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Title: Landmarks in French Literature
Author: Strachey, Giles Lytton, 1880-1932
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Landmarks in French Literature" ***

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LANDMARKS IN FRENCH LITERATURE

by

LYTTON STRACHEY

London, 1912







CONTENTS

CHAP.                                              PAGE

I    ORIGINS--THE MIDDLE AGES                        7

II   THE RENAISSANCE                                20

III  THE AGE OF TRANSITION                          31

IV   THE AGE OF LOUIS XIV                           45

V    THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY                         94

VI   THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT                         142

VII  THE AGE OF CRITICISM                          166

CONCLUSION                                         174

CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF AUTHORS AND
THEIR PRINCIPAL WORKS                              177

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE                               183

INDEX                                              185




TO

J.M.S.




CHAPTER I

ORIGINS--THE MIDDLE AGES


When the French nation gradually came into existence among the ruins of
the Roman civilization in Gaul, a new language was at the same time
slowly evolved. This language, in spite of the complex influences which
went to the making of the nationality of France, was of a simple origin.
With a very few exceptions, every word in the French vocabulary comes
straight from the Latin. The influence of the pre-Roman Celts is almost
imperceptible; while the number of words introduced by the Frankish
conquerors amounts to no more than a few hundreds. Thus the French
tongue presents a curious contrast to that of England. With us, the
Saxon invaders obliterated nearly every trace of the Roman occupation;
but though their language triumphed at first, it was eventually affected
in the profoundest way by Latin influences; and the result has been that
English literature bears in all its phases the imprint of a double
origin. French literature, on the other hand, is absolutely homogeneous.
How far this is an advantage or the reverse it would be difficult to
say; but the important fact for the English reader to notice is that
this great difference does exist between the French language and his
own. The complex origin of the English tongue has enabled English
writers to obtain those effects of diversity, of contrast, of
imaginative strangeness, which have played such a dominating part in our
literature. The genius of the French language, descended from its single
Latin stock, has triumphed most in the contrary direction--in
simplicity, in unity, in clarity, and in restraint.

Some of these qualities are already distinctly visible in the earliest
French works which have come down to us--the _Chansons de Geste_. These
poems consist of several groups or cycles of narrative verse, cast in
the epic mould. It is probable that they first came into existence in
the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and they continued to be produced in
various forms of repetition, rearrangement, and at last degradation,
throughout the Middle Ages. Originally they were not written, but
recited. Their authors were the wandering minstrels, who found, in the
crowds collected together at the great fairs and places of pilgrimage of
those early days, an audience for long narratives of romance and
adventure drawn from the Latin chronicles and the monkish traditions of
a still more remote past. The earliest, the most famous, and the finest
of these poems is the _Chanson de Roland_, which recounts the mythical
incidents of a battle between Charlemagne, with 'all his peerage', and
the hosts of the Saracens. Apart from some touches of the
marvellous--such as the two hundred years of Charlemagne and the
intervention of angels--the whole atmosphere of the work is that of
eleventh-century France, with its aristocratic society, its barbaric
vigour, its brutality, and its high sentiments of piety and honour. The
beauty of the poem lies in the grand simplicity of its style. Without a
trace of the delicacy and variety of a Homer, farther still from the
consummate literary power of a Virgil or a Dante, the unknown minstrel
who composed the _Chanson de Roland_ possessed nevertheless a very real
gift of art. He worked on a large scale with a bold confidence.
Discarding absolutely the aids of ornament and the rhetorical
elaboration of words, he has succeeded in evoking with an extraordinary,
naked vividness the scenes of strife and heroism which he describes. At
his best--in the lines of farewell between Roland and Oliver, and the
well-known account of Roland's death--he rises to a restrained and
severe pathos which is truly sublime. This great work--bleak, bare,
gaunt, majestic--stands out, to the readers of to-day, like some huge
mass of ancient granite on the far horizon of the literature of France.

While the _Chansons de Geste_ were developing in numerous cycles of
varying merit, another group of narrative poems, created under different
influences, came into being. These were the _Romans Bretons_, a series
of romances in verse, inspired by the Celtic myths and traditions which
still lingered in Brittany and England. The spirit of these poems was
very different from that of the _Chansons de Geste_. The latter were the
typical offspring of the French genius--positive, definite,
materialistic; the former were impregnated with all the dreaminess, the
mystery, and the romantic spirituality of the Celt. The legends upon
which they were based revolved for the most part round the history of
King Arthur and his knights; they told of the strange adventures of
Lancelot, of the marvellous quest of the Holy Grail, of the overwhelming
and fatal loves of Tristan and Yseult. The stories gained an immense
popularity in France, but they did not long retain their original
character. In the crucible of the facile and successful CHRÉTIEN DE
TROYES, who wrote towards the close of the twelfth century, they assumed
a new complexion; their mystical strangeness became transmuted into the
more commonplace magic of wizards and conjurers, while their elevated,
immaterial conception of love was replaced by the superfine affectations
of a mundane gallantry. Nothing shows more clearly at what an early
date, and with what strength, the most characteristic qualities of
French literature were developed, than the way in which the vague
imaginations of the Celtic romances were metamorphosed by French writers
into the unambiguous elegances of civilized life.

Both the _Chansons de Geste_ and the _Romans Bretons_ were aristocratic
literature: they were concerned with the life and ideals--the martial
prowess, the chivalric devotion, the soaring honour--of the great nobles
of the age. But now another form of literature arose which depicted, in
short verse narratives, the more ordinary conditions of middle-class
life. These _Fabliaux_, as they were called, are on the whole of no
great value as works of art; their poetical form is usually poor, and
their substance exceedingly gross. Their chief interest lies in the fact
that they reveal, no less clearly than the aristocratic _Chansons_, some
of the most abiding qualities of the French genius. Its innate love of
absolute realism and its peculiar capacity for cutting satire--these
characteristics appear in the _Fabliaux_ in all their completeness. In
one or two of the stories, when the writer possesses a true vein of
sensibility and taste, we find a surprising vigour of perception and a
remarkable psychological power. Resembling the _Fabliaux_ in their
realism and their bourgeois outlook, but far more delicate and witty,
the group of poems known as the _Roman de Renard_ takes a high place in
the literature of the age. The humanity, the dramatic skill, and the
command of narrative power displayed in some of these pleasant satires,
where the foibles and the cunning of men and women are thinly veiled
under the disguise of animal life, give a foretaste of the charming art
which was to blossom forth so wonderfully four centuries later in the
Fables of La Fontaine.

One other work has come down to us from this early epoch, which presents
a complete contrast, both with the rough, bold spirit of the _Chansons
de Geste_ and the literal realism of the _Fabliaux_. This is the
'chante-fable' (or mingled narrative in verse and prose) of _Aucassin et
Nicolete_. Here all is delicacy and exquisiteness--the beauty, at once
fragile and imperishable, of an enchanting work of art. The unknown
author has created, in his light, clear verse and his still more
graceful and poetical prose, a delicious atmosphere of delicate romance.
It is 'the tender eye-dawn of aurorean love' that he shows us--the
happy, sweet, almost childish passion of two young creatures who move,
in absolute innocence and beauty, through a wondrous world of their own.
The youth Aucassin, who rides into the fight dreaming of his beloved,
who sees her shining among the stars in heaven--

    Estoilette, je te voi,
    Que la lune trait à soi;
    Nicolete est avec toi,
    M'amiete o le blond poil.

    (Little star, I see thee there,
    That the moon draws close to her!
    Nicolette is with thee there,
    My love of the yellow hair.)--

who disdains the joys of Paradise, since they exclude the joys of
loving--

     En paradis qu'ai-je a faire? Je n'i quier entrer, mais que j'aie
     Nicolete, ma très douce amie que j'aime tant.... Mais en enfer voil
     jou aler. Car en enfer vont li bel clerc et li bel cevalier, qui
     sont mort as tournois et as rices guerres, et li bien sergant, et
     li franc homme.... Avec ciax voil jou aler, mais que j'aie
     Nicolete, ma très douce amie, avec moi. [What have I to do in
     Paradise? I seek not to enter there, so that I have Nicolette, my
     most sweet friend, whom I love so well.... But to Hell will I go.
     For to Hell go the fine clerks and the fine knights, who have died
     in tourneys and in rich wars, and the brave soldiers and the
     free-born men.... With these will I go, so that I have Nicolette,
     my most sweet friend, with me.]

--Aucassin, at once brave and naïf, sensuous and spiritual, is as much
the type of the perfect medieval lover as Romeo, with his ardour and his
vitality, is of the Renaissance one. But the poem--for in spite of the
prose passages, the little work is in effect simply a poem--is not all
sentiment and dreams. With admirable art the author has interspersed
here and there contrasting episodes of realism or of absurdity; he has
woven into his story a succession of vivid dialogues, and by means of an
acute sense of observation he has succeeded in keeping his airy fantasy
in touch with actual things. The description of Nicolette, escaping from
her prison, and stepping out over the grass in her naked feet, with the
daisies, as she treads on them, showing black against her whiteness, is
a wonderful example of his power of combining imagination with detail,
beauty with truth. Together with the _Chanson de Roland_--though in such
an infinitely different style--_Aucassin et Nicolete_ represents the
most valuable elements in the French poetry of this early age.

With the thirteenth century a new development began, and one of the
highest importance--the development of Prose. _La Conquête de
Constantinople_, by VILLEHARDOUIN, written at the beginning of the
century, is the earliest example of those historical memoirs which were
afterwards to become so abundant in French literature; and it is
written, not in the poetical prose of _Aucassin et Nicolete_, but in the
simple, plain style of straightforward narrative. The book cannot be
ranked among the masterpieces; but it has the charm of sincerity and
that kind of pleasant flavour which belong to innocent antiquity. The
good old Villehardouin has something of the engaging _naïveté_,
something of the romantic curiosity, of Herodotus. And in spite of the
sobriety and dryness of his writing he can, at moments, bring a sense of
colour and movement into his words. His description of the great fleet
of the crusaders, starting from Corfu, has this fine sentence: 'Et le
jour fut clair et beau: et le vent doux et bon. Et ils laissèrent aller
les voiles au vent.' His account of the spectacle of Constantinople,
when it appeared for the first time to the astonished eyes of the
Christian nobles, is well known: 'Ils ne pouvaient croire que si riche
ville pût être au monde, quand ils virent ces hauts murs et ces riches
tours dont elle était close tout autour à la ronde, et ces riches palais
et ces hautes églises.... Et sachez qu'il n'y eut si hardi à qui la
chair ne frémit; et ce ne fut une merveille; car jamais si grande
affaire ne fut entreprise de nulles gens, depuis que le monde fut créé.'
Who does not feel at such words as these, across the ages, the thrill of
the old adventure!

A higher level of interest and significance is reached by JOINVILLE in
his _Vie de Saint Louis_, written towards the close of the century. The
fascination of the book lies in its human qualities. Joinville narrates,
in the easy flowing tone of familiar conversation, his reminiscences of
the good king in whose service he had spent the active years of his
life, and whose memory he held in adoration. The deeds, the words, the
noble sentiments, the saintly devotion of Louis--these things he relates
with a charming and ingenuous sympathy, yet with a perfect freedom and
an absolute veracity. Nor is it only the character of his master that
Joinville has brought into his pages; his book is as much a
self-revelation as a biography. Unlike Villehardouin, whose chronicle
shows hardly a trace of personal feeling, Joinville speaks of himself
unceasingly, and has impressed his work indelibly with the mark of his
own individuality. Much of its charm depends upon the contrast which he
thus almost unconsciously reveals between himself and his master--the
vivacious, common-sense, eminently human nobleman, and the grave,
elevated, idealizing king. In their conversations, recounted with such
detail and such relish by Joinville, the whole force of this contrast
becomes delightfully apparent. One seems to see in them, compressed and
symbolized in the characters of these two friends, the conflicting
qualities of sense and spirit, of worldliness and self-immolation, of
the most shrewd and literal perspicacity and the most visionary
exaltation, which make up the singular antithesis of the Middle Ages.

A contrast no less complete, though of a different nature, is to be
found in the most important poetical work of the thirteenth century--_Le
Roman de la Rose_. The first part of this curious poem was composed by
GUILLAUME DE LORRIS, a young scholar who wrote for that aristocratic
public which, in the previous generation, had been fascinated by the
courtly romances of Chrétien de Troyes. Inspired partly by that writer,
and partly by Ovid, it was the aim of Lorris to produce an _Art of
Love_, brought up to date, and adapted to the tastes of his aristocratic
audience, with all the elaborate paraphernalia of learned disquisition
and formal gallantry which was then the mode. The poem, cast in the form
of an intricate allegory, is of significance chiefly on account of its
immense popularity, and for its being the fountain-head of a school of
allegorical poetry which flourished for many centuries in France. Lorris
died before he had finished his work, which, however, was destined to be
completed in a singular manner. Forty years later, another young
scholar, JEAN DE MEUNG, added to the 4000 lines which Lorris had left no
fewer than 18,000 of his own. This vast addition was not only quite out
of proportion but also quite out of tone with the original work. Jean de
Meung abandoned entirely the refined and aristocratic atmosphere of his
predecessor, and wrote with all the realism and coarseness of the middle
class of that day. Lorris's vapid allegory faded into insignificance,
becoming a mere peg for a huge mass of extraordinarily varied discourse.
The whole of the scholastic learning of the Middle Ages is poured in a
confused stream through this remarkable and deeply interesting work. Nor
is it merely as a repository of medieval erudition that Jean de Meung's
poem deserves attention; for it is easy to perceive in it an
intellectual tendency far in advance of its age--a spirit which, however
trammelled by antiquated conventions, yet claims kinship with that of
Rabelais, or even that of Voltaire. Jean de Meung was not a great
artist; he wrote without distinction, and without sense of form; it is
his bold and voluminous thought that gives him a high place in French
literature. In virtue alike of his popularization of an encyclopedic
store of knowledge and of his underlying doctrine--the worship of
Nature--he ranks as a true forerunner of the great movement of the
Renaissance.

The intellectual stirring, which seemed to be fore-shadowed by the
second part of the _Roman de la Rose_, came to nothing. The disasters
and confusion of the Hundred Years War left France with very little
energy either for art or speculation; the horrors of a civil war
followed; and thus the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are perhaps
the emptiest in the annals of her literature. In the fourteenth century
one great writer embodied the character of the time. FROISSART has
filled his splendid pages with 'the pomp and circumstance of glorious
war'. Though he spent many years and a large part of his fortune in the
collection of materials for his history of the wars between France and
England, it is not as an historian that he is now remembered; it is as a
writer of magnificent prose. His _Chroniques_, devoid of any profundity
of insight, any true grasp of the movements of the age, have rarely been
paralleled in the brilliance and animation of their descriptions, the
vigour of their character-drawing, the flowing picturesqueness of their
style. They unroll themselves like some long tapestry, gorgeously
inwoven with scenes of adventure and chivalry, with flags and spears and
chargers, and the faces of high-born ladies and the mail-clad figures of
knights. Admirable in all his descriptions, it is in his battle-pieces
that Froissart particularly excels. Then the glow of his hurrying
sentences redoubles, and the excitement and the bravery of the combat
rush out from his pen in a swift and sparkling stream. One sees the
serried ranks and the flashing armour, one hears the clash of weapons
and the shouting of the captains: 'Montjoie! Saint Denis! Saint George!
Giane!'--one feels the sway and the press and the tumult, one laments
with the vanquished, one exults with the victors, and, amid the
glittering panoply of 'grand seigneur, conte, baron, chevalier, et
escuier', with their high-sounding titles and their gallant prowess, one
forgets the reverse side of all this glory--the ravaged fields, the
smoking villages, the ruined peasants--the long desolation of France.

The Chronicles of Froissart are history seen through the eyes of a
herald; the _Memoirs_ of PHILIPPE DE COMMYNES are history envisaged by a
politician and a diplomatist. When Commynes wrote--towards the close of
the fifteenth century--the confusion and strife which Froissart had
chronicled with such a gusto were things of the past, and France was
beginning to emerge as a consolidated and centralized state. Commynes
himself, one of the confidential ministers of Louis XI, had played an
important part in this development; and his book is the record of the
triumphant policy of his crafty and sagacious sovereign. It is a fine
piece of history, written with lucidity and firmness, by a man who had
spent all his life behind the scenes, and who had never been taken in.
The penetration and the subtlety of Commynes make his work interesting
chiefly for its psychological studies and for the light that it throws
on those principles of cunning statecraft which permeated the politics
and diplomacy of the age and were to receive their final exposition in
the _Prince_ of Machiavelli. In his calm, judicious, unaffected pages we
can trace the first beginnings of that strange movement which was to
convert the old Europe of the Middle Ages, with its universal Empire and
its universal Church, into the new Europe of independent secular
nations--the Europe of to-day.

Commynes thus stands on the brink of the modern world; though his style
is that of his own time, his matter belongs to the future: he looks
forward into the Renaissance. At the opposite end of the social scale
from this rich and powerful diplomatist, VILLON gave utterance in
language of poignant beauty to the deepest sentiments of the age that
was passing away. A ruffian, a robber, a murderer, haunting the vile
places of Paris, flying from justice, condemned, imprisoned, almost
executed, and vanishing at last, none knows how or where, this
extraordinary genius lives now as a poet and a dreamer--an artist who
could clothe in unforgettable verse the intensest feelings of a soul.
The bulk of his work is not large. In his _Grand Testament_--a poem of
about 1500 lines, containing a number of interspersed ballades and
rondeaus--in his _Petit Testament_, and in a small number of
miscellaneous poems, he has said all that he has to say. The most
self-communicative of poets, he has impressed his own personality on
every line that he wrote. Into the stiff and complicated forms of the
rondeau and rondel, the ballade and double ballade, with their limited
rhymes and their enforced repetitions, he has succeeded in breathing not
only the spirit of beauty, but the spirit of individuality. He was not a
simple character; his melancholy was shot with irony and laughter;
sensuality and sentimentality both mingled with his finest imaginations
and his profoundest visions; and all these qualities are reflected,
shifting and iridescent, in the magic web of his verse. One thought,
however, perpetually haunts him; under all his music of laughter or of
passion, it is easy to hear one dominating note. It is the thought of
mortality. The whining, leering, brooding creature can never for a
moment forget that awful Shadow. He sees it in all its aspects--as a
subject for mockery, for penitence, for resignation, for despair. He
sees it as the melancholy, inevitable end of all that is beautiful, all
that is lovely on earth.

    Dictes moi où, n'en quel pays
    Est Flora, la belle Rommaine;
    Archipiada, ne Thaïs--

and so through the rest of the splendid catalogue with its sad,
unanswerable refrain--

    Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?

Even more persistently, the vision rises before him of the physical
terrors of death--the hideousness of its approaches, the loathsomeness
of its corruptions; in vain he smiles, in vain he weeps; the grim
imagination will not leave him. In the midst of his wildest debauches,
he suddenly remembers the horrible features of decaying age; he repents;
but there, close before him, he sees the fatal gibbet, and his own body
swinging among the crows.

With Villon the medieval literature of France comes at once to a climax
and a termination. His potent and melancholy voice vibrates with the
accumulated passion and striving and pain of those far-off generations,
and sinks mysteriously into silence with the birth of a new and happier
world.




CHAPTER II

THE RENAISSANCE


There is something dark and wintry about the atmosphere of the later
Middle Ages. The poems of Villon produce the impression of some bleak,
desolate landscape of snow-covered roofs and frozen streets, shut in by
mists, and with a menacing shiver in the air. It is--

              sur la morte saison,
    Que les loups se vivent de vent,
    Et qu'on se tient en sa maison,
    Pour le frimas, près du tison.

Then all at once the grey gloom lifts, and we are among the colours, the
sunshine, and the bursting vitality of spring.

The great intellectual and spiritual change which came over western
Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century was the result of a
number of converging causes, of which the most important were the
diffusion of classical literature consequent upon the break-up of the
Byzantine Empire at the hands of the Turks, the brilliant civilization
of the Italian city-states, and the establishment, in France, Spain and
England, of powerful monarchies whose existence ensured the maintenance
of order and internal peace. Thus it happened that the splendid
literature of the Ancient World--so rich in beauty and so significant in
thought--came into hands worthy of receiving it. Scholars, artists and
thinkers seized upon the wondrous heritage and found in it a whole
unimagined universe of instruction and delight. At the same time the
physical discoveries of explorers and men of science opened out vast
fresh regions of speculation and adventure. Men saw with astonishment
the old world of their fathers vanishing away, and, within them and
without them, the dawning of a new heaven and a new earth. The effect on
literature of these combined forces was enormous. In France
particularly, under the strong and brilliant government of Francis I,
there was an outburst of original and vital writing. This literature,
which begins, in effect, what may be called the distinctively _modern_
literature of France, differs in two striking respects from that of the
Middle Ages. Both in their attitude towards art and in their attitude
towards thought, the great writers of the Renaissance inaugurated a new
era in French literature.

The new artistic views of the age first appeared, as was natural, in the
domain of poetry. The change was one towards consciousness and
deliberate, self-critical effort. The medieval poets had sung with
beauty; but that was not enough for the poets of the Renaissance: they
determined to sing not only with beauty, but with care. The movement
began in the verse of MAROT, whose clear, civilized, worldly poetry
shows for the first time that tendency to select and to refine, that
love of ease and sincerity, and that endeavour to say nothing that is
not said well, which were to become the fundamental characteristics of
all that was best in French poetry for the next three hundred years. In
such an exquisite little work of art as his epistle in three-syllabled
verse--'À une Damoyselle Malade', beginning--

    Ma mignonne,
    Je vous donne
    Le bonjour,

we already have, in all its completeness, that tone of mingled
distinction, gaiety and grace which is one of the unique products of the
mature poetical genius of France. But Marot's gift was not wide enough
for the voluminous energies of the age; and it was not until a
generation later, in the work of the _Pléiade_--a group of writers of
whom RONSARD was the chief, and who flourished about the middle of the
sixteenth century--that the poetical spirit of the French Renaissance
found its full expression.

The mere fact that the _Pléiade_ formed a definite school, with common
principles and a fixed poetical creed, differentiates them in a striking
way from the poets who had preceded them. They worked with no casual
purpose, no merely professional art, but with a high sense of the glory
of their calling and a noble determination to give to the Muses whom
they worshipped only of their best. They boldly asserted--in Du Bellay's
admirable essay, _La Défense et Illustration de la Langue
Française_--the right of the French language to stand beside those of
the ancients, as a means of poetical expression; and they devoted their
lives to the proof of their doctrine. But their respect for their own
tongue by no means implied a neglect of the Classics. On the contrary,
they shared to the full the adoration of their contemporaries for the
learning and the literature of the Ancient World. They were scholars as
well as poets; and their great object was to create a tradition in the
poetry of France which should bring it into accord with the immortal
models of Greece and Rome. This desire to imitate classical literature
led to two results. In the first place, it led to the invention of a
great number of new poetical forms, and the abandonment of the old
narrow and complicated conventions which had dominated the poetry of
the Middle Ages. With the free and ample forms of the Classics before
them, Ronsard and his school enfranchised French verse. Their technical
ability was very great; and it is hardly too much to say that the result
of their efforts was the creation of something hitherto lacking in
French literature--a poetical instrument which, in its strength, its
freedom, its variety of metrical resources, and its artistic finish, was
really adequate to fulfil the highest demands of genius. In this
direction their most important single achievement was their elevation of
the 'Alexandrine' verse--the great twelve-syllabled rhyming couplet--to
that place of undisputed superiority over all other metres which it has
ever since held in French poetry.

But the _Pléiade's_ respect for classical models led to another and a
far less fortunate result. They allowed their erudition to impinge upon
their poetry, and, in their eagerness to echo the voice of antiquity,
they too often failed to realize the true bent either of their own
language or their own powers. This is especially obvious in the longer
poems of Ronsard--his _Odes_ and his _Françiade_--where all the effort
and skill of the poet have not been enough to save his verse from tedium
and inflation. The Classics swam into the ken of these early discoverers
in such a blaze of glory that their eyes were dazzled and their feet
misled. It was owing to their very eagerness to imitate their great
models exactly--to 'ape the outward form of majesty'--that they failed
to realize the true inward spirit of Classical Art.

It is in their shorter poems--when the stress of classical imitation is
forgotten in the ebullition of individual genius--that Ronsard and his
followers really come to their own. These beautiful lyrics possess the
freshness and charm of some clear April morning, with its delicate
flowers and its carolling birds. It is the voice of youth that sings in
light and varied measures, composed with such an exquisite happiness,
such an unlaboured art. The songs are of Love and of Nature, of roses,
skylarks and kisses, of blue skies and natural joys. Sometimes there is
a sadder note; and the tender music reminds us of the ending of
pleasures and the hurrying steps of Time. But with what a different
accent from that of the dark and relentless Villon! These gentle singers
had no words for such brutalities.

    Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle--

so Ronsard addresses his mistress; and the image is a charming one of
quiet and refined old age, with its half-smiling memories of vanished
loves. What had become, in the hands of Villon, a subject for grim jests
and horrible descriptions, gave to Ronsard simply an opportunity for the
delicate pathos of regret. Then again the note changes, and the pure,
tense passion of Louise Labé--

    Oh! si j'étais en ce beau sein ravie
    De celui-là pour lequel vais mourant--

falls upon our ears. And then, in the great sonnet sequence of Du
Bellay--_Les Antiquités de Rome_--we hear a splendid sound unknown
before in French poetry--the sonorous boom of proud and pompous verse.


Contemporary with the poetry of the _Pléiade_, the influence of the
Renaissance spirit upon French literature appeared with even more
striking force in the prose of RABELAIS. The great achievement of the
_Pléiade_ had been the establishment, once and for all, of the doctrine
that literature was something essentially artistic; it was Rabelais who
showed that it possessed another quality--that it was a mighty
instrument of thought. The intellectual effort of the Middle Ages had
very rarely clothed itself in an artistic literary form. Men laughed or
wept in the poetry or prose of their own tongue; but they thought in
scholastic Latin. The work of Jean de Meung was an exception; but, even
there, the poetical form was rough and feeble; the artistic and the
intellectual principles had not coalesced. The union was accomplished by
Rabelais. Far outstripping Jean de Meung in the comprehensiveness and
vigour of his thought, he at the same time infinitely surpassed him as
an artist. At first sight, indeed, his great book hardly conveys such an
impression; to a careless reader it might appear to be simply the work
of a buffoon or a madman. But such a conception of it would be totally
mistaken. The more closely one examines it, the more forcibly one must
be struck alike by its immense powers of intellect and its consummate
literary ability. The whole vast spirit of the Renaissance is gathered
within its pages: the tremendous vitality, the enormous erudition, the
dazzling optimism, the courage, the inventiveness, the humanity, of that
extraordinary age. And these qualities are conveyed to us, not by some
mere conscientious pedant, or some clumsy enthusiast, but by a born
writer--a man whose whole being was fixed and concentrated in an
astonishing command of words. It is in the multitude of his words that
the fertility of Rabelais' spirit most obviously shows itself. His book
is an orgy of words; they pour out helter-skelter, wildly, into swirling
sentences and huge catalogues that, in serried columns, overflow the
page. Not quite wildly, though; for, amid all the rush and bluster,
there is a powerful underlying art. The rhythms of this extraordinary
prose are long and complex, but they exist; and they are controlled with
the absolute skill of a master.

The purpose of Rabelais' book cannot be summed up in a sentence. It may
be described as the presentment of a point of view: but _what_ point of
view? There lies the crux of the question, and numberless critics have
wrangled over the solution of it. The truth is, that the only complete
description of the point of view is to be found--in the book itself; it
is too wide and variegated for any other habitation. Yet, if it would be
vain to attempt an accurate and exhaustive account of Rabelais'
philosophy, the main outlines of that philosophy are nevertheless
visible enough. Alike in the giant-hero, Pantagruel, in his father,
Gargantua, and in his follower and boon-companion, Panurge, one can
discern the spirit of the Renaissance--expansive, humorous, powerful,
and, above all else, alive. Rabelais' book is the incarnation of the
great reaction of his epoch against the superstitious gloom and the
narrow asceticism of the Middle Ages. He proclaims, in his rich
re-echoing voice, a new conception of the world; he denies that it is
the vale of sorrows envisioned by the teachers of the past; he declares
that it is abounding in glorious energy, abounding in splendid hope,
and, by its very nature, good. With a generous hatred of stupidity, he
flies full tilt at the pedantic education of the monasteries, and
asserts the highest ideals of science and humanity. With an equal
loathing of asceticism, he satirizes the monks themselves, and sketches
out, in his description of the Abbey of Theleme, a glowing vision of
the Utopian convent. His thought was bold; but he lived in a time when
the mildest speculation was fraught with danger; and he says what he has
to say in the shifting and ambiguous forms of jest and allegory. Yet it
was by no means simply for the sake of concealment that he made his work
into the singular mixture that it is, of rambling narrative,
disconnected incident, capricious disquisition, and coarse humour. That,
no doubt, was the very manner in which his mind worked; and the
essential element of his spirit resides precisely in this haphazard and
various looseness. His exceeding coarseness is itself an expression of
one of the most fundamental qualities of his mind--its jovial acceptance
of the physical facts of life. Another side of the same characteristic
appears in his glorification of eating and drinking: such things were
part of the natural constitution of man, therefore let man enjoy them to
the full. Who knows? Perhaps the Riddle of the Universe would be solved
by the oracle of _la dive Bouteille_.

Rabelais' book is a history of giants, and it is itself gigantic; it is
as broad as Gargantua himself. It seems to belong to the morning of the
world--a time of mirth, and a time of expectation; when the earth was
teeming with a miraculous richness, and the gods walked among men.


In the Essays of MONTAIGNE, written about a generation later, the spirit
of the Renaissance, which had filled the pages of Rabelais with such a
superabundant energy, appears in a quieter and more cultivated form. The
first fine rapture was over; and the impulsive ardours of creative
thought were replaced by the calm serenity of criticism and reflection.
Montaigne has none of the coarseness, none of the rollicking fun, none
of the exuberant optimism, of Rabelais; he is a refined gentleman, who
wishes to charm rather than to electrify, who writes in the quiet, easy
tone of familiar conversation, who smiles, who broods, and who doubts.
The form of the detached essay, which he was the first to use, precisely
suited his habit of thought. In that loose shape--admitting of the most
indefinite structure, and of any variety of length, from three pages to
three hundred--he could say all that he wished to say, in his own
desultory, inconsecutive, and unelaborate manner. His book flows on like
a prattling brook, winding through pleasant meadows. Everywhere the
fruits of wide reading are manifest, and numberless Latin quotations
strew his pages. He touches on every side of life--from the slightest
and most superficial topics of literature or manners to the profoundest
questions that beset humanity; and always with the same tact and
happiness, the same wealth of learned illustration, the same engaging
grace.

The Essays are concerned fundamentally with two subjects only. First,
they illustrate in every variety of way Montaigne's general philosophy
of life. That philosophy was an absolutely sceptical one. Amid the mass
of conflicting opinions, amid the furious oppositions of creeds, amid
the flat contradictions of loudly-asseverated dogmas, Montaigne held a
middle course of calm neutrality. _Que Sçais-je?_ was his constant
motto; and his Essays are a collection of numberless variations on this
one dominating theme. The _Apologie de Raimond Sebond_, the largest and
the most elaborate of them, contains an immense and searching review of
the errors, the incoherences, and the ignorance of humanity, from which
Montaigne draws his inevitable conclusion of universal doubt. Whatever
the purely philosophical value of this doctrine may be, its importance
as an influence in practical life was very great. If no opinion had any
certainty whatever, then it followed that persecution for the sake of
opinion was simply a wicked folly. Montaigne thus stands out as one of
the earliest of the opponents of fanaticism and the apostles of
toleration in the history of European thought.

The other subject treated of in the Essays, with an equal persistence
and an equal wealth of illustration, is Montaigne himself. The least
reticent of writers, he furnishes his readers with every conceivable
piece of information concerning his history, his character, his
appearance, his health, his habits and his tastes. Here lies the
peculiar charm of his book--the endless garrulity of its confidences,
which, with their combined humour, suavity, and irresponsibility, bring
one right into the intimate presence of a fascinating man.

For this reason, doubtless, no writer has ever been so gushed over as
Montaigne; and no writer, we may be sure, would be so horrified as he at
such a treatment. Indeed, the adulation of his worshippers has perhaps
somewhat obscured the real position that he fills in literature. It is
impossible to deny that, both as a writer and as a thinker, he has
faults--and grave ones. His style, with all its delightful abundance,
its inimitable ease, and its pleasant flavour of antiquity, yet lacks
form; he did not possess the supreme mastery of language which alone can
lead to the creation of great works of literary art. His scepticism is
not important as a contribution to philosophical thought, for his mind
was devoid both of the method and of the force necessary for the pursuit
and discovery of really significant intellectual truths. To claim for
him such titles of distinction is to overshoot the mark, and to distract
attention from his true eminence. Montaigne was neither a great artist
nor a great philosopher; he was not _great_ at all. He was a charming,
admirable human being, with the most engaging gift for conversing
endlessly and confidentially through the medium of the printed page ever
possessed by any man before or after him. Even in his self-revelations
he is not profound. How superficial, how insignificant his rambling
ingenuous outspokenness appears beside the tremendous introspections of
Rousseau! He was probably a better man than Rousseau; he was certainly a
more delightful one; but he was far less interesting. It was in the
gentle, personal, everyday things of life that his nature triumphed.
Here and there in his Essays, this simple goodness wells up clear and
pure; and in the wonderful pages on Friendship, one sees, in all its
charm and all its sweetness, that beautiful humanity which is the inward
essence of Montaigne.




CHAPTER III

THE AGE OF TRANSITION


In the seventy years that elapsed between the death of Montaigne (1592)
and the accession to power of Louis XIV the tendencies in French
literature were fluctuating and uncertain. It was a period of change, of
hesitation, of retrogression even; and yet, below these doubtful,
conflicting movements, a great new development was germinating, slowly,
surely, and almost unobserved. From one point of view, indeed, this age
may be considered the most important in the whole history of the
literature, since it prepared the way for the most splendid and
characteristic efflorescence in prose and poetry that France has ever
known; without it, there would have been no _Grand Siècle._ In fact, it
was during this age that the conception was gradually evolved which
determined the lines upon which all French literature in the future was
to advance. It can hardly be doubted that if the fertile and varied
Renaissance movement, which had given birth to the _Pléiade_, to
Rabelais, and to Montaigne, had continued to progress unbroken and
unchecked, the future literature of France would have closely resembled
the contemporary literatures of Spain and England--that it would have
continued to be characterized by the experimental boldness and the loose
exuberance of the masters of the sixteenth century. But in France the
movement _was_ checked: and the result was a body of literature, not
only of the highest value, but also of a unique significance in European
letters.

The break in the Renaissance movement was largely the result of
political causes. The stability and peace which seemed to be so firmly
established by the brilliant monarchy of Francis I vanished with the
terrible outbreak of the Wars of Religion. For about sixty years, with a
few intermissions, the nation was a prey to the horrors of civil strife.
And when at last order was restored under the powerful rule of Cardinal
Richelieu, and the art of writing began to be once more assiduously
practised, the fresh rich glory of the Renaissance spirit had
irrevocably passed away. Already, early in the seventeenth century, the
poetry of MALHERBE had given expression to new theories and new ideals.
A man of powerful though narrow intelligence, a passionate theorist, and
an ardent specialist in grammar and the use of words, Malherbe reacted
violently both against the misplaced and artificial erudition of the
_Pléiade_ and their unforced outbursts of lyric song. His object was to
purify the French tongue; to make it--even at the cost of diminishing
its flavour and narrowing its range--strong, supple, accurate and
correct; to create a language which, though it might be incapable of
expressing the fervours of personal passion or the airy fancies of
dreamers, would be a perfect instrument for the enunciation of noble
truths and fine imaginations, in forms at once simple, splendid and
sincere. Malherbe's importance lies rather in his influence than in his
actual work. Some of his Odes--among which his great address to Louis
XIII on the rebellion of La Rochelle deserves the highest place--are
admirable examples of a restrained, measured and weighty rhetoric,
moving to the music not of individual emotion, but of a generalized
feeling for the beauty and grandeur of high thoughts. He was
essentially an oratorical poet; but unfortunately the only forms of
verse ready to his hand were lyrical forms; so that his genius never
found a full scope for its powers. Thus his precept outweighs his
example. His poetical theories found their full justification only in
the work of his greater and more fortunate successors; and the masters
of the age of Louis XIV looked back to Malherbe as the intellectual
father of their race.

Malherbe's immediate influence, however, was very limited. Upon the
generation of writers that followed him, his doctrines of sobriety and
simplicity made no impression whatever. Their tastes lay in an entirely
different direction. For now, in the second quarter of the seventeenth
century, there set in, with an extreme and sudden violence, a fashion
for every kind of literary contortion, affectation and trick. The value
of a poet was measured by his capacity for turning a somersault in
verse--for constructing ingenious word-puzzles with which to express
exaggerated sentiments; and no prose-writer was worth looking at who
could not drag a complicated, ramifying simile through half a dozen
pages at least. These artificialities lacked the saving grace of those
of the Renaissance writers--their abounding vigour and their inventive
skill. They were cold-blooded artificialities, evolved elaborately,
simply for their own sake. The new school, with its twisted conceits and
its super-subtle elegances, came to be known as the 'Precious' school,
and it is under that name that the satire of subsequent writers has
handed it down to the laughter of after-generations. Yet a perspicacious
eye might have seen even in these absurd and tasteless productions the
signs of a progressive movement--the possibility, at least, of a true
advance. For the contortions of the 'Precious' writers were less the
result of their inability to write well than of their desperate efforts
to do so. They were trying, as hard as they could, to wriggle themselves
into a beautiful pose; and, naturally enough, they were unsuccessful.
They were, in short, too self-conscious; but it was in this very
self-consciousness that the real hope for the future lay. The teaching
of Malherbe, if it did not influence the actual form of their work, at
least impelled them towards a deliberate effort to produce _some_ form,
and to be content no longer with the vague and the haphazard. In two
directions particularly this new self-consciousness showed itself. It
showed itself in the formation of literary _salons_--of which the chief
was the famous blue drawing-room of the Hôtel de Rambouillet--where
every conceivable question of taste and art, grammar and vocabulary, was
discussed with passionate intensity; and it showed itself even more
strongly in the establishment, under the influence of Richelieu, of an
official body of literary experts--the French Academy.

How far the existence of the Academy has influenced French literature,
either for good or for evil, is an extremely dubious question. It was
formed for the purpose of giving fixity and correctness to the language,
of preserving a high standard of literary taste, and of creating an
authoritative centre from which the ablest men of letters of the day
should radiate their influence over the country. To a great extent these
ends have been attained; but they have been accompanied by corresponding
drawbacks. Such an institution must necessarily be a conservative one;
and it is possible that the value of the Academy as a centre of purity
and taste has been at least balanced by the extreme reluctance which it
has always shown to countenance any of those forms of audacity and
change without which no literature can be saved from petrifaction. All
through its history the Academy has been timid and out of date. The
result has been that some of the very greatest of French
writers--including Molière, Diderot, and Flaubert--have remained outside
it; while all the most fruitful developments in French literary theory
have come about only after a bitter and desperate resistance on its
part. On the whole, perhaps the most important function performed by the
Academy has been a more indirect one. The mere existence of a body of
writers officially recognized by the authorities of the State has
undoubtedly given a peculiar prestige to the profession of letters in
France. It has emphasized that tendency to take the art of writing
seriously--to regard it as a fit object for the most conscientious
craftsmanship and deliberate care--which is so characteristic of French
writers. The amateur is very rare in French literature--as rare as he is
common in our own. How many of the greatest English writers have denied
that they were men of letters!--Scott, Byron, Gray, Sir Thomas Browne,
perhaps even Shakespeare himself. When Congreve begged Voltaire not to
talk of literature, but to regard him merely as an English gentleman,
the French writer, who, in all his multifarious activities, never forgot
for a moment that he was first and foremost a follower of the profession
of letters, was overcome with astonishment and disgust. The difference
is typical of the attitude of the two nations towards literature: the
English, throwing off their glorious masterpieces by the way, as if they
were trifles; and the French bending all the resources of a trained and
patient energy to the construction and the perfection of marvellous
works of art.

Whatever view we may take of the ultimate influence of the French
Academy, there can be no doubt at all that one of its first actions was
singularly inauspicious. Under the guidance of Cardinal Richelieu it
delivered a futile attack upon the one writer who stood out head and
shoulders above his contemporaries, and whose works bore all the marks
of unmistakable genius--the great CORNEILLE. With the production, in
1636, of Corneille's tragedy, _Le Cid_, modern French drama came into
existence. Previous to that date, two main movements are discernible in
French dramatic art--one carrying on the medieval traditions of the
mystery-and miracle-play, and culminating, early in the seventeenth
century, with the rough, vigorous and popular drama of Hardy; and the
other, originating with the writers of the Renaissance, and leading to
the production of a number of learned and literary plays, composed in
strict imitation of the tragedies of Seneca,--plays of which the typical
representative is the _Cléopâtre_ of Jodelle. Corneille's achievement
was based upon a combination of what was best in these two movements.
The work of Jodelle, written with a genuinely artistic intention, was
nevertheless a dead thing on the stage; while Hardy's melodramas,
bursting as they were with vitality, were too barbaric to rank as
serious works of art. Corneille combined art with vitality, and for the
first time produced a play which was at once a splended piece of
literature and an immense popular success. Henceforward it was certain
that French drama would develop along the path which had been opened out
for it so triumphantly by the _Cid_. But what was that path? Nothing
shows more strikingly the strength of the literary opinion of that age
than the fact that it was able to impose itself even upon the mighty and
towering spirit of Corneille. By nature, there can be little doubt that
Corneille was a romantic. His fiery energy, his swelling rhetoric, his
love of the extraordinary and the sublime, bring him into closer kinship
with Marlowe than with any other writer of his own nation until the time
of Victor Hugo. But Corneille could not do what Marlowe did. He could
not infuse into the free form of popular drama the passion and splendour
of his own genius, and thus create a type of tragedy that was at once
exuberant and beautiful. And he could not do this because the literary
theories of the whole of the cultivated society of France would have
been opposed to him, because he himself was so impregnated with those
very theories that he failed to realize where the true bent of his
genius lay. Thus it was that the type of drama which he impressed upon
French literature was not the romantic type of the English Elizabethans,
but the classical type of Senecan tragedy which Jodelle had imitated,
and which was alone tolerable to the French critics of the seventeenth
century. Instead of making the vital drama of Hardy artistic, he made
the literary drama of Jodelle alive. Probably it was fortunate that he
did so; for he thus led the way straight to the most characteristic
product of the French genius--the tragedy of Racine. With Racine, the
classical type of drama, which so ill befitted the romantic spirit of
Corneille, found its perfect exponent; and it will be well therefore to
postpone a more detailed examination of the nature of that type until we
come to consider Racine himself, the value of whose work is inextricably
interwoven with its form. The dominating qualities of Corneille may be
more easily appreciated.

He was above all things a rhetorician; he was an instinctive master of
those qualities in words which go to produce effects of passionate
vehemence, vigorous precision, and culminating force. His great
_tirades_ carry forward the reader, or the listener (for indeed the
verse of Corneille loses half its value when it is unheard), on a
full-flowing tide of language where the waves of the verse, following
one another in a swift succession of ever-rising power, crash down at
last with a roar. It is a strange kind of poetry: not that of
imaginative vision, of plastic beauty, of subtle feeling; but that of
intellectual excitement and spiritual strength. It is the poetry of
Malherbe multiplied a thousandfold in vigour and in genius, and
expressed in the form most appropriate to it--the dramatic Alexandrine
verse. The stuff out of which it is woven, made up, not of the images of
sense, but of the processes of thought, is, in fact, simply argument.
One can understand how verse created from such material might be
vigorous and impressive; it is difficult to imagine how it could also be
passionate--until one has read Corneille. Then one realizes afresh the
compelling power of genius. His tragic personages, standing forth
without mystery, without 'atmosphere', without local colour, but simply
in the clear white light of reason, rivet our attention, and seem at
last to seize upon our very souls. Their sentences, balanced, weighty
and voluble, reveal the terrors of destiny, the furies of love, the
exasperations of pride, with an intensity of intellectual precision that
burns and blazes. The deeper these strange beings sink into their
anguish, the more remorseless their arguments become. They prove their
horror in dreadful syllogisms; every inference plunges them farther into
the abyss; and their intelligence flames upward to its highest point,
when they are finally engulfed.

Such is the singular passion that fills Corneille's tragedies. The
creatures that give utterance to it are hardly human beings: they are
embodiments of will, force, intellect and pride. The situations in which
they are placed are calculated to expose these qualities to the utmost;
and all Corneille's masterpieces are concerned with the same
subject--the combat between indomitable egoism and the forces of Fate.
It is in the meeting of these 'fell incensed opposites' that the tragedy
consists. In _Le Cid_, Chimene's passion for Rodrigue struggles in a
death-grapple with the destiny that makes Rodrigue the slayer of her
father. In _Polyeucte_ it is the same passion struggling with the
dictates of religion. In _Les Horaces_, patriotism, family love and
personal passion are all pitted against Fate. In _Cinna_, the conflict
passes within the mind of Auguste, between the promptings of a noble
magnanimity and the desire for revenge. In all these plays the central
characters display a superhuman courage and constancy and self-control.
They are ideal figures, speaking with a force and an elevation unknown
in actual experience; they never blench, they never waver, but move
adamantine to their doom. They are for ever asserting the strength of
their own individuality.

    Je suis maître de moi comme de l'univers,
    Je le suis, je veux l'être,

declares Auguste; and Médée, at the climax of her misfortunes, uses the
same language--

    'Dans un si grand revers que vous reste-t-il?'--'Moi!
    Moi, dis-je, et c'est assez!'

The word 'moi' dominates these tragedies; and their heroes, bursting
with this extraordinary egoism, assume even more towering proportions in
their self-abnegation than in their pride. Then the thrilling
clarion-notes of their defiances give way to the deep grand music of
stern sublimity and stoic resignation. The gigantic spirit recoils upon
itself, crushes itself, and reaches its last triumph.

Drama of this kind must, it is clear, lack many of the qualities which
are usually associated with the dramatic art; there is no room in it for
variety of character-drawing, for delicacy of feeling, or for the
realistic presentation of the experiences of life. Corneille hardly
attempted to produce such effects as these; and during his early years
his great gifts of passion and rhetoric easily made up for the
deficiency. As he grew older, however, his inspiration weakened; his
command of his material left him; and he was no longer able to fill the
figures of his creation with the old intellectual sublimity. His heroes
and his heroines became mere mouthing puppets, pouring out an endless
stream of elaborate, high-flown sentiments, wrapped up in a complicated
jargon of argumentative verse. His later plays are miserable failures.
Not only do they illustrate the inherent weaknesses of Corneille's
dramatic method, but they are also full of the characteristic bad taste
and affectations of the age. The vital spirit once withdrawn, out sprang
the noisome creatures from their lurking-places to feast upon the
corpse.

Nevertheless, with all his faults, Corneille dominated French literature
for twenty years. His genius, transcendent, unfortunate, noble in
endeavour, unequal in accomplishment, typifies the ambiguous movement
of the time. For still the flood of 'Precious' literature poured from
the press--dull, contorted epics, and stilted epigrams on my lady's
eyebrow, and learned dissertations decked out in sparkling tinsel, and
infinitely long romances, full of alembicated loves. Then suddenly one
day a small pamphlet in the form of a letter appeared on the bookstalls
of Paris; and with its appearance the long reign of confused ideals and
misguided efforts came to an end for ever. The pamphlet was the first of
Pascal's _Lettres Provinciales_--the work which ushered into being the
great classical age--the _Grand Siècle_ of Louis XIV.

In the _Lettres Provinciales_ PASCAL created French prose--the French
prose that we know to-day, the French prose which ranks by virtue of its
vigour, elegance and precision as a unique thing in the literature of
the world. Earlier prose-writers--Joinville, Froissart, Rabelais,
Montaigne--had been in turns charming, or picturesque, or delicate, or
overflowing with vitality; but none had struck upon the really
characteristically French note. They lacked form, and those fine
qualities of strength and clarity which form alone can give. Their
sentences were indeterminate--long, complex, drifting, and connected
together by conjunctions into a loose aggregate. The 'Precious' writers
had dimly realized the importance of form, but they had not realized at
all the importance of simplicity. This was Pascal's great discovery. His
sentences are clear, straightforward, and distinct; and they are bound
together into a succession of definitely articulated paragraphs, which
are constructed, not on the system of mere haphazard aggregation, but
according to the logical development of the thought. Thus Pascal's
prose, like the verse of Malherbe and Corneille, is based upon reason;
it is primarily intellectual. But, with Pascal, the intellect expresses
itself even more exactly. The last vestiges of medieval ambiguities have
been discarded; the style is perfectly modern. So wonderfully did Pascal
master the resources of the great instrument which he had forged, that
it is true to say that no reader who wishes to realize once for all the
great qualities of French prose could do better than turn straight to
the _Lettres Provinciales_. Here he will find the lightness and the
strength, the exquisite polish and the delicious wit, the lambent irony
and the ordered movement, which no other language spoken by man has ever
quite been able to produce. The _Lettres_ are a work of controversy;
their actual subject-matter--the ethical system of the Jesuits of the
time--is remote from modern interests; yet such is the brilliance of
Pascal's art that every page of them is fascinating to-day. The vivacity
of the opening letters is astonishing; the tone is the gay, easy tone of
a man of the world; the attack is delivered in a rushing onslaught of
raillery. Gradually, as the book proceeds, there are signs of a growing
seriousness; we have a sense of graver issues, and round the small
question of the Jesuits' morality we discern ranged all the vast forces
of good and evil. At last the veil of wit and laughter is entirely
removed, and Pascal bursts forth into the full fury of invective. The
vials of wrath are opened; a terrific denunciation rolls out in a
thundering cataract; and at the close of the book there is hardly a note
in the whole gamut of language, from the airiest badinage to the darkest
objurgation, which has not been touched.

In sheer genius Pascal ranks among the very greatest writers who have
lived upon this earth. And his genius was not simply artistic; it
displayed itself no less in his character and in the quality of his
thought. These are the sides of him which are revealed with
extraordinary splendour in his _Pensées_--a collection of notes intended
to form the basis for an elaborate treatise in defence of Christianity
which Pascal did not live to complete. The style of many of these
passages surpasses in brilliance and force even that of the _Lettres
Provinciales_. In addition, one hears the intimate voice of Pascal,
speaking upon the profoundest problems of existence--the most momentous
topics which can agitate the minds of men. Two great themes compose his
argument: the miserable insignificance of all that is human--human
reason, human knowledge, human ambition; and the transcendent glory of
God. Never was the wretchedness of mankind painted with a more
passionate power. The whole infinitude of the physical universe is
invoked in his sweeping sentences to crush the presumption of man. Man's
intellectual greatness itself he seizes upon to point the moral of an
innate contradiction, an essential imbecility. 'Quelle chimère,' he
exclaims, 'est-ce donc que l'homme! quelle nouveauté, quel monstre, quel
chaos, quel sujet de contradiction, quel prodige! Juge de toutes choses,
imbécile ver de terre, dépositaire du vrai, cloaque d'incertitude et
d'erreur, gloire et rebut de l'univers!' In words of imperishable
intensity, he dwells upon the omnipotence of Death: 'Nous sommes
plaisants de nous reposer dans la société de nos semblables. Misérables
comme nous, impuissants comme nous, ils ne nous aideront pas; on mourra
seul.' Or he summons up in one ghastly sentence the vision of the
inevitable end: 'Le dernier acte est sanglant, quelque belle que soit la
comédie en tout le reste. On jette enfin de la terre sur la tête, et en
voilà pour jamais.' And so follows the conclusion of the whole:
'Connaissez donc, superbe, quel paradoxe vous êtes à vous-même.
Humiliez-vous, raison impuissante; taisez-vous, nature imbécile ... et
entendez de votre maître votre condition véritable que vous ignorez.
Écoutez Dieu.'

Modern as the style of Pascal's writing is, his thought is deeply
impregnated with the spirit of the Middle Ages. He belonged, almost
equally, to the future and to the past. He was a distinguished man of
science, a brilliant mathematician; yet he shrank from a consideration
of the theory of Copernicus: it was more important, he declared, to
think of the immortal soul. In the last years of his short life he sank
into a torpor of superstition--ascetic, self-mortified, and rapt in a
strange exaltation, like a medieval monk. Thus there is a tragic
antithesis in his character--an unresolved discord which shows itself
again and again in his _Pensées_. 'Condition de l'homme,' he notes,
'inconstance, ennui, inquiétude.' It is the description of his own
state. A profound inquietude did indeed devour him. He turned
desperately from the pride of his intellect to the consolations of his
religion. But even there--? Beneath him, as he sat or as he walked, a
great gulf seemed to open darkly, into an impenetrable abyss. He looked
upward into heaven, and the familiar horror faced him still: 'Le silence
éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie!'




CHAPTER IV

THE AGE OF LOUIS XIV


When Louis XIV assumed the reins of government France suddenly and
wonderfully came to her maturity; it was as if the whole nation had
burst into splendid flower. In every branch of human activity--in war,
in administration, in social life, in art, and in literature--the same
energy was apparent, the same glorious success. At a bound France won
the headship of Europe; and when at last, defeated in arms and
politically shattered, she was forced to relinquish her dreams of
worldly power, her pre-eminence in the arts of peace remained unshaken.
For more than a century she continued, through her literature and her
manners, to dominate the civilized world.

At no other time have the conditions of society exercised a more
profound influence upon the works of great writers. Though, with the
ascendancy of Louis, the political power of the nobles finally came to
an end, France remained, in the whole complexion of her social life,
completely aristocratic. Louis, with deliberate policy, emphasized the
existing rigidity of class-distinctions by centralizing society round
his splendid palace of Versailles. Versailles is the _clou_ to the age
of Louis XIV. The huge, almost infinite building, so stately and so
glorious, with its vast elaborate gardens, its great trees transported
from distant forests, its amazing waterworks constructed in an arid soil
at the cost of millions, its lesser satellite parks and palaces, its
palpitating crowds of sumptuous courtiers, the whole accumulated mass of
piled-up treasure and magnificence and power--this was something far
more significant than the mere country residence of royalty; it was the
summary, the crown, and the visible expression of the ideals of a great
age. And what were these ideals? The fact that the conception of society
which made Versailles possible was narrow and unjust must not blind us
to the real nobility and the real glory which it brought into being. It
is true that behind and beyond the radiance of Louis and his courtiers
lay the dark abyss of an impoverished France, a ruined peasantry, a
whole system of intolerance, and privilege, and maladministration; yet
it is none the less true that the radiance was a genuine radiance--no
false and feeble glitter, but the warm, brilliant, intense illumination
thrown out by the glow of a nation's life. That life, with all it meant
to those who lived it, has long since vanished from the earth--preserved
to us now only in the pages of its poets, or strangely shadowed forth to
the traveller in the illimitable desolation of Versailles. That it has
gone so utterly is no doubt, on the whole, a cause for rejoicing; but,
as we look back upon it, we may still feel something of the old
enchantment, and feel it, perhaps, the more keenly for its
strangeness--its dissimilarity to the experiences of our own days. We
shall catch glimpses of a world of pomp and brilliance, of ceremony and
decoration, a small, vital passionate world which has clothed itself in
ordered beauty, learnt a fine way of easy, splendid living, and come
under the spell of a devotion to what is, to us, no more than the
gorgeous phantom of high imaginations--the divinity of a king. When the
morning sun was up and the horn was sounding down the long avenues, who
would not wish, if only in fancy, to join the glittering cavalcade where
the young Louis led the hunt in the days of his opening glory? Later,
we might linger on the endless terrace, to watch the great monarch, with
his red heels and his golden snuff-box and his towering periwig, come
out among his courtiers, or in some elaborate grotto applaud a ballet by
Molière. When night fell there would be dancing and music in the gallery
blazing with a thousand looking-glasses, or masquerades and feasting in
the gardens, with the torches throwing strange shadows among the trees
trimmed into artificial figures, and gay lords and proud ladies
conversing together under the stars.

Such were the surroundings among which the classical literature of
France came into existence, and by which it was profoundly influenced in
a multitude of ways. This literature was, in its form and its essence,
aristocratic literature, though its writers were, almost without
exception, middle-class men brought into prominence by the royal favour.
The great dramatists and poets and prose-writers of the epoch were in
the position of artists working by special permission for the benefit
and pleasure of a select public to which they themselves had no claim
to belong. They were _in_ the world of high birth and splendid manners,
but they were not of it; and thus it happened that their creations,
while reflecting what was finest in the social ideals of the time,
escaped the worst faults of the literary productions of persons of
rank--superficiality and amateurishness. The literature of that age was,
in fact, remarkable to an extraordinary degree for precisely contrary
qualities--for the solidity of its psychological foundations and for the
supreme excellence of its craftsmanship. It was the work of profound and
subtle artists writing for a small, leisured, distinguished, and
critical audience, while retaining the larger outlook and sense of
proportion which had come to them from their own experience of life.

The fact, too, that this aristocratic audience was no longer concerned
with the activities of political power, exercised a further influence
upon the writers of the age. The old interests of aristocracy--the
romance of action, the exalted passions of chivalry and war--faded into
the background, and their place was taken by the refined and intimate
pursuits of peace and civilization. The exquisite letters of Madame de
Sévigné show us society assuming its modern complexion, women becoming
the arbiters of taste and fashion, and drawing-rooms the centre of life.
These tendencies were reflected in literature; and Corneille's tragedies
of power were replaced by Racine's tragedies of the heart. Nor was it
only in the broad outlines that the change was manifest; the whole
temper of life, in all its details, took on the suave, decorous,
dignified tone of good breeding, and it was impossible that men of
letters should escape the infection. Their works became remarkable for
clarity and elegance, for a graceful simplicity, an easy strength; they
were cast in the fine mould of perfect manners--majestic without
pretension, expressive without emphasis, simple without carelessness,
and subtle without affectation. These are the dominating qualities in
the style of that great body of literature, which has rightly come to be
distinguished as the _Classical_ literature of France.

Yet there was a reverse to the medal; for such qualities necessarily
involved defects, which, hardly perceptible and of small importance in
the work of the early masters of the Classical school, became more
prominent in the hands of lesser men, and eventually brought the whole
tradition into disrepute. It was inevitable that there should be a
certain narrowness in a literature which was in its very essence
deliberate, refined, and select; omission is the beginning of all art;
and the great French classicists, more supremely artistic, perhaps, than
any other body of writers in the history of the world, practised with
unsparing devotion the virtue of leaving out. The beauties of clarity,
simplicity, and ease were what they aimed at; and to attain them
involved the abandonment of other beauties which, however attractive,
were incompatible with those. Vague suggestion, complexity of thought,
strangeness of imagination--to us the familiar ornaments of poetry--were
qualities eschewed by the masters of the age of Louis XIV. They were
willing to forgo comprehensiveness and elaboration, they were ready to
forswear the great effects of curiosity and mystery; for the pursuit of
these led away from the high path of their chosen endeavour--the
creation, within the limits they had marked out, of works of flawless
art. The fact that they succeeded so well is precisely one of the
reasons why it is difficult for the modern reader--and for the
Anglo-Saxon one especially, with his different æsthetic traditions--to
appreciate their work to the full. To us, with our broader outlook, our
more complicated interests, our more elusive moods, their small bright
world is apt to seem uninteresting and out of date, unless we spend some
patient sympathy in the discovery of the real charm and the real beauty
that it contains. Nor is this our only difficulty: the classical
tradition, like all traditions, became degenerate; its virtues hardened
into mannerisms, its weaknesses expanded into dogmas; and it is
sometimes hard for us to discriminate between the artist who has
mastered the convention in which he works, and the artisan who is the
slave of it. The convention itself, if it is unfamiliar to us, is what
fills our attention, so that we forget to look for the moving spirit
behind. And indeed, in the work of the later classicists, there was too
often no spirit to look for. The husk alone remained--a finicky
pretentious framework, fluttering with the faded rags of ideals long
outworn. Every great tradition has its own way of dying; and the
classical tradition died of timidity. It grew afraid of the flesh and
blood of life; it was too polite to face realities, too elevated to
tread the common ground of fact and detail; it would touch nothing but
generalities, for they alone are safe, harmless, and respectable; and,
if they are also empty, how can that he helped? Starving, it shrank into
itself, muttering old incantations; and it continued to mutter them,
automatically, some time after it had expired.

But, in the heyday of the age of Louis XIV, literature showed no signs
of such a malady--though no doubt it contained the latent germs of the
disease; on the contrary, the masterpieces of that epoch are charged to
the full with vitality and force. We may describe them, in one word, as
worldly--worldly in the broadest and the highest acceptation of the
term. They represent, in its perfect expression, the spirit of this
world--its greatness, its splendour, its intensity, the human drama that
animates it, the ordered beauty towards which it tends. For that was an
age in which the world, in all the plenitude of its brilliance, had come
into its own, when the sombre spirituality of the Middle Ages had been
at last forgotten, when the literatures of Greece and Rome had delivered
their benignant message, when civilization could enjoy for a space its
new maturity, before a larger vision had brought questionings, and an
inward vision aspirations unknown before. The literature of those days
was founded upon a general acceptance--acceptance both in the sphere of
politics and of philosophy. It took for granted a fixed and autocratic
society; it silently assumed the orthodox teaching of the Roman Catholic
Church. Thus, compared with the literature of the eighteenth century, it
was unspeculative; compared with that of the Middle Ages, unspiritual.
It was devoid of that perception of the marvellous and awful
significance of Natural phenomena which dominates the literature of the
Romantic Revival. Fate, Eternity, Nature, the destiny of Man, 'the
prophetic soul of the wide world dreaming on things to come'--such
mysteries it almost absolutely ignored. Even Death seemed to lie a
little beyond its vision. What a difference, in this respect, between
the literature of Louis XIV and the literature of Elizabeth! The latter
is obsessed by the smell of mortality; its imagination, penetrating to
the depths and the heights, shows us mankind adrift amid eternities, and
the whole universe the doubtful shadow of a dream. In the former, these
magnificent obscurities find no place: they have been shut out, as it
were, like a night of storm and darkness on the other side of the
window. The night is there, no doubt; but it is outside, invisible and
neglected, while within, the candles are lighted, the company is
gathered together, and all is warmth and brilliance. To eyes which have
grown accustomed to the elemental conflicts without, the room may seem
at first confined, artificial, and insignificant. But let us wait a
little! Gradually we shall come to feel the charm of the well-ordered
chamber, to appreciate the beauty of the decorations, the distinction
and the penetration of the talk. And, if we persevere, that is not all
we shall discover. We shall find, in that small society, something more
than ease and good breeding and refinement; we shall find the play of
passion and the subtle manifestation of the soul; we shall realize that
the shutting out of terrors and of mysteries has brought at least the
gain of concentration, so that we may discern unhindered the movements
of the mind of man--of man, not rapt aloft in the vast ardours of
speculation, nor involved in the solitary introspection of his own
breast; but of man, civilized, actual, among his fellows, in the bright
light of the world.

Yet, if it is true that a refined and splendid worldliness was the
dominant characteristic of the literature of the age, it is no less true
that here and there, in its greatest writers, a contrary tendency--faint
but unmistakable--may be perceived. The tone occasionally changes; below
the polished surface a disquietude becomes discernible; a momentary
obscure exception to the general easy-flowing rule. The supreme artists
of the epoch seem to have been able not only to give expression to the
moving forces of their time, but to react against them. They were rebels
as well as conquerors, and this fact lends an extraordinary interest to
their work. Like some subtle unexpected spice in a masterly confection,
a strange, profound, unworldly melancholy just permeates their most
brilliant writings, and gives the last fine taste.

Before considering these supreme artists more particularly, it will be
well to notice briefly the work of one who can lay no claim to such a
title, but who deserves attention as the spokesman of the literary
ideals of his age. BOILEAU, once the undisputed arbiter of taste
throughout Europe, is now hardly remembered save as the high-priest of
an effete tradition and as the author of some brilliant lines which have
passed as proverbs into the French language. He was a man of vivid
intelligence--courageous, independent, passionately devoted to
literature, and a highly skilled worker in the difficult art of writing
verse. But he lacked the force and the finesse of poetic genius; and it
is not as a poet that he is interesting: it is as a critic. When the
lines upon which French literature was to develop were still uncertain,
when the Classical school was in its infancy, and its great
leaders--Molière, Racine, La Fontaine--were still disputing their right
to pre-eminence among a host of inferior and now forgotten writers whose
works were carrying on the weak and tasteless traditions of the former
age--it was at this moment that Boileau brought to the aid of the new
movement the whole force of his admirable clear-sightedness, his
dauntless pertinacity, and his caustic, unforgettable wit. No doubt,
without him, the Classical school would have triumphed--ultimately, like
all good things--but it would be hard to exaggerate the service which
was rendered it by Boileau. During many years, in a long series of
satires and epistles, in the _Art Poétique_ and in various prose works,
he impressed upon the reading public the worthlessness of the old
artificial school of preciosity and affectation, and the high value of
the achievements of his great contemporaries. He did more: he not only
attacked and eulogized the works of individuals, he formulated general
principles and gave pointed and repeated expression to the ideals of the
new school. Thus, through him, classicism gained self-consciousness; it
became possessed of a definite doctrine; and a group of writers was
formed, united together by common aims, and destined to exercise an
immense influence upon the development not only of French, but of
European literature. For these reasons--for his almost unerring
prescience in the discernment of contemporary merit and for his
triumphant consolidation of the classical tradition--Boileau must be
reckoned as the earliest of that illustrious company of great critics
which is one of the peculiar glories of French letters. The bulk of his
writing will probably never again be read by any save the curious
explorer; but the spirit of his work lies happily condensed in one short
epistle--_À son Esprit_--where his good sense, his wit, his lucid vigour
and his essential humanity find their consummate expression; it is a
spirit which still animates the literature of France.

His teaching, however, so valuable in its own day, is not important as a
contribution towards a general theory of æesthetics. Boileau attempted
to lay down the principles universally binding upon writers of poetry;
but he had not the equipment necessary for such a task. His knowledge
was limited, his sympathies were narrow, and his intellectual powers
lacked profundity. The result was that he committed the common fault of
writers immersed in the business of contemporary controversy--he erected
the precepts, which he saw to be salutary so far as his own generation
was concerned, to the dignity of universal rules. His message, in
reality, was for the France of Louis XIV; he enunciated it as if it was
the one guide to literary salvation for all ages and in all
circumstances; and it so happened that for about a century it was
accepted at his own valuation by the majority of civilized mankind.
Boileau detested--and rightly detested--the extravagant affectations of
the _précieux_ school, the feeble pomposities of Chapelain, the
contorted, inflated, logic-chopping heroes of Corneille's later style;
and the classical reaction against these errors appeared to him in the
guise of a return to the fundamental principles of Nature, Reason, and
Truth. In a sense he was right: for it is certain that the works of
Molière and Racine were more natural, more reasonable, and more truthful
than those of l'Abbé Cotin and Pradon; his mistake lay in his assumption
that these qualities were the monopoly of the Classical school.
Perceiving the beauty of clarity, order, refinement, and simplicity, he
jumped to the conclusion that these were the characteristics of Nature
herself, and that without them no beauty could exist. He was wrong.
Nature is too large a thing to fit into a system of aesthetics; and
beauty is often--perhaps more often than not--complex, obscure,
fantastic, and strange. At the bottom of all Boileau's theories lay a
hearty love of sound common sense. It was not, as has sometimes been
asserted, imagination that he disliked, but singularity. He could write,
for instance, an enthusiastic appreciation of the sublime sentence, 'God
said, Let there be light, and there was light'; for there imagination is
clothed in transparent beauty, and grandeur is achieved by the simplest
means. More completely than any of his great contemporaries, Boileau was
a representative of middle-class France.

Certainly the most famous, and perhaps the greatest, of the writers for
whom Boileau acted as the apologist and the interpreter was MOLIÈRE. In
the literature of France Molière occupies the same kind of position as
Cervantes in that of Spain, Dante in that of Italy, and Shakespeare in
that of England. His glory is more than national--it is universal.
Gathering within the plenitude of his genius the widest and the
profoundest characteristics of his race, he has risen above the
boundaries of place and language and tradition into a large dominion
over the hearts of all mankind. To the world outside France he alone, in
undisputed eminence, speaks with the authentic voice of France herself.

That this is so is owing mainly, of course, to the power of his genius;
but it is also owing, in some degree, to the particular form which his
genius took. Judging by quality alone, it is difficult to say whether
his work stands higher or lower in the scale of human achievement than
that of Racine--whether the breadth of vision, the diversity, and the
humanity of his comedies do or do not counterbalance the poetry, the
intensity, and the perfect art of his friend's tragedies; at least it
seems certain that the difference between the reputations of the two men
with the world in general by no means corresponds with the real
difference in their worth. It is by his very perfection, by the very
completeness of his triumph, that Racine loses. He is so absolute, so
special a product of French genius, that it is well-nigh impossible for
any one not born a Frenchman to appreciate him to the full; it is by his
incompleteness, and to some extent even by his imperfections, that
Molière gains. Of all the great French classics, he is the least
classical. His fluid mind overflowed the mould he worked in. His art,
sweeping over the whole range of comic emotions, from the wildest
buffoonery to the grimmest satire and the subtlest wit, touched life too
closely and too often to attain to that flawless beauty to which it
seems to aspire. He lacked the precision of form which is the mark of
the consummate artist; he was sometimes tentative and ambiguous, often
careless; the structure of some of his finest works was perfunctorily
thrown together; the envelope of his thought--his language--was by no
means faultless, his verse often coming near to prose, and his prose
sometimes aping the rhythm of verse. In fact, it is not surprising that
to the rigid classicists of the eighteenth century this Colossus had
feet of clay. But, after all, even clay has a merit of its own: it is
the substance of the common earth. That substance, entering into the
composition of Molière, gave him his broad-based solidity, and brought
him into kinship with the wide humanity of the world.

It was on this side that his work was profoundly influenced by the
circumstances of his life. Molière never knew the leisure, the
seclusion, the freedom from external cares, without which it is hardly
possible for art to mature to perfection; he passed his existence in the
thick of the battle, and he died as he had lived--in the harness of the
professional entertainer. His early years were spent amid the rough and
sordid surroundings of a travelling provincial company, of which he
became the manager and the principal actor, and for which he composed
his first plays. He matured late. It was not till he was thirty-seven
that he produced _Les Précieuses Ridicules_--his first work of genius;
and it was not till three years later that he came into the full
possession of his powers with _L'École des Femmes_. All his masterpieces
were written in the ten years that followed (1662-73). During that
period the patronage of the king gave him an assured position; he became
a celebrity at Paris and Versailles; he was a successful man. Yet, even
during these years of prosperity, he was far from being free from
troubles. He was obliged to struggle incessantly against the intrigues
of his enemies, among whom the ecclesiastical authorities were the most
ferocious; and even the favour of Louis had its drawbacks, for it
involved a constant expenditure of energy upon the frivolous and
temporary entertainments of the Court. In addition, he was unhappy in
his private life. Unlike Shakespeare, with whom his career offers many
analogies, he never lived to reap the quiet benefit of his work, for he
died in the midst of it, at the age of fifty-one, after a performance in
the title-rôle of his own _Malade Imaginaire_.

What he had achieved was, in the first place, the creation of French
Comedy. Before him, there had been boisterous farces, conventional
comedies of intrigue borrowed from the Italian, and extravagant pieces
of adventure and burlesque cast in the Spanish mould. Molière did for
the comic element in French literature what Corneille had done for the
tragic: he raised it to the level of serious art. It was he who first
completely discovered the æsthetic possibilities that lay in the
ordinary life of every day. He was the most unromantic of writers--a
realist to the core; and he understood that the true subject of comedy
was to be found in the actual facts of human society--in the
affectations of fools, the absurdities of cranks, the stupidities of
dupes, the audacities of impostors, the humours and the follies of
family life. And, like all great originators, his influence has been
immense. At one blow, he established Comedy in its true position and
laid down the lines on which it was to develop for the next two hundred
years. At the present day, all over Europe, the main characteristics of
the average play may be traced straight back to their source in the
dominating genius of Molière.

If he fell short of the classical ideal in his workmanship, if he
exceeded it in the breadth and diversity of his mind, it is still true
that the essence of his dramatic method was hardly less classical than
that of Racine himself. His subject-matter was rich and various; but his
treatment of it was strictly limited by the classical conception of art.
He always worked by selection. His incidents are very few, chosen with
the utmost care, impressed upon the spectator with astonishing force,
and exquisitely arranged to succeed each other at the most effective
moment. The choice of the incidents is determined invariably by one
consideration--the light which they throw upon the characters; and the
characters themselves appear to us from only a very few carefully chosen
points of view. The narrowed and selective nature of Molière's treatment
of character presents an illuminating contrast when compared with the
elaborately detailed method of such a master of the romantic style as
Shakespeare. The English dramatist shows his persons to us in the round;
innumerable facets flash out quality after quality; the subtlest and
most elusive shades of temperament are indicated; until at last the
whole being takes shape before us, endowed with what seems to be the
very complexity and mystery of life itself. Entirely different is the
great Frenchman's way. Instead of expanding, he deliberately narrows his
view; he seizes upon two or three salient qualities in a character and
then uses all his art to impress them indelibly upon our minds. His
Harpagon is a miser, and he is old--and that is all we know about him:
how singularly limited a presentment compared with that of
Shakespeare's bitter, proud, avaricious, vindictive, sensitive, and
almost pathetic Jew! Tartufe, perhaps the greatest of all Molière's
characters, presents a less complex figure even than such a slight
sketch as Shakespeare's Malvolio. Who would have foreseen Malvolio's
exquisitely preposterous address to Jove? In Tartufe there are no such
surprises. He displays three qualities, and three only--religious
hypocrisy, lasciviousness, and the love of power; and there is not a
word that he utters which is not impregnated with one or all of these.
Beside the vast elaboration of a Falstaff he seems, at first sight,
hardly more solid than some astounding silhouette; yet--such was the
power and intensity of Molière's art--the more we look, the more
difficult we shall find it to be certain that Tartufe is a less
tremendous creation even than Falstaff himself.

For, indeed, it is in his characters that Molière's genius triumphs
most. His method is narrow, but it is deep. He rushes to the essentials
of a human being--tears out his vitals, as it were--and, with a few
repeated master-strokes, transfixes the naked soul. His flashlight never
fails: the affected fop, the ignorant doctor, the silly tradesman, the
heartless woman of fashion--on these, and on a hundred more, he turns
it, inexorably smiling, just at the compromising moment; then turns it
off again, to leave us with a vision that we can never forget. Nor is it
only by its vividness that his portraiture excels. At its best it rises
into the region of sublimity, giving us new visions of the grandeur to
which the human spirit can attain. It is sometimes said that the essence
of Molière lies in his common sense; that his fundamental doctrine is
the value of moderation, of the calm average outlook of the sensible man
of the world--_l'honnête homme_. And no doubt this teaching is to be
found throughout his work, devoted as it is, by its very nature, to the
eccentricities and exaggerations which beset humanity. But if he had
been nothing more than a sober propounder of the golden mean he never
would have come to greatness. No man realized more clearly the
importance of good sense; but he saw farther than that: he looked into
the profundities of the soul, and measured those strange forces which
brush aside the feeble dictates of human wisdom like gossamer, and lend,
by their very lack of compromise, a dignity and almost a nobility to
folly and even vice itself. Thus it is that he has invested the feeble,
miserable Harpagon with a kind of sordid splendour, and that he has
elevated the scoundrel Don Juan into an alarming image of intellectual
power and pride. In his satire on learned ladies--_Les Femmes
Savantes_--the ridicule is incessant, remorseless; the absurd, pedantic,
self-complacent women are turned inside out before our eyes amid a
cataract of laughter; and, if Molière had been merely the well-balanced
moralist some critics suppose, that, no doubt, would have been enough.
But for the true Molière it was not enough. The impression which he
leaves upon us at the end of the play is not simply one of the utter
folly of learning out of place; in Philaminte, the central female
figure, he has depicted the elevation that belongs even to a mistaken
and perverted love of what is excellent; and when she finally goes out,
ridiculous, baffled, but as unyielding as ever in her devotion to
grammar and astronomy, we come near, in the face of her majestic
absurdity, to a feeling of respect. More remarkable still is Molière's
portrayal of the eminence of the human spirit in the case of Tartufe.
Here it is vice in its meanest and most repulsive forms which has become
endowed with an awful grandeur. Tartufe, the hypocrite, the swindler,
the seducer of his benefactor's wife, looms out on us with the kind of
horrible greatness that Milton's Satan might have had if he had come to
live with a bourgeois family in seventeenth-century France.

Molière's genius was many-sided; he was a master not only of the smile,
but of the laugh. He is the gayest of writers, and his farces, in their
wild hilarity, their contagious absurdity, are perfect models of what a
farce should be. He has made these light, frivolous, happy things as
eternal as the severest and the weightiest works of man. He has filled
them with a wonderful irresponsible wisdom, condensing into single
phrases the ridiculousness of generations: 'Nous avons changé tout
cela.'--'Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?'--'Vous êtes
orfèvre, Monsieur Josse.' So effectually has he contrived to embalm in
the spice of his humour even the momentary affectations of his own time
that they have come down to us fresh as when they first appeared, and
the _Précieuses Ridicules_--a skit upon the manners and modes of speech
affected by the fops of 1650--still raises to-day our inextinguishable
laughter. This is the obvious side of Molière; and it is hardly in need
of emphasis.

It is the more remote quality of his mind--his brooding melancholy, shot
through with bitterness and doubt--that may at first sight escape the
notice of the reader, and that will repay the deepest attention. His
greatest works come near to tragedy. _Le Tartufe_, in spite of its
patched-up happy ending, leaves an impression of horror upon the mind.
_Don Juan_ seems to inculcate a lesson of fatalistic scepticism. In
this extraordinary play--of all Molière's works the farthest removed
from the classical ideal--the conventional rules of religion and
morality are exposed to a withering scorn; Don Juan, the very embodiment
of the arrogance of intellect, and his servant Sganarelle, the futile
and superstitious supporter of decency and law, come before us as the
only alternatives for our choice; the antithesis is never resolved; and,
though in the end the cynic is destroyed by a _coup de théâtre_, the
fool in all his foolishness still confronts us when the curtain falls.

_Don Juan_--so enigmatic in its meaning and so loose in its
structure--might almost be the work of some writer of the late
nineteenth century; but _Le Misanthrope_--at once so harmonious and so
brilliant, so lucid and so profound--could only have been produced in
the age of Louis XIV. Here, in all probability, Molière's genius reached
its height. The play shows us a small group of ladies and gentlemen, in
the midst of which one man--Alceste--stands out pre-eminent for the
intensity of his feelings and the honesty of his thoughts. He is in love
with Célimène, a brilliant and fascinating woman of the world; and the
subject of the play is his disillusionment. The plot is of the
slightest; the incidents are very few. With marvellous art Molière
brings on the inevitable disaster. Célimène will not give up the world
for the sake of Alceste; and he will take her on no other terms. And
that is all. Yet, when the play ends, how much has been revealed to us!
The figure of Alceste has been often taken as a piece of
self-portraiture; and indeed it is difficult not to believe that some at
any rate of Molière's own characteristics have gone to the making of
this subtle and sympathetic creation. The essence of Alceste is not his
misanthropy (the title of the play is somewhat misleading), it is his
sensitiveness. He alone, of all the characters in the piece, really
feels intensely. He alone loves, suffers, and understands. His
melancholy is the melancholy of a profound disillusionment. Molière, one
fancies, might have looked out upon the world just so--from 'ce petit
coin sombre, avec mon noir chagrin'. The world! To Alceste, at any rate,
the world was the great enemy--a thing of vain ideals, cold hearts, and
futile consolations. He pitted himself against it, and he failed. The
world swept on remorselessly, and left him, in his little corner, alone.
That was his tragedy. Was it Molière's also?--a tragedy, not of kings
and empires, of vast catastrophes and magnificent imaginations; but
something hardly less moving, and hardly less sublime--a tragedy of
ordinary life.


Englishmen have always loved Molière. It is hardly an exaggeration to
say that they have always detested RACINE. English critics, from Dryden
to Matthew Arnold, have steadily refused to allow him a place among the
great writers of the world; and the ordinary English reader of to-day
probably thinks of him--if he thinks of him at all--as a dull, frigid,
conventional writer, who went out of fashion with full-bottomed wigs and
never wrote a line of true poetry. Yet in France Racine has been the
object of almost universal admiration; his plays still hold the stage
and draw forth the talents of the greatest actors; and there can be no
doubt that it is the name of Racine that would first rise to the lips of
an educated Frenchman if he were asked to select the one consummate
master from among all the writers of his race. Now in literature, no
less than in politics, you cannot indict a whole nation. Some justice,
some meaning, France must have when she declares with one voice that
Racine is not only one of the greatest of dramatists, but also one of
the greatest of poets; and it behoves an Englishman, before he condemns
or despises a foreign writer, to practise some humility and do his best
to understand the point of view from which that writer is regarded by
his own compatriots. No doubt, in the case of Racine, this is a
particularly difficult matter. There are genuine national antipathies to
be got over--real differences in habits of thought and of taste. But
this very difficulty, when it is once surmounted, will make the gain the
greater. For it will be a gain, not only in the appreciation of one
additional artist, but in the appreciation of a new _kind_ of artist; it
will open up a whole undiscovered country in the continent of art.

English dramatic literature is, of course, dominated by Shakespeare; and
it is almost inevitable that an English reader should measure the value
of other poetic drama by the standards which Shakespeare has already
implanted in his mind. But, after all, Shakespeare himself was but the
product and the crown of a particular dramatic convention; he did not
compose his plays according to an ideal pattern; he was an Elizabethan,
working so consistently according to the methods of his age and country
that, as we know, he passed 'unguessed at' among his contemporaries. But
what were these methods and this convention? To judge of them properly
we must look, not at Shakespeare's masterpieces, for they are transfused
and consecrated with the light of transcendent genius, but at the
average play of an ordinary Elizabethan play-wright, or even at one of
the lesser works of Shakespeare himself. And, if we look here, it will
become apparent that the dramatic tradition of the Elizabethan age was
an extremely faulty one. It allowed, it is true, of great richness,
great variety, and the sublimest heights of poetry; but it also allowed
of an almost incredible looseness of structure and vagueness of purpose,
of dullness, of insipidity, and of bad taste. The genius of the
Elizabethans was astonishing, but it was genius struggling with
difficulties which were well-nigh insuperable; and, as a matter of fact,
in spite of their amazing poetic and dramatic powers, their work has
vanished from the stage, and is to-day familiar to but a few of the
lovers of English literature. Shakespeare alone was not subdued to what
he worked in. His overwhelming genius harmonized and ennobled the
discordant elements of the Elizabethan tradition, and invested them not
only with immortality, but with immortality understanded of the people.
His greatest works will continue to be acted and applauded so long as
there is a theatre in England. But even Shakespeare himself was not
always successful. One has only to look at some of his secondary
plays--at _Troilus and Cressida_, for instance, or _Timon of Athens_--to
see at once how inveterate and malignant were the diseases to which the
dramatic methods of the Elizabethans were a prey. Wisdom and poetry are
intertwined with flatness and folly; splendid situations drift
purposeless to impotent conclusions; brilliant psychology alternates
with the grossest indecency and the feeblest puns. 'O matter and
impertinency mixed!' one is inclined to exclaim at such a spectacle. And
then one is blinded once more by the glamour of _Lear_ and _Othello_;
one forgets the defective system in the triumph of a few exceptions, and
all plays seem intolerable unless they were written on the principle
which produced _Pericles_ and _Titus Andronicus_ and the whole multitude
of distorted and disordered works of genius of the Elizabethan age.

Racine's principles were, in fact, the direct opposite of these.
'Comprehension' might be taken as the watchword of the Elizabethans;
Racine's was 'concentration'. His great aim was to produce, not an
extraordinary nor a complex work of art, but a flawless one; he wished
to be all matter and no impertinency. His conception of a drama was of
something swift, simple, inevitable; an action taken at the crisis, with
no redundancies however interesting, no complications however
suggestive, no irrelevances however beautiful--but plain, intense,
vigorous, and splendid with nothing but its own essential force. Nor can
there be any doubt that Racine's view of what a drama should be has been
justified by the subsequent history of the stage. The Elizabethan
tradition has died out--or rather it has left the theatre, and become
absorbed in the modern novel; and it is the drama of crisis--such as
Racine conceived it--which is now the accepted model of what a
stage-play should be. And, in this connexion, we may notice an old
controversy, which still occasionally raises its head in the waste
places of criticism--the question of the three unities. In this
controversy both sides have been content to repeat arguments which are
in reality irrelevant and futile. It is irrelevant to consider whether
the unities were or were not prescribed by Aristotle; and it is futile
to ask whether the sense of probability is or is not more shocked by the
scenic representation of an action of thirty-six hours than by one of
twenty-four. The value of the unities does not depend either upon their
traditional authority or--to use the French expression--upon their
_vraisemblance_. Their true importance lies simply in their being a
powerful means towards concentration. Thus it is clear that in an
absolute sense they are neither good nor bad; their goodness or badness
depends upon the kind of result which the dramatist is aiming at. If he
wishes to produce a drama of the Elizabethan type--a drama of
comprehension--which shall include as much as possible of the varied
manifestations of human life, then obviously the observance of the
unities must exercise a restricting and narrowing influence which would
be quite out of place. On the other hand, in a drama of crisis they are
not only useful but almost inevitable. If a crisis is to be a real
crisis it must not drag on indefinitely; it must not last for more than
a few hours, or--to put a rough limit--for more than a single day; in
fact, the unity of time must be preserved. Again, if the action is to
pass quickly, it must pass in one place, for there will be no time for
the movement of the characters elsewhere; thus the unity of place
becomes a necessity. Finally, if the mind is to be concentrated to the
full upon a particular crisis, it must not be distracted by side issues;
the event, and nothing but the event, must be displayed; in other words,
the dramatist will not succeed in his object unless he employs the unity
of action.

Let us see how Racine carries out these principles by taking one of his
most characteristic plays--_Bérénice_--and comparing it with an equally
characteristic work of Shakespeare's--_Antony and Cleopatra_. The
comparison is particularly interesting because the two dramas, while
diametrically opposed in treatment, yet offer some curious parallels in
the subjects with which they deal. Both are concerned with a pair of
lovers placed in the highest position of splendour and power; in both
the tragedy comes about through a fatal discordance between the claims
of love and of the world; in both the action passes in the age of Roman
greatness, and vast imperial issues are intertwined with individual
destinies. Of Shakespeare's drama it is hardly necessary to speak.
Nowhere else, perhaps, has that universal genius displayed more
completely the extraordinary fertility of his mind. The play is crammed
full and running over with the multifarious activities of human
existence. 'What is there in the whole of life, in all the experience of
the world,' one is inclined to ask after a perusal of it, 'that is not
to be found somewhere or other among these amazing pages?' This
tremendous effect has been produced, in the first place, by means of the
immense variety of the characters; persons of every rank and every
occupation--generals and waiting-women, princesses and pirates,
diplomatists and peasants, eunuchs and emperors--all these we have, and
a hundred more; and, of course, as the grand consummation of all, we
have the dazzling complexity of Cleopatra. But this mass of character
could never have been presented to us without a corresponding variety of
incident; and, indeed, the tragedy is packed with an endless succession
of incidents--battles, intrigues, marriages, divorces, treacheries,
reconciliations, deaths. The complicated action stretches over a long
period of time and over a huge tract of space. The scene constantly
shifts from Alexandria to Rome, from Athens to Messina, from Pompey's
galley to the plains of Actium. Some commentators have been puzzled by
the multitude of these changes, and when, for a scene of a few moments,
Shakespeare shows us a Roman army marching through Syria, they have been
able to see in it nothing more than a wanton violation of the rule of
the unity of place; they have not understood that it is precisely by
such touches as these that Shakespeare has succeeded in bringing before
our minds a sense of universal agitation and the enormous dissolution of
empires.

Turning to _Bérénice_, we find a curious contrast. The whole tragedy
takes place in a small antechamber; the action lasts hardly longer than
its actual performance--about two hours and a half; and the characters
are three in number. As for the plot, it is contained in the following
six words of Suetonius: 'Titus reginam Berenicem dimissit invitus
invitam.' It seems extraordinary that with such materials Racine should
have ventured to set out to write a tragedy: it is more extraordinary
still that he succeeded. The interest of the play never ceases for a
moment; the simple situation is exposed, developed, and closed with all
the refinements of art; nothing is omitted that is essential, nothing
that is unessential is introduced. Racine has studiously avoided
anything approaching violent action or contrast or complexity; he has
relied entirely for his effect upon his treatment of a few intimate
human feelings interacting among themselves. The strain and press of the
outer world--that outer world which plays so great a part in
Shakespeare's masterpiece--is almost banished from his drama--almost,
but not quite. With wonderful art Racine manages to suggest that, behind
the quiet personal crisis in the retired little room, the strain and the
pressure of outside things do exist. For this is the force that
separates the lovers--the cruel claims of government and the state.
When, at the critical moment, Titus is at last obliged to make the fatal
choice, one word, as he hesitates, seems to dominate and convince his
soul: it is the word 'Rome'. Into this single syllable Racine has
distilled his own poignant version of the long-resounding elaborations
of _Antony and Cleopatra_.

It would, no doubt, be absurd to claim for Racine's tragedy a place as
high as Shakespeare's. But this fact should not blind us to the
extraordinary merits which it does possess. In one respect, indeed, it
might be urged that the English play is surpassed by the French one--and
that is, as a _play. Bérénice_ is still acted with success; but _Antony
and Cleopatra_--? It is impossible to do justice to such a work on the
stage; it must be mutilated, rearranged, decocted, and in the end, at
the best, it will hardly do more than produce an impression of confused
splendour on an audience. It is the old difficulty of getting a quart
into a pint bottle. But _Bérénice is_ a pint--neither more nor less, and
fits its bottle to a nicety. To witness a performance of it is a rare
and exquisite pleasure; the impression is one of flawless beauty; one
comes away profoundly moved, and with a new vision of the capacities of
art.

Singleness of purpose is the dominating characteristic of the French
classical drama, and of Racine's in particular; and this singleness
shows itself not only in the action and its accessories, but in the
whole tone of the piece. Unity of tone is, in fact, a more important
element in a play than any other unity. To obtain it Racine and his
school avoided both the extreme contrasts and the displays of physical
action which the Elizabethans delighted in. The mixture of comedy and
tragedy was abhorrent to Racine, not because it was bad in itself, but
because it must have shattered the unity of his tone; and for the same
reason he preferred not to produce before the audience the most exciting
and disturbing circumstances of his plots, but to present them
indirectly, by means of description. Now it is clear that the great
danger lying before a dramatist who employs these methods is the danger
of dullness. Unity of tone is an excellent thing, but if the tone is a
tedious one, it is better to avoid it. Unfortunately Racine's successors
in Classical Tragedy did not realize this truth. They did not understand
the difficult art of keeping interest alive without variety of mood, and
consequently their works are now almost unreadable. The truth is that
they were deluded by the apparent ease with which Racine accomplished
this difficult task. Having inherited his manner, they were content;
they forgot that there was something else which they had not
inherited--his genius.

Closely connected with this difficulty there was another over which
Racine triumphed no less completely, and which proved equally fatal to
his successors. Hitherto we have been discussing the purely dramatic
aspect of classical tragedy; we must not forget that this drama was also
literary. The problem that Racine had to solve was complicated by the
fact that he was working, not only with a restricted dramatic system,
but with a restricted language. His vocabulary was an incredibly small
one--the smallest, beyond a doubt, that ever a great poet had to deal
with. But that was not all: the machinery of his verse was hampered by
a thousand traditional restraints; artificial rules of every kind hedged
round his inspiration; if he were to soar at all, he must soar in
shackles. Yet, even here, Racine succeeded: he _did_ soar--though it is
difficult at first for the English reader to believe it. And here
precisely similar considerations apply, as in the case of Racine's
dramatic method. In both instances the English reader is looking for
variety, surprise, elaboration; and when he is given, instead,
simplicity, clarity, ease, he is apt to see nothing but insipidity and
flatness. Racine's poetry differs as much from Shakespeare's as some
calm-flowing river of the plain from a turbulent mountain torrent. To
the dwellers in the mountain the smooth river may seem at first
unimpressive. But still waters run deep; and the proverb applies with
peculiar truth to the poetry of Racine. Those ordinary words, that
simple construction--what can there be there to deserve our admiration?
On the surface, very little no doubt; but if we plunge below the surface
we shall find a great profundity and a singular strength. Racine is in
reality a writer of extreme force--but it is a force of absolute
directness that he wields. He uses the commonest words, and phrases
which are almost colloquial; but every word, every phrase, goes straight
to its mark, and the impression produced is ineffaceable. In English
literature there is very little of such writing. When an English poet
wishes to be forceful he almost invariably flies to the gigantic, the
unexpected, and the out-of-the-way; he searches for strange metaphors
and extraordinary constructions; he surprises us with curious mysteries
and imaginations we have never dreamed of before. Now and then, however,
even in English literature, instances arise of the opposite--the
Racinesque--method. In these lines of Wordsworth, for example--

    The silence that is in the starry sky,
    The sleep that is among the lonely hills--

there is no violent appeal, nothing surprising, nothing odd--only a
direct and inevitable beauty; and such is the kind of effect which
Racine is constantly producing. If he wishes to suggest the emptiness,
the darkness, and the ominous hush of a night by the seashore, he does
so not by strange similes or the accumulation of complicated details,
but in a few ordinary, almost insignificant words--

    Mais tout dort, et l'armée, et les vents, et Neptune.

If he wishes to bring before the mind the terrors of nightmare, a single
phrase can conjure them up--

    C'était pendant l'horreur d'une profonde nuit.

By the same simple methods his art can describe the wonderful and
perfect beauty of innocence--

    Le jour n'est pas plus pur que le fond de mon coeur;

and the furies of insensate passion--

    C'est Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée.

But the flavour of poetry vanishes in quotation--and particularly
Racine's, which depends to an unusual extent on its dramatic
surroundings, and on the atmosphere that it creates. He who wishes to
appreciate it to the full must steep himself in it deep and long. He
will be rewarded. In spite of a formal and unfamiliar style, in spite of
a limited vocabulary, a conventional versification, an unvaried and
uncoloured form of expression--in spite of all these things (one is
almost inclined, under the spell of Racine's enchantment, to say
_because_ of them)--he will find a new beauty and a new splendour--a
subtle and abiding grace.

But Racine's extraordinary powers as a writer become still more obvious
when we consider that besides being a great poet he is also a great
psychologist. The combination is extremely rare in literature, and in
Racine's case it is especially remarkable owing to the smallness of the
linguistic resources at his disposal and the rigid nature of the
conventions in which he worked. That he should have succeeded in
infusing into his tiny commonplace vocabulary, arranged in rhymed
couplets according to the strictest and most artificial rules, not only
the beauty of true poetry, but the varied subtleties of character and
passion, is one of those miracles of art which defy analysis. Through
the flowing regularity of his Alexandrines his personages stand out
distinct and palpable, in all the vigour of life. The presentment, it is
true, is not a detailed one; the accidents of character are not shown
us--only its essentials; the human spirit comes before us shorn of its
particulars, naked and intense. Nor is it--as might, perhaps, have been
expected--in the portrayal of intellectual characters that Racine
particularly excels; it is in the portrayal of passionate ones. His
supreme mastery is over the human heart--the subtleties, the
profundities, the agonies, the triumphs, of love. His gallery of lovers
is a long one, and the greatest portraits in it are of women. There is
the jealous, terrific Hermione; the delicate, melancholy Junie; the
noble, exquisite, and fascinating Bérénice; there is Roxane with her
voluptuous ruthlessness, and Monime with her purity and her courage; and
there is the dark, incomparable splendour of Phèdre.

Perhaps the play in which Racine's wonderful discrimination in the
drawing of passionate character may be seen in its most striking light
is _Andromaque_. Here there are four characters--two men and two
women--all under the dominion of intense feeling, and each absolutely
distinct. Andromaque, the still youthful widow of Hector, cares for only
two things in the world with passionate devotion--her young son
Astyanax, and the memory of her husband. Both are the captives of
Pyrrhus, the conqueror of Troy, a straightforward, chivalrous, but
somewhat barbarous prince, who, though he is affianced to Hermione, is
desperately in love with Andromaque. Hermione is a splendid tigress
consumed by her desire for Pyrrhus; and Oreste is a melancholy, almost
morbid man, whose passion for Hermione is the dominating principle of
his life. These are the ingredients of the tragedy, ready to explode
like gunpowder with the slightest spark. The spark is lighted when
Pyrrhus declares to Andromaque that if she will not marry him he will
execute her son. Andromaque consents, but decides secretly to kill
herself immediately after the marriage, and thus ensure both the safety
of Astyanax and the honour of Hector's wife. Hermione, in a fury of
jealousy, declares that she will fly with Oreste, on one condition--that
he kills Pyrrhus. Oreste, putting aside all considerations of honour and
friendship, consents; he kills Pyrrhus, and then returns to his mistress
to claim his reward. There follows one of the most violent scenes that
Racine ever wrote--in which Hermione, in an agony of remorse and horror,
turns upon her wretched lover and denounces his crime. Forgetful of her
own instigation, she demands who it was that suggested to him the
horrible deed--'_Qui te l'a dit?_' she shrieks: one of those astounding
phrases which, once heard, can never be forgotten. She rushes out to
commit suicide, and the play ends with Oreste mad upon the stage.

The appearance of this exciting and vital drama, written when Racine was
twenty-eight years old, brought him immediate fame. During the next ten
years (1667-77) he produced a series of masterpieces, of which perhaps
the most interesting are _Britannicus_, where the youthful Nero, just
plunging into crime, is delineated with supreme mastery; _Bajazet_,
whose subject is a contemporary tragedy of the seraglio at
Constantinople; and a witty comedy, _Les Plaideurs_, based on
Aristophanes. Racine's character was a complex one; he was at once a
brilliant and caustic man of the world, a profound scholar, a sensitive
and emotional poet. He was extremely combative, quarrelling both with
the veteran Corneille and with the friend who had first helped him
towards success--Molière; and he gave vent to his antipathies in some
very vigorous and cutting prose prefaces as well as in some verse
epigrams which are among the most venomous in the language. Besides
this, he was an assiduous courtier, and he also found the time, among
these various avocations, for carrying on at least two passionate
love-affairs. At the age of thirty-eight, after two years' labour, he
completed the work in which his genius shows itself in its consummate
form--the great tragedy of _Phèdre_. The play contains one of the most
finished and beautiful, and at the same time one of the most
overwhelming studies of passion in the literature of the world. The
tremendous rôle of Phèdre--which, as the final touchstone of great
acting, holds the same place on the French stage as that of Hamlet on
the English--dominates the piece, rising in intensity as act follows
act, and 'horror on horror's head accumulates'. Here, too, Racine has
poured out all the wealth of his poetic powers. He has performed the
last miracle, and infused into the ordered ease of the Alexandrine a
strange sense of brooding mystery and indefinable terror and the awful
approaches of fate. The splendour of the verse reaches its height in the
fourth act, when the ruined queen, at the culmination of her passion,
her remorse, and her despair, sees in a vision Hell opening to receive
her, and the appalling shade of her father Minos dispensing his
unutterable doom. The creator of this magnificent passage, in which the
imaginative grandeur of the loftiest poetry and the supreme force of
dramatic emotion are mingled in a perfect whole, has a right to walk
beside Sophocles in the high places of eternity.

Owing to the intrigues of a lady of fashion, _Phèdre_, when it first
appeared, was a complete failure. An extraordinary change then took
place in Racine's mind. A revulsion of feeling, the precise causes of
which are to this day a mystery, led him suddenly to renounce the world,
to retire into the solitude of religious meditation, and to abandon the
art which he had practised with such success. He was not yet forty, his
genius was apparently still developing, but his great career was at an
end. Towards the close of his life he produced two more plays--_Esther_,
a short idyllic piece of great beauty, and _Athalie_, a tragedy which,
so far from showing that his powers had declined during his long
retreat, has been pronounced by some critics to be the finest of his
works. He wrote no more for the stage, and he died eight years later, at
the age of sixty. It is difficult to imagine the loss sustained by
literature during those twenty years of silence. They might have given
us a dozen tragedies, approaching, or even surpassing, the merit of
_Phèdre_. And Racine must have known this. One is tempted to see in his
mysterious mortification an instance of that strain of disillusionment
which runs like a dark thread through the brilliant texture of the
literature of the _Grand Siècle_. Racine had known to the full the uses
of this world, and he had found them flat, stale, and unprofitable; he
had found that even the triumphs of his art were all compact of
worldliness; and he had turned away, in an agony of renunciation, to
lose himself in the vision of the Saints.

The influence and the character of that remarkable age appear nowhere
more clearly than in the case of its other great poet--LA FONTAINE. In
the Middle Ages, La Fontaine would have been a mendicant friar, or a
sainted hermit, or a monk, surreptitiously illuminating the margins of
his manuscripts with the images of birds and beasts. In the nineteenth
century, one can imagine him drifting among Paris cafés, pouring out his
soul in a random lyric or two, and dying before his time. The age of
Louis XIV took this dreamer, this idler, this feckless, fugitive,
spiritual creature, kept him alive by means of patrons in high society,
and eventually turned him--not simply into a poet, for he was a poet by
nature, but into one of the most subtle, deliberate, patient, and
exquisite craftsmen who have ever written in verse. The process was a
long one; La Fontaine was in his fifties when he wrote the greater
number of his _Fables_--where his genius found its true expression for
the first time. But the process was also complete. Among all the
wonderful and beautiful examples of masterly craftsmanship in the
poetry of France, the _Fables_ of La Fontaine stand out as _the_ models
of what perfect art should be.

The main conception of the fables was based upon the combination of two
ideas--that of the stiff dry moral apologue of Æsop, and that of the
short story. By far the most important of these two elements was the
latter. With the old fabulists the moral was the excuse for the fable;
with La Fontaine it was the other way round. His moral, added in a
conventional tag, or even, sometimes, omitted altogether, was simply of
use as the point of departure for the telling of a charming little tale.
Besides this, the traditional employment of animals as the personages in
a fable served La Fontaine's turn in another way. It gave him the
opportunity of creating a new and delightful atmosphere, in which his
wit, his fancy, his humour, and his observation could play at their
ease. His animals--whatever injudicious enthusiasts may have said--are
not real animals; we are no wiser as to the true nature of cats and
mice, foxes and lions, after we have read the _Fables_ than before. Nor,
on the other hand, are they the mere pegs for human attributes which
they were in the hands of Æsop. La Fontaine's creatures partake both of
the nature of real animals and of human beings, and it is precisely in
this dual character of theirs that their fascination lies. In their
outward appearance they are deliciously true to life. With the fewest of
rapid strokes, La Fontaine can raise up an unmistakable vision of any
beast or bird, fish or reptile, that he has a mind to--

    Un jour sur ses long pieds allait je ne sais où
    Le héron au long bec emmanché d'un long cou.

Could there be a better description? And his fables are crowded with
these life-like little vignettes. But the moment one goes below the
surface one finds the frailties, the follies, the virtues and the vices
of humanity. And yet it is not quite that. The creatures of La
Fontaine's fantasy are not simply animals with the minds of human
beings: they are something more complicated and amusing; they are
animals with the minds which human beings would certainly have, if one
could suppose them transformed into animals. When the young and foolish
rat sees a cat for the first time and observes to his mother--

    Je le crois fort sympathisant
    Avec messieurs les rats: car il a des oreilles
    En figure aux nôtres pareilles;

this excellent reason is obviously not a rat's reason; nor is it a human
being's reason; the fun lies in its being just the reason which, no
doubt, a silly young creature of the human species would give in the
circumstances if, somehow or other, he were metamorphosed into a rat.

It is this world of shifting lights, of queer, elusive, delightful
absurdities, that La Fontaine has made the scene of the greater number
of his stories. The stories themselves are for the most part exceedingly
slight; what gives them immortality is the way they are told. Under the
guise of an ingenuous, old-world manner, La Fontaine makes use of an
immense range of technical powers. He was an absolute master of the
resources of metre; and his rhythms, far looser and more varied than
those of his contemporaries, are marvellously expressive, while yet they
never depart from a secret and controlling sense of form. His vocabulary
is very rich--stocked chiefly with old-fashioned words, racy,
colloquial, smacking of the soil, and put together with the light
elliptical constructions of the common people. Nicknames he is
particularly fond of: the cat is Raminagrobis, or Grippeminaud, or
Rodilard, or Maître Mitis; the mice are 'la gent trotte-menu'; the
stomach is Messer Gaster; Jupiter is Jupin; La Fontaine himself is
Gros-Jean. The charming tales, one feels, might almost have been told by
some old country crony by the fire, while the wind was whistling in the
chimney and the winter night drew on. The smile, the gesture, the
singular _naïveté_--one can watch it all. But only for a moment. One
must be childish indeed (and, by an odd irony, this exquisitively
sophisticated author falls into the hands of most of his readers when
they are children) to believe, for more than a moment, that the
ingenuousness of the _Fables_ was anything but assumed. In fact, to do
so would be to miss the real taste of the work. There is a kind of art,
as every one knows, that conceals itself; but there is another--and this
is less often recognized--that displays itself, that _just_ shows,
charmingly but unmistakably, how beautifully contrived it is. And La
Fontaine's art is of the latter sort. He is like one of those
accomplished cooks in whose dishes, though the actual secret of their
making remains a mystery, one can trace the ingredients which have gone
to the concoction of the delicious whole. As one swallows the rare
morsel, one can just perceive how, behind the scenes, the oil, the
vinegar, the olive, the sprinkling of salt, the drop of lemon were
successively added, and, at the critical moment, the simmering delicacy
served up, done to a turn.

It is indeed by an infinity of small touches that La Fontaine produces
his effects. And his effects are very various. With equal ease,
apparently, he can be playful, tender, serious, preposterous, eloquent,
meditative, and absurd. But one quality is always present in his work;
whatever tune he may be playing, there is never a note too much. Alike
in his shortest six-lined anecdote and his most elaborate pieces, in
which detail follows detail and complex scenes are developed, there is
no trace of the superfluous; every word has its purpose in the general
scheme. This quality appears most clearly, perhaps, in the adroit
swiftness of his conclusions. When once the careful preliminary
foundation of the story has been laid, the crisis comes quick and
pointed--often in a single line. Thus we are given a minute description
of the friendship of the cat and the sparrow; all sorts of details are
insisted on; we are told how, when the sparrow teased the cat--

    En sage et discrète personne,
    Maître chat excusait ces jeux.

Then the second sparrow is introduced and his quarrel with the first.
The cat fires up--

    Le moineau du voisin viendra manger le nôtre?
    Non, de par tous les chats!--Entrant lors au combat,
    Il croque l'étranger. Vraiment, dit maître chat,
    Les moineaux ont un gout exquis et délicat!

And now in one line the story ends--

    Cette réflexion fit aussi croquer l'autre.

One more instance of La Fontaine's inimitable conciseness may be given.
When Bertrand (the monkey) has eaten the chestnuts which Raton (the cat)
has pulled out of the fire, the friends are interrupted; the fable ends
thus--

    Une servante vint; adieu, mes gens! Raton
    N'était pas content, ce dit-on.

How admirable are the brevity and the lightness of that 'adieu, mes
gens'! In three words the instantaneous vanishing of the animals is
indicated with masterly precision. One can almost see their tails
whisking round the corner.

Modern admirers of La Fontaine have tended to throw a veil of sentiment
over his figure, picturing him as the consoling beatific child of
nature, driven by an unsympathetic generation to a wistful companionship
with the dumb world of brutes. But nothing could be farther from the
truth than this conception. La Fontaine was as unsentimental as Molière
himself. This does not imply that he was unfeeling: feelings he
had--delicate and poignant ones; but they never dominated him to the
exclusion of good sense. His philosophy--if we may call so airy a thing
by such a name--was the philosophy of some gentle whimsical follower of
Epicurus. He loved nature, but unromantically, as he loved a glass of
wine and an ode of Horace, and the rest of the good things of life. As
for the bad things--they were there; he saw them--saw the cruelty of the
wolf, and the tyranny of the lion, and the rapacity of man--saw that--

    Jupin pour chaque état mit deux tables au monde;
    L'adroit, le vigilant, et le fort sont assis
    A la première; et les petits
    Mangent leur reste à la seconde.

Yet, while he saw them, he could smile. It was better to smile--if only
with regret; better, above all, to pass lightly, swiftly, gaily over the
depths as well as the surface of existence; for life is short--almost as
short as one of his own fables--

    Qui de nous des clartés de la voûte azurée
    Doit jouir le dernier? Est-il aucun moment
    Qui vous puisse assurer d'un second seulement?

The age was great in prose as well as in poetry. The periods of
BOSSUET, ordered, lucid, magnificent, reflect its literary ideals as
clearly as the couplets of Racine. Unfortunately, however, in the case
of Bossuet, the splendour and perfection of the form is very nearly all
that a modern reader can appreciate: the substance is for the most part
uninteresting and out-of-date. The truth is that Bossuet was too
completely a man of his own epoch to speak with any great significance
to after generations. His melodious voice enters our ears, but not our
hearts. The honest, high-minded, laborious bishop, with his dignity and
his enthusiasm, his eloquence and his knowledge of the world, represents
for us the best and most serious elements in the Court of Louis. The
average good man of those days must have thought on most subjects as
Bossuet thought--though less finely and intensely; and Bossuet never
spoke a sentence from his pulpit which went beyond the mental vision of
the most ordinary of his congregation. He saw all round his age, but he
did not see beyond it. Thus, in spite of his intelligence, his view of
the world was limited. The order of things under Louis XIV was the one
order: outside that, all was confusion, heresy, and the work of Satan.
If he had written more often on the great unchanging fundamentals of
life, more of his work would have been enduring. But it happened that,
while by birth he was an artist, by profession he was a theologian; and
even the style of Bossuet can hardly save from oblivion the theological
controversies of two hundred years ago. The same failing mars his
treatment of history. His _Histoire Universelle_ was conceived on broad
and sweeping lines, and contains some perspicacious thinking; but the
dominating notion of the book is a theological one--the illustration,
by means of the events of history, of the divine governance of the
world; and the fact that this conception of history has now become
extinct has reduced the work to the level of a finely written curiosity.

Purely as a master of prose Bossuet stands in the first rank. His style
is broad, massive, and luminous; and the great bulk of his writing is
remarkable more for its measured strength than for its ornament. Yet at
times the warm spirit of the artist, glowing through the well-ordered
phrases, diffuses an extraordinary splendour. When, in his _Méditations
sur l'Evangile_ or his _Elévations sur les Mystères_, Bossuet unrolls
the narratives of the Bible or meditates upon the mysteries of his
religion, his language takes on the colours of poetry and soars on the
steady wings of an exalted imagination. In his famous _Oraisons
Funèbres_ the magnificent amplitude of his art finds its full
expression. Death, and Life, and the majesty of God, and the
transitoriness of human glory--upon such themes he speaks with an
organ-voice which reminds an English reader of the greatest of his
English contemporaries, Milton. The pompous, rolling, resounding
sentences follow one another in a long solemnity, borne forward by a
vast movement of eloquence which underlies, controls, and animates them
all.

     O nuit désastreuse! O nuit effroyable, où retentit tout-à-coup
     comme un éclat de tonnerre, cette étonnante nouvelle: Madame se
     meurt, Madame est morte!...

--The splendid words flow out like a stream of lava, molten and glowing,
and then fix themselves for ever in adamantine beauty.

We have already seen that one of the chief characteristics of French
classicism was compactness. The tragedies of Racine are as closely knit
as some lithe naked runner without an ounce of redundant flesh; the
_Fables_ of La Fontaine are airy miracles of compression. In prose the
same tendency is manifest, but to an even more marked degree. La
Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère, writing the one at the beginning, the
other towards the close, of the classical period, both practised the art
of extreme brevity with astonishing success. The DUC DE LA ROCHEFOUCAULD
was the first French writer to understand completely the wonderful
capacities for epigrammatic statement which his language possessed; and
in the dexterous precision of pointed phrase no succeeding author has
ever surpassed him. His little book of _Maxims_ consists of about five
hundred detached sentences, polished like jewels, and, like jewels,
sparkling with an inner brilliance on which it seems impossible that one
can gaze too long. The book was the work of years, and it contains in
its small compass the observations of a lifetime. Though the reflections
are not formally connected, a common spirit runs through them all.
'Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!' such is the perpetual burden of La
Rochefoucauld's doctrine: but it is vanity, not in the generalized sense
of the Preacher, but in the ordinary personal sense of empty egotism and
petty self-love which, in the eyes of this bitter moralist, is the
ultimate essence of the human spirit and the secret spring of the world.
The case is overstated, no doubt; but the strength of La Rochefoucauld's
position can only be appreciated when one has felt for oneself the keen
arrows of his wit. As one turns over his pages, the sentences strike
into one with a deadly force of personal application; sometimes one
almost blushes; one realizes that these things are cruel, that they are
humiliating, and that they are true. 'Nous avons tous assez de force
pour supporter les maux d'autrui.'--'Quelque bien qu'on nous dise de
nous, on ne nous apprend rien de nouveau.'--'On croit quelquefois haïr
la flatterie, mais on ne hait que le manière de flatter.'--'Le refus de
la louange est un désir d'être loué deux fois.'--'Les passions les plus
violentes nous laissent quelquefois du relâche, mais la vanité nous
agite toujours.' No more powerful dissolvent for the self-complacency of
humanity was ever composed.

Unlike the majority of the writers of his age, La Rochefoucauld was an
aristocrat; and this fact gives a peculiar tone to his work. In spite of
the great labour which he spent upon perfecting it, he has managed, in
some subtle way, to preserve all through it an air of slight disdain.
'Yes, these sentences are all perfect,' he seems to be saying; 'but
then, what else would you have? Unless one writes perfect sentences, why
should one trouble to write?' In his opinion, 'le vrai honnête homme est
celui qui ne se pique de rien'; and it is clear that he followed his own
dictum. His attitude was eminently detached. Though what he says reveals
so intensely personal a vision, he himself somehow remains impersonal.
Beneath the flawless surface of his workmanship, the clever Duke eludes
us. We can only see, as we peer into the recesses, an infinite ingenuity
and a very bitter love of truth.

A richer art and a broader outlook upon life meet us in the pages of LA
BRUYÈRE. The instrument is still the same--the witty and searching
epigram--but it is no longer being played upon a single string. La
Bruyère's style is extremely supple; he throws his apothegms into an
infinite variety of moulds, employing a wide and coloured vocabulary,
and a complete mastery of the art of rhetorical effect. Among these
short reflections he has scattered a great number of somewhat lengthier
portraits or character-studies, some altogether imaginary, others
founded wholly or in part on well-known persons of the day. It is here
that the great qualities of his style show themselves most clearly.
Psychologically, these studies are perhaps less valuable than has
sometimes been supposed: they are caricatures rather than
portraits--records of the idiosyncrasies of humanity rather than of
humanity itself. What cannot be doubted for a moment is the supreme art
with which they have been composed. The virtuosity of the language--so
solid and yet so brilliant, so varied and yet so pure--reminds one of
the hard subtlety of a Greek gem. The rhythm is absolutely perfect, and,
with its suspensions, its elaborations, its gradual crescendos, its
unerring conclusions, seems to carry the sheer beauty of expressiveness
to the farthest conceivable point. Take, as one instance out of a
multitude, this description of the crank who devotes his existence to
the production of tulips--

     Vous le voyez planté et qui a pris racine au milieu de ses tulipes
     et devant la _Solitaire_: il ouvre de grands yeux, il frotte ses
     mains, il se baisse, il la voit de plus près, il ne l'a jamais vue
     si belle, il a le coeur épanoui de joie: il la quitte pour
     l'_Orientale_; de là, il va à la _Veuve_; il passe au _Drap d'or_,
     de celle-ci à _l'Agathe_, d'où il revient enfin à la _Solitaire_,
     où il se fixe, où il se lasse, où il s'assied, où il oublie de
     dîner: aussi est-elle nuancée, bordée, huilée a pièces emportées;
     elle a un beau vase ou un beau calice; il la contemple, il
     l'admire; Dieu et la nature sont en tout cela ce qu'il n'admire
     point! il ne va pas plus loin que l'oignon de sa tulipe, qu'il ne
     livrerait pas pour mille écus, et qu'il donnera pour rien quand les
     tulipes seront néligées et que les oeillets auront prévalu. Cet
     homme raisonnable qui a une âme, qui a un culte et une religion,
     revient chez soi fatigué affamé, mais fort content de sa journée:
     il a vu des tulipes.

_Les Caractères_ is the title of La Bruyère's book; but its
sub-title--'Les Moeurs de ce Siècle'--gives a juster notion of its
contents. The whole of society, as it appeared to the subtle and
penetrating gaze of La Bruyère, flows through its pages. In them,
Versailles rises before us, less in its outward form than in its
spiritual content--its secret, essential self. And the judgement which
La Bruyère passes on this vision is one of withering scorn. His
criticism is more convincing than La Rochefoucauld's because it is based
upon a wider and a deeper foundation. The vanity which _he_ saw around
him was indeed the vanity of the Preacher--the emptiness, the
insignificance, the unprofitableness, of worldly things. There was
nothing too small to escape his terrible attention, and nothing too
large. His arraignment passes from the use of rouge to the use of
torture, from the hypocrisies of false devotion to the silly absurdities
of eccentrics, from the inhumanity of princes to the little habits of
fools. The passage in which he describes the celebration of Mass in the
Chapel of Versailles, where all the courtiers were to be seen turning
their faces to the king's throne and their backs to the altar of God,
shows a spirit different indeed from that of Bossuet--a spirit not far
removed from the undermining criticism of the eighteenth century itself.
Yet La Bruyère was not a social reformer nor a political theorist: he
was simply a moralist and an observer. He saw in a flash the condition
of the French peasants--

     Certains animaux farouches, des mâles et des femelles, répandus par
     la campagne, noirs, livides, et tout brulés du soleil, attachés à
     la terre qu'ils fouillent et qu'ils remuent avec une opiniâtreté
     invincible; ils out comme une voix articulée, et, quand ils se
     lèvent sur leurs pieds, ils montrent une face humaine: et en effet
     ils sont des hommes--

saw the dreadful fact, noted it with all the intensity of his genius,
and then passed on. He was not concerned with finding remedies for the
evils of a particular society, but with exposing the underlying evils of
all societies. He would have written as truthful and as melancholy a
book if he had lived to-day.

La Bruyère, in the darkness of his pessimism, sometimes suggests Swift,
especially in his sarcastically serious treatment of detail; but he was
without the virulent bitterness of the great Dean. In fact his
indictment owes much of its impressiveness to the sobriety with which it
is presented. There is no rage, no strain, no over-emphasis; one feels
as one reads that this is an impartial judge. And, more than that, one
feels that the judge is not only a judge, but also a human being. It is
the human quality in La Bruyère's mind which gives his book its rare
flavour, so that one seems to hear, in these printed words, across the
lapse of centuries, the voice of a friend. At times he forgets his gloom
and his misanthropy, and speaks with a strange depth of feeling on
friendship or on love. 'Un beau visage,' he murmurs, 'est le plus beau
de tous les spectacles, et l'harmonie la plus douce est le son de voix
de celle que l'on aime.' And then--'Être avec les gens qu'on aime, cela
suffit; rever, leur parler, ne leur parler point, penser à eux, penser à
des choses plus indifférentes, mais auprès d'eux tout est égal.' How
tender and moving the accent, yet how restrained? And was ever more
profundity of intimacy distilled into a few simple words than here--'Il
y a du plaisir à rencontrer les yeux de celui à qui l'on vient de
donner'? But then once more the old melancholy seizes him. Even love
itself must end.--'On guérit comme on se console; on n'a pas dans le
coeur de quoi toujours pleurer et toujours aimer.' He is overwhelmed by
the disappointments of life.--'Les choses les plus souhaitées n'arrivent
point; ou, si elles arrivent, ce n'est ni dans le temps ni dans les
circonstances où elles auraient fait un extrême plaisir.' And life
itself, what is it? how does it pass?--'Il n'y a pour l'homme que trois
événements: naître, vivre, et mourir; il ne se sent pas naître, il
souffre à mourir, et il oublie de vivre.'

The pages of La Bruyère--so brilliant and animated on the surface, so
sombre in their fundamental sense--contain the final summary--we might
almost say the epitaph--of the great age of Louis XIV. Within a few
years of the publication of his book in its complete form (1694), the
epoch, which had begun in such a blaze of splendour a generation
earlier, entered upon its ultimate phase of disaster and humiliation.
The political ambitions of the overweening king were completely
shattered; the genius of Marlborough annihilated the armies of France;
and when peace came at last it came in ruin. The country was not only
exhausted to the farthest possible point, its recuperation had been made
well-nigh impossible by the fatal Revocation of the Edict of Nantes,
which, in circumstances of the utmost cruelty, had driven into exile the
most industrious and independent portion of the population. Poverty,
discontent, tyranny, fanaticism--such was the legacy that Louis left to
his country. Yet that was not quite all. Though, during the last years
of the reign, French literature achieved little of lasting value, the
triumphs of the earlier period threw a new and glorious lustre over the
reputation of France. The French tongue became the language of culture
throughout Europe. In every department of literature, French models and
French taste were regarded as the supreme authorities. Strange as it
would have seemed to him, it was not as the conqueror of Holland nor as
the defender of the Church, but as the patron of Racine and the
protector of Molière that the superb and brilliant Louis gained his
highest fame, his true immortality.




CHAPTER V


THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

The eighteenth century in France began with Louis XIV and ended with the
Revolution. It is the period which bridges the gulf between autocracy
and self-government, between Roman Catholicism and toleration, between
the classical spirit and the spirit of the Romantic Revival. It is thus
of immense importance in the history not only of France, but of the
civilized world. And from the point of view of literature it is also
peculiarly interesting. The vast political and social changes which it
inaugurated were the result of a corresponding movement in the current
of ideas; and this movement was begun, developed, and brought to a
triumphant conclusion by a series of great French writers, who
deliberately put their literary abilities to the service of the causes
which they had at heart. Thus the literature of the epoch offers a
singular contrast to that of the preceding one. While the masterpieces
of the _Grand Siècle_ served no ulterior purpose, coming into being and
into immortality simply as works of beauty and art, those of the
eighteenth century were works of propaganda, appealing with a practical
purpose to the age in which they were written--works whose value does
not depend solely upon artistic considerations. The former were static,
the latter dynamic. As the century progressed, the tendency deepened;
and the literature of the age, taken as a whole, presents a spectacle of
thrilling dramatic interest, in which the forces of change, at first
insignificant, gradually gather in volume, and at last, accumulated into
overwhelming power, carry all before them. In pure literature, the
writers of the eighteenth century achieved, indeed, many triumphs; but
their great, their peculiar, triumphs were in the domain of thought.

The movement had already begun before the death of Louis. The evils at
which La Bruyère had shuddered had filled the attention of more
practical minds. Among these the most remarkable was FÉNELON, Archbishop
of Cambray, who combined great boldness of political thought with the
graces of a charming and pellucid style. In several writings, among
which was the famous _Télémaque_--a book written for the edification of
the young Duc de Bourgogne, the heir to the French throne--Fénelon gave
expression to the growing reaction against the rigid autocracy of the
government, and enunciated the revolutionary doctrine that a monarch
existed for no other purpose than the good of his people. The Duc de
Bourgogne was converted to the mild, beneficent, and open-minded views
of his tutor; and it is possible that if he had lived a series of
judicious reforms might have prevented the cataclysm at the close of the
century. But in one important respect the mind of Fénelon was not in
accord with the lines on which French thought was to develop for the
next eighty years. Though he was among the first to advocate religious
toleration, he was an ardent, even a mystical, Roman Catholic. Now one
of the chief characteristics of the coming age was its scepticism--its
elevation of the secular as opposed to the religious elements in
society, and its utter lack of sympathy with all forms of mystical
devotion. Signs of this spirit also had appeared before the end of
Louis's reign. As early as 1687--within a year of the Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes--FONTENELLE, the nephew of Corneille, in his _Histoire
des Oracles_, attacked the miraculous basis of Christianity under the
pretence of exposing the religious credulity of the ancient Greeks and
Romans. In its mingling of the sprightly and the erudite, and in the
subdued irony of its apparent submission to orthodoxy, this little book
forestalled a method of controversy which came into great vogue at a
later date. But a more important work, published at the very end of the
seventeenth century, was the _Dictionary_ of BAYLE, in which, amid an
enormous mass of learning poured out over a multitude of heterogeneous
subjects, the most absolute religious scepticism is expressed with
unmistakable emphasis and unceasing reiteration. The book is an
extremely unwieldy one--very large and very discursive, and quite devoid
of style; but its influence was immense; and during the long combat of
the eighteenth century it was used as a kind of armoury, supplying many
of their sharpest weapons to the writers of the time.

It was not, however, until a few years after the death of the great king
that a volume appeared which contained a complete expression of the new
spirit, in all its aspects. In the _Lettres Persanes_ of MONTESQUIEU
(published 1721) may be discerned the germs of the whole thought of the
eighteenth century in France. The scheme of this charming and remarkable
book was not original: some Eastern travellers were supposed to arrive
in Paris, and to describe, in a correspondence with their countrymen in
Persia, the principal features of life in the French capital. But the
uses to which Montesquieu put this borrowed plot were all his own. He
made it the base for a searching attack on the whole system of the
government of Louis XIV. The corruption of the Court, the privileges of
the nobles, the maladministration of the finances, the stupidities and
barbarisms of the old autocratic régime--these are the topics to which
he is perpetually drawing his reader's attention. But he does more than
this: his criticism is not merely particular, it is general; he points
out the necessarily fatal effects of all despotisms, and he indicates
his own conception of what a good constitution should be. All these
discussions are animated by a purely secular spirit. He views religion
from an outside standpoint; he regards it rather as one of the functions
of administration than as an inner spiritual force. As for all the
varieties of fanaticism and intolerance, he abhors them utterly.

It might be supposed that a book containing such original and
far-reaching theories was a solid substantial volume, hard to master and
laborious to read. The precise opposite is the case. Montesquieu has
dished up his serious doctrines into a spicy story, full of epigrams and
light topical allusions, and romantic adventures, and fancy visions of
the East. Montesquieu was a magistrate; yet he ventured to indulge here
and there in reflections of dubious propriety, and to throw over the
whole of his book an airy veil of voluptuous intrigue. All this is
highly typical of the literature of the age which was now beginning. The
serious, formal tone of the classical writers was abandoned, and was
replaced by a gay, unemphatic, pithy manner, in which some grains of
light-hearted licentiousness usually gave a flavour to the wit. The
change was partly due to the shifting of the centre of society from the
elaborate and spectacular world of Versailles to the more intimate
atmosphere of the drawing-rooms of Paris. With the death of the old
king the ceremonial life of the Court fell into the background; and the
spirits of the time flew off into frivolity with a sense of freedom and
relief. But there was another influence at work. Paradoxical as it may
sound, it was the very seriousness of the new writers which was the real
cause of their lack of decorum. Their great object was to be read--and
by the largest possible number of readers; the old select circle of
literary connoisseurs no longer satisfied them; they were eager to
preach their doctrines to a wider public--to the brilliant, inquisitive,
and increasingly powerful public of the capital. And with this public no
book had a chance of success unless it was of the kind that could be run
through rapidly, pleasantly, on a sofa, between dinner and the opera,
and would furnish the material for spicy anecdotes and good talk. Like
the jesters of the Middle Ages, the philosophers of the eighteenth
century found in the use of pranks and buffoonery the best way of
telling the truth.

Until about the middle of the century, Montesquieu was the dominating
figure in French thought. His second book--_Considérations sur la
Grandeur et la Décadence des Romains_--is an exceedingly able work, in
which a series of interesting and occasionally profound historical
reflections are expressed in a style of great brilliance and
incisiveness. Here Montesquieu definitely freed history from the
medieval fetters which it had worn even in the days of Bossuet, and
considered the development of events from a purely secular point of
view, as the result of natural causes. But his greatest work, over which
he spent the greater part of his life, and on which his reputation must
finally rest, was _L'Esprit des Lois_ (published in 1748). The
discussion of this celebrated book falls outside the domain of
literature, and belongs rather to the history of political thought. It
is enough to say that here all Montesquieu's qualities--his power of
generalization, his freedom from prejudice, his rationalism, his love of
liberty and hatred of fanaticism, his pointed, epigrammatic
style--appear in their most characteristic form. Perhaps the chief fault
of the book is that it is too brilliant. When Madame du Deffand said
that its title should have been _De l'Esprit sur les Lois_ she put her
finger on its weak spot. Montesquieu's generalizations are always bold,
always original, always fine; unfortunately, they are too often unsound
into the bargain. The fluid elusive facts slip through his neat
sentences like water in a sieve. His treatment of the English
constitution affords an illustration of this. One of the first
foreigners to recognize the importance and to study the nature of
English institutions, Montesquieu nevertheless failed to give an
accurate account of them. He believed that he had found in them a signal
instance of his favourite theory of the beneficial effects produced by
the separation of the three powers of government--the judicial, the
legislative, and the executive; but he was wrong. In England, as a
matter of fact, the powers of the legislative and the executive were
intertwined. This particular error has had a curious history.
Montesquieu's great reputation led to his view of the constitution of
England being widely accepted as the true one; as such it was adopted by
the American leaders after the War of Independence; and its influence is
plainly visible in the present constitution of the United States. Such
is the strange power of good writing over the affairs of men!

At about the same time as the publication of the _Lettres Persanes_,
there appeared upon the scene in Paris a young man whose reputation was
eventually destined far to outshine that of Montesquieu himself. This
young man was François Arouet, known to the world as VOLTAIRE. Curiously
enough, however, the work upon which Voltaire's reputation was
originally built up has now sunk into almost complete oblivion. It was
as a poet, and particularly as a tragic poet, that he won his fame; and
it was primarily as a poet that
he
continued to be known to his contemporaries during the first sixty years
of his life (1694-1754). But to-day his poetry--the serious part of it,
at least,--is never read, and his tragedies--except for an occasional
revival--are never acted. As a dramatist Voltaire is negligible for the
very reasons that made him so successful in his own day. It was not his
object to write great drama, but to please his audience: he did please
them; and, naturally enough, he has not pleased posterity. His plays are
melodramas--the melodramas of a very clever man with a great command of
language, an acute eye for stage-effect, and a consummate knowledge of
the situations and sentiments which would go down with his Parisian
public. They are especially remarkable for their wretched psychology. It
seems well-nigh incredible that Voltaire's pasteboard imitations of
humanity should ever have held a place side by side with the profound
presentments of Racine; yet so it was, and Voltaire was acclaimed as the
equal--or possibly the triumphant rival--of his predecessor. All through
the eighteenth century this singular absence of psychological insight
may be observed.

The verse of the plays is hardly better than the character-drawing. It
is sometimes good rhetoric; it is never poetry. The same may be said of
_La Henriade_, the National Epic which placed Voltaire, in the eyes of
his admiring countrymen, far above Milton and Dante, and, at least, on a
level with Virgil and Homer. The true gifts displayed in this unreadable
work were not poetical at all, but historical. The notes and
dissertations appended to it showed that Voltaire possessed a real grasp
of the principles of historical method--principles which he put to a
better use a few years later in his brilliant narrative, based on
original research, of the life of Charles XII.

During this earlier period of his activity Voltaire seems to have been
trying--half unconsciously, perhaps--to discover and to express the
fundamental quality of his genius. What was that quality? Was he first
and foremost a dramatist, or an epic poet, or a writer of light verse,
or an historian, or even perhaps a novelist? In all these directions he
was working successfully--yet without absolute success. For, in fact, at
bottom, he was none of these things: the true nature of his spirit was
not revealed in them. When the revelation did come, it came as the
result of an accident. At the age of thirty he was obliged, owing to a
quarrel with a powerful nobleman, to leave France and take up his
residence in England. The three years that he passed there had an
immense effect upon his life. In those days England was very little
known to Frenchmen; the barrier which had arisen during the long war
between the two peoples was only just beginning to be broken down; and
when Voltaire arrived, it was almost in the spirit of a discoverer. What
he found filled him with astonishment and admiration. Here, in every
department of life, were to be seen all the blessings so conspicuously
absent in France. Here were wealth, prosperity, a contented people, a
cultivated nobility, a mild and just administration, and a bursting
energy which manifested itself in a multitude of ways--in literature, in
commerce, in politics, in scientific thought. And all this had come into
existence in a nation which had curbed the power of the monarchy, done
away with priestcraft, established the liberty of the Press, set its
face against every kind of bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and, through
the means of free institutions, taken up the task of governing itself.
The inference was obvious: in France also, like causes would lead to
like results. When he was allowed to return to his own country, Voltaire
published the outcome of his observations and reflections in his
_Lettres Philosophiques_, where for the first time his genius displayed
itself in its essential form. The book contains an account of England as
Voltaire saw it, from the social rather than from the political point of
view. English life is described in its actuality, detailed, vivid, and
various; we are shown Quakers and members of Parliament, merchants and
philosophers; we come in for the burial of Sir Isaac Newton; we go to a
performance of _Julius Caesar_; inoculation is explained to us; we are
given elaborate discussions of English literature and English science,
of the speculations of Bolingbroke and the theories of Locke. The
Letters may still be read with pleasure and instruction; they are
written in a delightful style, running over with humour and wit,
revealing here and there remarkable powers of narrative, and impregnated
through and through with a wonderful mingling of gaiety, irony, and
common sense. They are journalism of genius; but they are something more
besides. They are informed with a high purpose, and a genuine love of
humanity and the truth. The French authorities soon recognized this;
they perceived that every page contained a cutting indictment of their
system of government; and they adopted their usual method in such a
case. The sale of the book was absolutely prohibited throughout France,
and a copy of it solemnly burnt by the common hangman.


It was only gradually that the new views, of which Montesquieu and
Voltaire were the principal exponents, spread their way among the
public; and during the first half of the century many writers remained
quite unaffected by them. Two of these--resembling each other in this
fact alone, that they stood altogether outside the movement of
contemporary thought--deserve our special attention.

The mantle of Racine was generally supposed to have fallen on to the
shoulders of Voltaire--it had not: if it had fallen on to anyone's
shoulders it was on to those of MARIVAUX. No doubt it had become
diminished in the transit. Marivaux was not a great tragic writer; he
was not a poet; he worked on a much smaller scale, and with far less
significant material. But he was a true dramatist, a subtle
psychologist, and an artist pure and simple. His comedies, too, move
according to the same laws as the tragedies of Racine; they preserve the
same finished symmetry of design, and leave upon the mind the same sense
of unity and grace. But they are slight, etherealized, fantastic; they
are Racine, as it were, by moonlight. All Marivaux's dramas pass in a
world of his own invention--a world curiously compounded of imagination
and reality. At first sight one can see nothing there but a kind of
conventional fantasy, playing charmingly round impossible situations
and queer delightful personages, who would vanish in a moment into thin
air at the slightest contact with actual flesh and blood. But if
Marivaux had been simply fantastic and nothing more, his achievement
would have been insignificant; his great merit lies in his exquisite
instinct for psychological truth. His plays are like Watteau's pictures,
which, for all the unreality of their atmosphere, produce their effect
owing to a mass of accurate observation and a profound sense of the
realities of life. His characters, like Watteau's, seem to possess, not
quite reality itself, but the very quintessence of rarefied reality--the
distilled fragrance of all that is most refined, delicate and enchanting
in the human spirit. His Aramintes, his Silvias, his Lucidors are purged
of the grossnesses of existence; their minds and their hearts are
miraculously one; in their conversations the subtleties of
metaphysicians are blended with the airy clarities of birds. _Le Jeu de
l'Amour et du Hasard_ is perhaps the most perfect example of his work.
Here the lady changes places with her waiting-maid, while the lover
changes places with his valet, and, in this impossible framework of
symmetrical complications, the whole action spins itself out. The beauty
of the little piece depends upon the infinitely delicate art which
depicts each charmingly absurd, minute transition in the process of
delusion, misunderstanding, bewilderment, and explanation, with all the
varieties of their interactions and shimmering personal shades. It would
be difficult to find a more exquisite example of tender and
discriminating fidelity to the loveliest qualities in human nature than
the scene in which Silvia realizes at last that she is in love--and with
whom. 'Ah! je vois clair dans mon coeur!' she exclaims at the supreme
moment; and the words might stand as the epitome of the art of
Marivaux. Through all the superfine convolutions of his fancies and his
coquetries he never loses sight for a moment of the clear truth of the
heart.


While Marivaux, to use Voltaire's phrase for him, was 'weighing nothings
in scales of gossamer', a writer of a very different calibre was engaged
upon one of the most forcible, one of the most actual, and one of the
hugest compositions that has ever come from pen of man. The DUC DE
SAINT-SIMON had spent his youth and middle life in the thick of the
Court during the closing years of Louis XIV and the succeeding period of
the Regency; and he occupied his old age with the compilation of his
_Mémoires_. This great book offers so many points of striking contrast
with the mass of French literature that it falls into a category of its
own; no other work of the same outstanding merit can quite be compared
to it; for it was the product of what has always been, in France, an
extremely rare phenomenon--an amateur in literature who was also a
genius. Saint-Simon was so far from being a professional man of letters
that he would have been shocked to hear himself described as a man of
letters at all; indeed, it might be said with justice that his only
profession was that of a duke. It was as a duke--or, more correctly, as
a _Duc et Pair_--that, in his own eyes at any rate, he lived and moved
and had his being. It was round his position as a duke that the whole of
his active existence had revolved; it was with the consciousness of his
dukedom dominating his mind that he sat down in his retirement to write
his memoirs. It might seem that no book produced in such circumstances
and by such a man could possibly be valuable or interesting. But,
fortunately for the world, the merit of books does not depend upon the
enlightenment of authors. Saint-Simon was a man of small intellect, with
medieval ideas as to the structure of society, with an absurd belief in
the fundamental importance of the minutest class distinctions, and with
an obsession for dukedoms almost amounting to mania: but he had in
addition an incredibly passionate temperament combined with an
unparalleled power of observation; and these two qualities have made his
book immortal.

Besides the intrinsic merits of the work, it has the additional
advantage of being concerned with an age which, of enthralling interest
on its own account, also happened to be particularly suited to the
capacities of the writer. If Saint-Simon had lived at any other time,
his memoirs would have been admirable, no doubt, but they would have
lacked the crowning excellence which they actually possess. As it was, a
happy stroke of fortune placed him in the one position where he could
exercise to the full his extraordinary powers: never, before or since,
has there been so much to observe; never, before or since, so miraculous
an observer. For, at Versailles, in the last years of Louis, Saint-Simon
had before him, under his very eyes as a daily and hourly spectacle, the
whole accumulated energy of France in all its manifestations; that was
what he saw; and that, by the magic of his pen, is what he makes us see.
Through the endless succession of his pages the enormous panorama
unrolls itself, magnificent, palpitating, alive. What La Bruyère saw
with the spiritual gaze of a moralist rushed upon the vision of
Saint-Simon in all the colour, the detail, the intensity, the frenzy, of
actual fact. He makes no comments, no reflections--or, if he does, they
are ridiculous; he only sees and feels. Thus, though in the profundity
of his judgement he falls so infinitely below La Bruyère, in his
character-drawing he soars as high above him. His innumerable portraits
are unsurpassed in literature. They spring into his pages bursting with
life--individual, convincing, complete, and as various as humanity
itself. He excels in that most difficult art of presenting the outward
characteristics of persons, calling up before the imagination not only
the details of their physical appearance, but the more recondite effects
of their manner and their bearing, so that, when he has finished, one
almost feels that one has met the man. But his excellence does not stop
there. It is upon the inward creature that he expends his most lavish
care--upon the soul that sits behind the eyelids, upon the purpose and
the passion that linger in a gesture or betray themselves in a word. The
joy that he takes in such descriptions soon infects the reader, who
finds before long that he is being carried away by the ardour of the
chase, and that at last he seizes upon the quivering quarry with all the
excitement and all the fury of Saint-Simon himself. Though it would,
indeed, be a mistake to suppose that Saint-Simon was always furious--the
wonderful portraits of the Duchesse de Bourgogne and the Prince de Conti
are in themselves sufficient to disprove that--yet there can be no doubt
that his hatreds exceeded his loves, and that, in his character-drawing,
he was, as it were, more at home when he detested. Then the victim is
indeed dissected with a loving hand; then the details of incrimination
pour out in a multitudinous stream; then the indefatigable brush of the
master darkens the deepest shadows and throws the most glaring
deformities into still bolder relief; then disgust, horror, pity, and
ridicule finish the work which scorn and indignation had begun. Nor, in
spite of the virulence of his method, do his portraits ever sink to the
level of caricatures. His most malevolent exaggerations are yet so
realistic that they carry conviction. When he had fashioned to his
liking his terrific images--his Vendôme, his Noailles, his
Pontchartrain, his Duchesse de Berry, and a hundred more--he never
forgot, in the extremity of his ferocity, to commit the last insult, and
to breathe into their nostrils the fatal breath of life.

And it is not simply in detached portraits that Saint-Simon's
descriptive powers show themselves; they are no less remarkable in the
evocation of crowded and elaborate scenes. He is a master of movement;
he can make great groups of persons flow and dispose themselves and
disperse again; he can produce the effect of a multitude under the
dominion of some common agitation, the waves of excitement spreading in
widening circles, amid the conflicting currents of curiosity and
suspicion, fear and hope. He is assiduous in his descriptions of the
details of places, and invariably heightens the effect of his emotional
climaxes by his dramatic management of the physical _décor._ Thus his
readers get to know the Versailles of that age as if they had lived in
it; they are familiar with the great rooms and the long gallery; they
can tell the way to the king's bedchamber, or wait by the mysterious
door of Madame de Maintenon; or remember which prince had rooms opening
out on to the Terrace near the Orangery, and which great family had
apartments in the new wing. More than this, Saint-Simon has the art of
conjuring up--often in a phrase or two--those curious intimate visions
which seem to reveal the very soul of a place. How much more one knows
about the extraordinary palace--how one feels the very pulse of the
machine--when Saint-Simon has shown one in a flash a door opening, on a
sudden, at dead of night, in an unlighted corridor, and the haughty Duc
d'Harcourt stepping out among a blaze of torches, to vanish again, as
swiftly as he had come, into the mysterious darkness!--Or when one has
seen, amid the cold and snow of a cruel winter, the white faces of the
courtiers pressed against the window-panes of the palace, as the
messengers ride in from the seat of war with their dreadful catalogues
of disasters and deaths!

Saint-Simon's style is the precise counterpart of his matter. It is
coloured and vital to the highest degree. It is the style of a writer
who does not care how many solecisms he commits--how disordered his
sentences may be, how incorrect his grammar, how forced or undignified
his expressions--so long as he can put on to paper in black and white
the passionate vision that is in his mind. The result is something
unique in French literature. If Saint-Simon had tried to write with
academic correctness--and even if he had succeeded--he certainly would
have spoilt his book. Fortunately, academic correctness did not interest
him, while the exact delineament of his observations did. He is not
afraid of using colloquialisms which every critic of the time would have
shuddered at, and which, by their raciness and flavour, add enormously
to his effects. His writing is also extremely metaphorical; technical
terms are thrown in helter-skelter whenever the meaning would benefit;
and the boldest constructions at every turn are suddenly brought into
being. In describing the subtle spiritual sympathy which existed
between Fénelon and Madame de Guyon he strikes out the unforgettable
phrase--'leur sublime s'amalgama', which in its compression, its
singularity, its vividness, reminds one rather of an English Elizabethan
than a French writer of the eighteenth century. The vast movement of his
sentences is particularly characteristic. Clause follows clause, image
is piled upon image, the words hurry out upon one another's heels in
clusters, until the construction melts away under the burning pressure
of the excitement, to reform as best it may while the agitated period
still expands in endless ramifications. His book is like a tropical
forest--luxuriant, bewildering, enormous--with the gayest humming-birds
among the branches, and the vilest monsters in the entangled grass.


Saint-Simon, so far as the influence of his contemporaries was
concerned, might have been living in the Middle Ages or the moon. At a
time when Voltaire's fame was ringing through Europe, he refers to him
incidentally as an insignificant scribbler, and misspells his name. But
the combination of such abilities and such aloofness was a singular
exception, becoming, indeed, more extraordinary and improbable every
day. For now the movement which had begun in the early years of the
century was entering upon a new phase. The change came during the decade
1750-60, when, on the one hand, it had become obvious that all the worst
features of the old regime were to be perpetuated indefinitely under the
incompetent government of Louis XV, and when, on the other hand, the
generation which had been brought up under the influence of Montesquieu
and Voltaire came to maturity. A host of new writers, eager, positive,
and resolute, burst upon the public, determined to expose to the
uttermost the evils of the existing system, and, if possible, to end
them. Henceforward, until the meeting of the States-General closed the
period of discussion and began that of action, the movement towards
reform dominated French literature, gathering in intensity as it
progressed, and assuming at last the proportions and characteristics of
a great organized campaign.

The ideals which animated the new writers--the _Philosophes_, as they
came to be called--may be summed up in two words: Reason and Humanity.
They were the heirs of that splendid spirit which had arisen in Europe
at the Renaissance, which had filled Columbus when he sailed for the New
World, Copernicus when he discovered the motion of the earth, and Luther
when he nailed his propositions to the church door at Wittenberg. They
wished to dispel the dark mass of prejudice, superstition, ignorance and
folly by the clear rays of knowledge and truth; and to employ the forces
of society towards the benefit of all mankind. They found in France an
incompetent administration, a financial system at once futile and
unjust, a barbarous judicial procedure, a blind spirit of religious
intolerance--they found the traces of tyranny, caste-privilege and
corruption in every branch of public life; and they found that these
enormous evils were the result less of viciousness than of stupidity,
less of the deliberate malice of kings or ministers than of a long,
ingrained tradition of narrow-mindedness and inhumanity in the
principles of government. Their great object, therefore, was to produce,
by means of their writings, such an awakening of public opinion as
would cause an immense transformation in the whole spirit of national
life. With the actual processes of political change, with the practical
details of political machinery, very few of them concerned themselves.
Some of them--such as the illustrious Turgot--believed that the best way
of reaching the desired improvement was through the agency of a
benevolent despotism; others--such as Rousseau--had in view an
elaborate, _a priori_, ideal system of government; but these were
exceptions, and the majority of the _Philosophes_ ignored politics
proper altogether. This was a great misfortune; but it was inevitable.
The beneficent changes which had been introduced so effectively and with
such comparative ease into the government of England had been brought
about by men of affairs; in France the men of affairs were merely the
helpless tools of an autocratic machine, and the changes had to owe
their origin to men uninstructed in affairs--to men of letters. Reform
had to come from the outside, instead of from within; and reform of that
kind spells revolution. Yet, even here, there were compensating
advantages. The changes in England had been, for the most part,
accomplished in a tinkering, unspeculative, hole-and-corner spirit;
those in France were the result of the widest appeal to first
principles, of an attempt, at any rate, to solve the fundamental
problems of society, of a noble and comprehensive conception of the
duties and destiny of man. This was the achievement of the
_Philosophes_. They spread far and wide, not only through France, but
through the whole civilized world, a multitude of searching
interrogations on the most vital subjects; they propounded vast
theories, they awoke new enthusiasms, and uplifted new ideals. In two
directions particularly their influence has been enormous. By their
insistence on the right of free opinion and on the paramount necessity
of free speculation, untrammelled by the fetters of orthodoxy and
tradition, they established once for all as the common property of the
human race that scientific spirit which has had such an immense effect
on modern civilization, and whose full import we are still only just
beginning to understand. And, owing mainly to their efforts also, the
spirit of humanity has come to be an abiding influence in the world. It
was they who, by their relentless exposure of the abuses of the French
judicial system--the scandal of arbitrary imprisonment, the futile
barbarism of torture, the medieval abominations of the penal
code--finally instilled into public opinion a hatred of cruelty and
injustice in all their forms; it was they who denounced the horrors of
the slave-trade; it was they who unceasingly lamented the awful evils of
war. So far as the actual content of their thought was concerned, they
were not great originators. The germs of their most fruitful theories
they found elsewhere--chiefly among the thinkers of England; and, when
they attempted original thinking on their own account, though they were
bold and ingenious, they were apt also to be crude. In some
sciences--political economy, for instance, and psychology--they led the
way, but attained to no lasting achievement. They suffered from the same
faults as Montesquieu in his _Esprit des Lois_. In their love of pure
reason, they relied too often on the swift processes of argument for the
solution of difficult problems, and omitted that patient investigation
of premises upon which the validity of all argument depends. They were
too fond of systems, and those neatly constructed logical theories into
which everything may be fitted admirably--except the facts. In addition,
the lack of psychological insight which was so common in the eighteenth
century tended to narrow their sympathies; and in particular they failed
to realize the beauty and significance of religious and mystical states
of mind. These defects eventually produced a reaction against their
teaching--a reaction during which the true value of their work was for a
time obscured. For that value is not to be looked for in the enunciation
of certain definite doctrines, but in something much wider and more
profound. The _Philosophes_ were important not so much for the answers
which they gave as for the questions which they asked; their real
originality lay not in their thought, but in their spirit. They were the
first great popularizers. Other men before them had thought more
accurately and more deeply; they were the first to fling the light of
thought wide through the world, to appeal, not to the scholar and the
specialist, but to the ordinary man and woman, and to proclaim the
glories of civilization as the heritage of all humanity. Above all, they
instilled a new spirit into the speculations of men--the spirit of hope.
They believed ardently in the fundamental goodness of mankind, and they
looked forward into the future with the certain expectation of the
ultimate triumph of what was best. Though in some directions their
sympathies were limited, their love of humanity was a profound and
genuine feeling which moved them to a boundless enthusiasm. Though their
faith in creeds was small, their faith in mankind was great. The spirit
which filled them was well shown when, during the darkest days of the
Terror, the noble Condorcet, in the hiding-place from which he came
forth only to die, wrote his historical _Sketch of the Progress of the
Human Mind_, with its final chapter foretelling the future triumphs of
reason, and asserting the unlimited perfectibility of man.

The energies of the _Philosophes_ were given a centre and a
rallying-point by the great undertaking of the _Encyclopaedia_, the
publication of which covered a period of thirty years (1751-80). The
object of this colossal work, which contained a survey of human activity
in all its branches--political, scientific, artistic, philosophical,
commercial--was to record in a permanent and concentrated form the
advance of civilization. A multitude of writers contributed to it, of
varying merit and of various opinions, but all animated by the new
belief in reason and humanity. The ponderous volumes are not great
literature; their importance lies in the place which they fill in the
progress of thought, and in their immense influence in the propagation
of the new spirit. In spite of its bulk the book was extremely
successful; edition after edition was printed; the desire to know and to
think began to permeate through all the grades of society. Nor was it
only in France that these effects were visible; the prestige of French
literature and French manners carried the teaching of the _Philosophes_
all over Europe; great princes and ministers--Frederick in Prussia,
Catherine in Russia, Pombal in Portugal--eagerly joined the swelling
current; enlightenment was abroad in the world.

The _Encyclopaedia_ would never have come into existence without the
genius, the energy, and the enthusiasm of one man--DIDEROT. In him the
spirit of the age found its most typical expression. He was indeed _the
Philosophe_--more completely than all the rest universal, brilliant,
inquisitive, sceptical, generous, hopeful, and humane. It was he who
originated the _Encyclopaedia_, who, in company with Dalembert,
undertook its editorship, and who, eventually alone, accomplished the
herculean task of bringing the great production, in spite of obstacle
after obstacle--in spite of government prohibitions, lack of funds,
desertions, treacheries, and the mischances of thirty years--to a
triumphant conclusion. This was the work of his life; and it was work
which, by its very nature, could leave--except for that long row of
neglected volumes--no lasting memorial. But the superabundant spirit of
Diderot was not content with that: in the intervals of this stupendous
labour, which would have exhausted to their last fibre the energies of a
lesser man, he found time not only to pour out a constant flow of
writing in a multitude of miscellaneous forms--in dramas, in art
criticism, in philosophical essays, and in a voluminous
correspondence--but also to create on the sly as it were, and without a
thought of publication, two or three finished masterpieces which can
never be forgotten. Of these, the most important is _Le Neveu de
Rameau_, where Diderot's whole soul gushes out in one clear, strong,
sparkling jet of incomparable prose. In the sheer enchantment of its
vitality this wonderful little book has certainly never been surpassed.
It enthrals the reader as completely as the most exciting romance, or
the talk of some irresistibly brilliant _raconteur_. Indeed, the
writing, with its ease, its vigour, its colour, and its rapidity, might
almost be taken for what, in fact, it purports to be--conversation put
into print, were it not for the magical perfection of its form. Never
did a style combine more absolutely the movement of life with the
serenity of art. Every sentence is exciting, and every sentence is
beautiful. The book must have been composed quickly, without effort,
almost off-hand; but the mind that composed it was the mind of a master,
who, even as he revelled in the joyous manifestation of his genius,
preserved, with an instinctive power, the master's control. In truth,
beneath the gay galaxies of scintillating thoughts that strew the pages,
one can discern the firm, warm, broad substance of Diderot's very self,
underlying and supporting all. That is the real subject of a book which
seems to have taken all subjects for its province--from the origin of
music to the purpose of the universe; and the central figure--the queer,
delightful, Bohemian Rameau, evoked for us with such a marvellous
distinctness--is in fact no more than the reed with many stops through
which Diderot is blowing. Of all his countrymen, he comes nearest, in
spirit and in manner, to the great Curé of Meudon. The rich, exuberant,
intoxicating tones of Rabelais vibrate in his voice. He has--not all,
for no son of man will ever again have that; but he has _some_ of
Rabelais' stupendous breadth, and he has yet more of Rabelais' enormous
optimism. His complete materialism--his disbelief in any Providence or
any immortality--instead of depressing him, seems rather to have given
fresh buoyancy to his spirit; if this life on earth were all, that only
served, in his eyes, to redouble the intensity of its value. And his
enthusiasm inspired him with a philanthropy unknown to Rabelais--an
active benevolence that never tired. For indeed he was, above all else,
a man of his own age: a man who could think subtly and work nobly as
well as write splendidly; who could weep as well as laugh. He is,
perhaps, a smaller figure than Rabelais; but he is much nearer to
ourselves. And, when we have come to the end of his generous pages, the
final impression that is left with us is of a man whom we cannot choose
but love.


Besides Diderot, the band of the _Philosophes_ included many famous
names. There was the brilliant and witty mathematician, Dalembert; there
was the grave and noble statesman, Turgot; there was the psychologist,
Condillac; there was the light, good-humoured Marmontel; there was the
penetrating and ill-fated Condorcet. Helvétius and D'Holbach plunged
boldly into ethics and metaphysics; while, a little apart, in learned
repose, Buffon advanced the purest interests of science by his
researches in Natural History. As every year passed there were new
accessions to this great array of writers, who waged their war against
ignorance and prejudice with an ever-increasing fury. A war indeed it
was. On one side were all the forces of intellect; on the other was all
the mass of entrenched and powerful dullness. In reply to the brisk fire
of the _Philosophes_--argument, derision, learning, wit--the authorities
in State and Church opposed the more serious artillery of censorships,
suppressions, imprisonments, and exiles. There was hardly an eminent
writer in Paris who was unacquainted with the inside of the Conciergerie
or the Bastille. It was only natural, therefore, that the struggle
should have become a highly embittered one, and that at times, in the
heat of it, the party whose watchword was a hatred of fanaticism should
have grown itself fanatical. But it was clear that the powers of
reaction were steadily losing ground; they could only assert themselves
spasmodically; their hold upon public opinion was slipping away. Thus
the efforts of the band of writers in Paris seemed about to be crowned
with success. But this result had not been achieved by their efforts
alone. In the midst of the conflict they had received the aid of a
powerful auxiliary, who had thrown himself with the utmost vigour into
the struggle, and, far as he was from the centre of operations, had
assumed supreme command.

It was Voltaire. This great man had now entered upon the final, and by
far the most important, period of his astonishing career. It is a
curious fact that if Voltaire had died at the age of sixty he would now
only be remembered as a writer of talent and versatility, who had given
conspicuous evidence, in one or two works, of a liberal and brilliant
intelligence, but who had enjoyed a reputation in his own age, as a poet
and dramatist, infinitely beyond his deserts. He entered upon the really
significant period of his activity at an age when most men have already
sought repose. Nor was this all; for, by a singular stroke of fortune,
his existence was prolonged far beyond the common span; so that, in
spite of the late hour of its beginning, the most fruitful and important
epoch of his life extended over a quarter of a century (1754-78). That
he ever entered upon this last period of his career seems in itself to
have depended as much on accident as his fateful residence in England.
After the publication of the _Lettres Philosophiques_, he had done very
little to fulfil the promise of that work. He had retired to the country
house of Madame du Châtelet, where he had devoted himself to science,
play-writing, and the preparation of a universal history. His reputation
had increased; for it was in these years that he produced his most
popular tragedies--_Zaïre, Mérope, Alzire_, and _Mahomet_--while a
correspondence carried on in the most affectionate terms with Frederick
the Great yet further added to his prestige; but his essential genius
still remained quiescent. Then at last Madame du Châtelet died and
Voltaire took the great step of his life. At the invitation of Frederick
he left France, and went to live as a pensioner of the Prussian king in
the palace at Potsdam. But his stay there did not last long. It seemed
as if the two most remarkable men in Europe liked each other so well
that they could not remain apart--and so ill that they could not remain
together. After a year or two, there was the inevitable explosion.
Voltaire fled from Prussia, giving to the world before he did so one of
the most amusing _jeux d'esprit_ ever written--the celebrated _Diatribe
du Docteur Akakia_--and, after some hesitation, settled down near the
Lake of Geneva. A few years later he moved into the _château_ of Ferney,
which became henceforward his permanent abode.

Voltaire was now sixty years of age. His position was an enviable one.
His reputation was very great, and he had amassed a considerable
fortune, which not only assured him complete independence, but enabled
him to live in his domains on the large and lavish scale of a country
magnate. His residence at Ferney, just on the border of French
territory, put him beyond the reach of government interference, while he
was yet not too far distant to be out of touch with the capital. Thus
the opportunity had at last come for the full display of his powers. And
those powers were indeed extraordinary. His character was composed of a
strange amalgam of all the most contradictory elements in human nature,
and it would be difficult to name a single virtue or a single vice which
he did not possess. He was the most egotistical of mortals, and the
most disinterested; he was graspingly avaricious, and profusely
generous; he was treacherous, mischievous, frivolous, and mean, yet he
was a firm friend and a true benefactor, yet he was profoundly serious
and inspired by the noblest enthusiasms. Nature had carried these
contradictions even into his physical constitution. His health was so
bad that he seemed to pass his whole life on the brink of the grave;
nevertheless his vitality has probably never been surpassed in the
history of the world. Here, indeed, was the one characteristic which
never deserted him: he was always active with an insatiable activity; it
was always safe to say of him that, whatever else he was, he was not at
rest. His long, gaunt body, frantically gesticulating, his skull-like
face, with its mobile features twisted into an eternal grin, its
piercing eyes sparkling and darting--all this suggested the appearance
of a corpse galvanized into an incredible animation. But in truth it was
no dead ghost that inhabited this strange tenement, but the fierce and
powerful spirit of an intensely living man.

Some signs had already appeared of the form which his activity was now
about to take. During his residence in Prussia he had completed his
historical _Essai sur les Moeurs_, which passed over in rapid review the
whole development of humanity, and closed with a brilliant sketch of the
age of Louis XIV. This work was highly original in many ways. It was the
first history which attempted to describe the march of civilization in
its broadest aspects, which included a consideration of the great
Eastern peoples, which dealt rather with the progress of the arts and
the sciences than with the details of politics and wars. But its chief
importance lay in the fact that it was in reality, under its historical
trappings, a work of propaganda. It was a counterblast to Bossuet's
_Histoire Universelle_. That book had shown the world's history as a
part of the providential order--a grand unfolding of design. Voltaire's
view was very different. To him, as to Montesquieu, natural causes alone
were operative in history; but this was not all; in his eyes there was
one influence which, from the earliest ages, had continually retarded
the progress of humanity, and that influence was religious belief. Thus
his book, though far more brilliant and far more modern than that of
Bossuet, was nevertheless almost equally biased. It was history with a
thesis, and the gibe of Montesquieu was justifiable. 'Voltaire,' he
said, 'writes history to glorify his own convent, like any Benedictine
monk.' Voltaire's 'convent' was the philosophical school in Paris; and
his desire to glorify it was soon to appear in other directions.

The _Essai sur les Moeurs_ is an exceedingly amusing narrative, but it
is a long and learned work filling several volumes, and the fruit of
many years of research. Voltaire was determined henceforward to distil
its spirit into more compendious and popular forms. He had no more time
for elaborate dissertations; he must reach the public by quicker and
surer ways. Accordingly there now began to pour into Paris a flood of
short light booklets--essays, plays, poems, romances, letters, tracts--a
multitude of writings infinitely varied in form and scope, but all
equally irresistible and all equally bearing the unmistakable signs of
their origin at Ferney. Voltaire's inimitable style had at last found a
medium in which it could display itself in all its charm and all its
brilliance. The pointed, cutting, mocking sentences laugh and dance
through his pages like light-toed, prick-eared elves. Once seen, and
there is no help for it--one must follow, into whatever dangerous and
unknown regions those magic imps may lead. The pamphlets were of course
forbidden, but without effect; they were sold in thousands, and new
cargoes, somehow or other, were always slipping across the frontier from
Holland or Geneva. Whenever a particularly outrageous one appeared,
Voltaire wrote off to all his friends to assure them that he knew
nothing whatever of the production, that it was probably a translation
from the work of an English clergyman, and that, in short, everyone
would immediately see from the style alone that it was--_not_ his. An
endless series of absurd pseudonyms intensified the farce. Oh no!
Voltaire was certainly not the author of this scandalous book. How could
he be? Did not the title-page plainly show that it was the work of Frère
Cucufin, or the uncle of Abbé Bazin, or the Comte de Boulainvilliers, or
the Emperor of China? And so the game proceeded; and so all France
laughed; and so all France read.

Two forms of this light literature Voltaire made especially his own. He
brought the Dialogue to perfection; for the form suited him exactly,
with its opportunities for the rapid exposition of contrary doctrines,
for the humorous stultification of opponents, and for witty repartee.
Into this mould he has poured some of his finest materials; and in such
pieces as _Le Dîner du Comte de Boulainvilliers_ and _Frère Rigolet et
l'Empereur de la Chine_ one finds the concentrated essence of his whole
work. Equally effective and equally characteristic is the _Dictionnaire
Philosophique_, which contains a great number of very short
miscellaneous articles arranged in alphabetical order. This plan gave
Voltaire complete freedom both in the choice of subjects and in their
manipulation; as the spirit seized him he could fly out into a page of
sarcasm or speculation or criticism or buffoonery, and such liberty was
precisely to his taste; so that the book which had first appeared as a
pocket dictionary--'ce diable de portatif', he calls it in a letter
proving quite conclusively that _he_, at any rate, was not responsible
for the wretched thing--were there not Hebrew quotations in it? and who
could accuse him of knowing Hebrew?--had swollen to six volumes before
he died.

The subjects of these writings were very various. Ostensibly, at least,
they were by no means limited to matters of controversy. Some were
successful tragedies, others were pieces of criticism, others were
historical essays, others were frivolous short stories, or _vers de
société_. But, in all of them, somewhere or other, the cloven hoof was
bound to show itself at last. Whatever disguises he might assume,
Voltaire in reality was always writing for his 'convent'; he was
pressing forward, at every possible opportunity, the great movement
against the old régime. His attack covers a wide ground. The abuses of
the financial system, the defects in the administration of justice, the
futility of the restraints upon trade--upon these and a hundred similar
subjects he poured out an incessant torrent of gay, penetrating,
frivolous and remorseless words. But there was one theme to which he was
perpetually recurring, which forms the subject for his bitterest jests,
and which, in fact, dominates the whole of his work, 'Écrasez l'infame!'
was his constant exclamation; and the 'infamous thing' which he wished
to see stamped underfoot was nothing less than religion. The
extraordinary fury of his attack on religion has, in the eyes of many,
imprinted an indelible stigma upon his name; but the true nature of his
position in this matter has often been misunderstood, and deserves some
examination.

Voltaire was a profoundly irreligious man. In this he resembled the
majority of his contemporaries; but he carried the quality perhaps to a
further pitch than any man of his age. For, with him, it was not merely
the purely religious and mystical feelings that were absent; he lacked
all sympathy with those vague, brooding, emotional states of mind which
go to create the highest forms of poetry, music, and art, and which are
called forth into such a moving intensity by the beauties of Nature.
These things Voltaire did not understand; he did not even perceive them;
for him, in fact, they did not exist; and the notion that men could be
influenced by them, genuinely and deeply, he considered to be so absurd
as hardly to need discussion. This was certainly a great weakness in
him--a great limitation of spirit. It has vitiated a large part of his
writings; and it has done more than that--it has obscured, to many of
his readers, the real nature and the real value of his work. For,
combined with this inability to comprehend some of the noblest parts of
man's nature, Voltaire possessed other qualities of high importance
which went far to compensate for his defects. If he was blind to some
truths, he perceived others with wonderful clearness; if his sympathies
in some directions were atrophied, in others they were sensitive to an
extraordinary degree. In the light of these considerations his attitude
towards religion becomes easier to understand. All the highest elements
of religion--the ardent devotion, the individual ecstasy, the sense of
communion with the divine--these things he simply ignored. But,
unfortunately, in his day there was a side of religion which, with his
piercing clear-sightedness, he could not ignore. The spirit of
fanaticism was still lingering in France; it was the spirit which had
burst out on the Eve of St. Bartholomew, and had dictated the fatal
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In every branch of life its influence
was active, infusing prejudice, bitterness, and strife; but its effects
were especially terrible in the administration of justice. It so
happened that while Voltaire was at Ferney some glaring instances of
this dreadful fact came to light. A young Protestant named Calas
committed suicide in Toulouse, and, owing to the blind zealotry of the
magistrates of the town, his father, completely innocent, was found
guilty of his murder and broken on the wheel. Shortly afterwards,
another Protestant, Sirven, was condemned in similar circumstances, but
escaped to Ferney. A few years later, two youths of seventeen were
convicted at Abbeville for making some profane jokes. Both were
condemned to have their tongues torn out and to be decapitated; one
managed to escape, the other was executed. That such things could happen
in eighteenth-century France seems incredible; but happen they did, and
who knows how many more of a like atrocity? The fact that these three
came to light at all was owing to Voltaire himself. But for his
penetration, his courage, and his skill, the terrible murder of Calas
would to this day have remained unknown, and the dreadful affair of
Abbeville would have been forgotten in a month. Different men respond
most readily to different stimuli: the spectacle of cruelty and
injustice bit like a lash into the nerves of Voltaire, and plunged him
into an agony of horror. He resolved never to rest until he had not only
obtained reparation for these particular acts of injustice, but had
rooted out for ever from men's minds the superstitious bigotry which
made them possible. It was to attain this end that he attacked with such
persistence and such violence all religion and all priestcraft in
general, and, in particular, the orthodox dogmas of the Roman Catholic
Church. It became the great object of his life to convince public
opinion that those dogmas were both ridiculous and contemptible in
themselves, and abominable in their results. In this we may think him
right or we may think him wrong; our judgement will depend upon the
nature of our own opinions. But, whatever our opinions, we cannot think
him wicked; for we cannot doubt that the one dominating motive in all
that he wrote upon the subject of religion was a passionate desire for
the welfare of mankind.

Voltaire's philosophical views were curious. While he entirely discarded
the miraculous from his system, he nevertheless believed in a Deity--a
supreme First Cause of all the phenomena of the universe. Yet, when he
looked round upon the world as it was, the evil and the misery in it
were what seized his attention and appalled his mind. The optimism of so
many of his contemporaries appeared to him a shallow crude doctrine
unrelated to the facts of existence, and it was to give expression to
this view that he composed the most famous of all his works--_Candide_.
This book, outwardly a romance of the most flippant kind, contains in
reality the essence of Voltaire's maturest reflections upon human life.
It is a singular fact that a book which must often have been read simply
for the sake of its wit and its impropriety should nevertheless be one
of the bitterest and most melancholy that was ever written. But it is a
safe rule to make, that Voltaire's meaning is deep in proportion to the
lightness of his writing--that it is when he is most in earnest that he
grins most. And, in _Candide_, the brilliance and the seriousness alike
reach their climax. The book is a catalogue of all the woes, all the
misfortunes, all the degradations, and all the horrors that can afflict
humanity; and throughout it Voltaire's grin is never for a moment
relaxed. As catastrophe follows catastrophe, and disaster succeeds
disaster, not only does he laugh himself consumedly, but he makes his
reader laugh no less; and it is only when the book is finished that the
true meaning of it is borne in upon the mind. Then it is that the
scintillating pages begin to exercise their grim unforgettable effect;
and the pettiness and misery of man seem to borrow a new intensity from
the relentless laughter of Voltaire.

But perhaps the most wonderful thing about _Candide_ is that it
contains, after all, something more than mere pessimism--it contains a
positive doctrine as well. Voltaire's common sense withers the Ideal;
but it remains common sense. 'Il faut cultiver notre jardin' is his
final word--one of the very few pieces of practical wisdom ever uttered
by a philosopher.

Voltaire's style reaches the summit of its perfection in _Candide_; but
it is perfect in all that he wrote. His prose is the final embodiment of
the most characteristic qualities of the French genius. If all that that
great nation had ever done or thought were abolished from the world,
except a single sentence of Voltaire's, the essence of their achievement
would have survived. His writing brings to a culmination the tradition
that Pascal had inaugurated in his _Lettres Provinciales_: clarity,
simplicity and wit--these supreme qualities it possesses in an
unequalled degree. But these qualities, pushed to an extreme, have also
their disadvantages. Voltaire's style is narrow; it is like a
rapier--all point; with such neatness, such lightness, the sweeping
blade of Pascal has become an impossibility. Compared to the measured
march of Bossuet's sentences, Voltaire's sprightly periods remind one
almost of a pirouette. But the pirouette is Voltaire's--executed with
all the grace, all the ease, all the latent strength of a consummate
dancer; it would be folly to complain; yet it was clear that a reaction
was bound to follow--and a salutary reaction. Signs of it were already
visible in the colour and passion of Diderot's writing; but it was not
until the nineteenth century that the great change came.

Nowhere is the excellence of Voltaire's style more conspicuous than in
his Correspondence, which forms so large and important a portion of his
work. A more delightful and a more indefatigable letter-writer never
lived. The number of his published letters exceeds ten thousand; how
many more he may actually have written one hardly ventures to imagine,
for the great majority of those that have survived date only from the
last thirty years of his long life. The collection is invaluable alike
for the light which it throws upon Voltaire's career and character, and
for the extent to which it reflects the manners, sentiments, and thought
of the age. For Voltaire corresponded with all Europe. His reputation,
already vast before he settled at Ferney, rose after that date to a
well-nigh incredible height. No man had wielded such an influence since
the days when Bernard of Clairvaux dictated the conduct of popes and
princes from his monastic cell. But, since then, the wheel had indeed
come full circle! The very antithesis of the Middle Ages was personified
in the strange old creature who in his lordly retreat by the Lake of
Geneva alternately coquetted with empresses, received the homage of
statesmen and philosophers, domineered over literature in all its
branches, and laughed Mother Church to scorn. As the years advanced,
Voltaire's industry, which had always been astonishing, continually
increased. As if his intellectual interests were not enough to occupy
him, he took to commercial enterprise, developed the resources of his
estates, and started a successful colony of watchmakers at Ferney. Every
day he worked for long hours at his desk, spinning his ceaseless web of
tracts, letters, tragedies, and farces. In the evening he would
discharge the functions of a munificent host, entertain the whole
neighbourhood with balls and suppers, and take part in one of his own
tragedies on the stage of his private theatre. Then a veritable frenzy
would seize upon him; shutting himself up in his room for days together,
he would devote every particle of his terrific energies to the
concoction of some devastating dialogue, or some insidious piece of
profanation for his _Dictionnaire Philosophique_. At length his fragile
form would sink exhausted--he would be dying--he would be dead; and next
morning he would be up again as brisk as ever, directing the cutting of
the crops.

One day, quite suddenly, he appeared in Paris, which he had not visited
for nearly thirty years. His arrival was the signal for one of the most
extraordinary manifestations of enthusiasm that the world has ever
seen. For some weeks he reigned in the capital, visible and glorious,
the undisputed lord of the civilized universe. The climax came when he
appeared in a box at the Théâtre Français, to witness a performance of
the latest of his tragedies, and the whole house rose as one man to
greet him. His triumph seemed to be something more than the mere
personal triumph of a frail old mortal; it seemed to be the triumph of
all that was noblest in the aspirations of the human race. But the
fatigue and excitement of those weeks proved too much even for Voltaire
in the full flush of his eighty-fourth year. An overdose of opium
completed what Nature had begun; and the amazing being rested at last.

French literature during the latter half of the eighteenth century was
rich in striking personalities. It might have been expected that an age
which had produced both Diderot and Voltaire would hardly be able to
boast of yet another star of equal magnitude. But, in JEAN-JACQUES
ROUSSEAU, there appeared a man in some ways even more remarkable than
either of his great contemporaries. The peculiar distinction of Rousseau
was his originality. Neither Voltaire nor Diderot possessed this quality
in a supreme degree. Voltaire, indeed, can only claim to be original by
virtue of his overwhelming common sense, which enabled him to see
clearly what others could only see confusedly, to strike without fear
where others were only willing to wound; but the whole bulk of his
thought really rested on the same foundation as that which supported the
ordinary conceptions of the average man of the day. Diderot was a far
bolder, a far more speculative thinker; but yet, though he led the very
van of the age, he was always in it; his originality was never more than
a development--though it was often an extreme development--of the ideas
that lay around him. Rousseau's originality went infinitely further than
this. He neither represented his age, nor led it; he opposed it. His
outlook upon the world was truly revolutionary. In his eyes, the reforms
which his contemporaries were so busy introducing into society were
worse than useless--the mere patching of an edifice which would never be
fit to live in. He believed that it was necessary to start altogether
afresh. And what makes him so singularly interesting a figure is that,
in more than one sense, he was right. It _was_ necessary to start
afresh; and the new world which was to spring from the old one was to
embody, in a multitude of ways, the visions of Rousseau. He was a
prophet, with the strange inspiration of a prophet--and the dishonour in
his own country.

But inspiration and dishonour are not the only characteristics of
prophets: as a rule, they are also highly confused in the delivery of
their prophecies; and Rousseau was no exception. In his writings, the
true gist of his meaning seems to be only partially revealed; and it is
clear that he himself was never really aware of the fundamental notions
that lay at the back of his thought. Hence nothing can be easier than to
pull his work to pieces, and to demonstrate beyond a doubt that it is
full of fallacies, inconsistencies, and absurdities. It is very easy to
point out that the _Control Social_ is a miserable piece of
logic-chopping, to pour scorn on the stilted sentiment and distorted
morality of _La Nouvelle Héloïse_, and finally to draw a cutting
comparison between Rousseau's preaching and his practice, as it stands
revealed in the _Confessions_--the lover of independence who never
earned his own living, the apostle of equality who was a snob, and the
educationist who left his children in the Foundling Hospital. All this
has often been done, and no doubt will often be done again; but it is
futile. Rousseau lives, and will live, a vast and penetrating influence,
in spite of all his critics. There is something in him that eludes their
foot-rules. It is so difficult to take the measure of a soul!

Difficult, indeed; for, if we examine the doctrine that seems to be
Rousseau's fundamental one--that, at least, on which he himself lays
most stress--here, too, we shall find a mass of error. Rousseau was
perpetually advocating the return to Nature. All the great evils from
which humanity suffers are, he declared, the outcome of civilization;
the ideal man is the primitive man--the untutored Indian, innocent,
chaste, brave, who adores the Creator of the universe in simplicity, and
passes his life in virtuous harmony with the purposes of Nature. If we
cannot hope to reach quite that height of excellence, let us at least
try to get as near it as we can. So far from pressing on the work of
civilization, with the _Philosophes_, let us try to forget that we are
civilized and be natural instead. This was the burden of Rousseau's
teaching, and it was founded on a complete misconception of the facts.
The noble Indian was a myth. The more we find out about primitive man,
the more certain it becomes that, so far from being the ideal creature
of Rousseau's imagination, he was in reality a savage whose whole life
was dominated, on the one hand by the mere brute necessities of
existence, and on the other by a complicated and revolting system of
superstitions. Nature is neither simple nor good; and all history shows
that the necessary condition for the production of any of the really
valuable things of life is the control of Nature by man--in fact,
civilization. So far, therefore, the _Philosophes_ were right; if the
Golden Age was to have any place at all in the story of humanity, it
must be, not at the beginning, but the end.

But Rousseau was not, at bottom, concerned with the truth of any
historical theory at all. It was only because he hated the present that
he idealized the past. His primitive Golden Age was an imaginary refuge
from the actual world of the eighteenth century. What he detested and
condemned in that world was in reality not civilization, but the
conventionality of civilization--the restrictions upon the free play of
the human spirit which seemed to be inherent in civilized life. The
strange feeling of revolt that surged up within him when he contemplated
the drawing-rooms of Paris, with their brilliance and their philosophy,
their intellect and their culture, arose from a profounder cause than a
false historical theory, or a defective logical system, or a mean
personal jealousy and morbid pride. All these elements, no doubt,
entered into his feeling--for Rousseau was a very far from perfect human
being; but the ultimate source was beyond and below them--in his
instinctive, overmastering perception of the importance and the dignity
of the individual soul. It was in this perception that Rousseau's great
originality lay. His revolt was a spiritual revolt. In the Middle Ages
the immense significance of the human spirit had been realized, but it
had been inextricably involved in a mass of theological superstition.
The eighteenth century, on the other hand, had achieved the great
conception of a secular system of society; but, in doing so, it had left
out of account the spiritual nature of man, who was regarded simply as a
rational animal in an organized social group. Rousseau was the first to
unite the two views, to revive the medieval theory of the soul without
its theological trappings, and to believe--half unconsciously, perhaps,
and yet with a profound conviction--that the individual, now, on this
earth, and in himself, was the most important thing in the world.

This belief, no doubt, would have arisen in Europe, in some way or
other, if Rousseau had never lived; but it was he who clothed it with
the splendour of genius, and, by the passion of his utterance, sowed it
far and wide in the hearts of men. In two directions his influence was
enormous. His glowing conception of individual dignity and individual
rights as adhering, not to a privileged few, but to the whole mass of
humanity, seized upon the imagination of France, supplied a new and
potent stimulus to the movement towards political change, and produced a
deep effect upon the development of the Revolution. But it is in
literature, and those emotions of real life which find their natural
outlet in literature, that the influence of Rousseau's spirit may be
most clearly seen.

It is often lightly stated that the eighteenth century was an
unemotional age. What, it is asked, could be more frigid than the poetry
of Pope? Or more devoid of true feeling than the mockery of Voltaire?
But such a view is a very superficial one; and it is generally held by
persons who have never given more than a hasty glance at the works they
are so ready to condemn. It is certainly true that at first sight Pope's
couplets appear to be cold and mechanical; but if we look more closely
we shall soon find that these apparently monotonous verses have been
made the vehicle for some of the most passionate feelings of disgust and
animosity that ever agitated a human breast. As for Voltaire, we have
already seen that to infer lack of feeling from his epigrams and
laughter would be as foolish as to infer that a white-hot bar of molten
steel lacked heat because it was not red. The accusation is untenable;
the age that produced--to consider French literature alone--a Voltaire,
a Diderot, and a Saint-Simon cannot be called an age without emotion.
Yet it is clear that, in the matter of emotion, a distinction of some
sort does exist between that age and this. The distinction lies not so
much in the emotion itself as in the _attitude towards_ emotion, adopted
by the men of those days and by ourselves. In the eighteenth century men
were passionate--intensely passionate; but they were passionate almost
unconsciously, in a direct unreflective way. If anyone had asked
Voltaire to analyse his feelings accurately, he would have replied that
he had other things to think about; the notion of paying careful
attention to mere feelings would have seemed to him ridiculous. And,
when Saint-Simon sat down to write his Memoirs, it never occurred to him
for a moment to give any real account of what, in all the highly
personal transactions that he describes, he intimately felt. He tells us
nothing of his private life; he mentions his wife once, and almost
apologizes for doing so; really, could a gentleman--a duke--dwell upon
such matters, and preserve his self-respect? But, to us, it is precisely
such matters that form the pivot of a personality--the index of a soul.
A man's feelings are his very self, and it is around them that all that
is noblest and profoundest in our literature seems naturally to centre.
A great novelist is one who can penetrate and describe the feelings of
others; a great poet is one who can invest his own with beauty and
proclaim them to the world. We have come to set a value upon
introspection which was quite unknown in the eighteenth
century--unknown, that is, until Rousseau, in the most valuable and
characteristic of his works--his _Confessions_--started the vast current
in literature and in sentiment which is still flowing to-day. The
_Confessions_ is the detailed, intimate, complete history of a soul. It
describes Rousseau's life, from its beginning until its maturity, from
the most personal point of view, with no disguises or reticences of any
kind. It is written with great art. Rousseau's style, like his matter,
foreshadows the future; his periods are cast in a looser, larger, more
oratorical mould than those of his contemporaries; his sentences are
less fiery and excitable; though he can be witty when he wishes, he is
never frivolous; and a tone of earnest intimate passion lingers in his
faultless rhythms. With his great powers of expression he combined a
wonderful aptitude for the perception of the subtlest shades of feeling
and of mood. He was sensitive to an extraordinary degree--with the
sensitiveness of a proud, shy nature, unhardened by the commerce of the
world. There is, indeed, an unpleasant side to his _Confessions_.
Rousseau, like most explorers, became obsessed by his own discoveries;
he pushed the introspective method to its farthest limits; the sanctity
of the individual seemed to him not only to dignify the slightest
idiosyncrasies of temperament and character, but also, in some sort of
way, to justify what was positively bad. Thus his book contains the
germs of that Byronic egotism which later became the fashion all over
Europe. It is also, in parts, a morbid book. Rousseau was not content
to extenuate nothing; his failings got upon his nerves; and, while he
was ready to dilate upon them himself with an infinite wealth of detail,
the slightest hint of a reflection on his conduct from any other person
filled him with an agony and a rage which, at the end of his life,
developed into madness. To strict moralists, therefore, and to purists
in good taste, the _Confessions_ will always be unpalatable. More
indulgent readers will find in those pages the traces of a spirit which,
with all its faults, its errors, its diseases, deserves something more
than pity--deserves almost love. At any rate, it is a spirit singularly
akin to our own. Out of the far-off, sharp, eager, unpoetical,
unpsychological eighteenth century, it speaks to us in the familiar
accents of inward contemplation, of brooding reminiscence, of
subtly-shifting temperament, of quiet melancholy, of visionary joy.
Rousseau, one feels, was the only man of his age who ever wanted to be
alone. He understood that luxury: understood the fascination of silence,
and the loveliness of dreams. He understood, too, the exquisite
suggestions of Nature, and he never wrote more beautifully than when he
was describing the gentle process of her influences on the solitary
human soul. He understood simplicity: the charm of little happinesses,
the sweetness of ordinary affections, the beauty of a country face. The
paradox is strange; how was it that it should have been left to the
morbid, tortured, half-crazy egoist of the _Confessions_ to lead the way
to such spiritual delicacies, such innocent delights?

The paradox was too strange for Rousseau's contemporaries. They could
not understand him. His works were highly popular; he was received into
the most brilliant circles in Paris; he made friends with the most
eminent men of the day; and then ensued misunderstandings, accusations,
quarrels, and at last complete disaster. Rousseau vanished from society,
driven out, according to his account, by the treacheries of his friends;
the victim, according to their account, of his own petty jealousies and
morbid suspicions. At every point in the quarrel, his friends, and such
great and honest men as Diderot and Hume were among them, seem to have
been in the right; but it seems no less clear that they were too anxious
to proclaim and emphasize the faults of a poor, unfortunate, demented
man. We can hardly blame them; for, in their eyes, Rousseau appeared as
a kind of mad dog--a pest to society, deserving of no quarter. They did
not realize--they _could_ not--that beneath the meanness and the frenzy
that were so obvious to them was the soul of a poet and a seer. The
wretched man wandered for long in Switzerland, in Germany, in England,
pursued by the ever-deepening shadows of his maniacal suspicions. At
last he returned to France, to end his life, after years of lingering
misery, in obscurity and despair.


Rousseau and Voltaire both died in 1778--hardly more than ten years
before the commencement of the Revolution. Into that last decade of the
old régime there seemed to be concentrated all the ardour, all the hope,
all the excitement, all the brilliance of the preceding century. Had not
Reason and Humanity triumphed at last? Triumphed, at any rate, in
spirit; for who was not converted? All that remained now was the final,
quick, easy turn which would put into action the words of the
philosophers and make this earth a paradise. And still new visions kept
opening out before the eyes of enthusiasts--strange speculations and
wondrous possibilities. The march of mind seemed so rapid that the most
advanced thinkers of yesterday were already out of date. 'Voltaire est
bigot: il est déiste,' exclaimed one of the wits of Paris, and the
sentiment expressed the general feeling of untrammelled mental freedom
and swift progression which was seething all over the country. It was at
this moment that the production of BEAUMARCHAIS' brilliant comedy, _Le
Mariage de Figaro_, electrified the intellectual public of Versailles
and the capital. In that play the old régime was presented, not in the
dark colours of satire, but under the sparkling light of frivolity,
gaiety, and idleness--a vision of endless intrigue and vapid love-making
among the antiquated remains of feudal privileges and social caste. In
this fairyland one being alone has reality--Figaro, the restless,
fiendishly clever, nondescript valet, sprung from no one knows where,
destined to no one knows what, but gradually emerging a strange and
sinister profile among the laughter and the flowers. 'What have you
done, Monsieur le Comte,' he bursts out at last to his master, 'to
deserve all these advantages?--I know. _Vous vous êtes donné la peine de
naître_!' In that sentence one can hear--far off, but distinct--the
flash and snap of the guillotine. To those happy listeners, though, no
such sound was audible. Their speculations went another way. All was
roseate, all was charming as the coaches dashed through the narrow
streets of Paris, carrying their finely-powdered ladies and gentlemen,
in silks and jewels, to the assemblies of the night. Within, the candles
sparkled, and the diamonds, and the eyes of the company, sitting round
in gilded delicate chairs. And then there was supper, and the Marquise
was witty, and the Comte was sententious, while yet newer vistas opened
of yet happier worlds, dancing on endlessly through the floods of
conversation and champagne.




CHAPTER VI


THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT

The French Revolution was like a bomb, to the making of which every
liberal thinker and writer of the eighteenth century had lent a hand,
and which, when it exploded, destroyed its creators. After the smoke had
rolled away, it became clear that the old régime, with its despotisms
and its persecutions, had indeed been abolished for ever; but the spirit
of the _Philosophes_ had vanished likewise. Men's minds underwent a
great reaction. The traditions of the last two centuries were violently
broken. In literature, particularly, it seemed as if the very
foundations of the art must be laid anew; and, in this task, if men
looked at all for inspiration from the Past, it was towards that age
which differed most from the age of their fathers--towards those distant
times before the Renaissance, when the medieval Church reigned supreme
in Europe.

But before examining these new developments more closely, one glance
must be given at a writer whose qualities had singularly little to do
with his surroundings. ANDRÉ CHÉNIER passed the active years of his
short life in the thick of the revolutionary ferment, and he was
guillotined at the age of thirty-two; but his most characteristic poems
might have been composed in some magic island, far from the haunts of
men, and untouched by 'the rumour of periods'. He is the only French
writer of the eighteenth century in whom the pure and undiluted spirit
of poetry is manifest. For this reason, perhaps, he has often been
acclaimed as the forerunner of the great Romantic outburst of a
generation later; but, in reality, to give him such a title is to
misjudge the whole value of his work. For he is essentially a classic;
with a purity, a restraint, a measured and accomplished art which would
have delighted Boileau, and which brings him into close kinship with
Racine and La Fontaine. If his metrical technique is somewhat looser
than the former poet's, it is infinitely less loose than the latter's;
and his occasional departures from the strict classical canons of
versification are always completely subordinated to the controlling
balance of his style. In his _Églogues_ the beauty of his workmanship
often reaches perfection. The short poems are Attic in their serenity
and their grace. It is not the rococo pseudo-classicism of the later
versifiers of the eighteenth century, it is the delicate flavour of true
Hellenism that breathes from them; and, as one reads them, one is
reminded alternately of Theocritus and of Keats. Like Keats, Chénier was
cut off when he had hardly more than given promise of what his
achievement might have been. His brief and tragic apparition in the
midst of the Revolution is like that of some lovely bird flitting on a
sudden out of the darkness and the terror of a tempest, to be overcome a
moment later, and whirled to destruction.

The lines upon which the Romantic Movement was to develop had no
connexion whatever with Chénier's exquisite art. Throughout French
Literature, it is easy to perceive two main impulses at work, which,
between them, have inspired all the great masterpieces of the language.
On the one hand, there is that positive spirit of searching and
unmitigated common sense which has given French prose its peculiar
distinction, which lies at the root of the wonderful critical powers of
the nation, and which has produced that remarkable and persistent strain
of Realism--of absolute fidelity to the naked truth--common to the
earliest _Fabliaux_ of the Middle Ages and the latest Parisian novel of
to-day. On the other hand, there is in French literature a totally
different--almost a contradictory--tendency, which is no less clearly
marked and hardly less important--the tendency towards pure Rhetoric.
This love of language for its own sake--of language artfully ordered,
splendidly adorned, moving, swelling, irresistible--may be seen alike in
the torrential sentences of Rabelais, in the sonorous periods of
Bossuet, and in the passionate _tirades_ of Corneille. With the great
masters of the seventeenth century--Pascal, Racine, La Fontaine, La
Bruyère--the two influences met, and achieved a perfect balance. In
their work, the most penetrating realism is beautified and ennobled by
all the resources of linguistic art, while the rhetorical instinct is
preserved from pomposity and inflation by a supreme critical sense. With
the eighteenth century, however, a change came. The age was a critical
age--an age of prose and common sense; the rhetorical impulse faded
away, to find expression only in melodramatic tragedy and dull verse;
and the style of Voltaire, so brilliant and yet so colourless, so
limited and yet so infinitely sensible, symbolized the literary
character of the century. The Romantic Movement was an immense reaction
against the realism which had come to such perfection in the acid prose
of Voltaire. It was a reassertion of the rhetorical instinct in all its
strength and in all its forms. There was no attempt simply to redress
the balance; no wish to revive the studied perfection of the classical
age. The realistic spirit was almost completely abandoned. The pendulum
swung violently from one extreme to the other.

The new movement had been already faintly discernible in Diderot's
bright colouring and the oratorical structure of Rousseau's writing. But
it was not until after the Revolution, in the first years of the
nineteenth century, that the Romantic spirit completely declared
itself--in the prose of CHATEAUBRIAND. Chateaubriand was, at bottom, a
rhetorician pure and simple--a rhetorician in the widest sense of the
word. It was not merely that the resources of his style were enormous in
colour, movement, and imagery, in splendour of rhythm, in descriptive
force; but that his whole cast of mind was in itself rhetorical, and
that he saw, felt, and thought with the same emphasis, the same
amplitude, the same romantic sensibility with which he wrote. The three
subjects which formed the main themes of all his work and gave occasion
for his finest passages were Christianity, Nature, and himself. His
conception of Christianity was the very reverse of that of the
eighteenth century. In his _Génie du Christianisme_ and his _Martyrs_
the analytical and critical spirit of his predecessors has entirely
vanished; the religion which they saw simply as a collection of
theological dogmas, he envisioned as a living creed, arrayed in all the
hues of poetry and imagination, and redolent with the mystery of the
past. Yet it may be doubted whether Chateaubriand was essentially more
religious than Voltaire. What Voltaire dissected in the dry light of
reason, Chateaubriand invested with the cloak of his own eloquence--put
it up, so to speak, on a platform, in a fine attitude, under a tinted
illumination. He lacked the subtle intimacy of Faith. In his
descriptions of Nature, too, the same characteristics appear. Compared
with Rousseau's, they are far bolder, far richer, composed on a more
elaborate and imposing scale; but they are less convincing; while
Rousseau's landscapes are often profoundly moving, Chateaubriand's are
hardly ever more than splendidly picturesque. There is a similar
relation between the egoisms of the two men. Chateaubriand was never
tired of writing about himself; and in his long _Mémoires
d'Outre-Tombe_--the most permanently interesting of his works--he gave a
full rein to his favourite passion. His conception of himself was
Byronic. He swells forth, in all his pages, a noble, melancholy, proud,
sentimental creature whom every man must secretly envy and every woman
passionately adore. He had all the vanity of Rousseau, but none of his
honesty. Rousseau, at any rate, never imposed upon himself; and
Chateaubriand always did. Thus the vision that we have of him is of
something wonderful but empty, something striking but unreal. It is the
rhetorician that we see, and not the man.

Chateaubriand's influence was very great. Beside his high-flowing,
romantic, imaginative writings, the tradition of the eighteenth century
seemed to shrivel up into something thin, cold and insignificant. A new
and dazzling world swam into the ken of his readers--a world in which
the individual reigned in glory amid the glowing panorama of Nature and
among the wondrous visions of a remote and holy past. His works became
at once highly popular, though it was not until a generation later that
their full effect was felt. Meanwhile, the impetus which he had started
was continued in the poems of LAMARTINE. Here there is the same love of
Nature, the same religious outlook, the same insistence on the
individual point of view; but the tints are less brilliant, the emphasis
is more restrained; the rhetorical impulse still dominates, but it is
the rhetoric of elegiac tenderness rather than of picturesque pomp. A
wonderful limpidity of versification which, while it is always perfectly
easy, is never weak, and a charming quietude of sentiment which, however
near it may seem to come to the commonplace, always just escapes
it--these qualities give Lamartine a distinguished place in the
literature of France. They may be seen in their perfection in the most
famous of his poems, _Le Lac_, a monody descriptive of his feelings on
returning alone to the shores of the lake where he had formerly passed
the day with his mistress. And throughout all his poetical work
precisely the same characteristics are to be found. Lamartine's lyre
gave forth an inexhaustible flow of melody--always faultless, always
pellucid, and always, in the same key.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the Revolution, under the rule of Napoleon, and in the years
which followed his fall, the energies of the nation were engrossed by
war and politics. During these forty years there are fewer great names
in French literature than in any other corresponding period since the
Renaissance. At last, however, about the year 1830, a new generation of
writers arose who brought back all the old glories and triumphantly
proved that the French tongue, so far from having exhausted its
resources, was a fresh and living instrument of extraordinary power.
These writers--as has so often been the case in France--were bound
together by a common literary creed. Young, ardent, scornful of the
past, dazzled by the possibilities of the future, they raised the
standard of revolt against the traditions of Classicism, promulgated a
new aesthetic doctrine, and, after a sharp struggle and great
excitement, finally succeeded in completely establishing their view. The
change which they introduced was of enormous importance, and for this
reason the date 1830 is a cardinal one in the literature of France.
Every sentence, every verse that has been written in French since then
bears upon it, somewhere or other, the imprint of the great Romantic
Movement which came to a head in that year. What it was that was then
effected--what the main differences are between French literature before
1830 and French literature after--deserves some further consideration.

The Romantic School--of which the most important members were VICTOR
HUGO, ALFRED DE VIGNY, THÉOPHILE GAUTIER, ALEXANDRE DUMAS, and ALFRED DE
MUSSET--was, as we have said, inspired by that supremely French love of
Rhetoric which, during the long reign of intellect and prose in the
eighteenth century, had been almost entirely suppressed. The new spirit
had animated the prose of Chateaubriand and the poetry of Lamartine; but
it was the spirit only: the _form_ of both those writers retained most
of the important characteristics of the old tradition. It was new wine
in old bottles. The great achievement of the Romantic School was the
creation of new bottles--of a new conception of form, in which the vast
rhetorical impulse within them might find a suitable expression. Their
actual innovations, however, were by no means sweeping. For instance,
the numberless minute hard-and-fast metrical rules which, since the
days of Malherbe, had held French poetry in shackles, they only
interfered with to a very limited extent. They introduced a certain
number of new metres; they varied the rhythm of the Alexandrine; but a
great mass of petty and meaningless restrictions remained untouched, and
no real attempt was made to get rid of them until more than a generation
had passed. Yet here, as elsewhere, what they had done was of the
highest importance. They had touched the ark of the covenant and they
had not been destroyed. They had shown that it was possible to break a
'rule' and yet write good poetry. This explains the extraordinary
violence of the Romantic controversy over questions of the smallest
detail. When Victor Hugo, in the opening lines of _Hernani_, ventured to
refer to an 'escalier dérobé', and to put 'escalier' at the end of one
line, and 'dérobé' at the beginning of the next, he was assailed with
the kind of virulence which is usually reserved for the vilest of
criminals. And the abuse had a meaning in it: it was abuse of a
revolutionary. For in truth, by the disposition of those two words,
Victor Hugo had inaugurated a revolution. The whole theory of 'rules' in
literature--the whole conception that there were certain definite
traditional forms in existence which were, absolutely and inevitably,
the best--was shattered for ever. The new doctrine was triumphantly
vindicated--that the form of expression must depend ultimately, not upon
tradition nor yet upon _a priori_ reasonings, but simply and solely on
the thing expressed.

The most startling and the most complete of the Romantic innovations
related to the poetic Vocabulary. The number of words considered
permissible in French poetry had been steadily diminishing since the
days of Racine. A distinction had grown up between words that were
'noble' and words that were 'bas'; and only those in the former class
were admitted into poetry. No word could be 'noble' if it was one
ordinarily used by common people, or if it was a technical term, or if,
in short, it was peculiarly expressive; for any such word would
inevitably produce a shock, introduce mean associations, and destroy the
unity of the verse. If the sense demanded the use of such a word, a
periphrasis of 'noble' words must be employed instead. Racine had not
been afraid to use the word 'chien' in the most exalted of his
tragedies; but his degenerate successors quailed before such an
audacity. If you must refer to such a creature as a dog, you had better
call it 'de la fidélité respectable soutien'; the phrase actually occurs
in a tragedy of the eighteenth century. It is clear that, with such a
convention to struggle against, no poetry could survive. Everything
bold, everything vigorous, everything surprising became an impossibility
with a diction limited to the vaguest, most general, and most feebly
pompous terms. The Romantics, in the face of violent opposition, threw
the doors of poetry wide open to every word in the language. How great
the change was, and what was the nature of the public opinion against
which the Romantics had to fight, may be judged from the fact that the
use of the word 'mouchoir' during a performance of _Othello_ a few years
before 1830 produced a riot in the theatre. To such a condition of
narrowness and futility had the great Classical tradition sunk at last!

The enormous influx of words into the literary vocabulary which the
Romantic Movement brought about had two important effects. In the first
place, the range of poetical expression was infinitely increased.
French literature came out of a little, ceremonious, antiquated
drawing-room into the open air. With the flood of new words, a thousand
influences which had never been felt before came into operation.
Strangeness, contrast, complication, immensity, curiosity,
grotesqueness, fantasy--effects of this kind now for the first time
became possible and common in verse. But, one point must be noticed. The
abolition of the distinction between words that were 'bas' and 'noble'
did not at first lead (as might have been expected) to an increase of
realism. Rather the opposite took place. The Romantics loved the new
words not because they made easier the expression of actual facts, but
for their power of suggestion, for the effects of remoteness, contrast,
and multiplicity which could be produced by them--in fact, for their
rhetorical force. The new vocabulary came into existence as an engine of
rhetoric, not as an engine of truth. Nevertheless--and this was the
second effect of its introduction--in the long run the realistic impulse
in French literature was also immensely strengthened. The vocabulary of
prose widened at the same time as that of verse; and the prose of the
first Romantics remained almost completely rhetorical. But the realistic
elements always latent in prose--and especially in French prose--soon
asserted themselves; the vast opportunities for realistic description
which the enlarged vocabulary opened out were eagerly seized upon; and
it was not long before there arose in French literature a far more
elaborate and searching realism than it had ever known before.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was, perhaps, unfortunate that the main struggle of the Romantic
controversy should have been centred in the theatre. The fact that this
was so is an instance of the singular interest in purely literary
questions which has so often been displayed by popular opinion in
France. The controversy was not simply an academic matter for
connoisseurs and critics to decide upon in private; it was fought out in
all the heat of popular excitement on the public stage. But the wild
enthusiasm aroused by the triumphs of Dumas and Hugo in the theatre
shows, in a no less striking light, the incapacity of contemporaries to
gauge the true significance of new tendencies in art. On the whole, the
dramatic achievement of the Romantic School was the least valuable part
of their work. _Hernani_, the first performance of which marked the
turning-point of the movement, is a piece of bombastic melodrama, full
of the stagiest clap-trap and the most turgid declamation. Victor Hugo
imagined when he wrote it that he was inspired by Shakespeare; if he was
inspired by anyone it was by Voltaire. His drama is the old drama of the
eighteenth century, repainted in picturesque colours; it resembles those
grotesque country-houses that our forefathers were so fond of, where the
sham-Gothic turrets and castellations ill conceal the stucco and the
pilasters of a former age. Of true character and true passion it has no
trace. The action, the incidents, the persons--all alike are dominated
by considerations of rhetoric, and of rhetoric alone. The rhetoric has,
indeed, this advantage over that of _Zaïre_ and _Alzire_--it is bolder
and more highly coloured; but then it is also more pretentious. All the
worst tendencies of the Romantic Movement may be seen completely
displayed in the dramas of Victor Hugo.

For throughout his work that wonderful writer expressed in their
extreme forms the qualities and the defects of his school. Above all, he
was the supreme lord of words. In sheer facility, in sheer abundance of
language, Shakespeare alone of all the writers of the world can be
reckoned his superior. The bulk of his work is very great, and the
nature of it is very various; but every page bears the mark of the same
tireless fecundity, the same absolute dominion over the resources of
speech. Words flowed from Victor Hugo like light from the sun. Nor was
his volubility a mere disordered mass of verbiage: it was controlled,
adorned, and inspired by an immense technical power. When one has come
under the spell of that great enchanter, one begins to believe that his
art is without limits, that with such an instrument and such a science
there is no miracle which he cannot perform. He can conjure up the
strangest visions of fancy; he can evoke the glamour and the mystery of
the past; he can sing with exquisite lightness of the fugitive beauties
of Nature; he can pour out, in tenderness or in passion, the melodies of
love; he can fill his lines with the fire, the stress, the culminating
fury, of prophetic denunciation; he can utter the sad and secret
questionings of the human spirit, and give voice to the solemnity of
Fate. In the long roll and vast swell of his verse there is something of
the ocean--a moving profundity of power. His sonorous music, with its
absolute sureness of purpose, and its contrapuntal art, recalls the
vision in _Paradise Lost_ of him who--

                                with volant touch
    Fled and pursued transverse the resonant fugue.

What kind of mind, what kind of spirit, must that have been, one asks in
amazement, which could animate with such a marvellous perfection the
enormous organ of that voice?

But perhaps it would be best to leave the question unasked--or at least
unanswered. For the more one searches, the clearer it becomes that
the intellectual scope and the spiritual quality of Victor Hugo were
very far from being equal to his gifts of expression and imagination.
He had the powers of a great genius and the soul of an ordinary
man. But that was not all. There have been writers of the highest
excellence--Saint-Simon was one of them--the value of whose productions
have been unaffected, or indeed even increased, by their personal
inferiority. They could not have written better, one feels, if they had
been ten times as noble and twenty times as wise as they actually were.
But unfortunately this is not so with Victor Hugo. His faults--his
intellectual weakness, his commonplace outlook, his lack of humour, his
vanity, his defective taste--cannot be dismissed as irrelevant and
unimportant, for they are indissolubly bound up with the very substance
of his work. It was not as a mere technician that he wished to be
judged; he wrote with a very different intention; it was as a
philosopher, as a moralist, as a prophet, as a sublime thinker, as a
profound historian, as a sensitive and refined human being. With a poet
of such pretensions it is clearly most relevant to inquire whether his
poetry does, in fact, reveal the high qualities he lays claim to, or
whether, on the contrary, it is characterized by a windy inflation of
sentiment, a showy superficiality of thought, and a ridiculous and petty
egoism. These are the unhappy questions which beset the mature and
reflective reader of Victor Hugo's works. To the young and enthusiastic
one the case is different. For him it is easy to forget--or even not to
observe--what there may be in that imposing figure that is
unsatisfactory and second-rate. _He_ may revel at will in the voluminous
harmonies of that resounding voice; by turns thrilling with indignation,
dreaming in ecstasy, plunging into abysses, and soaring upon
unimaginable heights. Between youth and age who shall judge? Who decide
between rapture and reflection, enthusiasm and analysis? To determine
the precise place of Victor Hugo in the hierarchy of poets would be
difficult indeed. But this much is certain: that at times the splendid
utterance does indeed grow transfused with a pure and inward beauty,
when the human frailties vanish, and all is subdued and glorified by the
high purposes of art. Such passages are to be found among the lyrics of
_Les Feuilles d'Automne, Les Rayons et Les Ombres, Les Contemplations_,
in the brilliant descriptions and lofty imagery of _La Légende des
Siècles_, in the burning invective of _Les Châtiments_. None but a place
among the most illustrious could be given to the creator of such a
stupendous piece of word-painting as the description of the plain of
Waterloo in the latter volume, or of such a lovely vision as that in _La
Légende des Siècles_, of Ruth looking up in silence at the starry
heaven. If only the wondrous voice had always spoken so!

       *       *       *       *       *

The romantic love of vastness, richness, and sublimity, and the romantic
absorption in the individual--these two qualities appear in their
extremes throughout the work of Hugo: in that of ALFRED DE VIGNY it is
the first that dominates; in that of ALFRED DE MUSSET, the second. Vigny
wrote sparingly--one or two plays, a few prose works, and a small volume
of poems; but he produced some masterpieces. A far more sober artist
than Hugo, he was also a far profounder thinker, and a sincerer man. His
melancholy, his pessimism, were the outcome of no Byronic
attitudinizing, but the genuine intimate feelings of a noble spirit; and
he could express them in splendid verse. His melancholy was touched with
grandeur, his pessimism with sublimity. In his _Moïse_, his _Colère de
Samson_, his _Maison du Berger_, his _Mont des Oliviers_, and others of
his short reflective poems, he envisions man face to face with
indifferent Nature, with hostile Destiny, with poisoned Love, and the
lesson he draws is the lesson of proud resignation. In _La Mort du
Loup_, the tragic spectacle of the old wolf driven to bay and killed by
the hunters inspires perhaps his loftiest verses, with the closing
application to humanity--'Souffre et meurs sans parler'--summing up his
sad philosophy. No less striking and beautiful are the few short stories
in his _Servitude et Grandeur Militaires_, in which some heroic
incidents of military life are related in a prose of remarkable strength
and purity. In the best work of Vigny there are no signs of the strain,
the over-emphasis, the tendency towards the grotesque, always latent in
Romanticism; its nobler elements are alone preserved; he has achieved
the grand style.

Alfred de Musset presents a complete contrast. He was the spoilt child
of the age--frivolous, amorous, sensuous, charming, unfortunate, and
unhappy; and his poetry is the record of his personal feelings, his
varying moods, his fugitive loves, his sentimental despairs.

    Le seul bien qui me reste au monde
    Est d'avoir quelquefois pleuré,

he exclaims, with an accent of regretful softness different indeed from
that of Vigny. Among much that is feeble, ill constructed, and
exaggerated in his verse, strains of real beauty and real pathos
constantly recur. Some of his lyrics are perfect; the famous song of
Fortunio in itself entitles him to a high place among the masters of the
language; and in his longer pieces--especially in the four _Nuits_--his
emotion occasionally rises, grows transfigured, and vibrates with a
strange intensity, a long, poignant, haunting note. But doubtless his
chief claim to immortality rests upon his exquisite little dramas (both
in verse and prose), in which the romance of Shakespeare and the fantasy
of Marivaux mingle with a wit, a charm, an elegance, which are all
Musset's own. In his historical drama, _Lorenzaccio_, he attempted to
fill a larger canvas, and he succeeded. Unlike the majority of the
Romantics, Musset had a fine sense of psychology and a penetrating
historical vision. In this brilliant, vivacious, and yet subtle tragedy
he is truly great.


We must now glance at the effects which the Romantic Movement produced
upon the art which was destined to fill so great a place in the
literature of the nineteenth century--the art of prose fiction. With the
triumph of Classicism in the seventeenth century, the novel, like all
other forms of literature, grew simplified and compressed. The huge
romances of Mademoiselle de Scudéry were succeeded by the delicate
little stories of Madame de Lafayette, one of which--_La Princesse de
Clèves_--a masterpiece of charming psychology and exquisite art,
deserves to be considered as the earliest example of the modern novel.
All through the eighteenth century the same tendency is visible. _Manon
Lescaut_, the passionate and beautiful romance of l'Abbé Prévost, is a
very small book, concerned, like _La Princesse de Clèves_, with two
characters only--the lovers, whose varying fortunes make up the whole
action of the tale. Precisely the same description applies to the subtle
and brilliant _Adolphe_ of Benjamin Constant, produced in the early
years of the nineteenth century. Even when the framework was larger--as
in Le Sage's _Gil Blas_ and Marivaux's _Vie de Marianne_--the spirit was
the same; it was the spirit of selection, of simplification, of delicate
skill. Both the latter works are written in a prose style of deliberate
elegance, and both consist rather of a succession of small
incidents--almost of independent short stories--than of one large
developing whole. The culminating example of the eighteenth-century form
of fiction may be seen in the _Liaisons Dangereuses_ of Laclos, a witty,
scandalous and remarkably able novel, concerned with the interacting
intrigues of a small society of persons, and revealing on every page a
most brilliant and concentrated art. Far more modern, both in its
general conception and in the absolute realism of its treatment, was
Diderot's _La Religieuse_; but this masterpiece was not published till
some years after the Revolution; and the real honour of having
originated the later developments in French fiction--as in so many other
branches of literature--belongs undoubtedly to Rousseau. _La Nouvelle
Héloïse_, faulty as it is as a work of art, with its feeble psychology
and loose construction, yet had the great merit of throwing open whole
new worlds for the exploration of the novelist--the world of nature on
the one hand, and on the other the world of social problems and all the
living forces of actual life. The difference between the novels of
Rousseau and those of Hugo is great; but yet it is a difference merely
of degree. _Les Misérables_ is the consummation of the romantic
conception of fiction which Rousseau had adumbrated half a century
before. In that enormous work, Hugo attempted to construct a prose epic
of modern life; but the attempt was not successful. Its rhetorical cast
of style, its ceaseless and glaring melodrama, its childish presentments
of human character, its endless digressions and--running through all
this--its evidences of immense and disordered power, make the book
perhaps the most magnificent failure--the most 'wild enormity' ever
produced by a man of genius. Another development of the romantic spirit
appeared at about the same time in the early novels of George Sand, in
which the ardours of passionate love are ecstatically idealized in a
loose and lyric flow of innumerable words.

There can be little doubt that if the development of fiction had stopped
at this point the infusion into it of the romantic spirit could only
have been judged a disaster. From the point of view of art, such novels
as those of Victor Hugo and the early works of George Sand were a
retrogression from those of the eighteenth century. _Manon Lescaut_,
tiny, limited, unambitious as it is, stands on a far higher level of
artistic achievement than the unreal and incoherent _Les Misérables_.
The scale of the novel had indeed been infinitely enlarged, but the
apparatus for dealing adequately with the vast masses of new material
was wanting. It is pathetic to watch the romantic novelists trying to
infuse beauty and significance into their subjects by means of fine
writing, lyrical outbursts, impassioned philosophical dissertations, and
all the familiar rhetorical devices so dear to them. The inevitable
result was something lifeless, formless, fantastic; they were on the
wrong track. The true method for the treatment of their material was not
that of rhetoric at all; it was that of realism. This fact was
discovered by STENDHAL, who was the first to combine an enlarged view of
the world with a plain style and an accurate, unimpassioned, detailed
examination of actual life. In his remarkable novel, _Le Rouge et Le
Noir_, and in some parts of his later work, _La Chartreuse de Parme_,
Stendhal laid down the lines on which French fiction has been developing
ever since. The qualities which distinguish him are those which have
distinguished all the greatest of his successors--a subtle psychological
insight, an elaborate attention to detail, and a remorseless fidelity to
the truth.


Important as Stendhal is in the history of modern French fiction, he is
dwarfed by the colossal figure of BALZAC. By virtue of his enormous
powers, and the immense quantity and variety of his output, Balzac might
be called the Hugo of prose, if it were not that in two most important
respects he presents a complete contrast to his great contemporary. In
the first place, his control of the technical resources of the language
was as feeble as Hugo's was mighty. Balzac's style is bad; in spite of
the electric vigour that runs through his writing, it is formless,
clumsy, and quite without distinction; it is the writing of a man who
was highly perspicacious, formidably powerful, and vulgar. But, on the
other hand, he possessed one great quality which Hugo altogether
lacked--the sense of the real. Hugo was most himself when he was soaring
on the wings of fancy through the empyrean; Balzac was most himself when
he was rattling in a hired cab through the streets of Paris. He was of
the earth earthy. His coarse, large, germinating spirit gave forth, like
the earth, a teeming richness, a solid, palpable creation. And thus it
was he who achieved what Hugo, in _Les Misérables_, had in vain
attempted. _La Comédie Humaine_, as he called the long series of his
novels, which forms in effect a single work, presents, in spite of its
limitations and its faults, a picture of the France of that age drawn on
the vast scale and in the grand manner of an epic.

The limitations and the faults of Balzac's work are, indeed,
sufficiently obvious and sufficiently grave. The same coarseness of
fibre which appears in his style made him incapable of understanding the
delicacies of life--the refined shades of emotion, the subtleties of
human intercourse. He probably never read Jane Austen; but if he had he
certainly would have considered her an utterly pointless writer; and he
would have been altogether at sea in a novel by Henry James. The elusive
things that are so important, the indecisive things that are so curious,
the intimate things that are so thrilling--all these slipped through his
rough, matter-of-fact grasp. His treatment of the relations between the
sexes is characteristic. The subject fills a great place in his novels;
he approaches it with an unflinching boldness, and a most penetrating
gaze; yet he never succeeds in giving a really satisfactory presentment
of the highest of those relations--love. That eluded him: its essence
was too subtle, too private, too transcendental. No one can describe
love who has not the makings of a poet in him. And a poet was the very
last thing that Balzac was.

But his work does not merely suffer from the absence of certain good
qualities; it is also marred by the presence of positively bad ones.
Balzac was not simply a realist. There was a romantic vein in him, which
occasionally came to the surface with unfortunate results. When that
happened, he plunged into the most reckless melodrama, revelled in the
sickliest sentiment, or evolved the most grotesque characters, the most
fantastic plots. And these lapses occur quite indiscriminately. Side by
side with some detailed and convincing description, one comes upon
glaring absurdities; in the middle of some narrative of extraordinary
actuality, one finds oneself among hissing villains, disguises, poisons,
and all the paraphernalia of a penny novelette. Balzac's lack of
critical insight into his own work is one of the most singular of his
characteristics. He hardly seems to have known at all what he was about.
He wrote feverishly, desperately, under the impulsion of irresistible
genius. His conceptions crowded upon him in vivid, serried
multitudes--the wildest visions of fantasy mixed pell-mell with the most
vital realizations of fact. It was not for him to distinguish; his
concern was simply, somehow or other, to get them all out: good, bad, or
indifferent, what did it matter? The things were in his brain; and they
must be expressed.

Fortunately, it is very easy for the reader to be more discriminating
than Balzac. The alloy is not inextricably mingled with the pure
metal--the chaff may be winnowed off, and the grain left. His errors and
futilities cannot obscure his true achievement--his evocation of
multitudinous life. The whole of France is crammed into his pages, and
electrified there into intense vitality. The realism of the classical
novelists was a purely psychological realism; it was concerned with the
delicately shifting states of mind of a few chosen persons, and with
nothing else. Balzac worked on a very different plan. He neglected the
subtleties of the spirit, and devoted himself instead to, displaying the
immense interest that lay in those prosaic circumstances of existence
which the older writers had ignored. He showed with wonderful force that
the mere common details of everyday life were filled with drama, that,
to him who had eyes to see, there might be significance in a ready-made
suit of clothes, and passion in the furniture of a boarding-house. Money
in particular gave him an unending theme. There is hardly a character in
the whole vast range of his creation of whose income we are not exactly
informed; and it might almost be said that the only definite moral that
can be drawn from _La Comédie Humaine_ is that the importance of money
can never be over-estimated. The classical writers preferred to leave
such matters to the imagination of the reader; it was Balzac's great
object to leave nothing to the imagination of the reader. By ceaseless
effort, by infinite care, by elaborate attention to the minutest
details, he would describe _all_. He brought an encyclopaedic knowledge
to bear upon his task; he can give an exact account of the machinery of
a provincial printing-press; he can write a dissertation on the methods
of military organization; he can reveal the secret springs in the
mechanism of Paris journalism; he is absolutely at home in the
fraudulent transactions of money-makers, the methods of usurers, the
operations of high finance. And into all this mass of details he can
infuse the spirit of life. Perhaps his masterpiece in realistic
description is his account of La Maison Vauquer--a low boarding-house,
to which he devotes page after page of minute particularity. The result
is not a mere dead catalogue: it is a palpitating image of lurid truth.
Never was the sordid horror which lurks in places and in things evoked
with a more intense completeness.

Undoubtedly it is in descriptions of the sordid, the squalid, the ugly,
and the mean that Balzac particularly excels. He is at his greatest when
he is revealing the horrible underside of civilization--the indignities
of poverty, the low intrigues of parasites, the long procession of petty
agonies that embitter and ruin a life. Over this world of shadow and
grime he throws strange lights. Extraordinary silhouettes flash out and
vanish; one has glimpses of obscure and ominous movements on every side;
and, amid all this, some sudden vision emerges from the darkness, of
pathos, of tenderness, of tragic and unutterable pain.

Balzac died in 1850, and at about that time the Romantic Movement came
to an end. Victor Hugo, it is true, continued to live and to produce for
more than thirty years longer; but French literature ceased to be
dominated by the ideals of the Romantic school. That school had
accomplished much; it had recreated French poetry, and it had
revolutionized French prose. But, by the very nature of its achievement,
it led the way to its own supersession. The spirit which animated its
doctrines was the spirit of progress and of change; it taught that there
were no fixed rules for writing well; that art, no less than science,
lived by experiment; that a literature which did not develop was dead.
Therefore it was inevitable that the Romantic ideal itself should form
the stepping-stone for a fresh advance. The complex work of Balzac
unites in a curious way many of the most important elements of the old
school and of the new. Alike by his vast force, his immense variety,
his formlessness, his lack of critical and intellectual power, he was a
Romantic; but he belonged to the future in his enormous love of prosaic
detail, his materialist cast of mind, and his preoccupation with actual
facts.




CHAPTER VII

THE AGE OF CRITICISM


With the generation of writers who rose to eminence after the death of
Balzac, we come within the reach of living memory, so that a just
estimate of their work is well-nigh impossible: it is so close to us
that it is bound to be out of focus. And there is an additional
difficulty in the extreme richness and variety of their accomplishment.
They explored so many fields of literature, and produced so much of
interest and importance, that a short account of their work can hardly
fail to give a false impression of it. Only its leading characteristics
and its most remarkable manifestations can be touched upon here.

The age was before all else an age of Criticism. A strong reaction set
in against the looseness of construction and the extravagance of thought
which had pervaded the work of the Romantics; and a new ideal was set
up--an ideal which was to combine the width and diversity of the latter
with the precision of form and the deliberate artistic purpose of the
Classical age. The movement affected the whole of French literature, but
its most important results were in the domain of Prose. Nowhere were the
defects of the Romantics more obvious than in their treatment of
history. With a very few exceptions they conceived of the past as a
picturesque pageant--a thing of contrasts and costumes, an excuse for
rhetorical descriptions, without inner significance or a real life of
its own. One historian of genius they did indeed produce--MICHELET; and
the contrast between his work and that of his successors, TAINE and
RENAN, is typical of the new departure. The great history of Michelet,
with its strange, convulsive style, its capricious and imaginative
treatment of facts, and its undisguised bias, shows us the spectacle of
the past in a series of lurid lightning-flashes--a spectacle at once
intensely vivid and singularly contorted; it is the history of a poet
rather than of a man of science. With Taine and Renan the personal
element which forms the very foundation of Michelet's work has been
carefully suppressed. It is replaced by an elaborate examination of
detail, a careful, sober, unprejudiced reconstruction of past
conditions, an infinitely conscientious endeavour to tell the truth and
nothing but the truth. Nor is their history merely the dead bones of
analysis and research; it is informed with an untiring sympathy; and--in
the case of Renan especially--a suave and lucid style adds the charm and
amenity which art alone can give.

The same tendencies appear to a still more remarkable degree in
Criticism. With SAINTE-BEUVE, in fact, one might almost say that
criticism, as we know it, came into existence for the first time. Before
him, all criticism had been one of two things: it had been either a
merely personal expression of opinion, or else an attempt to establish
universal literary canons and to judge of writers by the standards thus
set up. Sainte-Beuve realized that such methods--the slap-dash
pronouncements of a Johnson or the narrow generalizations of a
Boileau--were in reality not critical at all. He saw that the critic's
first duty was not to judge, but to understand; and with this object he
set himself to explore all the facts which could throw light on the
temperament, the outlook, the ideals of his author; he examined his
biography, the society in which he lived, the influences of his age;
and with the apparatus thus patiently formed he proceeded to act as the
interpreter between the author and the public. His _Causeries du
Lundi_--short critical papers originally contributed to a periodical
magazine and subsequently published in a long series of
volumes--together with his _Port Royal_--an elaborate account of the
movements in letters and philosophy during the earlier years of Louis
XIV's reign--contain a mass of material of unequalled value concerning
the whole of French literature. His analytical and sympathetic mind is
reflected in the quiet wit and easy charm of his writing. Undoubtedly
the lover of French literature will find in Sainte-Beuve's _Lundis_ at
once the most useful and the most agreeable review of the subject in all
its branches; and the more his knowledge increases, the more eagerly
will he return for further guidance and illumination to those delightful
books.

But the greatest prose-writer of the age devoted himself neither to
history nor to criticism--though his works are impregnated with the
spirit of both--but to Fiction. In his novels, FLAUBERT finally
accomplished what Balzac had spasmodically begun--the separation of the
art of fiction from the unreality, the exaggeration, and the rhetoric of
the Romantic School. Before he began to write, the movement towards a
greater restraint, a more deliberate art, had shown itself in a few
short novels by GEORGE SAND--the first of the long and admirable series
of her mature works--where, especially in such delicate masterpieces as
_La Mare au Diable, La Petite Fadette_, and _François le Champi_, her
earlier lyricism and incoherence were replaced by an idyllic sentiment
strengthened and purified by an exquisite sense of truth. Flaubert's
genius moved in a very different and a far wider orbit: but it was no
less guided by the dictates of deliberate art. In his realism, his love
of detail, and his penetrating observation of facts, Flaubert was the
true heir of Balzac; while in the scrupulosity of his style and the
patient, laborious, and sober treatment of his material he presented a
complete contrast to his great predecessor. These latter qualities make
Flaubert the pre-eminent representative of his age. The critical sense
possessed him more absolutely and with more striking results than all
the rest of his contemporaries. His watchfulness over his own work was
almost infinite. There has never been a writer who took his art with
such a passionate seriousness, who struggled so incessantly towards
perfection, and who suffered so acutely from the difficulties, the
disappointments, the desperate, furious efforts of an unremitting toil.
His style alone cost him boundless labour. He would often spend an
entire day over the elaboration and perfection of a single sentence,
which, perhaps, would be altogether obliterated before the publication
of the book. He worked in an apoplectic fervour over every detail of his
craft--eliminating repetitions, balancing rhythms, discovering the
precise word for every shade of meaning, with an extraordinary, an
almost superhuman, persistence. And in the treatment of his matter his
conscientiousness was equally great. He prepared for his historical
novels by profound researches in the original authorities of the period,
and by personal visits to the localities he intended to describe. When
he treated of modern life he was no less scrupulously exact. One of his
scenes was to pass in a cabbage-garden by moonlight. But what did a
cabbage-garden by moonlight really look like? Flaubert waited long for
a propitious night, and then went out, notebook in hand, to take down
the precise details of what he saw. Thus it was that his books were
written very slowly, and his production comparatively small. He spent
six years over the first and most famous of his works--_Madame Bovary_;
and he devoted no less than thirteen to his encyclopedic _Bouvard et
Pécuchet_, which was still unfinished when he died.

The most abiding impression produced by the novels of Flaubert is that
of solidity. This is particularly the case with his historical books.
The bric-à-brac and fustian of the Romantics has disappeared, to be
replaced by a clear, detailed, profound presentment of the life of the
past. In _Salammbô_, ancient Carthage rises up before us, no crazy
vision of a picturesque and disordered imagination, but in all the
solidity of truth; coloured, not with the glaring contrasts of rhetoric,
but with the real blaze of an eastern sun; strange, not with an imported
fantastic strangeness manufactured in nineteenth-century Paris, but with
the strangeness--so much more mysterious and significant--of the actual,
barbaric Past.

The same characteristics appear in Flaubert's modern novels. _Madame
Bovary_ gives us a picture of life in a French provincial town in the
middle of the last century--a picture which, with its unemphatic tones,
its strong, sensitive, and accurate drawing, its masterly design,
produces an effect of absolutely convincing veracity. The character and
the fate of the wretched woman who forms the central figure of the story
come upon us, amid the grim tepidity of their surroundings, with
extraordinary force. Flaubert's genius does not act in sudden flashes,
but by the method of gradual accumulation. The effects which it
produces are not of the kind that overwhelm and astonish, but of the
more subtle sort that creep into the mind by means of a thousand
details, an infinitude of elaborated fibres, and which, once there, are
there for ever.

The solidity of Flaubert's work, however, was not unaccompanied with
drawbacks. His writing lacks fire; there is often a sense of effort in
it; and, as one reads his careful, faultless, sculpturesque sentences,
it is difficult not to long, at times, for some of the irregular
vitality of Balzac. Singularly enough, Flaubert's correspondence--one of
the most interesting collections of letters in the language--shows that,
so far as his personal character was concerned, irregular vitality was
precisely one of his dominating qualities. But in his fiction he
suppressed this side of himself in the interests, as he believed, of
art. It was his theory that a complete detachment was a necessary
condition for all great writing; and he did his best to put this theory
into practice. But there was one respect in which he did not succeed in
his endeavour. His hatred and scorn of the mass of humanity, his
conception of them as a stupid, ignorant, and vulgar herd, appears
throughout his work, and in his unfinished _Bouvard et Pécuchet_ reaches
almost to the proportion of a monomania. The book is an infinitely
elaborate and an infinitely bitter attack on the ordinary man. There is
something tragic in the spectacle of this lonely, noble, and potent
genius wearing out his life at last over such a task--in a mingled agony
of unconscious frenzied self-expression and deliberate misguided
self-immolation.

In poetry, the reaction against Romanticism had begun with the _Émaux et
Camées_ of THÉOPHILE GAUTIER--himself in his youth one of the leaders
of the Romantic School; and it was carried further in the work of a
group of writers known as the _Parnassiens_--the most important of whom
were LECONTE DE LISLE, SULLY PRUDHOMME, and HEREDIA. Their poetry bears
the same relation to that of Musset as the history of Renan bears to
that of Michelet, and the prose of Flaubert to that of Hugo. It is
restrained, impersonal, and polished to the highest degree. The bulk of
it is not great; but not a line of it is weak or faulty; and it
possesses a firm and plastic beauty, well expressed by the title of
Gautier's volume, and the principles of which are at once explained and
exemplified in his famous poem beginning--

    Oui, l'oeuvre sort plus belle
    D'une forme au travail
      Rebelle,
    --Vers, marbre, onyx, émail.

The _Parnassiens_ particularly devoted themselves to classical subjects,
and to descriptions of tropical scenes. Their rich, sonorous,
splendidly-moulded language invests their visions with a noble fixity,
an impressive force. Among the gorgeous descriptive pieces of Leconte de
Lisle, the exquisite lyrics of Sully Prudhomme, and the chiselled
sonnets of Heredia some of the finest and weightiest verse of the
century is to be found.

The age produced one other poet who, however, by the spirit of his work,
belongs rather to the succeeding epoch than to his own. This was
BAUDELAIRE, whose small volume--_Les Fleurs du Mal_--gives him a unique
place among the masters of the poetic art. In his form, indeed, he is
closely related to his contemporaries. His writing has all the care, the
balance, the conscientious polish of the _Parnassiens_; it is in his
matter that he differs from them completely. He was not interested in
classical imaginations and impersonal descriptions; he was concerned
almost entirely with the modern life of Paris and the actual experiences
of a disillusioned soul. As intensely personal as the _Parnassiens_ were
detached, he poured into his verse all the gloom of his own character,
all the bitterness of his own philosophy, all the agony of his own
despair. Some poets--such as Keats and Chénier--in spite of the
misfortunes of their lives, seem to distil nothing but happiness and the
purest beauty into their poetry; they only come to their true selves
amid the sunlight and the flowers. Other writers--such as Swift and
Tacitus--rule supreme over the kingdom of darkness and horror, and their
finest pages are written in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Writers
of this kind are very rarely poets; and it is Baudelaire's great
distinction that he was able to combine the hideous and devastating
conceptions of complete pessimism with the passion, the imagination, and
the formal beauty that only live in magnificent verse. He is the Swift
of poetry. His vision is black and terrible. Some of his descriptions
are even more disgusting than those of Swift, and most of his pages are
no fit reading for the young and ignorant. But the wise reader will find
in this lurid poetry elements of profundity and power which are rare
indeed. Above all, he will find in it a quality not common in French
poetry--a passionate imagination which clothes the thought with
splendour, and lifts the strange words of this unhappy mortal into the
deathless regions of the sublime.




CONCLUSION


With the death of Flaubert in 1880, French literature entered upon a new
phase--a phase which, in its essential qualities, has lasted till
to-day, and which forms a suitable point for the conclusion of the
present sketch.

This last phase has been dominated by two men of genius. In prose,
MAUPASSANT carried on the work of Flaubert with a sharper manner and
more vivid style, though with a narrower range. He abandoned the exotic
and the historical visions of his predecessor, and devoted himself
entirely, in his brilliant novels and yet more brilliant short stories,
to an almost fiendishly realistic treatment of modern life. A precisely
contrary tendency marks the poetry of VERLAINE. While Maupassant
completely disengaged prose from every alien element of poetry and
imagination, pushing it as far as it could go in the direction of
incisive realism, Verlaine and his fellow-workers in verse attempted to
make poetry more truly poetical than it had ever been before, to
introduce into it the vagueness and dreaminess of individual moods and
spiritual fluctuations, to turn it away from definite fact and bring it
near to music.

It was with Verlaine and his successors that French verse completely
broke away from the control of those classical rules, the infallibility
of which had been first attacked by the Romantics. In order to express
the delicate, shifting, and indecisive feelings which he loved so well,
Verlaine abolished the last shreds of rhythmical regularity, making his
verse a perfectly fluid substance, which he could pour at will into the
subtle mould of his feeling and his thought. The result justified the
means. Verlaine's poetry exhales an exquisite perfume--strange,
indistinct, and yet, after the manner of perfume, unforgettable.
Listening to his enchanting, poignant music, we hear the trembling voice
of a soul. This last sad singer carries us back across the ages, and,
mingling his sweet strain with the distant melancholy of Villon,
symbolizes for us at once the living flower and the unchanging root of
the great literature of France.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have now traced the main outlines of that literature from its dim
beginnings in the Dark Ages up to the threshold of the present time.
Looking back over the long line of writers, the first impression that
must strike us is one of extraordinary wealth. France, it is true, has
given to the world no genius of the colossal stature and universal power
of Shakespeare. But, then, where is the equal of Shakespeare to be
found? Not even in the glorious literature of Greece herself. Putting
out of account such an immeasurable magnitude, the number of writers of
the first rank produced by France can be paralleled in only one other
modern literature--that of England. The record is, indeed, a splendid
one which contains, in poetry and drama, the names of Villon, Ronsard,
Corneille, Molière, Racine, La Fontaine, Chénier, Lamartine, Hugo,
Vigny, Gautier, Baudelaire, Verlaine; and in prose those of Froissart,
Rabelais, Montaigne, Pascal, Bossuet, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère,
Montesquieu, Saint-Simon, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Chateaubriand,
Balzac, Flaubert, and Maupassant. And, besides this great richness and
variety, another consideration gives a peculiar value to the literature
of France. More than that of any other nation in Europe, it is
distinctive and individual; if it had never existed, the literature of
the world would have been bereft of certain qualities of the highest
worth which France alone has been able to produce. Where else could we
find the realism which would replace that of Stendhal and Balzac,
Flaubert and Maupassant? Where else should we look for the brilliant
lucidity and consummate point which Voltaire has given us? Or the force
and the precision that glow in Pascal? Or the passionate purity that
blazes in Racine?

Finally, if we would seek for the essential spirit of French literature,
where shall we discover it? In its devotion to truth? In its love of
rhetoric? In its clarity? In its generalizing power? All these qualities
are peculiarly its own, but, beyond and above them, there is another
which controls and animates the rest. The one high principle which,
through so many generations, has guided like a star the writers of
France is the principle of deliberation, of intention, of a conscious
search for ordered beauty; an unwavering, an indomitable pursuit of the
endless glories of art.




CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF AUTHORS AND THEIR PRINCIPAL WORKS

I. _Middle Ages_

CHANSONS DE GESTE, eleventh to thirteenth centuries.
  _Chanson de Roland, circa_ 1080.

ROMANS BRETONS, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES, wrote _circa_ 1170-80.

FABLIAUX, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
  _Roman de Renard_, thirteenth century.
  _Aucassin et Nicolete, circa_ thirteenth century.

VILLEHARDOUIN, _d_. 1213.
  _Conquête de Constantinople_, 1205-13.

GUILLAUME DE LORRIS (?).
  _La Roman de la Rose_ (first part), _circa_ 1237.

JEAN DE MEUNG, _d_. 1305.
  _La Roman de la Rose_ (second part), 1277.

JOINVILLE, 1224-1319.
  _Vie de Saint Louis_, 1309.

FROISSART, 1337-_circa_ 1410.
  _Chroniques_, 1373-1400.

VILLON, 1431-(?).
  _Grand Testament_, 1461.

COMMYNES, 1445-1509.
  _Mémoires_, 1488-98.


II. _Renaissance_

MAROT, 1496-1544.

RABELAIS, _circa_ 1494-1553.

RONSARD, 1524-85.

DU BELLAY, 1522-60.
  _Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française_, 1549.

JODELLE, 1532-73.
  _Cléopâtre_, 1552.

MONTAIGNE, 1533-92.
  _Essays_, 1580-88.


III. _Age of Transition_

MALHERBE, 1555-1628.
  _Odes_, 1607-28.

HARDY, 1570-1631 (_circa_).
  _Tragedies_, 1593-1630.

ACADEMY, founded 1629.

CORNEILLE, 1606-84.
  _Le Cid_, 1636.
  _Les Horaces_, 1640.
  _Cinna_, 1640.
  _Polyeucte_, 1643.

PASCAL, 1623-62.
  _Lettres Provinciales_, 1656-57.
  _Pensées_, first edition 1670, first complete edition 1844.


IV. _Age of Louis XIV_

MOLIÈRE, 1622-73.
  _Les Précieuses Ridicules_, 1659.
  _L'École des Femmes_, 1662.
  _Tartufe_, 1664.
  _Le Misanthrope_, 1666.
  _Le Malade Imaginaire_, 1673.

LA ROCHEFOUCAULD, 1613-80.
  _Maximes_, 1665.

BOILEAU, 1636-1711.
  _Satires_, 1666.
  _Art Poétique_, 1674.

RACINE, 1639-99.
  _Andromaque_, 1667.
  _Phèdre_, 1677.
  _Athalie_, 1691.

LA FONTAINE, 1621-95.
  _Fables_, 1668-92.

BOSSUET, 1627-1704.
  _Oraisons Funèbres_, 1669-87.
  _Histoire Universelle_, 1681.

MADAME DE SÉVIGNÉ, 1626-96.
  _Letters_, 1671-96.

MADAME DE LAFAYETTE, 1634-93.
  _La Princesse de Clèves_, 1678.

LA BRUYÈRE, 1645-96.
  _Les Caractères_, 1688-94.


V. _Eighteenth Century_

FONTENELLE, 1657-1757.
  _Histoire des Oracles_, 1687.

BAYLE, 1647-1706.
  _Dictionnaire Historique et Critique_, 1697.

FÉNELON, 1651-1715.
  _Télémaque_, 1699.

MONTESQUIEU, 1689-1755.
  _Lettres Persanes_, 1721.
  _L'Esprit des Lois_, 1748.

VOLTAIRE (1694-1778).
  _La Henriade_, 1723.
  _Zaïre_, 1732.
  _Lettres Philosophiques_, 1734.
  _Essai sur les Moeurs_, 1751-56.
  _Candide_, 1759.
  _Dictionnaire Philosophique_, 1764.
  _Dialogues_, etc., 1755-78.

LE SAGE, 1668-1747.
  _Gil Blas_, 1715-35.

MARIVAUX, 1688-1763.
  _Vie de Marianne_, 1731-41.
  _Les Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard_, 1734.

SAINT-SIMON, 1675-1755.
  _Mémoires_, begun 1740, first edition 1830.

DIDEROT, 1713-84.
  _Encyclopédie_, 1751-80.
  _La Religieuse_, first edition 1796.
  _Le Neveu de Rameau_, first edition 1823.

ROUSSEAU, 1712-78.
  _La Nouvelle Héloïse_, 1761.
  _Contrat Social_, 1762.
  _Confessions_, first edition 1781-88.

BEAUMARCHAIS, 1732-99.
  _Le Mariage de Figaro_, 1784.

CONDORCET, 1743-94.
  _Progrès de l'Esprit Humain_, 1794.

CHÉNIER, 1762-94.
  _Poems_, 1790-94, first edition 1819.


VI. _Nineteenth Century_--I

CHATEAUBRIAND, 1768-1848.
  _Atala_, 1801.
  _Génie du Christianisme_, 1802.
  _Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe_, published 1849.

LAMARTINE, 1790-1869.
  _Méditations_, 1820.

HUGO, 1802-85.
  _Hernani_, 1830.
  _Les Feuilles d'Automne_, 1831.
  _Notre-Dame de Paris_, 1831.
  _Les Châtiments_, 1852.
  _Les Contemplations_, 1856.
  _La Légende des Siècles_, 1859.
  _Les Misérables_, 1862.

VIGNY, 1797-1863.
  _Poemes Antiques et Modernes_, 1826.
  _Servitude et Grandeur Militaires_, 1835.

MUSSET, 1810-57.
  _Caprices de Marianne_, 1833.
  _Lorenzaccio_, 1834.
  _Les Nuits_, 1835-40.

GEORGE SAND, 1804-76.
  _Indiana_, 1832.
  _François le Champi_, 1850.

STENDHAL, 1783-1842.
  _Le Rouge et le Noir_, 1831.

BALZAC, 1799-1850.
  _La Comédie Humaine_, 1829-50.

MICHELET, 1798-1874.
  _History_, 1833-67.


VII. _Nineteenth Century_--II

SAINTE-BEUVE, 1804-69.
  _Lundis_, 1850-69.

RENAN, 1833-92.
  _Vie de Jésus_, 1863.

TAINE, 1828-93.

FLAUBERT, 1821-80.
  _Madame Bovary_, 1857.
  _Salammbô_, 1862.

GAUTIER, 1811-72.
  _Émaux et Camées_, 1852.

BAUDELAIRE, 1821-67.
  _Les Fleurs du Mal_, 1857.

LECONTE DE LISLE, 1818-94.
  _Poems_, 1853-84.

SULLY PRUDHOMME, 1839-1907.
  _Poems_, 1865-88.

HEREDIA, 1842-1905.
  _Les Trophées_, 1893.

MAUPASSANT, 1850-93.

VERLAINE, 1844-96.




BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

The number of works dealing with the history and criticism of French
literature is very large indeed. The following are the most useful
reviews of the whole subject:--

PETIT DE JULLEVILLE. _Histoire de la Langue et de la Littérature
française_ (8 vols.).

LANSON. _Histoire de la Littérature française_ (1 vol.).

BRUNETIÈRE. _Manuel de l'histoire de la Littérature française_ (1 vol.).

DOWDEN. _History of French Literature_ (1 vol.).

An excellent series of biographies of the principal authors, by the
leading modern critics, is that of _Les Grands Écrivains Français_
(published by Hachette).

The critical essays of Sainte-Beuve are particularly valuable. They are
contained in his _Causeries du Lundi, Premiers Lundis, Nouveaux Lundis,
Portraits de Femmes, Portraits Littéraires_, and _Portraits
Contemporains_.

Some interesting criticisms of modern writers are to be found in _La Vie
Littéraire_, by Anatole France.

Editions of the principal authors are very numerous. The monumental
series of _Les Grands Écrivains de la France_ (Hachette) contains
complete texts of most of the great writers, with elaborate and
scholarly commentaries of the highest value. Cheaper editions of the
masterpieces of the language are published by Hachette, La Bibliothèque
Nationale, Jean Gillequin, Nelson, Dent, Gowans & Gray.

There are also numerous lyrical anthologies, of which two of the best
are _Les Chefs-d'oeuvre de la Poésie lyrique française_ (Gowans & Gray)
and _The Oxford Book of French Verse_ (Clarendon Press). But it must be
remembered that the greater part of what is most characteristic in
French literature appears in its poetic drama and its prose, and is
therefore necessarily excluded from such collections.




INDEX

Academy, the French, 34-36
Aesop, 80
Aristotle, 67
Arnold, Matthew, 64
_Aucassin et Nicolete_, 11-12, 13
Austen, Jane, 161

Balzac, Honoré de (1799-1850), 160-164, 166, 168, 171, 175, 176
  _La Comédie Humaine_, 161-164
Baudelaire, Charles (1821-67), 172-173, 175
  _Les Fleurs du Mal_, 172
Bayle, Pierre (1647-1706)
  _Dictionnaire Historique et Critique_, 96
Beaumarchais, De [_pseud. of_ Pierre Auguste Caron] (1732-99), 140-141
  _Le Mariage de Figaro_, 140-141
Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), 130
Boileau, Nicolas (1636-1711), 53-55, 143, 167
  _Art Poétique_, 53
  _À son Esprit_, 54
Bolingbroke, 102
Bossuet, Jacques Benigne (1627-1704), 85-86, 122, 129, 144, 175
  _Elévations sur les Mystères_, 86
  _Histoire Universelle_, 85, 122
  _Méditations sur l'Evangile_, 86
  _Oraisons Funèbres_, 86
Bourgogne, Duc de, 95
Browne, Sir Thomas, 35
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de (1707-88), 118
Byron, 35, 137, 146, 156

Calas, Jean (1698-1762), 126
Catherine of Russia, 115
Cervantes, 56
_Chanson de Roland_, 8, 12
_Chansons de Geste_, 8, 9
Chapelain, Jean (1595-1674), 55
Chateaubriand, François René, Vicomte de (1768-1848), 145-146, 148, 175
  _Génie du Christianisme_, 145
  _Martyrs_, 145
  _Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe_, 146
Chénier, André (1762-94), 142-143, 173, 175
  _Églogues_, 143
Chrétien de Troyes (12th century), 14
Columbus, 111
Commynes, Philippe de (1445-1509), 17-18
  _Mémoires_, 17
Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de Mably de (1715-80), 118
Condorcet, Marquis de (1743-94), 114, 118
  _Progrès de l'Esprit Humain_, 115
Congreve, 35
Constant, Benjamin (1845-1902), 158
  _Adolphe_, 158
Copernicus, 44, 111
Corneille, Pierre (1606-84), 36-41, 48, 55, 77, 144, 175
  _Le Cid_, 36, 37, 39
  _Cinna_, 39
  _Les Horaces_, 39
  _Polyeucte_, 39
Cotin, l'Abbé (1604-82), 55

Dalembert, Jean le Rond (1717-83), 118
Dante, 8, 56, 101
Diderot, Denis (1713-84), 35, 116, 118, 131, 136, 139, 145, 158, 175
  _Le Neveu de Rameau_, 116-117
  _La Religieuse_, 158
Dryden, 64
Du Bellay, Joachim (1522-60), 22
  _Les Antiquités de Rome_, 24
  _La Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française_, 22
Du Châtelet, Mme., 119-120
Du Deffand, Mme. (1697-1780), 99
Dumas, Alexandra (1824-95), 148

_Encyclopédie_, 115-116

_Fabliaux_, 10, 144
Fénelon, François (1651-1715), 95, 110
  _Télémaque_, 95
Flaubert, Gustave (1821-80), 35, 168-171, 172, 174, 175, 176
  _Bouvard et Pécuchet_, 170
  _Madame Bovary_, 170
  _Salammbô_, 170
Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovyer de (1657-1757), 95-96
  _Histoire des Oracles_, 96
Francis I, 21
Frederick the Great, 115, 120
Froissart, Jean (_c._ 1337-_c_. 1410), 16-17, 41, 175
  _Chroniques_, 16-17

Gautier, Théophile, (1811-72), 148, 171-172, 175
  _Émaux et Camées_, 171-172
Gray, Thomas, 35

Hardy, Alexandra (_c._ 1570-_c_. 1631), 36, 37
Helvétius, Claude Adrien (1715-71), 118
Heredia, José-Maria de (1842-1905), 172
Holbach, Baron d' (1723-89), 118
Homer, 101
Hugo, Victor (1802-85), 37, 148, 149-155, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164,
     172, 175
  _Les Châtiments_, 155
  _Les Contemplations_, 155
  _Les Feuilles d'Automne_, 155
  _Hernani_, 149, 152
  _La Légende des Siècles_, 155
  _Les Misérables_, 159, 161
  _Les Rayons et Les Ombres_, 155
Hume, David, 139

James, Henry, 161
Jodelle, Étienne (1532-73), 36, 37
  _Cléopâtre_, 36
Johnson, Samuel, 167
Joinville, Jean, Sire de (1224-1319), 13-14, 41
  _Vie de Saint Louis_, 13-14

Keats, John, 143, 173

Labé, Louise (_c._ 1520-66), 24
La Bruyère, Jean de (1645-96), 87, 88-92, 106-107, 144, 175
  _Les Caractères_, 89-91
Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de (1741-1803), 158
  _Liaisons Dangereuses_, 158
Lafayette, Mme. de (1634-93), 157, 158
  _La Princess de Clèves_, 157, 158
La Fontaine, Jean de (1621-95), 11, 53, 79-84, 87, 143, 144, 175
Lamartine, Alphonse (1790-1869), 147, 148, 175
  _Le Lac_, 147
La Rochefoucauld, Duc de (1613-80), 87-88, 175
Leconte de Lisle, Charles Marie (1818-94), 172
Le Sage, Alain-René (1668-1747), 158
  _Gil Blas_, 158
Locke, John, 102
Lorris, Guillaume de (_fl._ 13th century), 14-15
  _La Roman de la Rose_, 14-15
Louis IX, 13-14
Louis XI, 17
Louis XIII, 32
Louis XIV, 31, 33, 41, 45-93, 94-95, 97, 105, 106, 168
Louis XV, 110
Luther, Martin, 111

Machiavelli, 17
Malherbe, François de (1555-1628), 32-34, 38, 41, 149
Marivaux, Pierre (1688-1763), 103-105, 157, 158
  _Les Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard_, 104
  _Vie de Marianne_, 158
Marlowe, Christopher, 37
Marmontel, Jean François (1723-99), 118
Marot, Clément (1496-1544), 21-22
Maupassant, Guy de (1850-93), 174, 175, 176
Meung, Jean de (_c._ 1250-1305), 14-15, 25
  _La Roman de la Rose_, 15
Michelet, Jules (1798-1874), 166-167, 172
Milton, 62, 101, 153
Molière [_pseud. of_ Jean-Baptiste Poquelin] (1622-73), 35, 53,
     55-64, 77, 84, 93, 175
  _Don Juan_, 61, 62
  _L'École des Femmes_, 57
  _Les Femmes Savantes_, 61
  _Le Malade Imaginaire_, 58
  _Le Misanthrope_, 59, 61, 63
  _Les Précieuses Ridicules_, 57, 62
  _Tartufe_, 60, 62
Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de (1533-92), 27-30, 31, 41, 175
  _Apologie de Raimond Sebond_, 28
Montesquieu, Baron de (1689-1755), 96-100, 103, 110, 122, 175
  _Considérations sur la Grandeur et la Décadence des Romains_, 98
  _L'Esprit des Lois_, 98-99, 113
  _Lettres Persanes_, 96-98, 100
Musset, Alfred de (1810-57), 148, 155, 156-157, 172
  _Lorenzaccio_, 157
  _Les Nuits_, 157

_Parnassiens, Les_, 172, 173
Pascal, Blaise (1623-62), 41-44, 129, 144, 175, 176
  _Lettres Provinciales_, 41-42, 43, 129
  _Pensées_, 43-44
_Philosophes, Les_, 111-115, 118, 133, 134
_Pléiade, La_, 22-24, 31, 32
Pombal, 115
Pope, Alexander, 135
Pradon, Nicolas (1632-98), 55
_Précieux, Les_, 33-34, 41, 55
Prévost, l'Abbé (1697-1763), 157-158
  _Manon Lescaut_, 157-158, 159

Rabelais, François (_c._ 1494-_c._ 1553), 24-27, 28, 31, 117, 175
Racine, Jean (1639-99), 37, 48, 53, 55, 56, 64-79, 85, 87, 93, 100,
  103, 143, 144, 150, 175, 176
  _Andromaque_, 76
  _Bajazet_, 77
  _Bérénice_, 68, 70-71
  _Britannicus_, 77
  _Phèdre_, 77-79
  _Les Plaideurs_, 77
Renan, Ernest (1823-92), 167, 172
Richelieu, Cardinal de (1585-1642), 32, 36
_Romans Bretons_, 9, 10
_Roman de Renard_, 10
_Roman de la Rose_, 14-16
Ronsard, Pierre de (1524-85), 22, 23-34, 175
  _La Françiade_, 23
  _Odes_, 23
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712-78), 112, 131-139, 145, 146, 158, 159, 175
  _Confessions_, 133, 137-138
  _Le Contrat Social_, 132
  _La Nouvelle Héloïse_, 132, 158

Sainte-Beuve, Charles-Augustin (1804-69), 167-168
  _Causeries du Lundi_, 168
  _Port-Royal_, 168
Saint-Simon, Duc de (1675-1755), 105-110, 136, 153, 175
  _Mémoires_, 105-110, 136
Sand, George [_pseud. of_ Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin] (1804-76),
  159, 168
  _François le Champi_, 168
  _La Mare au Diable_, 168
  _La Petite Fadette_, 168
Scott, Sir Walter, 35
Scudéry, Madeleine de (1607-1701), 157
Sévigné, Mme. de (1626-96), 48
Shakespeare, 35, 56, 60, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 73, 102, 152,
  153, 157, 175
Sirven (1709-64), 126
Sophocles, 78
Stendhal [_pseud, of_ Marie-Henri Beyle] (1783-1842), 160, 176
  _La Chartreuse de Parme_, 160
  _Le Rouge et Le Noir_, 160
Sully Prudhomme, René François Armand (1839-1907), 172
Swift, Jonathan, 173

Tacitus, 173
Taine, Henri (1828-93), 167
Theocritus, 143
Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques (1727-81), 112, 118

Verlaine, Paul (1844-96), 174-175
Versailles, 45-47, 106
Vigny, Alfred de (1797-1863), 148, 155-156, 175
  _Colère de Samson_, 156
  _Maison du Berger_, 156
  _Moïse_, 156
  _Monts des Oliviers_, 156
  _La Mort du Loup_, 156
  _Servitude et Grandeur Militaires_, 156
Villehardouin, Geoffroi de (_c._ 1160-1213), 13, 14
  _La Conquête de Constantinople_, 12-13
Villon, François (1431-1463 or after), 18-19, 20, 24, 175
  _Grand Testament_, 18
  _Petit Testament_, 18
Virgil, 8, 101
Voltaire, François Marie Arouet de (1694-1778), 35, 100-103, 105,
  110, 119-131, 135, 136, 139, 140, 144, 145, 152, 175, 176
  _Alzire_, 119, 152
  _Candide_, 127-128
  Correspondence, 129
  _Diatribe du Docteur Akakia_, 120
  _Dictionnaire Philosophique_, 123, 130
  _Le Dîner du Comte de Boulainvilliers_, 123
  _Essai sur les Moeurs_, 121-122
  _Frère Rigolet et l'Empereur de la Chine_, 123
  _La Henriade_, 101
  _Lettres Philosophiques_, 102, 119
  _Life of Charles XII_, 101
  _Mahomet_, 119
  _Mérope_, 119
  _Zaïre_, 119, 152

Watteau, Antoine, 104
Wordsworth, William, 74





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