qu’ils disent, et qu’en meme temps les spectateurs la sentent et la demelent a travers l’espece de nuage dont l’auteur a du envelopper leurs discours.” Such were the recommendations of Marivaux, but all to no purpose. “J’ai eu beau le repeter aux comediens, la fureur de montrer de l’esprit a ete plus forte que mes tres humbles remontrances; et *iis ont mieux aime commettre dans leur jeu un contre-sens perpetuel, qui flattait leur amour-propre, que de ne pas paraitre entendre finesse a leur role.”
Mlle. Lecouvreur, of the Comedie-Francaise, who played the roles of the _jeunes amoureuses_, was the source of considerable annoyance to Marivaux. She would often catch the spirit of these subtle and metaphysical roles in the first performances, but, encouraged by applause, and to improve, if possible, upon her manner, would so force the action as to become affected in the later representations. At the Theatre-Italien, however, Marivaux found an actress just suited to these roles, Giovanna-Rosa Benozzi, the famous Silvia.
It was as a result of the presentation of the first _Surprise de l’Amour_ that Marivaux made the acquaintance of the renowned actress. With that characteristic timidity, which we have already noted, Marivaux had withheld from the public his name as author. Although Silvia had played her part well, she felt that there was still lacking a shade of meaning, which, if she only knew the author, she might grasp. Yielding to the solicitation of a friend of hers, Marivaux consented to pay her his respects, but on condition that he might keep his incognito. Upon being presented to the artist, he congratulated her upon her charming rendition of the play. Silvia was pleased with his appreciation, but, foreseeing possibilities in the piece as yet unattained by her, she said: “It is a charming comedy; but I have a grudge against the author… for not disclosing himself. We would play it a hundred times better, if he had merely deigned to read it to us.”
Marivaux took the role, and, choosing a few passages, read into them all of their hidden meaning, with the fluent ease and clearness which had gained for him the reputation of a fascinating reader. Silvia listened with ever increasing surprise, and at last exclaimed: “Ah, sir, you are the author of the piece, or else the devil.” He assured her with a smile that he was not the latter, and their friendship had begun, a friendship which had in it something akin to that of Racine and la Champmesle, for, from this time on, Marivaux wrote most of his plays with Silvia in mind; but here the comparison must end, for no closer relation has ever been suggested by any of Marivaux’s contemporaries, and it is not likely that so tempting a bit of scandal would ever have been allowed to pass unnoticed by the eighteenth century, “si friand d’indiscretions de ce genre.”
As can be seen by a _Compliment_ in prose and verse, addressed to Mlle. Silvia the same year that the first _Surprise de l’Amour_ appeared. Marivaux joined also in the well-nigh universal chorus of praise which rose on all sides in celebration of the graceful actress. If the author contributed much to the perfection of her talent, she, too, lent no small part to the popularity which many of Marivaux’s plays attained.
In the year of the presentation of the first _Surprise de l’Amour_, and the more speedily and surely to relieve his financial embarrassment, Marivaux turned his mind to journalism, and began the publication of what he termed _le Spectateur francais_, modelled after Addison’s _Spectator_. He adopted a literary fiction to introduce his observations and moral reflections similar to that which gave life to Sir Roger de Coverly, but the whole was carried out with less simplicity, logical development, and power in the creation of types, though, perhaps, with greater subtlety. Strange to say, the _Spectateur_ has never been as much appreciated in France as in England, where Marivaux has been compared not unfavorably with La Bruyere.
Germany was a scarcely less enthusiastic admirer, and even so severe a critic of French literature, as was Lessing, could find words of commendation for Marivaux; but the latter was less prodigal in his admiration of the works of foreign literatures. “and preferred unhesitatingly our writers to those of any nation, ancient or modern,” says d’Alembert.
The journal is composed of a series of _feuilles_ or leaflets, more or less closely connected, familiar and conversational in character. Most of the sketches are characterized by that intuitive and feminine delicacy of perception and that subtlety sometimes lacking in Addison, and, while perhaps too often they appear over quintessenced or subtilized, at times they attain an eloquent and virile tone. Aside from their literary value, they are of great interest in the study of the author’s character.
The humanity of the man and his sensitiveness to the wrongs of others are manifest in the description of a young girl forced to beg for a mother, sick and in want, or to accept dishonor with the assistance of a rich man, whose aid is offered at so dear a price. The concluding words of this sketch contain a confession of his own weakness, but with an eloquent and vigorous attack upon those who basely sacrifice the happiness of others for the gratification of their own pleasures. “Homme riche, vous qui voulez triompher de sa vertu par sa misere, de grace, pretez-moi votre attention. Ce n’est point une exhortation pieuse, ce ne sont point des sentiments devots que vous allez entendre; non, je vais seulement tacher de vous tenir les discours d’un galant homme, sujet a ses sens aussi bien que vous; faible, et, si vous voulez, vicieux; mais chez qui les vices et les faiblesses ne sont point feroces, et ne subsistent qu’avec l’aveu d’une humanite genereuse. Oui, vicieux encore une fois, mais en honnete homme, dont le coeur est heureusement force, quand il le faut, de menager les interets d’autrui dans les siens, et ne peut vouloir d’un plaisir qui ferait la douleur d’un autre.”
Perhaps in no other writing has he attained the eloquence, sustained throughout the description, that characterizes the letter from a father self-impoverished for his son’s advancement and then abandoned by that same son.
One is not accustomed to think of Marivaux as a moralist, yet this frilled and powdered representative of the _beau monde_, this courtly gentleman, this graceful writer, was one of the powers for good of his time. Throughout his plays and novels, and particularly in his journals, may be seen this nobler side of the man’s nature. He was a practical moralist, with little love for abstract theories, and a morality far from asceticism, but, with profound unselfishness and pity for his fellow-man, he strove to right the wrongs and correct the abuses of a cruelly indifferent and light-hearted society. He once said of himself: “Je serais peu flatte d’entendre dire que je suis un bel esprit; mais si on m’apprenait que mes ecrits eussent corrige quelques vices, ou seulement quelque vicieux, je serais vraiment sensible a cet eloge.” However, he was tolerant, as one who knows the weaknesses that flesh is heir to, and, whether his attack was aimed at the petty foibles or graver weaknesses of the individual, coquetry, ambition, avarice, hypocrisy, vanity, and the like, or at certain social evils, the reprimand was always given with a tone of moderation.
Throughout his writings Marivaux showed himself heartily opposed to the loose ideas then prevalent upon the marriage relation, and, as though to emphasize his convictions in this matter, his comedies all end with “the triumph of love in marriage.” In certain ones, as for example _le Petit Maitre corrige_ (acte I, scene XII) and _l’Heritier de Village_ (scene II), this social evil is more directly attacked, as it is also in several portions of the _Spectateur francais_, and particularly in the sixteenth _feuille_.
He was likewise an opponent of the strained relations that existed in most families between parents and children. Instead of the deplorable custom of making of each household a miniature court, in which the parents reigned over timid but unwilling subjects, he advocated intimate and loving relations. “Voulez-vous faire d’honnetes gens de vos enfants? Ne soyez que leur pere, et non pas leur juge et leur tyran. Et qu’est-ce que c’est qu’etre leur pere? c’est leur persuader que vous les aimez. Cette persuasion-la commence par vous gagner leur coeur. Nous aimons toujours ceux dont nous sommes surs d’etre aimes.”
Was it not Mme. de Lambert, from whom Marivaux gained many of his ideas, who had said: “Les enfants aiment a etre traites en personnes raisonnables. Il faut entretenir en eux cette espece de fierte, et s’en servir comme d’un moyen pour les conduire ou l’on veut”? Where is there a more charming character than that of _la Mere confidente_, willing to sacrifice the dreaded name of mother in order to become her daughter’s friend and confidante, or than the indulgent father of _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_? Such examples indicate the kindly philosophy that permeates his writings.
Marivaux has been said to have held revolutionary ideas, and, in some degree, to have forecast the terrible rending of society of 1789. While the unqualified statement may give rise to a false conception, and tend to exaggerate the part that he played in the progress of social emancipation, it is not difficult to discover in him the sentiments, if not of a revolutionist, at least of a reformer. The prejudice of birth is attacked in the comedies _les Fausses Confidences_, _le Prejuge vaincu_, _la Double Inconstance_ (acte III, scene IV), and in many a passage in other plays, _le Denoument imprevu_, _l’Heritier de Village_, etc., as well as in his novels and other writings, while the comedy _l’Ile des Esclaves_ is a social satire on the abuses of the day. The increasing importance and the social elevation of servants in his drama is but another tendency along the same line.
One of the most obvious faults of the _Spectateur francais_ was the irregular and disconnected manner of its publication. Perhaps through natural indolence, but more likely through over conscientiousness and too high an ideal of artistic perfection, which caused him to magnify his own shortcomings and to soon tire of the subject in hand, he was inclined to abandon his work unfinished and to turn to newer interests. This tendency may be seen in the _Spectateur_, which, after sundry interruptions, finally reaches the twenty-fifth leaflet, after which it suddenly, and without warning, comes to an end.
Another journal in the same vein, _l’Indigent Philosophe_, undertaken in 1728, fared even worse, for it was carried only through the seventh leaflet, when it too succumbed, to be revived, however, in 1734, under the title of _le Cabinet du Philosophe_. The same fate awaited the latter, and Marivaux’s enthusiasm forsook him at the end of the eleventh leaflet, Fleury characterizes this as the best of his three periodical publications. but I am of the opinion of Lavollee, who does not consider it comparable “either in interest or variety” with the _Spectateur_.
It is not alone in this style of literature that our author wearies of his theme and drops his pen, for neither of his novels _Marianne_ nor _le Paysan parvenu_ was completed. The former was begun in 1731, and the publication of its eleven parts was not completed until 1741, ten years later; but the periodical publication of novels was common at that epoch, and the _chef-d’oeuvre_ of Le Sage, contemporary with it (1715- 1735), was double that time in appearing.
It has long been thought that the twelfth part, which concludes the story of _Marianne_, was by Mme. Riccoboni; but Fleury has proved quite satisfactorily that the _Conclusion_, which appeared in 1745, in an Amsterdam edition of _Marianne_, was written by one of those who, as d’Alembert says, “se sont charges, sans qu’on les en priat, de finir les romans de M. de Marivaux, et (qui) ont eu dans cette entreprise un succes digne de leurs talents:” while a simple _Continuation_, written, in fact, by Mme. Riccoboni, and so cleverly, too, as to almost deceive the critics of the eighteenth century, did not appear until 1751.
Marianne is a young girl, beautiful and of high birth, who, when but a small child, has the misfortune to lose her parents in an attack by robbers on the road to Bordeaux. Sheltered by a priest and his sister, she reaches the age of fifteen, without, however, having discovered who her parents were. Deprived by death of her guardians, she finds herself at this early age alone and unprotected in the streets of Paris. She seeks the counsel of a kindly priest, who refers her to a rich and apparently respectable man, but in reality the personification of hypocrisy. Of his character study of M. de Climal, Marivaux was justly proud. Few, if any, however, will justify him in rating it superior to Moliere’s Tartuffe. Throughout her trials and temptations Marianne preserves her innocence and her hand for M. de Valville, a handsome and wealthy young aristocrat, who is really enamoured of Marianne, despite certain infidelities of which he is guilty, and which Marianne pardons with the same forbearing charity and kindly philosophy that characterize our author himself.
The story of _Marianne_ is interesting, though never of so absorbing an interest as to hold the reader’s attention more closely than was held that of the writer himself. It is a book to be read by piecemeal, and it may be laid down at any time. Indeed, one is not surprised, nor much distressed, when the author fails to grasp again his fallen pen after the eleventh part. I would not in any way detract from the literary value of a work which, as even critical La Harpe declares, “assures him one of the first places among French novelists;” but the interest inspired by _Marianne_ is of much the same sort as that inspired by the _Spectateur_. The thread of the story serves merely to join the analyses of character, moral reflections, and digressions of various kinds which abound. The style is conversational, very similar to that of his journals.
Taken as a whole it may be considered as a psychological study of a young girl’s heart, as viewed by herself in maturer years. I am half inclined to say the heart of a coquette, for Marianne has much of the coquette in her nature, but she has, too, the nobler qualities of heart and mind. She is an epitome, in short, of the feminine side of Marivaux.
One of the chief faults of the author’s style is apparent in _Marianne_ to a degree unparalleled by most of his other writings, and that is the fault of over-elaborate description or definition. His subtle mind could perceive so many delicate shades of character, which the less cultivated eye could not detect, that, by elaborating thereupon and endeavoring to disclose to others what he saw, he seemed to overdefine, or even to repeat himself, and sometimes became monotonous. His was the delicate ear of the musical prodigy, capable of grasping half-tones quite beyond the range of the normal ear, and his attempt to cause them to be heard and appreciated by his coarser fellows brought him only criticism and abuse. He realized at times his own powerlessness to convey in words all that he felt, and once said: “On ne saurait rendre en entier ce que sont les personnes; du moins cela ne me serait pas possible; je connais bien mieux celles avec qui je vis, que je ne les definirais; il y a des choses en elles que je ne saisis point assez pour les dire, et que je n’apercois que pour moi, et non pas pour les autres: ou, si je les disais je les dirais mal: ce sont des objets de sentiment si compliques, et d’une nettete si delicate, qu’ils se brouillent des que ma reflexion s’en mele; je ne sais plus par ou les prendre pour les exprimer; de sorte qu’ils sont en moi et non pas a moi. N’etes-vous pas de meme? Il me semble que mon ame, en mille occasions, en sait plus qu’elle n’en peut dire, et qu’elle a un esprit a part, qui est bien superieur a celui que j’ai d’ordinaire. Je crois aussi que les hommes sont bien au-dessus de tous les livres qu’ils font.”
It was with great difficulty that Marivaux could prevail upon himself to draw a description or a reflection to an end, feeling, as he did, that there was always something left unsaid. His struggle with himself and his apology to the reader are sometimes quite amusing in their naivete. “Me voila au bout de ma reflexion,” he says: “j’aurais pourtant grande envie d’y ajouter quelques mots pour la rendre complete: le voulez-vous bien? Oui, je vous en prie. Heureusement que mon defaut la-dessus n’a rien de nouveau pour vous. Je suis insupportable avec mes reflexions, vous le savez bien.”
The success that greeted _Marianne_ was calculated to make his rivals in the field of fiction jealous. Perhaps no one felt more keenly than did Crebillon _fils_ the growing popularity of a novel the purity of which but enhanced the obscenity of his own writings. To this feeling may be attributed his attack upon Marivaux’s style in a very free and tiresome story, entitled _Tanzai et Neadarne, ou l’Ecumoire_, in which his rival’s muse is represented as a mole. The mole relates her life, in a most diffuse and wearisome manner, constantly interrupting the story with reflections and digressions. The imitation was so clever that it deceived even Marivaux himself into thinking that a justification of his style was intended. Doubtless the offense that he felt was the greater, owing to this additional wound to his _amour-propre_. At any rate, for the first time he dignified a criticism by a reply in print. Even here he did not go so far as to mention any name, but the allusion to Crebillon _fils_ was evident. “Il est vrai, monsieur, que nous sommes naturellement libertins, ou, pour mieux dire, corrompus; mais en fait d’ouvrages d’esprit, il ne faut pas prendre cela a la lettre ni nous traiter d’emblee sur ce pied-la. Un lecteur veut etre menage. Vous, auteur, voulez-vous mettre sa corruption dans vos interets? Allez-y doucement du moins, apprivoisez-la, mais ne la poussez pas a bout.
Ce lecteur aime pourtant les licences, mais non pas les licences extremes, excessives; celles-la ne sont supportables que dans la realite qui en adoucit l’effronterie; elles ne sont a leur place que la, et nous les y passons, parceque nous y sommes plus hommes qu’ailleurs; mais non pas dans un livre, ou elles deviennent plates, sales et rebutantes, a cause du peu de convenance qu’elles ont avec l’etat tranquille d’un lecteur.”
The morality set forth in this passage is not stringent. Attention has already been called to the leniency of Marivaux with regard to weaknesses of a certain type, and to his confession of his own shortcomings. When we consider the extreme immorality of French society in the eighteenth century, to which taste Crebillon _fils_ truckled, as did most of the dramatists and novelists to a certain degree, to which even Montesquieu in the _Lettres persanes_ paid his tribute, we can esteem at its full value the “chaste pen” of Marivaux, in whose theatre the dignity and sacredness of marriage is never once abused, the moral tone of whose journals and of _Marianne_ is uplifting, and even in whose _Paysan parvenu_ the tone stops short of license, and illegitimate love is left unsatisfied.
Mention has been made of the feminine side of Marivaux’s writings, but the _Paysan parvenu_, published in 1735, some six years before the last publication of _Marianne_ is of an entirely different type. Its principal character is not here a woman, but a young man, Jacob by name, a peasant boy, who, finding provincial life distasteful to him, comes to Paris, and, by the aid of his good looks, loose morals, self-assurance, adaptability, ambition, and a peculiar power over women, succeeds in gaining for himself an enviable position in the upper circles of the _bourgeoisie_, as well as the hand and fortune of a rich and pious old maid, Mlle. Habert, whom his youth and charms entice. Quite another _Bel Ami_, as Jules Lemaitre remarks; but the dissimilarity is no less striking than the resemblance. While the hero of Marivaux yields easily to temptation, we feel that it is due to youth, a lack of moral training and a desire to please, along with a shrewd ambition, to be sure, and after each step upward in the social scale a moral development takes place, rendered possible by a natural sentiment of honor, which was with him from the first, so that though the story has been left unfinished by Marivaux after the fifth part, we are led to expect at least a complete emancipation from the sins of the flesh, if not a high ethical status. The hero of Maupassant, on the other hand, is basely sensual and cruelly self-interested from the first, and totally lacking in those heart-qualities which, in spite of his vices, gain our sympathies for Jacob.
The style of the _Paysan parvenu_ is simpler, less diffuse, bolder, and more virile, than that of _Marianne_; but its characters are uniformly less noble, and, if its general intent is not immoral, at least many of the scenes verge upon the _risque_. What is the cause of this digression from a style of writing so much more natural to Marivaux? Fleury attributes the reason to his pique with Crebillon _fils_ and his desire to prove to him “that in a work that borders upon license, brutal license is not enough; that it must be presented in a delicate form, and seasoned with wit and observation.” Certain it is that _les Egarements de l’esprit et du coeur_, published the following year (in 1736), shows the least immorality, as well as the most talent, of any of the works of this author.
The scene of _Marianne_ is laid in aristocratic circles, while that of the _Paysan_ presents to us the _bourgeoisie_ and the world of finance. Though there are many differences between these two novels, there are likewise many points of similarity. We have to do with the same cunning observer, and with one who did not consider the common people beneath his notice. Marivaux has in his style of description many traits of the realist, as we understand the term to-day. Witness the quarrel of the linen dealer and the cabman in _Marianne_, of which Grimm writes as follows: “On est excede, par exemple, de cette querelle de la lingere et du fiacre, dans la _Marianne_ de M. de Marivaux: rien n’est mieux rendu d’apres nature, et d’un gout plus detestable que le tableau que je cite.”
Another trait common to _Marianne_ and _le Paysan parvenu_, and indeed in a degree to all of his writings, is his detestation of false piety and his attack upon hypocrisy in all its forms, whether in the person of M. de Climal, M. Doucin or Mlle. Habert ainee; but, while false devotion was constantly the object of his most bitter hatred, his attitude toward true religion was noteworthy, especially for the time in which he lived. “A Dieu ne plaise qu’on me soupconne d’avoir, un seul instant de ma vie, doute de ce que nous dit cette religion,” he exclaims through the lips of one of his characters.
His whole nature, his kindliness, his compassion for human suffering, his hope for the ultimate welfare of all, inclined him to a kindly dogmatism, which included even those unbelievers “qui ont beau faire, pour s’etourdir sur l’autre monde, et qui finiront par etre sauves malgre eux.” “La religion, disait-il, est la ressource du malheureux, quelquefois meme celle du philosophe; n’enlevons pas a la pauvre espece humaine cette consolation, que la Providence divine lui a menagee.” He had a distinct dislike for philosophical arguments in refutation of things spiritual, and one day on being asked as to what he considered the nature of the soul, he replied, “Je sais qu’elle est spirituelle et immortelle, et je n’en sais rien de plus “; and when it was suggested to refer the discussion to Fontenelle, with his characteristic readiness of speech retorted, “Il a trop d’esprit pour en savoir la-dessus plus que moi.”
If Marivaux was preeminently admired in England for his _Spectateur_, he was scarcely less so for his novels; there is no doubt that _Marianne_ inspired Richardson’s _Pamela_ and _Clarissa Harlowe_, and that _le Paysan parvenu_ had its influence upon Fielding’s _Joseph Andrews_ and _Tom Jones_.
Opinions differ greatly as to the comparative merits of Marivaux the novelist and Marivaux the dramatist. His contemporaries considered him superior in the former capacity. Larroumet classes him in the “small number of those who have shown themselves equally fitted for the drama and the novel,” while Sainte-Beuve  declares for the superiority of his drama. Certainly, one does not weary of his delightful comedies, never long enough to tire, even were they less fascinating than they are, for they never exceed three acts, except in the case of the _Serments indiscrets_, which is in five. His creative genius is seen, as nowhere else, in these brief comedies.
After the _haute comedie_ of Moliere, with its presentation of types of character rather than of individuals, and with its general lessons to mankind, it would have been impossible for Marivaux to have gained glory in the same field. His fondness for originality forbade him from following the traces of his predecessors. He preferred, he said, “etre humblement assis sur le dernier banc dans la petite troupe des auteurs originaux, qu’orgueilleusement place a la premiere ligne dans le nombreux betail des singes litteraires.” So, in the midst of the society in which he moved, a society of idlers, rich, elegant, refined, men in periwigs, in rich brocades and laces, women too, bewitching with their powdered hair, their delicate complexions enhanced by rouge and patches coquettishly arranged, their caught-up skirts and low-cut bodices, Marivaux, with his keen eyes open to the love intrigues so artfully conducted, with his mind awake to all the witty sayings rife on everybody’s tongue, and with his kindly, charitable heart, found inspiration for those dainty creations, so picturesque, so subtle, and so fascinating that they have never ceased to charm, perhaps less truly creations than sketches of the society about him, although no other writer has been able to handle his elusive pen in the portrayal of similar scenes.
In what does the originality of the comedies of Marivaux consist? In general, one may say, in his treatment of love, their prevailing theme. “Chez mes confreres,” says Marivaux, “l’amour est en querelle avec ce qui l’environne, et finit par etre heureux, malgre les opposants; chez moi, il n’est en querelle qu’avec lui seul, et finit par etre heureux malgre lui. Il apprendra dans mes pieces a se defier encore plus des tours qu’il se joue, que des pieges qui lui sont tendus par des mains etrangeres.” It is true that throughout his plays the lovers rarely encounter any hindrance from without. There is very little action or intrigue. The dialogue, witty, brilliant, and ingenious, is all-important, and the denouement often depends upon a misunderstanding, so easy to explain that one sometimes wonders at the wilfulness of the characters in failing to set the matter right until the end. As in all of his plays, marriage follows closely upon the solution of the difficulty; it has been said that his lovers “s’aiment le plus tard qu’ils peuvent, et se marient le plus tot qu’il est possible.”  With the respect which we have seen in Marivaux for the marriage relation, we are not surprised to note in his characters such fear of _poorly assorted unions_, that it is only with much questioning into their own and each other’s hearts, and with manifold misgivings, that they are brought at last to say the final word.
Marivaux is the first of the French writers of comedy to treat love seriously, but, though he freed the theme from the malice or flippancy with which it had been treated by his predecessors, he was nevertheless a stranger to that intense and passionate love that we have come to associate with the romantic drama. Some have gone so far as to say that it is not _amour_ at all that he portrays, but only _amour-propre_. It is a gentle, courtly love, respectful, almost reverential, though not confiding. “Marivaux pense et dit de l’amour ce qu’en pensait, ce qu’en disait l’auteur de la premiere partie de ce _Roman de la Rose_,
Ou l’art d’Amour est toute enclose.
Par sa fine sentimentalite, par sa casuistique amoureuse, par son gout pour l’allegorie, Marivaux aurait fraternise, au XIIIe siecle, avec le suave Guillaume de Lorris.” His drama is eminently psychological. “J’ai guette dans le coeur humain,” says Marivaux “toutes les niches differentes ou peut se cacher l’amour lorsqu’il craint de se montrer, et chacune de mes comedies a pour objet de le faire sortir d’une de ces niches.”
The absence of the broad comic of Moliere, Regnard, or Beaumarchais is conspicuous. The comedies of Marivaux rarely provoke more than a smile, and never bursts of merriment. The pathetic is no less lacking, and yet the interest never flags. Where, then, is their charm? It lies in the brilliant dialogue and in the interest Marivaux has been able to awaken in the psychological development of love in the hearts of the chief characters. With so much similarity, it is yet wonderful to note the variety that the author has been able to introduce into his comedies, which some critics and envious ones of his time have dubbed, one and all, as so many _Surprises de l’amour_, D’Alembert, who was often so just, and at times so unjust, towards Marivaux, blames him for having made but one comedy in twenty different fashions, but is fair enough to quote the author’s own defence of the accusation, “Dans mes pieces, c’est tantot un amour ignore des deux amants, tantot un amour qu’ils sentent et qu’ils veulent se cacher l’un a l’autre, tantot un amour timide, qui n’ose se declarer; tantot enfin un amour incertain et comme indecis, un amour a demi-ne, pour ainsi dire, dont ils se doutent sans etre bien surs, et qu’ils epient au-dedans d’eux-memes avant de lui laisser prendre l’essor. Ou est en cela toute cette ressemblance qu’on ne cesse de m’objecter?”
The years have passed, and critics have fully justified this plea. The most convincing argument is undoubtedly the examination of the plays themselves. Leaving out of account _le Pere prudent_ and _Annibal_, the following more or less arbitrary classification may serve to show the predominating note in each comedy:–
I. Surprises de l’Amour.–The two _Surprises de l’Amour_ (1722 and 1727), _la Double Inconstance_ (1723), _le Denouement imprevu_ (1724), _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_ (1730), _les Serments indiscrets_ (1732), _l’Heureux Stratageme_ (1733), _la Meprise_ (1734), _le Legs_ (1736), _les Fausses Confidences_ (1737), _la Joie imprevue_ (1738).
II. Comedies de caractere.–_La Fausse Suivante_ (1724), _le Petit-maitre corrige_(1734), _la Mere confidente_ (1735), _les Sinceres_ (1739), _l’Epreuve_ (1740).
III. Comedies de moeurs.–_L’Heritier de Village_ (1725), _l’Ecole des Meres_ (1732), _le Prejuge vaincu_ (1746).
IV. Comedies heroiques.–_Le Prince travesti_ (1724), _le Triomphe de l’Amour_ (1732), _la Dispute_ (1744).
V. Comedies philosophiques.–_L’Ile des Esclaves_ (1725), _l’Ile de la Raison_ (1727), _la Colonie_ (1729).
VI. Comedies mythologiques.–_Le Triomphe de Plutus_ (1728), _la Reunion des Amours_ (1731).
VII. Comedies feeries.–_Arlequin poli par l’Amour_ (1720), _Felicie_ (1757).
VIII. Fantaisie.–_Les Acteurs de bonne foi_ (1757).
Comedies which have been lost, wholly or in part, cannot be classified; but the following list may be of value for reference: –_L’Amour et la Verite_ (of which the prologue only has come down to us), _la Commere_, _l’Heureuse Surprise_ (possibly the same as _la Joie imprevue_), _l’Amante frivole_, _la Femme fidele_ (fragments of which play have been printed by Larroumet [pp. 313-319] and by Fleury [pp. 365-371]).
From this classification it will be seen that by no means all of Marivaux’s comedies could be termed _Surprises de l’amour_, although some of his best come within that category. There is a whole series of plays, to which Larroumet calls attention, in which Marivaux has left the real for the imaginary world. There are times when we are almost inclined to admit with Lemaitre “that fancy’s wing, which bears so high and so far the poet of _A Midsummer Night’s Dream_, has at least grazed the powdered brow of Marivaux.” 
The poetic fantasies of the latter certainly recall the fanciful creations of the great English poet.
In the limited space of this Introduction it will be impossible to analyze the plots of any, save only the most important. The following comedies are about the only ones presented regularly at the Comedie- Francaise: _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_, _le Legs_, _les Fausses Confidences_, and _l’Epreuve_; but this brief list by no means embraces all of his exquisite sketches of eighteenth century society. Add to these _la Mere confidente_, for which both Larroumet and Sarcey plead, or, at the suggestion of Lemaitre, _la Surprise de l’Amour_, _les Sinceres_, _la Double Inconstance_, and _les Serments indiscrets_, and we shall still have left a whole series of treasures unexplored, especially in the realm of the fanciful. As we have already examined one of the most delightful pieces of the latter class, _Arlequin poli par l’Amour_, a hasty survey of his best known plays will have to suffice. It might be well to add here that Marivaux’s favourite plays were the following: _la Double Inconstance_, the two _Surprises de l’Amour_, _la Mere confidente_, _les Serments indiscrets_, _les Sinceres_ and _l’Ile des Esclaves_.
_Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_, a comedy in three acts, presented on January 23, 1730, at the Theatre-Italien, is generally considered as the masterpiece of Marivaux, although he did not include it in the number of his favourites. It is certainly his best-known play. Its success was great and immediate, according to the _Mercure_ of January, 1730. The plot is as follows: With the characteristic caution of the heroines of Marivaux, ever on their guard against an ill-assorted marriage, and with the sad experiences of certain friends of hers in mind to make her still more cautious, Silvia determines not to accept Dorante, the suitor chosen for her, until she has had an opportunity to study him in secret. She therefore modifies her dress to suit the role of her maid Lisette, which she assumes; but Dorante, who is no more willing to be mismated than is Silvia, determines upon the same stratagem, and arrives in the livery of Harlequin, who in turn is to play the part of the master.
This artifice is not absolutely new to the French stage, and it is possible, as Fleury thinks, that the idea of the double disguise may have been borrowed from a short play by Legrand, _le Galant Coureur_, The situation, most difficult to handle successfully, is treated with inimitable skill by Marivaux, especially that of the two lovers, whose disguise as servants is not enough to guarantee their hearts. The prejudice of birth, against which Marivaux contended so often, is overthrown, and the lovers are willing, if necessary, to yield all for love. Silvia is still struggling with her sense of duty, when she discovers Dorante’s identity, but is unwilling to disclose herself and say the final word, until she is convinced that Dorante loves her for herself alone. The scenes between Harlequin and Lisette, their language, now exaggerated, now trivial, and their haste to fall in love, lend the comic to the play.
_Le Legs_, a comedy in one act, was produced at the Theatre-Francais, January 11, 1736. Its reception was rather cold the first night, but enthusiastic on subsequent performances. Lenient says of it: “_Le Legs_ est entre toutes ses oeuvres le specimen de la bluette reduite a sa plus simple expression, joignant la finesse et la tenuite de la trame a l’exiguite de la donnee. Tout cela tiendrait dans une coquille de noix, et finit par remplir un acte. Les personnages, aussi legers, aussi volatils que le sujet lui-meme, s’appellent le _Marquis_, la _Comtesse_, le _Chevalier_; ils representent, comme nous l’avons dit, des especes plus encore que des individus.”
A relative has left the _Marquis_ six hundred thousand francs on condition that he marry Hortense, and if not, that he pay over to her two hundred thousand. The _Marquis_, in love with the _Comtesse_, to whom, through excessive timidity,–and here we have the motive of the play,–he dares not declare his passion, although encouraged in every way, is in business matters of a decidedly less timid nature, and seeks to secure all of the property, and at the same time preserve his heart for the one he loves. Hortense, likewise in love with another, the _Chevalier_, whose fortune is not large, seeks naturally to come into her inheritance without sacrificing herself to an odious marriage. In order to deceive the other into renouncing his share of the property, each feigns willingness to enter into the marriage as stipulated in the will.
The servants, as is usually the case in Marivaux’s comedies, play an important role, and seek to further their own selfish interests. Lepine, _un Gascon froid_, with a genius for intrigue, urges on the marriage of the _Marquis_ with the _Comtesse_, the more readily to secure for himself the hand of Lisette, who, in turn, opposes artfully the marriage of her mistress to further her own interests and to retain her freedom.
The play ends with the renunciation of the two hundred thousand francs on the part of the _Marquis_, who has at last become bold enough to declare himself, after manifold hints on the part of the _Comtesse_; and love triumphs. Thus with apparently little to work upon has been wrought out an entire comedy, interesting from beginning to end. Alfred de Musset has made over this comedy in his _l’Ane et le Ruisseau_, but has come far short of the original.
_Les Fausses Confidences_, a comedy in three acts, was brought out at the Comedie-Italienne, March 16, 1737. This piece has sometimes vied with _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_ for the title of Marivaux’s _chef-d’oeuvre_. Without doubt, it is one of the most charming of the author’s works. The _Mercure_ for March, 1737, informs us that the play “was received with favor by the public.” Although it may be fittingly classed in the number of the _Surprises de l’amour_, it contains as well elements of the _Prejuge vaincu_, the prejudice overcome being that of wealth and position, which held a place, not only in the foolish vanity of Madame Argante, but even in the tender reserve of Araminte.
Dorante, a young man of honorable extraction, but poor, finds himself reduced to the position of steward or director in the house of Araminte, a rich young widow, to whose hand he is induced to aspire by Dubois, his former servant, now in her employ, who, by his profound knowledge of the feminine heart, aided by his master’s comeliness, succeeds in overcoming the prejudice of social standing in the mind of Araminte, and triumphantly marries her to Dorante, in spite of Madame Argante’s horror at the match and her enthusiastic support of the Count’s suit.
The intrigue is all to the credit of Dubois, who not only has to fan the flame of love in the heart of Araminte, but also finds himself obliged to rally his master’s failing courage, as when Dorante objects that she is too much above him, since he has neither rank nor wealth, and the valet replies: “Point de bien! votre bonne mine est un Perou. Tournez-vous un peu, que je vous considere encore; allons, monsieur, vous vous moquez; il n’y a point de plus grand seigneur que vous a Paris; voila une taille qui vaut toutes les dignites possibles, et notre affaire est infaillible absolument infaillible.” His genius for intrigue is certainly admirable, and, were that a sufficient claim for glory, we would chime in with him in his final cry of victory, as the piece closes: “Ouf! ma gloire m’accable. Je meriterais bien d’appeler cette femme-la ma bru.” The plot is complicated by the role of Mlle. Marton, companion to Araminte, who is led by M. Remy, Dorante’s uncle, to consider herself the object of the young man’s affection, and thus to second his ambition. She is easily consoled for her disappointment, however, and all ends to the honor of Dorante, who frankly confesses to Araminte his share in the intrigue, but assures her that a desire for her hand and property has culminated in a more noble passion, and we have again the _triumph of love_.
Marivaux, made use of the same theme in a later comedy, _le Prejuge vaincu_, but the prejudice attacked was that of birth, instead of wealth, as here, where both parties belong to the world of the _bourgeoisie_.
_L’Epreuve_ has been called _le chant du cygne_ of Marivaux. It was the last play he gave to the Theatre-Italien, and was performed November 19, 1740. It is a little comedy in one act, and belongs to the small number of those that were enthusiastically received on their “first night.” Marivaux admits this characteristic of his plays in the _Avertissement_ to _les Serments indiscrets_. “Presque aucune des miennes n’a bien pris d’abord; leur succes n’est venu que dans la suite, et je l’aime bien autant venu de cette maniere-la.”
This time it is a question of a rich young man, Lucidor, who loses his heart to a poor girl, another Angelique, but, to test her love and to learn, if possible, whether her affection is for himself rather than for his wealth, he puts her to a cruel test. He informs her that he has in mind for her a wealthy party and an intimate friend of his. In her artlessness Angelique concludes from his description that he means himself. In her joy she confides the matter to Lisette.
He bien! Mademoiselle, etes-vous instruite? A qui vous marie-t-on?
A lui, ma chere Lisette, a lui-meme, et je l’attends.
A lui, dites-vous? Et quel est donc cet homme qui s’appelle lui par excellence? Est-ce qu’il est ici?
A charming bit of dialogue, and but another proof of Marivaux’s insight into a young girl’s heart. What is her chagrin, therefore, when he presents his valet, Frontin, disguised as the rich Parisian! She refuses his offer, and in desperation is about to consent to marry the peasant farmer Blaise, who had long sighed for the five thousand _livres_ which are her marriage portion. This character is the amusing factor of the play, Lucidor urges him to win her hand, but offers, as a compensation, if he loses, twelve thousand _livres_. This, of course, is sufficient to turn the tide and to enlist the interest of Blaise to fail, if possible, in his forced suit of Angelique. The trial proves Angelique superior to money considerations, and love triumphs.
Why does the money question occupy so important a place in the works of Marivaux? Is it not, as some one has suggested, because in his own life he constantly felt the lack of it? Lesage’s _Turcaret_ and Sedaine’s _le Philosophe sans le savoir_ indicate, likewise, the new importance of wealth in the eighteenth century, which Marivaux could not have failed to notice or to incorporate in his works.
I cannot pass over in silence _la Mere confidente_, which, as Sainte-Beuve claims, is of an “ordre a part” among his comedies, and in which “il a touche des cordes plus franches, plus sensibles et d’une nature meilleure.” Like so many of his best plays, it was first presented at the Comedie-Italienne, May 9, 1735. This too was one of the plays, the reception of which was favorable. The lesson that it intended to teach, for it has a lesson, was one that we have already seen emphasized, by Marivaux, the rights of children, the duty of parents to respect them, and the advisability of gaining their love and confidence.
In Madame Argante of _la Mere confidente_ we have the counterpart of the arrogant mother of the same name of _les Fausses Confidences_, indifferent to her daughter’s real welfare, but powerless to control her will. Madame Argante of _la Mere confidente_ believes in gentle government by love. Her daughter Angelique is a charming girl, anxious to do the right, but deeply in love with, a young man, Dorante, unknown to her mother, and without fortune. Madame Argante has already made her choice of an older man, Ergaste, for whose wealth and respectability she has a natural admiration, but, with her characteristic kindliness, determines not to force her choice upon her daughter. “Vous ne l’epouserez pas malgre vous, ma chere enfant,” she says, meeting the objection of Angelique, and then, seeing that there is some secret trouble, she seeks in the most graceful, tactful way to learn the truth.
… Parle-moi a coeur ouvert; fais-moi ta confidente.
Vous, la confidente de votre fille?
Oh! votre fille, et qui te parle d’elle? Ce n’est point ta mere qui veut etre ta confidente; c’est ton amie, encore une fois.
D’accord; mais mon amie redira tout a ma mere; l’une est inseparable de l’autre.
Eh bien! je les separe, moi; je t’en fais serment. Oui, mets-toi dans l’esprit que ce que tu me confieras sur ce pied-la, c’est comme si ta mere ne l’entendait pas….
Little by little the mother gains the daughter’s confidence, until at last, emboldened, Angelique confesses:
Vous m’avez demande si on avait attaque mon coeur? Que trop, puisque j’aime!
MADAME ARGANTE, _d’un air serieux_.
Eh bien! ne voila-t-il pas cette mere qui est absente? C’est pourtant elle qui me repond; mais rassurez-vous, car je badine.
Nothing could be more graceful or more natural. This, then, is that _marivaudage_, against which so much has been said!
Madame Argante has discovered the secret, and, fearful for her daughter’s welfare, she allows the mother nature to assume the upper hand, and points out the danger of her course to Angelique, who, at last, comprehends, and agrees to renounce her lover. This she attempts to do, but love will have its way, and will not be put down. An elopement is arranged, which is interrupted by the arrival of Madame Argante, who takes Dorante to task for his indifference to the real happiness of Angelique. He is covered with confusion, confesses his mistake, and by his manly attitude gains the mother’s heart and the daughter’s hand. Ergaste, the rejected suitor, proves to be an uncle of Dorante, and in a spirit of self-abnegation, well nigh superhuman, devotes himself to celibacy and his fortune to the lovers. Lisette plays the role of the _intrigante_ and temptress of her mistress. The comic of the piece is in the hands of Lubin, a peasant in the service of the family, who is bribed by each party to spy upon the other.
Lack of space forbids more than a mere mention of the remaining plays, many of which are worthy of being compared favourably with those which have been outlined. We have seen enough to convince us that, although his drama may be classified in general as psychological and _feminin_ there is great diversity in the individual plays, and never monotony.
It has been said by certain of his contemporaries that in all the characters of his comedies he has but embodied himself, that they all have “the imprint of the style _precieux_, for which he has been reproached with so much reason in his novels and in his comedies,” and that all,–“masters, valets, courtiers, peasants, lovers, mistresses, old men, and young men have the _esprit_ of Marivaux.” To this accusation he makes reply in these words, quoted by d’Alembert: “On croit voir partout le meme genre de style dans mes comedies, parce que le dialogue y est partout l’expression simple des mouvements du coeur: la verite de cette expression fait croire que je n’ai qu’un meme ton et qu’une meme langue; mais ce n’est pas moi que j’ai voulu copier, c’est la nature et c’est peut-etre parce que ce ton est naturel, qu’il a paru singulier.”
Both the accusation and the reply are somewhat justifiable. With all the diversity that may be found in his different characters, there is yet a similarity of sentiments and of expression, which is due, not to a desire of representing himself in his plays, but to looking for models to a society the very natural of which was artificial, and to looking always from one point of view. To the careful student of the human heart the infinite variety that Marivaux has known how to introduce into his characters, which are always clearly distinct from one another, even if by mere delicate shades of difference, is a greater cause for wonder than the general family resemblance that unites them all.
The roles of women are the important ones in the works of this author. In this particular the comedies of Marivaux recall the tragedies of Racine. Brunetiere goes so far as to claim that “the roles of women in Marivaux’s drama are almost the only women’s roles” in the whole repertory of French comedies. Of Moliere’s drama he recognizes only three such roles as clearly individualized, those of Agnes, Elmire and Celimene. “The others, whatever their name–Marianne, Elise, Henriette –are about the same _ingenue_, or–Dorine, Nicole, Toinon– about the same _soubrette_.” Marivaux excels in his portrayal of the _ingenue_ and of the coquette, but perhaps no role is more sympathetically developed than that of the young widow, now tender and yielding like Araminte of the _Fausses Confidences_, now vivacious and positive, but no less kindly, like the countess of the _Legs_.
His soubrettes resemble closely their mistresses, to such a degree that by exchanging roles they may readily be mistaken for them, as we have seen in _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_. Unlike those of Moliere, they are always refined and graceful, and are none the less witty. Contrary to their more cautious mistresses, they all, or nearly all, believe in love, and seek to further the marriage of the former. Lisette of _le Legs_ is an exception. In short, all of the younger women of Marivaux are the perfection of grace, beauty, delicacy, wit or artlessness, and are simply irresistible.
It is only the mothers that merit our aversion. With few exceptions, notably Mme. Argante in _la Mere confidente_, he paints them “laides, vaines, imperieuses, avares, entichees de prejuges.” “Il ne pare pas du moindre rayon de coquetterie leurs maussades et acariatres personnes. Il a de la peine a ne pas ceder, quand il s’agit d’elles, a la tentation de la caricature. On dirait qu’il se venge.” The roles of fathers, on the other hand, are treated with great affection. They are always kind and indulgent, and exercise their authority as little as possible. Their motto is that of the good Monsieur Orgon of _le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_: “_Il faut etre un peu trop bon pour l’etre assez_.”
His _amoureux_ are less varied and less attractive than his _amoureuses_, and, while no less refined and exquisite, are less sincere, more calculating and self-interested.
His valets, like his soubrettes, are more refined than those of Moliere, that is to say, are higher in the social scale, and are treated by their masters with more consideration. The changes, soon to be wrought in the old regime, are already germinating. While almost rivalling their masters in wit, they yet occupy a secondary place upon the stage, and rarely dwarf by their own cleverness, as do often those of Moliere, their master’s roles. “Three of these valets are real creations. Dubois of _les Fausses Confidences_, Trivelin, of _la Fausse Suivante_, Lepine of _le Legs_.” Trivelin is the ancestor of Beaumarchais’ Figaro.
Marivaux has introduced into a number of his plays peasants of the cunning, calculating, Norman type, who speak a Norman patois, which may be a souvenir of his own Norman origin.
Piron, who could not resist an occasional thrust at his rivals, was guilty of the following witticism: “Fontenelle a engendre Marivaux, Marivaux a engendre Moncrif, et Moncrif n’engendrera personne.” The _boutade_ is amusing, but not just. Moncrif can hardly be considered an offspring of Marivaux, although he imitated certain of his coquettish graces, any more, or perhaps even much less, than the latter, may be considered an offspring of Fontenelle. Larroumet mentions as true successors to Marivaux, in the line of _proverbes_ and _comedies de societe_, Florian, in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth, Picard, Andrieux, Colin d’Harleville, Carmontelle, Theodore Leclercq, Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset, in the novel Paul Bourget and his school, and particularly Paul Hervieu, and in the journal, the masters of the modern _chronique_.
One feature common to all of the writings of our author, as to many of his contemporaries, is their lack of the sentiment of nature. There are no streams, no flowers, no birds throughout his works. The two slight exceptions, mentioned by Larroumet, show so evident a lack of interest in the beauties of nature that they offer the strongest proof in support of the rule. Here they are, the first from the eighth and the second from the eleventh part of _Marianne_: “Pendant qu’on etait la- dessus, je feignis quelque curiosite de voir un cabinet de verdure qui etait au bout de la terrasse. Il me parait fort joli, dis-je a Valville, pour l’engager a m’y mener.”  –“Il faisait un fort beau jour, et il y avait dans l’hotellerie un jardin qui me parut assez joli. Je fus curieuse de le voir, et j’y entrai. Je m’y promenai meme quelques instants.” This passage, from the sixth part of the same work, shows a somewhat greater appreciation: ” Ah, ca! vous n’avez pas vu notre jardin; il est fort beau; madame nous a dit de vous y mener; venez y faire un tour; la promenade dissipe, cela rejouit. Nous avons les plus belles allees du monde!” There is one passage, however, in the fifth part, in which Marivaux gives evidence of a frank and simple enjoyment of nature: “Nous nous promenions tous trois dans le bois de la maison;… et comme les tendresses de Valvilie interrompaient ce que nous disions, cette aimable fille et moi, nous nous avisames, par un mouvement de gaite, de le fuir, de l’ecarter d’aupres de nous, et de lui jeter des feuilles que nous arrachions des bosquets.”
Marivaux has had the singular honor of causing the creation of a new word in the French literary vocabulary, to designate his peculiar style, _le marivaudage_, a term which has had in the past rather more of discredit than of esteem in its general acceptation. Sainte-Beuve thus defines it: “Qui dit _marivaudage_, dit plus ou moins badinage a froid, espieglerie compassee et prolongee, petillement redouble et pretentieux, enfin une sorte de pedantisme semillant et joli; mais l’homme, considere dans l’ensemble, vaut mieux que la definition a laquelle il a fourni occasion et sujet.” With the increasing popularity of Marivaux, there has gradually arisen a different and more complimentary idea of the term. Deschamps, in his excellent work on the author, thus defines it: “Cet examen de conscience, dicte par une probite inquiete,–cette application a eviter les illusions qui trompent, a dejouer les pieges du caprice et de la fantaisie, a mettre au service du sentiment les plus subtiles lumieres de la raison,…–l’esprit de finesse employe a decouvrir les plus secrets mouvements de notre sensibilite,–par consequent l’usage conscient d’un style ajuste a la tenuite de ces enquetes, style qui n’est pas exempt de recherche, mais qui abonde en trouvailles decisives,–voila precisement le marivaudage.”
Marivaux has been blamed for an affectation, an ingenuity, a delicacy of style, together with a diffuseness, which led him to turn a thought in so many different ways as to weary the reader, a habit of clothing in popular expressions subtle and over-refined ideas, and, finally, a studied and far-fetched neologism.
His ideas on style may be found in the sixth leaflet of the _Cabinet du Philosophe_, in which he answers the accusations of his critics. With him the _idea_ is primary and the _word_ used to express it but secondary. Wherefore, an author should be judged rather by the thoughts which the words express than by the words themselves. If, moreover, the finesse of the writer is such that he can perceive certain shades of meaning, not evident to the more commonplace beholder, how can he make them clear without deviating from the regular forms of expression? A man who understands his language may have poor thoughts, but cannot express his thoughts poorly. “Venons maintenant a l’application de tout ce que j’ai dit. Vous accusez un auteur d’avoir un style precieux. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie?… Ce style peut-etre bien n’est accuse d’etre mauvais, precieux, guinde, recherche, que parce que les pensees qu’il exprime sont extremement fines, et ont du se former d’une liaison d’idees singulieres, lesquelles idees ont du a leur tour etre exprimees par le rapprochement de mots et de signes qu’on a rarement vus aller ensemble.” We should have to tell him to think less, or else urge the others to allow him to use the only expressions possible of conveying his thoughts, even should they appear _precieuses_. If, then, his thoughts are understood, the next question is whether they could be formed with fewer ideas, and consequently fewer words, and still convey to the hearer all the necessary finesse, all of the delicate shades of meaning. “Il y a des gens qui, en faisant un ouvrage d’esprit, ne saisissent pas toujours precisement une certaine idee qu’ils voudraient joindre a une autre. Ils la cherchent; ils l’ont dans l’instinct, dans le fond de l’ame; mais ils ne sauraient la developper. Par paresse, ou par necessite, ou par lassitude. ils s’en tiennent a une autre qui en approche, mais qui n’est pas la veritable: et ils l’expriment pourtant bien, parce qu’ils prennent le mot propre de cette idee a peu pres ressemblante a l’autre, et en meme temps inferieure.” Montaigne, La Bruyere, Pascal, and all great writers, have had individual ideas, hence a singular style, as it is termed.
In the seventh leaflet of the _Spectateur_ he replies to the accusation that he attempted in his writings to display his wit at the expense of naturalness. “Combien croit-on, par exemple, qu’il y ait d’ecrivains, qui, pour eviter le reproche de n’etre pas naturels font justement tout ce qu’il faut pour ne l’etre pas, et d’autres qui se rendent fades, de crainte qu’on ne leur dise qu’ils courent apres l’esprit! Courir apres l’esprit, et n’etre point naturel, voila les reproches a la mode.” What Marivaux sought, above everything else, was naturalness, and he prided himself upon employing more nearly than most writers the language of conversation. Summing up the whole matter, he declares: “J’ajouterai seulement, la-dessus, qu’entre gens d’esprit, les conversations dans le monde sont plus vives qu’on ne pense, et que tout ce qu’un auteur pourrait faire pour les imiter, n’approchera jamais du feu et de la naivete fine et subite qu’ils y mettent.”
Although the term of _neologue_ was applied to Marivaux by Voltaire, and has been repeated ever since, he was less of a neologist than a _precieux_ in language. That is to say, he was less inclined to coin new words, or even to use old words with new meanings, than he was to employ unusual and peculiar turns of expression. Marivaux was not the only writer of the time to make use of _expressions precieuses_, and, although he figures rather more prominently than most of the authors ridiculed by Desfontaines in his _Dictionnaire neologique_, he has the company of many others, and among them, of his friends La Motte, Fontenelle, de Houtteville, and even Montesquieu. Some of the expressions which were considered reprehensible by Desfontaines have since been received into common parlance, and so do not appear unnatural or unusual: _sortir de sa coquille_, etc.
Fleury gives six divisions of the peculiar turns of expression employed by Marivaux, which constitute that part of the _marivaudage_ most condemned by his critics:
1. The use of a common expression, in which a word is first taken in a figurative sense, to be followed by its literal sense:
_Il ne veut que vous donner la main.–Eh! que veut-il que je fasse de cette main, si je n’ai pas envie de la prendre?_
_Son coeur ne se marie pas, il reste garcon._
2. The use of a metaphor unexpectedly carried out:
_Un amour de votre facon ne reste pas longtemps au berceau: votre premier coup d’oeil a fait naitre le mien; le second lui a donne la facon; le troisieme l’a rendu grand garcon. Tachons de l’etablir au plus vite; ayez soin de lui, puisque vous etes sa mere._
_Monsieur a couru apres moi, je m’enfuyais, mais il m’a jete de l’or, des nippes et une maison fournie de tous ses ustensiles a la tete; cela m’a etourdie, je me suis arretee._
3. A metaphor piquant by its oddity:
_Je crois que j’ai laisse ma respiration en chemin.
La vie que je mene aujourd’hui n’est point batarde, elle vient bien en ligne droite de celle que je menais._
4. A phrase ending in a surprise:
_Je gage que tu m’aimes.–Je ne parie jamais, je perds toujours._
5. A metonymy put into action:
_Voyez-vous cette figure tendre et solitaire qui se promene la-bas en attendant la mienne?_
6. A rough comparison, which will not admit of examination:
_Si j’etais roi, nous verrions qui serait reine, et comme ce ne serait pas moi, il faudrait que ce fut vous._
Although these divisions are not altogether satisfactory, they, with the examples cited, will serve to convey an accurate enough idea of this side of the _marivaudage_. Such expressions, or, at least, those in which the exaggeration of the figure is most apparent, are usually found in the mouths of servants and peasants, to which class such complicated language is not unnatural.
A very minor phase of the literary activity of Marivaux remains to be considered, and that is his work in criticism. Eulogiums of the tragedies of Crebillon _pere_, of the _Romulus_ and the _Ines de Castro_ of La Motte, and of the _Lettres persanes_ of Montesquieu constitute almost his entire equipment in this line.
That he was not an unbiased critic, this unwarranted praise of his friend La Motte is enough to prove: “Je sortais, il y a quelques jours, de la comedie, ou j’etais alle voir _Romulus_, qui m’avait charme, et je disais en moi-meme: on dit communement _l’elegant Racine_, et le _sublime Corneille_; quelle epithete donnera-t-on a cet homme-ci, je n’en sais rien; mais il est beau de les avoir meritees toutes les deux.” His criticism of the _Lettres persanes_ is, after all, the only one worthy of praise. In it he has shown himself a fair and competent judge of this first celebrated work of Montesquieu. I realize that, in thus restricting the critical works of Marivaux, it is taking a narrow view of criticism, and that his works ridiculing the classics, _l’Iliade travestie_ and _le Telemaque travesti_, together with his ideas upon the quarrel of the ancients and moderns, as seen throughout certain of his works, and particularly in _le Miroir_, and lastly his opinion of criticism in general, and his defense of his own style, as embodied in works already mentioned, should be taken into consideration, if we had the time to study him as critic in this broader sense.
If Marivaux, yielding to his sense of etiquette and good breeding, was sparing in his criticism of his contemporaries, he was certainly not spared by them. The circle of his friends was small, but intimate, and his timidity with men, his suspiciousness, his lack of self-assertion, made him an easy prey to such unscrupulous opponents as Voltaire. Fond of the refined society of the salons, and repelled by the less feeling and more boisterous set of the cafes, which he avoided, Marivaux became a convenient object of attack for the cabals set in motion by the latter, and, although, in spite of his general suspiciousness, he refused to give credence to an idea so obnoxious to him, it is not unlikely that the frequent failure of his comedies on their “first night” may be most satisfactorily explained in this way.
Marivaux was ever ready to accept a criticism that seemed to him deserved. “J’ai eu tort de donner cette comedie-ci au theatre,” he says in the preface to his _Ile de la Raison_: “Elle n’etait pas bonne a etre representee, et le public lui a fait justice en la condamnant. Point d’intrigue, peu d’action, peu d’interet; ce sujet, tel que je l’avais concu, n’etait point susceptible de tout cela….” At another time, having been present at the first performance of one of his comedies, and noticing the undissimulated yawns of the parterre, he confessed, upon leaving the theatre, that no one had been more bored than he. However, notwithstanding his readiness to acknowledge his own defects, and to defer to the opinions of others, Marivaux required the criticism to be fair- minded and impersonal.
The seventh leaflet of the _Spectateur_ contains his ideas upon this matter of criticism, which a few selections will suffice to illustrate: “A l’egard de ces critiques qui ne sont que des expressions meprisantes, et qui, sans autre examen, se terminent a dire crument d’un ouvrage _cela ne vaut rien, cela est detestable_, nous serons bientot d’accord la-dessus, et je vous ferai convenir sur-le-champ que ces sortes de raisonnements a leur tour ne valent rien et sont detestables…. Ah! que nous irions loin, qu’il naitrait de beaux ouvrages, si la plupart des gens d’esprit qui en sont les juges, tatonnaient un peu avant de dire, _cela est mauvais_ ou _cela est bon!_ … mais je voudrais des critiques qui pussent corriger et non pas gater, qui reformassent ce qu’il y aurait de defectueux dans le caractere d’esprit d’un auteur, et qui ne lui fissent pas quitter ce caractere. Il faudrait aussi pour cela, s’il etait possible, que la malice ou l’inimitie des partis n’alterat pas les lumieres de la plupart des hommes, ne leur derobat point l’honneur de se juger equitablement, n’employat pas toute leur attention a s’humilier les uns les autres, a deshonorer ce que leur talents peuvent avoir d’heureux, a se ruiner reciproquement dans l’esprit du public….” When obliged to endure unfair and personal criticism, as he often was, Marivaux met it invariably with contemptuous silence, saying to his friends: “J’aime mon repos et je ne veux point troubler celui des autres.”
Among those most bitter and most constant in their attacks upon him was Voltaire, some of whose remarks have come down to us. “C’est un homme,” says Voltaire, “qui passe sa vie a peser des riens dans des balances de toile d’araignee” … or again: “C’est un homme qui sait tous les sentiers du coeur humain, mais qui n’en connait pas la grande route.” On June 8, 1732, writing to M. de Fourmont, Voltaire declares: “Nous allons avoir cet