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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

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On my brow his ugly die;
At my years, pray don't forget,
You will be as--old as I.

"Yet do I possess of charms
One or two, so slow to fade,
That I feel but scant alarms
At the havoc Time hath made.

"You have such as men adore,
But these that you scorn to-day
May, perchance, be to the fore
When your own are worn away.

"These can from decay reprieve
Eyes I take a fancy to;
Make a thousand, years believe
Whatsoe'er I please of you.

"With that new, that coming race,
Who will take my word for it,
All the warrant for your face
Will be what I may have writ."

Corneille reappeared upon the boards with a tragedy called _OEdipe,_ more
admired by his contemporaries than by posterity. On the occasion of
Louis XIV.'s marriage he wrote for the king's comedians the _Toison
d'or,_ and put into the mouth of France those prophetic words:--

"My natural force abates, from long success alone;
Triumphant blooms the state, the wretched people groan
Their shrunken bodies bend beneath my high emprise;
Whilst glory gilds the throne, the subject sinks and dies."

_Sertorius_ appeared at the commencement of the year 1662. "Pray where
did Corneille learn politics and war?" asked Turenne when he saw this
piece played. "You are the true and faithful interpreter of the mind and
courage of Rome," Balzac wrote to him; "I say further, sir, you are often
her teacher, and the reformer of olden times, if they have need of
embellishment and support. In the spots where Rome is of brick, you
rebuild it of marble; where you find a gap, you fill it with a
masterpiece, and I take it that what you lend to history is always
better than what you borrow from it. . . ." "They are grander and
more Roman in his verses than in their history," said La Bruyere. "Once
only, in the Cid, Corneille had abandoned himself unreservedly to the
reality of passion; scared at what he might find in the weaknesses of the
heart, he would no longer see aught but its strength. He sought in man
that which resists and not that which yields, thus giving his times the
sublime pleasure of an enjoyment that can belong to nought but the human
soul, a cherished proof of its noble origin and its glorious destiny, the
pleasure of admiration, the appreciation of the beautiful and the great,
the enthusiasm aroused by virtue. He moves us at sight of a masterpiece,
thrills us at the sound of a noble deed, enchants us at the bare idea of
a virtue which three thousand years have forever separated from us."
(_Corneille et son temps,_ by M. Guizot.) Every other thought, every
other prepossession, are strangers to the poet; his personages represent
heroic passions which they follow out without swerving and without
suffering themselves to be shackled by the notions of a morality which
is still far from fixed and often in conflict with the interests and
obligations of parties, thus remaining perfectly of his own time and his
own country, all the while that he is describing Greeks, or Romans, or

[Illustration: Corneille reading to Louis XIV.----642]

There is no pleasure in tracing the decadence of a great genius.
Corneille wrote for a long while without success, attributing his
repeated rebuffs to his old age, the influence of fashion, the capricious
taste of the generation for young people; he thought himself neglected,
appealing to the king himself, who had ordered _Cinna_ and _Pompee_ to be
played at court:--

"Go on; the latest born have naught degenerate,
Naught have they which would stamp them illegitimate
They, miserable fate! were smothered at the birth,
And one kind glance of yours would bring them back to earth;
The people and the court, I grant you, cry them down;
I have, or else they think I have, too feeble grown;
I've written far too long to write so well again;
The wrinkles on the brow reach even to the brain;
But counter to this vote how many could I raise,
If to my latest works you should vouchsafe your praise!
How soon so kind a grace, so potent to constrain,
Would court and people both win back to me again!
'So Sophocles of yore at Athens was the rage,
So boiled his ancient blood at five-score years of age,'
Would they to Envy cry, 'when OEdipus at bay
Before his judges stood, and bore the votes away.'"

Posterity has done for Corneille more than Louis XIV. could have done: it
has left in oblivion _Agesilas, Attila, Titus,_ and _Pulcherie;_ it
preserved the memory of the triumphs only. The poet was accustomed to
say with a smile, when he was reproached with his slowness and emptiness
in conversation, "I am Peter Corneille all the same." The world has
passed similar judgment on his works; in spite of the rebuffs of his
latter years, he has remained "the great Corneille."

When he died, in 1684, Racine, elected by the Academy in 1673, found
himself on the point of becoming its director; he claimed the honor of
presiding at the obsequies of Corneille. The latter had not been
admitted to the body until 1641, after having undergone two rebuffs.
Corneille had died in the night. The Academy decided in favor of Abbe de
Lavau, the outgoing director. "Nobody but you could pretend to bury
Corneille," said Benserade to Racine, "yet you have not been able to
obtain the chance." It was only when he received into the Academy Thomas
Corneille, in his brother's place, that Racine could praise to his
heart's content the master and rival who, in old age, had done him the
honor to dread him. "My father had not been happy in his speech at his
own admission," says Louis Racine ingenuously; "he was in this, because
he spoke out of the abundance of his heart, being inwardly convinced that
Corneille was worth much more than he." Louis XIV. had come in for as
great a share as Corneille in Racine's praises. He, informed of the
success of the speech, desired to hear it. The author had the honor of
reading it to him, after which the king said to him, "I am very pleased;
I would praise you more if you had praised me less." It was on this
occasion that the great Arnauld, still in disgrace and carefully
concealed, wrote to Racine: "I have to thank you, sir, for the speech
which was sent me from you. There certainly was never anything so
eloquent, and the hero whom you praise is so much the more worthy of your
praises in that he considered them too great. I have many things that I
would say to you about that, if I had the pleasure of seeing you, but it
would need the dispersal of a cloud which I dare to say is a spot upon
this sun. I assure you that the ideas I have thereupon are not
interested, and that what may concern myself affects me very little. A
chat with you and your companion would give me much pleasure, but I would
not purchase that pleasure by the least poltroonery. You know what I
mean by that; and so I abide in peace and wait patiently for God to make
known to this perfect prince that he has not in his kingdom a subject
more loyal, more zealous for his true glory, and, if I dare say so,
loving him with a love more pure and more free from all interest. That
is why I should not bring myself to take a single step to obtain liberty
to see my friends, unless it were to my prince alone that I could be
indebted for it." Fenelon and the great Arnauld held the same language,
independent and submissive, proud and modest, at the same time. Only
their conscience spoke louder than their respect for the king.

[Illustration: Racine----646]

At the time when Racine was thus praising at the Academy the king and the
great Corneille, his own dramatic career was already ended. He was born,
in 1639, at La Ferte-Milon; he had made his first appearance on the stage
in 1664 with the _Freres ennemis,_ and had taken leave of it in 1673 with
_Phedre_. _Esther_ and _Athalie,_ played in 1689 and 1691 by the young
ladies of St. Cyr, were not regarded by their author and his austere
friends as any derogation from the pious engagements he had entered into.
Racine, left an orphan at four years of age, and brought up at Port-Royal
under the influence and the personal care of M. Le Maitre, who called him
his son, did not at first answer the expectations of his master. The
glowing fancy of which he already gave signs caused dismay to Lancelot,
who threw into the fire one after the other two copies of the Greek tale
_Theayene et Chariclee_ which the young man was reading. The third time,
the latter learnt it off by heart, and, taking the book to his severe
censor, "Here," said he, "you can burn this volume too, as well as the

Racine's pious friends had fine work to no purpose; nature carried the
day, and he wrote verses. "Being unable to consult you, I was prepared,
like Malherbe, to consult an old servant at our place," he wrote to one
of his friends, "if I had not discovered that she was a Jansenist like
her master, and that she might betray me, which would be my utter ruin,
considering that I receive every day letter upon letter, or rather
excommunication upon excommunication, all because of a poor sonnet." To
deter the young man from poetry, he was led to expect a benefice, and was
sent away to Uzes to his uncle's, Father Sconin, who set him to study
theology. "I pass my time with my uncle, St. Thomas, and Virgil," he
wrote on the 17th of January, 1662, to M. Vitard, steward to the Duke of
Luynes; "I make lots of extracts from theology and some from poetry. My
uncle has kind intentions towards me, he hopes to get me something; then
I shall try to pay my debts. I do not forget the obligations I am under
to you. I blush as I write; _Erubuit puer, salva res est_ (the lad has
blushed; it is all right). But that conclusion is all wrong; my affairs
do not mend."

Racine had composed at Uzes the _Freres ennemis,_ which was played on his
return to Paris in 1664, not without a certain success; _Alexandre_ met
with a great deal in 1665; the author had at first intrusted it to
Moliere's company, but he was not satisfied and gave his piece to the
comedians of the Hotel de Dourgogne. Moliere was displeased, and
quarrelled with Racine, towards whom he had up to that time testified
much good will. The disagreement was not destined to disturb the equity
of their judgments upon one another. When Racine brought out _Les
Plaideurs,_ which was not successful at first, Moliere, as he left, said
out loud, "The comedy is excellent, and they who deride it deserve to be
derided." One of Racine's friends, thinking to do him a pleasure, went
to him in all haste to tell him of the failure of the _Misanthrope_ at
its first representation. "The piece has fallen flat," said he; "never
was there anything so dull; you can believe what I say, for I was there."
"You were there, and I was not," replied Racine, "and yet I don't believe
it, because it is impossible that Moliere should have written a bad
piece. Go again, and pay more attention to it."

Racine had just brought out _Alexandre_ when he became connected with
Boileau, who was three years his senior, and who had already published
several of his satires. "I have a surprising facility in writing my
verses," said the young tragic author ingenuously. "I want to teach you
to write them with difficulty," answered Boileau, "and you have talent
enough to learn before long." _Andromaque_ was the result of this novel
effort, and was Racine's real commencement.

He was henceforth irrevocably committed to the theatrical cause. Nicole
attacking Desmarets, who had turned prophet after the failure of his
_Clovis,_ alluded to the author's comedies, and exclaimed with all the
severity of Port-Royal, "A romance-writer and a scenic poet is a public
poisoner not of bodies but of souls." Racine took these words to
himself, and he wrote in defence of the dramatic art two letters so
bitter, biting, and insulting towards Port-Royal and the protectors of
his youth, that Boileau dissuaded him from publishing the second, and
that remorse before long took possession of his soul, never to be
entirely appeased. He had just brought out _Les Plaideurs,_ which had
been requested of him by his friends and partly composed during the
dinners they frequently had together. "I put into it only a few
barbarous law-terms which I might have picked up during a lawsuit and
which neither I nor my judges ever really heard or understood." After
the first failure of the piece, the king's comedians one day risked
playing it before him. "Louis XIV. was struck by it, and did not think
it a breach of his dignity or taste to utter shouts of laughter so loud
that the courtiers were astounded." The delighted comedians, on leaving
Versailles, returned straight to Paris, and went to awaken Racine.
"Three carriages during the night, in a street where it was unusual to
see a single one during the day, woke up the neighborhood. There was a
rush to the windows, and, as it was known that a councillor of requests
(law-officer) had made a great uproar against the comedy of the
_Plaideurs,_ nobody had a doubt of punishment befalling the poet who had
dared to take off the judges in the open theatre. Next day all Paris
believed that he was in prison." He had a triumph, on the contrary, with
_Britannicus,_ after which the, king gave up dancing in the court
ballets, for fear of resembling Nero. _Berenice_ was a duel between
Corneille and Racine for the amusement of Madame Henriette. Racine bore
away the bell from his illustrious rival, without much glory. _Bajazet_
soon followed. "Here is Racine's piece," wrote Madame de Sevigne to her
daughter in January, 1672; if I could send you La Champmesle, you would
think it good, but without her, it loses half its worth. The character
of Bajazet is cold as ice, the manners of the Turks are ill observed in
it, they do not make so much fuss about getting married; the catastrophe
is not well led up to, there are no reasons given for that great
butchery. There are some pretty things, however, but nothing perfectly
beautiful, nothing which carries by storm, none of those bursts of
Corneille's which make one creep. My dear, let us be careful never to
compare Racine with him, let us always feel the difference; never will
the former rise any higher than _Andromaque_. Long live our old friend
Corneille! Let us forgive his bad verses for the sake of those divine
and sublime beauties which transport us. They are master-strokes which
are inimitable." Corneille had seen _Bajazet_. "I would take great care
not to say so to anybody else," he whispered in the ear of Segrais, who
was sitting beside him, "because they would say that I said so from
jealousy; but, mind you, there is not in _Bajazet_ a single character
with the sentiments which should and do prevail at Constantinople; they
have all, beneath a Turkish dress, the sentiments that prevail in the
midst of France." The impassioned loyalty of Madame de Sevigne, and the
clear-sighted jealousy of Corneille, were not mistaken; Bajazet is no
Turk, but he is none the less very human. "There are points by which men
recognize themselves, though there is no resemblance; there are others in
which there is resemblance without any recognition. Certain sentiments
belong to nature in all countries; they are characteristic of man only,
and everywhere man will see his own image in them." [_Corneille et son
temps,_ by M. Guizot.] Racine's reputation went on continually
increasing; he had brought out _Mithridate_ and _Iphigenie; Phedre_
appeared in 1677. A cabal of great lords caused its failure at first.
When the public, for a moment led astray after the _Phedre_ of Pradon,
returned to the master-work of Racine, vexation and wounded pride had
done their office in the poet's soul. Pious sentiments ever smouldering
in his heart, the horror felt for the theatre by Port-Royal, and
penitence for the sins he had been guilty of against his friends there,
revived within him; and Racine gave up profane poetry forever. "The
applause I have met with has often flattered me a great deal," said he at
a later period to his son, "but the smallest critical censure, bad as it
may have been, always caused me more of vexation than all the praises had
given me of pleasure." Racine wanted to turn Carthusian; his confessor
dissuaded him, and his friends induced him to marry. Madame Racine was
an excellent person, modest and devout, who never went to the theatre,
and scarcely knew her husband's plays by name; she brought him some
fortune. The king had given the great poet a pension, and Colbert had
appointed him to the treasury (_tresorier_) at Moulins. Louis XIV.,
moreover, granted frequent donations to men of letters. Racine received
from him nearly fifty thousand livres; he was appointed historiographer
to the king. Boileau received the same title; the latter was not
married, but Racine before long had seven children. "Why did not I turn
Carthusian!" he would sometimes exclaim in the disquietude of his
paternal affection when his children were ill. He devoted his life to
them with pious solicitude, constantly occupied with their welfare, their
good education, and the salvation of their souls. Several of his
daughters became nuns. He feared above everything to see his eldest son
devote himself to poetry, dreading for him the dangers he considered he
himself had run. "As for your epigram, I wish you had not written it,"
he wrote to him; "independently of its being commonplace, I cannot too
earnestly recommend you not to let yourself give way to the temptation of
writing French verses which would serve no purpose but to distract your
mind; above all, you should not write against anybody." This son, the
object of so much care, to whom his father wrote such modest, grave,
paternal, and sagacious letters, never wrote verses, lived in retirement,
and died young without ever having married. Little Louis, or Lionval,
Racine's last child, was the only one who ever dreamt of being a writer.
"You must be very bold," said Boileau to him, "to dare write verses with
the name you bear! It is not that I consider it impossible for you to
become capable some day of writing good ones, but I mistrust what is
without precedent, and never, since the world was world, has there been
seen a great poet son of a great poet." Louis Racine never was a great
poet, in spite of the fine verses which are to be met with in his poems
_la Religion_ and _la Grace_. His _Memoires_ of his father, written for
his son, describe Racine in all the simple charm of his domestic life.
"He would leave all to come and see us," writes Louis Racine; "an equerry
of the duke's came one day to say that he was expected to dinner at
Conde's house. 'I shall not have the honor of going,' said he; 'it is
more than a week since I have seen my wife and children who are making
holiday to-day to feast with me on a very fine carp; I cannot give up
dining with them.' And, when the equerry persisted, he sent for the
carp, which was worth about a crown. 'Judge for yourself,' said he,
'whether I can disappoint these poor children who have made up their
minds to regale me, and would not enjoy it if they were to eat this dish
without me.' He was loving by nature," adds Louis Racine; "he was loving
towards God when he returned to Him; and, from the day of his return to
those who, from his infancy, had taught him to know Him, he was so
towards them without any reserve; he was so all his life towards his
friends, towards his wife, and towards his children."

Boileau had undertaken the task of reconciling his friend with
Port-Royal. Nicole had made no opposition, "not knowing what war was."
M. Arnauld was intractable. Boileau one day made up his mind to take him
a copy of _Phedre,_ pondering on the way as to what he should say to him.
"Shall this man," said he, "be always right, and shall I never be able to
prove him wrong? I am quite sure that I shall be right to-day; if he is
not of my opinion,--he will be wrong." And, going to M. Arnauld's, where
he found a large company, be set about developing his thesis, pulling out
_Phedre,_ and maintaining that if tragedy were dangerous, it was the
fault of the poets. The younger theologians listened to him
disdainfully, but at last M. Arnauld said out loud, "If things are as he
says, he is right, and such tragedy is harmless." Boileau declared that
he had never felt so pleased in his life. M. Arnauld being reconciled to
_Phedre,_ the principal step was made next day the author of the tragedy
presented himself. The culprit entered, humility and confusion depicted
on his face; he threw himself at the feet of M. Arnauld, who took him in
his arms; Racine was thenceforth received into favor by Port-Royal. The
two friends were preparing to set out with the king for the campaign of
1677. The besieged towns opened their gates before the poets had left
Paris. "How is it that you had not the curiosity to see a siege?" the
king asked them on his return: "it was not a long trip." "True, sir,"
answered Racine, always the greater courtier of the two, "but our tailors
were too slow. We had ordered travelling suits; and when they were
brought home, the places which your Majesty was besieging were taken."
Louis XIV. was not displeased. Racine thenceforth accompanied him in all
his campaigns; Boileau, who ailed a great deal, and was of shy
disposition, remained at Paris. His friend wrote to, him constantly, at
one time from the camp and at another from Versailles, whither he
returned with the king. "Madame de Maintenon told me, this, morning,"
writes Racine, "that the king had fixed our pensions at four thousand
francs for me and two thousand for you: that is, not including our
literary pensions. I have just come from thanking the king. I laid more
stress upon your case than even my own. I said, in as many words, 'Sir,
he has more wit than ever, more zeal for your Majesty, and more desire to
work for your glory than ever he had.' I am, nevertheless, really pained
at the idea of my getting more than you. But, independently of the
expenses and fatigue of the journeys, from which I am glad that you are
delivered, I know that you are so noble-minded and so friendly, that I am
sure you would be heartily glad that I were even better treated. I shall
be very pleased if you are." Boileau answered at once: "Are you mad with
your compliments? Do not you know perfectly well that it was I who
suggested the way in which things have been done? And can you doubt of
my being perfectly well pleased with a matter in which I am accorded all
I ask? Nothing in the world could be better, and I am even more rejoiced
on your account than on my own." The two friends consulted one another
mutually about their verses; Racine sent Boileau his spiritual songs.
The king heard the _Combat du Chretien_ sung, set to music by Moreau

"O God, my God, what deadly strife!
Two men within myself I see
One would that, full of love to Thee,
My heart were leal, in death and life;
The other, with rebellion rife,
Against Thy laws inciteth me."

He turned to Madame de Maintenon, and, "Madame," said he, "I know those
two men well." Boileau sends Racine his ode on the capture of Namur.
"I have risked some very new things," he says, "even to speaking of the
white plume which the king has in his hat; but, in my opinion, if you are
to have novel expressions in verse, you must speak of things which have
not been said in verse. You shall be judge, with permission to alter the
whole, if you do not like it." Boileau's generous confidence was the
more touching, in that Racine was sarcastic and bitter in discussion.
"Did you mean to hurt me?" Boileau said to him one day. "God forbid!"
was the answer. "Well, then, you made a mistake, for you did hurt me."

[Illustration: Boileau-Despreaux----650]

Racine had just brought out _Esther_ at the theatre of St. Cyr. Madame
de Brinon, lady-superior of the establishment which was founded by Madame
de Maintenon for the daughters of poor noblemen, had given her pupils a
taste for theatricals. "Our little girls have just been playing your
_Andromaque,_ wrote Madame de Maintenon to Racine, "and they played it so
well that they never shall play it again in their lives, or any other of
your pieces." She at the same time asked him to write, in his leisure
hours, some sort of moral and historical poem from which love should be
altogether banished. This letter threw Racine into a great state of
commotion. He was anxious to please Madame de Maintenon, and yet it was
a delicate commission for a man who had a great reputation to sustain.
Boileau was for refusing. "That was not in the calculations of Racine,"
says Madame de Caylus in her Souvenirs. He wrote _Esther_. "Madame de
Maintenon was charmed with the conception and the execution," says Madame
de La Fayette; "the play represented in some sort the fall of Madame de
Montespan and her own elevation; all the difference was that Esther was a
little younger, and less particular in the matter of piety. The way in
which the characters were applied was the reason why Madame de Maintenon
was not sorry to make public a piece which had been composed for the
community only and for some of her private friends. There was exhibited
a degree of excitement about it which is incomprehensible; not one of the
small or the great but would go to see it, and that which ought to have
been looked upon as merely a convent-play became the most serious matter
in the world. The ministers, to pay their court by going to this play,
left their most pressing business. At the first representation at which
the king was present, he took none but the principal officers of his
hunt. The second was reserved for pious personages, such as Father
La Chaise, and a dozen or fifteen Jesuits, with many other devotees of
both sexes; afterwards it extended to the courtiers." "I paid my court
at St. Cyr the other day, more agreeably than I had expected writes
Madame de Sevigne to her daughter: listened, Marshal Bellefonds and I,
with an attention that was remarked, and with certain discreet
commendations which were not perhaps to be found beneath the
head-dresses' of all the ladies present. I cannot tell you how
exceedingly delightful this piece is; it is a unison of music, verse,
songs, persons, so perfect that there is nothing left to desire. The
girls who act the kings and other characters were made expressly for it.
Everything is simple, everything innocent, everything sublime and
affecting. I was charmed, and so was the marshal, who left his place to
go and tell the king how pleased he was, and that he sat beside a lady
well worthy of having seen Esther. The king came over to our seats.
'Madame,' he said to me, 'I am assured that you have been pleased.'
I, without any confusion,' replied, 'Sir, I am charmed; what I feel is
beyond expression.' The king said to me, 'Racine is very clever.'
I said to him, 'Very, Sir; but really these young people are very clever
too; they throw themselves into the subject as if they had never done
aught else.' 'Ah! as to that,' he replied, 'it is quite true.' And then
his Majesty went away and left me the object of envy. The prince and
princess came and gave me a word, Madame de Maintenon a glance; she went
away with the king. I replied to all, for I was in luck."

_Athalie_ had not the same brilliant success as _Esther_. The devotees
and the envious had affrighted Madame de Maintenon, who had requested
Racine to write it. The young ladies of St. Cyr, in the uniform of the
house, played the piece quite simply at Versailles before Louis XIV. and
Madame de Maintenon, in a room without a stage. When the players gave a
representation of it at Paris, it was considered heavy; it did not,
succeed. Racine imagined that he was doomed to another failure like that
of _Phedre,_ which he preferred before all his other pieces. "I am a
pretty good judge," Boileau kept repeating to him: "it is about the best
you have done; the public will come round to it." Racine died before
success was achieved by the only perfect piece which the French stage
possesses,--worthy both of the subject and of the sources whence Racine
drew his inspiration. He had, with an excess of scrupulousness,
abandoned the display of all the fire that burned within him; but beauty
never ceased to rouse him to irresistible enthusiasm. Whilst reading the
Psalms to M. de Seignelay, when lying ill, he could not refrain from
paraphrasing them aloud. He admired Sophocles so much that he never
dared touch the subjects of his tragedies. "One day," says M. de
Valicour, "when he was at Auteuil, at Boileau's, with M. Nicole and some
distinguished friends, he took up a Sophocles in Greek, and read the
tragedy of _OEdipus,_ translating it as he went. He read so feelingly
that all his auditors experienced the sensations of terror and pity with
which this piece abounds. I have seen our best pieces played by our best
actors, but nothing ever came near the commotion into which I was thrown
by this reading, and, at this moment of writing, I fancy I still see
Racine, book in hand, and all of us awe-stricken around him." Thus it
was that, whilst repeating, but a short time before, the verses of
_Mithridate,_ as he was walking in the Tuileries, he had seen the workmen
leaving their work and coming up to him, convinced as they were that he
was mad, and was going to throw himself into the basin.

Racine for a long while enjoyed the favors of the king, who went so far
as to tolerate the attachment the poet had always testified towards
Port-Royal. Racine, moreover, showed tact in humoring the
susceptibilities of Louis XIV. and his counsellors. "Father Bonhours and
Father Rapin (Jesuits) were in my study when I received your letter," he
writes to Boileau. "I read it to them, on breaking the seal, and I gave
them very great pleasure. I kept looking ahead, however, as I was
reading, in case there was anything too Jansenistical in it. I saw,
towards the end, the name of M. Nicole, and I skipped boldly, or, rather,
mean-spiritedly, over it. I dared not expose myself to the chance of
interfering with the great delight, and even shouts of laughter, caused
them by many very amusing things you sent me. They are both of them, I
assure you, very friendly towards you, and indeed very good fellows."

All this caution did not prevent Racine, however, from dis pleasing the
king. After a conversation he had held with Madame de Maintenon about
the miseries of the people, she asked him for a memorandum on the
subject. The king demanded the name of the author, and flew out at him.
"Because he is a perfect master of verse," said he, "does he think he
knows everything? And because he is a great poet, does he want to be
minister?"---Madame de Maintenon was more discreet in her relations with
the king than bold in the defence of her friends; she sent Racine word
not to come and see her 'until further orders.' "Let this cloud pass,"
she said; "I will bring the fine weather back." Racine was ill; his
naturally melancholly disposition had become sombre. "I know, Madame,"
he wrote to Madame de Maintenon, "what influence you have; but in the
house of Port-Royal I have an aunt who shows her affection for me in
quite a different way. This holy woman is always praying God to send me
disgraces, humiliations, and subjects for penitence; she will have more
success than you." At bottom his soul was not sturdy enough to endure
the rough doctrines of Port-Royal; his health got worse and worse; he
returned to court; he was re-admitted by the king, who received him
graciously. Racine continued uneasy; he had an abscess of the liver, and
was a long while ill. "When he was convinced that he was going to die,
he ordered a letter to be written to the superintendent of finances,
asking for payment, which was due, of his pension. His son brought him
the letter. 'Why,' said he, 'did not you ask for payment of Boileau's
pension too? We must not be made distinct. Write the letter over again,
and let Boileau know that I was his friend even to death.' When the
latter came to wish him farewell, he raised himself up in bed with an
effort. 'I regard it as a happiness for me to die before you,' he said
to his friend. An operation appeared necessary. His son would have
given him hopes. 'And you, too,' said Racine, 'you would do as the
doctors, and mock me? God is the Master, and can restore me to life, but
Death has sent in his bill.'"

He was not mistaken: on the 21st of April, 1699, the great poet, the
scrupulous Christian, the noble and delicate painter of the purest
passions of the soul, expired at Paris, at fifty-nine years of age;
leaving life without regret, spite of all the successes with which he had
been crowned. Unlike Corneille with the Cid, he did not take tragedy and
glory by assault, he conquered them both by degrees, raising himself at
each new effort, and gaining over, little by little, the most passionate
admirers of his great rival. At the pinnacle of this reputation and this
victory, at thirty-eight years of age, he had voluntarily shut the door
against the intoxications and pride of success; he had mutilated his
life, buried his genius in penitence, obeying simply the calls of his
conscience, and, with singular moderation in the very midst of
exaggeration, becoming a father of a family and remaining a courtier, at
the same time that he gave up the stage and glory. Racine was gentle and
sensible even in his repentance and his sacrifices. Boileau gave
religion the credit for this very moderation. "Reason commonly brings
others to faith; it was faith which brought M. Racine to reason."

Boileau had more to do with his friend's reason than he probably knew.
Racine never acted without consulting him. With Racine, Boileau lost
half his life. He survived him twelve years without ever setting foot
again within the court after his first interview with the king. "I have
been at Versailles," he writes to his publisher, M. Brossette, "where I
saw Madame de Maintenon, and afterwards the king, who overcame me with
kind words; so, here I am more historiographer than ever. His Majesty
spoke to me of M. Racine in a manner to make courtiers desire death, if
they thought he would speak of them in the same way afterwards.
Meanwhile that has been but very small consolation to me for the loss of
that illustrious friend, who is none the less dead though regretted by
the greatest king in the universe." "Remember," Louis XIV. had said,
"that I have always an hour a week to give you when you like to come."
Boileau did not go again. "What should I go to court for?" he would say;
"I cannot sing praises any more."

At Racine's death Boileau did not write any longer. He had entered the
arena of letters at three and twenty, after a sickly and melancholy
childhood. The _Art Poetique_ and the _Lutrin_ appeared in 1674; the
first nine _Satires_ and several of the _Epistles_ had preceded them.
Rather a witty, shrewd, and able versifier than a great poet, Boileau
displayed in the _Lutrin_ a richness and suppleness of fancy which his
other works had not foreshadowed. The broad and cynical buffoonery of
Scarron's burlesques had always shocked his severe and pure taste. "Your
father was weak enough to read _Virgile travesti,_ and laugh over it," he
would, say to Louis Racine, "but he kept it dark from me." In the
_Lutrin,_ Boileau sought the gay and the laughable under noble and
polished forms; the gay lost by it, the laughable remained stamped with
an ineffaceable seal. "M. Despreaux," wrote Racine to his son, "has not
only received from heaven a marvellous genius for satire, but he has
also, together with that, an excellent judgment, which makes him discern
what needs praise and what needs blame." This marvellous genius for
satire did not spoil Boileau's natural good feeling. "He is cruel in
verse only," Madame de Sevigne used to say. Racine was tart, bitter in
discussion; Boileau always preserved his coolness: his judgments
frequently anticipated those of posterity. The king asked him one day
who was the greatest poet of his reign. "Moliere, sir," answered
Boileau, without hesitation. "I shouldn't have thought it, rejoined the
king, somewhat astonished; "but you know more about it than I do."
Moliere, in his turn, defending La Fontaine against the pleasantries of
his friends, said to his neighbor at one of those social meals in which
the illustrious friends delighted, " Let us not laugh at the good soul
(bonhomme) he will probably live longer than the whole of us." In the
noble and touching brotherhood of these great minds, Boileau continued
invariably to be the bond between the rivals; intimate friend as he was
of Racine, he never quarrelled with Moliere, and he hurried to the king
to beg that he would pass on the pension with which he honored him to the
aged Corneille, groundlessly deprived of the royal favors. He entered
the Academy on the 3d of July, 1684, immediately after La Fontaine. His
satires had retarded his election. "He praised without flattery; he
humbled himself nobly" says Louis Racine; "and when he said that
admission to the Academy was sure to be closed against him for so many
reasons, he set a-thinking all the Academicians he had spoken ill of in
his works." He was no longer writing verses when Perrault published his
_Parallele des anciens et desmodernes-. "If Boileau do not reply," said
the Prince of Conti, "you may assure him that I will go to the Academy,
and write on his chair, 'Brutus, thou sleepest.'" The ode on the capture
of Namur,--intended to crush Perrault whilst celebrating Pindar, not
being sufficient, Boileau wrote his _Reflexions sur Longin,_ bitter and
often unjust towards Perrault, who was far more equitably treated and
more effectually refuted in Fenelon's letter to the French Academy.

[Illustration: La Fontaine, Boileau, Moliere, and Racine----657]

Boileau was by this time old; he had sold his house at Auteuil, which was
so dear, but he did not give up literature, continuing to revise his
verses carefully, pre-occupied with new editions, and reproaching himself
for this pre-occupation. "It is very shameful," he would say, "to be
still busying myself, with rhymes and all those Parnassian trifles, when,
I ought to be thinking of nothing but the account I am prepared to go and
render to God." He died on the 13th of March, 1711, leaving nearly all
he had to the poor. He was followed to the tomb by a great throng. "He
had many friends," was the remark amongst the people, "and yet we are
assured that he spoke evil of everybody." No writer ever contributed
more than Boileau to the formation of poetry; no more correct or shrewd
judgment ever assessed the merits of authors; no loftier spirit ever
guided a stronger and a juster mind. Through all the vicissitudes
undergone by literature, and spite of the sometimes excessive severity of
his decrees, Boileau has left an ineffaceable impression upon the French
language. His talent was less effective than his understanding; his
judgment and his character have had more influence fluence than his

Boileau had survived all his friends. La Fontaine, born in 1621 at
Chateau-Thierry, had died in 1695. He had entered in his youth the
brotherhood of the Oratory, which he had soon quitted, being unable, he
used to say, to accustom himself to theology. He went and came between
town and town, amusing himself everywhere, and already writing a little.

"For me the whole round world was laden with delights;
My heart was touched by flower, sweet sound, and sunny day,
I was the sought of friends and eke of lady gay."

Fontaine was married, without caring much for his wife, whom he left to
live alone at Chateau-Thierry. He was in great favor with Fouquet. When
his patron was disgraced, in danger of his life, La Fontaine put into the
mouth of the nymphs of Vaux his touching appeal to the king's clemency:--

"May he, then, o'er the life of high-souled Henry pore,
Who, with the power to take, for vengeance yearned no more
O, into Louis' soul this gentle spirit breathe."

Later on, during Fouquet's imprisonment at Pignerol, La Fontaine wrote

"I sigh to think upon the object of my prayers;
You take my sense, Ariste; your generous nature shares
The plaints I make for him who so unkindly fares.
He did displease the king; and lo his friends were gone
Forthwith a thousand throats roared out at him like one.
I wept for him, despite the torrent of his foes,
I taught the world to have some pity for his woes."

La Fontaine has been described as a solitary being, without wit, and
without external charm of any kind. La Bruyere has said, "A certain man
appears loutish, heavy, stupid; he can neither talk nor relate what he
has just seen; he sets himself to writing, and it is a model of
story-telling; he makes speakers of animals, trees; stones, everything
that cannot speak. There is nothing but lightness and elegance, nothing
but natural beauty and delicacy in his works." "He says nothing or will
talk of nothing but Plato," Racine's daughters used to say. All his
contemporaries, however, of fashion and good breeding did not form the
same opinion of him. The Dowager-duchess of Orleans, Marguerite of
Lorraine, had taken him as one of her gentlemen-in-waiting; the Duchess
of Bouillon had him in her retinue in the country; Madame de Montespan
and her sister, Madame de Thianges, liked to have a visit from him. He
lived at the house of Madame de La Sabliere, a beauty and a wit, who
received a great deal of company. He said of her,

"Warm is her heart, and knit with tenderest ties
To those she loves, and, elsewise, otherwise;
For such a sprite, whose birthplace is the skies,
Of manly beauty blent with woman's grace,
No mortal pen, though fain, can fitly trace."

"I have only kept by me," she would say, "my three pets (_animaux_): my
dog, my cat, and La Fontaine." When she died, M. and Madame d'Hervart
received into their house the now old and somewhat isolated poet. As
D'Hervart was on his way to go and make the proposal to La Fontaine, he
met him in the street. "I was coming to ask you to put up at our house,"
said he. "I was just going thither," answered Fontaine with the most
touching confidence. There he remained to his death, contenting himself
with going now and then to Chateau-Thierry, as long as his wife lived, to
sell, with her consent, some strip of ground. The property was going,
old age was coming:--

"John did no better than he had begun,
Spent property and income both as one:
Of treasure saw small use in any way;
Knew very well how to get through his day;
Split it in two: one part, as he thought best,
He passed in sleep--did nothing all the rest."

He did not sleep, he dreamed. One day dinner was kept waiting for him.
"I have just come," said he, as he entered, "from the funeral of an ant;
I followed the procession to the cemetery, and I escorted the family
home." It has been said that La Fontaine knew nothing of natural
history; he knew and loved animals; up to his time, fable-writers had
been, merely philosophers or satirists; he was the first who was a poet,
unique not only in France but in Europe, discovering the deep and secret
charm of nature, animating it, with his inexhaustible and graceful
genius, giving lessons to men from the example of animals, without making
the latter speak like man; ever supple and natural, sometimes elegant and
noble, with penetration beneath the cloak of his simplicity, inimitable
in the line which he had chosen from taste, from instinct, and not from
want of power to transport his genius elsewhither. He himself has said,

"Yes, call me truly, if it must be said,
Parnassian butterfly, and like the bees
Wherein old Plato found our similes.
Light rover I, forever on the wing,
Flutter from flower to flower, from thing to thing,
With much of pleasure mix a little fame."

And in _Psyche:_--

"Music and books, and junketings and love,
And town and country--all to me is bliss;
There nothing is that comes amiss;
In melancholy's self grim joy I prove."

The grace, the naturalness, the original independence of the mind and the
works of La Fontaine had not the luck to please Louis XIV., who never
accorded him any favor, and La Fontaine did not ask for any:--

"All dumb I shrink once more within my shell,
Where unobtrusive pleasures dwell;
True, I shall here by Fortune be forgot
Her favors with my verse agree not well;
To importune the gods beseems me not."

Once only, from the time of Fouquet's trial, the poet demanded a favor:
Louis XIV., having misgivings about the propriety of the _Contes of La
Fontaine,_ had not yet given the assent required for his election to the
French Academy, when he set out for the campaign in Luxemburg. La
Fontaine addressed to him a ballad:--

"Just as, in Homer, Jupiter we see
Alone o'er all the other gods prevail;
You, one against a hundred though it be,
Balance all Europe in the other scale.
Them liken I to those who, in the tale,
Mountain on mountain piled, presumptuously
Warring with Heaven and Jove. The earth clave he,
And hurled them down beneath huge rocks to wail:
So take you up your bolt with energy;
A happy consummation cannot fail.

"Sweet thought! that doth this month or two avail
To somewhat soothe my Muse's anxious care.
For certain minds at certain stories rail,
Certain poor jests, which nought but trifles are.
If I with deference their lessons hail,
What would they more? Be you more prone to spare,
More kind than they; less sheathed in rigorous mail;
Prince, in a word, your real self declare
A happy consummation cannot fail."

The election of Boileau to the Academy appeased the king's humor, who
preferred the other's intellect to that of La Fontaine. "The choice you
have made of M. Despreaux is very gratifying to me," he said to the board
of the Academy: "it will be approved of by everybody. You can admit La
Fontaine at once; he has promised to be good." It was a rash promise,
which the poet did not always keep.

The friends, of La Fontaine had but lately wanted to reconcile him to his
wife. They had with that view sent him to Chateau-Thierry; he returned
without having seen her whom he went to visit. "My wife was not at
home," said he; "she had gone to the sacrament (_au salut_)." He was
becoming old. Those same faithful friends--Racine, Boileau, and Maucroix
--were trying to bring him home to God. Racine took him to church with
him; a Testament was given him. "That is a very good book," said he;
"I assure you it is a very good book." Then all at once addressing Abbe
Boileau, "Doctor, do you think that St. Augustin was as clever as
Rabelais?" He was ill, however, and began to turn towards eternity his
dreamy and erratic thoughts. He had set about composing pious hymns.
"The best of thy friends has not a fortnight to live," he wrote to
Maucroix; "for two months I have not been out, unless to go to the
Academy for amusement. Yesterday, as I was returning, I was seized in
the middle of Rue du Chantre with a fit of such great weakness that I
really thought I was dying. O, my dear friend, to die is nothing; but
thinkest thou that I am about to appear before God? Thou knowest how I
have lived. Before thou hast this letter, the gates of eternity will,
perchance, be opened for me." "He is as simple as a child," said the
woman who took care of him in his last illness; "if he has done amiss, it
was from ignorance rather than wickedness." A charming and a curious
being, serious and simple, profound and childlike, winning by reason of
his very vagaries, his good-natured originality, his helplessness in
common life, La Fontaine knew how to estimate the literary merits as well
as the moral qualities of his illustrious friends. "When they happened
to be together," says he, in his tale of _Psyche,_ "and had talked to
their heart's content of their diversions, if they chanced to stumble
upon any point of science or literature, they profited by the occasion,
without, however, lingering too long over one and the same subject, but
flitting from one topic to another like bees that meet as they go with
different sorts of flowers. Envy, malignity, or cabal had no voice
amongst them; they adored the works of the ancients, refused not the
moderns the praises which were their due, spoke of their own with
modesty, and gave one another honest advice when any one of them fell ill
of the malady of the age and wrote a book, which happened now and then.
In this case, Acanthus (Racine) did not fail to propose a walk in some
place outside the town, in order to hear the reading with less noise and
more pleasure. He was extremely fond of gardens, flowers, foliage.
Polyphile (La Fontaine) resembled him in this; but then Polyphile might
be said to love all things. Both of them were lyrically inclined, with
this difference, that Acanthus was rather the more pathetic, Polyphile
the more ornate."

When La Fontaine died, on the 13th of April, 1695, of the four friends
lately assembled at Versailles to read the tale of _Psyche,_ Moliere
alone had disappeared. La Fontaine had admired at Vaux the young comic
poet, who had just written the _Facheux_ for the entertainment given by
Fouquet to Louis XIV.:--

"It is a work by Moliere;
This writer, of a style so rare,
Is nowadays the court's delight
His fame, so rapid is its flight,
Beyond the bounds of Rome must be:
Amen! For he's the man for me."

In his old age he gave vent to his grief and his regret at Moliere's
death in this touching epitaph:--

"Beneath this stone Plautus and Terence lie,
Though lieth here but Moliere alone
Their threefold gifts of mind made up but one,
That witched all France with noble comedy.
Now are they gone: and little hope have I
That we again shall look upon the three
Dead men, methinks, while countless years roll by,
Terentius, Plautus, Moliere will be."

[Illustration: Moliere----664]

Moliere and French comedy had no need to take shelter beneath the mantle
of the ancients; they, together, had shed upon the world incomparable
lustre. Shakespeare might dispute with Corneille and Racine the sceptre
of tragedy; he had succeeded in showing himself as full of power, with
more truth, as the one, and as full of tenderness, with more profundity,
as the other. Moliere is superior to him in originality, abundance, and
perfection of characters; he yields to him neither in range, nor
penetration, nor complete knowledge of human nature. The lives of these
two great geniuses, authors and actors both together, present in other
respects certain features of resemblance. Both were intended for another
career than that of the stage; both, carried away by an irresistible
passion, assembled about them a few actors, leading at first a roving
life, to end by becoming the delight of the court and of the world. John
Baptist Poquelin, who before long assumed the name of Moliere, was born
at Paris in 1622; his father, upholstery-groom-of-the-chamber (_valet de
chambre tapissier_) to Louis XIV., had him educated with some care at
Clermont (afterwards Louis-le-Grand) College, then in the hands of the
Jesuits. He attended, by favor, the lessons which the philosopher
Gassendi, for a longtime, the opponent of Descartes, gave young Chapelle.
He imbibed at these lessons, together with a more extensive course of
instruction, a certain freedom of thinking which frequently cropped out
in his plays, and contributed later on to bring upon him an accusation of
irreligion. In 1645 (?1643), Moliere had formed, with the ambitious
title of _illustre theatre,_ a small company of actors, who, being unable
to maintain themselves at Paris, for a long while tramped the provinces
through all the troubles of the Fronde. It was in 1653 that Moliere
brought out at Lyons his comedy _l'Etourdi,_ the first regular piece he
had ever composed. The _Depit amoureux_ was played at Beziers in 1656,
at the opening of the session of the States of Languedoc; the company
returned to Paris in 1658; in 1659, Moliere, who had obtained a license
from the king, gave at his own theatre _les Precieuses ridicules_. He
broke with all imitation of the Italians and the Spaniards, and, taking
off to the life the manners of his own times, he boldly attacked the
affected exaggeration and absurd pretensions of the vulgar imitators of
the Hotel de Rambouillet. "Bravo! Moliere," cried an old man from the
middle of the pit; "this is real comedy." When he published his piece,
Moliere, anxious not to give umbrage to a powerful clique, took care to
say in his preface that he was not attacking real _precieuses,_ but only
the bad imitations.

Just as he had recalled Corneille to the stage, Fouquet was for
protecting Moliere upon it. The _Ecole des Mans_ and the _Facheux_ were
played at Vaux. Amongst the ridiculous characters in this latter,
Moliere had not described the huntsman. Louis XIV. himself indicated to
him the Marquis of Soyecour. "There's one you have forgotten," he said.
Twenty-four hours later, the bore of a huntsman, with all his jargon of
venery, had a place forever amongst the _Facheux_ of Moliere. The _Ecole
des Femmes,_ the _Impromptu de Versailles,_ the _Critique de l'Ecole des
Femmes,_ began the bellicose period in the great comic poet's life.
Accused of impiety, attacked in the honor of his private life, Moliere,
returning insult for insult, delivered over those amongst his enemies who
offered a butt for ridicule to the derision of the court and of
posterity. The _Festin de Pierre_ and the signal punishment of the
libertine (free-thinker) were intended to clear the author from the
reproach of impiety; _la Princesse d'Elide_ and _l'Amour medecin_ were
but charming interludes in the great struggle henceforth instituted
between reality and appearance. In 1666, Moliere produced _le
Misanthrope,_ a frank and noble spirit's sublime invective against the
frivolity, perfidious and showy semblances of court. "This misanthrope's
despitefulness against bad verses was copied from me; Moliere himself
confessed as much to me many a time," wrote Boileau one day. The
indignation of Alceste is deeper and more universal than that of Boileau
against bad poets; he is disgusted with the court and the world because
he is honest, virtuous, and sincere, and sees corruption triumphant
around him; he is wroth to feel the effects of it in his life, and almost
in his own soul. He is a victim to the eternal struggle between good and
evil without the strength and the unquenchable hope of Christianity. The
_Misanthrope_ is a shriek of despair uttered by virtue, excited and
almost distraught at the defeat she forebodes. The _Tartuffe_ was a new
effort in the same direction, and bolder in that it attacked religious
hypocrisy, and seemed to aim its blows even at religion itself. Moliere
was a long time working at it; the first acts had been played in 1664, at
court, under the title of _l'Hypocrite,_ at the same time as
_la Princesse d'Elide_. "The king," says the account of the
entertainment in the _Gazette de Loret,_ "saw so much analogy of form
between those whom true devotion sets in the way of heaven and those whom
an empty ostentation of good deeds does not hinder from committing bad,
that his extreme delicacy in respect of religious matters could with
difficulty brook this resemblance of vice to virtue; and though there
might be no doubt of the author's good intentions, he prohibited the
playing of this comedy before the public until it should be quite
finished and examined by persons qualified to judge of it, so as not to
let advantage be taken of it by others less capable of just discernment
in the matter." Though played once publicly, in 1667, under the title of
_l'Imposteur,_ the piece did not appear definitively on the stage until
1669, having undoubtedly excited more scandal by interdiction than it
would have done by representation. The king's good sense and judgment at
last prevailed over the terrors of the truly devout and the resentment of
hypocrites. He had just seen an impious piece of buffoonery played.
"I should very much like to know," said he to the Prince of Conde, who
stood up for Moliere, an old fellow-student of his brother's, the Prince
of Conti's, "why people who are so greatly scandalized at Moliere's
comedy say nothing about _Scaramouche?_" "The reason of that," answered
the prince, "is, that Scaramouche makes fun of heaven and religion, about
which those gentry do not care, and that Moliere makes fun of their own
selves, which they cannot brook." The prince might have added that all
the blows in _Tartuffe,_ a masterpiece of shrewdness, force, and fearless
and deep wrath, struck home at hypocrisy.

Whilst waiting for permission to have _Tartufe_ played, Moliere had
brought out _le Medecin malgre lui, Amphitryon, Georges Dandin,_ and
_l'Avare,_ lavishing freely upon them the inexhaustible resources of his
genius, which was ever ready to supply the wants of kingly and princely
entertainments. _Monsieur de Pourceaugnac_ was played for the first time
at Chambord, on the 6th of October, 1669; a year afterwards, on the same
stage, appeared _Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,_ with the interludes and music
of Lulli. The piece was a direct attack upon one of the most frequent
absurdities of his day; many of the courtiers felt in their hearts that
they were attacked; there was a burst of wrath at the first
representation, by which the king had not appeared to be struck. Moliere
thought it was all over with him. Louis XIV. desired to see the piece a
second time. "You have never written anything yet which has amused me so
much; your comedy is excellent," said he to the poet; the court was at
once seized with a fit of admiration.

The king had lavished his benefits upon Moliere, who had an hereditary
post near him as groom-of-the-chamber; he had given him a pension of
seven thousand livres, and the license of the king's theatre; he had been
pleased to stand godfather to one of his children, to whom the Duchess of
Orleans was godmother; he had protected him against the superciliousness
of certain servants of his bedchamber, but all the monarch's puissance
and constant favors could not obliterate public prejudice, and give the
comedian whom they saw every day on the boards the position and rank
which his genius deserved. Moliere's friends urged him to give up the
stage. "Your health is going," Boileau would say to him, "because the
duties of a comedian exhaust you. Why not give it up?" "Alas!" replied
Moliere, with a sigh, "it is a point of honor that prevents me."
"A what?" rejoined Boileau; "what! to smear your face with a mustache as
Sganarelle, and come on the stage to be thrashed with a stick? That is a
pretty point of honor for a philosopher like you!"

Moliere might probably have followed the advice of Boileau, he might
probably have listened to the silent warnings of his failing powers, if
he had not been unfortunate and sad. Unhappy in his marriage, justly
jealous and yet passionately fond of his wife, without any consolation
within him against the bitternesses and vexations of his life, he sought
in work and incessant activity the only distractions which had any charm
for a high spirit, constantly wounded in its affections and its
legitimate pride: _Psyche, Les Fourberies de Scapin, La Comtesse
d'Escarbagnas,_ betrayed nothing of their author's increasing sadness or
suffering. _Les Femmes Savantes_ had at first but little success; the
piece was considered heavy; the marvellous nicety of the portraits, the
correctness of the judgments, the delicacy and elegance of the dialogue,
were not appreciated until later on. Moliere had just composed
_Le Malade Imaginaire,_ the last of that succession of blows which he had
so often dealt the doctors; he was more ailing than ever; his friends,
even his actors themselves pressed him not to have any play. "What would
you have me do?" he replied; "there are fifty poor workmen who have but
their day's pay to live upon; what will they do if we have no play? I
should reproach myself with having neglected to give them bread for one
single day, if I could really help it." Moliere had a bad voice, a
disagreeable hiccough, and harsh inflexions. "He was, nevertheless," say
his contemporaries, "a comedian from head to foot; he seemed to have
several voices, everything about him spoke, and, by a caper, by a smile,
by a wink of the eye and a shake of the head, he conveyed more than, the
greatest speaker could have done by talking in an hour." He played as
usual on the 17th of February, 1673; the curtain had risen exactly at
four o'clock; Moliere could hardly stand, and he had a fit during the
burlesque ceremony (at the end of the play) whilst pronouncing the word
Juro. He was icy-cold when he went back to Baron's box, who was waiting
for him, who saw him home to Rue Richelieu, and who at the same time sent
for his wife and two sisters of charity. When he went up again, with
Madame Moliere, into the room, the great comedian was dead. He was only

[Illustration: Death of Moliere----669]

It has been a labor of love to go into some detail over the lives, works,
and characters of the great writers during the age of Louis XIV. They
did too much honor to their time and their country, they had too great
and too deep an effect in France and in Europe upon the successive
developments of the human intellect, to refuse them an important place
in the history of that France to whose influence and glory they so
powerfully contributed.

Moliere did not belong to the French Academy; his profession had shut the
doors against him. It was nearly a hundred years after his death, in
1778, that the Academy raised to him a bust, beneath which was engraved,

"O His glory lacks naught, ours did lack him."

It was by instinct and of its own free choice that the French Academy had
refused to elect a comedian: it had grown, and its liberty had increased
under the sway of, Louis XIV. In 1672, at the death of Chancellor
Seguier, who became its protector after Richelieu, "it was so honored
that the king was graciously pleased to take upon himself this office:
the body had gone to thank him; his Majesty desired that the dauphin
should be witness of what passed on an occasion so honorable to
literature; after the speech of M. Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, and the
man in France with most inborn talent for speaking, the king, appearing
somewhat touched, gave the Academicians very great marks of esteem,
inquired the names, one after another, of those whose faces were not
familiar to him, and said aside to M. Colbert, who was there in his
capacity of simple Academician, 'You will let me know what I must do for
these gentlemen.' Perhaps M. Colbert, that minister who was so zealous
for the fine arts, never received an order more in conformity with his
own inclinations." From that time, the French Academy held its sittings
at the Louvre, and, as regarded complimentary addresses to the king on
state occasions, it took rank with the sovereign bodies.

For thirty-five years the Academy had been working at its Dictionnaire.
From the first, the work had appeared interminable:--

"These six years past they toil at letter F,
And I'd be much obliged if Destiny
would whisper to me, Thou shalt live to G,--

wrote Bois-Robert to Balzac. The Academy had intrusted Vaugelas with the
preparatory labor. "It was," says Pellisson, "the only way of coming
quickly to an end." A pension, which he had, not been paid for a long
time past was revived in his favor. Vaugelas took his plan to Cardinal
Richelieu. "Well, sir," said the minister, smiling with a somewhat
contemptuous air of kindness, "you will not forget the word pension in
this Dictionary." "No, Monsignor," replied M. de Vaugelas, with a
profound bow, "and still less _reconnaissance_ (gratitude)." Vaugelas
had finished the first volume of his _Remarques sur la Langue Francaise,_
which has ever since reniained the basis of all works on grammar. "He
had imported into the body of the work a something or other so estimable
(_d'honnete homme_), and so much frankness, that one could scarcely help
loving its author." He was working at the second volume when he died, in
1649, so poor that his creditors seized his papers, making it very
difficult for the Academy to recover his _Memoires_. The Dictionary,
having lost its principal author, went on so slowly that Colbert, curious
to know whether the Academicians honestly earned their modest medals for
attendance (_jetons de presence_) which he had assigned to them, came one
day unexpectedly to a sitting: he was present at the whole discussion,
"after which, having seen the attention and care which the Academy was
bestowing upon the composition of its Dictionary, he said, as he rose,
that he was convinced that it could not get on any faster, and his
evidence ought to be of so much the more weight in that never man in his
position was more laborious or more diligent."

The Academicians who were men of letters worked at the Dictionary; the
Academicians who were men of fashion had become pretty numerous; Arnauld
d'Andilly and M. de Lamoignon, whom the body had honored by election,
declined to join, and the Academy resolved to never elect anybody without
a previously expressed desire and request. At the time when M. de
Lamoignon declined, the kin, fearing that it might bring the Academy into
some disfavor, procured the appointment, in his stead, of the Coadjutor
of Strasbourg, Armand de Rohan-Soubise. "Splendid as your triumph may
be," wrote Boileau to M. de Lamoignon, "I am persuaded, sir, from what I
know of your noble and modest character, that you are very sorry to have
caused this displeasure to a body which is after all very illustrious,
and that you will attempt to make it manifest to all the earth. I am
quite willing to believe that you had good reasons for acting as you have
done." The Academy from that moment regarded the title it conferred as
irrevocable: it did not fill up the place of the Abbe de St. Pierre when
it found itself obliged to exclude him from its sittings, by order of
Louis XV.; it did not fill up the place of Mgr. Dupanloup, when he
thought proper to send in his resignation. In spite of court intrigues,
it from that moment maintained its independence and its dignity.
"M. Despreaux," writes the banker Leverrier to the Duke of Noailles,
"represented to the Academy, with a great deal of heat, that all was rack
and ruin, since it was nothing more but a cabal of women that put
Academicians in the place of those who died. Then he read out loud some
verses by M. de St. Aulaire. . . . Thus M. Despreaux, before the eyes
of everybody, gave M. de St. Aulaire a black ball, and nominated, all by
himself, M. de Mimeure. Here, monseigneur, is proof that there are
Romans still in the world, and, for the future, I will trouble you to
call M. Despreaux no longer your dear poet, but your dear Cato."

With his extreme deafness, Boileau had great difficulty in fulfilling his
Academic duties. He was a member of the Academy of medals and
inscriptions, founded by Colbert in 1662, "in order to render the acts of
the king immortal, by deciding the legends of the medals struck in his
honor." Pontchartrain raised to forty the number of the members of the
_petite acadamie,_ extended its functions, and intrusted it thenceforth
with the charge of publishing curious documents relating to the history
of France. "We had read to us to-day a very learned work, but rather
tiresome," says Boileau to M. Pontchartrain, "and we were bored right
eruditely; but afterwards there was an examination of another which was
much more agreeable, and the reading of which attracted considerable
attention. As the reader was put quite close to me, I was in a position
to hear and to speak of it. All I ask you, to complete the measure of
your kindnesses, is to be kind enough to let everybody know that, if I am
of so little use at the Academy of Medals, it is equally true that I do
not and do not wish to obtain any pecuniary advantage from it."

The Academy of Sciences had already for many years had sittings in one of
the rooms of the king's library. Like the French Academy, it had owed
its origin to private meetings at which Descartes, Gassendi, and young
Pascal were accustomed to be present. "There are in the world scholars
of two sorts," said a note sent to Colbert about the formation of the new
Academy. "One give themselves up to science because it is a pleasure to
them: they are content, as the fruit of their labors, with the knowledge
they acquire, and, if they are known, it is only amongst those with whom
they converse unambitiously and for mutual instruction; these are _bona
fide_ scholars, whom it is impossible to do without in a design so great
as that of the _Academie royale_. There are others who cultivate science
only as a field which is to give them sustenance, and, as they see by
experience that great rewards fall only to those who make the most noise
in the world, they apply themselves especially, not to making new
discoveries, for hitherto that has not been recompensed, but to whatever
may bring them into notice; these are scholars of the fashionable world,
and such as one knows best." Colbert had the true scholar's taste; he
had brought Cassini from Italy to take the direction of the new
Observatory; he had ordered surveys for a general map of France; he had
founded the _Journal des Savants;_ literary men, whether Frenchmen or
foreigners, enjoyed the king's bounties. Colbert had even conceived the
plan of a Universal Academy, a veritable forerunner of the Institute.
The arts were not forgotten in this grand project; the academy of
painting and sculpture dated from the regency of Anne of Austria; the
pretensions of the Masters of Arts (maitres is arts), who placed an
interdict upon artists not belonging to their corporation, had driven
Charles Lebrun, himself the son of a Master, to agitate for its
foundation; Colbert added to it the academy of music and the academy of
architecture, and created the French school of painting at Rome. Beside
the palace for a long time past dedicated to this establishment, lived,
for more than thirty-five years, Le Poussin, the first and the greatest
of all the painters of that French school which was beginning to spring
up, whilst the Italian school, though blooming still in talent and
strength, was forgetting more and more every day the nobleness, the
purity, and the severity of taste which had carried to the highest pitch
the art of the fifteenth century. The tradition of the masters in vogue
in Italy, of the Caracci, of Guido, of Paul Veronese, had reached Paris
with Simon Vouet, who had long lived at Rome. He was succeeded there by
a Frenchman "whom, from his grave and thoughtful air, you would have
taken for a father of Sorbonne," says M. Vitet in his charming _Vie de
Lesueur_: "his black eye beneath his thick eyebrow nevertheless flashed
forth a glance full of poesy and youth. His manner of living was not
less surprising than his personal appearance. He might be seen walking
in the streets of Rome, tablets in hand, hitting off by a stroke or two
of his pencil at one time the antique fragments he came upon, at another
the gestures, the attitudes, the faces of the persons who presented
themselves in his path. Sometimes, in the morning, he would sit on the
terrace of Trinity del Monte, beside another Frenchman five or six years
younger, but already known for rendering landscapes with such fidelity,
such, fresh and marvellous beauty, that all the Italian masters gave
place to him, and that, after two centuries, he has not yet met his

[Illustration: Lebrun----674]

"Of these two artists, the older evidently exercised over the other the
superiority which genius has over talent. The smallest hints of Le
Poussin were received by Claude Lorrain with deference and respect; and
yet, to judge from the prices at which they severally sold their
pictures, the landscape painter had for the time an indisputable

Claude Gelee, called Lorrain, had fled when quite young from the shop of
the confectioner with whom his parents had placed him. He had found
means of getting to Rome; there he worked, there he lived, and there he
died, returning but once to France, in the height of his renown, for just
a few months, without even enriching his own land with any great number
of his works; nearly all, of them remained on foreign soil. Le Poussin,
born at the Andelys in 1593, made his way with great difficulty to Italy.
He was by that time thirty years old, and had no more desire than Claude
to return to France, where painting was with difficulty beginning to
obtain a standing. His reputation, however, had penetrated thither.
King Louis XIII. was growing weary of Simon Vouet's factitious lustre;
he wanted Le Poussin to go to Paris. The painter for a long while held
out; the king insisted. "I shall go," said Le Poussin, "like one
sentenced to be sawn in halves and severed in twain." He passed eighteen
months in France, welcomed enthusiastically, lodged at the Tuileries,
magnificently paid, but exposed to the jealousies of Simon Vouet and his
pupils. Worried, thwarted, frozen to death by the hoarfrosts of Paris,
he took the road back to Rome in November, 1642, on the pretext of going
to fetch his wife, and did not return any more. He had left in France
some of his masterpieces, models of that, new, independent, and
conscientious art, faithfully studied from nature in all its Italian
grandeur, and from the treasures of the antique. "How did you arrive at
such perfection?" people would ask Le Poussin. "By neglecting nothing,"
the painter would reply. In the same way Newton was soon to discover the
great laws of the physical world, by always thinking thereon."

[Illustration: Le Poussin and Claude Lorrain----675]

During Le Poussin's stay at Paris he had taken as a pupil Eustache
Lesueur, who had been trained in the studio of Simon Vouet, but had been
struck from the first with the incomparable genius and proud independence
of the master sent to him by fate. Alone he had supported Le Poussin in
his struggle against the envious; alone he entered upon the road which
revealed itself to him whilst he studied under Le Poussin. He was poor;
he had great difficulty in managing to live. The delicacy, the purity,
the suavity of his genius could shine forth in their entirety nowhere but
in the convent of the Carthusians, whose cloister he was commissioned to
decorate. There he painted the life of St. Bruno, breathing into this
almost mystical work all the religious poetry of his soul and of his
talent, ever delicate and chaste even in the allegorical figures of
mythology with which he before long adorned the Hotel Lambert. He had
returned to his favorite pursuits, embellishing the churches of Paris
with incomparable works, when, overwhelmed by the loss of his wife, and
exhausted by the painful efforts of his genius, he died at thirty-seven,
in that convent of the Carthusians which he glorified with his talent, at
the same time that he edified the monks with his religious zeal. Lesueur
succumbed in a struggle too rude and too rough for his pure and delicate
nature. Lebrun had returned from that Italy which Lesueur had never been
able to reach; the old rivalry, fostered in the studio of Simon Vouet,
was already being renewed between the two artists; the angelic art gave
place to the worldly and the earthly. Lesueur died; Lebrun found himself
master of the position, assured by anticipation, and as it were by
instinct, of sovereign, dominion under the sway of the young king for
whom he had been created.

[Illustration: Lesueur----676]

Old Philip of Champagne alone might have disputed with him the foremost
rank. He had passionately admired Le Poussin, he had attached himself to
Lesueur. "Never," says M. Vitet, "had he sacrificed to fashion; never
had he fallen into the vagaries of the degenerate Italian style." This
upright, simple, painstaking soul, this inflexible conscience, looking
continually into the human face, had preserved in his admirable portraits
the life and the expression of nature which he was incessantly trying to
seize and reproduce. Lebrun was preferred to him as first painter to the
king by Louis XIV. himself; Philip of Champagne was delighted thereat; he
lived, in retirement, in fidelity to his friends of Port-Royal, whose
austere and vigorous lineaments he loved to trace, beginning with M. de
St. Cyran, and ending with his own daughter, Sister Suzanne, who was
restored to health by the prayers of Mother Agnes Arnauld.

[Illustration: Mignard 677]

Lebrun was as able a courtier as he was a good painter. The clever
arrangement of his pictures, the richness and brilliancy of his talent,
his faculty for applying art to industry, secured him with Louis XIV. a
sway which lasted as long as his life. He was first painter to the king;
he was director of the Gobelins and of the academy of painting. "He let
nothing be done by the other artists but according to his own designs and
suggestions. The worker in tapestry, the decorative painter, the
statuary, the goldsmith, took their models from him: all came from him,
all flowed from his brain, all bore his imprint." The painter followed
the king's ideas, being entirely after his own heart. For fourteen years
he worked for Louis XIV., representing his life and his conquests, at
Versailles; painting for the Louvre the victories of Alexander, which
were engraved almost immediately by Audran and Edelinck. He was jealous
of the royal favor, sensitive and haughty towards artists, honestly
concerned for the king's glory and for the tasks confided to himself.
The growing reputation of Mignard, whom Louvois had brought back from
Rome, troubled and disquieted Lebrun. In vain did the king encourage
him. Lebrun, already ill, said in the presence of Louis XIV. that fine
pictures seem to become finer after the painter's death. "Do not you be
in a hurry to die, M. Lebrun," said the king; "we esteem your pictures
now quite as highly as posterity can."

[Illustration: Perrault 678]

The small gallery at Versailles had been intrusted to Mignard. Lebrun
withdrew to Montmorency, where he died in 1690, jealous of Mignard at the
end as he had been of Lesueur at the outset of his life. Mignard became
first painter to the king. He painted the ceiling of Val-de-Grace, which
was celebrated by Moliere; but it was as a painter of portraits that he
excelled in France. "M. Mignard does them best," said Le Poussin not
long before, with lofty good nature, "though his heads are all paint,
without force or character." To Mignard succeeded Rigaud as portrait
painter, worthy to preserve the features of Bossuet and Fenelon. The
unity of organization, the brilliancy of style, the imposing majesty
which the king's taste had everywhere stamped about him upon art as well
as upon literature, were by this time beginning to decay simultaneously
with the old age of Louis XIV., with the reverses of his arms, and the
increasing gloominess of his court; the artists who had illustrated his
reign were dying one after another, as well as the orators and the poets;
the sculptor James Sarazin had been gone some time; Puget and the
Anguiers were dead, as well as Mansard, Perrault, and Le Notre; Girardon
had but a few months to live; only Coysevox was destined to survive the
king, whose statue he had many a time moulded. The great age was
disappearing slowly and sadly, throwing out to the last some noble
gleams, like the aged king who had constantly served as its centre and
guide, like olden France, which he had crowned with its last and its most
splendid wreath.


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