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Title: Classic French Course in English
Author: Wilkinson, William Cleaver
Language: English
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_The required books of the C. L. S. C. are recommended by a Council of
six. It must, however, be understood that recommendation does not
involve an approval by the Council, or by any member of it, of every
principle or doctrine contained in the book recommended._



The preparation of the present volume proposed to the author a task more
difficult far than that undertaken in any one of the four preceding
volumes of the group, THE AFTER-SCHOOL SERIES, to which it belongs.
Those volumes dealt with literatures limited and finished: this volume
deals with a literature indefinitely vast in extent, and still in vital
process of growth. The selection of material to be used was, in the case
of the earlier volumes, virtually made for the author beforehand, in a
manner greatly to ease his sense of responsibility for the exercise of
individual judgment and taste. Long prescription, joined to the
winnowing effect of wear and waste through time and chance, had left
little doubt what works of what writers, Greek and Roman, best deserved
now to be shown to the general reader. Besides this, the prevalent
custom of the schools of classical learning could then wisely be taken
as a clew of guidance to be implicitly followed, whatever might be the
path through which it should lead. There is here no similar avoidance of
responsibility possible; for the schools have not established a custom,
and French literature is a living body, from which no important members
have ever yet been rent by the ravages of time.

The greater difficulty seen thus to inhere already in the nature itself
of the task proposed for accomplishment, was gravely increased by the
much more severe compression deemed to be in the present instance
desirable. The room placed at the author's disposal for a display of
French literature was less than half the room allowed him for the
display of either the Greek or the Latin.

The plan, therefore, of this volume, imposed the necessity of
establishing from the outset certain limits, to be very strictly
observed. First, it was resolved to restrict the attention bestowed upon
the national history, the national geography, and the national language,
of the French, to such brief occasional notices as, in the course of the
volume, it might seem necessary, for illustration of the particular
author, from time to time to make. The only introductory general matter
here to be found will accordingly consist of a rapid and summary review
of that literature, as a whole, which is the subject of the book. It was
next determined to limit the authors selected for representation to
those of the finished centuries. A third decision was to make the number
of authors small rather than large, choice rather than inclusive. The
principle at this point adopted, was to choose those authors only whose
merit, or whose fame, or whose influence, might be supposed
unquestionably such that their names and their works would certainly be
found surviving, though the language in which they wrote should, like
its parent Latin, have perished from the tongues of men. The proportion
of space severally allotted to the different authors was to be measured
partly according to their relative importance, and partly according to
their estimated relative capacity of interesting in translation the
average intelligent reader of to-day.

In one word, the single inspiring aim of the author has here been to
furnish enlightened readers, versed only in the English language, the
means of acquiring, through the medium of their vernacular, some
proportioned, trustworthy, and effective knowledge and appreciation, in
its chief classics, of the great literature which has been written in
French. This object has been sought, not through narrative and
description, making books and authors the subject, but through the
literature itself, in specimen extracts illuminated by the necessary
explanation and criticism.

It is proposed to follow the present volume with a volume similar in
general character, devoted to German literature.


FRENCH LITERATURE                                             1


FROISSART                                                    18


RABELAIS                                                     28


MONTAIGNE                                                    44




LA FONTAINE                                                  81


MOLIÈRE                                                      92


PASCAL                                                      115


MADAME DE SÉVIGNÉ                                           134


CORNEILLE                                                   151


RACINE                                                      166


BOSSUET, BOURDALOUE, MASSILLON                              182


FÉNELON                                                     205


MONTESQUIEU                                                 225


VOLTAIRE                                                    238


ROUSSEAU                                                    255


THE ENCYCLOPÆDISTS                                          282


EPILOGUE                                                    288

INDEX                                                       293




Of French literature, taken as a whole, it may boldly be said that it
is, not the wisest, not the weightiest, not certainly the purest and
loftiest, but by odds the most brilliant and the most interesting,
literature in the world. Strong at many points, at some points
triumphantly strong, it is conspicuously weak at only one point,--the
important point of poetry. In eloquence, in philosophy, even in
theology; in history, in fiction, in criticism, in epistolary writing,
in what may be called the pamphlet; in another species of composition,
characteristically, peculiarly, almost uniquely, French,--the Thought
and the Maxim; by eminence in comedy, and in all those related modes of
written expression for which there is scarcely any name but a French
name,--the _jeu d'esprit_, the _bon mot_, _persiflage_, the _phrase_; in
social and political speculation; last, but not least, in scientific
exposition elegant enough in form and in style to rise to the rank of
literature proper,--the French language has abundant achievement to
show, that puts it, upon the whole, hardly second in wealth of letters
to any other language whatever, either ancient or modern.

What constitutes the charm--partly a perilous charm--of French
literature is, before all else, its incomparable clearness, its
precision, its neatness, its point; then, added to this, its lightness
of touch, its sureness of aim; its vivacity, sparkle, life; its
inexhaustible gayety; its impulsion toward wit,--impulsion so strong as
often to land it in mockery; the sense of release that it breathes and
inspires; its freedom from prick to the conscience; its exquisite study
and choice of effect; its deference paid to decorum,--decorum, we mean,
in taste, as distinguished from morals; its infinite patience and labor
of art, achieving the perfection of grace and of ease,--in one word, its

We speak, of course, broadly and in the gross. There are plenty of
French authors to whom some of the traits just named could by no means
be attributed, and there is certainly not a single French author to whom
one could truthfully attribute them all. Voltaire insisted that what was
not clear was not French,--so much, to the conception of this typical
Frenchman, was clearness the genius of the national speech. Still,
Montaigne, for example, was sometimes obscure; and even the tragedist
Corneille wrote here and there what his commentator, Voltaire, declared
to be hardly intelligible. So, too, Rabelais, coarsest of humorists,
offending decorum in various ways, offended it most of all exactly in
that article of taste, as distinguished from morals, which, with
first-rate French authors in general, is so capital a point of regard.
On the other hand, Pascal,--not to mention the moralists by profession,
such as Nicole, and the preachers Bourdaloue and Massillon,--Pascal,
quivering himself, like a soul unclad, with sense of responsibility to
God, constantly probes you, reading him, to the inmost quick of your
conscience. Rousseau, notably in the "Confessions," and in the Reveries
supplementary to the "Confessions;" Chateaubriand, echoing Rousseau; and
that wayward woman of genius, George Sand, disciple she to both,--were
so far from being always light-heartedly gay, that not seldom they
spread over their page a sombre atmosphere almost of gloom,--gloom
flushed pensively, as with a clouded "setting sun's pathetic light." In
short, when you speak of particular authors, and naturally still more
when you speak of particular works, there are many discriminations to be
made. Such exceptions, however, being duly allowed, the literary product
of the French mind, considered in the aggregate, will not be
misconceived if regarded as possessing the general characteristics in
style that we have now sought briefly to indicate.

French literature, we have hinted, is comparatively poor in poetry. This
is due in part, no doubt, to the genius of the people; but it is also
due in part to the structure of the language. The language, which is
derived chiefly from Latin, is thence in such a way derived as to have
lost the regularity and stateliness of its ancient original, without
having compensated itself with any richness and sweetness of sound
peculiarly its own; like, for instance, that canorous vowel quality of
its sister derivative, the Italian. The French language, in short, is
far from being an ideal language for the poet.

In spite, however, of this fact, disputed by nobody, it is true of
French literature, as it is true of almost any national literature, that
it took its rise in verse instead of in prose. Anciently, there were two
languages subsisting together in France, which came to be distinguished
from each other in name by the word of affirmation--_oc_ or _oïl_,
yes--severally peculiar to them, and thus to be known respectively as
_langue d'oc_, and _langue d'oïl_. The future belonged to the latter of
the two forms of speech,--the one spoken in the northern part of the
country. This, the _langue d'oïl_, became at length the French language.
But the _langue d'oc_, a soft and musical tongue, survived long enough
to become the vehicle of lyric strains, mostly on subjects of love and
gallantry, still familiar in mention, and famous as the songs of the
troubadours. The flourishing time of the troubadours was in the eleventh
and twelfth centuries. Provençal is an alternative name of the language.

Side by side with the southern _troubadours_, or a little later than
they, the _trouvères_ of the north sang, with more manly ambition, of
national themes, and, like Virgil, of arms and of heroes. Some
productions of the _trouvères_ may fairly be allowed an elevation of aim
and of treatment entitling them to be called epic in character.
_Chansons de geste_ (songs of exploit), or _romans_, is the native name
by which those primitive French poems are known. They exist in three
principal cycles, or groups, of productions,--one cycle composed of
those pertaining to Charlemagne; one, of those pertaining to British
Arthur; and a third, of those pertaining to ancient Greece and Rome,
notably to Alexander the Great. The cycle revolving around the majestic
legend of Charlemagne for its centre was Teutonic, rather than Celtic,
in spirit as well as in theme. It tended to the religious in tone. The
Arthurian cycle was properly Celtic. It dealt more with adventures of
love. The Alexandrian cycle, so named from one principal theme
celebrated,--namely, the deeds of Alexander the Great,--mixed
fantastically the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome with the then
prevailing ideas of chivalry, and with the figments of fairy lore. (The
metrical form employed in these poems gave its name to the Alexandrine
line later so predominant in French poetry.) The volume of this
quasi-epical verse, existing in its three groups, or cycles, is immense.
So is that of the satire and the allegory in metre that followed. From
this latter store of stock and example, Chaucer drew to supply his muse
with material. The _fabliaux_, so called,--fables, that is, or
stories,--were still another form of early French literature in verse.
It is only now, within the current decade of years, that a really ample
collection of _fabliaux_--hitherto, with the exception of a few printed
volumes of specimens, extant exclusively in manuscript--has been put
into course of publication. Rutebeuf, a _trouvère_ of the reign of St.
Louis (Louis IX., thirteenth century), is perhaps as conspicuous a
personal name as any that thus far emerges out of the sea of practically
anonymous early French authorship. A frankly sordid and mercenary
singer, Rutebeuf, always tending to mockery, was not seldom
licentious,--in both these respects anticipating, as probably also to
some extent by example conforming, the subsequent literary spirit of his
nation. The _fabliaux_ generally mingled with their narrative interest
that spice of raillery and satire constantly so dear to the French
literary appetite. Thibaud was, in a double sense, a royal singer of
songs; for he reigned over Navarre, as well as chanted sweetly in verse
his love and longing, so the disputed legend asserts, for Queen Blanche
of Castile. Thibaud bears the historic title of The Song-maker. He has
been styled the Béranger of the thirteenth century. To Thibaud is said
to be due the introduction of the feminine rhyme into French poetry,--a
metrical variation of capital importance. The songs of Abélard, in the
century preceding Thibaud, won a wide popularity.

Prose, meantime, had been making noteworthy approaches to form.
Villehardouin must be named as first in time among French writers of
history. His work is entitled, "Conquest of Constantinople." It gives an
account of the Fourth Crusade. Joinville, a generation later, continues
the succession of chronicles with his admiring story of the life of
Saint Louis, whose personal friend he was. But Froissart of the
fourteenth century, and Comines of the fifteenth, are greater names.
Froissart, by his simplicity and his narrative art, was the Herodotus,
as Philip de Comines, for his political sagacity, has been styled the
Tacitus, of French historical literature. Up to the time of Froissart,
the literature which we have been treating as French was different
enough in form from the French of to-day to require what might be called
translation in order to become generally intelligible to the living
generation of Frenchmen. The text of Froissart is pretty archaic, but it
definitely bears the aspect of French.

With the name of Comines, who wrote of Louis XI. (compare Walter Scott's
"Quentin Durward"). we reach the fifteenth century, and are close upon
the great revival of learning which accompanied the religious
reformation under Luther and his peers. Now come Rabelais, boldly
declared by Coleridge one of the great creative minds of literature; and
Montaigne, with those Essays of his, still living, and, indeed, certain
always to live. John Calvin, meantime, writes his "Institutes of the
Christian Religion" in French as well as in Latin, showing once and for
all, that in the right hands his vernacular tongue was as capable of
gravity as many a writer before him had superfluously shown that it was
capable of levity. Amyot, the translator of Plutarch, is a French writer
of power, without whom the far greater Montaigne could hardly have been.
The influence of Amyot on French literary history is wider in reach and
longer in duration than we thus indicate; but Montaigne's indebtedness
to him is alone enough to prove that a mere translator had in this man
made a very important contribution to the forming prose literature of

"The Pleiades," so called, were a group of seven writers, who, about the
middle of the sixteenth century, banded themselves together in France,
with the express aim of supplying influential example to improve the
French language for literary purposes. Their peculiar appellation, "The
Pleiades," was copied from that of a somewhat similar group of Greek
writers, that existed in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Of course,
the implied allusion in it is to the constellation of the Pleiades. The
individual name by which the Pleiades of the sixteenth century may best
be remembered is that of Ronsard the poet, associated with the romantic
and pathetic memory of Mary, Queen of Scots. Never, perhaps, in the
history of letters was the fame of a poet in the poet's own lifetime
more universal and more splendid than was the fame of Ronsard. A high
court of literary judicature formally decreed to Ronsard the title of
The French Poet by eminence. This occurred in the youth of the poet. The
wine of success so brilliant turned the young fellow's head. He soon
began to play lord paramount of Parnassus, with every air of one born to
the purple. The kings of the earth vied with each other to do him honor.
Ronsard affected scholarship, and the foremost scholars of his time were
proud to place him with Homer and with Virgil on the roll of the poets.
Ronsard's peculiarity in style was the free use of words and
constructions not properly French. Boileau indicated whence he enriched
his vocabulary and his syntax, by satirically saying that Ronsard spoke
Greek and Latin in French. At his death, Ronsard was almost literally
buried under praises. Sainte-Beuve strikingly says that he seemed to go
forward into posterity as into a temple.

Sharp posthumous reprisals awaited the extravagant fame of Ronsard.
Malherbe, coming in the next generation, legislator of Parnassus,
laughed the literary pretensions of Ronsard to scorn. This stern critic
of form, such is the story, marked up his copy of Ronsard with notes of
censure so many, that a friend of his, seeing the annotated volume,
observed, "What here is not marked, will be understood to have been
approved by you." Whereupon Malherbe, taking his pen, with one
indiscriminate stroke drew it abruptly through the whole volume. "There
I Ronsardized," the contemptuous critic would exclaim, when in reading
his own verses to an acquaintance,--for Malherbe was poet himself,--he
happened to encounter a word that struck him as harsh or improper.
Malherbe, in short, sought to chasten and check the luxuriant overgrowth
to which the example and method of the Pleiades were tending to push the
language of poetry in French. The resultant effect of the two contrary
tendencies--that of literary wantonness on the one hand, and that of
literary prudery on the other--was at the same time to enrich and to
purify French poetical diction. Balzac (the elder), close to Malherbe in
time, performed a service for French prose similar to that which the
latter performed for French verse. These two critical and literary
powers brought in the reign of what is called classicism in France.
French classicism had its long culmination under Louis XIV.

But it was under Louis XIII., or rather under that monarch's great
minister, Cardinal Richelieu, that the rich and splendid Augustan age of
French literature was truly prepared. Two organized forces, one of them
private and social, the other official and public, worked together,
though sometimes perhaps not in harmony, to produce the magnificent
literary result that illustrated the time of Louis XIV. Of these two
organized forces, the Hôtel de Rambouillet was one, and the French
Academy was the other. The Hôtel de Rambouillet has become the adopted
name of a literary society, presided over by the fine inspiring genius
of the beautiful and accomplished Italian wife of the Marquis de
Rambouillet, a lady who generously conceived the idea of rallying the
feminine wit and virtue of the kingdom to exert a potent influence for
regenerating the manners and morals, and indeed the literature, of
France. At the high court of blended rank and fashion and beauty and
polish and virtue and wit, thus established in the exquisitely builded
and decorated saloons of the Rambouillet mansion, the selectest literary
genius and fame of France were proud and glad to assemble for the
discussion and criticism of literature. Here came Balzac and Voiture;
here Corneille read aloud his masterpieces before they were represented
on the stage; here Descartes philosophized; here the large and splendid
genius of Bossuet first unfolded itself to the world; here Madame de
Sévigné brought her bright, incisive wit, trebly commended by stainless
reputation, unwithering beauty, and charming address, in the woman who
wielded it. The noblest blood of France added the decoration and
inspiration of their presence. It is not easy to overrate the diffusive
beneficent influence that hence went forth to change the fashion of
literature, and to change the fashion of society, for the better. The
Hôtel de Rambouillet proper lasted two generations only; but it had a
virtual succession, which, though sometimes interrupted, was scarcely
extinct until the brilliant and beautiful Madame Récamier ceased, about
the middle of the present century, to hold her famous _salons_ in Paris.
The continuous fame and influence of the French Academy, founded by
Richelieu, everybody knows. No other European language has been
elaborately and sedulously formed and cultivated like the French.

But great authors are better improvers of a language than any societies,
however influential. Corneille, Descartes, Pascal, did more for French
style than either the Hôtel de Rambouillet or the Academy,--more than
both these two great literary societies together. In verse, Racine,
following Corneille, advanced in some important respects upon the
example and lead of that great original master; but in prose, when
Pascal published his "Provincial Letters," French style reached at once
a point of perfection beyond which it never since has gone. Bossuet,
Bourdaloue, Fénelon, Massillon, Molière, La Fontaine, Boileau, La
Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère,--what a constellation of names are these, to
glorify the age of Louis XIV.! And Louis XIV. himself, royal embodiment
of a literary good sense carried to the pitch of something very like
real genius in judgment and taste,--what a sun was he (with that talent
of his for kingship, probably never surpassed), to balance and to sway,
from his unshaken station, the august intellectual system of which he
alone constituted the despotic centre to attract and repel! Seventy-two
years long was this sole individual reign. Louis XIV. still sat on the
throne of France when the seventeenth century became the eighteenth.

The eighteenth century was an age of universal reaction in France.
Religion, or rather ecclesiasticism,--for, in the France of those times,
religion was the Church, and the Church was the Roman Catholic
hierarchy,--had been the dominant fashion under Louis XIV. Infidelity
was a broad literary mark, written all over the face of the eighteenth
century. It was the hour and power of the Encyclopædists and the
Philosophers,--of Voltaire, of Diderot, of D'Alembert, of Rousseau.
Montesquieu, though contemporary, belongs apart from these writers. More
really original, more truly philosophical, he was far less
revolutionary, far less destructive, than they. Still, his influence
was, on the whole, exerted in the direction, if not of infidelity, at
least of religious indifferentism. The French Revolution was laid in
train by the great popular writers whom we have now named, and by their
fellows. It needed only the spark, which the proper occasion would be
sure soon to strike out, and the awful, earth-shaking explosion would
follow. After the Revolution, during the First Empire, so called,--the
usurpation, that is, of Napoleon Bonaparte,--literature was well-nigh
extinguished in France. The names, however, then surpassingly brilliant,
of Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël, belong to this period.

Three centuries have now elapsed since the date of "The Pleiades."
Throughout this long period, French literature has been chiefly under
the sway of that spirit of classicism in style which the reaction
against Ronsardism, led first by Malherbe and afterwards by Boileau, had
established as the national standard in literary taste and aspiration.
But Rousseau's genius acted as a powerful solvent of the classic
tradition. Chateaubriand's influence was felt on the same side,
continuing Rousseau's. George Sand, too, and Lamartine, were forces that
strengthened this component. Finally, the great personality of Victor
Hugo proved potent enough definitively to break the spell that had been
so long and so heavily laid on the literary development of France. The
bloodless warfare was fierce between the revolutionary Romanticists and
the conservative Classicists in literary style, but the victory seemed
at last to remain with the advocates of the new romantic revival. It
looked, on the face of the matter, like a signal triumph of originality
over prescription, of genius over criticism, of power over rule. We
still live in the midst of the dying echoes of this resonant strife.
Perhaps it is too early, as yet, to determine on which side, by the
merit of the cause, the advantage truly belongs. But, by the merit of
the respective champions, the result was, for a time at least,
triumphantly decided in favor of the Romanticists, against the
Classicists. The weighty authority, however, of Sainte-Beuve, at first
thrown into the scale that at length would sink, was thence withdrawn,
and at last, if not resolutely cast upon the opposite side of the
balance, was left wavering in a kind of equipoise between the one and
the other. But our preliminary sketch has already passed the limit
within which our choice of authors for representation is necessarily

With first a few remarks, naturally suggested, that may be useful, on
the general subject thus rather touched merely than handled, the present
writer gives way to let now the representative authors themselves,
selected for the purpose, supply to the reader a just and lively idea of
French literature.

The first thing, perhaps, to strike the thoughtful mind in a
comprehensive view of the subject, is not so much the length--though
this is remarkable--as the long _continuity_ of French literary history.
From its beginning down to the actual moment, French literature has
suffered no serious break in the course of its development. There have
been periods of greater, and periods of less, prosperity and fruit; but
wastes of marked suspension and barrenness, there have been none.

The second thing noticeable is, that French literature has, to a
singular degree, lived an independent life of its own. It has found
copious springs of health and growth within its own bosom.

But then, a third thing to be also observed, is that, on the other hand,
the touch of foreign influence, felt and acknowledged by this most
proudly and self-sufficiently national of literatures, has proved to it,
at various epochs, a sovereign force of revival and elastic expansion.
Thus, the great renascence in the sixteenth century of ancient Greek and
Latin letters was new life to French literature. So, again, Spanish
literature, brought into contact with French through Corneille and
Molière with others, gave to the national mind of France a new literary
launch. But the most recent and perhaps the most remarkable example of
foreign influence quickening French literature to make it freshly
fruitful, is supplied in the great romanticizing movement under the lead
of Victor Hugo. English literature--especially Shakspeare--was largely
the pregnant cause of this attempted emancipation of the French literary
mind from the burden of classicism.

A fourth very salient trait in French literary history consists in the
self-conscious, elaborate, persistent efforts put forth from time to
time by individuals, and by organizations, both public and private, in
France, to improve the language, and to elevate the literature, of the
nation. We know of nothing altogether comparable to this anywhere else
in the literature of the world.

A fifth striking thing about French literature is, that it has to a
degree, as we believe beyond parallel, exercised a real and vital
influence on the character and the fortune of the nation. The social,
the political, the moral, the religious, history of France is from age
to age a faithful reflex of the changing phases of its literature. Of
course, a reciprocal influence has been constantly reflected back and
forth from the nation upon its literature, as well as from its
literature upon the nation. But where else in the world has it ever been
so extraordinarily, we may say so appallingly, true as in France, that
the nation was such because such was its literature?

French literature, it will at once be seen, is a study possessing,
beyond the literary, a social, a political, and even a religious,

Readers desiring to push their conversance with the literary history of
France farther than the present volume will enable them to do, will
consult with profit either the Primer, or the Short History, of French
Literature, by Mr. George Saintsbury. Mr. Saintsbury is a well-informed
writer, who, if the truth must be told, diffuses himself too widely to
do his best possible work. He has, however, made French literature a
specialty, and he is in general a trustworthy authority on the subject.

Another writer on the subject is Mr. H. Van Laun. Him, although a
predecessor of his own in the field, Mr. Saintsbury severely ignores, by
claiming that he is himself the first to write in English a history of
French literature based on original and independent reading of the
authors. We are bound to say that Mr. Van Laun's work is of very poor
quality. It offers, indeed, to the reader one advantage not afforded by
either of Mr. Saintsbury's works, the advantage, namely, of illustrative
extracts from the authors treated,--extracts, however, not unfrequently
marred by wretched translation. The cyclopædias are, some of them, both
in articles on particular authors and in their sketches of French
literary history as a whole, good sources of general information on the
subject. Readers who command the means of comparing several different
cyclopædias, or several successive editions of some one cyclopædia, as,
for example, the "Encyclopædia Britannica," will find enlightening and
stimulating the not always harmonious views presented on the same
topics. Hallam's "History of Literature in Europe" is an additional
authority by no means to be overlooked.




French literature, for the purposes of the present volume, may be said
to commence with Froissart. Froissart is a kind of mediæval Herodotus.
His time is, indeed, almost this side the middle ages; but he belongs by
character and by sympathy rather to the mediæval than to the modern
world. He is delightfully like Herodotus in the style and the spirit of
his narrative. Like Herodotus, he became a traveller in order to become
an historian. Like Herodotus, he was cosmopolite enough not to be
narrowly patriotic. Frenchman though he was, he took as much pleasure in
recounting English victories as he did in recounting French. His
countrymen have even accused him of unpatriotic partiality for the
English. His Chronicles have been, perhaps, more popular in their
English form than in their original French. Two prominent English
translations have been made, of which the later, that by Thomas Johnes,
is now most read. Sir Walter Scott thought the earlier excelled in charm
of style.

Jehan or Jean Froissart was a native of Valenciennes. His father meant
to make a priest of him, but the boy had other tastes of his own. Before
he was well out of his teens, he began writing history. This was under
the patronage of a great noble. Froissart was all his life a natural
courtier. He throve on the patronage of the great. It was probably not a
fawning spirit in him that made him this kind of man; it was rather an
innate love of splendor and high exploit. He admired chivalry, then in
its last days, and he painted it with the passion of an idealizer. His
father had been an heraldic painter, so it was perhaps an hereditary
strain in the son that naturally attached him to rank and royalty. The
people--that is, the promiscuous mass of mankind--hardly exist to
Froissart. His pages, spacious as they are, have scarcely room for more
than kings and nobles, and knights and squires. He is a picturesque and
romantic historian, in whose chronicles the glories of the world of
chivalry--a world, as we have said, already dying, and so soon to
disappear--are fixed forever on an ample canvas, in moving form and
shifting color, to delight the backward-looking imagination of mankind.

Froissart, besides being chronicler, was something of a poet. It would
still be possible to confront one who should call this in question, with
thirty thousand surviving verses from the chronicler's pen. Quantity,
indeed, rather than quality, is the strong point of Froissart as poet.

He had no sooner finished the first part of his Chronicles, a
compilation from the work of an earlier hand, than he posted to England
for the purpose of formally presenting his work to the Queen, a princess
of Hainault. She rewarded him handsomely. Woman enough, too, she was,
woman under the queen, duly to despatch him back again to his native
land, where the young fellow's heart, she saw, was lost to a noble lady,
whom, from his inferior station, he could woo only as a moth might woo
the moon. He subsequently returned to Great Britain, and rode about on
horseback gathering materials of history. He visited Italy under
excellent auspices, and, together with Chaucer and with Petrarch,
witnessed a magnificent marriage ceremonial in Milan. Froissart
continued to travel far and wide, always a favorite with princes, but
always intent on achieving his projected work. He finally died at
Chimay, where he had spent his closing years in rounding out to their
completeness his "Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining

Froissart is the most leisurely of historians, or, rather, he is a
writer who presupposes the largest allowance of leisure at the command
of his readers. He does not seek proportion and perspective. He simply
tells us all he had been able to find out respecting each transaction in
its turn as it successively comes up in the progress of his narrative.
If he goes wrong to-day, he will perhaps correct himself to-morrow, or
day after to-morrow,--this not by changing the first record where it
stands, to make it right, but by inserting a note of his mistake at the
point, whatever it may be, which he shall chance to have reached in the
work of composition when the new and better light breaks in on his eyes.
The student is thus never quite certain but that what he is at one
moment reading in his author, may be an error of which at some
subsequent moment he will be faithfully advised. A little discomposing,
this, but such is Froissart; and it is the philosophical way to take
your author as he is, and make the best of him.

Of such an historian, an historian so diffuse, and so little selective,
it would obviously be difficult to give any suitably brief specimen that
should seem to present a considerable historic action in full. We go to
Froissart's account of the celebrated battle of Poitiers (France). This
was fought in 1356, between Edward the Black Prince on the English side,
and King John on the side of the French.

King John of the French was, of course, a great prize to be secured by
the victorious English. There was eager individual rivalry as to what
particular warrior should be adjudged his true captor. Froissart thus
describes the strife and the issue:--

     There was much pressing at this time, through eagerness to take the
     king; and those who were nearest to him, and knew him, cried out,
     "Surrender yourself, surrender yourself, or you are a dead man!" In
     that part of the field was a young knight from St. Omer, who was
     engaged by a salary in the service of the King of England; his name
     was Denys de Morbeque; who for five years had attached himself to
     the English, on account of having been banished in his younger days
     from France, for a murder committed in an affray at St. Omer. It
     fortunately happened for this knight, that he was at the time near
     to the King of France, when he was so much pulled about. He, by
     dint of force, for he was very strong and robust, pushed through
     the crowd, and said to the king, in good French, "Sire, sire,
     surrender yourself!" The king, who found himself very disagreeably
     situated, turning to him, asked, "To whom shall I surrender myself?
     to whom? Where is my cousin, the Prince of Wales? If I could see
     him, I would speak to him."--"Sire," replied Sir Denys, "he is not
     here; but surrender yourself to me, and I will lead you to
     him."--"Who are you?" said the king. "Sire, I am Denys de Morbeque,
     a knight from Artois; but I serve the King of England because I
     cannot belong to France, having forfeited all I possessed there."
     The king then gave him his right-hand glove, and said, "I surrender
     myself to you." There was much crowding and pushing about; for
     every one was eager to cry out, "I have taken him!" Neither the
     king nor his youngest son Philip were able to get forward, and free
     themselves from the throng....

     The Prince [of Wales] asked them [his marshals] if they knew any
     thing of the King of France: they replied, "No, sir, not for a
     certainty; but we believe he must be either killed or made
     prisoner, since he has never quitted his battalion." The prince
     then, addressing the Earl of Warwick and Lord Cobham, said, "I beg
     of you to mount your horses, and ride over the field, so that on
     your return you may bring me some certain intelligence of him." The
     two barons, immediately mounting their horses, left the prince, and
     made for a small hillock, that they might look about them. From
     their stand they perceived a crowd of men-at-arms on foot, who were
     advancing very slowly. The King of France was in the midst of them,
     and in great danger; for the English and Gascons had taken him from
     Sir Denys de Morbeque, and were disputing who should have him, the
     stoutest bawling out, "It is I that have got him."--"No, no,"
     replied the others: "we have him." The king, to escape from this
     peril, said, "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I pray you conduct me and my
     son in a courteous manner to my cousin the prince; and do not make
     such a riot about my capture, for I am so great a lord that I can
     make all sufficiently rich." These words, and others which fell
     from the king, appeased them a little; but the disputes were always
     beginning again, and they did not move a step without rioting. When
     the two barons saw this troop of people, they descended from the
     hillock, and, sticking spurs into their horses, made up to them. On
     their arrival, they asked what was the matter. They were answered,
     that it was the King of France, who had been made prisoner, and
     that upward of ten knights and squires challenged him at the same
     time, as belonging to each of them. The two barons then pushed
     through the crowd by main force, and ordered all to draw aside.
     They commanded, in the name of the prince, and under pain of
     instant death, that every one should keep his distance, and not
     approach unless ordered or desired so to do. They all retreated
     behind the king; and the two barons, dismounting, advanced to the
     king with profound reverences, and conducted him in a peaceable
     manner to the Prince of Wales.

We continue our citation from Froissart with the brief chapter in which
the admiring chronicler tells the gallant story of the Black Prince's
behavior as host toward his royal captive, King John of France (it was
the evening after the battle):--

     When evening was come, the Prince of Wales gave a supper in his
     pavilion to the King of France, and to the greater part of the
     princes and barons who were prisoners. The prince seated the King
     of France, and his son the Lord Philip, at an elevated and
     well-covered table: with them were Sir James de Bourbon, the Lord
     John d'Artois, the earls of Tancarville, of Estampes, of Dammartin,
     of Graville, and the Lord of Partenay. The other knights and
     squires were placed at different tables. The prince himself served
     the king's table, as well as the others, with every mark of
     humility, and would not sit down at it, in spite of all his
     entreaties for him so to do, saying that "he was not worthy of such
     an honor, nor did it appertain to him to seat himself at the table
     of so great a king, or of so valiant a man as he had shown himself
     by his actions that day." He added, also, with a noble air, "Dear
     sir, do not make a poor meal, because the Almighty God has not
     gratified your wishes in the event of this day; for be assured that
     my lord and father will show you every honor and friendship in his
     power, and will arrange your ransom so reasonably, that you will
     henceforward always remain friends. In my opinion, you have cause
     to be glad that the success of this battle did not turn out as you
     desired; for you have this day acquired such high renown for
     prowess, that you have surpassed all the best knights on your side.
     I do not, dear sir, say this to flatter you; for all those of our
     side who have seen and observed the actions of each party, have
     unanimously allowed this to be your due, and decree you the prize
     and garland for it." At the end of this speech, there were murmurs
     of praise heard from every one; and the French said the prince had
     spoken nobly and truly, and that he would be one of the most
     gallant princes in Christendom if God should grant him life to
     pursue his career of glory.

A splendid and a gracious figure the Black Prince makes in the pages of
Froissart. It was great good fortune for the posthumous fame of
chivalry, that the institution should have come by an artist so gifted
and so loyal as this Frenchman, to deliver its features in portrait to
after-times, before the living original vanished forever from the view
of history. How much the fiction of Sir Walter Scott owes to Froissart,
and to Philip de Comines after Froissart, those only can understand who
have read both the old chronicles and the modern romances.

It was one of the congenial labors of Sidney Lanier--pure flame of
genius that late burned itself out so swiftly among us!--to edit a
reduction or abridgment of Froissart's Chronicles dedicated especially
to the use of the young. "The Boy's Froissart," he called it. This book
is enriched with a wise and genial appreciation of Froissart's quality
by his American editor.

Whoever reads Froissart needs to remember that the old chronicler is too
much enamoured of chivalry, and is too easily dazzled by splendor of
rank, to be a rigidly just censor of faults committed by knights and
nobles and kings. Froissart, in truth, seems to have been nearly
destitute of the sentiment of humanity. War to him was chiefly a game
and a spectacle.

Our presentation of Froissart must close with a single passage
additional, a picturesque one, in which the chronicler describes the
style of living witnessed by him at the court--we may not unfitly so
apply a royal word--of the Count de Foix. The reader must understand,
while he reads what we here show, that Froissart himself, in close
connection, relates at full, in the language of an informant of his, how
this magnificent Count de Foix had previously killed, with a knife at
his throat, his own and his only son. "I was truly sorry," so, at the
conclusion of the story, Froissart, with characteristic direction of his
sympathy, says, "for the count his father, whom I found a magnificent,
generous, and courteous lord, and also for the country that was
discontented for want of an heir." Here is the promised passage; it
occurs in the ninth chapter of the third volume:--

     Count Gaston Phoebus de Foix, of whom I am now speaking, was at
     that time fifty-nine years old; and I must say, that although I
     have seen very many knights, kings, princes, and others, I have
     never seen any so handsome, either in the form of his limbs and
     shape, or in countenance, which was fair and ruddy, with gray and
     amorous eyes, that gave delight whenever he chose to express
     affection. He was so perfectly formed, one could not praise him too
     much. He loved earnestly the things he ought to love, and hated
     those which it was becoming him so to hate. He was a prudent
     knight, full of enterprise and wisdom. He had never any men of
     abandoned character with him, reigned prudently, and was constant
     in his devotions. There were regular nocturnals from the Psalter,
     prayers from the rituals to the Virgin, to the Holy Ghost, and
     from the burial service. He had every day distributed as alms, at
     his gate, five florins in small coin, to all comers. He was liberal
     and courteous in his gifts, and well knew how to take when it was
     proper, and to give back where he had confidence. He mightily loved
     dogs above all other animals, and during the summer and winter
     amused himself much with hunting....

     When he quitted his chamber at midnight for supper, twelve servants
     bore each a lighted torch before him, which were placed near his
     table, and gave a brilliant light to the apartment. The hall was
     full of knights and squires, and there were plenty of tables laid
     out for any person who chose to sup. No one spoke to him at his
     table, unless he first began a conversation. He commonly ate
     heartily of poultry, but only the wings and thighs; for in the
     daytime, he neither ate nor drank much. He had great pleasure in
     hearing minstrels; as he himself was a proficient in the science,
     and made his secretaries sing songs, ballads, and roundelays. He
     remained at table about two hours, and was pleased when fanciful
     dishes were served up to him, which having seen, he immediately
     sent them to the tables of his knights and squires.

     In short, every thing considered, though I had before been in
     several courts of kings, dukes, princes, counts, and noble ladies,
     I was never at one that pleased me more, nor was I ever more
     delighted with feats of arms, than at this of the Count de Foix.
     There were knights and squires to be seen in every chamber, hall,
     and court, going backwards and forwards, and conversing on arms and
     amours. Every thing honorable was there to be found. All
     intelligence from distant countries was there to be learnt, for the
     gallantry of the count had brought visitors from all parts of the
     world. It was there I was informed of the greater part of those
     events which had happened in Spain, Portugal, Arragon, Navarre,
     England, Scotland, and on the borders of Languedoc; for I saw,
     during my residence, knights and squires arrive from every nation.
     I therefore made inquiries from them, or from the count himself,
     who cheerfully conversed with me.

The foregoing is one of the most celebrated passages of description in
Froissart. At the same time that it discloses the form and spirit of
those vanished days, which will never come again to the world, it
discloses likewise the character of the man, who must indeed have loved
it all well, to have been able so well to describe it.

We take now a somewhat long forward step, in going, as we do, at once
from Froissart to Rabelais. Comines, lying between, we must reluctantly
pass, with thus barely mentioning his name.




Rabelais is one of the most famous of writers. But he is at the same
time incomparably the coarsest.

The real quality of such a writer, it is evidently out of the question
to exhibit at all adequately here. But equally out of the question it is
to omit Rabelais altogether from an account of French literature.

Of the life of François Rabelais the man, these few facts will be
sufficient to know. In early youth he joined the monastic order of the
Franciscans. That order hated letters; but Rabelais loved them. He, in
fact, conceived a voracious ambition of knowledge. He became immensely
learned. This fact, with what it implies of long labor patiently
achieved, is enough to show that Rabelais was not without seriousness of
character. But he was much more a merry-andrew than a pattern monk. He
made interest enough with influential friends to get himself transferred
from the Franciscans to the Benedictines, an order more favorable to
studious pursuits. But neither among the Benedictines was this
roistering spirit at ease. He left them irregularly, but managed to
escape punishment for his irregularity. At last, after various
vicissitudes of occupation, he settled down as curate of Meudon, where
(the place, however, is doubtful, as also the date) in 1553 he died. He
was past fifty years of age before he finished the work which has made
him famous.

This work is "The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel," a grotesque and
nondescript production, founded, probably, on some prior romance or
traditionary tale of giants. The narrative of Rabelais is a tissue of
adventures shocking every idea of verisimilitude, and serving only as a
vehicle for the strange humor of the writer. The work is replete with
evidences of Rabelais's learning. It would be useless to attempt giving
any abstract or analysis of a book which is simply a wild chaos of
material jumbled together with little regard to logic, order, or method
of whatever sort. We shall better represent its character by giving a
few specimen extracts.

Rabelais begins his romance characteristically. According as you
understand him here, you judge the spirit of the whole work. Either he
now gives you a clew by which, amid the mazes of apparent sheer
frivolity on his part, you may follow till you win your way to some
veiled serious meaning that he had all the time, but never dared frankly
to avow; or else he is playfully misleading you on a false scent, which,
however long held to, will bring you out nowhere--in short, is quizzing
you. Let the reader judge for himself. Here is the opening passage,--the
"Author's Prologue," it is called in the English translation executed by
Sir Thomas Urquhart and Motteux; a version, by the way, which, with
whatever faults of too much freedom, is the work of minds and
consciences singularly sympathetic with the genius of the original; the
English student is perhaps hardly at all at disadvantage, in comparison
with the French, for the full appreciation of Rabelais:--

     Most noble and illustrious drinkers, and you thrice precious
     pockified blades (for to you, and none else, do I dedicate my
     writings), Alcibiades, in that dialogue of Plato's which is
     entitled, "The Banquet," whilst he was setting forth the praises of
     his schoolmaster Socrates (without all question the prince of
     philosophers), amongst other discourses to that purpose said that
     he resembled the Sileni. Sileni of old were little boxes, like
     those we now may see in the shops of apothecaries, painted on the
     outside with wanton toyish figures, as harpies, satyrs, bridled
     geese, horned hares, saddled ducks, flying goats, thiller harts,
     and other such counterfeited pictures, at pleasure, to excite
     people unto laughter, as Silenus himself, who was the foster-father
     of good Bacchus, was wont to do; but within those capricious
     caskets called Sileni, were carefully preserved and kept many rich
     and fine drugs, such as balm, ambergreese, amomon, musk, civet,
     with several kinds of precious stones, and other things of great
     price. Just such another thing was Socrates; for to have eyed his
     outside, and esteemed of him by his exterior appearance, you would
     not have given the peel of an onion for him, so deformed he was in
     body, and ridiculous in his gesture.... Opening this box, you would
     have found within it a heavenly and inestimable drug, a more than
     human understanding, an admirable virtue, matchless learning,
     invincible courage, inimitable sobriety, certain contentment of
     mind, perfect assurance, and an incredible disregard of all that
     for which men commonly do so much watch, run, sail, fight, travel,
     toil, and turmoil themselves.

     Whereunto (in your opinion) doth this little flourish of a preamble
     tend? For so much as you, my good disciples, and some other jolly
     fools of ease and leisure,... are too ready to judge, that there is
     nothing in them but jests, mockeries, lascivious discourse, and
     recreative lies;... therefore is it, that you must open the book,
     and seriously consider of the matter treated in it. Then shall you
     find that it containeth things of far higher value than the box did
     promise; that is to say, that the subject thereof is not so
     foolish, as by the title at the first sight it would appear to be.

     ...Did you ever see a dog with a marrow-bone in his mouth?... Like
     him, you must, by a sedulous lecture [reading], and frequent
     meditation, break the bone, and suck out the marrow; that is, my
     allegorical sense, or the things I to myself propose to be
     signified by these Pythagorical symbols;... the most glorious
     doctrines and dreadful mysteries, as well in what concerneth our
     religion, as matters of the public state and life economical.

Up to this point, the candid reader has probably been conscious of a
growing persuasion that this author must be at bottom a serious if also
a humorous man,--a man, therefore, excusably intent not to be
misunderstood as a mere buffoon. But now let the candid reader proceed
with the following, and confess, upon his honor, if he is not
scandalized and perplexed. What shall be said of a writer who thus plays
with his reader?

     Do you believe, upon your conscience, that Homer, whilst he was
     couching his Iliad and Odyssey, had any thought upon those
     allegories which Plutarch, Heraclides Ponticus, Eustathius,
     Phornutus, squeezed out of him, and which Politian filched again
     from them? If you trust it, with neither hand nor foot do you come
     near to my opinion, which judgeth them to have been as little
     dreamed of by Homer, as the gospel sacraments were by Ovid, in his
     Metamorphoses; though a certain gulligut friar, and true
     bacon-picker, would have undertaken to prove it, if, perhaps, he
     had met with as very fools as himself, and, as the proverb says, "a
     lid worthy of such a kettle."

     If you give any credit thereto, why do not you the same to these
     jovial new Chronicles of mine? Albeit, when I did dictate them, I
     thought thereof no more than you, who possibly were drinking the
     whilst, as I was. For, in the composing of this lordly book, I
     never lost nor bestowed any more, nor any other time, than what was
     appointed to serve me for taking of my bodily refection; that is,
     whilst I was eating and drinking. And, indeed, that is the fittest
     and most proper hour, wherein to write these high matters and deep
     sentences; as Homer knew very well, the paragon of all philologues,
     and Ennius, the father of the Latin poets, as Horace calls him,
     although a certain sneaking jobbernol alleged that his verses
     smelled more of the wine than oil.

Does this writer quiz his reader, or, in good faith, give him a needed
hint? Who shall decide?

We have let our first extract thus run on to some length, both for the
reason that the passage is as representative as any we could properly
offer of the quality of Rabelais, and also for the reason that the key
of interpretation is here placed in the hand of the reader, for
unlocking the enigma of this remarkable book. The extraordinary
horse-play of pleasantry, which makes Rabelais unreadable for the
general public of to-day, begins so promptly, affecting the very
prologue, that we could not present even that piece of writing entire in
our extract. We are informed that the circulation in England of the
works of Rabelais, in translation, has been interfered with by the
English government, on the ground of their indecency. We are bound to
admit, that, if any writings whatever were to be suppressed on that
ground, the writings of Rabelais are certainly entitled to be of the
number. It is safe to say that never, no, not even in the boundless
license of the comedy of Aristophanes, was more flagrant indecency, and
indecency proportionately more redundant in volume, perpetrated in
literature, than was done by Rabelais. Indecency, however, it is, rather
than strict lasciviousness. Rabelais sinned against manners, more than
he sinned against morals. But his obscenity is an ocean, without bottom
or shore. Literally, he sticks at nothing that is coarse. Nay, this is
absurdly short of expressing the fact. The genius of Rabelais teems with
invention of coarseness, beyond what any one could conceive as possible,
who had not taken his measure of possibility from Rabelais himself. And
his diction was as opulent as his invention.

Such is the character of Rabelais the author. What, then, was it, if not
fondness for paradox, that could prompt Coleridge to say, "I could write
a treatise in praise of the moral elevation of Rabelais' works, which
would make the church stare and the conventicle groan, and yet would be
truth, and nothing but the truth"? If any thing besides fondness for
paradox inspired Coleridge in saying this, it must, one would guess,
have been belief on his part in the allegorical sense hidden deep
underneath the monstrous mass of the Rabelaisian buffoonery. A more
judicial sentence is that of Hallam, the historian of the literature of
Europe: "He [Rabelais] is never serious in a single page, and seems to
have had little other aim, in his first two volumes, than to pour out
the exuberance of his animal gayety."

The supply of animal gayety in this man was something portentous. One
cannot, however, but feel that he forces it sometimes, as sometimes did
Dickens those exhaustless animal spirits of his. A very common trick of
the Rabelaisian humor is to multiply specifications, or alternative
expressions, one after another, almost without end. From the second book
of his romance,--an afterthought, probably, of continuation to his
unexpectedly successful first book,--we take the last paragraph of the
prologue, which shows this. The veracious historian makes obtestation of
the strict truth of his narrative, and imprecates all sorts of evil upon
such as do not believe it absolutely. We cleanse our extract a little:--

     And, therefore, to make an end of this Prologue, even as I give
     myself to an hundred thousand panniers-full of fair devils, body
     and soul,... in case that I lie so much as one single word in this
     whole history; after the like manner, St. Anthony's fire burn you,
     Mahoom's disease whirl you, the squinance with a stitch in your
     side, and the wolf in your stomach truss you, the bloody flux seize
     upon you, the cursed sharp inflammations of wild fire, as slender
     and thin as cow's hair strengthened with quicksilver, enter into
     you,... and, like those of Sodom and Gomorrha, may you fall into
     sulphur, fire, and bottomless pits, in case you do not firmly
     believe all that I shall relate unto you in this present Chronicle.

So much for Rabelais's prologues. Our readers must now see something of
what, under pains and penalties denounced so dire, they are bound to
believe. We condense and defecate for this purpose the thirty-eighth
chapter of the first book, which is staggeringly entitled, "How
Gargantua did eat up Six Pilgrims in a Sallad":--

     The story requireth that we relate that which happened unto six
     pilgrims, who came from Sebastian near to Nantes; and who, for
     shelter that night, being afraid of the enemy, had hid themselves
     in the garden upon the chickling peas, among the cabbages and
     lettuces. Gargantua, finding himself somewhat dry, asked whether
     they could get any lettuce to make him a salad; and, hearing that
     there were the greatest and fairest in the country,--for they were
     as great as plum trees, or as walnut trees,--he would go thither
     himself, and brought thence in his hand what he thought good, and
     withal carried away the six pilgrims, who were in so great fear
     that they did not dare to speak nor cough. Washing them, therefore,
     first at the fountain, the pilgrims said one to another, softly,
     "What shall we do? We are almost drowned here amongst these
     lettuce: shall we speak? But, if we speak, he will kill us for
     spies." And, as they were thus deliberating what to do, Gargantua
     put them, with the lettuce, into a platter of the house, as large
     as the huge tun of the White Friars of the Cistertian order; which
     done, with oil, vinegar, and salt, he ate them up, to refresh
     himself a little before supper, and had already swallowed up five
     of the pilgrims, the sixth being in the platter, totally hid under
     a lettuce, except his bourbon, or staff, that appeared, and nothing
     else. Which Grangousier [Gargantua's father] seeing, said to
     Gargantua, "I think that is the horn of a shell snail: do not eat
     it."--"Why not?" said Gargantua; "they are good all this month:"
     which he no sooner said, but, drawing up the staff, and therewith
     taking up the pilgrim, he ate him very well, then drank a terrible
     draught of excellent white wine. The pilgrims, thus devoured, made
     shift to save themselves, as well as they could, by drawing their
     bodies out of the reach of the grinders of his teeth, but could
     not escape from thinking they had been put in the lowest dungeon of
     a prison. And, when Gargantua whiffed the great draught, they
     thought to have drowned in his mouth, and the flood of wine had
     almost carried them away into the gulf of his stomach.
     Nevertheless, skipping with their bourbons, as St. Michael's
     palmers used to do, they sheltered themselves from the danger of
     that inundation under the banks of his teeth. But one of them, by
     chance, groping, or sounding the country with his staff, to try
     whether they were in safety or no, struck hard against the cleft of
     a hollow tooth, and hit the mandibulary sinew or nerve of the jaw,
     which put Gargantua to very great pain, so that he began to cry for
     the rage that he felt. To ease himself, therefore, of his smarting
     ache, he called for his tooth-picker, and, rubbing towards a young
     walnut-tree, where they lay skulking, unnestled you my gentlemen
     pilgrims. For he caught one by the legs, another by the scrip,
     another by the pocket, another by the scarf, another by the band of
     the breeches; and the poor fellow that had hurt him with the
     bourbon, him he hooked to him by [another part of his clothes]....
     The pilgrims, thus dislodged, ran away.

Rabelais closes his story with jocose irreverent application of
Scripture,--a manner of his which gives some color to the tradition of a
biblical pun made by him on his death-bed.

The closest English analogue to Rabelais is undoubtedly Dean Swift. We
probably never should have had "Gulliver's Travels" from Swift, if we
had not first had Gargantua and Pantagruel from Rabelais. Swift,
however, differs from Rabelais as well as resembles him. Whereas
Rabelais is simply monstrous in invention, Swift in invention submits
himself loyally to law. Give Swift his world of Liliput and Brobdingnag
respectively, and all, after that, is quite natural and probable. The
reduction or the exaggeration is made upon a mathematically calculated
scale. For such verisimilitude Rabelais cares not a straw. His various
inventions are recklessly independent one of another. A characteristic
of Swift thus is scrupulous conformity to whimsical law. Rabelais is
remarkable for whimsical disregard of even his own whimseys. Voltaire
put the matter with his usual felicity,--Swift is Rabelais in his

One of the most celebrated--justly celebrated--of Rabelais's
imaginations is that of the Abbey of Thélème [Thelema]. This constitutes
a kind of Rabelaisian Utopia. It was proper of the released monk to give
his Utopian dream the form of an abbey, but an abbey in which the
opposite should obtain of all that he had so heartily hated in his own
monastic experience. A humorously impossible place and state was the
Abbey of Thélème,--a kind of sportive Brook Farm set far away in a world
unrealized. How those Thelemites enjoyed life, to be sure! It was like
endless plum pudding--for everybody to eat, and nobody to prepare:--

     All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but
     according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of
     their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labor,
     sleep, when they had a mind to it, and were disposed for it. None
     did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor
     to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all
     their rule, and strictest tie of their order, there was but this
     one clause to be observed,--


     ...By this liberty they entered into a very laudable emulation, to
     do all of them what they saw did please one. If any of the gallants
     or ladies should say, Let us drink, they would all drink. If any
     one of them said, Let us play, they all played. If one said, Let us
     go a walking into the fields, they went all.... There was neither
     he nor she amongst them, but could read, write, sing, play upon
     several musical instruments, speak five or six several languages,
     and compose in them all very quaintly, both in verse and prose.
     Never were seen so valiant knights, so noble and worthy, so
     dextrous and skilful both on foot and a horseback, more brisk and
     lively, more nimble and quick, or better handling all manner of
     weapons than were there. Never were seen ladies so proper and
     handsome, so miniard and dainty, less forward, or more ready with
     their hand, and with their needle, in every honest and free action
     belonging to that sex, than were there. For this reason, when the
     time came, that any man of the said abbey, either at the request of
     his parents, or for some other cause, had a mind to go out of it,
     he carried along with him one of the ladies, namely her who had
     before that accepted him as her lover, and they were married

The foregoing is one of the most purely sweet imaginative passages in
Rabelais's works. The representation, as a whole, sheathes, of course, a
keen satire on the religious houses. Real religion, Rabelais nowhere

The same colossal Gargantua who had that eating adventure with the six
pilgrims, is made, in Rabelais's second book, to write his youthful son
Pantagruel--also a giant, but destined to be, when mature, a model of
all princely virtues--a letter on education, in which the most pious
paternal exhortation occurs. The whole letter reads like some learned
Puritan divine's composition. Here are a few specimen sentences:--

     Fail not most carefully to peruse the books of the Greek, Arabian,
     and Latin physicians, not despising the Talmudists and Cabalists;
     and by frequent anatomies get thee the perfect knowledge of that
     other world, called the microcosm, which is man. And at some of the
     hours of the day apply thy mind to the study of the Holy
     Scriptures: first, in Greek, the New Testament, with the Epistles
     of the Apostles; and then the Old Testament in Hebrew. In brief,
     let me see thee an abyss and bottomless pit of knowledge....

     ...It behoveth thee to serve, to love, to fear God, and on him to
     cast all thy thoughts and all thy hope, and, by faith formed in
     charity, to cleave unto him, so that thou mayst never be separated
     from him by thy sins. Suspect the abuses of the world. Set not thy
     heart upon vanity, for this life is transitory; but the Word of the
     Lord endureth forever.

"Friar John" is a mighty man of valor, who figures equivocally in the
story of Gargantua and Pantagruel. The Abbey of Thélème is given him in
reward of his services. Some have identified this fighting monk with
Martin Luther. The representation is, on the whole, so conducted as to
leave the reader's sympathies at least half enlisted in favor of the
fellow, rough and roistering as he is.

Panurge is the hero of the romance of Pantagruel,--almost more than
Pantagruel himself. It would be unpardonable to dismiss Rabelais
without first making our readers know Panurge by, at least, a few traits
of his character and conduct. Panurge was a shifty but unscrupulous
adventurer, whom Pantagruel, pious prince as he was, coming upon him by
chance, took and kept under his patronage. Panurge was an arch-imp of
mischief,--mischief indulged in the form of obscene and malicious
practical jokes. Rabelais describes his accomplishments in a long strain
of discourse, from which we purge our selection to follow,--thereby
transforming Panurge into a comparatively proper and virtuous person:--

     He had threescore and three tricks to come by it [money] at his
     need, of which the most honorable and most ordinary was in manner
     of thieving, secret purloining, and filching, for he was a wicked,
     lewd rogue, a cozener, drinker, roysterer, rover, and a very
     dissolute and debauched fellow, if there were any in Paris;
     otherwise, and in all matters else, the best and most virtuous man
     in the world; and he was still contriving some plot, and devising
     mischief against the serjeants and the watch.

     At one time he assembled three or four especial good hacksters and
     roaring boys; made them in the evening drink like Templars,
     afterwards led them till they came under St. Genevieve, or about
     the college of Navarre, and, at the hour that the watch was coming
     up that way,--which he knew by putting his sword upon the pavement,
     and his ear by it, and, when he heard his sword shake, it was an
     infallible sign that the watch was near at that instant,--then he
     and his companions took a tumbrel or garbage-cart, and gave it the
     brangle, hurling it with all their force down the hill, and then
     ran away upon the other side; for in less than two days he knew all
     the streets, lanes, and turnings in Paris, as well as his _Deus

     At another time he laid, in some fair place where the said watch
     was to pass, a train of gunpowder, and, at the very instant that
     they went along, set fire to it, and then made himself sport to see
     what good grace they had in running away, thinking that St.
     Anthony's fire had caught them by the legs.... In one of his
     pockets he had a great many little horns full of fleas and lice,
     which he borrowed from the beggars of St. Innocent, and cast them,
     with small canes or quills to write with, into the necks of the
     daintiest gentlewomen that he could find, yea, even in the church;
     for he never seated himself above in the choir, but always in the
     body of the church amongst the women, both at mass, at vespers, and
     at sermon.

Coleridge, in his metaphysical way, keen at the moment on the scent of
illustrations for the philosophy of Kant, said, "Pantagruel is the
Reason; Panurge the Understanding." Rabelais himself, in the fourth book
of his romance, written in the last years of his life, defines the
spirit of the work. This fourth book, the English translator says, is
"justly thought his masterpiece." The same authority adds with
enthusiasm, "Being wrote with more spirit, salt, and flame than the
first part." Here, then, is Rabelais's own expression, sincere or
jocular, as you choose to take it, for what constitutes the essence of
his writing. We quote from the "Prologue":--

     By the means of a little Pantagruelism (which, you know, is _a
     certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of fortune_), you see
     me now ["at near seventy years of age," his translator says], hale
     and cheery, as sound as a bell, and ready to drink, if you will.

It is impossible to exaggerate the mad, rollicking humor, sticking at
nothing, either in thought or in expression, with which especially this
last book of Rabelais's work is written. But we have no more space for

Coleridge's theory of interpretation for Rabelais's writings is hinted
in his "Table Talk," as follows: "After any particularly deep thrust,...
Rabelais, as if to break the blow, and to appear unconscious of what he
has done, writes a chapter or two of pure buffoonery."

The truth seems to us to be, that Rabelais's supreme taste, like his
supreme power, lay in the line of humorous satire. He hated monkery, and
he satirized the system as openly as he dared,--this, however, not so
much in the love of truth and freedom, as in pure fondness for
exercising his wit. That he was more than willing to make his ribald
drollery the fool's mask from behind which he might aim safely his
shafts of ridicule at what he despised and hated, is indeed probable.
But in this is supplied to him no sufficient excuse for his obscene and
blasphemous pleasantry. Nor yet are the manners of the age an excuse
sufficient. Erasmus belonged to the same age, and he disliked the monks
not less. But what a contrast, in point of decency, between Rabelais and




Montaigne is signally the author of one book. His "Essays" are the whole
of him. He wrote letters, to be sure, and he wrote journals of travel in
quest of health and pleasure. But these are chiefly void of interest.
Montaigne the Essayist alone is emphatically the Montaigne that
survives. "Montaigne the Essayist,"--that has become, as it were, a
personal name in literary history.

The "Essays" are one hundred and seven in number, divided into three
books. They are very unequal in length; and they are on the most various
topics,--topics often the most whimsical in character. We give a few of
his titles, taking them as found in Cotton's translation:--

     That men by various ways arrive at the same end; Whether the
     governor of a place ought himself to go out to parley; Of liars; Of
     quick or slow speech; A proceeding of some ambassadors; Various
     events from the same counsel; Of cannibals; That we laugh and cry
     from the same thing; Of smells; That the mind hinders itself; Of
     thumbs; Of virtue; Of coaches; Of managing the will; Of cripples;
     Of experience.

Montaigne's titles cannot be trusted to indicate the nature of the
essays to which they belong. The author's pen will not be bound. It runs
on at its own pleasure. Things the most unexpected are incessantly
turning up in Montaigne,--things, probably, that were as unexpected to
the writer when he was writing, as they will be to the reader when he is
reading. The writing, on whatever topic, in whatever vein, always
revolves around the writer for its pivot. Montaigne, from no matter what
apparent diversion, may constantly be depended upon to bring up in due
time at himself. The tether is long and elastic, but it is tenacious,
and it is securely tied to Montaigne. This, as we shall presently let
the author himself make plain, is no accident, of which Montaigne was
unconscious. It is the express idea on which the "Essays" were written.
Montaigne, in his "Essays," is a pure and perfect egotist, naked, and
not ashamed. Egotism is Montaigne's note, his _differentia_, in the
world of literature. Other literary men have been egotists--since. But
Montaigne may be called the first, and he is the greatest.

Montaigne was a Gascon, and Gasconisms adulterate the purity of his
French. But his style--a little archaic now, and never finished to the
nail--had virtues of its own which have exercised a wholesome influence
on classic French prose. It is simple, direct, manly, genuine. It is
fresh and racy of the writer. It is flexible to every turn, it is
sensitive to every rise or fall, of the thought. It is a steadfast
rebuke to rant and fustian. It quietly laughs to scorn the folly of that
style which writhes in an agony of expression, with neither thought nor
feeling present to be expressed. Montaigne's "Essays" have been a great
and a beneficent formative force in the development of prose style in

For substance, Montaigne is rich in practical wisdom, his own by
original reflection, or by discreet purveyal. He had read much, he had
observed much, he had experienced much. The result of all, digested in
brooding thought, he put into his "Essays." These grew as he grew. He
got himself transferred whole into them. Out of them, in turn, the world
has been busy ever since dissolving Montaigne.

Montaigne's "Essays" are, as we have said, himself. Such is his own way
of putting the fact. To one admiring his essays to him, he frankly
replied, "You will like me, if you like my essays, for they are myself."
The originality, the creative character and force, of the "Essays," lies
in this autobiographical quality in them. Their fascination, too,
consists in the self-revelation they contain. This was, first,
self-revelation on the part of the writer; but no less it becomes, in
each case, self-revelation in the experience of the reader. For, as face
answereth to face in the glass, so doth the heart of man to man,--from
race to race, and from generation to generation. If Montaigne, in his
"Essays," held the mirror up to himself, he, in the same act, held up
the mirror to you and to me. The image that we, reading, call Montaigne,
is really ourselves. We never tire of gazing on it. We are all of us
Narcissuses. This is why Montaigne is an immortal and a universal

Here is Montaigne's Preface to his "Essays;" "The Author to the Reader,"
it is entitled:--

     Reader, thou hast here an honest book; it doth at the outset
     forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to
     myself no other than a domestic and private end: I have had no
     consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory. My
     powers are not capable of any such design. I have dedicated it to
     the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends, so that,
     having lost me (which they must do shortly), they may therein
     recover some traits of my conditions and humors, and by that means
     preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of
     me. Had my intention been to seek the world's favor, I should
     surely have adorned myself with borrowed beauties. I desire therein
     to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary
     manner, without study and artifice; for it is myself I paint. My
     defects are therein to be read to the life, and my imperfections
     and my natural form, so far as public reverence hath permitted me.
     If I had lived among those nations which (they say) yet dwell under
     the sweet liberty of nature's primitive laws, I assure thee I would
     most willingly have painted myself quite fully, and quite naked.
     Thus, reader, myself am the matter of my book. There's no reason
     thou shouldst employ thy leisure about so frivolous and vain a
     subject. Therefore, farewell.

     From Montaigne, the 12th of June, 1580.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, our author, as the foregoing date will have
suggested, derived his most familiar name from the place at which he was
born and at which he lived. Readers are not to take too literally
Montaigne's notice of his dispensing with "borrowed beauties." He was,
in fact, a famous borrower. He himself warns his readers to be careful
how they criticise him; they may be flouting unawares Seneca, Plutarch,
or some other, equally redoubtable, of the reverend ancients. Montaigne
is perhaps as signal an example as any in literature, of the man of
genius exercising his prescriptive right to help himself to his own
wherever he may happen to find it. But Montaigne has in turn been freely
borrowed from. Bacon borrowed from him, Shakspeare borrowed from him,
Dryden, Pope, Hume, Burke, Byron,--these, with many more, in England;
and, in France, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Voltaire, Rousseau,--directly
or indirectly, almost every writer since his day. No modern writer,
perhaps, has gone in solution into subsequent literature more widely
than Montaigne. But no writer remains more solidly and insolubly entire.

We go at once to chapter twenty-five of the first book of the "Essays,"
entitled, in the English translation, "Of the education of children."
The translation we use henceforth throughout is the classic one of
Charles Cotton, in a text of it edited by Mr. William Carew Hazlitt. The
"preface," already given, Cotton omitted to translate. We have allowed
Mr. Hazlitt to supply the deficiency. Montaigne addresses his
educational views to a countess. Several others of his essays are
similarly inscribed to women. Mr. Emerson's excuse of Montaigne for his
coarseness,--that he wrote for a generation in which women were not
expected to be readers,--is thus seen to be curiously impertinent to the
actual case that existed. Of a far worse fault in Montaigne than his
coarseness,--we mean his outright immorality,--Mr. Emerson makes no
mention, and for it, therefore, provides no excuse. We shall ourselves,
in due time, deal more openly with our readers on this point.

It was for a "boy of quality" that Montaigne aimed to adapt his
suggestions on the subject of education. In this happy country of ours,
all boys are boys of quality; and we shall go nowhere amiss in selecting
from the present essay:--

     For a boy of quality, then, I say, I would also have his friends
     solicitous to find him out a tutor who has rather a well-made than
     a well-filled head, seeking, indeed, both the one and the other,
     but rather of the two to prefer manners and judgment to mere
     learning, and that this man should exercise his charge after a new

     'Tis the custom of pedagogues to be eternally thundering in their
     pupil's ears, as they were pouring into a funnel, whilst the
     business of the pupil is only to repeat what the others have said:
     now, I would have a tutor to correct this error, and that, at the
     very first, he should, according to the capacity he has to deal
     with, put it to the test, permitting his pupil himself to taste
     things, and of himself to discern and choose them, sometimes
     opening the way to him, and sometimes leaving him to open it for
     himself; that is, I would not have him alone to invent and speak,
     but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn.... Let him
     make him put what he has learned into a hundred several forms, and
     accommodate it to so many several subjects, to see if he yet
     rightly comprehends it, and has made it his own.... 'Tis a sign of
     crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same
     condition it was swallowed: the stomach has not performed its
     office, unless it have altered the form and condition of what was
     committed to it to concoct....

     Let him make him examine and thoroughly sift every thing he reads,
     and lodge nothing in his fancy upon simple authority and upon
     trust. Aristotle's principles will then be no more principles to
     him than those of Epicurus and the Stoics: let this diversity of
     opinions be propounded to, and laid before, him; he will himself
     choose, if he be able; if not, he will remain in doubt.

     "Che, non men che saper, dubbiar m'aggrata." DANTE, _Inferno_, xl.

     ["That doubting pleases me, not less than knowing." LONGFELLOW'S

     For, if he embrace the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own
     reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who
     follows another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay, is
     inquisitive after nothing. "Non sumus sub rege; sibi quisque se
     vindicet." ["We are under no king; let each look to
     himself."--SENECA, _Ep._ 33.] Let him, at least, know that he
     knows. It will be necessary that he imbibe their knowledge, not
     that he be corrupted with their precepts; and no matter if he
     forget where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it
     to his own use. Truth and reason are common to every one, and are
     no more his who spake them first, than his who speaks them after;
     'tis no more according to Plato, than according to me, since both
     he and I equally see and understand them. Bees cull their several
     sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they
     find them; but themselves afterward make the honey, which is all
     and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the
     several fragments he borrows from others he will transform and
     shuffle together, to compile a work that shall be absolutely his
     own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labor, and
     study tend to nothing else but to form that.... Conversation with
     men is of very great use, and travel into foreign countries;... to
     be able chiefly to give an account of the humors, manners, customs,
     and laws of those nations where he has been, and that we may whet
     and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others....

     In this conversing with men, I mean also, and principally, those
     who live only in the records of history: he shall, by reading those
     books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages.

It is difficult to find a stopping-place in discourse so wise and so
sweet. We come upon sentences like Plato for height and for beauty. An
example: "The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness;
her state is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always
clear and serene." But the genius of Montaigne does not often soar,
though even one little flight like that shows that it has wings.
Montaigne's garnishes of quotation from foreign tongues are often a
cold-blooded device of afterthought with him. His first edition was
without them, in many places where subsequently they appear. Readers
familiar with Emerson will be reminded of him in perusing Montaigne.
Emerson himself said, "It seemed to me [in reading the "Essays" of
Montaigne] as if I had myself written the book in some former life, so
sincerely it spoke to my thoughts and experience." The rich old English
of Cotton's translation had evidently a strong influence on Emerson, to
mould his own style of expression. Emerson's trick of writing "'tis,"
was apparently caught from Cotton. The following sentence, from the
present essay of Montaigne, might very well have served Mr. Emerson for
his own rule of writing: "Let it go before, or come after, a good
sentence, or a thing well said, is always in season; if it neither suit
well with what went before, nor has much coherence with what follows
after, it is good in itself." Montaigne, at any rate, wrote his "Essays"
on that easy principle. The logic of them is the logic of mere chance
association in thought. But, with Montaigne,--whatever is true of
Emerson,--the association at least is not occult; and it is such as
pleases the reader, not less than it pleased the writer. So this Gascon
gentleman of the olden time never tires us, and never loses us out of
his hand. We go with him cheerfully where he so blithely leads.

Montaigne tells us how he was himself trained under his father. The
elder Montaigne, too, had his ideas on education,--the subject which his
son, in this essay, so instructively treats. The essayist leads up to
his autobiographical episode by an allusion to the value of the
classical languages, and to the question of method in studying them. He

     In my infancy, and before I began to speak, he [my father]
     committed me to the care of a German,... totally ignorant of our
     language, but very fluent, and a great critic, in Latin. This man,
     whom he had fetched out of his own country, and whom he entertained
     with a very great salary, for this only end, had me continually
     with him: to him there were also joined two others, of inferior
     learning, to attend me, and to relieve him, who all of them spoke
     to me in no other language but Latin. As to the rest of his family,
     it was an inviolable rule, that neither himself nor my mother, man
     nor maid, should speak any thing in my company, but such Latin
     words as every one had learned only to gabble with me. It is not to
     be imagined how great an advantage this proved to the whole family:
     my father and my mother by this means learned Latin enough to
     understand it perfectly well, and to speak it to such a degree as
     was sufficient for any necessary use, as also those of the servants
     did, who were most frequently with me. In short, we Latined it at
     such a rate, that it overflowed to all the neighboring villages,
     where there yet remain, that have established themselves by custom,
     several Latin appellations of artisans and their tools. As for what
     concerns myself, I was above six years of age before I understood
     either French or Perigordin ["Perigordin" is Montaigne's name for
     the dialect of his province, Perigord (Gascony)], any more than
     Arabic; and, without art, book, grammar, or precept, whipping, or
     the expense of a tear, I had, by that time, learned to speak as
     pure Latin as my master himself, for I had no means of mixing it up
     with any other.

We are now to see how, helped by his wealth, the father was able to
gratify a pleasant whimsey of his own in the nurture of his boy. Highly
æsthetic was the matin _reveillé_ that broke the slumbers of this
hopeful young heir of Montaigne:--

     Some being of opinion that it troubles and disturbs the brains of
     children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and to snatch them
     violently and over-hastily from sleep, wherein they are much more
     profoundly involved than we, he [the father] caused me to be
     wakened by the sound of some musical instrument, and was never
     unprovided of a musician for that purpose.... The good man, being
     extremely timorous of any way failing in a thing he had so wholly
     set his heart upon, suffered himself at last to be overruled by the
     common opinions:... he sent me, at six years of age, to the College
     of Guienne, at that time the best and most flourishing in France.

In short, as in the case of Mr. Tulliver, the world was "too many" for
Eyquem _père_; and, in the education of his son, the stout Gascon,
having started out well as dissenter, fell into dull conformity at last.

We ought to give some idea of the odd instances, classic and other, with
which Montaigne plentifully bestrews his pages. He is writing of the
"Force of Imagination." He says:--

     A woman, fancying she had swallowed a pin in a piece of bread,
     cried and lamented as though she had an intolerable pain in her
     throat, where she thought she felt it stick; but an ingenious
     fellow that was brought to her, seeing no outward tumor nor
     alteration, supposing it to be only a conceit taken at some crust
     of bread that had hurt her as it went down, caused her to vomit,
     and, unseen, threw a crooked pin into the basin, which the woman no
     sooner saw, but, believing she had cast it up, she presently found
     herself eased of her pain....

     Such as are addicted to the pleasures of the field, have, I make
     no question, heard the story of the falconer, who, having earnestly
     fixed his eyes upon a kite in the air, laid a wager that he would
     bring her down with the sole power of his sight, and did so, as it
     was said; for _the tales I borrow, I charge upon the consciences of
     those from whom I have them_.

We italicize the last foregoing words, to make readers see that
Montaigne is not to be read for the truth of his instances. He uses what
comes to hand. He takes no trouble to verify. "The discourses are my
own," he says; but even this, as we have hinted, must not be pressed too
hard in interpretation. Whether a given reflection of Montaigne's is
strictly his own, in the sense of not having been first another's, who
gave it to him, is not to be determined except upon very wide reading,
very well remembered, in all the books that Montaigne could have got
under his eye. That was full fairly his own, he thought, which he had
made his own by intelligent appropriation. And this, perhaps, expresses
in general the sound law of property in the realm of mind. At any rate,
Montaigne will wear no yoke of fast obligation. He will write as pleases
him. Above all things else, he likes his freedom.

Here is one of those sagacious historical scepticisms, in which
Montaigne was so fond of poising his mind between opposite views. It
occurs in his essay entitled, "Of the Uncertainty of our Judgments."

     Amongst other oversights Pompey is charged withal at the battle of
     Pharsalia, he is condemned for making his army stand still to
     receive the enemy's charge, "by reason that" (I shall here steal
     Plutarch's own words, which are better than mine) "he by so doing
     deprived himself of the violent impression the motion of running
     adds to the first shock of arms, and hindered that clashing of the
     combatants against one another, which is wont to give them greater
     impetuosity and fury, especially when they come to rush in with
     their utmost vigor, their courages increasing by the shouts and the
     career; 'tis to render the soldiers' ardor, as a man may say, more
     reserved and cold." This is what he says. But, if Cæsar had come by
     the worse, why might it not as well have been urged by another,
     that, on the contrary, the strongest and most steady posture of
     fighting is that wherein a man stands planted firm, without motion;
     and that they who are steady upon the march, closing up, and
     reserving their force within themselves for the push of the
     business, have a great advantage against those who are disordered,
     and who have already spent half their breath in running on
     precipitately to the charge? Besides that, an army is a body made
     up of so many individual members, it is impossible for it to move
     in this fury with so exact a motion as not to break the order of
     battle, and that the best of them are not engaged before their
     fellows can come on to help them.

The sententiousness of Montaigne may be illustrated by transferring here
a page of brief excerpts from the "Essays," collected by Mr. Bayle St.
John in his biography of the author. This apothegmatic or proverbial
quality in Montaigne had a very important sequel of fruitful influence
on subsequent French writers, as chapters to follow in this volume will
abundantly show. In reading the sentences subjoined, you will have the
sensation of coming suddenly upon a treasure-trove of coined proverbial

     Our minds are never at home, but ever beyond home.

     I will take care, if possible, that my death shall say nothing that
     my life has not said.

     Life in itself is neither good nor bad: it is the place of what is
     good or bad.

     Knowledge should not be stuck on to the mind, but incorporated in

     Irresolution seems to me the most common and apparent vice of our

     Age wrinkles the mind more than the face.

     Habit is a second nature.

     Hunger cures love.

     It is easier to get money than to keep it.

     Anger has often been the vehicle of courage.

     It is more difficult to command than to obey.

     A liar should have a good memory.

     Ambition is the daughter of presumption.

     To serve a prince, you must be discreet and a liar.

     We learn to live when life has passed.

     The mind is ill at ease when its companion has the colic.

     We are all richer than we think, but we are brought up to go

     The greatest masterpiece of man is... to be born at the right time.

We append a saying of Montaigne's not found in Mr. St. John's

     There is no so good man who so squares all his thoughts and actions
     to the laws, that he is not faulty enough to deserve hanging ten
     times in his life.

Montaigne was too intensely an egotist, in his character as man no less
than in his character as writer, to have many personal relations that
exhibit him in aspects engaging to our love. But one friendship of his
is memorable,--is even historic. The name of La Boëtie is forever
associated with the name of Montaigne. La Boëtie is remarkable for
being, as we suppose, absolutely the first voice raised in France
against the idea of monarchy. His little treatise "Contr' Un"
(literally, "Against One"), or "Voluntary Servitude," is by many
esteemed among the most important literary productions of modern times.
Others, again, Mr. George Saintsbury for example, consider it an
absurdly overrated book. For our own part, we are inclined to give it
conspicuous place in the history of free thought in France. La Boëtie
died young; and his "Contr' Un" was published posthumously,--first by
the Protestants, after the terrible day of St. Bartholomew. Our readers
may judge for themselves whether a pamphlet in which such passages as
the following could occur, must not have had an historic effect upon the
inflammable sentiment of the French people. We take Mr. Bayle St.
John's translation, bracketing a hint or two of correction suggested by
comparison of the original French. The treatise of La Boëtie is
sometimes now printed with Montaigne's "Essays," in French editions of
our author's works: La Boëtie says:--

     You sow your fruits [crops] that he [the king] may ravage them; you
     furnish and fill your houses that he may have something to steal;
     you bring up your daughters that he may slake his luxury; you bring
     up your sons that he may take them to be butchered in his wars, to
     be the ministers of his avarice, the executors of his vengeance;
     you disfigure your forms by labor [your own selves you inure to
     toil] that he may cocker himself in delight, and wallow in nasty
     and disgusting pleasure.

Montaigne seems really to have loved this friend of his, whom he
reckoned the greatest man in France. His account of La Boëtie's death is
boldly, and not presumptuously, paralleled by Mr. St. John with the
"Phædon" of Plato. Noble writing, it certainly is, though its
stateliness is a shade too self-conscious, perhaps.

We have thus far presented Montaigne in words of his own such as may
fairly be supposed likely to prepossess the reader in his favor. We
could multiply our extracts indefinitely in a like unexceptionable vein
of writing. But to do so, and to stop with these, would misrepresent
Montaigne. Montaigne is very far from being an innocent writer. His
moral tone generally is low, and often it is execrable. He is coarse,
but coarseness is not the worst of him. Indeed, he is cleanliness itself
compared with Rabelais. But Rabelais is morality itself compared with
Montaigne. Montaigne is corrupt and corrupting. This feature of his
writings, we are necessarily forbidden to illustrate. In an essay
written in his old age,--which we will not even name, its general tenor
is so evil,--Montaigne holds the following language:--

     I gently turn aside, and avert my eyes from the stormy and cloudy
     sky I have before me, which, thanks be to God, I regard without
     fear, but not without meditation and study, and amuse myself in the
     remembrance of my better years:--

     "Animus quod perdidit, optat, Atque in præterita se totus imagine

       PETRONIUS, c. 128.

     ["The mind desires what it has lost, and in fancy flings itself
     wholly into the past."]

     Let childhood look forward, and age backward: is not this the
     signification of Janus' double face? Let years haul me along if
     they will, but it shall be backward; as long as my eyes can discern
     the pleasant season expired, I shall now and then turn them that
     way; though it escape from my blood and veins, I shall not,
     however, root the image of it out of my memory:--

     "Hoc est Vivere bis, vita posse priore frui."

       MARTIAL, x. 23, 7.

     ["'Tis to live twice to be able to enjoy former life again."]

Harmlessly, even engagingly, pensive seems the foregoing strain of
sentiment. Who could suppose it a prelude to detailed reminiscence on
the author's part of sensual pleasures--the basest--enjoyed in the past?
The venerable voluptuary keeps himself in countenance for his lascivious
vein, by writing as follows:--

     I have enjoined myself to dare to say all that I dare to do; even
     thoughts that are not to be published, displease me; the worst of
     my actions and qualities do not appear to me so evil, as I find it
     evil and base not to dare to own them....

     ...I am greedy of making myself known, and I care not to how many,
     provided it be truly.... Many things that I would not say to a
     particular individual, I say to the people; and, as to my most
     secret thoughts, send my most intimate friends to my book.... For
     my part, if any one should recommend me as a good pilot, as being
     very modest, or very chaste, I should owe him no thanks [because
     the recommendation would be false].

We must leave it--as, however, Montaigne himself is far enough from
leaving it--to the imagination of readers to conjecture what "pleasures"
they are, of which this worn-out debauchee (nearing death, and thanking
God that he nears it "without fear") speaks in the following sentimental

     In farewells, we oftener than not heat our affections towards the
     things we take leave of: I take my last leave of the pleasures of
     this world; these are our last embraces.

Mr. Emerson, in his "Representative Men," makes Montaigne stand for The
Sceptic. Sceptic Montaigne was. He questioned, he considered, he
doubted. He stood poised in equilibrium, in indifference, between
contrary opinions. He saw reasons on this side, but he saw reasons also
on that, and he did not clear his mind. "_Que sçai-je?_" was his motto
("What know I?"), a question as of hopeless ignorance,--nay, as of
ignorance also void of desire to know. His life was one long
interrogation, a balancing of opposites, to the end.

Such, speculatively, was Montaigne. Such, too, speculatively, was
Pascal. The difference, however, was greater than the likeness, between
these two minds. Pascal, doubting, gave the world of spiritual things
the benefit of his doubt. Montaigne, on the other hand, gave the benefit
of his doubt to the world of sense. He was a sensualist, he was a
glutton, he was a lecher. He, for his portion, chose the good things of
this life. His body he used to get him pleasures of the body. In
pleasures of the body he sunk and drowned his conscience,--if he ever
had a conscience. But his intelligence survived. He became, at last,--if
he was not such from the first,--almost pure sense, without soul.

Yet we have no doubt Montaigne was an agreeable gentleman. We think we
should have got on well with him as a neighbor of ours. He was a
tolerably decent father, provided the child were grown old enough to be
company for him. His own lawful children, while infants, had to go out
of the house for their nursing; so it not unnaturally happened that all
but one died in their infancy. Five of such is the number that you can
count in his own journalistic entries of family births and deaths. But,
speaking as "moral philosopher," in his "Essays," he says, carelessly,
that he had lost "two or three" "without repining." This, perhaps, is
affectation. But what affectation!

Montaigne was well-to-do; and he ranked as a gentleman, if not as a
great nobleman. He lived in a castle, bequeathed to him, and by him
bequeathed,--a castle still standing, and full of personal association
with its most famous owner. He occupied a room in the tower, fitted up
as a library. Over the door of this room may still, we believe, be read
Montaigne's motto, "_Que sçai-je?_" Votaries of Montaigne perform their
pious pilgrimages to this shrine of their idolatry, year after year,
century after century.

For, remember, it is now three centuries since Montaigne wrote. He was
before Bacon and Shakspeare. He was contemporary with Charles IX., and
with Henry of Navarre. But date has little to do with such a writer as
Montaigne. His quality is sempiternal. He overlies the ages, as the long
hulk of "The Great Eastern" overlay the waves of the sea, stretching
from summit to summit. Not that, in the form of his literary work, he
was altogether independent of time and of circumstance. Not that he was
uninfluenced by his historic place, in the essential spirit of his
work. But, more than often happens, Montaigne may fairly be judged out
of himself alone. His message he might, indeed, have delivered
differently; but it would have been substantially the same message if he
had been differently placed in the world, and in history. We need
hardly, therefore, add any thing about Montaigne's outward life. His
true life is in his book.

Montaigne the Essayist is the consummate, the ideal, expression,
practically incapable of improvement, of the spirit and wisdom of the
world. This characterization, we think, fairly and sufficiently sums up
the good and the bad of Montaigne. We might seem to describe no very
mischievous thing. But to have the spirit and wisdom of this world
expressed, to have it expressed as in a last authoritative form, a form
to commend it, to flatter it, to justify it, to make it seem sufficient,
to erect it into a kind of gospel,--that means much. It means hardly
less than to provide the world with a new Bible,--a Bible of the world's
own, a Bible that shall approve itself as better than the Bible of the
Old and New Testaments. Montaigne's "Essays" constitute, in effect, such
a book. The man of the world may,--and, to say truth, does,--in this
volume, find all his needed texts. Here is _viaticum_--daily manna--for
him, to last the year round, and to last year after year; an
inexhaustible breviary for the church of this world! It is of the
gravest historical significance that Rabelais and Montaigne, but
especially Montaigne, should, to such an extent, for now three full
centuries, have been furnishing the daily intellectual food of

Pascal, in an interview with M. de Saci (carefully reported by the
latter), in which the conversation was on the subject of Montaigne and
Epictetus contrasted,--these two authors Pascal acknowledged to be the
ones most constantly in his hand,--said gently of Montaigne, "Montaigne
is absolutely pernicious to those who have any inclination toward
irreligion, or toward vicious indulgences." We, for our part, are
prepared, speaking more broadly than Pascal, to say that, to a somewhat
numerous class of naturally dominant minds, Montaigne's "Essays," in
spite of all that there is good in them,--nay, greatly because of so
much good in them,--are, by their subtly insidious persuasion to evil,
upon the whole quite the most powerfully pernicious book known to us in
literature, either ancient or modern.


LA ROCHEFOUCAULD: 1613-1680 (La Bruyère: 1646 (?)-1696; Vauvenargues:

In La Rochefoucauld we meet another eminent example of the author of one
book. "Letters," "Memoirs," and "Maxims" indeed name productions in
three kinds, productions all of them notable, and all still extant, from
La Rochefoucauld's pen. But the "Maxims" are so much more famous than
either the "Letters" or the "Memoirs," that their author may be said to
be known only by those. If it were not for the "Maxims," the "Letters"
and the "Memoirs" would probably now be forgotten. We here may dismiss
these from our minds, and concentrate our attention exclusively upon the
"Maxims." Voltaire said, "The 'Memoirs' of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld
are read, but we know his 'Maxims' by heart."

La Rochefoucauld's "Maxims" are detached sentences of reflection and
wisdom on human character and conduct. They are about seven hundred in
number, but they are all comprised in a very small volume; for they
generally are each only two or three lines in length, and almost never
does a single maxim occupy more than the half of a moderate-sized page.
The "Maxims," detached, as we have described them, have no very marked
logical sequence in the order in which they stand. They all, however,
have a profound mutual relation. An unvarying monotone of sentiment, in
fact, runs through them. They are so many different expressions,
answering to so many different observations taken at different angles,
of one and the same persisting estimate of human nature. 'Self-love is
the mainspring and motive of every thing we do, or say, or feel, or
think:' that is the total result of the "Maxims" of La Rochefoucauld.

The writer's qualifications for treating his theme were unsurpassed. He
had himself the right character, moral and intellectual; his scheme of
conduct in life corresponded; he wrote in the right language, French;
and he was rightly situated in time, in place, and in circumstance. He
needed but to look closely within him and without him,--which he was
gifted, with eyes to do,--and then report what he saw, in the language
to which he was born. This he did, and his "Maxims" are the fruit. His
method was largely the sceptical method of Montaigne. His result, too,
was much the same result as his master's. But the pupil surpassed the
master in the quality of his work. There is a fineness, an
exquisiteness, in the literary form of La Rochefoucauld, which Montaigne
might indeed have disdained to seek, but which he could never, even with
seeking, have attained. Each maxim of La Rochefoucauld is a "gem of
purest ray serene," wrought to the last degree of perfection in form
with infinite artistic pains. Purity, precision, clearness, density,
point, are perfectly reconciled in La Rochefoucauld's style with ease,
grace, and brilliancy of expression. The influence of such literary
finish, well bestowed on thought worthy to receive it, has been
incalculably potent in raising the standard of French production in
prose. It was Voltaire's testimony, "One of the works which has most
contributed to form the national taste, and give it a spirit of accuracy
and precision, was the little collection of 'Maxims' by François Duc de
La Rochefoucauld."

There is a high-bred air about La Rochefoucauld the writer, which well
accords with the rank and character of the man La Rochefoucauld. He was
of one of the noblest families in France. His instincts were all
aristocratic. His manners and his morals were those of his class. Brave,
spirited, a touch of chivalry in him, honorable and amiable as the world
reckons of its own, La Rochefoucauld ran a career consistent throughout
with his own master-principle, self-love. He had a wife whose conjugal
fidelity her husband seems to have thought a sufficient supply in that
virtue for both himself and her. He behaved himself accordingly. His
illicit relations with other women were notorious. But they unhappily
did not make La Rochefoucauld in that respect at all peculiar among the
distinguished men of his time. His brilliant female friends collaborated
with him in working out his "Maxims." These were the labor of years.
They were published in successive editions, during the lifetime of the
author; and some final maxims were added from his manuscripts after his

Using, for the purpose, a very recent translation, that of A. S. Bolton
(which, in one or two places, we venture to conform more exactly to the
sense of the original), we give almost at hazard a few specimens of
these celebrated apothegms. We adopt the numbering given in the best
Paris edition of the "Maxims:"--

     No. 11. The passions often beget their contraries. Avarice
     sometimes produces prodigality, and prodigality avarice: we are
     often firm from weakness, and daring from timidity.

     No. 13. Our self-love bears more impatiently the condemnation of
     our tastes than of our opinions.

How much just detraction from all mere natural human greatness is
contained in the following penetrative maxim!--

     No. 18. Moderation is a fear of falling into the envy and contempt
     which those deserve who are intoxicated with their good fortune; it
     is a vain parade of the strength of our mind; and, in short, the
     moderation of men in their highest elevation is a desire to appear
     greater than their fortune.

What effectively quiet satire in these few words!--

     No. 19. We have strength enough to bear the ills of others.

This man had seen the end of all perfection in the apparently great of
this world. He could not bear that such should flaunt a false plume
before their fellows:--

     No. 20. The steadfastness of sages is only the art of locking up
     their uneasiness in their hearts.

Of course, had it lain in the author's chosen line to do so, he might,
with as much apparent truth, have pointed out, that to lock up
uneasiness in the heart requires steadfastness no less--nay, more--than
not to feel uneasiness.

The inflation of "philosophy" vaunting itself is thus softly eased of
its painful distention:--

     No. 22. Philosophy triumphs easily over troubles passed and
     troubles to come, but present troubles triumph over it.

When Jesus once rebuked the fellow-disciples of James and John for
blaming those brethren as self-seekers, he acted on the same profound
principle with that disclosed in the following maxim:--

     No. 34. If we had no pride, we should not complain of that of

How impossible it is for that Proteus, self-love, to elude the presence
of mind, the inexorable eye, the fast hand, of this incredulous

     No. 39. Interest [self-love] speaks all sorts of languages, and
     plays all sorts of parts, even that of disinterestedness.

     No. 49. We are never so happy, or so unhappy, as we imagine.

     No. 78. The love of justice is, in most men, only the fear of
     suffering injustice.

What a subtly unsoldering distrust the following maxim introduces into
the sentiment of mutual friendship!--

     No. 83. What men have called friendship, is only a partnership, a
     mutual accommodation of interests, and an exchange of good offices:
     it is, in short, only a traffic, in which self-love always proposes
     to gain something.

     No. 89. Every one complains of his memory, and no one complains of
     his judgment.

How striking, from its artful suppression of strikingness, is the first
following, and what a wide, easy sweep of well-bred satire it

     No. 93. Old men like to give good advice, to console themselves for
     being no longer able to give bad examples.

     No. 119. We are so much accustomed to disguise ourselves to others,
     that, at last, we disguise ourselves to ourselves.

     No. 127. The true way to be deceived, is to think one's self
     sharper than others.

The plain-spoken proverb, "A man that is his own lawyer, has a fool for
his client," finds a more polished expression in the following:--

     No. 132. It is easier to be wise for others, than to be so for
     one's self.

How pitilessly this inquisitor pursues his prey, "the human soul, into
all its useless hiding-places!--

     No. 138. We would rather speak ill of ourselves, than not talk of

The following maxim, longer and less felicitously phrased than is usual
with La Rochefoucauld, recalls that bitter definition of the bore,--"One
who insists on talking about himself all the time that you are wishing
to talk about yourself:"--

     No. 139. One of the causes why we find so few people who appear
     reasonable and agreeable in conversation, is, that there is
     scarcely any one who does not think more of what he wishes to say,
     than of replying exactly to what is said to him. The cleverest and
     the most compliant think it enough to show an attentive air; while
     we see in their eyes and in their mind a wandering from what is
     said to them, and a hurry to return to what they wish to say,
     instead of considering that it is a bad way to please or to
     persuade others, to try so hard to please one's self, and that to
     listen well is one of the greatest accomplishments we can have in

If we are indignant at the maxims following, it is probably rather
because they are partly true than, because they are wholly false:--

     No. 144. We are not fond of praising, and, without interest, we
     never praise any one. Praise is a cunning flattery, hidden and
     delicate, which, in different ways, pleases him who gives and him
     who receives it. The one takes it as a reward for his merit: the
     other gives it to show his equity and his discernment.

     No. 146. We praise generally only to be praised.

     No. 147. Few are wise enough to prefer wholesome blame to
     treacherous praise.

     No. 149. Disclaiming praise is a wish to be praised a second time.

     No. 152. If we did not flatter ourselves, the flattery of others
     could not hurt us.

     No. 184. We acknowledge our faults in order to atone, by our
     sincerity, for the harm they do us in the minds of others.

     No. 199. The desire to appear able often prevents our becoming so.

     No. 201. Whoever thinks he can do without the world, deceives
     himself much; but whoever thinks the world cannot do without him,
     deceives himself much more.

With the following, contrast Ruskin's noble paradox, that the soldier's
business, rightly conceived, is self-sacrifice; his ideal purpose being,
not to kill, but to be killed:--

     No. 214. Valor, in private soldiers, is a perilous calling, which
     they have taken to in order to gain their living.

Here is, perhaps, the most current of all La Rochefoucauld's maxims:--

     No. 218. Hypocrisy is a homage which vice renders to virtue.

Of the foregoing maxim, it may justly be said, that its truth and point
depend upon the assumption, implicit, that there is such a thing as
virtue,--an assumption which the whole tenor of the "Maxims," in
general, contradicts.

How incisive the following!--

     No. 226. Too great eagerness to requite an obligation is a kind of

     No. 298. The gratitude of most men is only a secret desire to
     receive greater favors.

     No. 304. We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive
     those whom we bore.

     No. 318. Why should we have memory enough to retain even the
     smallest particulars of what has happened to us, and yet not have
     enough to remember how often we have told them to the same

The first following maxim satirizes both princes and courtiers. It might
be entitled, "How to insult a prince, and not suffer for your

     No. 320. To praise princes for virtues they have not, is to insult
     them with impunity.

     No. 347. We find few sensible people, except those who are of our
     way of thinking.

     No. 409. We should often be ashamed of our best actions, if the
     world saw the motives which cause them.

     No. 424. We boast of faults the reverse of those we have: when we
     are weak, we boast of being stubborn.

Here, at length, is a maxim that does not depress,--that animates you:--

     No. 432. To praise noble actions heartily, is in some sort to take
     part in them.

The following is much less exhilarating:--

     No. 454. There are few instances in which we should make a bad
     bargain, by giving up the good that is said of us, on condition
     that nothing bad be said.

This, also:--

     No. 458. Our enemies come nearer to the truth, in the opinions they
     form of us, than we do ourselves.

Here is a celebrated maxim, vainly "suppressed" by the author, after
first publication:--

     No. 583. In the adversity of our best friends, we always find
     something which does not displease us.

Before La Rochefoucauld, Montaigne had said, "Even in the midst of
compassion, we feel within us an unaccountable bitter-sweet titillation
of ill-natured pleasure in seeing another suffer;" and Burke, after
both, wrote (in his "Sublime and Beautiful") with a heavier hand, "I am
convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in
the real misfortunes and pains of others."

La Rochefoucauld is not fairly cynical, more than is Montaigne. But, as
a man, he wins upon you less. His maxims are like hard and sharp
crystals, precipitated from the worldly wisdom blandly solute and dilute
in Montaigne.

The wise of this world reject the dogma of human depravity, as taught in
the Bible. They willingly accept it,--nay, accept it complacently,
hugging themselves for their own penetration,--as taught in the "Maxims"
of La Rochefoucauld.

* * *

Jean de La Bruyère is personally almost as little known as if he were an
ancient of the Greek or Roman world, surviving, like Juvenal, only in
his literary production. Bossuet got him employed to teach history to a
great duke, who became his patron, and settled a life-long annuity upon
him. He published his one book, the "Characters," in 1687, was made
member of the French Academy in 1693, and died in 1696. That, in short,
is La Bruyère's biography.

His book is universally considered one of the most finished products of
the human mind. It is not a great work,--it lacks the unity and the
majesty of design necessary for that. It consists simply of detached
thoughts and observations on a variety of subjects. It shows the author
to have been a man of deep and wise reflection, but especially a
consummate master of style. The book is one to read in, rather than to
read. It is full of food to thought. The very beginning exhibits a
self-consciousness on the writer's part very different from that
spontaneous simplicity in which truly great books originate. La Bruyère

     Every thing has been said; and one comes too late, after more than
     seven thousand years that there have been men, and men who have

La Bruyère has something to say, and that at length unusual for him, of
pulpit eloquence. We select a few specimen sentences:--

     Christian eloquence has become a spectacle. That gospel sadness,
     which is its soul, is no longer to be observed in it; its place is
     supplied by advantages of facial expression, by inflexions of the
     voice, by regularity of gesticulation, by choice of words, and by
     long categories. The sacred word is no longer listened to
     seriously; it is a kind of amusement, one among many; it is a game
     in which there is rivalry, and in which there are those who lay

     Profane eloquence has been transferred, so to speak, from the
     bar,... where it is no longer employed, to the pulpit, where it
     ought not to be found.

     Matches of eloquence are made at the very foot of the altar, and in
     the presence of the mysteries. He who listens sits in judgment on
     him who preaches, to condemn or to applaud, and is no more
     converted by the discourse which he praises than by that which he
     pronounces against. The orator pleases some, displeases others, and
     has an understanding with all in one thing,--that as he does not
     seek to render them better, so they do not think of becoming

The almost cynical acerbity of the preceding is ostensibly relieved of
an obvious application to certain illustrious contemporary examples
among preachers by the following open allusion to Bossuet and

     The Bishop of Meaux [Bossuet] and Father Bourdaloue make me think
     of Demosthenes and Cicero. Both of them, masters of pulpit
     eloquence, have had the fortune of great models; the one has made
     bad critics, the other, bad imitators.

Here is a happy instance of La Bruyère's successful pains in redeeming a
commonplace sentiment by means of a striking form of expression; the
writer is disapproving the use of oaths in support of one's testimony:--

     An honest man who says, Yes, or No, deserves to be believed; his
     character swears for him.

Highly satiric in his quiet way, La Bruyère knew how to be. Witness the
following thrust at a contemporary author, not named by the satirist,
but, no doubt, recognized by the public of the time:--

     He maintains that the ancients, however unequal and negligent they
     may be, have fine traits; he points these out; and they are so fine
     that they make his criticism readable.

How painstakingly, how self-consciously, La Bruyère did his literary
work, is evidenced by the following:--

     A good author, and one who writes with care, often has the
     experience of finding that the expression which he was a long time
     in search of without reaching it, and which at length he has found,
     is that which was the most simple, the most natural, and that
     which, as it would seem, should have presented itself at first, and
     without effort.

We feel that the quality of La Bruyère is such as to fit him for the
admiration and enjoyment of but a comparatively small class of readers.
He was somewhat over-exquisite. His art at times became
artifice--infinite labor of style to make commonplace thought seem
valuable by dint of perfect expression. We dismiss La Bruyère with a
single additional extract,--his celebrated parallel between Corneille
and Racine:--

     Corneille subjects us to his characters and to his ideas; Racine
     accommodates himself to ours. The one paints men as they ought to
     be; the other paints them as they are. There is more in the former
     of what one admires, and of what one ought even to imitate; there
     is more in the latter of what one observes in others, or of what
     one experiences in one's self. The one inspires, astonishes,
     masters, instructs; the other pleases, moves, touches, penetrates.
     Whatever there is most beautiful, most noble, most imperial, in the
     reason is made use of by the former; by the latter, whatever is
     most seductive and most delicate in passion. You find in the
     former, maxims, rules, and precepts; in the latter, taste and
     sentiment. You are more absorbed in the plays of Corneille; you are
     more shaken and more softened in those of Racine. Corneille is more
     moral; Racine, more natural. The one appears to make Sophocles his
     model; the other owes more to Euripides.

* * *

Less than half a century after La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère had shown
the way, Vauvenargues followed in a similar style of authorship,
promising almost to rival the fame of his two predecessors. This writer,
during his brief life (he died at thirty-two), produced one not
inconsiderable literary work more integral and regular in form,
entitled, "Introduction to the Knowledge of the Human Mind"; but it is
his disconnected thoughts and observations chiefly that continue to
preserve his name.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues, though nobly born, was poor.
His health was frail. He did not receive a good education in his youth.
Indeed, he was still in his youth when he went to the wars. His culture
always remained narrow. He did not know Greek and Latin, when to know
Greek and Latin was, as it were, the whole of scholarship. To crown his
accidental disqualifications for literary work, he fell a victim to the
small-pox, which left him wrecked in body. This occurred almost
immediately after he abandoned a military career which had been fruitful
to him of hardship, but not of promotion. In spite of all that was thus
against him, Vauvenargues, in those years, few and evil, that were his,
thought finely and justly enough to earn for himself a lasting place in
the literary history of his nation. He was in the eighteenth century of
France, without being of it. You have to separate him in thought from
the infidels and the "philosophers" of his time. He belongs in spirit to
an earlier age. His moral and intellectual kindred was with such as
Pascal, far more than with such as Voltaire. Vauvenargues is, however, a
writer for the few, instead of for the many. His fame is high, but it is
not wide. Historically, he forms a stepping-stone of transition to a
somewhat similar nineteenth-century name, that of Joubert. A very few
sentences of his will suffice to indicate to our readers the quality of
Vauvenargues. Self-evidently, the following antithesis drawn by him
between Corneille and Racine is subtly and ingeniously thought, as well
as very happily expressed--this, whatever may be considered to be its
aptness in point of literary appreciation:--

     Corneille's heroes often say great things without inspiring them;
     Racine's inspire them without saying them.

Here is a good saying:--

     It is a great sign of mediocrity always to be moderate in praising.

There is worldly wisdom also here:--

     He who knows how to turn his prodigalities to good account,
     practises a large and noble economy.

Virgil's "They are able, because they seem to themselves to be able," is
recalled by this:--

     The consciousness of our strength makes our strength greater.

So much for Vauvenargues.




La Fontaine enjoys a unique fame. He has absolutely "no fellow in the
firmament" of literature. He is the only fabulist, of any age or any
nation, that, on the score simply of his fables, is admitted to be poet
as well as fabulist. There is perhaps no other literary name whatever
among the French, by long proof more secure, than is La Fontaine's, of
universal and of immortal renown. Such a fame is, of course, not the
most resplendent in the world; but to have been the first, and to remain
thus far the only, writer of fables enjoying recognition as true
poetry,--this surely is an achievement entitling La Fontaine to
monumental mention in any sketch, however summary, of French literature.

Jean de La Fontaine was humbly born, at Château-Thierry in Champagne.
His early education was sadly neglected. At twenty years of age he was
still phenomenally ignorant. About this time, being now better situated,
he developed a taste for the classics and for poetry. With La Fontaine
the man, it is the sadly familiar French story of debauched manners in
life and in literary production. We cannot acquit him, but we are to
condemn him only in common with the most of his age and of his nation.
As the world goes, La Fontaine was a "good fellow," never lacking
friends. These were held fast in loyalty to the poet, not so much by any
sterling worth of character felt in him, as by an exhaustless,
easy-going good-nature, that, despite his social insipidity, made La
Fontaine the most acceptable of every-day companions. It would be easy
to repeat many stories illustrative of this personal quality in La
Fontaine, while to tell a single story illustrative of any lofty trait
in his character would he perhaps impossible. Still, La Fontaine seemed
not ungrateful for the benefits he received from others; and gratitude,
no commonplace virtue, let us accordingly reckon to the credit of a man
in general so slenderly equipped with positive claims to admiring
personal regard. The mirror of _bonhomie_ (easy-hearted
good-fellowship), he always was. Indeed, that significant, almost
untranslatable, French word might have been coined to fit La Fontaine's
case. On his amiable side--a full hemisphere or more of the man--it sums
him up completely. Twenty years long, this mirror of _bonhomie_ was
domiciliated, like a pet animal, under the hospitable roof of the
celebrated Madame de la Sablière. There was truth as well as humor
implied in what she said one day: "I have sent away all my domestics; I
have kept only my dog, my cat, and La Fontaine."

But La Fontaine had that in him which kept the friendship of serious
men. Molière, a grave, even melancholy spirit, however gay in his
comedies; Boileau and Racine, decorous both of them, at least in
manners,--constituted, together with La Fontaine, a kind of private
"Academy," existing on a diminutive scale, which was not without its
important influence on French letters. La Fontaine seems to have been a
sort of Goldsmith in this club of wits, the butt of many pleasantries
from his colleagues, called out by his habit of absent-mindedness. St.
Augustine was one night the subject of an elaborate eulogy, which La
Fontaine lost the benefit of, through a reverie of his own indulged
meantime on a quite different character. Catching, however, at the name,
La Fontaine, as he came to himself for a moment, betrayed the secret of
his absent thoughts by asking, "Do you think St. Augustine had as much
wit as Rabelais?"--"Take care, Monsieur La Fontaine: you have put one of
your stockings on wrong side out,"--he had actually done so,--was the
only answer vouchsafed to his question. The speaker in this case was a
doctor of the Sorbonne (brother to Boileau), present as guest. The story
is told of La Fontaine, that egged on to groundless jealousy of his
wife,--a wife whom he never really loved, and whom he soon would finally
abandon,--he challenged a military friend of his to combat with swords.
The friend was amazed, and, amazed, reluctantly fought with La Fontaine,
whom he easily put at his mercy. "Now, what is this for?" he demanded.
"The public says you visit my house for my wife's sake, not for mine,"
said La Fontaine. "Then I never will come again." "Far from it,"
responds La Fontaine, seizing his friend's hand. "I have satisfied the
public. Now you must come to my house every day, or I will fight you
again." The two went back in company, and breakfasted together in mutual
good humor.

A trait or two more, and there will have been enough of the man La
Fontaine. It is said that when, on the death of Madame de la Sablière,
La Fontaine was homeless, he was met on the street by a friend, who
exclaimed, "I was looking for you; come to my house, and live with me!"
"I was on the way there," La Fontaine characteristically replied. At
seventy, La Fontaine went through a process of "conversion," so called,
in which he professed repentance of his sins. On the genuineness of this
inward experience of La Fontaine, it is not for a fellow-creature of
his, especially at this distance of time, to pronounce. When he died,
at seventy-three, Fénelon could say of him (in Latin), "La Fontaine is
no more! He is no more; and with him have gone the playful jokes, the
merry laugh, the artless graces, and the sweet Muses!"

La Fontaine's earliest works were _Contes_, so styled; that is, stories,
tales, or romances. These are in character such that the subsequent
happy change in manners, if not in morals, has made them
unreadable,--for their indecency. We need concern ourselves only with
the Fables, for it is on these that La Fontaine's fame securely rests.
The basis of story in them was not generally original with La Fontaine.
He took whatever fittest came to his hand. With much modesty, he
attributed all to Æsop and Phædrus. But invention of his own is not
altogether wanting to his books of fables. Still, it is chiefly the
consummate artful artlessness of the form that constitutes the
individual merit of La Fontaine's productions. With something, too, of
the air of real poetry, he has undoubtedly invested his verse.

We give, first, the brief fable which is said to have been the prime
favorite of the author himself. It is the fable of "The Oak and the
Reed." Of this fable, French critics have not scrupled to speak in terms
of almost the very highest praise. Chamfort says, "Let one consider,
that, within the limit of thirty lines, La Fontaine, doing nothing but
yield himself to the current of his story, has taken on every tone,
that of poetry the most graceful, that of poetry the most lofty, and one
will not hesitate to affirm, that, at the epoch at which this fable
appeared, there was nothing comparable to it in the French language."
There are, to speak precisely, thirty-two lines in the fable. In this
one case, let us try representing La Fontaine's compression by our
English form. For the rest of our specimens, we shall use Elizur
Wright's translation,--a meritorious one, still master of the field
which, near fifty years ago, it entered as pioneer. Mr. Wright here
expands La Fontaine's thirty-two verses to forty-four. The additions are
not ungraceful, but they encumber somewhat the Attic neatness and
simplicity of the original. We ought to say, that La Fontaine boldly
broke with the tradition which had been making Alexandrines--lines of
six feet--obligatory in French verse. He rhymes irregularly, at choice,
and makes his verses long or short, as pleases him. The closing verse of
the present piece is, in accordance with the intended majesty of the
representation, an Alexandrine.

          The Oak one day said to the Reed,
      "Justly might you dame Nature blame:
      A wren's weight would bow down your frame;
          The lightest wind that chance may make
          Dimple the surface of the lake
          Your head bends low indeed,
      The while, like Caucasus, my front
      To meet the branding sun is wont,
      Nay, more, to take the tempest's brunt.

          A blast you feel, I feel a breeze.
      Had you been born beneath my roof,
      Wide-spread, of leafage weather-proof,
          Less had you known your life to tease;
          I should have sheltered you from storm.
          But oftenest you rear your form
      On the moist limits of the realm of wind.
      Nature, methinks, against you sore has sinned."
          "Your pity," answers him the Heed,
      "Bespeaks you kind; but spare your pain;
      I more than you may winds disdain.
          I bend, and break not. You, indeed,
      Against their dreadful strokes till now
      Have stood, nor tamed your back to bow:
      But wait we for the end."
                                Scarce had he spoke,
      When fiercely from the far horizon broke
      The wildest of the children, fullest fraught
      With terror, that till then the North had brought.
          The tree holds good; the reed it bends.
          The wind redoubled might expends,
      And so well works that from his bed
      Him it uproots who nigh to heaven his head
      Held, and whose feet reached to the kingdom of the dead.

In the fable of the "Rat retired from the World," La Fontaine rallies
the monks. "With French _finesse_, he hits his mark by expressly
avoiding it. "What think you I mean by my disobliging rat? A monk? No,
but a Mahometan devotee; I take it for granted that a monk is always
ready with his help to the needy!"

      The sage Levantines have a tale
          About a rat that weary grew
      Of all the cares which life assail,
          And to a Holland cheese withdrew.
      His solitude was there profound,
      Extending through his world so round.
      Our hermit lived on that within;
      And soon his industry had been
      With claws and teeth so good,
          That in his novel heritage,
          He had in store for wants of age,
      Both house and livelihood.
      What more could any rat desire?
          He grew fat, fair, and round.
          God's blessings thus redound
      To those who in his vows retire.
      One day this personage devout,
      Whose kindness none might doubt,
      Was asked, by certain delegates
      That came from Rat United States,
      For some small aid, for they
      To foreign parts were on their way,
      For succor in the great cat-war:
      Ratopolis beleaguered sore,
          Their whole republic drained and poor,
      No morsel in their scrips they bore.
          Slight boon they craved, of succor sure
      In days at utmost three or four.
      "My friends," the hermit said,
      "To worldly things I'm dead.
      How can a poor recluse
      To such a mission be of use?
      What can he do but pray
      That God will aid it on its way?
      And so, my friends, it is my prayer
      That God will have you in his care."
      His well-fed saintship said no more,
      But in their faces shut the door.
          What think you, reader, is the service,
      For which I use this niggard rat?
          To paint a monk? No, but a dervise.
      A monk, I think, however fat,
      Must be more bountiful than that.

The fable entitled "Death and the Dying" is much admired for its union
of pathos with wit. "The Two Doves" is another of La Fontaine's more
tender inspirations. "The Mogul's Dream" is a somewhat ambitious flight
of the fabulist's muse. On the whole, however, the masterpiece among the
fables of La Fontaine is that of "The Animals Sick of the Plague." Such
at least is the opinion of critics in general. The idea of this fable is
not original with La Fontaine. The homilists of the middle ages used a
similar fiction to enforce on priests the duty of impartiality in
administering the sacrament, so called, of confession. We give this
famous fable as our closing specimen of La Fontaine:--

                The sorest ill that Heaven hath
            Sent oil this lower world in wrath,--
            The plague (to call it by its name),
                    One single day of which
                Would Pluto's ferryman enrich,
            Waged war on beasts, both wild and tame.
            They died not all, but all were sick:
            No hunting now, by force or trick,
            To save what might so soon expire.
            No food excited their desire:
            Nor wolf nor fox now watched to slay
            The innocent and tender prey.
                            The turtles fled,
            So love and therefore joy were dead.
            The lion council held, and said,
            "My friends, I do believe
            This awful scourge for which we grieve,
            Is for our sins a punishment
            Most righteously by Heaven sent.
            Let us our guiltiest beast resign,
            A sacrifice to wrath divine.
            Perhaps this offering, truly small,
            May gain the life and health of all.
            By history we find it noted
            That lives have been just so devoted.
            Then let us all turn eyes within,
            And ferret out the hidden sin.
            Himself, let no one spare nor flatter,
            But make clean conscience in the matter.
            For me, my appetite has played the glutton
            Too much and often upon mutton.
            What harm had e'er my victims done?
                            I answer, truly, None.
            Perhaps, sometimes, by hunger pressed,
                  I've eat the shepherd with the rest.
                  I yield myself if need there be;
                  And yet I think, in equity,
            Each should confess his sins with me;
            For laws of right and justice cry,
            The guiltiest alone should die."
            "Sire," said the fox, "your majesty
            Is humbler than a king should be,
            And over-squeamish in the case.
                  What! eating stupid sheep a crime?
                  No, never, sire, at any time.

            It rather was an act of grace,
            A mark of honor to their race.
            And as to shepherds, one may swear,
                    The fate your majesty describes,
            Is recompense less full than fair
                    For such usurpers o'er our tribes."

                    Thus Renard glibly spoke,
            And loud applause from listeners broke.
            Of neither tiger, boar, nor bear,
            Did any keen inquirer dare
            To ask for crimes of high degree;
                    The fighters, biters, scratchers, all
            From every mortal sin were free;
                    The very dogs, both great and small,
                    Were saints, as far as dogs could be.

                    The ass, confessing in his turn,
            Thus spoke in tones of deep concern:
            "I happened through a mead to pass;
            The monks, its owners, were at mass:
            Keen hunger, leisure, tender grass,
                    And, add to these the devil, too,
                    All tempted me the deed to do.
            I browsed the bigness of my tongue:
            Since truth must out, I own it wrong."
            On this, a hue and cry arose,
            As if the beasts were all his foes.
            A wolf, haranguing lawyer-wise,
            Denounced the ass for sacrifice,--
            The bald-pate, scabby, ragged lout,
            By whom the plague had come, no doubt.
            His fault was judged a hanging crime.
                    What! eat another's grass? Oh, shame!
            The noose of rope, and death sublime,
                    For that offence were all too tame!
                    And soon poor Grizzle felt the same.

            Thus human courts acquit the strong,
            And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.

It is suitable to add, in conclusion, that La Fontaine is a crucial
author for disclosing the irreconcilable difference that exists, at
bottom, between the Englishman's and the Frenchman's idea of poetry. No
English-speaker, heir of Shakspeare and Milton, will ever be able to
satisfy a Frenchman with admiration such as he can conscientiously
profess for the poetry of La Fontaine.




MOLIÈRE is confessedly the greatest writer of comedy in the world. Greek
Menander might have disputed the palm; but Menander's works have
perished, and his greatness must be guessed. Who knows but we guess him
too great? Molière's works survive, and his greatness may be measured.

We have stinted our praise. Molière is not only; the foremost name in a
certain department of literature; he is one of the foremost names in
literature. The names are few on which critics are willing to bestow
this distinction. But critics generally agree in bestowing this
distinction on Molière.

Molière's comedy is by no means mere farce. Farces he wrote,
undoubtedly; and some element of farce, perhaps, entered to qualify
nearly every comedy that flowed from his pen. But it is not for his
farce that Molière is rated one of the few greatest producers of
literature. Molière's comedy constitutes to Molière the patent that it
does of high degree in genius, not because it provokes laughter, but
because, amid laughter provoked, it not seldom reveals, as if with
flashes of lightning,--lightning playful, indeed, but lightning that
might have been deadly,--the "secrets of the nethermost abyss" of human
nature. Not human manners merely, those of a time, or of a race, but
human attributes, those of all times, and of all races, are the things
with which, in his higher comedies, Molière deals. Some transient whim
of fashion may in these supply to him the mould of form that he uses,
but it is human nature itself that supplies to Molière the substance of
his dramatic creations. Now and again, if you read Molière wisely and
deeply, you find your laughter at comedy fairly frozen in your throat,
by a gelid horror seizing you, to feel that these follies or these
crimes displayed belong to that human nature, one and the same
everywhere and always, of which also you yourself partake. Comedy,
Dante, too, called his poem, which included the "Inferno." And a
Dantesque quality, not of method, but of power, is to be felt in

This character in Molière the writer, accords with the character of the
man Molière. It might not have seemed natural to say of Molière, as was
said of Dante, "There goes the man that has been in hell." But Molière
was melancholy enough in temper and in mien to have well inspired an
exclamation such as, 'There goes the man that has seen the human heart.'

A poet as well as a dramatist, his own fellow-countrymen, at least, feel
Molière to be. In Victor Hugo's list of the eight greatest poets of all
time, two are Hebrews (Job and Isaiah), two Greeks (Homer and Æschylus),
one is a Roman (Lucretius), one an Italian (Dante), one an Englishman
(Shakspeare),--seven. The eighth could hardly fail to be a Frenchman,
and that Frenchman is Molière. Mr. Swinburne might perhaps make the list
nine, but he would certainly include Victor Hugo himself.

Curiously enough, Molière is not this great writer's real name. It is a
stage name. It was assumed by the bearer when he was about twenty-four
years of age, on occasion of his becoming one in a strolling band of
players,--in 1646 or thereabout. This band, originally composed of
amateurs, developed into a professional dramatic company, which passed
through various transformations, until, from being at first
grandiloquently self-styled, L'Illustre Théâtre, it was, twenty years
after, recognized by the national title of Théâtre Français. Molière's
real name was Jean Baptiste Poquelin.

Young Poquelin's bent, early encouraged by seeing plays and ballets, was
strongly toward the stage. The drama, under the quickening patronage of
Louis XIII.'s lordly minister, Cardinal Richelieu, was a great public
interest of those times in Paris. Molière's evil star, too, it was
perhaps in part that brought him back to Paris, from Orleans. He admired
a certain actress in the capital. She became the companion--probably not
innocent companion--of his wandering life as actor. A sister of this
actress--a sister young enough to be daughter, instead of
sister--Molière finally married. She led her jealous husband a wretched
conjugal life. A peculiarly dark tradition of shame, connected with
Molière's marriage, has lately been to a good degree dispelled. But it
is not possible to redeem this great man's fame to chastity and honor.
He paid heavily, in like misery of his own, for whatever pangs of
jealousy he inflicted. There was sometimes true tragedy for himself
hidden within the comedy that he acted for others. (Molière, to the very
end of his life, acted in the comedies that he wrote.) When some play of
his represented the torments of jealousy in the heart of a husband, it
was probably not so much acting, as it was real life, that the
spectators saw proceeding on the stage between Molière and his wife,
confronted with each other in performing the piece.

Despite his faults, Molière was cast in a noble, generous mould, of
character as well as of genius. Expostulated with for persisting to
appear on the stage when his health was such that he put his life at
stake in so doing, he replied that the men and women of his company
depended for their bread on the play's going through, and appear he
would. He actually died an hour or so after playing the part of the
Imaginary Invalid in his comedy of that name. That piece was the last
work of his pen.

Molière produced in all some thirty dramatic pieces, from among which we
select a few of the most celebrated for brief description and

The "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" ("Shopkeeper turned Gentleman") partakes of
the nature of the farce quite as much as it does of the comedy. But it
is farce such as only a man of genius could produce. In it Molière
ridicules the airs and affectations of a rich man vulgarly ambitious to
figure in a social rank too exalted for his birth, his breeding, or his
merit. Jourdain is the name under which Molière satirizes such a
character. We give a fragment from one of the scenes. M. Jourdain is in
process of fitting himself for that higher position in society to which
he aspires. He will equip himself with the necessary knowledge. To this
end he employs a professor of philosophy to come and give him lessons at
his house:--

     M. JOURDAIN. I have the greatest desire in the world to be learned;
     and it vexes me more than I can tell, that my father and mother
     did not make me learn thoroughly all the sciences when I was young.

     PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY. This is a praiseworthy feeling. _Nam sine
     doctrina vita est quasi mortis imago._ You understand this, and you
     have, no doubt, a knowledge of Latin?

     M. JOUR. Yes; but act as if I had none. Explain to me the meaning
     of it.

     PROF. PHIL. The meaning of it is, that, without science, life is an
     image of death.

     M. JOUR. That Latin is quite right.

     PROF. PHIL. Have you any principles, any rudiments, of science?

     M. JOUR. Oh, yes! I can read and write.

     PROP. PHIL. With what would you like to begin? Shall I teach you

     M. JOUR. And what may this logic be?

     PROF. PHIL. It is that which teaches us the three operations of the

     M. JOUR. What are they--these three operations of the mind?

     PROF. PHIL. The first, the second, and the third. The first is to
     conceive well by means of universals; the second, to judge well by
     means of categories; and the third, to draw a conclusion aright by
     means of the figures Barbara, Celarent, Darii, Ferio, Baralipton,

     M. JOUR. Pooh! what repulsive words! This logic does not by any
     means suit me. Teach me something more enlivening.

     PROF. PHIL. Will you learn moral philosophy?

     M. JOUR. Moral philosophy?

     PROF. PHIL. Yes.

     M. JOUR. What does it say, this moral philosophy?

     PROF. PHIL.It treats of happiness, teaches men to moderate their
     passions, and--

     M. JOUR. No, none of that. I am devilishly hot-tempered, and
     morality, or no morality, I like to give full vent to my anger
     whenever I have a mind to it.

     PROF. PHIL. Would you like to learn physics?

     M. JOUR. And what have physics to say for themselves?

     PROF. PHIL. Physics are that science which explains the principles
     of natural things and the properties of bodies; which discourses of
     the nature of the elements, of metals, minerals, stones, plants,
     and animals; which teaches us the cause of all the meteors, the
     rainbow, the _ignis fatuus,_ comets, lightning, thunder,
     thunderbolts, rain, snow, hail, and whirlwinds.

     M. JOUR. There is too much hullaballoo in all that, too much riot
     and rumpus.

     PROF. PHIL. Very good.

     M. JOUR. And now I want to intrust you with a great secret. I am in
     love with a lady of quality, and I should be glad if you would help
     me to write something to her in a short letter which I mean to drop
     at her feet.

     PROF. PHIL. Very well.

     M. JOUR. That will be gallant, will it not?

     PROF. PHIL. Undoubtedly. Is it verse you wish to write to her?

     M. JOUR. Oh, no! not verse.

     PROF. PHIL. You only wish prose?

     M. JOUR. No. I wish for neither verse nor prose.

     PROF. PHIL. It must be one or the other.

     M. JOUR.Why?

     PROF. PHIL. Because, sir, there is nothing by which we can express
     ourselves except prose or verse.

     M. JOUR. There is nothing but prose or verse?

     PROF. PHIL. No, sir. Whatever is not prose, is verse; and whatever
     is not verse, is prose.

     M. JOUR.And when we speak, what is that, then?

     PROF. PHIL. Prose.

     M. JOUR. What! when I say, "Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give
     me my nightcap," is that prose?

     PROF. PHIL. Yes, sir.

     M. JOUR. Upon my word, I have been speaking prose these forty years
     without being aware of it; and I am under the greatest obligation
     to you for informing me of it. Well, then, I wish to write to her
     in a letter, "Fair Marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die of
     love;" but I would have this worded in a genteel manner, and turned

     PROF. PHIL. Say that the fire of her eyes has reduced your heart to
     ashes; that you suffer day and night for her, tortures--

     M. JOUR. No, no, no, I don't any of that. I simply wish for what I
     tell you,--"Fair Marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die of

     PROF. PHIL. Still, you might amplify the thing a little.

     M. JOUR. No, I tell you, I will have nothing but these very words
     in the letter; but they must be put in a fashionable way, and
     arranged as they should be. Pray show me a little, so that I may
     see the different ways in which they can be put.

     PROF. PHIL. They may be put first of all, as you have said, "Fair
     Marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die of love;" or else, "Of
     love die make me, fair Marchioness, your beautiful eyes;" or, "Your
     beautiful eyes of love make me, fair Marchioness, die;" or, "Die of
     love your beautiful eyes, fair Marchioness, make me;" or else, "Me
     make your beautiful eyes die, fair Marchioness, of love."

     M. JOUR. But of all these ways, which is the best?

     PROF. PHIL. The one you said,--"Fair Marchioness, your beautiful
     eyes make me die of love."

     M. JOUR. Yet I have never studied, and I did all right off at the
     first shot.

The "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" is a very amusing comedy throughout.

From "Les Femmes Savantes" ("The Learned Women")--"The Blue-Stockings,"
we might perhaps freely render the title--we present one scene to
indicate the nature of the comedy. There had grown to be a fashion in
Paris, among certain women high in social rank, of pretending to the
distinction of skill in literary criticism, and of proficiency in
science. It was the Hôtel de Rambouillet reduced to absurdity. That
fashionable affectation Molière made the subject of his comedy, "The
Learned Women."

In the following extracts, Molière satirizes, under the name of
Trissotin, a contemporary writer, one Cotin. The poem which Trissotin
reads for the learned women to criticise and admire, is an actual
production of this gentleman. Imagine the domestic _coterie_ assembled,
and Trissotin, the poet, their guest. He is present, prepared to regale
them with what he calls his sonnet. We need to explain that the original
poem is thus inscribed: "To Mademoiselle de Longueville, now Duchess of
Namur, on her Quartan Fever." The conceit of the sonneteer is that the
fever is an enemy luxuriously lodged in the lovely person of its victim,
and there insidiously plotting against her life:--

     TRISSOTIN. Sonnet to the Princess Urania on her Fever, Your
     prudence sure is fast asleep, That thus luxuriously you keep And
     lodge magnificently so Your very hardest-hearted foe.

     BÉLISE. Ah! what a pretty beginning!

     ARMANDE. What a charming turn it has!

     PHILAMINTE. He alone possesses the talent of making easy verses.

     ARM. We must yield to _prudence fast asleep_.

     BÉL. _Lodge one's very hardest-hearted foe_ is full of charms for

     PHIL. I like _luxuriously_ and _magnificently_: these two adverbs
     joined together sound admirably.

     BÉL. Let us hear the rest.

     TRISS. Your prudence sure is fast asleep, That thus luxuriously you
     keep And lodge magnificently so Your very hardest-hearted foe.

     ARM. _Prudence fast asleep._

     BÉL. _To lodge one's foe._

     PHIL. _Luxuriously_ and _magnificently_.

     TRISS. Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say, From out your
     chamber, decked so gay, Where, ingrate vile, with murderous knife,
     Bold she assails your lovely life.

     BÉL. Ah! gently. Allow me to breathe, I beseech you.

     ARM.Give us time to admire, I beg.

     PHIL. One feels, at hearing these verses, an indescribable
     something which goes through one's inmost soul, and makes one feel
     quite faint.

     ARM. Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say, From out your chamber,
     decked so gay--

     How prettily _chamber, decked so gay_, is said here! And with what
     wit the metaphor is introduced!

     PHIL. Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say.

     Ah! in what an admirable taste that _whate'er men say _is! To my
     mind, the passage is invaluable.

     ARM. My heart is also in love with _whate'er men say_.

     BÉL. I am of your opinion: _whate'er men say_ is a happy

     ARM. I wish I had written it.

     BÉL. It is worth a whole poem.

     PHIL. But do you, like me, thoroughly understand the wit of it?

     ARM. _and_ BÉL. Oh! Oh!

     PHIL. Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say. Although another
     should take the fever's part, pay no attention; laugh at the

      Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say,
      Whate'er men say, whate'er men say.

This _whate'er men say_, says a great deal more than it seems. I do not
know if every one is like me, but I discover in it a hundred meanings.

     BÉL. It is true that it says more than its size seems to imply.

     PHIL. (_to_ TRISSOTIN). But when you wrote this charming _whate'er
     men say_, did you yourself understand all its energy? Did you
     realize all that it tells us? And did you then think that you were
     writing something so witty?

     TRISS. Ah! ah!

     ARM. I have likewise the _ingrate_ in my head,--this ungrateful,
     unjust, uncivil fever that ill-treats people who entertain her.

     PHIL. In short, both the stanzas are admirable. Let us come quickly
     to the triplets, I pray.

     ARM. Ah! once more, _whate'er men say_, I beg.

     TRISS. Drive forth that foe, whate'er men say,--

     PHIL., ARM., _and_ BÉL. _Whate'er men say!_

     TRISS. From out your chamber, decked so gay,--

     PHIL., ARM., _and_ BÉL. _Chamber decked so gay!_

     TRISS. Where, ingrate vile, with murderous knife,--

     PHIL., ARM., _and_ BÉL. That _ingrate_ fever!

     TRISS. Bold she assails your lovely life.

     PHIL. _Your lovely life!_

     ARM. _and_ BÉL. Ah!

     TRISS. What! reckless of your ladyhood, Still fiercely seeks to
     shed your blood,--

     PHIL., ARM., _and_ BÉL. Ah!

     TRISS. And day and night to work you harm. When to the baths
     sometime you've brought her, No more ado, with your own arm Whelm
     her and drown her in the water.

     PHIL. Ah! It is quite overpowering.

     BÉL. I faint.

     ARM. I die from pleasure.

     PHIL. A thousand sweet thrills seize one.

     ARM. _When to the baths sometime you've brought her,_

     BÉL. _No more ado, with your own arm_

     PHIL. _Whelm her and drown her in the water._ With your own arm,
     drown her there in the baths.

     ARM. In your verses we meet at each step with charming beauty.

     BÉL. One promenades through them with rapture.

     PHIL. One treads on fine things only.

     ARM. They are little lanes all strewn with roses.

     TRISS. Then, the sonnet seems to you--

     PHIL. Admirable, new; and never did any one make any thing more

     BÉL. (_to_ HENRIETTE). What! my niece, you listen to what has been
     read without emotion! You play there but a sorry part!

     HEN. We each of us play the best part we can, my aunt; and to be a
     wit does not depend on our will.

     TRISS. My verses, perhaps, are tedious to you.

     HEN. No. I do not listen.

     PHIL. Ah! Let us hear the epigram.

But our readers, we think, will consent to spare the epigram. They will
relish, however, a fragment taken from a subsequent part of the same
protracted scene. The conversation has made the transition from literary
criticism to philosophy, in Molière's time a fashionable study rendered
such by the contemporary genius and fame of Descartes. Armande resents
the limitations imposed upon her sex:--

     ARM. It is insulting our sex too grossly to limit our intelligence
     to the power of judging of a skirt, of the make of a garment, of
     the beauties of lace, or of a new brocade.

     BÉL. We must rise above this shameful condition, and bravely
     proclaim our emancipation.

     TRISS. Every one knows my respect for the fairer sex, and that, if
     I render homage to the brightness of their eyes, I also honor the
     splendor of their intellect.

     PHIL. And our sex does you justice in this respect: but we will
     show to certain minds who treat us with proud contempt, that women
     also have knowledge; that, like men, they can hold learned
     meetings--regulated, too, by better rules; that they wish to unite
     what elsewhere is kept apart, join noble language to deep learning,
     reveal nature's laws by a thousand experiments; and, on all
     questions proposed, admit every party, and ally themselves to none.

     TRISS. For order, I prefer peripateticism.

     PHIL. For abstractions, I love platonism.

     ARM. Epicurus pleases me, for his tenets are solid.

     BÉL. I agree with the doctrine of atoms; but I find it difficult to
     understand a vacuum, and I much prefer subtile matter.

     TRISS. I quite agree with Descartes about magnetism.

     ARM. I like his vortices.

     PHIL. And I, his falling worlds.

     ARM. I long to see our assembly opened, and to distinguish
     ourselves by some great discovery.

     TRISS. Much is expected from your enlightened knowledge, for nature
     has hidden few things from you.

     PHIL. For my part, I have, without boasting, already made one
     discovery; I have plainly seen men in the moon.

     BÉL. I have not, I believe, as yet quite distinguished men, but I
     have seen steeples as plainly as I see you.

     ARM. In addition to natural philosophy, we will dive into grammar,
     history, verse, ethics, and politics.

     PHIL. I find in ethics charms which delight my heart; it was
     formerly the admiration of great geniuses: but I give the
     preference to the Stoics, and I think nothing so grand as their

"Les Précieuses Ridicules" is an earlier and lighter treatment of the
same theme. The object of ridicule in both these pieces was a lapsed and
degenerate form of what originally was a thing worthy of respect, and
even of praise. At the Hôtel de Rambouillet, conversation was cultivated
as a fine art. There was, no doubt, something overstrained in the
standards which the ladies of that circle enforced. Their mutual
communication was all conducted in a peculiar style of language, the
natural deterioration of which was into a kind of euphuism, such as
English readers will remember to have seen exemplified in Walter Scott's
Sir Piercie Shafton. These ladies called each other, with demonstrative
fondness, "Ma précieuse." Hence at last the term _précieuse_ as a
designation of ridicule. Madame de Sévigné was a _précieuse_. But she,
with many of her peers, was too rich in sarcastic common sense to be a
_précieuse ridicule_. Molière himself, thrifty master of policy that he
was, took pains to explain that he did not satirize the real thing, but
only the affectation.

"Tartuffe, or the Impostor," is perhaps the most celebrated of all
Molière's plays. Scarcely comedy, scarcely tragedy, it partakes of both
characters. Like tragedy, serious in purpose, it has a happy ending
like comedy. Pity and terror are absent; or, if not quite absent, these
sentiments are present raised only to a pitch distinctly below the
tragic. Indignation is the chief passion excited, or detestation,
perhaps, rather than indignation. This feeling is provided at last with
its full satisfaction in the condign punishment visited on the impostor.

The original "Tartuffe," like the most of Molière's comedies, is written
in rhymed verse. We could not, with any effort, make the English-reading
student of Molière sufficiently feel how much is lost when the form is
lost which the creations of this great genius took, in their native
French, under his own master hand. A satisfactory metrical rendering is
out of the question. The sense, at least, if not the incommunicable
spirit, of the original is very well given in Mr. C. H. Wall's version,
which we use.

The story of "Tartuffe" is briefly this: Tartuffe, the hero, is a pure
villain. He mixes no adulteration of good in his composition. He is
hypocrisy itself, the strictly genuine article. Tartuffe has completely
imposed upon one Orgon, a man of wealth and standing. Orgon, with his
wife, and with his mother, in fact, believes in him absolutely. These
people have received the canting rascal into their house, and are about
to bestow upon him their daughter in marriage. The following scene from
act first shows the skill with which Molière could exhibit, in a few
strokes of bold exaggeration, the infatuation of Orgon's regard for
Tartuffe. Orgon has been absent from home. He returns, and meets
Cléante, his brother, whom, in his eagerness, he begs to excuse his not
answering a question just addressed to him:--

     ORGON (_to_ CLÉANTE). Brother, pray excuse me: you will kindly
     allow me to allay my anxiety by asking news of the family. (_To_
     DORINE, _a maid-servant_.) Has every thing gone on well these last
     two days? What has happened? How is everybody?

     DOR. The day before yesterday our mistress was very feverish from
     morning to night, and suffered from a most extraordinary headache.

     ORG. And Tartuffe?

     DOR. Tartuffe! He is wonderfully well, stout and fat, with blooming
     cheeks and ruddy lips.

     ORG. Poor man!

     DOR. In the evening she felt very faint, and the pain in her head
     was so great that she could not touch any thing at supper.

     ORG. And Tartuffe?

     DOR. He ate his supper by himself before her, and very devoutly
     devoured a brace of partridges, and half a leg of mutton hashed.

     ORG. Poor man!

     DOR. She spent the whole of the night without getting one wink of
     sleep: she was very feverish, and we had to sit up with her until
     the morning.

     ORG. And Tartuffe?

     DOR. Overcome by a pleasant sleepiness, he passed from the table to
     his room, and got at once into his warmed bed, where he slept
     comfortably till the next morning.

     ORG. Poor man!

     DOR. At last yielding to our persuasions, she consented to be bled,
     and immediately felt relieved.

     ORG. And Tartuffe?

     DOR. He took heart right valiantly, and fortifying his soul against
     all evils, to make up for the blood which our lady had lost, drank
     at breakfast four large bumpers of wine.

     ORG. Poor man!

     DOR. Now, at last, they are both well; and I will go and tell our
     lady how glad you are to hear of her recovery.

Tartuffe repays the trust and love of his benefactor by making improper
advances to that benefactor's wife. Orgon's son, who does not share his
father's confidence in Tartuffe, happens to be an unseen witness of the
man's infamous conduct. He exposes the hypocrite to Orgon, with the
result of being himself expelled from the house for his pains; while
Tartuffe, in recompense for the injury done to his feelings, is
presented with a gift-deed of Orgon's estate. But now Orgon's wife
contrives to let her husband see and hear for himself the vileness of
Tartuffe. This done, Orgon confronts the villain, and, with just
indignation, orders him out of his house. Tartuffe reminds Orgon that
the shoe is on the other foot; that he is himself now owner there, and
that it is Orgon, instead of Tartuffe, who must go. Orgon has an
interview with his mother, who is exasperatingly sure still that
Tartuffe is a maligned good man:--

     MADAME PERNELLE. I can never believe, my son, that he would commit
     so base an action.

     ORG. What?

     PER. Good people are always subject to envy.

     ORG. What do you mean, mother?

     PER. That you live after a strange sort here, and that I am but too
     well aware of the ill will they all bear him.

     ORG. What has this ill will to do with what I have just told you?

     PER. I have told it you a hundred times when you were young, that
     in this world virtue is ever liable to persecution, and that,
     although the envious die, envy never dies.

     ORG. But what has this to do with what has happened to-day?

     PER. They have concocted a hundred foolish stories against him.

     ORG. I have already told you that I saw it all myself.

     PER. The malice of evil-disposed persons is very great.

     ORG. You would make me swear, mother! I tell you that I saw his
     audacious attempt with my own eyes.

     PER. Evil tongues have always some venom to pour forth; and here
     below, there is nothing proof against them.

     ORG. You are maintaining a very senseless argument. I saw it, I
     tell you,--saw it with my own eyes! what you can call s-a-w, saw!
     Must I din it over and over into your ears, and shout as loud as
     half a dozen people?

     PER. Gracious goodness! appearances often deceive us! We must not
     always judge by what we see.

     ORG. I shall go mad!

     PER. We are by nature prone to judge wrongly, and good is often
     mistaken for evil.

     ORG. I ought to look upon his desire of seducing my wife as

     PER. You ought to have good reasons before you accuse another, and
     you should have waited till you were quite sure of the fact.

     ORG. Heaven save the mark! how could I be more sure? I suppose,
     mother, I ought to have waited till--you will make me say something

     PER. In short, his soul is possessed with too pure a zeal; and I
     cannot possibly conceive that he would think of attempting what you
     accuse him of.

     ORG. If you were not my mother, I really don't know what I might
     now say to you, you make me so savage.

The short remainder of the scene has for its important idea, the
suggestion that under the existing circumstances some sort of peace
ought to be patched up between Orgon and Tartuffe. Meantime one LOYAL is
observed coming, whereupon the fourth scene of act fifth opens:--

     LOY. (to DORINE _at the farther part of the stage_). Good-day, my
     dear sister; pray let me speak to your master.

     DOR. He is with friends, and I do not think he can see any one just

     LOY. I would not be intrusive. I feel sure that he will find
     nothing unpleasant in my visit: in fact, I come for something which
     will be very gratifying to him.

     DOR. What is your name?

     LOY. Only tell him that I come from Mr. Tartuffe, for his benefit.

     DOR. (to ORGON). It is a man who comes in a civil way from Mr.
     Tartuffe, on some business which will make you glad, he says.

     CLÉ. (to ORGON). You must see who it is, and what the man wants.

     ORG. (to CLÉANTE). He is coming, perhaps, to settle matters between
     us in a friendly way. How, in this case, ought I to behave to him?

     CLÉ. Don't show any resentment, and, if he speaks of an agreement,
     listen to him.

     LOY. (to ORGON). Your servant, sir! May heaven punish whoever
     wrongs you! and may it be as favorable to you, sir, as I wish!

     ORG. (_aside to_ CLÉANTE). This pleasant beginning agrees with my
     conjectures, and argues some sort of reconciliation.

     LOY. All your family was always dear to me, and I served your

     ORG. Sir, I am sorry and ashamed to say that I do not know who you
     are, neither do I remember your name.

     LOY. My name is Loyal; I was born in Normandy, and am a royal
     bailiff in spite of envy. For the last forty years I have had the
     good fortune to fill the office, thanks to Heaven, with great
     credit; and I come, sir, with your leave, to serve you the writ of
     a certain order.

     ORG. What! you are here--

     LOY. Gently, sir, I beg. It is merely a summons,--a notice for you
     to leave this place, you and yours; to take away all your goods and
     chattels, and make room for others, without delay or adjournment,
     as hereby decreed.

     ORG. I! leave this place?

     LOY. Yes, sir; if you please. The house incontestably belongs, as
     you are well aware, to the good Mr. Tartuffe. He is now lord and
     master of your estates, according to a deed I have in my keeping.
     It is in due form, and cannot be challenged.

     DAMIS (_to_ MR. LOYAL). This great impudence is, indeed, worthy of
     all admiration.

     LOY. (_to_ DAMIS). Sir, I have nothing at all to do with you.
     (_Pointing to_ ORGON.) My business is with this gentleman. He is
     tractable and gentle, and knows too well the duty of a gentleman to
     try to oppose authority.

     ORG. But--

     LOY. Yes, sir: I know that you would not, for any thing, show
     contumacy; and that you will allow me, like a reasonable man, to
     execute the orders I have received....

The scene gives in conclusion some spirited by-play of asides and
interruptions from indignant members of the family. Then follows scene
fifth, one exchange of conversation from which will sufficiently
indicate the progress of the plot:--

     ORG. Well, mother, you see whether I am right; and you can judge of
     the rest by the writ. Do you at last acknowledge his rascality?

     PER. I am thunderstruck, and can scarcely believe my eyes and ears.

The next scene introduces Valère, the noble lover of that daughter whom
the infatuated father was bent on sacrificing to Tartuffe. Valère comes
to announce that Tartuffe, the villain, has accused Orgon to the king.
Orgon must fly. Valère offers him his own carriage and money,--will, in
fact, himself keep him company till he reaches a place of safety. As
Orgon, taking hasty leave of his family, turns to go, he is encountered
by--the following scene will show whom:--

     TAR. (_stopping_ ORGON). Gently, sir, gently; not so fast, I beg.
     You have not far to go to find a lodging, and you are a prisoner in
     the king's name.

     ORG. Wretch! you had reserved this shaft for the last; by it you
     finish me, and crown all your perfidies.

     TAR. Your abuse has no power to disturb me, and I know how to
     suffer every thing for the sake of Heaven.

     CLÉ. Your moderation is really great, we must acknowledge.

     DA. How impudently the infamous wretch sports with Heaven!

     TAR. Your anger cannot move me. I have no other wish but to fulfil
     my duty.

     MARIANNE. You may claim great glory from the performance of this
     duty: it is a very honorable employment for you.

     TAR. The employment cannot be otherwise than glorious, when it
     comes from the power that sends me here.

     ORG. But do you remember that my charitable hand, ungrateful
     scoundrel, raised you from a state of misery?

     TAR. Yes, I know what help I have received from you; but the
     interest of my king is my first duty. The just obligation of this
     sacred duty stifles in my heart all other claims; and I would
     sacrifice to it friend, wife, relations, and myself with them.

     ELMIRE. The impostor!

     DOR. With what treacherous cunning he makes a cloak of all that men

     TAR. (_to the_ OFFICER). I beg of you, sir, to deliver me from all
     this noise, and to act according to the orders you have received.

     OFFICER. I have certainly put off too long the discharge of my
     duty, and you very rightly remind me of it. To execute my order,
     follow me immediately to the prison in which a place is assigned to

     TAR. Who? I, sir?

     OFFICER. Yes, you.

     TAR. Why to prison?

     OFFICER. To you I have no account to render. (_To_ ORGON.) Pray,
     sir, recover from your great alarm. We live under a king [Louis
     XIV.] who is an enemy to fraud,--a king who can read the heart, and
     whom all the arts of impostors cannot deceive. His great mind,
     endowed with delicate discernment, at all times sees things in
     their true, light.... He annuls, by his sovereign will, the terms
     of the contract by which you gave him [Tartuffe] your property. He
     moreover forgives you this secret offence in which you were
     involved by the flight of your friend. This to reward the zeal
     which you once showed for him in maintaining his rights, and to
     prove that his heart, when it is least expected, knows how to
     recompense a good action. Merit with him is never lost, and he
     remembers good better than evil.

     DOR. Heaven be thanked!

     PER. Ah! I breathe again.

     EL. What a favorable end to our troubles!

     MAR. Who would have foretold it?

     ORG. (to TARTUFFE, _as the_ OFFICER _leads him off_). Ah, wretch!
     now you  are--

Tartuffe thus disposed of, the play promptly ends, with a vanishing
glimpse afforded us of a happy marriage in prospect for Valère with the

Molière is said to have had a personal aim in drawing the character of
Tartuffe. This, at least, was like Dante. There is not much sweet
laughter in such a comedy. But there is a power that is dreadful.

Each succeeding generation of Frenchmen supplies its bright and
ingenious wits who produce comedy. But as there is no second Shakspeare,
so there is but one Molière.




Pascal's fame is distinctly the fame of a man of genius. He achieved
notable things. But it is what he might have done, still more than what
he did, that fixes his estimation in the world of mind. Blaise Pascal is
one of the chief intellectual glories of France.

Pascal, the boy, had a strong natural bent toward mathematics. The story
is that his father, in order to turn his son's whole force on the study
of languages, put out of the lad's reach all books treating his favorite
subject. Thus shut up to his own resources, the masterful little fellow,
about his eighth year, drawing charcoal diagrams on the floor, made
perceptible progress in working out geometry for himself. At sixteen he
produced a treatise on conic sections that excited the wonder and
incredulity of Descartes. Later, he experimented in barometry, and
pursued investigations in mechanics. Later still, he made what seemed to
be approaches toward Newton's binomial theorem.

Vivid religious convictions meantime deeply affected Pascal's mind. His
health, never robust, began to give way. His physicians prescribed
mental diversion, and forced him into society. That medicine, taken at
first with reluctance, proved dangerously delightful to Pascal's
vivacious and susceptible spirit. His pious sister Jacqueline warned her
brother that he was going too far. But he was still more effectively
warned by an accident, in which he almost miraculously escaped from
death. Withdrawing from the world, he adopted a course of ascetic
practices, in which he continued till he died--in his thirty-ninth year.
He wore about his waist an iron girdle armed with sharp points; and this
he would press smartly with his elbow when he detected himself at fault
in his spirit.

Notwithstanding what Pascal did or attempted, worthy of fame, in
science, it was his fortune to become chiefly renowned by literary
achievement. His, in fact, would now be a half-forgotten name if he had
not written the "Provincial Letters" and the "Thoughts."

The "Provincial Letters" is an abbreviated title. The title in full
originally was, "Letters written by Louis de Montalte to a Provincial,
one of his friends, and to the Reverend Fathers, the Jesuits, on the
subject of the morality and the policy of those Fathers."

Of the "Provincial Letters," several English translations have been
made. No one of these that we have been able to find, seems entirely
satisfactory. There is an elusive quality to Pascal's style, and in
losing this you seem to lose something of Pascal's thought. For with
Pascal the thought and the style penetrate each other inextricably and
almost indistinguishably. You cannot print a smile, an inflection of the
voice, a glance of the eye, a French shrug of the shoulders. And such
modulations of the thought seem everywhere to lurk in the turns and
phrases of Pascal's inimitable French. To translate them is impossible.

Pascal is beyond question the greatest modern master of that
indescribably delicate art in expression, which, from its illustrious
ancient exemplar, has received the name of the Socratic irony. With this
fine weapon, in great part, it was, wielded like a magician's invisible
wand, that Pascal did his memorable execution on the Jesuitical system
of morals and casuistry, in the "Provincial Letters." In great part, we
say; for the flaming moral earnestness of the man could not abide only
to play with his adversaries, to the end of the famous dispute. His
lighter cimeter blade he flung aside before he had done, and, toward the
last, brandished a sword that had weight as well as edge and temper. The
skill that could halve a feather in the air with the sword of Saladin
was proved to be also strength that could cleave a suit of mail with the
brand of Richard the Lion-hearted.

It is universally acknowledged, that the French language has never in
any hands been a more obedient instrument of intellectual power than it
was in the hands of Pascal. He is rated the earliest writer to produce
what may be called the final French prose. "The creator of French
style," Villemain boldly calls him. Pascal's style remains to this day
almost perfectly free from adhesions of archaism in diction and in
construction. Pascal showed, as it were at once, what the French
language was capable of doing in response to the demands of a master. It
was the joint achievement of genius, of taste, and of skill, working
together in an exquisite balance and harmony.

But let us be entirely frank. The "Provincial Letters" of Pascal are
now, to the general reader, not so interesting as from their fame one
would seem entitled to expect. You cannot read them intelligently
without considerable previous study. You need to have learned,
imperfectly, with labor, a thousand things that every contemporary
reader of Pascal perfectly knew, as if by simply breathing,--the
necessary knowledge being then, so to speak, abroad in the air. Even
thus, you cannot possibly derive that vivid delight from perusing in
bulk the "Provincial Letters" now, which the successive numbers of the
series, appearing at brief irregular intervals, communicated to the
eagerly expecting French public, at a time when the topics discussed
were topics of a present and pressing practical interest. Still, with
whatever disadvantage unavoidably attending, we must give our readers a
taste of the quality of Pascal's "Provincial Letters."

We select a passage at the commencement of the Seventh Letter. We use
the translation of Mr. Thomas M'Crie. This succeeds very well in
conveying the sense, though it necessarily fails to convey either the
vivacity or the eloquence, of the incomparable original. The first
occasion of the "Provincial Letters" was a championship proposed to
Pascal to be taken up by him on behalf of his beleaguered and endangered
friend Arnauld, the Port-Royalist. (Port Royal was a Roman-Catholic
abbey, situated some eight miles to the south-west of Versailles, and
therefore not very remote from Paris.) Arnauld was "for substance of
doctrine" really a Calvinist, though he quite sincerely disclaimed being
such; and it was for his defence of Calvinism (under its ancient form of
Augustinianism) that he was threatened, through Jesuit enmity, with
condemnation for heretical opinion. The problem was to enlist the
sentiment of general society in his favor. The friends in council at
Port Royal said to Pascal, "You must do this." Pascal said, "I will
try." In a few days, the first letter of a series destined to such fame,
was submitted for judgment to Port Royal and approved. It was
printed--anonymously. The success was instantaneous and brilliant. A
second letter followed, and a third. Soon, from strict personal defence
of Arnauld, the writer went on to take up a line of offence and
aggression. He carried the war into Africa. He attacked the Jesuits as
teachers of immoral doctrine.

The plan of these later letters was, to have a Paris gentleman write to
a friend of his in the country (the "provincial"), detailing interviews
held by him with a Jesuit priest of the city. The supposed Parisian
gentleman, in his interviews with the supposed Jesuit father, affects
the air of a very simple-hearted seeker after truth. He represents
himself as, by his innocent-seeming docility, leading his Jesuit teacher
on to make the most astonishingly frank exposures of the secrets of the
casuistical system held and taught by his order.

The Seventh Letter tells the story of how Jesuit confessors were
instructed to manage their penitents in a matter made immortally famous
by the wit and genius of Pascal, the matter of "directing the
intention." There is nothing in the "Provincial Letters" better suited
than this at the same time to interest the general reader, and to
display the quality of these renowned productions. (We do not scruple to
change our chosen translation a little, at points where it seems to us
susceptible of some easy improvement.) Remember it is an imaginary
Parisian gentleman who now writes to a friend of his in the country:--

     "You know," he said, "that the ruling passion of persons in that
     rank of life [the rank of gentleman] is 'the point of honor,' which
     is perpetually driving them into acts of violence apparently quite
     at variance with Christian piety; so that, in fact, they would be
     almost all of them excluded from our confessionals, had not our
     fathers relaxed a little from the strictness of religion, to
     accommodate themselves to the weakness of humanity. Anxious to keep
     on good terms, both with the gospel, by doing their duty to God,
     and with the men of the world, by showing charity to their
     neighbor, they needed all the wisdom they possessed to devise
     expedients for so nicely adjusting matters as to permit these
     gentlemen to adopt the methods usually resorted to for vindicating
     their honor without wounding their consciences, and thus reconcile
     things apparently so opposite to each other as piety and the point
     of honor."...

     "I should certainly [so replies M. Montalte, with the most
     exquisite irony couched under a cover of admiring simplicity],--I
     should certainly have considered the thing perfectly impracticable,
     if I had not known, from what I have seen of your fathers, that
     they are capable of doing with ease what is impossible to other
     men. This led me to anticipate that they must have discovered some
     method for meeting the difficulty,--a method which I admire, even
     before knowing it, and which I pray you to explain to me."

     "Since that is your view of the matter," replied the monk, "I
     cannot refuse you. Know, then, that this marvellous principle is
     our grand method of _directing the intention_--the importance of
     which, in our moral system, is such, that I might almost venture to
     compare it with the doctrine of probability. You have had some
     glimpses of it in passing, from certain maxims which I mentioned to
     you. For example, when I was showing you how servants might execute
     certain troublesome jobs with a safe conscience, did you not remark
     that it was simply by diverting their intention from the evil to
     which they were accessory, to the profit which they might reap from
     the transaction? Now, that is what we call _directing the
     intention_. You saw, too, that, were it not for a similar
     divergence of _the mind_, those who give money for benefices might
     be downright simoniacs. But I will now show you this grand method
     in all its glory, as it applies to the subject of homicide,--a
     crime which it justifies in a thousand instances,--in order that,
     from this startling result, you may form an idea of all that it is
     calculated to effect."

     "I foresee already," said I, "that, according to this mode, every
     thing will be permitted: it will stick at nothing."

     "You always fly from the one extreme to the other," replied the
     monk; "prithee avoid that habit. For just to show you that we are
     far from permitting every thing, let me tell you that we never
     suffer such a thing as a formal intention to sin, with the sole
     design of sinning; and, if any person whatever should persist in
     having no other end but evil in the evil that he does, we break
     with him at once; such conduct is diabolical. This holds true,
     without exception of age, sex, or rank. But when the person is not
     of such a wretched disposition as this, we try to put in practice
     our method of _directing the intention_, which consists in his
     proposing to himself, as the end of his actions, some allowable
     object. Not that we do not endeavor, as far as we can, to dissuade
     men from doing things forbidden; but, when we cannot prevent the
     action, we at least purify the motive, and thus correct the
     viciousness of the mean by the goodness of the end. Such is the way
     in which our fathers have contrived to permit those acts of
     violence to which men usually resort in vindication of their honor.
     They have no more to do than to turn off their intention from the
     desire of vengeance, which is criminal, and direct it to a desire
     to defend their honor, which, according to us, is quite
     warrantable. And in this way our doctors discharge all their duty
     towards God and towards man. By permitting the action, they gratify
     the world; and by purifying the intention, they give satisfaction
     to the gospel. This is a secret, sir, which was entirely unknown to
     the ancients; the world is indebted for the discovery entirely to
     our doctors. You understand it now, I hope?"

     "Perfectly," was my reply. "To men you grant the outward material
     effect of the action, and to God you give the inward and spiritual
     movement of the intention; and, by this equitable partition, you
     form an alliance between the laws of God and the laws of men. But,
     my dear sir, to be frank with you, I can hardly trust your
     premises, and I suspect that your authors will tell another tale."

     "You do me injustice," rejoined the monk; "I advance nothing but
     what I am ready to prove, and that by such a rich array of
     passages, that altogether their number, their authority, and their
     reasonings, will fill you with admiration. To show you, for
     example, the alliance which our fathers have formed between the
     maxims of the gospel and those of the world, by thus regulating the
     intention, let me refer you to Reginald. (_In praxi._, liv. xxi.,
     num. 62, p. 260.) [These, and all that follow, are verifiable
     citations from real and undisputed Jesuit authorities, not to this
     day repudiated by that order.] 'Private persons are forbidden to
     avenge themselves; for St. Paul says to the Romans (ch. 12th),
     "Recompense to no man evil for evil;" and Ecclesiasticus says (ch.
     28th), "He that taketh vengeance shall draw on himself the
     vengeance of God, and his sins will not be forgotten." Besides all
     that is said in the gospel about forgiving offences, as in the 6th
     and 18th chapters of St. Matthew.'"

     "Well, father, if after that, he [Reginald] says any thing contrary
     to the Scripture, it will, at least, not be from lack of scriptural
     knowledge. Pray, how does he conclude?"

     "You shall hear," he said. "From all this it appears that a
     military man may demand satisfaction on the spot from the person
     who has injured him--not, indeed, with the intention of rendering
     evil for evil, but with that of preserving his honor--_non ut malum
     pro malo reddat, sed ut conservat honorem_. See you how carefully,
     because the Scripture condemns it, they guard against the intention
     of rendering evil for evil? This is what they will tolerate on no
     account. Thus Lessius observes (De Just., liv. ii., c. 9, d. 12, n.
     79), that, 'If a man has received a blow on the face, he must on no
     account have an intention to avenge himself; but he may lawfully
     have an intention to avert infamy, and may, with that view, repel
     the insult immediately, even at the point of the sword--_etiam cum
     gladio_.' So far are we from permitting any one to cherish the
     design of taking vengeance on his enemies, that our fathers will
     not allow any even to _wish their death_--by a movement of hatred.
     'If your enemy is disposed to injure you,' says Escobar, 'you have
     no right to wish his death, by a movement of hatred; though you
     may, with a view to save yourself from harm.' So legitimate,
     indeed, is this wish, with such an intention, that our great
     Hurtado de Mendoza says that 'we may _pray God_ to visit with
     speedy death those who are bent on persecuting us, if there is no
     other way of escaping from it.'" (In his book, De Spe, vol. ii., d.
     15, sec. 4, 48.)

     "May it please your reverence," said I, "the Church has forgotten
     to insert a petition to that effect among her prayers."

     "They have not put every thing into the prayers that one may
     lawfully ask of God," answered the monk. "Besides, in the present
     case, the thing was impossible, for this same opinion is of more
     recent standing than the Breviary. You are not a good chronologist,
     friend. But, not to wander from the point, let me request your
     attention to the following passage, cited by Diana from Gaspar
     Hurtado (De Sub. Pecc., diff. 9; Diana, p. 5; tr. 14, r. 99), one
     of Escobar's four-and-twenty fathers: 'An incumbent may, without
     any mortal sin, desire the decease of a life-renter on his
     benefice, and a son that of his father, and rejoice when it
     happens; provided always it is for the sake of the profit that is
     to accrue from the event, and not from personal aversion.'"

     "Good," cried I. "That is certainly a very happy hit, and I can
     easily see that the doctrine admits of a wide application. But yet
     there are certain cases, the solution of which, though of great
     importance for gentlemen, might present still greater

     "Propose such, if you please, that we may see," said the monk.

     "Show me, with all your directing of the intention," returned I,
     "that it is allowable to fight a duel."

     "Our great Hurtado de Mendoza," said the father, "will satisfy you
     on that point in a twinkling. 'If a gentleman,' says he, in a
     passage cited by Diana, 'who is challenged to fight a duel, is well
     known to have no religion, and if the vices to which he is openly
     and unscrupulously addicted, are such as would lead people to
     conclude, in the event of his refusing to fight, that he is
     actuated, not by the fear of God, but by cowardice, and induce them
     to say of him that he was a _hen_, and not a man--_gallina, et non
     vir_; in that case he may, to save his honor, appear at the
     appointed spot--not, indeed, with the express intention of fighting
     a duel, but merely with that of defending himself, should the
     person who challenged him come there unjustly to attack him. His
     action in this case, viewed by itself, will be perfectly
     indifferent; for what moral evil is there in one's stepping into a
     field, taking a stroll in expectation of meeting a person, and
     defending one's self in the event of being attacked? And thus the
     gentleman is guilty of no sin whatever; for in fact, it cannot be
     called accepting a challenge at all, his intention being directed
     to other circumstances, and the acceptance of a challenge
     consisting in an express intention to fight, which we are supposing
     the gentleman never had.'"

The humorous irony of Pascal, in the "Provincial Letters," plays like
the diffusive sheen of an aurora borealis over the whole surface of the
composition. It does not often deliver itself startlingly in sudden
discharges as of lightning. You need to school your sense somewhat, not
to miss a fine effect now and then. Consider the broadness and
coarseness in pleasantry, that, before Pascal, had been common, almost
universal, in controversy, and you will better understand what a
creative touch it was of genius, of feeling, and of taste, that brought
into literature the far more than Attic, the ineffable Christian,
purity of that wit and humor in the "Provincial Letters" which will make
these writings live as long as men anywhere continue to read the
productions of past ages. Erasmus, perhaps, came the nearest of all
modern predecessors to anticipating the purified pleasantry of Pascal.

It will be interesting and instructive to see Pascal's own statement of
his reasons for adopting the bantering style which he did in the
"Provincial Letters," as well as of the sense of responsibility to be
faithful and fair, under which he wrote. Pascal says:--

     I have been asked why I employed a pleasant, jocose, and diverting
     style. I reply... I thought it a duty to write so as to be
     comprehended by women and men of the world, that they might know
     the danger of their maxims and propositions which were then
     universally propagated.... I have been asked, lastly, if I myself
     read all the books which I quoted. I answer, No. If I had done so,
     I must have passed a great part of my life in reading very bad
     books; but I read Escobar twice through, and I employed some of my
     friends in reading the others. But I did not make use of a single
     passage without having myself read it in the book from which it is
     cited, without having examined the subject of which it treats, and
     without having read what went before and followed, so that I might
     run no risk of quoting an objection as an answer, which would have
     been blameworthy and unfair.

Of the wit of the "Provincial Letters," their wit and their
controversial effectiveness, the specimens given will have afforded
readers some approximate idea. We must deny ourselves the gratification
of presenting a brief passage, which we had selected and translated for
the purpose, to exemplify from the same source Pascal's serious
eloquence. It was Voltaire who said of these productions: "Molière's
best comedies do not excel them in wit, nor the compositions of Bossuet
in sublimity." Something of Bossuet's sublimity, or of a sublimity
perhaps finer than Bossuet's, our readers will discover in citations to
follow from the "Thoughts."

Pascal's "Thoughts," the printed book, has a remarkable history. It was
a posthumous publication. The author died, leaving behind him a
considerable number of detached fragments of composition, first jottings
of thought on a subject that had long occupied his mind. These precious
manuscripts were almost undecipherable. The writer had used for his
purpose any chance scrap of paper,--old wrapping, for example, or margin
of letter,--that, at the critical moment of happy conception, was
nearest his hand. Sentences, words even, were often left unfinished.
There was no coherence, no sequence, no arrangement. It was, however,
among his friends perfectly well understood that Pascal for years had
meditated a work on religion designed to demonstrate the truth of
Christianity. For this he had been thinking arduously. Fortunately he
had even, in a memorable conversation, sketched his project at some
length to his Port Royal friends. With so much, scarcely more, in the
way of clew, to guide their editorial work, these friends prepared and
issued a volume of Pascal's "Thoughts." With the most loyal intentions,
the Port-Royalists unwisely edited too much. They pieced out
incompletenesses, they provided clauses or sentences of connection, they
toned down expressions deemed too bold, they improved Pascal's style!
After having suffered such things from his friends, the posthumous
Pascal, later, fell into the hands of an enemy. The infidel Condorcet
published an edition of the "Thoughts." Whereas the Port-Royalists had
suppressed to placate the Jesuits, Condorcet suppressed to please the
"philosophers." Between those on the one side, and these on the other,
Pascal's "Thoughts" had experienced what might well have killed any
production of the human mind that could die. It was not till near the
middle of the present century that Cousin called the attention of the
world to the fact that we had not yet, but that we still might have, a
true edition of Pascal's "Thoughts." M. Faugère took the hint, and
consulting the original manuscripts, preserved in the national library
at Paris, produced, with infinite editorial labor, almost two hundred
years after the thinker's death, the first satisfactory edition of
Pascal's "Thoughts." Since Faugère, M. Havet has also published an
edition of Pascal's works entire, by him now first adequately annotated
and explained. The arrangement of the "Thoughts" varies in order,
according to the varying judgment of editors.

We use, for our extracts, a current translation, which we modify at our
discretion, by comparison of the original text as given in M. Havet's
elaborate work.

Our first extract is a passage in which the writer supposes a sceptic of
the more shallow, trifling sort, to speak. This sceptic represents his
own state of mind in the following strain as of soliloquy:--

     'I do not know who put me into the world, nor what the world is,
     nor what I am myself. I am in a frightful ignorance of all things.
     I do not know what my body is, what my senses are, what my soul is,
     and that very part of me which thinks what I am saying, which
     reflects upon every thing and upon itself, and is no better
     acquainted with itself than with any thing else. I see these
     appalling spaces of the universe which enclose me, and I find
     myself tethered in one corner of this immense expansion without
     knowing why I am stationed in this place rather than in another, or
     why this moment of time which is given me to live is assigned me at
     this point rather than at another of the whole eternity that has
     preceded me, and of that which is to follow me.

     'I see nothing but infinities on every side, which enclose me like
     an atom, and like a shadow which endures but for an instant, and
     returns no more.

     'All that I know, is that I am soon to die; but what I am most
     ignorant of, is that very death which I am unable to avoid.

     'As I know not whence I came, so I know not whither I go; and I
     know only, that in leaving this world I fall forever either into
     nothingness or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing
     which of these two conditions is to be eternally my lot. Such is my
     state,--full of misery, of weakness, and of uncertainty.

     'And from all this I conclude, that I ought to pass all the days
     of my life without a thought of trying to learn what is to befall
     me hereafter. Perhaps in my doubts I might find some enlightenment;
     but I am unwilling to take the trouble, or go a single step in
     search of it; and, treating with contempt those who perplex
     themselves with such solicitude, my purpose is to go forward
     without forethought and without fear to try the great event, and
     passively to approach death in uncertainty of the eternity of my
     future condition.'

     Who would desire to have for a friend a man who discourses in this
     manner? Who would select such a one for the confidant of his
     affairs? Who would have recourse to such a one in his afflictions?
     And, in fine, for what use of life could such a man be destined?

The central thought on which the projected apologetic of Pascal was to
revolve as on a pivot, is the contrasted greatness and wretchedness of
man,--with Divine Revelation, in its doctrine of a fall on man's part
from original nobleness, supplying the needed link, and the only link
conceivable, of explanation, to unite the one with the other, the human
greatness with the human wretchedness. This contrast of dignity and
disgrace should constantly be in the mind of the reader of the
"Thoughts" of Pascal. It will often be found to throw a very necessary
light upon the meaning of the separate fragments that make up the

We now present a brief fragment asserting, with vivid metaphor, at the
same time the fragility of man's frame and the majesty of man's nature.
This is a very famous Thought:--

     Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking
     reed. It is not necessary that the entire universe arm itself to
     crush him. An exhalation, a drop of water, suffices to kill him.
     But were the universe to crush him, man would still be more noble
     than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and
     knows the advantage that the universe has over him. The universe
     knows nothing of it.

     Our whole dignity consists, then, in thought.

One is reminded of the memorable saying of a celebrated philosopher: "In
the universe there is nothing great but man; in man there is nothing
great but mind."

What a sudden, almost ludicrous, reduction in scale, the greatness of
Cæsar, as conqueror, is made to suffer when looked at in the way in
which Pascal asks you to look at it in the following Thought! (Remember
that Cæsar, when he began fighting for universal empire, was fifty-one
years of age:)--

     Cæsar was too old, it seems to me, to amuse himself with conquering
     the world. This amusement was well enough for Augustus or
     Alexander; they were young people, whom it is difficult to stop;
     but Cæsar ought to have been more mature.

That is as if you should reverse the tube of your telescope, with the
result of seeing the object observed made smaller instead of larger.

The following sentence might be a Maxim of La Rochefoucauld. Pascal was,
no doubt, a debtor to him as well as to Montaigne:--

     I lay it down as a fact, that, if all men knew what others say of
     them, there would not be four friends in the world.

Here is one of the most current of Pascal's sayings:--

     Rivers are highways that move on and bear us whither we wish to go.

The following "Thought" condenses the substance of the book proposed,
into three short sentences:--

     The knowledge of God without that of our misery produces pride. The
     knowledge of our misery without that of God gives despair. The
     knowledge of Jesus Christ is intermediate, because therein we find
     God and our misery.

The prevalent seeming severity and intellectual coldness of Pascal's
"Thoughts" yield to a touch from the heart, and become pathetic, in such
utterances as the following, supposed to be addressed by the Saviour to
the penitent seeking to be saved:--

     Console thyself; thou wouldst not seek me if thou hadst not found

     I thought on thee in my agony; such drops of blood I shed for thee.

It is austerity again, but not unjust austerity, that speaks as

     Religion is a thing so great that those who would not take the
     pains to seek it if it is obscure, should be deprived of it. What
     do they complain of, then, if it is such that they could find it by
     seeking it?

But we must take our leave of Pascal. His was a suffering as well as an
aspiring spirit. He suffered because he aspired. But, at least, he did
not suffer long. He aspired himself quickly away. Toward the last he
wrought at a problem in his first favorite study, that of mathematics,
and left behind him, as a memorial of his later life, a remarkable
result of investigation on the curve called the cycloid. During his
final illness he pierced himself through with many sorrows,--unnecessary
sorrows, sorrows, too, that bore a double edge, hurting not only him,
but also his kindred,--in practising, from mistaken religious motives, a
hard repression upon his natural instinct to love, and to welcome love.
He thought that God should be all, the creature nothing. The thought was
half true, but it was half false. God should, indeed, be all. But, in
God, the creature also should be something.

In French history,--we may say, in the history of the world,--if there
are few brighter, there also are few purer, fames than the fame of




Of Madame de Sévigné, if it were permitted here to make a pun and a
paradox, one might justly and descriptively say that she was not a woman
of letters, but only a woman of--letters. For Madame de Sévigné's
addiction to literature was not at all that of an author by profession.
She simply wrote admirable private letters, in great profusion, and
became famous thereby.

Madame de Sévigné's fame is partly her merit, but it is also partly her
good fortune. She was rightly placed to be what she was. This will
appear from a sketch of her life, and still more from specimens to be
exhibited of her own epistolary writing.

Marie de Rabutin-Chantal was her maiden name. She was born a baroness.
She was married, young, a marchioness. First early left an orphan, she
was afterward early left a widow,--not too early, however, to have
become the mother of two children, a son and a daughter. The daughter
grew to be the life-long idol of the widowed mother's heart. The letters
she wrote to this daughter, married, and living remote from her, compose
the greater part of that voluminous epistolary production by which
Madame de Sévigné became, without her ever aiming at such a result, or
probably ever thinking of it, one of the classics of the French

Madame de Sévigné was wealthy as orphan heiress, and she should have
been wealthy as widow. But her husband was profligate, and he wasted her
substance. She turned out to be a thoroughly capable woman of affairs
who managed her property well. During her long and stainless
widowhood--her husband fell in a shameful duel when she was but
twenty-five years old, and she lived to be seventy--she divided her time
between her estate, The Rocks, in Brittany, and her residence in Paris.
This period was all embraced within the protracted reign of Louis XIV.,
perhaps, upon the whole, the most memorable age in the history of

Beautiful, and, if not brilliantly beautiful, at least brilliantly
witty, Madame de Sévigné was virtuous--in that chief sense of feminine
virtue--amid an almost universal empire of profligacy around her. Her
social advantages were unsurpassed, and her social success was equal to
her advantages. She had the woman courtier's supreme triumph in being
once led out to dance by the king--her own junior by a dozen years--no
vulgar king, remember, but the "great" Louis XIV. Her cynical cousin,
himself a writer of power, who had been repulsed in dishonorable
proffers of love by the young marchioness during the lifetime of her
husband,--we mean Count Bussy,--says, in a scurrilous work of his, that
Madame de Sévigné remarked, on returning to her seat after her
dancing-bout with the king, that Louis possessed great qualities, and
would certainly obscure the lustre of all his predecessors. "I could not
help laughing in her face," the ungallant cousin declared, "seeing what
had produced this panegyric." Probably, indeed, the young woman was
pleased. But, whatever may have been her faults or her follies, nothing
can rob Madame de Sévigné of the glory that is hers, in having been
strong enough in womanly and motherly honor to preserve, against many
dazzling temptations, amid general bad example, and even under malignant
aspersions, a chaste and spotless name. When it is added, that, besides
access to the royal court itself, this gifted woman enjoyed the familiar
acquaintance of La Rochefoucauld and other high-bred wits, less famous,
not a few, enough will have been said to show that her position was such
as to give her talent its best possible chance. The French history of
the times of Louis XIV. is hinted in glimpses the most vivid and the
most suggestive, throughout the whole series of the letters.

We owe it to our readers (and to Madame de Sévigné no less) first of all
to let them see a specimen of the affectionate adulation that this
French woman of rank and of fashion, literally in almost every letter of
hers, effuses on her daughter,--a daughter who, by the way, seems very
languidly to have responded to such demonstrations:--

THE ROCKS, Sunday, June 28, 1671.

     You have amply made up to me my late losses; I have received two
     letters from you which have filled me with transports of joy. The
     pleasure I take in reading them is beyond all imagination. If I
     have in any way contributed to the improvement of your style I did
     it in the thought that I was laboring for the pleasure of others,
     not for my own. But Providence, who has seen fit to separate us so
     often, and to place us at such immense distances from each other,
     has repaid me a little for the privation in the charms of your
     correspondence, and still more in the satisfaction you express in
     your situation, and the beauty of your castle; you represent it to
     me with an air of grandeur and magnificence that enchants me. I
     once saw a similar account of it by the first Madame de Grignan;
     but I little thought at that time, that all these beauties were one
     day to be at your command. I am very much obliged to you for having
     given me so particular an account of it. If I could be tired in
     reading your letters, it would not only betray a very bad taste in
     me, but would likewise show that I could have very little love or
     friendship for you. Divest yourself of the dislike you have taken
     to circumstantial details. I have often told you, and you ought
     yourself to feel the truth of this remark, that they are as dear to
     us from those we love, as they are tedious and disagreeable from
     others. If they are displeasing to us, it is only from the
     indifference we feel for those who write them. Admitting this
     observation to be true, I leave you to judge what pleasure yours
     afford me. It is a fine thing, truly, to play the great lady, as
     you do at present.

Conceive the foregoing multiplied by the whole number of the separate
letters composing the correspondence, and you will have no exaggerated
idea of the display that Madame de Sévigné makes of her regard for her
daughter. This regard was a passion, morbid, no doubt, by excess, and,
even at that, extravagantly demonstrated; but it was fundamentally
sincere. Madame de Sévigné idealized her absent daughter, and literally
"loved but only her." We need not wholly admire such maternal affection.
But we should not criticise it too severely.

We choose next a marvellously vivid "instantaneous view," in words, of a
court afternoon and evening at Versailles. This letter, too, is
addressed to the daughter--Madame de Grignan, by her married name. It
bears date, "Paris, Wednesday, 29th July." The year is 1676, and the
writer is just fifty:--

     I was at Versailles last Saturday with the Villarses.... At three
     the king, the queen, Monsieur [eldest brother to the king], Madame
     [that brother's wife], Mademoiselle [that brother's eldest
     unmarried daughter], and every thing else which is royal, together
     with Madame de Montespan [the celebrated mistress of the king] and
     train, and all the courtiers, and all the ladies,--all, in short,
     which constitutes the court of France, is assembled in the
     beautiful apartment of the king's, which you remember. All is
     furnished divinely, all is magnificent. Such a thing as heat is
     unknown; you pass from one place to another without the slightest
     pressure. A game at _reversis_ [the description is of a gambling
     scene, in which Dangeau figures as a cool and skilful gamester]
     gives the company a form and a settlement. The king and Madame de
     Montespan keep a bank together; different tables are occupied by
     Monsieur, the queen, and Madame de Soubise, Dangeau and party,
     Langlée and party. Everywhere you see heaps of louis d'ors; they
     have no other counters. I saw Dangeau play, and thought what fools
     we all were beside him. He dreams of nothing but what concerns the
     game; he wins where others lose; he neglects nothing, profits by
     every thing, never has his attention diverted; in short, his
     science bids defiance to chance. Two hundred thousand francs in ten
     days, a hundred thousand crowns in a month, these are the pretty
     memorandums he puts down in his pocket-book. He was kind enough to
     say that I was partners with him, so that I got an excellent seat.
     I made my obeisance to the king, as you told me; and he returned it
     as if I had been young and handsome.... The duke said a thousand
     kind things without minding a word he uttered. Marshal de Lorges
     attacked me in the name of the Chevalier de Grignan; in short,
     _tutti quanti_ [the whole company]. You know what it is to get a
     word from everybody you meet. Madame de Montespan talked to me of
     Bourbon, and asked me how I liked Vichi, and whether the place did
     me good. She said that Bourbon, instead of curing a pain in one of
     her knees, injured both.... Her size is reduced by a good half, and
     yet her complexion, her eyes, and her lips, are as fine as ever.
     She was dressed all in French point, her hair in a thousand
     ringlets, the two side ones hanging low on her cheeks, black
     ribbons on her head, pearls (the same that belonged to Madame de
     l'Hôpital), the loveliest diamond earrings, three or four
     bodkins--nothing else on the head; in short, a triumphant beauty,
     worthy the admiration of all the foreign ambassadors. She was
     accused of preventing the whole French nation from seeing the king;
     she has restored him, you see, to their eyes; and you cannot
     conceive the joy it has given all the world, and the splendor it
     has thrown upon the court. This charming confusion, without
     confusion, of all which is the most select, continues from three
     till six. If couriers arrive, the king retires a moment to read the
     despatches, and returns. There is always some music going on, to
     which he listens, and which has an excellent effect. He talks with
     such of the ladies as are accustomed to enjoy that honor.... At
     six the carriages are at the door. The king is in one of them with
     Madame de Montespan, Monsieur and Madame de Thianges, and honest
     d'Heudicourt in a fool's paradise on the stool. You know how these
     open carriages are made; they do not sit face to face, but all
     looking the same way. The queen occupies another with the princess;
     and the rest come flocking after, as it may happen. There are then
     gondolas on the canal, and music; and at ten they come back, and
     then there is a play; and twelve strikes, and they go to supper;
     and thus rolls round the Saturday. If I were to tell you how often
     you were asked after, how many questions were put to me without
     waiting for answers, how often I neglected to answer, how little
     they cared, and how much less I did, you would see the _iniqua
     corte_ [wicked court] before you in all its perfection. However, it
     never was so pleasant before, and everybody wishes it may last.

There is your picture. Picture, pure and simple, it is--comment none,
least of all, moralizing comment. The wish is sighed by "everybody,"
that such pleasant things may "last." Well, they did last the writer's
time. But meanwhile the French revolution was a-preparing. A hundred
years later it will come, with its terrible reprisals.

We have gone away from the usual translations to find the foregoing
extract in an article published forty years ago and more, in the
"Edinburgh Review." Again we draw from the same source--this time, the
description of a visit paid by a company of grand folks, of whom the
writer of the letter was one, to an iron-foundery:--

     FRIDAY, 1st Oct. (1677).

     Yesterday evening at Cone, we descended into a veritable hell, the
     true forges of Vulcan. Eight or ten Cyclops were at work, forging,
     not arms for Æneas, but anchors for ships. You never saw strokes
     redoubled so justly, nor with so admirable a cadence. We stood in
     the middle of four furnaces; and the demons came passing about us,
     all melting in sweat, with pale faces, wild-staring eyes, savage
     mustaches, and hair long and black,--a sight enough to frighten
     less well-bred folks than ourselves. As for me, I could not
     comprehend the possibility of refusing any thing which these
     gentlemen, in their hell, might have chosen to exact. We got out at
     last, by the help of a shower of silver, with which we took care to
     refresh their souls, and facilitate our exit.

Once more:--

     PARIS, 29th November (1679).

     I have been to the wedding of Madame de Louvois. How shall I
     describe it? Magnificence, illuminations, all France, dresses all
     gold and brocade, jewels, braziers full of fire, and stands full of
     flowers, confusions of carriages, cries out of doors, lighted
     torches, pushings back, people run over; in short, a whirlwind, a
     distraction; questions without answers, compliments without knowing
     what is said, civilities without knowing who is spoken to, feet
     entangled in trains. From the midst of all this, issue inquiries
     after your health, which not being answered as quick as lightning,
     the inquirers pass on, contented to remain in the state of
     ignorance and indifference in which they [the inquiries] were made.
     O vanity of vanities! Pretty little De Mouchy has had the
     small-pox. O vanity, et cætera!

Yet again. The gay writer has been sobered, perhaps hurt, by a friend's
frankly writing to her, "You are old." To her daughter:--

     So you were struck with the expression of Madame de la Fayette,
     blended with so much friendship. 'Twas a truth, I own, which I
     ought to have borne in mind; and yet I must confess it astonished
     me, for I do not yet perceive in myself any such decay.
     Nevertheless, I cannot help making many reflections and
     calculations, and I find the conditions of life hard enough. It
     seems to me that I have been dragged, against my will, to the fatal
     period when old age must be endured; I see it; I have come to it;
     and I would fain, if I could help it, not go any farther; not
     advance a step more in the road of infirmities, of pains, of losses
     of memory, of _disfigurements_ ready to do me outrage; and I hear a
     voice which says, "You must go on in spite of yourself; or, if you
     will not go on, you must die;" and this is another extremity from
     which nature revolts. Such is the lot, however, of all who advance
     beyond middle life. What is their resource? To think of the will of
     God and of universal law, and so restore reason to its place, and
     be patient. Be you, then, patient accordingly, my dear child, and
     let not your affection soften into such tears as reason must

She dates a letter, and recalls that the day was the anniversary of an
event in her life:--

     PARIS, Friday, Feb. 5, 1672.

     This day thousand years I was married.

Here is a passage with power in it. The great war minister of Louis has
died. Madame de Sévigné was now sixty-five years old. The letter is to
her cousin Coulanges:--

     I am so astonished at the news of the sudden death of M. de
     Louvois, that I am at a loss how to speak of it. Dead, however, he
     is, this great minister, this potent being, who occupied so great
     a place; whose me (_le moi_), as M. Nicole says, had so wide a
     dominion; who was the centre of so many orbs. What affairs had he
     not to manage! what designs, what projects, what secrets! what
     interests to unravel, what wars to undertake, what intrigues, what
     noble games at chess to play and to direct! Ah! my God, grant me a
     little time; I want to give check to the Duke of Savoy--checkmate
     to the Prince of Orange. No, no, you shall not have a moment, not a
     single moment. Are events like these to be talked of? Not they. We
     must reflect upon them in our closets.

A glimpse of Bourdaloue:--

     Ah, that Bourdaloue! his sermon on the Passion was, they say, the
     most perfect thing of the kind that can be imagined; it was the
     same he preached last year, but revised and altered with the
     assistance of some of his friends, that it might be wholly
     inimitable. How can one love God, if one never hears him properly
     spoken of? You must really possess a greater portion of grace than

A distinguished caterer or steward, a gentleman described as possessing
talent enough to have governed a province, commits suicide on a
professional point of honor:--

     PARIS, Sunday, April 26, 1671.

     I have just learned from Moreuil, of what passed at Chantilly with
     regard to poor Vatel. I wrote to you last Friday that he had
     stabbed himself--these are the particulars of the affair: The king
     arrived there on Thursday night; the walk, and the collation, which
     was served in a place set apart for the purpose, and strewed with
     jonquils, were just as they should be. Supper was served; but there
     was no roast meat at one or two of the tables, on account of
     Vatel's having been obliged to provide several dinners more than
     were expected. This affected his spirits; and he was heard to say
     several times, "I have lost my honor! I cannot bear this disgrace!"
     "My head is quite bewildered," said he to Gourville. "I have not
     had a wink of sleep these twelve nights; I wish you would assist me
     in giving orders." Gourville did all he could to comfort and assist
     him, but the failure of the roast meat (which, however, did not
     happen at the king's table, but at some of the other twenty-five)
     was always uppermost with him. Gourville mentioned it to the prince
     [Condé, the great Condé, the king's host], who went directly to
     Vatel's apartment, and said to him, "Every thing is extremely well
     conducted, Vatel; nothing could be more admirable than his
     Majesty's supper." "Your highness's goodness," replied he,
     "overwhelms me; I am sensible that there was a deficiency of roast
     meat at two tables." "Not at all," said the prince; "do not perplex
     yourself, and all will go well." Midnight came; the fireworks did
     not succeed; they were covered with a thick cloud; they cost
     sixteen thousand francs. At four o'clock in the morning Vatel went
     round and found everybody asleep; he met one of the
     under-purveyors, who was just come in with only two loads of fish.
     "What!" said he, "is this all?" "Yes, sir," said the man, not
     knowing that Vatel had despatched other people to all the seaports
     around. Vatel waited for some time; the other purveyors did not
     arrive; his head grew distracted; he thought there was no more fish
     to be had. He flew to Gourville: "Sir," said he, "I cannot outlive
     this disgrace." Gourville laughed at him. Vatel, however, went to
     his apartment, and setting the hilt of his sword against the door,
     after two ineffectual attempts, succeeded, in the third, in forcing
     his sword through his heart. At that instant the couriers arrived
     with the fish; Vatel was inquired after to distribute it. They ran
     to his apartment, knocked at the door, but received no answer; upon
     which they broke it open, and found him weltering in his blood. A
     messenger was immediately despatched to acquaint the prince with
     what had happened, who was like a man in despair. The Duke wept,
     _for his Burgundy journey depended upon Vatel_.

The italics here are our own. We felt that we must use them.

Is it not all pathetic? But how exquisitely characteristic of the nation
and of the times! "Poor Vatel," is the extent to which Madame de Sévigné
allows herself to go in sympathy. Her heart never bleeds very
freely--for anybody except her daughter. Madame de Sévigné's heart,
indeed, we grieve to fear, was somewhat hard.

In another letter, after a long strain as worldly as any one could wish
to see, this lively woman thus touches, with a sincerity as
unquestionable as the levity is, on the point of personal religion:--

     But, my dear child, the greatest inclination I have at present is
     to be a little religious. I plague La Mousse about it every day. I
     belong neither to God nor to the devil. I am quite weary of such a
     situation; though, between you and me, I look upon it as the most
     natural one in the world. I am not the devil's, because I fear God,
     and have at the bottom a principle of religion; then, on the other
     hand, I am not properly God's, because his law appears hard and
     irksome to me, and I cannot bring myself to acts of self-denial; so
     that altogether I am one of those called lukewarm Christians, the
     great number of which does not in the least surprise me, for I
     perfectly understand their sentiments, and the reasons that
     influence them. However, we are told that this is a state highly
     displeasing to God; if so, we must get out of it. Alas! this is the
     difficulty. Was ever any thing so mad as I am, to be thus eternally
     pestering you with my rhapsodies?

Madame de Sévigné involuntarily becomes a maxim-maker:--

     The other day I made a maxim off-hand, without once thinking of it;
     and I liked it so well that I fancied I had taken it out of M. de
     la Rochefoucauld's. Pray tell me whether it is so or not, for in
     that case my memory is more to be praised than my judgment. I said,
     with all the ease in the world, that "ingratitude begets reproach,
     as acknowledgment begets new favors." Pray, where did this come
     from? Have I read it? Did I dream it? Is it my own idea? Nothing
     can be truer than the thing itself, nor than that I am totally
     ignorant how I came by it. I found it properly arranged in my
     brain, and at the end of my tongue.

The partial mother lets her daughter know whom the maxim was meant for.
She says, "It is intended for your brother." This young fellow had, we
suspect, been first earning his mother's "reproaches" for spendthrift
habits, and then getting more money from her by "acknowledgment."

She hears that son of hers read "some chapters out of Rabelais," "which
were enough," she declares, "to make us die with laughing." "I cannot
affect," she says, "a prudery which is not natural to me." No, indeed, a
prude this woman was not. She had the strong æsthetic stomach of her
time. It is queer to have Rabelais rubbing cheek and jowl with Nicole
("We are going to begin a moral treatise of Nicole's"), a severe
Port-Royalist, in one and the same letter. But this is French; above
all, it is Madame de Sévigné. By the way, she and her friends, first and
last, "die" a thousand jolly deaths "with laughing."

A contemporary allusion to "Tartuffe," with more French manners

     The other day La Biglesse played Tartuffe to the life. Being at
     table, she happened to tell a fib about some trifle or other, which
     I noticed, and told her of it; she cast her eyes to the ground, and
     with a very demure air, "Yes, indeed, madam," said she, "I am the
     greatest liar in the world; I am very much obliged to you for
     telling me of it. "We all burst out a-laughing, for it was exactly
     the tone of Tartuffe,--"Yes, brother, I am a wretch, a vessel of

M. de La Rochefoucauld appears often by name in the letters. Here he
appears anonymously by his effect:--

     "Warm affections are never tranquil"; a _maxim_.

Not a very sapid bit of gnomic wisdom, certainly. We must immediately
make up to our readers, on Madame de Sévigné's behalf, for the
insipidity of the foregoing "maxim" of hers, by giving here two or three
far more sententious excerpts from the letters, excerpts collected by

     There may be so great a weight of obligation that there is no way
     of being delivered from it but by ingratitude.

     Long sicknesses wear out grief, and long hopes wear out joy.

     Shadow is never long taken for substance; you must be, if you would
     appear to be. The world is not unjust long.

Madame de Sévigné makes a confession, which will comfort readers who may
have experienced the same difficulty as that of which she speaks:--

     I send you M. de Rochefoucauld's "Maxims," revised and corrected,
     with additions; it is a present to you from himself. Some of them I
     can make shift to guess the meaning of; but there are others that,
     to my shame be it spoken, I cannot understand at all. God knows how
     it will be with you.

What was it changed this woman's mood to serious? She could not have
been hearing Massillon's celebrated sermon on the "fewness of the
elect," for Massillon was yet only a boy of nine years; she may have
been reading Pascal's "Thoughts,"--Pascal had been dead ten years, and
the "Thoughts" had been published; or she may have been listening to one
of those sifting, heart-searching discourses of Bourdaloue,--the date of
her letter is March 16, 1672, and during the Lent of that year
Bourdaloue preached at Versailles,--when she wrote sombrely as

     You ask me if I am as fond of life as ever. I must own to you that
     I experience mortifications, and severe ones too; but I am still
     unhappy at the thoughts of death; I consider it so great a
     misfortune to see the termination of all my pursuits, that I should
     desire nothing better, if it were practicable, than to begin life
     again. I find myself engaged in a scene of confusion and trouble; I
     was embarked in life without my own consent, and know I must leave
     it again; this distracts me, for how shall I leave it? In what
     manner? By what door? At what time? In what disposition? Am I to
     suffer a thousand pains and torments that will make me die in a
     state of despair? Shall I lose my senses? Am I to die by some
     sudden accident? How shall I stand with God? What shall I have to
     offer to him? Will fear and necessity make my peace with him? Shall
     I have no other sentiment but that of fear? What have I to hope? Am
     I worthy of heaven? Or have I deserved the torments of hell?
     Dreadful alternative! Alarming uncertainty! Can there be greater
     madness than to place our eternal salvation in uncertainty? Yet
     what is more natural, or can be more easily accounted for, than the
     foolish manner in which I have spent my life? I am frequently
     buried in thoughts of this nature, and then death appears so
     dreadful to me that I hate life more for leading me to it, than I
     do for all the thorns that are strewed in its way. You will ask me,
     then, if I would wish to live forever? Far from it; but, if I had
     been consulted, I would very gladly have died in my nurse's arms;
     it would have spared me many vexations, and would have insured
     heaven to me at a very easy rate; but let us talk of something

A memorable sarcasm saved for us by Madame de Sévigné, at the very close
of one of her letters:--

     Guillenagues said yesterday that Pelisson abused the privilege men
     have of being ugly.

Readers familiar with Dickens's "Tale of Two Cities," will recognize in
the following narrative a state of society not unlike that described by
the novelist as immediately preceding the French Revolution:--

     The Archbishop of Rheims, as he returned yesterday from St.
     Germain, met with a curious adventure. He drove at his usual rate,
     like a whirlwind. If he thinks himself a great man, his servants
     think him still greater. They passed through Nanterre, when they
     met a man on horseback, and in an insolent tone bid him clear the
     way. The poor man used his utmost endeavors to avoid the danger
     that threatened him, but his horse proved unmanageable. To make
     short of it, the coach-and-six turned them both topsy-turvy; but at
     the same time the coach, too, was completely overturned. In an
     instant the horse and the man, instead of amusing themselves with
     having their limbs broken, rose almost miraculously; the man
     remounted, and galloped away, and is galloping still, for aught I
     know; while the servants, the archbishop's coachman, and the
     archbishop himself at the head of them, cried out, "Stop that
     villain, stop him! thrash him soundly!" The rage of the archbishop
     was so great, that afterward, in relating the adventure, he said,
     if he could have caught the rascal, he would have broke all his
     bones, and cut off both his ears.

If such things were done by the aristocracy--and the spiritual
aristocracy at that!--in the green tree, what might not be expected in
the dry? The writer makes no comment--draws no moral. "Adieu, my dear,
delightful child. I cannot express my eagerness to see you," are her
next words. She rattles along, three short sentences more, and finishes
her letter.

We should still not have done with these letters, were we to go on a
hundred pages, or two hundred, farther. Readers have already seen truly
what Madame de Sévigné is. They have only not seen fully all that she
is. And that they would not see short of reading her letters entire.
Horace Walpole aspired to do in English for his own time something like
what Madame de Sévigné had done in French for hers. In a measure he
succeeded. The difference is, that he was imitative and affected, where
she was original and genuine.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu must, of course, also be named, as, by her
sex, her social position, her talent, and the devotion of her talent, an
English analogue to Madame de Sévigné. But these comparisons, and all
comparison, leave the French woman without a true parallel, alone in her
rank, the most famous letter-writer in the world.




The two great names in French tragedy are Corneille and Racine. French
tragedy is a very different affair from either modern tragedy in English
or ancient tragedy in Greek. It comes nearer being Roman epic, such as
Lucan wrote Roman epic, dramatized.

Drama is everywhere and always, and this from the nature of things, a
highly conventional literary form. But the convention under which
French tragedy should be judged differs, on the one hand, from that
which existed for Greek tragedy, and, on the other hand, from that
existing for the English. The atmosphere of real life present in English
tragedy is absent in French. The quasi-supernatural religious awe that
reigned over Greek tragedy, French tragedy does not affect. You miss
also in French tragedy the severe simplicity, the self-restraint, the
statuesque repose, belonging to the Greek model. Loftiness, grandeur, a
loftiness somewhat strained, a grandeur tending to be tumid, an heroic
tone sustained at sacrifice of ease and nature--such is the element in
which French tragedy lives and flourishes. You must grant your French
tragedists this their conventional privilege, or you will not enjoy
them. You must grant them this, or you cannot understand them. Resolve
that you will like grandiloquence, requiring only that the
grandiloquence be good, and on this condition we can promise that you
will be pleased with Corneille and Racine. In fact, our readers, we are
sure, will find the grandiloquence of these two tragedy-writers so very
good that a little will suffice them.

Voltaire in his time impressed himself strongly enough on his countrymen
to get accepted by his own generation as an equal third in tragedy with
Corneille and Racine. There was then a French triumvirate of tragedists
to be paralleled with the triumvirate of the Greeks. Corneille was
Æschylus; Racine was Sophocles; and, of course, Euripides had his
counterpart in Voltaire. Voltaire has since descended from the tragic
throne, and that neat symmetry of trine comparison is spoiled. There is,
however, some trace of justice in making Corneille as related to Racine
resemble Æschylus as related to Sophocles. Corneille was first, more
rugged, loftier; Racine was second, more polished, more severe in taste.
Racine had, too, in contrast with Corneille, more of the Euripidean
sweetness. In fact, La Bruyère's celebrated comparison of the two
Frenchmen--made, of course, before Voltaire--yoked them, Corneille with
Sophocles, Racine with Euripides.

It was perhaps not without its influence on the style of Corneille, that
a youthful labor of his in authorship was to translate, wholly or
partially, the "Pharsalia" of Lucan. Corneille always retained his
fondness for Lucan. This taste on his part, and the rhymed Alexandrines
in which he wrote tragedy, may together help account for the
hyper-heroic style which is Corneille's great fault. A lady criticised
his tragedy, "The Death of Pompey," by saying: "Very fine, but too many
heroes in it." Corneille's tragedies generally have, if not too many
heroes, at least too much hero, in them. Concerning the historian
Gibbon's habitual pomp of expression, it was once wittily said that
nobody could possibly tell the truth in such a style as that. It would
be equally near the mark if we should say of Corneille's chosen mould
of verse, that nobody could possibly be simple and natural in that.
Molière's comedy, however, would almost confute us.

Pierre Corneille was born in Rouen. He studied law, and he was admitted
to practice as an advocate, like Molière; but, like Molière, he heard
and he heeded an inward voice summoning him away from the bar to the
stage. Corneille did not, however, like Molière, tread the boards as an
actor. He had a lively sense of personal dignity. He was eminently the
"lofty, grave tragedian," in his own esteem. "But I am Pierre Corneille
notwithstanding," he self-respectingly said once, when friends were
regretting to him some deficiency of grace in his personal carriage. One
can imagine him taking off his hat to himself with unaffected deference.

But this serious genius began dramatic composition with writing comedy.
He made several experiments in this kind with no commanding success; but
at thirty he wrote the tragedy of "The Cid," and instantly became
famous. His subsequent plays were chiefly on classical subjects. The
subject of "The Cid" was drawn from Spanish literature. This was
emphatically what has been called an "epoch-making" production.
Richelieu's "Academy," at the instigation, indeed almost under the
dictation, of Richelieu, who was jealous of Corneille, tried to write it
down. They succeeded about as Balaam succeeded in prophesying against
Israel. "The Cid" triumphed over them, and over the great minister. It
established not only Corneille's fame, but his authority. The man of
genius taken alone, proved stronger than the men of taste taken

For all this, however, our readers would hardly relish "The Cid." Let us
go at once to that tragedy of Corneille's which, by the general consent
of French critics, is the best work of its author, the "Polyeuctes." The
following is the rhetorical climax of praise in which Gaillard, one of
the most enlightened of Corneille's eulogists, arranges the different
masterpieces of his author: "'The Cid' raised Corneille above his
rivals; the 'Horace' and the 'Cinna' above his models; the 'Polyeuctes'
above himself." This tragedy will, we doubt not, prove to our readers
the most interesting of all the tragedies of Corneille.

"The great Corneille"--to apply the traditionary designation which,
besides attributing to our tragedian his conceded general eminence in
character and genius, serves also to distinguish him by merit from his
younger brother, who wrote very good tragedy--was an illustrious figure
at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, that focus of the best literary criticism
in France. Corneille reading a play of his to the _coterie_ of wits
assembled there under the presidency of ladies whose eyes, as in a kind
of tournament of letters, rained influence on authors, and judged the
prize of genius, is the subject of a striking picture by a French
painter. Corneille read "Polyeuctes" at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and
that awful court decided against the play. Corneille, like Michel
Angelo, had to a good degree the courage of his own productions; but, in
the face of adverse decision so august on his work, he needed
encouragement, which happily he did not fail to receive, before he would
allow his "Polyeuctes" to be represented. The theatre crowned it with
the laurels of victory. It thus fell to Corneille to triumph
successively, single-handed, over two great adversary courts of critical
appreciation,--the Academy of Richelieu and the not less formidable
Hôtel de Rambouillet.

The objection raised by the Hôtel de Rambouillet against the
"Polyeuctes" was that it made the stage encroach on the prerogative of
the pulpit, and preach instead of simply amusing. And, indeed, never,
perhaps, since the Greek tragedy, was the theatre made so much to serve
the solemn purposes of religion. (We except the miracle and passion
plays and the mysteries of the middle ages, as not belonging within the
just bounds of a comparison like that now made.) Corneille's final
influence was to elevate and purify the French theatre. In his early
works, however, he made surprising concessions to the lewd taste in the
drama that he found prevailing when he began to write. With whatever
amount of genuine religious scruple affecting his conscience,--on that
point we need not judge the poet,--Corneille used, before putting them
on the stage, to take his plays to the "Church,"--that is, to the
priestly hierarchy who constituted the "Church,"--that they might be
authoritatively judged as to their possible influence on the cause of
Christian truth.

In the "Polyeuctes," the motive is religion. Polyeuctes is an historic
or traditional saint of the Roman-Catholic church. His conversion from
paganism is the theme of the play. Polyeuctes has a friend Nearchus who
is already a Christian convert, and who labors earnestly to make
Polyeuctes a proselyte to the faith. Polyeuctes has previously married a
noble Roman lady, daughter of Felix, governor of Armenia, in which
province the action of the story occurs. (The persecuting Emperor Decius
is on the throne of the Roman world.) Paulina is the daughter's name.
Paulina married Polyeuctes against her own choice, for she loved Roman
Severus better. Her father had put his will upon her, and Paulina had
filially obeyed in marrying Polyeuctes. Such are the relations of the
different persons of the drama. It will be seen that there is ample room
for the play of elevated and tragic passions. Paulina, in fact, is the
lofty, the impossible, ideal of wifely and daughterly truth and
devotion. Pagan though she is, she is pathetically constant, both to the
husband that was forced upon her, and to the father that did the
forcing; while still she loves, and cannot but love, the man whom, in
spite of her love for him, she, with an act like prolonged suicide,
stoically separates from her torn and bleeding heart.

But Severus on his part emulates the nobleness of the woman whom he
vainly loves. Learning the true state of the case, he rises to the
height of his opportunity for magnanimous behavior, and bids the married
pair be happy in a long life together.

A change in the situation occurs, a change due to the changed mood of
the father, Felix. Felix learns that Severus is high in imperial favor,
and he wishes now that Severus, instead of Polyeuctes, were his
son-in-law. A decree of the emperor makes it possible that this
preferable alternative may yet be realized. For the emperor has decreed
that Christians must be persecuted to the death, and Polyeuctes has been
baptized a Christian--though of this Felix will not hear till later.

A solemn sacrifice to the gods is to be celebrated in honor of imperial
victories lately won. Felix sends to summon Polyeuctes, his son-in-law.
To Felix's horror, Polyeuctes, with his friend Nearchus, coming to the
temple, proceeds in a frenzy of enthusiasm to break and dishonor the
images of the gods, proclaiming himself a Christian. In obedience to the
imperial decree, Nearchus is hurried to execution, in the sight of his
friend, while Polyeuctes is thrown into prison to repent and recant.

'Now is my chance,' muses Felix. 'I dare not disobey the emperor, to
spare Polyeuctes. Besides, with Polyeuctes once out of the way, Severus
and Paulina may be husband and wife.'

Polyeuctes in prison hears that his Paulina is coming to see him. With
a kind of altruistic nobleness which seems contagious in this play,
Polyeuctes resolves that Severus shall come too, and he will resign his
wife, soon to be a widow, to the care of his own rival, her Roman lover.
First, Polyeuctes and Paulina are alone together--Polyeuctes having,
before she arrived, fortified his soul for the conflict with her tears,
by singing in his solitude a song of high resolve and of anticipative
triumph over his temptation.

The scene between Paulina, exerting all her power to detach Polyeuctes
from what she believes to be his folly, and Polyeuctes, on the other
hand, rapt to the pitch of martyrdom, exerting all his power to resist
his wife, and even to convert her--this scene, we say, is full of noble
height and pathos, as pathos and height were possible in the verse which
Corneille had to write. Neither struggler in this tragic strife moves
the other. Paulina is withdrawing when Severus enters. She addresses her
lover severely, but Polyeuctes intervenes to defend him. In a short
scene, Polyeuctes, by a sort of last will and testament, bequeaths his
wife to his rival, and retires with his guard. Now, Severus and Paulina
are alone together. If there was a trace of the false heroic in
Polyeuctes's resignation of his wife to Severus, the effect of that is
finely counteracted by the scene which immediately follows between
Paulina and Severus. Severus begins doubtfully, staggering, as it were,
to firm posture, while he speaks to Paulina. He expresses amazement at
the conduct of Polyeuctes. Christians certainly deport themselves
strangely, he says. He at length finds himself using the following
lover-like language:--

     As for me, had my destiny become a little earlier propitious and
     honored my devotion by marriage with you, I should have adored only
     the splendor of your eyes; of them I should have made my kings; of
     them I should have made my gods; sooner would I have been reduced
     to dust, sooner would I have been reduced to ashes,  than--

But here Paulina interrupts, and Severus is not permitted to finish his
protestation. Her reply is esteemed, and justly esteemed, one of the
noblest things in French tragedy--a French critic would be likely to
say, the very noblest in tragedy. She says:--

     Let us break off there; I fear listening too long; I fear lest this
     warmth, which feels your first fires, force on some sequel unworthy
     of us both. [Voltaire, who edited Corneille with a feeling of
     freedom toward a national idol comparable to the sturdy
     independence that animated Johnson in annotating Shakspeare, says
     of "This warmth which feels your first fires and which forces on a
     sequel": "That is badly written, agreed; but the sentiment gets the
     better of the expression, and what follows is of a beauty of which
     there had been no example. The Greeks were frigid declaimers in
     comparison with this passage of Corneille."] Severus, learn to know
     Paulina all in all.

     My Polyeuctes touches on his last hour; he has but a moment to
     live; you are the cause of this, though innocently so. I know not
     if your heart, yielding to your desires, may have dared build any
     hope on his destruction; but know that there is no death so cruel
     that to it with firm brow I would not bend my steps, that there are
     in hell no horrors that I would not endure, rather than soil a
     glory so pure, rather than espouse, after his sad fate, a man that
     was in any wise the cause of his death; and if you suppose me of a
     heart so little sound, the love which I had for you would all turn
     to hate. You are generous; be so even to the end. My father is in a
     state to yield every thing to you; he fears you; and I further
     hazard this saying, that, if he destroys my husband, it is to you
     that he sacrifices him. Save this unhappy man, use your influence
     in his favor, exert yourself to become his support. I know that
     this is much that I ask; but the greater the effort, the greater
     the glory from it. To preserve a rival of whom you are jealous,
     that is a trait of virtue which appertains only to you. And if your
     renown is not motive sufficient, it is much that a woman once so
     well beloved, and the love of whom perhaps is still capable of
     touching you, will owe to your great heart the dearest possession
     that she owns; remember, in short, that you are Severus. Adieu.
     Decide with yourself alone what you ought to do; if you are not
     such as I dare hope that you are, then, in order that I may
     continue to esteem you, I wish not to know it.

Voltaire, as editor and commentator of Corneille, is freezingly cold. It
is difficult not to feel that at heart he was unfriendly to the great
tragedist's fame. His notes often are remorselessly grammatical. "This
is not French;" "This is not the right word;" "According to the
construction, this should mean so and so--according to the sense, it
must mean so and so;" "This is hardly intelligible;" "It is a pity that
such or such a fault should mar these fine verses;" "An expression for
comedy rather than tragedy,"--are the kind of remarks with which
Voltaire chills the enthusiasm of the reader. It is useless, however, to
deny that the criticisms thus made are many of them just. Corneille does
not belong to the class of the "faultily faultless" writers.

Severus proves equal to Paulina's noble hopes of him. With a great
effort of self-sacrifice, he resolves to intercede for Polyeuctes. This
is shown in an interview between Severus and his faithful attendant
Fabian. Fabian warns him that he appeals for Polyeuctes at his own
peril. Severus loftily replies (and here follows one of the most lauded
passages in the play):--

     That advice might be good for some common soul. Though he [the
     Emperor Decius] holds in his hands my life and my fortune, I am yet
     Severus; and all that mighty power is powerless over my glory, and
     powerless over my duty. Here honor compels me, and I will satisfy
     it; whether fate afterward show itself propitious or adverse,
     perishing glorious I shall perish content.

     I will tell thee further, but under confidence, the sect of
     Christians is not what it is thought to be. They are hated, why I
     know not; and I see Decius unjust only in this regard. From
     curiosity I have sought to become acquainted with them. They are
     regarded as sorcerers taught from hell; and, in this supposition,
     the punishment of death is visited on secret mysteries which we do
     not understand. But Eleusinian Ceres and the Good Goddess have
     their secrets, like those at Rome and in Greece; still we freely
     tolerate everywhere, their god alone excepted, every kind of god;
     all the monsters of Egypt have their temples in Rome; our fathers,
     at their will, made a god of a man; and, their blood in our veins
     preserving their errors, we fill heaven with all our emperors; but,
     to speak without disguise of deifications so numerous, the effect
     is very doubtful of such metamorphoses.

     Christians have but one God, absolute master of all, whose mere
     will does whatever he resolves; but, if I may venture to say what
     seems to me true, our gods very often agree ill together; and,
     though their wrath crush me before your eyes, we have a good many
     of them for them to be true gods. Finally, among the Christians,
     morals are pure, vices are hated, virtues flourish; they offer
     prayers on behalf of us who persecute them; and, during all the
     time since we have tormented them, have they ever been seen
     mutinous? Have they ever been seen rebellious? Have our princes
     ever had more faithful soldiers? Fierce in war, they submit
     themselves to our executioners; and, lions in combat, they die like
     lambs. I pity them too much not to defend them. Come, let us find
     Felix; let us commune with his son-in-law; and let us thus, with
     one single action, gratify at once Paulina, and my glory, and my

Such is the high heroic style in which pagan Severus resolves and
speaks. And thus the fourth act ends.

Felix makes a sad contrast with the high-heartedness which the other
characters, most of them, display. He is base enough to suspect that
Severus is base enough to be false and treacherous in his act of
intercession for Polyeuctes. He imagines he detects a plot against
himself to undermine him with the emperor. Voltaire criticises Corneille
for giving this sordid character to Felix. He thinks the tragedist
might better have let Felix be actuated by zeal for the pagan gods. The
mean selfishness that animates the governor, Voltaire regards as below
the right tragic pitch. It is the poet himself, no doubt, with that high
Roman fashion of his, who, unconsciously to the critic, taught him to
make the criticism.

Felix summons Polyeuctes to an interview, and adjures him to be a
prudent man. Felix at length says, "Adore the gods, or die." "I am a
Christian," simply replies the martyr. "Impious! Adore them, I bid you,
or renounce life." (Here again Voltaire offers one of his refrigerant
criticisms: "_Renounce life_ does not advance upon the meaning of _die_;
when one repeats the thought, the expression should be strengthened.")
Paulina meantime has entered to expostulate with Polyeuctes and with her
father. Polyeuctes bids her, 'Live with Severus.' He says he has
revolved the subject, and he is convinced that another love is the sole
remedy for her woe. He proceeds in the calmest manner to point out the
advantages of the course recommended. Voltaire remarks,--justly, we are
bound to say,--that these maxims are here somewhat revolting; the martyr
should have had other things to say. On Felix's final word, "Soldiers,
execute the order that I have given," Paulina exclaims, "Whither are you
taking him?" "To death," says Felix. "To glory," says Polyeuctes.
"Admirable dialogue, and always applauded," is Voltaire's note on this.

The tragedy does not end with the martyrdom of Polyeuctes. Paulina
becomes a Christian, but remains pagan enough to call her father
"barbarous" in acrimoniously bidding him finish his work by putting his
daughter also to death. Severus reproaches Felix for his cruelty, and
threatens him with his own enmity. Felix undergoes instantaneous
conversion,--a miracle of grace which, under the circumstances provided
by Corneille, we may excuse Voltaire for laughing at. Paulina is
delighted; and Severus asks, "Who would not be touched by a spectacle so

The tragedy thus comes near ending happily enough to be called a comedy.

Such as the foregoing exhibits him, is Corneille, the father of French
tragedy, where at his best; where at his worst, he is something so
different that you would hardly admit him to be the same man. For never
was genius more unequal in different manifestations of itself, than
Corneille in his different works. Molière is reported to have said that
Corneille had a familiar, or a fairy, that came to him at times, and
enabled him to write sublimely; but that, when the poet was left to
himself, he could write as poorly as another man.

Corneille produced some thirty-three dramatic pieces in all, but of
these not more than six or seven retain their place on the French stage.

Besides his plays, there is a translation in verse by him of the
"Imitation of Christ;" there are metrical versions of a considerable
number of the Psalms; there are odes, madrigals, sonnets, stanzas,
addresses to the king. Then there are discourses in prose on dramatic
poetry, on tragedy, and on the three unities. Add to these, elaborate
appreciations by himself of a considerable number of his own plays,
prefaces, epistles, arguments to his pieces, and you have, what with the
notes, the introductions, the eulogies, and other such things that the
faithful French editor knows so well how to accumulate, matter enough of
Corneille to swell out eleven, or, in one edition,--that issued under
Napoleon as First Consul,--even twelve, handsome volumes of his works.

Corneille and Bossuet together constitute a kind of rank by themselves
among the _Dii Majores_ of the French literary Olympus.




Jean Racine was Pierre Corneille reduced to rule. The younger was to the
elder somewhat as Sophocles or Euripides was to Æschylus, as Virgil was
to Lucretius, as Pope was to Dryden. Nature was more in Corneille, art
was more in Racine. Corneille was a pathfinder in literature. He led the
way, even for Molière, still more for Racine. But Racine was as much
before Corneille in perfection of art, as Corneille was before Racine in
audacity of genius. Racine, accordingly, is much more even and uniform
than Corneille. Smoothness, polish, ease, grace, sweetness,--these, and
monotony in these, are the mark of Racine. But if there is, in the
latter poet, less to admire, there is also less to forgive. His taste
and his judgment were surer than the taste and the judgment of
Corneille. He enjoyed, moreover, an inestimable advantage in the
life-long friendship of the great critic of his time, Boileau. Boileau
was a literary conscience to Racine. He kept Racine constantly spurred
to his best endeavors in art. Racine was congratulating himself to his
friend on the ease with which he produced his verse. "Let me teach you
to produce easy verse with difficulty," was the critic's admirable
reply. Racine was a docile pupil. He became as painstaking an artist in
verse as Boileau would have him.

It will always be a matter of individual taste, and of changing fashion
in criticism, to decide which of the two is, on the whole, to be
preferred to the other. Racine eclipsed Corneille in vogue during the
lifetime of the latter. Corneille's old age was, perhaps, seriously
saddened by the consciousness, which he could not but have, of being
retired from the place of ascendency once accorded to him over all. His
case repeated the fortune of Æschylus in relation to Sophocles. The
eighteenth century, taught by Voltaire, established the precedence of
Racine. But the nineteenth century has restored the crown to the brow of
Corneille. To such mutations is subject the fame of an author.

Jean Racine was early left an orphan. His grandparents put him, after
preparatory training at another establishment, to school at Port Royal,
where during three years he had the best opportunities of education that
the kingdom afforded. His friends wanted to make a clergyman of him; but
the preferences of the boy prevailed, and he addicted himself to
literature. The Greek tragedists became familiar to him in his youth,
and their example in literary art exercised a sovereign influence over
Racine's development as author. It pained the good Port-Royalists to see
their late gifted pupil, now out of their hands, inclined to write
plays. Nicole printed a remonstrance against the theatre, in which
Racine discovered something that he took to slant anonymously at
himself. He wrote a spirited reply, of which no notice was taken by the
Port-Royalists. Somebody, however, on their behalf, rejoined to Racine,
whereupon the young author wrote a second letter to the Port-Royalists,
which he showed to his friend Boileau. "This may do credit to your head,
but it will do none to your heart," was that faithful mentor's comment,
in returning the document. Racine suppressed his second letter, and did
his best to recall the first. But he went on in his course of writing
for the stage.

The "Thebaïd" was Racine's first tragedy,--at least his first that
attained to the honor of being represented. Molière brought it out in
his theatre, the Palais Royal. His second tragedy, the "Alexander the
Great," was also put into the hands of Molière.

This latter play the author took to Corneille to get his judgment on it.
Corneille was thirty-three years the senior of Racine, and he was at
this time the undisputed master of French tragedy. "You have undoubted
talent for poetry--for tragedy, not; try your hand in some other
poetical line," was Corneille's sentence on the unrecognized young
rival, who was so soon to supplant him in popular favor.

The "Andromache" followed the "Alexander," and then Racine did try his
hand in another poetical line; for he wrote a comedy, his only one, "The
Suitors," as is loosely translated "Les Plaideurs," a title which has a
legal, and not an amorous, meaning. This play, after it had at first
failed, Louis XIV. laughed into court favor. It became thenceforward a
great success. It still keeps its place on the stage. It is, however, a
farce, rather than a comedy.

We pass over now one or two of the subsequent productions of Racine, to
mention next a play of his which had a singular history. It was a fancy
of the brilliant Princess Henriette (that same daughter of English
Charles I., Bossuet's funeral oration on whom, presently to be spoken
of, is so celebrated) to engage the two great tragedists, Corneille and
Racine, both at once, in labor, without their mutual knowledge, upon the
same subject,--a subject which she herself, drawing it from the history
of Tacitus, conceived to be eminently fit for tragical treatment.
Corneille produced his "Berenice," and Racine his "Titus and Berenice."
The princess died before the two plays which she had inspired were
produced; but, when they were produced, Racine's work won the palm. The
rivalry created a bitterness between the two authors, of which,
naturally, the defeated one tasted the more deeply. An ill-considered
pleasantry, too, of Racine's, in making, out of one of Corneille's
tragic lines in his "Cid," a comic line in "The Suitors," hurt the old
man's pride. That pride suffered a worse hurt still. The chief Parisian
theatre, completely occupied with the works of his victorious rival,
rejected tragedies offered by Corneille.

Still, Racine did not have things all his own way. Some good critics
considered the rage for this younger dramatist a mere passing whim of
fashion. These--Madame de Sévigné was of them--stood by their "old
admiration," and were true to Corneille.

A memorable mortification and chagrin for our poet was now prepared by
his enemies--he seems never to have lacked enemies--with lavish and
elaborate malice. Racine had produced a play from Euripides, the
"Phædra," on which he had unstintingly bestowed his best genius and his
best art. It was contrived that another poet, one Pradon, should, at the
self-same moment, have a play represented on the self-same subject. At a
cost of many thousands of dollars, the best seats at Racine's theatre
were all bought by his enemies, and left solidly vacant. The best seats
at Pradon's theatre were all bought by the same interested parties, and
duly occupied with industrious and zealous applauders. This occurred at
six successive representations. The result was the immediate apparent
triumph of Pradon over the humiliated Racine. Boileau in vain bade his
friend be of good cheer, and await the assured reversal of the verdict.
Racine was deeply wounded.

This discomposing experience of the poet's, joined with conscientious
misgivings on his part as to the propriety of his course in writing for
the stage, led him now, at the early age of thirty-eight, to renounce
tragedy altogether. His son Louis, from whose life of Racine we have
chiefly drawn our material for the present sketch, conceives this change
in his father as a profound and genuine religious conversion. Writers
whose spirit inclines them not to relish a condemnation such as seems
thus to be reflected on the theatre, take a less charitable view of the
change. They account for it as a reaction of mortified pride. Some of
them go so far as groundlessly to impute sheer hypocrisy to Racine.

A long interval of silence, on Racine's part, had elapsed, when Madame
de Maintenon, the wife of Louis XIV., asked the unemployed poet to
prepare a sacred play for the use of the high-born girls educated under
her care at St. Cyr. Racine consented, and produced his "Esther." This
achieved a prodigious success; for the court took it up, and an exercise
written for a girls' school became the admiration of a kingdom. A second
similar play followed, the "Athaliah,"--the last, and, by general
agreement, the most perfect, work of its author. We thus reach that
tragedy of Racine's which both its fame and its character dictate to us
as the one by eminence to be used here in exhibition of the quality of
this Virgil among tragedists.

Our readers may, if they please, refresh their recollection of the
history on which the drama is founded by perusing Second Kings, chapter
eleven, and Second Chronicles, chapters twenty-two and twenty-three.
Athaliah, whose name gives its title to the tragedy, was daughter to the
wicked king, Ahab. She reigns as queen at Jerusalem over the kingdom of
Judah. To secure her usurped position, she had sought to kill all the
descendants of King David, even her own grandchildren. She had
succeeded,--but not quite. Young Joash escaped, to be secretly reared
in the temple by the high priest. The final disclosure of this hidden
prince, and his coronation as king in place of usurping Athaliah,
destined to be fearfully overthrown, and put to death in his name,
afford the action of the play. Action, however, there is almost none in
classic French tragedy. The tragic drama is, with the French, as it was
with the Greeks, after whom it was framed, merely a succession of scenes
in which speeches are made by the actors. Lofty declamation is always
the character of the play. In the "Athaliah," as in the "Esther," Racine
introduced the feature of the chorus, a restoration which had all the
effect of an innovation. The chorus in "Athaliah" consisted of Hebrew
virgins, who, at intervals marking the transitions between the acts,
chanted the spirit of the piece in its successive stages of progress
toward the final catastrophe. The "Athaliah" is almost proof against
technical criticism. It is acknowledged to be, after its kind, a nearly
ideal product of art.

There is a curious story about the fortune of this piece with the
public, that will interest our readers. The first success of "Athaliah"
was not great. In fact, it was almost a flat failure. But a company of
wits, playing at forfeits somewhere in the country, severely sentenced
one of their number to go by himself, and read the first act of
"Athaliah." The victim went, and did not return. Sought at length, he
was found just commencing a second perusal of the play entire. He
reported of it so enthusiastically, that he was asked to read it before
the company, which he did, to their delight. This started a reaction in
favor of the condemned play, which soon came to be counted the
masterpiece of its author.

First, in specimen of the choral feature of the drama, we content
ourselves with giving a single chorus from the "Athaliah." This we turn
into rhyme, clinging pretty closely all the way to the form of the
original. Attentive readers may, in one place of our rendering, observe
an instance of identical rhyme. This, in a piece of verse originally
written in English, would, of course, be a fault. In a translation from
French, it may pass for a merit; since, to judge from the practice of
the national poets, the French ear seems to be even better pleased with
such strict identities of sound, at the close of corresponding lines,
than it is with those definite mere resemblances to which, in English
versification, rhymes are rigidly limited. Suspense between hope and
dread, dread preponderating, is the state of feeling represented in the
present chorus. Salomith is the leading singer:--


        The Lord hath deigned to speak,
      But what he to his prophet now hath shown--
      Who unto us will make it clearly known?
        Arms he himself to save us, poor and weak?
        Arms he himself to have us overthrown?


      O promises! O threats! O mystery profound!
        What woe, what weal, are each in turn foretold?
      How can so much of wrath be found
        So much of love to enfold?

      A VOICE.

      Zion shall be no more; a cruel flame
        Will all her ornaments devour.


        God shelters Zion; she has shield and tower
      In His eternal name.


      I see her splendor all from vision disappear.


      I see on every side her glory shine more clear.


      Into a deep abyss is Zion sunk from sight.


      Zion lifts up her brow amid celestial light.


      What dire despair!


        What praise from every tongue!


      What cries of grief!


        What songs of triumph sung!


      Cease we to vex ourselves; our God, one day,
        Will this great mystery make clear.


        Let us his wrath revere,
      While on his love, no less, our hopes we stay.

The catastrophe is reached in the coronation of little Joash as king,
and in the destruction of usurping and wicked Athaliah. Little Joash, by
the way, with his rather precocious wisdom of reply, derived to himself,
for the moment, a certain factitious interest, from the resemblance,
meant by the poet to be divined by spectators, between him and the
little Duke of Burgundy, Louis XIV.'s grandson, then of about the same
age with the Hebrew boy, and of high reputation for mental vivacity.

The scene in which the high priest, Jehoiada, for the first time
discloses to his foster-son, Joash, the latter's royal descent from
David, and his true heirship to the throne of Judah, will serve
sufficiently to exhibit what maturity of modest and pious wisdom the
dramatist attributes to this Hebrew boy of nine or ten years. Nine or
ten years of age Racine makes Joash, instead of seven, as Scripture,
interpreted without violence, would make him. The lad has had his sage
curiosity excited by seeing preparations in progress for some important
ceremonial. That ceremonial is his own coronation, but he does not guess
the secret. Nay, he has just touchingly asked his foster-mother,
observed by him to be in tears:--

     What pity touches you? Is it that in a holocaust to be this day
     offered, I, like Jephtha's daughter in other times, must pacify by
     my death the anger of the Lord? Alas, a son has nothing that does
     not belong to his father!

The discreet foster-mother refers the lad to her husband, Jehoiada, now
approaching. Joash rushes into the arms of the high priest, exclaiming,
"My father!" "Well, my son?" the high-priest replies. "What
preparations, then, are these?" asks Joash. The high priest bids him
prepare himself to listen and learn, the time being now come for him to
pay his debt to God:--

     JOASH. I feel myself ready, if he wishes it, to give to him my

     JEHOIADA. You have often heard read the history of our kings. Do
     you remember, my son, what strict laws a king worthy of the crown
     ought to impose upon himself?

     JOASH. A wise and good king, so hath God himself declared, puts not
     his reliance upon riches and gold; he fears the Lord his God, has
     ever before him his precepts, his laws, his judgments severe, and
     does not with unjust burdens overwhelm his brethren.

Fénelon had already been two years preceptor to the Duke of Burgundy
when this tragedy was written. It is impossible not to feel that Racine
must have had that prince in mind when he put into the mouth of young
Joash sentiments so likely to have been instilled into the heart of his
royal pupil, the great king's grandson, by such a preceptor as Fénelon.
How could the selfish old monarch of France contrive to avoid
recognizing his own portrait, suggested by contrast in that description
of the good king from the lips of little Joash? Racine was here treading
on treacherous ground. He will presently find his footing quite give way
under him, to let him down into the "horrible pit" of disgrace with his
king. This not, however, in the present play.

The tragedist has generously bestowed upon wicked Queen Athaliah a
certain loftiness of spirit which, in its display in the final
catastrophe, almost redeems her to admiration, if not to sympathy. There
is nothing in the play more nearly sublime in declamation than the final
speech in which Athaliah greets her own doom, and blasphemously
forecasts, for young King Joash, a future of apostasy from God. With
this admirable piece of rhetoric, resembling a burst of blasphemy from
Satan in "Paradise Lost," so far as French poetry may be allowed to
resemble English, we conclude our representation of Racine. Athaliah has
now just heard the announcement of things that assure her of the
overthrow of her usurpation. She expresses herself in a speech, the
first words of which were, no doubt, designed by the poet to recall the
celebrated traditional exclamation of Julian the Apostate, uttered at a
moment of irretrievable disaster to his impious hopes,--"O Galilean,
thou hast conquered!" as follows:--

      God of the Jews, 'tis thou that dost prevail!
      Ay, it is Joash; all without avail
      Seek I to cheat myself with other thought:
      I know the wound my weapon on him wrought;
      I see his father Ahaziah's face;
      Naught but brings back to me that hated race.
      David doth triumph, Ahab only fall,--
      Unpitying God, thou only hast done all!
      'Tis thou that flattering me to hope in vain
      For easy vengeance, o'er and o'er again
      Hast with myself myself embroiled anew,
      Now pangs of conscience rousing, not a few,
      Now dazzling me with thy rich treasures rare,
      Which I to burn or pillage did not dare.
      Let him, then, reign, this son, thy care, thy toil,
      And, so to signalize his new-got spoil,
      Let him into my bosom plunge the knife,
      And take with filial hand his mother's life.
      Hearken what wish for him she dying breathes--
      Wish? nay, what hope, assured hope, bequeaths,--
      That, disobedient, proud, rebellious, he,
      Faithful to Ahab's blood received from me,
      To his grandfather, to his father, like,
      Abhorrent heir of David, down may strike
      Thy worship and thy fane, avenger fell
      Of Athaliah, Ahab, Jezebel!

With words thus rendered into such English verse as we could command for
the purpose, Athaliah disappears from the stage. Her execution follows
immediately. This is not exhibited, but is announced with brief, solemn
comment from Jehoiada. And so the tragedy ends.

The interest of the piece, to the modern reader, is by no means equal to
its fame. One reproaches one's self, but one yawns in conscientiously
perusing it. Still, one feels the work of the author to be
irreproachably, nay, consummately, good. But fashions in taste change;
and we cannot hold ourselves responsible for admiring, or, at any rate,
for enjoying, according to the judgment of other races and of former
generations. It is--so, with grave concurrence, we say--It is a great
classic, worthy of the praise that it receives. We are glad that we have
read it; and, let us be candid, equally glad that we have not to read it

As has already been intimated, Racine, after "Athaliah," wrote tragedy
no more. He ceased to interest himself in the fortune of his plays. His
son Louis, in his Life of his father, testifies that he never heard his
father speak in the family of the dramas that he had written. His
theatrical triumphs seemed to afford him no pleasure. He repented of
them rather than gloried in them.

While one need not doubt that this regret of Racine's for the devotion
of his powers to the production of tragedy, was a sincere regret of his
conscience, one may properly wish that the regret had been more heroic.
The fact is, Racine was somewhat feminine in character as well as in
genius. He could not beat up with stout heart undismayed against an
adverse wind. And the wind blew adverse at length to Racine, from the
principal quarter, the court of Versailles. From being a chief favorite
with his sovereign, Racine fell into the position of an exile from the
royal presence. The immediate occasion was one honorable rather than
otherwise to the poet.

In conversation with Madame de Maintenon, Racine had expressed views on
the state of France and on the duties of a king to his subjects, which
so impressed her mind that she desired him to reduce his observations to
writing, and confide them to her, she promising to keep them profoundly
secret from Louis. But Louis surprised her with the manuscript in her
hand. Taking it from her, he read in it, and demanded to know the
author. Madame de Maintenon could not finally refuse to tell. "Does M.
Racine, because he is a great poet, think that he knows every thing?"
the despot angrily asked. Louis never spoke to Racine again. The
distressed and infatuated poet still made some paltry request of the
king, to experience the humiliation that he invoked. His request was not
granted. Racine wilted, like a tender plant, under the sultry frown of
his monarch. He could not rally. He soon after died, literally killed by
the mere displeasure of one man. Such was the measureless power wielded
by Louis XIV.; such was the want of virile stuff in Racine. A spirit
partly kindred to the tragedist, Archbishop Fénelon, will presently be
shown to have had at about the same time a partly similar experience.


BOSSUET: 1627-1704; BOURDALOUE: 1632-1704; MASSILLON: 1663-1742.

We group three names in one title, Bossuet, Bourdaloue, Massillon, to
represent the pulpit orators of France. There are other great names,--as
Fléchier, with Claude and Saurin, the last two, Protestants both,--but
the names we choose are the greatest.

Bossuet's individual distinction is, that he was a great man as well as
a great orator; Bourdaloue's, that he was priest-and-preacher simply;
Massillon's, that his sermons, regarded quite independently of their
subject, their matter, their occasion, regarded merely as masterpieces
of pure and classic style, became at once, and permanently became, a
part of French literature.

The greatness of Bossuet is an article in the French national creed. No
Frenchman disputes it; no Frenchman, indeed, but proclaims it.
Protestant agrees with Catholic, infidel with Christian, at least in
this. Bossuet, twinned here with Corneille, is to the Frenchman, as
Milton is to the Englishman, his synonym for sublimity. Eloquence,
somehow, seems a thing too near the common human level to answer fully
the need that Frenchmen feel in speaking of Bossuet. Bossuet is not
eloquent, he is sublime. That in French it is in equal part oratory,
while in English it is poetry almost alone, that supplies in literature
its satisfaction to the sentiment of the sublime, very well represents
the difference in genius between the two races. The French idea of
poetry is eloquence; and it is eloquence carried to its height, whether
in verse or in prose, that constitutes for the Frenchman sublimity. The
difference is a difference of blood. English blood is Teutonic in base,
and the imagination of the Teuton is poetic. French blood, in base, is
Celtic; and the imagination of the Celt is oratoric.

Jacques Bénigne Bossuet was of good _bourgeois_, or middle-class, stock.
He passed a well-ordered and virtuous youth, as if in prophetic
consistency with what was to be his subsequent career. He was brought
forward while a young man in the Hôtel de Rambouillet, where, on a
certain occasion, he preached a kind of show sermon, under the auspices
of his admiring patron. In due time he attracted wide public attention,
not merely as an eloquent orator, but as a profound student and as a
powerful controversialist. His character and influence became in their
maturity such, that La Bruyère aptly called him a "Father of the
Church." "The Corneille of the pulpit," was Henri Martin's
characterization and praise. A third phrase, "the eagle of Meaux," has
passed into almost an alternative name for Bossuet. He soared like an
eagle in his eloquence, and he was bishop of Meaux.

Bossuet and Louis XIV. were exactly suited to each other, in the mutual
relation of subject and sovereign. Bossuet preached sincerely--as
everybody knows Louis sincerely practised--the doctrine of the divine
right of kings to rule absolutely. But the proud prelate compromised
neither his own dignity nor the dignity of the Church in the presence of
the absolute monarch.

Bossuet threw himself with great zeal, and to prodigious effect, into
the controversy against Protestantism. His "History of the Variations of
the Protestant Churches," in two good volumes, was one of the mightiest
pamphlets ever written. As tutor to the Dauphin (the king's eldest son),
he produced, with other works, his celebrated "Discourse on Universal

In proceeding now to give, from the three great preachers named in our
title, a few specimen passages of the most famous pulpit oratory in the
world, we need to prepare our readers against a natural disappointment.
That which they are about to see has nothing in it of what will at first
strike them as brilliant. The pulpit eloquence of the Augustan age of
France was distinctly "classic," and not at all "romantic," in style.
Its character is not ornate, but severe. There is little rhetorical
figure in it, little of that "illustration" which our own different
national taste is accustomed to demand from the pulpit. There is plenty
of white light, "dry light" and white, for the reason; but there is
almost no bright color for the fancy, and, it must be added, not a
great deal of melting warmth for the heart.

The funeral orations of Bossuet are generally esteemed the masterpieces
of this orator's eloquence. He had great occasions, and he was great to
match them. Still, readers might easily be disappointed in perusing a
funeral oration of Bossuet's. The discourse will generally be found to
deal in commonplaces of description, of reflection, and of sentiment.
Those commonplaces, however, are often made very impressive by the
lofty, the magisterial, the imperial, manner of the preacher in treating
them. We exhibit a specimen, a single specimen only, and a brief one, in
the majestic exordium to the funeral oration on the Princess Henrietta
of England.

This princess was the last one left of the children of King Charles I.
of England. Her mother's death--her mother was of the French house of
Bourbon--had occurred but a short time before, and Bossuet had on that
occasion pronounced the eulogy. The daughter, scarcely returned to
France from a secret mission of state to England, the success of which
made her an object of distinguished regard at Versailles, suddenly fell
ill and died. Bossuet was summoned to preach at her funeral. (We have
not been able to find an English translation of Bossuet, and we
accordingly make the present transfer from French ourselves. We do the
same, for the same reason, in the case of Massillon. In the case of
Bourdaloue, we succeeded in obtaining a printed translation which we
could modify to suit our purpose.) Bossuet:--

     It was then reserved for my lot to pay this funereal tribute to the
     high and potent princess, Henrietta of England, Duchess of Orleans.
     She whom I had seen so attentive while I was discharging a like
     office for the queen her mother, was so soon after to be the
     subject of a similar discourse, and my sad voice was predestined to
     this melancholy service. O vanity! O nothingness! O mortals!
     ignorant of their destiny! Ten months ago, would she have believed
     it? And you, my hearers, would you have thought, while she was
     shedding so many tears in this place, that she was so soon to
     assemble you here to deplore her own loss? O princess! the worthy
     object of the admiration of two great kingdoms, was it not enough
     that England should deplore your absence, without being yet further
     compelled to deplore your death? France, who with so much joy
     beheld you again, surrounded with a new brilliancy, had she not in
     reserve other pomps and other triumphs for you, returned from that
     famous voyage whence you had brought hither so much glory, and
     hopes so fair? "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Nothing is left
     for me to say but that; that is the only sentiment which, in
     presence of so strange a casualty, grief so well-grounded and so
     poignant, permits me to indulge. Nor have I explored the Holy
     Scriptures in order to find therein some text which I might apply
     to this princess; I have taken, without premeditation and without
     choice, the first expression presented to me by the Preacher, with
     whom vanity, although it has been so often named, is yet, to my
     mind, not named often enough to suit the purpose that I have in
     view. I wish, in a single misfortune, to lament all the calamities
     of the human race, and in a single death to exhibit the death and
     the nothingness of all human greatness. This text, which suits all
     the circumstances and all the occurrences of our life, becomes, by
     a special adaptedness, appropriate to my mournful theme; since
     never were the vanities of the earth either so clearly disclosed or
     so openly confounded. No, after what we have just seen, health is
     but a name, life is but a dream, glory is but a shadow, charms and
     pleasures are but a dangerous diversion. Every thing is vain within
     us, except the sincere acknowledgment made before God of our
     vanity, and the fixed judgment of the mind, leading us to despise
     all that we are.

     But did I speak the truth? Man, whom God made in his own image, is
     he but a shadow? That which Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth
     to seek, that which he deemed that he could, without degrading
     himself, ransom with his own blood, is that a mere nothing? Let us
     acknowledge our mistake; surely this sad spectacle of the vanity of
     things human was leading us astray, and public hope, baffled
     suddenly by the death of this princess, was urging us too far. It
     must not be permitted to man to despise himself entirely, lest he,
     supposing, in common with the wicked, that our life is but a game
     in which chance reigns, take his way without rule and without
     self-control, at the pleasure of his own blind wishes. It is for
     this reason that the Preacher, after having commenced his inspired
     production by the expressions which I have cited, after having
     filled all its pages with contempt for things human, is pleased at
     last to show man something more substantial, by saying to him,
     "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of
     man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every
     secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Thus
     every thing is vain in man, if we regard what he gives to the
     world; but, on the contrary, every thing is important, if we
     consider what he owes to God. Once again, every thing is vain in
     man, if we regard the course of his mortal life; but every thing is
     of value, every thing is important, if we contemplate the goal
     where it ends, and the account of it which he must render. Let us,
     therefore, meditate to-day, in presence of this altar and of this
     tomb, the first and the last utterance of the Preacher; of which
     the one shows the nothingness of man, the other establishes his
     greatness. Let this tomb convince us of our nothingness, provided
     that this altar, where is daily offered for us a Victim of price so
     great, teach us at the same time our dignity. The princess whom we
     weep shall be a faithful witness, both of the one and of the other.
     Let us survey that which a sudden death has taken away from her;
     let us survey that which a holy death has bestowed upon her. Thus
     shall we learn to despise that which she quitted without regret, in
     order to attach all our regard to that which she embraced with so
     much ardor,--when her soul, purified from all earthly sentiments,
     full of the heaven on whose border she touched, saw the light
     completely revealed. Such are the truths which I have to treat, and
     which I have deemed worthy to be proposed to so great a prince, and
     to the most illustrious assembly in the world.

It will be felt how removed is the foregoing from any thing like an
effort, on the preacher's part, to startle his audience with the
far-fetched and unexpected. It must, however, be admitted that Bossuet
was not always--as, of our Webster, it has well been said that he always
was--superior to the temptation to exaggerate an occasion by pomps of
rhetoric. Bossuet was a great man, but he was not quite great enough to
be wholly free from pride of self-consciousness in matching himself as
orator against "the most illustrious assembly in the world."

The ordinary sermons of Bossuet are less read, and they less deserve
perhaps to be read, than those of Bourdaloue and Massillon.

* * *

BOURDALOUE was a voice. He was the voice of one crying, not in the
wilderness, but amid the homes and haunts of men, and, by eminence, in
the court of the most powerful and most splendid of earthly monarchs. He
was a Jesuit, one of the most devoted and most accomplished of an order
filled with devoted and accomplished men. It belonged to his Jesuit
character and Jesuit training, that Bourdaloue should hold the place
that he did as ever-successful courtier at Versailles, all the while
that, as preacher, he was using the "holy freedom of the pulpit" to
launch those blank fulminations of his at sin in high places, at sin
even in the highest, and all the briefer while that, as confessor to
Madame de Maintenon, he was influencing the policy of Louis XIV.

No scandal of any sort attaches to the reputation of Louis Bourdaloue.
He was a man of spotless fame,--unless it be a spot on his fame that he
could please the most selfish of sinful monarchs well enough to be that
monarch's chosen preacher during a longer time than any other pulpit
orator whatever was tolerated at Versailles. He is described by all who
knew him as a man of gracious spirit. If he did not reprobate and
denounce the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, that was rather of the
age than of Bourdaloue.

Sainte-Beuve, in a remarkably sympathetic appreciation of
Bourdaloue,--free, contrary to the critic's wont, from hostile
insinuation even,--regards it as part of the merit of this preacher that
there is, and that there can be, no biography of him. His public life
is summed up in simply saying that he was a preacher. During thirty-four
laborious and fruitful years he preached the doctrines of the Church;
and this is the sole account to be given of him, except, indeed, that in
the confessional he was, all that time, learning those secrets of the
human heart which he used to such effect in composing his sermons. He
had very suave and winning ways as confessor, though he enjoined great
strictness as preacher. This led a witty woman of his time to say of
him: "Father Bourdaloue charges high in the pulpit, but he sells cheap
in the confessional." How much laxity he allowed as confessor, it is, of
course, impossible to say. But his sermons remain to show that, though
indeed he was severe and high in requirement as preacher, he did not
fail to soften asperity by insisting on the goodness, while he insisted
on the awfulness, of God. Still, it cannot be denied, that somehow the
elaborate compliments which, as an established convention of his pulpit,
he not infrequently delivered to Louis XIV., tended powerfully to make
it appear that his stern denunciation of sin, which at first blush might
seem directly levelled at the king, had in reality no application at
all, or but the very gentlest application, to the particular case of his
Most Christian Majesty.

We begin our citations from Bourdaloue with an extract from a sermon of
his on "A Perverted Conscience." The whole discourse is one well worth
the study of any reader. It is a piece of searching psychological
analysis, and pungent application to conscience. Bourdaloue, in his
sermons, has always the air of a man seriously intent on producing
practical results. There are no false motions. Every swaying of the
preacher's weapon is a blow, and every blow is a hit. There is hardly
another example in homiletic literature of such compactness, such
solidity, such logical consecutiveness, such cogency, such freedom from
surplusage. Tare and tret are excluded. Every thing counts. You meet
with two or three adjectives, and you at first naturally assume, that,
after the usual manner of homilists, Bourdaloue has thrown these in
without rigorously definite purpose, simply to heighten a general
effect. Not at all. There follows a development of the preacher's
thought, constituting virtually a distinct justification of each
adjective employed. You soon learn that there is no random, no waste, in
this man's words. But here is the promised extract from the sermon on "A
Perverted Conscience." In it Bourdaloue depresses his gun, and
discharges it point-blank at the audience before him. You can almost
imagine you see the ranks of "the great" laid low. Alas! one fears that,
instead of biting the dust, those courtiers, with the king in the midst
of them to set the example, only cried bravo in their hearts at the
skill of the gunner:--

     I have said more particularly that in the world in which you
     live,--I mean the court,--the disease of a perverted conscience is
     far more common, and far more difficult to be avoided; and I am
     sure that in this you will agree with me. For it is at the court
     that the passions bear sway, that desires are more ardent, that
     self-interest is keener, and that, by infallible consequence,
     self-blinding is more easy, and consciences, even the most
     enlightened and the most upright, become gradually perverted. It is
     at the court that the goddess of the world, I mean fortune,
     exercises over the minds of men, and in consequence over their
     consciences, a more absolute dominion. It is at the court that the
     aim to maintain one's self, the impatience to raise one's self, the
     frenzy to push one's self, the fear of displeasing, the desire of
     making one's self agreeable, produce consciences, which anywhere
     else would pass for monstrous, but which, finding themselves there
     authorized by custom, seem to have acquired a right of possession
     and of prescription. People, from living at court, and from no
     other cause than having lived there, are filled with these errors.
     Whatever uprightness of conscience they may have brought thither,
     by breathing its air and by hearing its language, they are
     habituated to iniquity, they come to have less horror of vice, and,
     after having long blamed it, a thousand times condemned it, they at
     last behold it with a more favorable eye, tolerate it, excuse it;
     that is to say, without observing what is happening, they make over
     their consciences, and, by insensible steps, from Christian, which
     they were, by little and little become quite worldly, and not far
     from pagan.

What could surpass the adaptedness of such preaching as that to the need
of the moment for which it was prepared? And how did the libertine
French monarch contrive to escape the force of truth like the following,
with which the preacher immediately proceeds?--

     You would say, and it really seems, that for the court, there are
     other principles of religion than for the rest of the world, and
     that the courtier has a right to make for himself a conscience
     different in kind and in quality from that of other men; for such
     is the prevailing idea of the matter,--an idea well sustained, or
     rather unfortunately justified, by experience.... Nevertheless, my
     dear hearers, St. Paul assures us, that there is but one God and
     one faith; and woe to the man who dividing Him, this one God, shall
     represent Him as at court less an enemy to human transgressions
     than He is outside of the court; or, severing this one faith, shall
     suppose it in the case of one class more indulgent than in the case
     of another.

Bourdaloue, as Jesuit, could not but feel the power of Pascal in his
"Provincial Letters," constantly undermining the authority of his order.
His preaching, as Sainte-Beuve well says, may be considered to have
been, in the preacher's intention, one prolonged confutation of Pascal's
immortal indictment. We borrow of Sainte-Beuve a short extract from
Bourdaloue's sermon on slander, which may serve as an instance to show
with what adroitness the Jesuit retorted anonymously upon the

     Behold one of the abuses of our time. Means have been found to
     consecrate slander, to change it into a virtue, and even into one
     of the holiest virtues--that means is, zeal for the glory of
     God.... We must humble those people, is the cry; and it is for the
     good of the Church to tarnish their reputation and to diminish
     their credit. That idea becomes, as it were, a principle; the
     conscience is fashioned accordingly, and there is nothing that is
     not permissible to a motive so noble. You fabricate, you
     exaggerate, you give things a poisonous taint, you tell but half
     the truth; you make your prejudices stand for indisputable facts;
     you spread abroad a hundred falsehoods; you confound what is
     individual with what is general; what one man has said that is bad,
     you pretend that all have said; and what many have said that is
     good, you pretend that nobody has said; and all that, once again,
     for the glory of God. For such direction of the intention justifies
     all that. Such direction of the intention will not suffice to
     justify a prevarication, but it is more than sufficient to justify
     calumny, provided only you are convinced that you are serving God

In conclusion, we give a passage or two of Bourdaloue's sermon on "An
Eternity of Woe." Stanch orthodoxy the reader will find here. President
Edwards's discourse, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," is not more
unflinching. But what a relief of contrasted sweetness does Bourdaloue
interpose in the first part of the ensuing extract, to set off the grim
and grisly horror of that which is to follow! We draw, for this case,
from a translation, issued in Dublin under Roman-Catholic auspices, of
select sermons by Bourdaloue. The translator, throughout his volume, has
been highly loyal in spirit toward the great French preacher; but this
has not prevented much enfeebling by him of the style of his original:--

     There are some just, fervent, perfect souls, who, like children in
     the house of the Heavenly Father, strive to please and possess him,
     in order only to possess and to love him; and who, incessantly
     animated by this unselfish motive, inviolably adhere to his divine
     precepts, and lay it down as a rigorous and unalterable rule, to
     obey the least intimation of his will. They serve him with an
     affection entirely filial. But there are also dastards, worldlings,
     sinners, terrestrial and sensual men, who are scarcely susceptible
     of any other impressions than those of the judgments and vengeance
     of God. Talk to them of his greatness, of his perfections, of his
     benefits, or even of his rewards, and they will hardly listen to
     you; and, if they are prevailed upon to pay some attention and
     respect to your words, they will sound in their ears, but not reach
     their hearts.... Therefore, to move them, to stir them up, to
     awaken them from the lethargic sleep with which they are
     overwhelmed, the thunder of divine wrath and the decree that
     condemns them to eternal flames must be dinned into their ears:
     "Depart from me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire" (Matt. XXV.).
     Make them consider attentively, and represent to them with all the
     force of grace, the consequences and horror of this word

It is not imagination, it is pure reason and intelligence, that now in
Bourdaloue goes about the business of impressing the thought of the
dreadfulness of an eternity of woe. The effect produced is not that of
the lightning-flash suddenly revealing the jaws agape of an unfathomable
abyss directly before you. It is rather that of steady, intolerable
pressure gradually applied to crush, to annihilate, the soul:--

     ...Struck with horror at so doleful a destiny, I apply to this
     eternity all the powers of my mind; I examine and scrutinize it in
     all its parts; and I survey, as it were, its whole dimensions.
     Moreover, to express it in more lively colors, and to represent it
     in my mind more conformably to the senses and the human
     understanding, I borrow comparisons from the Fathers of the Church,
     and I make, if I may so speak, the same computations. I figure to
     myself all the stars of the firmament; to this innumerable
     multitude I add all the drops of water in the bosom of the ocean;
     and if this be not enough, I reckon, or at least endeavor to
     reckon, all the grains of sand on its shore. Then I interrogate
     myself, I reason with myself, and I put to myself the question--If
     I had for as many ages, and a thousand times as many, undergone
     torments in that glowing fire which is kindled by the breath of the
     Lord in his anger to take eternal vengeance, would eternity be at
     an end? No; and why? Because it is eternity, and eternity is
     endless. To number up the stars that shine in the heavens, to count
     the drops of water that compose the sea, to tell the grains of sand
     that lie upon the shore, is not absolutely impossible; but to
     measure in eternity the number of days, of years, of ages, is what
     cannot be compassed, because the days, the years, and the ages are
     without number; or, to speak more properly, because in eternity
     there are neither days, nor years, nor ages, but a single, endless,
     infinite duration.

     To this thought I devote my mind. I imagine I see and rove through
     this same eternity, and discover no end, but find it to be always a
     boundless tract. I imagine the wide prospect lies open on all
     sides, and encompasseth me around; that if I rise up, or if I sink
     down, or what way soever I turn my eyes, this eternity meets them;
     and that after a thousand efforts to get forward, I have made no
     progress, but find it still eternity. I imagine that after long
     revolutions of time, I behold in the midst of this eternity a
     damned soul, in the same state, in the same affliction, in the same
     misery still; and putting myself mentally in the place of this
     soul, I imagine that in this eternal punishment I feel myself
     continually devoured by that fire which nothing extinguishes; that
     I continually shed those floods of tears which nothing can dry up;
     that I am continually gnawed by the worm of conscience, which
     never dies; that I continually express my despair and anguish by
     that gnashing of teeth, and those lamentable cries, which never can
     move the compassion of God. This idea of myself, this
     representation, amazes and terrifies me. My whole body shudders, I
     tremble with fear, I am filled with horror, I have the same
     feelings as the royal prophet, when he cried, "Pierce thou my flesh
     with thy fear, for I am afraid of thy judgments."

That was a touching tribute from the elder to the younger--tribute
touching, whether wrung, perforce, from a proudly humble, or freely
offered by a simply magnanimous, heart--when, like John the Baptist
speaking of Jesus, Bourdaloue, growing old, said of Massillon, enjoying
his swiftly crescent renown: "He must increase, and I must decrease." It
was a true presentiment of the comparative fortune of fame that impended
for these two men. It was not, however, in the same path, but in a
different, that Massillon outran Bourdaloue. In his own sphere, that of
unimpassioned appeal to reason and to conscience, Bourdaloue is still
without a rival. No one else, certainly, ever earned, so well as he, the
double title which his epigrammatic countrymen were once fond of
bestowing upon him,--"The king of preachers, and the preacher of kings."

* * *

JEAN BAPTISTE MASSILLON became priest by his own internal sense of
vocation to the office, against the preference of his family that he
should become, like his father, a notary. He seems to have been by
nature sincerely modest in spirit. He had to be forced into the
publicity of a preaching career at Paris. His ecclesiastical superior
peremptorily required at his hands the sacrifice of his wish to be
obscure. He at once filled Paris with his fame. The inevitable
consequence followed. He was summoned to preach before the king at
Versailles. Here he received, as probably he deserved, that celebrated
compliment in epigram, from Louis XIV.: "In hearing some preachers, I
feel pleased with them; in hearing you, I feel displeased with myself."

It must not, however, be supposed that Massillon preached like a prophet
Nathan saying to King David, "Thou art the man;" or like a John the
Baptist saying to King Herod, "It is not lawful for _thee_ to have
_her_;" or like a John Knox denouncing Queen Mary. Massillon, if he was
stern, was suavely stern. He complimented the king. The sword with which
he wounded was wreathed deep with flowers. It is difficult not to feel
that some unspoken understanding subsisted between the preacher and the
king, which permitted the king to separate the preacher from the man
when Massillon used that great plainness of speech to his sovereign. The
king did not, however, often invite this master of eloquence to make the
royal conscience displacent with itself. Bourdaloue was ostensibly as
outspoken as Massillon; but somehow that Jesuit preacher contented the
king to be his hearer during as many as ten annual seasons, against the
one or two only that Massillon preached at court before Louis.

The work of Massillon generally judged, though according to Sainte-Beuve
not wisely judged, to be his choicest, is contained in that volume of
his which goes by the name of "Le Petit Carême,"--literally, "The Little
Lent,"--a collection of sermons preached during a Lent before the king's
great-grandson and successor, youthful Louis XV. These sermons
especially have given to their author a fame that is his by a title
perhaps absolutely unique in literature. We know no other instance of a
writer, limited in his production strictly to sermons, who holds his
place in the first rank of authorship simply by virtue of supreme
mastership in literary style.

Still, from the text of his printed discourses,--admirable, exquisite,
ideal compositions in point of form as these are,--it will be found
impossible to conceive adequately the living eloquence of Massillon.
There are interesting traditions of the effects produced by particular
passages of particular sermons of his. When Louis XIV. died, Massillon
preached his funeral sermon. He began with that celebrated single
sentence of exordium which, it is said, brought his whole audience, by
instantaneous, simultaneous impulse, in a body to their feet. The modern
reader will experience some difficulty in comprehending at once why that
perfectly commonplace-seeming expression of the preacher should have
produced an effect so powerful. The element of the opportune, the
apposite, the fit, is always great part of the secret of eloquence.
Nothing more absolutely appropriate can be conceived than was the
sentiment, the exclamation, with which Massillon opened that funeral
sermon. The image and symbol of earthly greatness, in the person of
Louis XIV., had been shattered under the touch of iconoclast death. "God
only is great!" said the preacher; and all was said. Those four short
words had uttered completely, and with a simplicity incapable of being
surpassed, the thought that usurped every breast. It is not the surprise
of some striking new thought that is the most eloquent thing. The most
eloquent thing is the surprise of that one word, suddenly spoken, which
completely expresses some thought, present already and uppermost, but
silent till now, awaiting expression, in a multitude of minds. This most
eloquent thing it was which, from Massillon's lips that day, moved his
susceptible audience to rise, like one man, and bow in mute act of
submission to the truth of his words. The inventive and curious reader
may exercise his ingenuity at leisure. He will strive in vain to
conceive any other exordium than Massillon's that would have matched the
occasion presented.

There is an admirable anecdote of the pulpit, which--though since often
otherwise applied--had, perhaps, its first application to Massillon.
Some one congratulating the orator, as he came down from his pulpit, on
the eloquence of the sermon just preached, that wise self-knower fenced
by replying, "Ah, the devil has already apprised me of that!" The
recluse celibate preacher was one day asked whence he derived that
marvellous knowledge which he displayed of the passions, the weaknesses,
the follies, the sins, of human nature. "From my own heart," was his
reply. Source sufficient, perhaps; but from the confessional, too, one
may confidently add.

There is probably no better brief, quotable passage to represent
Massillon at his imaginative highest in eloquence, than that most
celebrated one of all, occurring toward the close of his memorable
sermon on the "Fewness of the Elect." The effect attending the delivery
of this passage, on both of the two recorded occasions on which the
sermon was preached, is reported to have been remarkable. The manner of
the orator--downcast, as with the inward oppression of the same
solemnity that he, in speaking, cast like a spell on the
audience--indefinitely heightened the magical power of the awful
conception excited. Not Bourdaloue himself, with that preternatural
skill of his to probe the conscience of man to its innermost secret,
could have exceeded the heart-searching rigor with which, in the earlier
part of the discourse, Massillon had put to the rack the quivering
consciences of his hearers. The terrors of the Lord, the shadows of the
world to come, were thus already on all hearts. So much as this.
Bourdaloue, too, with his incomparable dialectic, could have
accomplished. But there immediately follows a culmination in power, such
as was distinctly beyond the height of Bourdaloue. Genius must be
superadded to talent if you would have the supreme, either in poetry or
in eloquence. There was an extreme point in Massillon's discourse at
which mere reason, having done, and done terribly, its utmost, was fain
to confess that it could not go a single step farther. At that extreme
point, suddenly, inexhaustible imagination took up the part of exhausted
reason. Reason had made men afraid; imagination now appalled them.
Massillon said:--

     I confine myself to you, my brethren, who are gathered here. I
     speak no longer of the rest of mankind. I look at you as if you
     were the only ones on the earth; and here is the thought that
     seizes me, and that terrifies me. I make the supposition that this
     is your last hour, and the end of the world; that the heavens are
     about to open above your heads, that Jesus Christ is to appear in
     his glory in the midst of this sanctuary, and that you are gathered
     here only to wait for him, and as trembling criminals on whom is to
     be pronounced either a sentence of grace or a decree of eternal
     death. For, vainly do you flatter yourselves; you will die such in
     character as you are to-day. All those impulses toward change with
     which you amuse yourselves, you will amuse yourselves with them
     down to the bed of death. Such is the experience of all
     generations. The only thing new you will then find in yourselves
     will be, perhaps, a reckoning a trifle larger than that which you
     would to-day have to render; and according to what you would be if
     you were this moment to be judged, you may almost determine what
     will befall you at the termination of your life.

     Now I ask you, and I ask it smitten with terror, not separating in
     this matter my lot from yours, and putting myself into the same
     frame of mind into which I desire you to come,--I ask you, then, If
     Jesus Christ were to appear in this sanctuary, in the midst of this
     assembly, the most illustrious in the world, to pass judgment on
     us, to draw the dread line of distinction between the goats and the
     sheep, do you believe that the majority of all of us who are here
     would be set on his right hand? Do you believe that things would
     even be equal? Nay, do you believe there would be found so many as
     the ten righteous men whom anciently the Lord could not find in
     five whole cities? I put the question to you, but you know not; I
     know not myself. Thou only, O my God, knowest those that belong to
     thee! But if we know not those who belong to him, at least we know
     that sinners do not belong to him. Now, of what classes of persons
     do the professing Christians in this assembly consist? Titles and
     dignities must be counted for naught; of these you shall be
     stripped before Jesus Christ. Who make up this assembly? Sinners,
     in great number, who do not wish to be converted; in still greater
     number, sinners who would like it, but who put off their
     conversion; many others who would be converted, only to relapse
     into sin; finally, a multitude who think they have no need of
     conversion. You have thus made up the company of the reprobate. Cut
     off these four classes of sinners from this sacred assembly, for
     they will be cut off from it at the great day! Stand forth now, ye
     righteous! where are you? Remnant of Israel, pass to the right
     hand! True wheat of Jesus Christ, disengage yourselves from this
     chaff, doomed to the fire! O God! where are thine elect? and what
     remains there for thy portion?

     Brethren, our perdition is well-nigh assured, and we do not give it
     a thought. Even if in that dread separation which one day shall be
     made, there were to be but a single sinner out of this assembly
     found on the side of the reprobate, and if a voice from heaven
     should come to give us assurance of the fact in this sanctuary,
     without pointing out the person intended, who among us would not
     fear that he might himself be the wretch? Who among us would not at
     once recoil upon his conscience, to inquire whether his sins had
     not deserved that penalty? Who among us would not, seized with
     dismay, ask of Jesus Christ, as did once the apostles, "Lord, is it

What is there wanting in such eloquence as the foregoing? Wherein lies
its deficiency of power to penetrate and subdue? Voltaire avowed that he
found the sermons of Massillon to be among "the most agreeable books we
have in our language. I love," he went on, "to have them read to me at
table." There are things in Massillon that Voltaire should not have
delighted to read, or to hear read,--things that should have made him
wince and revolt, if they did not make him yield and be converted. Was
there fault in the preacher? Did he preach with professional, rather
than with personal, zeal? Did his hearers feel themselves secretly
acquitted by the man, at the self-same moment at which they were openly
condemned by the preacher? It is impossible to say. But Massillon's
virtue was not lofty and regal; however it may have been free from just
reproach. He was somewhat too capable of compliance. He was made bishop
of Clermont, and his promotion cost him the anguish of having to help
consecrate a scandalously unfit candidate as archbishop of Cambray.
Massillon's, however, is a fair, if not an absolutely spotless, fame.
Hierarch as he was, and orthodox Catholic, this most elegant of
eloquent orators had a liberal strain in his blood which allied him
politically with the "philosophers" of the time succeeding. He, with
Fénelon, and perhaps with Racine, makes seem less abrupt the transition
in France from the age of absolutism to the age of revolt and final
revolution. There is distinct advance in Massillon, and advance more
than is accounted for by his somewhat later time, toward the easier
modern spirit in church and in state, from the high, unbending austerity
of that antique pontiff and minister, Bossuet.




If Bossuet is to Frenchmen a synonym for sublimity, no less to them is
Fénelon a synonym for saintliness. From the French point of view, one
might say, "the sublime Bossuet," "the saintly Fénelon," somewhat as one
says, "the learned Selden," "the judicious Hooker." It is as much a
French delight to idealize Fénelon an archangel Raphael, affable and
mild, as it is to glorify Bossuet a Michael in majesty and power.

But saintliness of character was in Fénelon commended to the world by
equal charm of person and of genius. The words of Milton describing Eve
might be applied, with no change but that of gender, to Fénelon, both
the exterior and the interior man:--

  Grace was in all his steps, heaven in his eye,
  In every gesture dignity and love.

The consent is general among those who saw Fénelon, and have left behind
them their testimony, that alike in person, in character, and in genius,
he was such as we thus describe him.

Twice, in his youth, he was smitten to the heart with a feeling of
vocation to be a missionary. Both times he was thwarted by the
intervention of friends. The second time, he wrote disclosing his
half-romantic aspiration in a glowing letter of confidence and
friendship to Bossuet, his senior by many years, but not yet become
famous. Young Fénelon's friend Bossuet was destined later to prove a
bitter antagonist, almost a personal foe.

Until he was forty-two years old, François Fénelon lived in comparative
retirement, nourishing his genius with study, with contemplation, with
choice society. He experimented in writing verse. Not succeeding to his
mind, he turned to prose composition, and leading the way, in a new
species of literature, for Rousseau, for Chateaubriand, for Lamartine,
and for many others, to follow, went on writing what, in ceasing to be
verse, did not cease to be poetry.

The great world will presently involve Fénelon in the currents of
history. Louis XIV., grown old, and become as selfishly greedy now of
personal salvation as all his life he has been selfishly greedy of
personal glory, seeks that object of his soul by serving the church in
the wholesale conversion of Protestants. He revokes the Edict of Nantes,
which had secured religious toleration for the realm, and proceeds to
dragoon the Huguenots into conformity with the Roman-Catholic church.
The reaction in public sentiment against such rigors grew a cry that had
to be silenced. Fénelon was selected to visit the heretic provinces, and
win them to willing submission. He stipulated that every form of
coercion should cease, and went to conquer all with love. His success
was remarkable. But not even Fénelon quite escaped the infection of
violent zeal for the Church. It seems not to be given to any man to rise
wholly superior to the spirit of the world in which he lives.

The lustre of Fénelon's name, luminous from the triumphs of his mission
among the Protestants, was sufficient to justify the choice of this man,
a man both by nature and by culture so ideally formed for the office as
was he, to be tutor to the heir prospective of the French monarchy. The
Duke of Burgundy, grandson to Louis XIV., was accordingly put under the
charge of Fénelon to be trained for future kingship. Never, probably,
in the history of mankind, has there occurred a case in which the
victory of a teacher could be more illustrious than actually was the
victory of Fénelon as teacher to this scion of the house of Bourbon. We
shall be giving our readers a relishable taste of St. Simon, the
celebrated memoir-writer of the age of Louis XIV., if out of the
portrait in words, drawn by him from the life, of Fénelon's princely
pupil, we transfer here a few strong lines to our pages. St. Simon

     In the first place, it must be said that Monseigneur the Duke of
     Burgundy had by nature a most formidable disposition. He was
     passionate to the extent of wishing to dash to pieces his clocks
     when they struck the hour which called him to what he did not like,
     and of flying into the utmost rage against the rain if it
     interfered with what he wanted to do. Resistance threw him into
     paroxysms of fury. I speak of what I have often witnessed in his
     early youth. Moreover, an ungovernable impulse drove him into
     whatever indulgence, bodily or mental, was forbidden him. His
     sarcasm was so much the more cruel as it was witty and piquant, and
     as it seized with precision upon every point open to ridicule. All
     this was sharpened by a vivacity of body and of mind that proceeded
     to the degree of impetuosity, and that during his early days never
     permitted him to learn any thing except by doing two things at
     once. Every form of pleasure he loved with a violent avidity, and
     all this with a pride and a haughtiness impossible to describe;
     dangerously wise, moreover, to judge of men and things, and to
     detect the weak point in a train of reasoning, and to reason
     himself more cogently and more profoundly than his teachers. But at
     the same time, as soon as his passion was spent, reason resumed
     her sway; he felt his faults, he acknowledged them, and sometimes
     with such chagrin that his rage was rekindled. A mind lively,
     alert, penetrating, stiffening itself against obstacles, excelling
     literally in every thing. The prodigy is, that in a very short time
     piety and grace made of him a different being, and transformed
     faults so numerous and so formidable into virtues exactly opposite.

St. Simon attributes to Fénelon "every virtue under heaven;" but his way
was to give to God rather than to man the praise of the remarkable
change which, during Fénelon's charge of the Duke of Burgundy, came over
the character of the prince.

The grandfather survived the grandson; and it was never put to the stern
proof of historical experiment, whether Fénelon had indeed turned out
one Bourbon entirely different from all the other members, earlier or
later, of that royal line.

Before, however, the Duke of Burgundy was thus snatched away from the
perilous prospect of a throne, his beloved teacher was parted from him,
not indeed by death, but by what, to the archbishop's susceptible and
suffering spirit, was worse than death,--by "disgrace." The disgrace was
such as has ever since engaged for its subject the interest, the
sympathy, and the admiration, of mankind. Fénelon lost the royal favor.
That was all,--for the present,--but that was much. He was banished from
court, and he ceased to be preceptor to the Duke of Burgundy. The king,
in signal severity, used his own hand to strike Fénelon's name from the
list of the household of his grandson and heir. The archbishop--for
Fénelon had previously been made archbishop of Cambray--returned into
his diocese as into an exile. But his cup of humiliation was by no means
full. Bossuet will stain his own glory by following his exiled former
pupil and friend, with hostile pontifical rage, to crush him in his

The occasion was a woman, a woman with the charm of genius and of
exalted character, a Christian, a saint, but a mystic--it was Madame
Guyon. Madame Guyon taught that it was possible to love God for himself
alone, purely and disinterestedly. Fénelon received the doctrine, and
Madame Guyon was patronized by Madame de Maintenon. Bossuet scented
heresy. He was too much a "natural man" to understand Madame Guyon. The
king was like the prelate, his minister, in spirit, and in consequent
incapacity. It was resolved that Fénelon must condemn Madame Guyon. But
Fénelon would not. He was very gentle, very conciliatory, but in fine he
would not. Controversy ensued, haughty, magisterial, domineering, on the
part of Bossuet; on the part of Fénelon, meek, docile, suasive. The
world wondered, and watched the duel. Fénelon finally did what king
James's translators misleadingly make Job wish that his adversary had
done,--he wrote a book, "The Maxims of the Saints." In this book, he
sought to show that the accepted, and even canonized, teachers of the
Church had taught the doctrine for which, in his own case and in the
case of Madame Guyon, condemnation was now invoked. Bossuet was pope at
Paris; and he, in full presence, denounced to the monarch the heresy of
Fénelon. At this moment of crisis for Fénelon, it happened that news was
brought him of the burning of his mansion at Cambray with all his books
and manuscripts. It will always be remembered that Fénelon only said:
"It is better so than if it had been the cottage of a poor

Madame de Maintenon, till now his friend, with perfectly frigid facility
separated herself from the side of the accused. The controversy was
carried to Rome, where at length Fénelon's book was
condemned,--condemned mildly, but condemned. The pope is said to have
made the remark that Fénelon erred by loving God too much, and Fénelon's
antagonists by loving their fellow-man too little. Fénelon bowed to the
authority of the Church, and meekly in his own cathedral confessed his
error. It was a logical thing for him, as loyal Catholic, to do; and he
did it with a beautiful grace of humility. The Protestant spirit,
however, rebels on his behalf, and finds it difficult even to admire the
manner in which was done by him a thing that seems so unfit to have been
done by him at all. Bossuet did not long survive his inglorious triumph
over so much sanctity of personal character, over so much difficult and
beautiful height of doctrinal and practical instruction to virtue.
Fénelon seems to have been reported as preaching a funeral sermon on
the dead prelate. "I have wept and prayed," he wrote to a friend, "for
this old instructor of my youth; but it is not true that I celebrated
his obsequies in my cathedral, and preached his funeral sermon. Such
affectation, you know, is foreign to my nature." The iron must have gone
deep, to wring from that gentle bosom even so much cry as this of
wounded feeling.

It is hard to tell what might now have befallen Fénelon, in the way of
good fortune,--he might even have been recalled to court, and
re-installed in his office of tutor to the prince,--had not a sinister
incident, not to have been looked for, at an inopportune moment
occurred. The "Telemachus" appeared in print, and kindled a sudden flame
of popular feeling which instantly spread in universal conflagration
over the face of Europe. This composition of Fénelon's the author had
written to convey, under a form of quasi-poetical fiction, lessons of
wisdom in government to the mind of his royal pupil. The existence of
the manuscript book would seem to have been intended to be a secret from
the king,--indeed, from almost every one, except the pupil himself for
whose use it was made. But a copyist proved false to his trust, and
furnished a copy of "Telemachus" to a printer in Holland, who lost no
time in publishing a book so likely to sell. But the sale of the book
surpassed all expectation. Holland not only, but Belgium, Germany,
France, and England multiplied copies, as fast as they could; still,
Europe could not get copies as fast as it wanted them.

The secret of such popularity did not lie simply in the literary merits
of "Telemachus." It lay more in a certain interpretation that the book
was supposed to bear. "Telemachus" was understood to be a covert
criticism of Louis XIV., and of the principle of absolute monarchy
embodied in him. This imputed intention of the book could not fail to
become known at Versailles. The result, of course, was fatal, and
finally fatal, to the prospects, whatever these may have been, of
Fénelon's restoration to favor at court. The archbishop thenceforward
was left to do in comparative obscurity the duties of his episcopal
office in his diocese of Cambray. He devoted himself, with exemplary and
touching fidelity, to the interests of his flock, loving them and loved
by them, till he died. It was an entirely worthy and adequate employment
of his powers. The only abatement needful from the praise to be bestowed
upon his behavior in this pastoral relation is, that he suffered himself
sometimes to think of his position as one of "disgrace." His reputation
meantime for holy character and conduct was European. His palace at
Cambray, hospitably open ever to the resort of suffering need, indeed
almost his whole diocese, lying on the frontier of France, was, by
mutual consent of contending armies, treated in war as a kind of mutual
inviolable ground, invested with privilege of sanctuary. It was an
instructive example of the serene and beautiful ascendency sometimes
divinely accorded to illustrious personal goodness.

There had been a moment, even subsequently to the affair of the
"Telemachus" publication, when it looked as if, after long delay, a
complete worldly triumph for Fénelon was assured, and was near. The
father of the Duke of Burgundy died, and nothing then seemed to stand
between Fénelon's late pupil and the throne,--nothing but the precarious
life of an aged monarch, visibly approaching the end. The Duke of
Burgundy, through all changes, had remained unchangingly fast in his
affectionate loyalty to Fénelon. Sternly forbidden, by the jealous and
watchful king, his grandfather, to communicate with his old teacher, he
yet had found means to send to Fénelon, from time to time, reassuring
signals of his trust and his love. Fénelon was now, in all eyes, the
predestined prime minister of a new reign about to commence. Through
devoted friends of his own, near to the person of the prince at court,
Fénelon sent minutes of advice to his pupil, which outlined a whole
beneficent policy of liberal monarchical rule. A new day seemed dawning
for France. The horrible reaction of the Regency and of Louis XV. might,
perhaps, have been averted, and, with that spared to France, the
Revolution itself might have been accomplished without the Revolution.
But it was not to be. The Duke of Burgundy first buried his wife, and
then, within a few days, followed her himself to the grave. He died
sincerely rejoicing that God had taken him away from the dread
responsibility of reigning.

"All my ties are broken," mourned Fénelon; "there is no longer any thing
to bind me to the earth." In truth, the teacher survived his pupil but
two or three years. When he died, his sovereign, gloomy with
well-grounded apprehension for the future of his realm, said, with tardy
revival of recognition for the virtue that had perished in Fénelon:
"Here was a man who could have served us well under the disasters by
which my kingdom is about to be assailed!"

Fénelon's literary productions are various; but they all have the common
character of being works written for the sake of life, rather than for
the sake of literature. They were inspired each by a practical purpose,
and adapted each to a particular occasion. His treatise on the
"Education of Girls" was written for the use of a mother who desired
instruction on the topic from Fénelon. His argument on the "Being of a
God" was prepared as a duty of his preceptorship to the prince. But the
one book of Fénelon which was an historical event when it appeared, and
which stands an indestructible classic in literature, is the
"Telemachus." It remains for us briefly to give some idea of this book.

The first thing to be said is, that those are mistaken who suppose
themselves to have obtained a true idea of "Telemachus" from having
partly read it at school, as an exercise in French. The essence of the
work lies beyond those few opening pages to which the exploration of
school-boys and school-girls is generally limited. This masterpiece of
Fénelon is much more than a charming piece of romantic and sentimental
poetry in prose. It is a kind of epic, indeed, like the "Odyssey," only
written in rhythmical prose instead of rhythmical verse; but, unlike the
"Odyssey," it is an idyllic epic written with an ulterior purpose of
moral and political didactics. It was designed as a manual of
instruction,--instruction made delightful to a prince,--to inculcate the
duties incumbent on a sovereign.

Telemachus, our readers will remember, was the son of Ulysses. Fénelon's
story relates the adventures encountered by Telemachus, in search for
his father, so long delayed on his return from Troy to Ithaca.
Telemachus is imagined by Fénelon to be attended by Minerva, the goddess
of wisdom, masked from his recognition, as well as from the recognition
of others, under the form of an old man. Minerva, of course, constantly
imparts the wisest counsel to young Telemachus, who has his weaknesses,
as had the young Duke of Burgundy, but who is essentially well-disposed,
as Fénelon hoped his royal pupil would finally turn out to be. Nothing
can exceed the urbanity and grace with which the delicate business is
conducted by Fénelon, of teaching a bad prince, with a very bad example
set him by his grandfather, to be a good king. The style in which the
story is told, and in which the advice is insinuated, is exquisite, is
beyond praise. The "soft delicious" stream of sound runs on, as from a
fountain, and like "linked sweetness long drawn out." Never had prose a
flow of melody more luscious. It is perpetual ravishment to the ear. The
invention, too, of incident is fruitful, while the landscape and
coloring are magical for beauty. We give a few extracts, to be read with
that application to Louis XIV., and the state of France, in mind, which,
when the book was first printed, gave it such an exciting interest in
the eyes of Europe. Telemachus, after the manner of Æneas to Queen Dido,
is relating to the goddess Calypso, into whose island he has come, the
adventures that have previously befallen him. He says that he, with
Mentor (Minerva in disguise), found himself in Crete. Mentor had been
there before, and was ready to tell Telemachus all about the country.
Telemachus was naturally interested to learn respecting the Cretan
monarchy. Mentor, he says, informed him as follows:--

     The king's authority over the subject is absolute, but the
     authority of the law is absolute over him. His power to do good is
     unlimited, but he is restrained from doing evil. The laws have put
     the people into his hands, as the most valuable deposit, upon
     condition that he shall treat them as his children. It is the
     intent of the law that the wisdom and equity of one man shall be
     the happiness of many, and not that the wretchedness and slavery of
     many should gratify the pride and luxury of one. The king ought to
     possess nothing more than the subject, except what is necessary to
     alleviate the fatigue of his station, and impress upon the minds of
     the people a reverence of that authority by which the laws are
     executed. Moreover, the king should indulge himself less, as well
     in ease as in pleasure, and should be less disposed to the pomp and
     the pride of life than any other man. He ought not to be
     distinguished from the rest of mankind by the greatness of his
     wealth, or the vanity of his enjoyments, but by superior wisdom,
     more heroic virtue, and more splendid glory. Abroad he ought to be
     the defender of his country, by commanding her armies; and at home
     the judge of his people, distributing justice among them, improving
     their morals, and increasing their felicity. It is not for himself
     that the gods have intrusted him with royalty. He is exalted above
     individuals, only that he may be the servant of the people. To the
     public he owes all his time, all his attention, and all his love;
     he deserves dignity only in proportion as he gives up private
     enjoyments for the public good.

Pretty sound doctrine, the foregoing, on the subject of the duties
devolving on a king. The "paternal" idea, to be sure, of government is
in it; but there is the idea, too, of limited or constitutional
monarchy. The spirit of just and liberal political thought had, it
seems, not been wholly extinguished, even at the court, by that
oppression of mind--an oppression seldom, if ever, in human history
exceeded--which was enforced under the unmitigated absolutism of Louis
XIV. The literature that, with Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, the
Encyclopædists, prepared the Revolution, had already begun virtually to
be written when Fénelon wrote his "Telemachus." It is easy to see why
the fame of Fénelon should by exception have been dear even to the
hottest infidel haters of that ecclesiastical hierarchy to which the
archbishop of Cambray himself belonged. This lover of liberty, this
gentle rebuker of kings, was of the free-thinkers, at least in the
sympathy of political thought. Nay, the Revolution itself is foreshown
in a remarkable glimpse of conjectural prophecy which occurs in the
"Telemachus." Idomeneus is a headstrong king, whom Mentor is made by the
author to reprove and instruct, for the Duke of Burgundy's benefit. To
Idomeneus--a character taken, and not unplausibly taken, to have been
suggested to Fénelon by the example of Louis XIV.--to this imaginary
counterpart of the reigning monarch of France, Mentor holds the
following language. How could the sequel of Bourbon despotism in
France--a sequel suspended now for a time, but two or three generations
later to be dreadfully visited on the heirs of Louis XIV.--have been
more truly foreshadowed? The "Telemachus:"--

     Remember, that the sovereign who is most absolute is always least
     powerful; he seizes upon all, and his grasp is ruin. He is, indeed,
     the sole proprietor of whatever his state contains; but, for that
     reason, his state contains nothing of value: the fields are
     uncultivated, and almost a desert; the towns lose some of their few
     inhabitants every day; and trade every day declines. The king, who
     must cease to be a king when he ceases to have subjects, and who is
     great only in virtue of his people, is himself insensibly losing
     his character and his power, as the number of his people, from
     whom alone both are derived, insensibly diminishes. His dominions
     are at length exhausted of money and of men: the loss of men is the
     greatest and the most irreparable he can sustain. Absolute power
     degrades every subject to a slave. The tyrant is flattered, even to
     an appearance of adoration, and every one trembles at the glance of
     his eye; but, at the least revolt, this enormous power perishes by
     its own excess. It derived no strength from the love of the people;
     it wearied and provoked all that it could reach, and rendered every
     individual of the state impatient of its continuance. At the first
     stroke of opposition, the idol is overturned, broken to pieces, and
     trodden under foot. Contempt, hatred, fear, resentment, distrust,
     and every other passion of the soul, unite against so hateful a
     despotism. The king who, in his vain prosperity, found no man bold
     enough to tell him the truth, in his adversity finds no man kind
     enough to excuse his faults, or to defend him against his enemies.

So much is perhaps enough to indicate the political drift of the
"Telemachus." That drift is, indeed, observable everywhere throughout
the book.

We conclude our exhibition of this fine classic, by letting Fénelon
appear more purely now in his character as dreamer and poet. Young
Prince Telemachus has, Ulysses-like, and Æneas-like, his descent into
Hades. This incident affords Fénelon opportunity to exercise his best
powers of awful and of lovely imagining and describing. Christian ideas
are, in this episode of the "Telemachus," superinduced upon pagan, after
a manner hard, perhaps, to reconcile with the verisimilitude required by
art, but at least productive of very noble and very beautiful results.
First, one glimpse of Tartarus as conceived by Fénelon. It is the
spectacle of kings who on earth abused their power, that Telemachus is

     Telemachus observed the countenance of these criminals to be pale
     and ghastly, strongly expressive of the torment they suffered at
     the heart. They looked inward with a self-abhorrence, now
     inseparable from their existence. Their crimes themselves had
     become their punishment, and it was not necessary that greater
     should be inflicted. They haunted them like hideous spectres, and
     continually started up before them in all their enormity. They
     wished for a second death, that might separate them from these
     ministers of vengeance, as the first had separated their spirits
     from the body,--a death that might at once extinguish all
     consciousness and sensibility. They called upon the depths of hell
     to hide them from the persecuting beams of truth, in impenetrable
     darkness; but they are reserved for the cup of vengeance, which,
     though they drink of it forever, shall be ever full. The truth,
     from which they fled, has overtaken them, an invincible and
     unrelenting enemy. The ray which once might have illuminated them,
     like the mild radiance of the day, now pierces them like
     lightning,--a fierce and fatal fire, that, without injury to the
     external parts, infixes a burning torment at the heart. By truth,
     now an avenging flame, the very soul is melted like metal in a
     furnace; it dissolves all, but destroys nothing; it disunites the
     first elements of life, yet the sufferer can never die. He is, as
     it were, divided against himself, without rest and without comfort;
     animated by no vital principle, but the rage that kindles at his
     own misconduct, and the dreadful madness that results from despair.

If the "perpetual feast of nectared sweets" that the "Telemachus"
affords, is felt at times to be almost cloying, it is not, as our
readers have now seen, for want of occasional contrasts of a bitterness
sufficiently mordant and drastic. But the didactic purpose is never lost
sight of by the author. Here is an aspect of the Elysium found by
Telemachus. How could any thing be more delectably conceived and
described? The translator, Dr. Hawkesworth, is animated to an English
style that befits the sweetness of his original. The "Telemachus:"--

     In this place resided all the good kings who had wisely governed
     mankind from the beginning of time. They were separated from the
     rest of the just; for, as wicked princes suffer more dreadful
     punishment than other offenders in Tartarus, so good kings enjoy
     infinitely greater felicity than other lovers of virtue, in the
     fields of Elysium.

     Telemachus advanced towards these kings, whom he found in groves of
     delightful fragrance, reclining upon the downy turf, where the
     flowers and herbage were perpetually renewed. A thousand rills
     wandered through these scenes of delight, and refreshed the soil
     with a gentle and unpolluted wave; the song of innumerable birds
     echoed in the groves. Spring strewed the ground with her flowers,
     while at the same time autumn loaded the trees with her fruit. In
     this place the burning heat of the dog-star was never felt, and the
     stormy north was forbidden to scatter over it the frosts of winter.
     Neither War that thirsts for blood, nor Envy that bites with an
     envenomed tooth, like the vipers that are wreathed around her arms,
     and fostered in her bosom, nor Jealousy, nor Distrust, nor Fears,
     nor vain Desires, invade these sacred domains of peace. The day is
     here without end, and the shades of night are unknown. Here the
     bodies of the blessed are clothed with a pure and lambent light,
     as with a garment. This light does not resemble that vouchsafed to
     mortals upon earth, which is rather darkness visible; it is rather
     a celestial glory than a light--an emanation that penetrates the
     grossest body with more subtilety than the rays of the sun
     penetrate the purest crystal, which rather strengthens than dazzles
     the sight, and diffuses through the soul a serenity which no
     language can express. By this ethereal essence the blessed are
     sustained in everlasting life; it pervades them; it is incorporated
     with them, as food with the mortal body; they see it, they feel it,
     they breathe it, and it produces in them an inexhaustible source of
     serenity and joy. It is a fountain of delight, in which they are
     absorbed as fishes are absorbed in the sea; they wish for nothing,
     and, having nothing, they possess all things. This celestial light
     satiates the hunger of the soul; every desire is precluded; and
     they have a fulness of joy which sets them above all that mortals
     seek with such restless ardor, to fill the vacuity that aches
     forever in their breast. All the delightful objects that surround
     them are disregarded; for their felicity springs up within, and,
     being perfect, can derive nothing from without. So the gods,
     satiated with nectar and ambrosia, disdain, as gross and impure,
     all the dainties of the most luxurious table upon earth. From these
     seats of tranquillity all evils fly far away; death, disease,
     poverty, pain, regret, remorse, fear, even hope,--which is
     sometimes not less painful than fear itself,--animosity, disgust,
     and resentment can never enter there.

The leaden good sense of Louis XIV. pronounced Fénelon the "most
chimerical" man in France. The Founder of the kingdom of heaven would
have been a dreamer, to this most worldly-minded of "Most Christian"
monarchs. Bossuet, who, about to die, read something of Fénelon's
"Telemachus," said it was a book hardly serious enough for a clergyman
to write. A more serious book, whether its purpose be regarded, or its
undoubted actual influence in moulding the character of a prospective
ruler of France, was not written by any clergyman of Fénelon's or
Bossuet's time.

Fénelon was an eloquent preacher as well as an elegant writer. His
influence exerted in both the two functions, that of the writer and that
of the preacher, was powerfully felt in favor of the freedom of nature
in style as against the conventionality of culture and art. He
insensibly helped on that reform from a too rigid classicism which in
our day we have seen pushed to its extreme in the exaggerations of
romanticism. Few wiser words have ever been spoken on the subject of
oratory, than are to be found in his "Dialogues on Eloquence."

French literature, unfortunately, is on the whole such in character as
to need all that it can show, to be cast into the scale of moral
elevation and purity. Fénelon alone is, in quantity as in quality,
enough, not indeed to overcome, but to go far toward overcoming, the
perverse inclination of the balance.




To Montesquieu belongs the glory of being the founder, or inventor, of
the philosophy of history. Bossuet might dispute this palm with him; but
Bossuet, in his "Discourse on Universal History," only exemplified the
principle which it was left to Montesquieu afterward more consciously to

Three books, still living, are associated with the name of
Montesquieu,--"The Persian Letters," "The Greatness and the Decline of
the Romans," and "The Spirit of Laws." "The Persian Letters" are a
series of epistles purporting to be written by a Persian sojourning in
Paris and observing the manners and morals of the people around him. The
idea is ingenious; though the ingenuity, we suppose, was not original
with Montesquieu. Such letters afford the writer of them an admirable
advantage for telling satire on contemporary follies. This production of
Montesquieu became the suggestive example to Goldsmith for his "Citizen
of the World; or, Letters of a Chinese Philosopher." We shall have here
no room for illustrative citations from Montesquieu's "Persian

The second work, that on the "Greatness and the Decline of the Romans,"
is less a history than a series of essays on the history of Rome. It is
brilliant, striking, suggestive. It aims to be philosophical rather than
historical. It deals in bold generalizations. The spirit of it is,
perhaps, too constantly and too profoundly hostile to the Romans.
Something of the ancient Gallic enmity--as if a derivation from that
last and noblest of the Gauls, Vercingetorix--seems to animate the
Frenchman in discussing the character and the career of the great
conquering nation of antiquity. The critical element is the element
chiefly wanting to make Montesquieu's work equal to the demands of
modern historical scholarship. Montesquieu was, however, a full worthy
forerunner of the philosophical historians of to-day. We give a single
extract in illustration,--an extract condensed from the chapter in which
the author analyzes and expounds the foreign policy of the Romans. The
generalizations are bold and brilliant,--too bold, probably, for strict
critical truth. (We use, for our extract, the recent translation by Mr.
Jehu Baker, who enriches his volume with original notes of no little
interest and value.) Montesquieu:--

     This body [the Roman Senate] erected itself into a tribunal for the
     judgment of all peoples, and at the end of every war it decided
     upon the punishments and the recompenses which it conceived each to
     be entitled to. It took away parts of the lands of the conquered
     states, in order to bestow them upon the allies of Rome, thus
     accomplishing two objects at once,--attaching to Rome those kings
     of whom she had little to fear and much to hope, and weakening
     those of whom she had little to hope and all to fear.

     Allies were employed to make war upon an enemy, but the destroyers
     were at once destroyed in their turn. Philip was beaten with the
     half of the Ætolians, who were immediately afterwards annihilated
     for having joined themselves to Antiochus. Antiochus was beaten
     with the help of the Rhodians, who, after having received signal
     rewards, were humiliated forever, under the pretext that they had
     requested that peace might be made with Perseus.

     When they had many enemies on hand at the same time, they accorded
     a truce to the weakest, which considered itself happy in obtaining
     such a respite, counting it for much to be able to secure a
     postponement of its ruin.

     When they were engaged in a great war, the senate affected to
     ignore all sorts of injuries, and silently awaited the arrival of
     the proper time for punishment; when, if it saw that only some
     individuals were culpable, it refused to punish them, choosing
     rather to hold the entire nation as criminal, and thus reserve to
     itself a useful vengeance.

     As they inflicted inconceivable evils upon their enemies, there
     were not many leagues formed against them; for those who were most
     distant from danger were not willing to draw nearer to it. The
     consequence of this was, that they were rarely attacked; whilst, on
     the other hand, they constantly made war at such time, in such
     manner, and against such peoples, as suited their convenience; and,
     among the many nations which they assailed, there were very few
     that would not have submitted to every species of injury at their
     hands if they had been willing to leave them in peace.

     It being their custom to speak always as masters, the ambassadors
     whom they sent to nations which had not yet felt their power were
     certain to be insulted; and this was an infallible pretext for a
     new war.

     As they never made peace in good faith, and as, with the design of
     universal conquest, their treaties were, properly speaking, only
     suspensions of war, they always put conditions in them which began
     the ruin of the states which accepted them. They either provided
     that the garrisons of strong places should be withdrawn, or that
     the number of troops should be limited, or that the horses or the
     elephants of the vanquished party should be delivered over to
     themselves; and if the defeated people was powerful on sea, they
     compelled it to burn its vessels, and sometimes to remove, and
     occupy a place of habitation farther inland.

     After having destroyed the armies of a prince, they ruined his
     finances by excessive taxes, or by the imposition of a tribute
     under pretext of requiring him to pay the expenses of the war,--a
     new species of tyranny, which forced the vanquished sovereign to
     oppress his own subjects, and thus to alienate their affection.

     When they granted peace to a king, they took some of his brothers
     or children as hostages. This gave them the means of troubling his
     kingdom at their pleasure. If they held the nearest heir, they
     intimidated the possessor; if only a prince of a remote degree,
     they used him to stir up revolts against the legitimate ruler.

     Whenever any people or prince withdrew their obedience from their
     sovereign, they immediately accorded to them the title of allies of
     the Roman people, and thus rendered them sacred and inviolable; so
     that there was no king, however great he might be, who could for a
     moment be sure of his subjects, or even of his family.

     Although the title of Roman ally was a species of servitude, it
     was, nevertheless, very much sought after; for the possession of
     this title made it certain that the recipients of it would receive
     injuries from the Romans only, and there was ground for the hope
     that this class of injuries would be rendered less grievous than
     they would otherwise be.

     Thus, there was no service which nations and kings were not ready
     to perform, nor any humiliation which they did not submit to, in
     order to obtain this distinction....

     These customs were not merely some particular facts which happened
     at hazard. They were permanently established principles, as may be
     readily seen; for the maxims which the Romans acted upon against
     the greatest powers were precisely those which they had employed in
     the beginning of their career against the small cities which
     surrounded them....

     But nothing served Rome more effectually than the respect which she
     inspired among all nations. She immediately reduced kings to
     silence, and rendered them as dumb. With the latter, it was not a
     mere question of the degree of their power: their very persons were
     attacked. To risk a war with Rome was to expose themselves to
     captivity, to death, and to the infamy of a triumph. Thus it was
     that kings, who lived in pomp and luxury, did not dare to look with
     steady eyes upon the Roman people, and, losing courage, they hoped,
     by their patience and their obsequiousness, to obtain some
     postponement of the calamities with which they were menaced.

The "Spirit of Laws" is probably to be considered the masterpiece of
Montesquieu. It is our duty, however, to say, that this work is quite
differently estimated by different authorities. By some, it is praised
in terms of the highest admiration, as a great achievement in wide and
wise political or juridical philosophy. By others, it is dismissed very
lightly, as the ambitious, or, rather, pretentious, effort of a
superficial man, a showy mere sciolist. It acquired great contemporary
fame, both at home and abroad. It was promptly translated into English,
the translator earning the merited compliment of the author's own
hearty approval of his work. Horace Walpole, who was something of a
Gallomaniac, makes repeated allusion to Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws,"
in letters of his written at about the time of the appearance of the
book. But Walpole's admiring allusions themselves contain evidence that
admiration equal to his own of the work that he praised, was by no means
universal in England.

The general aspect of the book is that of a composition meant to be
luminously analyzed and arranged. Divisions and titles abound. There are
thirty-one "books"; and each book contains, on the average, perhaps
about the same number of chapters. The library edition, in English,
consists of two volumes, comprising together some eight hundred open
pages, in good-sized type. The books and chapters are therefore not
formidably long. The look of the work is as if it were readable; and its
character, on the whole, corresponds. It would hardly be French, if such
were not the case. Except that Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws" is, as we
have indicated, a highly organized, even an over-organized, book, which,
by emphasis, Montaigne's "Essays" is not, these two works may be said,
in their contents, somewhat to resemble each other. Montesquieu is
nearly as discursive as Montaigne. He wishes to be philosophical, but he
is not above supplying his reader with interesting historical instances.

We shall not do better, in giving our readers a comprehensive idea of
Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws," than to begin by showing them the titles
of a number of the books:--

     Book I. Of Laws in General. Book II. Of Laws Directly Derived from
     the Nature of Government. Book III. Of the Principles of the Three
     Kinds of Government. Book IV. That the Laws of Education ought to
     be Relative to the Principles of Government. Book V. That the Laws
     given by the Legislator ought to be Relative to the Principle of
     Government. Book VI. Consequences of the Principles of Different
     Governments with Respect to the Simplicity of Civil and Criminal
     Laws, the Form of Judgments, and the Inflicting of Punishments.
     Book VII. Consequences of the Different Principles of the Three
     Governments with Respect to Sumptuary Laws, Luxury, and the
     Condition of Women. Book VIII. Of the Corruption of the Principles
     of the Three Governments. Book XIV. Of Laws as Relative to the
     Nature of the Climate.

The philosophical aim and ambition of the author at once appear in the
inquiry which he institutes for the three several animating _principles_
of the three several forms of government respectively distinguished by
him; namely, democracy (or republicanism), monarchy, and despotism. What
these three principles are, will be seen from the following statement:
"As _virtue_ is necessary in a republic, and in monarchy, _honor_, so
_fear_ is necessary in a despotic government." The meaning is, that in
republics, virtue possessed by the citizens is the spring of national
prosperity; that under a monarchy, the desire of preferment at the hands
of the sovereign is what quickens men to perform services to the state;
that despotism thrives by fear inspired in the breasts of those subject
to its sway.

To illustrate the freely discursive character of the work, we give the
whole of chapter sixteen--there are chapters still shorter--in Book


     The Samnites had a custom which in so small a republic, and
     especially in their situation, must have been productive of
     admirable effects. The young people were all convened in one place,
     and their conduct was examined. He that was declared the best of
     the whole assembly, had leave given him to take which girl he
     pleased for his wife; the second best chose after him, and so on.
     Admirable institution! The only recommendation that young men could
     have on this occasion, was their virtue, and the service done their
     country. He who had the greatest share of these endowments, chose
     which girl he liked out of the whole nation. Love, beauty,
     chastity, virtue, birth, and even wealth itself, were all, in some
     measure, the dowry of virtue. A nobler and grander recompense, less
     chargeable to a petty state, and more capable of influencing both
     sexes, could scarce be imagined.

     The Samnites were descended from the Lacedæmonians; and Plato,
     whose institutes are only an improvement of those of Lycurgus,
     enacted nearly the same law.

The relation of the foregoing chapter to the subject indicated in the
title of the book, is sufficiently obscure and remote, for a work like
this purporting to be philosophical. What relation exists, seems to be
found in the fact that the Samnite custom described tends to produce
that popular virtue by which republics flourish. But the information, at
all events, is curious and interesting.

The following paragraphs, taken from the second chapter of Book XIV.,
contain in germ nearly the whole of the philosophy underlying M. Taine's
essays on the history of literature:--


     A cold air constringes the extremities of the external fibres of
     the body; this increases their elasticity, and favors the return of
     the blood from the extreme parts to the heart. It contracts those
     very fibres; consequently it increases also their force. On the
     contrary, a warm air relaxes and lengthens the extremes of the
     fibres; of course it diminishes their force and elasticity.

     People are therefore more vigorous in cold climates. Here the
     action of the heart and the reaction of the extremities of the
     fibres are better performed, the temperature of the humors is
     greater, the blood moves freer towards the heart, and reciprocally
     the heart has more power. This superiority of strength must produce
     various effects; for instance, a greater boldness,--that is, more
     courage; a greater sense of superiority,--that is, less desire of
     revenge; a greater opinion of security,--that is, more frankness,
     less suspicion, policy and cunning. In short, this must be
     productive of very different tempers. Put a man into a close, warm
     place, and, for the reasons above given, he will feel a great
     faintness. If under this circumstance you propose a bold enterprise
     to him, I believe you will find him very little disposed towards
     it; his present weakness will throw him into a despondency; he will
     be afraid of every thing, being in a state of total incapacity. The
     inhabitants of warm countries are, like old men, timorous; the
     people in cold countries are, like young men, brave.

In the following extract, from chapter five, Book XXIV., the climatic
theory is again applied, this time to the matter of religion, in a style
that makes one think of Buckle's "History of Civilization:"--

     When the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily
     divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north
     embraced the Protestant, and those south adhered still to the

     The reason is plain: the people of the north have, and will forever
     have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the
     south have not; and therefore, a religion which has no visible
     head, is more agreeable to the independency of the climate, than
     that which has one.

Climate is a "great matter" with Montesquieu. In treating of the subject
of a state changing its religion, he says:--

     The ancient religion is connected with the constitution of the
     kingdom, and the new one is not; the former _agrees with the
     climate_, and very often the new one is opposite to it.

For the Christian religion, Montesquieu professes profound
respect,--rather as a pagan political philosopher might do, than as one
intimately acquainted with it by a personal experience of his own. His
spirit, however, is humane and liberal. It is the spirit of Montaigne,
it is the spirit of Voltaire, speaking in the idiom of this different
man, and of this different man as influenced by his different
circumstances. Montesquieu had had practical proof of the importance to
himself of not offending the dominant hierarchy.

The latter part of "The Spirit of Laws" contains discussions exhibiting
no little research on the part of the author. There is, for one example,
a discussion of the course of commerce in different ages of the world,
and of the influences that have wrought from time to time to bring about
the changes occurring. For another example, there is a discussion of the
feudal system.

Montesquieu was an admirer of the English constitution. His work,
perhaps, contains no extended chapters more likely to instruct the
general reader and to furnish a good idea of the writer's genius and
method, than the two chapters--chapter six, Book XI., and chapter
twenty-seven, Book XIX.--in which the English nation and the English
form of government are sympathetically described. We simply indicate,
for we have no room to exhibit, these chapters. Voltaire, too, expressed
Montesquieu's admiration of English liberty and English law.

On the whole, concerning Montesquieu it may justly be said, that of all
political philosophers, he, if not the profoundest, is at least one of
the most interesting; if not the most accurate and critical, at least
one of the most brilliant and suggestive.

As to Montesquieu the man, it is perhaps sufficient to say that he seems
to have been a very good type of the French gentleman of quality. An
interesting story told by Sainte-Beuve reveals, if true, a side at once
attractive and repellent of his personal character. Montesquieu at
Marseilles employed a young boatman, whose manner and speech indicated
more cultivation than was to have been looked for in one plying his
vocation. The philosopher learned his history. The youth's father was at
the time a captive in one of the Barbary States, and this son of his was
now working to earn money for his ransom. The stranger listened
apparently unmoved, and went his way. Some months later, home came the
father, released he knew not how, to his surprised and overjoyed family.
The son guessed the secret, and, meeting Montesquieu a year or so after
in Marseilles, threw himself in grateful tears at his feet, begged the
generous benefactor to reveal his name and to come and see the family he
had blessed. Montesquieu, calmly expressing himself ignorant of the
whole business, actually shook the young fellow off, and turned away
without betraying the least emotion. It was not till after the
cold-blooded philanthropist's death that the fact came out.

A tranquil, happy temperament was Montesquieu's. He would seem to have
come as near as any one ever did to being the natural master of his part
in life. But the world was too much for him, as it is for all--at last.
Witness the contrast of these two different sets of expressions from his
pen. In earlier manhood he says:--

     Study has been for me the sovereign remedy for all the
     dissatisfactions of life, having never had a sense of chagrin that
     an hour's reading would not dissipate. I wake in the morning with a
     secret joy to behold the light. I behold the light with a kind of
     ravishment, and all the rest of the day I am happy.

Within a few years of his death, the brave, cheerful tone had declined
to this:--

     I am broken down with fatigue; I must repose for the rest of my

Then further to this:--

     I have expected to kill myself for the last three months, finishing
     an addition to my work on the origin and changes of the French
     civil law. It will take only three hours to read it; but, I assure
     you, it has been such a labor to me, that my hair has turned white
     under it all.

Finally it touches nadir:--

     It [his work] has almost cost me my life; I must rest; I can work
     no more.

     My candles are all burned out; I have set off all my cartridges.

When Montesquieu died, only Diderot, among Parisian men of letters,
followed him to his tomb.




By the volume and the variety, joined to the unfailing brilliancy, of
his production; by his prodigious effectiveness; and by his universal
fame,--Voltaire is undoubtedly entitled to rank first, with no fellow,
among the eighteenth-century literary men, not merely of France, but of
the world. He was not a great man,--he produced no single great
work,--but he must nevertheless be pronounced a great writer. There is
hardly any species of composition to which, in the long course of his
activity, he did not turn his talent. It cannot be said that he
succeeded splendidly in all; but in some he succeeded splendidly, and he
failed abjectly in none. There is not a great thought, and there is not
a flat expression, in the whole bulk of his multitudinous and
multifarious works. Read him wherever you will, in the ninety-seven
volumes (equivalent, probably, in the aggregate, to three hundred
volumes like the present) which, in one leading edition, collect his
productions,--you may often find him superficial, you may often find him
untrustworthy, you will certainly often find him flippant, but not less
certainly you will never find him obscure, and you will never find him
dull. The clearness, the vivacity, of this man's mind were something
almost preternatural. So, too, were his readiness, his versatility, his
audacity. He had no distrust of himself, no awe of his fellow-men, no
reverence for God, to deter him from any attempt with his pen, however
presuming. If a state ode were required, it should be ready to order at
twelve to-morrow; if an epic poem--to be classed with the "Iliad" and
the "Æneid"--the "Henriade" was promptly forthcoming, to answer the
demand. He did not shrink from flouting a national idol, by freely
finding fault with Corneille; and he lightly undertook to extinguish a
venerable form of Christianity, simply with pricks, innumerably
repeated, of his tormenting pen.

A very large part of the volume of Voltaire's production consists of
letters, written by him to correspondents perhaps more numerous, and
more various in rank, from kings on the throne down to scribblers in the
garret, than ever, in any other case, exchanged such communications with
a literary man. Another considerable proportion of his work in
literature took the form of pamphlets, either anonymously or
pseudonymously published, in which this master-spirit of intellectual
disturbance and ferment found it convenient, or advantageous, or safe,
to promulge and propagate his ideas. A shower of such publications was
incessantly escaping from Voltaire's pen. More formal and regular, more
confessedly ambitious, literary essays of his, were poems in every
kind,--heroic, mock-heroic, lyric, elegiac, comic, tragic,
satiric,--historical and biographical monographs, and tales or novels of
a peculiar class.

Voltaire's poetry does not count for very much now. Still, its first
success was so great that it will always remain an important topic in
literary history. Besides this, it really is, in some of its kinds,
remarkable work. Voltaire's epic verse is almost an exception, needful
to be made, from our assertion that this author is nowhere dull. "The
Henriade" comes dangerously near that mark. It is a tasteless
reproduction of Lucan's faults, with little reproduction of Lucan's
virtues. Voltaire's comedies are bright and witty, but they are not
laughter-provoking; and they do not possess the elemental and creative
character of Shakspeare's or Molière's work. His tragedies are better;
but they do not avoid that cast of mechanical which seems necessarily to
belong to poetry produced by talent, however consummate, unaccompanied
with genius. Voltaire's histories are luminous and readable narratives,
but they cannot claim either the merit of critical accuracy or of
philosophic breadth and insight. His letters would have to be read in
considerable volume in order to furnish a full satisfactory idea of the
author. His tales, finally, afford the most available, and, on the
whole, likewise, the best, means of coming shortly and easily at a
knowledge of Voltaire.

Among Voltaire's tales, doubtless the one most eligible for use, to
serve our present purpose, is his "Candide." This is a nondescript piece
of fiction, the design of which is, by means of a narrative of travel
and adventure, constructed without much regard to the probability of
particular incidents, to set forth, in the characteristic mocking vein
of Voltaire, the vanity and misery of mankind. The author's invention is
often whimsical enough; but it is constantly so ready, so reckless, and
so abundant, that the reader never tires, as he is hurried ceaselessly
forward from change to change of scene and circumstance. The play of wit
is incessant. The style is limpidity itself. Your sympathies are never
painfully engaged, even in recitals of experience that ought to be the
most heart-rending. There is never a touch of noble moral sentiment, to
relieve the monotony of mockery that lightly laughs at you, and
tantalizes you, page after page, from the beginning to the end of the
book. The banter is not good-natured; though, on the other hand, it
cannot justly be pronounced ill-natured; and it is, in final effect upon
the reader's mind, bewildering and depressing in the extreme. Vanity of
vanities, all is vanity,--such is the comfortless doctrine of the book.
The apples are the apples of Sodom, everywhere in the world. There is no
virtue anywhere, no good, no happiness. Life is a cheat, the love of
life is a cruelty, and beyond life there is nothing. At least, there is
no glimpse given of any compensating future reserved for men, a future
to redress the balance of good and ill experienced here and now. Faith
and hope, those two eyes of the soul, are smilingly quenched in their
sockets; and you are left blind, in a whirling world of darkness, with a
whirling world of darkness before you.

Such is "Candide." We select a single passage for specimen. The passage
we select is more nearly free than almost any other passage as long, in
this extraordinary romance, would probably be found, from impure
implications. It is, besides, more nearly serious in apparent motive,
than is the general tenor of the production. Here, however, as
elsewhere, the writer keeps carefully down his mocking-mask. At least,
you are left tantalizingly uncertain all the time how much the grin you
face is the grin of the man, and how much the grin of a visor that he

Candide, the hero, is a young fellow of ingenuous character, brought
successively under the lead of several different persons wise in the
ways of the world, who act toward him, each in his turn, the part of
"guide, philosopher, and friend." Candide, with such a mentor bearing
the name Martin, has now arrived at Venice. Candide speaks:--

     "I have heard great talk of the Senator Pococuranté, who lives in
     that fine house at the Brenta, where they say he entertains
     foreigners in the most polite manner. They pretend this man is a
     perfect stranger to uneasiness."--"I should be glad to see so
     extraordinary a being," said Martin. Candide thereupon sent a
     messenger to Signor Pococuranté, desiring permission to wait on him
     the next day.

     Candide and his friend Martin went into a gondola on the Brenta,
     and arrived at the palace of the noble Pococuranté: the gardens
     were laid out in elegant taste, and adorned with fine marble
     statues; his palace was built after the most approved rules of
     architecture. The master of the house, who was a man of sixty, and
     very rich, received our two travellers with great politeness, but
     without much ceremony, which somewhat disconcerted Candide, but was
     not at all displeasing to Martin.

     As soon as they were seated, two very pretty girls, neatly dressed,
     brought in chocolate, which was extremely well frothed. Candide
     could not help making encomiums upon their beauty and graceful
     carriage. "The creatures are well enough," said the senator. "I
     make them my companions, for I am heartily tired of the ladies of
     the town, their coquetry, their jealousy, their quarrels, their
     humors, their meannesses, their pride, and their folly. I am weary
     of making sonnets, or of paying for sonnets to be made, on them;
     but, after all, these two girls begin to grow very indifferent to

     After having refreshed himself, Candide walked into a large
     gallery, where he was struck with the sight of a fine collection of
     paintings. "Pray," said Candide, "by what master are the two first
     of these?"--"They are Raphael's," answered the senator. "I gave a
     great deal of money for them seven years ago, purely out of
     curiosity, as they were said to be the finest pieces in Italy: but
     I cannot say they please me; the coloring is dark and heavy; the
     figures do not swell nor come out enough; and the drapery is very
     bad. In short, notwithstanding the encomiums lavished upon them,
     they are not, in my opinion, a true representation of nature. I
     approve of no paintings but where I think I behold Nature herself;
     and there are very few, if any, of that kind to be met with. I have
     what is called a fine collection, but I take no manner of delight
     in them."

     While dinner was getting ready, Pococuranté ordered a concert.
     Candide praised the music to the skies. "This noise," said the
     noble Venetian, "may amuse one for a little time; but if it was to
     last above half an hour, it would grow tiresome to everybody,
     though perhaps no one would care to own it. Music is become the art
     of executing what is difficult; now, whatever is difficult cannot
     be long pleasing.

     "I believe I might take more pleasure in an opera, if they had not
     made such a monster of that species of dramatic entertainment as
     perfectly shocks me; and I am amazed how people can bear to see
     wretched tragedies set to music, where the scenes are contrived for
     no other purpose than to lug in, as it were by the ears, three or
     four ridiculous songs, to give a favorite actress an opportunity of
     exhibiting her pipe. Let who will or can die away in raptures at
     the trills of a eunuch quavering the majestic part of Cæsar or
     Cato, and strutting in a foolish manner upon the stage. For my
     part, I have long ago renounced these paltry entertainments, which
     constitute the glory of modern Italy, and are so dearly purchased
     by crowned heads." Candide opposed these sentiments, but he did it
     in a discreet manner. As for Martin, he was entirely of the old
     senator's opinion.

     Dinner being served up, they sat down to table, and after a very
     hearty repast, returned to the library. Candide, observing Homer
     richly bound, commended the noble Venetian's taste. "This," said
     he, "is a book that was once the delight of the great Pangloss, the
     best philosopher in Germany."--"Homer is no favorite of mine,"
     answered Pococuranté very coolly. "I was made to believe once that
     I took a pleasure in reading him; but his continual repetitions of
     battles must have all such a resemblance with each other; his gods
     that are forever in a hurry and bustle, without ever doing any
     thing; his Helen, that is the cause of the war, and yet hardly acts
     in the whole performance; his Troy, that holds out so long without
     being taken; in short, all these things together make the poem very
     insipid to me. I have asked some learned men whether they are not
     in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet. Those
     who spoke ingenuously assured me that he had made them fall asleep,
     and yet that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their
     libraries; but that it was merely as they would do an antique, or
     those rusty medals which are kept only for curiosity, and are of no
     manner of use in commerce."

     "But your excellency does not surely form the same opinion of
     Virgil?" said Candide. "Why, I grant," replied Pococuranté, "that
     the second, third, fourth, and sixth books of his 'Æneid' are
     excellent; but as for his pious Æneas, his strong Cloanthus, his
     friendly Achates, his boy Ascanius, his silly King Latinus, his
     ill-bred Amata, his insipid Lavinia, and some other characters much
     in the same strain, I think there cannot in nature be any thing
     more flat and disagreeable. I must confess I prefer Tasso far
     beyond him; nay, even that sleepy tale-teller Ariosto."

     "May I take the liberty to ask if you do not receive great pleasure
     from reading Horace?" said Candide. "There are maxims in this
     writer," replied Pococuranté, "from whence a man of the world may
     reap some benefit; and the short measure of the verse makes them
     more easily to be retained in the memory. But I see nothing
     extraordinary in his journey to Brundusium, and his account of his
     bad dinner; nor in his dirty, low quarrel between one Rupilius,
     whose words, as he expresses it, were full of poisonous filth; and
     another, whose language was dipped in vinegar. His indelicate
     verses against old women and witches have frequently given me great
     offence; nor can I discover the great merit of his telling his
     friend Mæcenas, that, if he will but rank him in the class of lyric
     poets, his lofty head shall touch the stars. Ignorant readers are
     apt to advance every thing by the lump in a writer of reputation.
     For my part, I read only to please myself. I like nothing but what
     makes for my purpose." Candide, who had been brought up with a
     notion of never making use of his own judgment, was astonished at
     what he heard; but Martin found there was a good deal of reason in
     the senator's remarks.

     "Oh, here is a Tully!" said Candide; "this great man, I fancy, you
     are never tired of reading."--"Indeed, I never read him at all,"
     replied Pococuranté. "What a deuce is it to me whether he pleads
     for Rabirius or Cluentius? I try causes enough myself. I had once
     some liking to his philosophical works; but when I found he doubted
     of every thing, I thought I knew as much as himself, and had no
     need of a guide to learn ignorance."

     "Ha!" cried Martin, "here are fourscore volumes of the 'Memoirs of
     the Academy of Sciences;' perhaps there may be something curious
     and valuable in this collection."--"Yes," answered Pococuranté; "so
     there might, if any one of these compilers of this rubbish had only
     invented the art of pin-making. But all these volumes are filled
     with mere chimerical systems, without one single article conducive
     to real utility."

     "I see a prodigious number of plays," said Candide, "in Italian,
     Spanish, and French."--"Yes," replied the Venetian; "there are, I
     think, three thousand, and not three dozen of them good for any
     thing. As to those huge volumes of divinity, and those enormous
     collections of sermons, they are not all together worth one single
     page of Seneca; and I fancy you will readily believe that neither
     myself nor any one else ever looks into them."

     Martin, perceiving some shelves filled with English books, said to
     the senator, "I fancy that a republican must be highly delighted
     with those books, which are most of them written with a noble
     spirit of freedom."--"It is noble to write as we think," said
     Pococuranté; "it is the privilege of humanity. Throughout Italy we
     write only what we do not think; and the present inhabitants of the
     country of the Cæsars and Antoninuses dare not acquire a single
     idea without the permission of a father Dominican. I should be
     enamoured of the spirit of the English nation did it not utterly
     frustrate the good effects it would produce by passion and the
     spirit of party."

     Candide, seeing a Milton, asked the senator if he did not think
     that author a great man. "Who!" said Pococuranté sharply. "That
     barbarian, who writes a tedious commentary, in ten books of
     rambling verse, on the first chapter of Genesis! That slovenly
     imitator of the Greeks, who disfigures the creation by making the
     Messiah take a pair of compasses from heaven's armory to plan the
     world; whereas Moses represented the Deity as producing the whole
     universe by his fiat! Can I think you have any esteem for a writer
     who has spoiled Tasso's hell and the devil; who transforms Lucifer,
     sometimes into a toad, and at others into a pygmy; who makes him
     say the same thing over again a hundred times; who metamorphoses
     him into a school-divine; and who, by an absurdly serious imitation
     of Ariosto's comic invention of fire-arms, represents the devils
     and angels cannonading each other in heaven! Neither I, nor any
     other Italian, can possibly take pleasure in such melancholy
     reveries. But the marriage of Sin and Death, and snakes issuing
     from the womb of the former, are enough to make any person sick
     that is not lost to all sense of delicacy. This obscene, whimsical,
     and disagreeable poem met with the neglect that it deserved at its
     first publication; and I only treat the author now as he was
     treated in his own country by his contemporaries."

     Candide was sensibly grieved at this speech, as he had a great
     respect for Homer, and was very fond of Milton. "Alas!" said he
     softly to Martin, "I am afraid this man holds our German poets in
     great contempt."--"There would be no such great harm in that," said
     Martin.--"Oh, what a surprising man!" said Candide to himself.
     "What a prodigious genius is this Pococuranté! Nothing can please

     After finishing their survey of the library they went down into the
     garden, when Candide commended the several beauties that offered
     themselves to his view. "I know nothing upon earth laid out in such
     bad taste," said Pococuranté; "every thing about it is childish and
     trifling; but I shall have another laid out to-morrow upon a nobler

     As soon as our two travellers had taken leave of his excellency,
     "Well," said Candide to Martin, "I hope you will own that this man
     is the happiest of all mortals, for he is above every thing he
     possesses."--"But do you not see," answered Martin, "that he
     likewise dislikes every thing he possesses? It was an observation
     of Plato long since, that those are not the best stomachs that
     reject, without distinction, all sorts of aliments."--"True," said
     Candide; "but still, there must certainly be a pleasure in
     criticising every thing, and in perceiving faults where others
     think they see beauties."--"That is," replied Martin, "there is a
     pleasure in having no pleasure."--"Well, well," said Candide, "I
     find that I shall be the only happy man at last, when I am blessed
     with the sight of my dear Cunegund."--"It is good to hope," said

The single citation preceding sufficiently exemplifies, at their best,
though at their worst, not, the style and the spirit of Voltaire's
"Candide;" as his "Candide" sufficiently exemplifies the style and the
spirit of the most characteristic of Voltaire's writings in general.
"Pococurantism" is a word, now not uncommon in English, contributed by
Voltaire to the vocabulary of literature. To readers of the foregoing
extract, the sense of the term will not need to be explained. We
respectfully suggest to our dictionary-makers, that the fact stated of
its origin in the "Candide" of Voltaire would be interesting and
instructive to many. Voltaire coined the name, to suit the character of
his Venetian gentleman, from two Italian words which mean together
"little-caring." Signor Pococuranté is the immortal type of men that
have worn out their capacity of fresh sensation and enjoyment.

It was a happy editorial thought of Mr. Henry Morley, in his cheap
library, now issuing, of standard books for the people, to bind up
Johnson's "Rasselas" in one volume with Voltaire's "Candide." The two
stories, nearly contemporaneous in their production, offer a stimulating
contrast in treatment, at the hands of two sharply contrasted writers,
of much the same subject,--the unsatisfactoriness of the world.

Mr. John Morley, a very different writer and a very different man from
his namesake just mentioned, has an elaborate monograph on Voltaire in a
volume perhaps twice as large as the present. This work claims the
attention of all students desirous of exhaustive acquaintance with its
subject. Mr. John Morley writes in sympathy with Voltaire, so far as
Voltaire was an enemy of the Christian religion; but in antipathy to
him, so far as Voltaire fell short of being an atheist. A similar
sympathy, limited by a similar antipathy, is observable in the same
author's still more extended monograph on Rousseau. It is only in his
two volumes on "Diderot and the Encyclopædists," that Mr. Morley finds
himself able to write without reserve in full moral accord with the men
whom he describes. Of course, in all these books the biographer and
critic feels, as Englishman, obliged to concede much to his English
audience, in the way of condemning impurities in his authors. The
concession thus made is made with great adroitness of manner, the
writer's aim evidently being to imply that his infidels and atheists, if
they are somewhat vicious in taste, had the countenance of good
Christian example or parallel for all the lapses they show. Mr. Morley
wishes to be fair, but his atheist zeal overcomes him. This is
especially evident in his work on "Diderot and the Encyclopædists,"
where his propagandist desire to clear the character of his hero bribes
him once and again to unconscious false dealing. In his "Voltaire," and
in his "Rousseau," Mr. Morley is so lofty in tone, expressing himself
against the moral obliquities of the men with whom he is dealing, that
often you feel the ethic atmosphere of the books to be pure and bracing,
almost beyond the standard of biblical and Christian. But in his
"Diderot and the Encyclopædists," such fine severity is conspicuously
absent. Mr. Morley is so deeply convinced that atheism is what we all
most need just now, that when he has--not halting mere infidels, like
Voltaire and Rousseau--but good thorough-going atheists, like Diderot
and his fellows, to exhibit, he can hardly bring himself to injure their
exemplary influence with his readers, by allowing to exist any damaging
flaws in their character.

Even in Voltaire and Rousseau, but particularly in Voltaire, Mr. Morley,
though his sympathy with these writers is, as we have said, not
complete, finds far more to praise than to blame. To this eager apostle
of atheism, Voltaire was at least on the right road, although he did,
unfortunately, stop short of the goal. His influence was potent against
Christianity, and potent it certainly was not against atheism. Voltaire
might freely be lauded as on the whole a mighty and a beneficent
liberalizer of thought.

And we, we who are neither atheists nor deists--let us not deny to
Voltaire his just meed of praise. There were streaks of gold in the base
alloy of that character of his. He burned with magnanimous heat against
the hideous doctrine and practice of ecclesiastical persecution. Carlyle
says of Voltaire, that he "spent his best efforts, and as many still
think, successfully, in assaulting the Christian religion." This, true
though it be, is liable to be falsely understood. It was not against the
Christian religion, as the Christian religion really is, but rather
against the Christian religion as the Roman hierarchy misrepresented it,
that Voltaire ostensibly directed his efforts. "You are right," wrote he
to his henchman D'Alembert, in 1762, "in assuming that I speak of
superstition only; for as to the Christian religion, I respect it and
love it, as you do." This distinction of Voltaire's, with whatever
degree of simple sincerity on his part made, ought to be remembered in
his favor, when his memorable motto, "_Écrasez l'Infâme_," is
interpreted and applied. He did not mean Jesus Christ by _l'Infâme_; he
did not mean the Christian religion by it; he did not even mean the
Christian Church by it; he meant the oppressive despotism and the crass
obscurantism of the Roman-Catholic hierarchy. At least, this is what he
would have said that he meant, what in fact he substantially did say
that he meant, when incessantly reiterating, in its various forms, his
watchword, "_Écrasez l'Infâme_," "_Écrasons l'Infâme_,"--"Crush the
wretch!" "Let us crush the wretch!" His blows were aimed, perhaps, at
"superstition;" but they really fell, in the full half of their effect,
on Christianity itself. Whether Voltaire regretted this, whether he
would in his heart have had it otherwise, may well, in spite of any
protestation from him of love for Christianity, be doubted. Still, it is
never, in judgment of Voltaire, to be forgotten that the organized
Christianity which he confronted, was in large part a system justly
hateful to the true and wise lover whether of God or of man. That system
he did well in fighting. Carnal indeed were the weapons with which he
fought it; and his victory over it was a carnal victory, bringing, on
the whole, but slender net advantage, if any such advantage at all, to
the cause of final truth and light. The French Revolution, with its
excesses and its horrors, was perhaps the proper, the legitimate, the
necessary, fruit of resistance such as was Voltaire's, in fundamental
spirit, to the evils in church and in state against which he conducted
so gallantly his life-long campaign.

But though we thus bring in doubt the work of Voltaire, both as to the
purity of its motive, and as to the value of its fruit, we should wrong
our sense of justice to ourselves if we permitted our readers to suppose
us blind to the generous things that this arch-infidel did on behalf of
the suffering and the oppressed. Voltaire more than once wielded that
pen of his, the most dreaded weapon in Europe, like a knight sworn to
take on himself the championship of the forlornest of causes. There is
the historic case of Jean Calas at Toulouse, Protestant, an old man of
near seventy, broken on the wheel, as suspected, without evidence, and
against accumulated impossibilities, of murdering his own son, a young
man of about thirty, by hanging him. Voltaire took up the case, and
pleaded it to the common sense, and to the human feeling, of France,
with immense effectiveness. It is, in truth, Voltaire's advocacy of
righteousness, in this instance of incredible wrong, that has made the
instance itself immortal. His part in the case of Calas, though the most
signal, is not the only, example of Voltaire's literary knighthood. He
hated oppression, and he loved liberty, for himself and for all men,
with a passion as deep and as constant as any passion of which nature
had made Voltaire capable. If the liberty that he loved was
fundamentally liberty as against God no less than as against men, and
if the oppression that he hated was fundamentally the oppression of
being put under obligation to obey Christ as lord of life and of
thought, this was something of which, probably, Voltaire never had a
clear consciousness.

We have now indicated what was most admirable in Voltaire's personal
character. On the whole, he was far from being an admirable man. He was
vain, he was shallow, he was frivolous, he was deceitful, he was
voluptuous, he fawned on the great, he abased himself before them, he
licked the dust on which they stood. "_Trajan, est-il content?_" ("Is
Trajan satisfied?")--this, asked, in nauseous adulation, and nauseous
self-abasement, by Voltaire of Louis XV., so little like Trajan in
character--is monumental. The occasion was the production of a piece of
Voltaire's written at the instance of Louis XV.'s mistress, the infamous
Madame de Pompadour. The king, for answer, simply gorgonized the poet
with a stony Bourbon stare.

But, taken altogether, Voltaire's life was a great success. He got on in
the world, was rich, was fortunate, was famous, was gay, if he was not
happy. He had his friendship with the great Frederick of Prussia, who
filled for his false French flatterer a return cup of sweetness,
cunningly mixed with exceeding bitterness. His death was an appropriate
_coup de théâtre_, a felicity of finish to such a life, quite beyond the
reach of art. He came back to Paris, whence he had been an exile,
welcomed with a triumph transcending the triumph of a conqueror. They
made a great feast for him, a feast of flattery, in the theatre. The old
man was drunk with delight. The delight was too much for him. It
literally killed him. It was as if a favorite actress should be quite
smothered to death on the stage, under flowers thrown in excessive
profusion at her feet.

Let Carlyle's sentence be our epigraph on Voltaire:--

     "No great Man.... Found always at the top, less by power in
     swimming than by lightness in floating."




There are two Rousseaus in French literature. At least, there was a
first, until the second effaced him, and became the only.

We speak, of course, in comparison, and hyperbolically. J. B. Rousseau
is still named as a lyric poet of the time of Louis XIV. But when
Rousseau, without initials, is spoken of, it is always Jean Jacques
Rousseau that is meant.

Jean Jacques Rousseau is perhaps the most squalid, as it certainly is
one of the most splendid, among French literary names. The squalor
belongs chiefly to the man, but the splendor is wholly the writer's.
There is hardly another example in the world's literature of a union so
striking of these opposites.

Rousseau's life he has himself told, in the best, the worst, and the
most imperishable, of his books, the "Confessions." This book is one to
which the adjective charming attaches, in a peculiarly literal sense of
the word. The spell, however, is repellent as well as attractive. But
the attraction of the style asserts and pronounces itself only the more,
in triumph over the much there is in the matter to disgust and revolt.
It is quite the most offensive, and it is well-nigh the most
fascinating, book that we know.

The "Confessions" begin as follows:--

     I purpose an undertaking that never had an example, and whose
     execution never will have an imitator. I would exhibit to my
     fellows a man in all the truth of nature, and that man--myself.

     Myself alone. I know my own heart, and I am acquainted with men. I
     am made unlike any one I have ever seen,--I dare believe unlike any
     living being. If no better than, I am at least different from,
     others. Whether nature did well or ill in breaking the mould
     wherein I was cast, can be determined only after having read me.

     Let the last trumpet sound when it will, I will come, with this
     book in my hand, and present myself before the Sovereign Judge. I
     will boldly proclaim: Thus have I acted, thus have I thought, such
     was I. With equal frankness have I disclosed the good and the evil.
     I have omitted nothing bad, added nothing good; and if I have
     happened to make use of some unimportant ornament, it has, in every
     case, been simply for the purpose of filling up a void occasioned
     by my lack of memory. I may have taken for granted as true what I
     knew to be possible, never what I knew to be false. Such as I was,
     I have exhibited myself,--despicable and vile, when so; virtuous,
     generous, sublime, when so. I have unveiled my interior being, such
     as Thou, Eternal Existence, hast beheld it. Assemble around me the
     numberless throng of my fellow-mortals; let them listen to my
     confessions, let them blush at my depravities, let them shrink
     appalled at my miseries. Let each of them, in his turn, with equal
     sincerity, lay bare his heart at the foot of thy throne, and then
     let a single one tell thee, if he dare, _I was better than that

Notwithstanding our autobiographer's disavowal of debt to example for
the idea of his "Confessions," it seems clear that Montaigne here was at
least inspiration, if not pattern, to Rousseau. But Rousseau resolved to
do what Montaigne had done, more ingenuously and more courageously than
Montaigne had done it. This writer will make himself his subject, and
then treat his subject with greater frankness than any man before him
ever used about himself, or than any man after him would ever use. He
undoubtedly succeeded in his attempt. His frankness, in fact, is so
forward and eager, that it is probably even inventive of things
disgraceful to himself. Montaigne makes great pretence of telling his
own faults, but you observe that he generally chooses rather amiable
faults of his own to tell. Rousseau's morbid vulgarity leads him to
disclose traits in himself, of character or of behavior, that, despite
whatever contrary wishes on your part, compel your contempt of the man.
And it is for the man who confesses, almost more than for the man who is
guilty, that you feel the contempt.

The "Confessions" proceed:--

     I was born at Geneva, in 1712, of Isaac Rousseau and Susannah
     Bernard, citizens.... I came into the world weak and sickly. I cost
     my mother her life, and my birth was the first of my misfortunes.

     I never learned how my father supported his loss, but I know that
     he remained ever after inconsolable.... When he used to say to me,
     "Jean Jacques, let us speak of your mother," my usual reply was,
     "Well, father, we'll cry, then," a reply which would instantly
     bring the tears to his eyes. "Ah!" he would exclaim with agitation,
     "give me her back, console me for her loss, fill up the void she
     has left in my soul. Could I love thee thus wert thou but _my_
     son?" Forty years after having lost her he expired in the arms of a
     second wife, but with the name of the first on his lips, and her
     image engraven on his heart.

     Such were the authors of my being. Of all the gifts Heaven had
     allotted them, a feeling heart was the only one I had inherited.
     While, however, this had been the source of their happiness, it
     became the spring of all my misfortunes.

"A feeling heart!" That expression tells the literary secret of
Rousseau. It is hardly too much to say that Rousseau was the first
French writer to write with his heart; but heart's blood was the ink in
which almost every word of Rousseau's was written. This was the spring
of his marvellous power. Rousseau:--

     My mother had left a number of romances. These father and I betook
     us to reading during the evenings. At first the sole object was, by
     means of entertaining books, to improve me in reading; but, ere
     long, the charm became so potent, that we read turn about without
     intermission, and passed whole nights in this employment. Never
     could we break up till the end of the volume. At times my father,
     hearing the swallows of a morning, would exclaim, quite ashamed of
     himself, "Come, let's to bed; I'm more of a child than you are!"

The elder Rousseau was right respecting himself. And such a father would
almost necessarily have such a child. Jean Jacques Rousseau is to be
judged tenderly for his faults. What birth and what breeding were his!
The "Confessions" go on:--

     I soon acquired, by this dangerous course, not only an extreme
     facility in reading and understanding, but, for my age, a quite
     unprecedented acquaintance with the passions. I had not the
     slightest conception of things themselves, at a time when the whole
     round of sentiments was already perfectly familiar to me. I had
     apprehended nothing--I had felt all.

Some hint now of other books read by the boy:--

     With the summer of 1719 the romance-reading terminated.... "The
     History of the Church and Empire" by Lesueur, Bossuet's
     "Dissertation on Universal History," Plutarch's "Lives," Nani's
     "History of Venice," Ovid's "Metamorphoses," "La Bruyère,"
     Fontenelle's "Worlds," his "Dialogues of the Dead," and a few
     volumes of Molière, were transported into my father's shop; and I
     read them to him every day during his work. For this employment I
     acquired a rare, and, for my age, perhaps unprecedented, taste.
     Plutarch especially became my favorite reading. The pleasure which
     I found in incessantly reperusing him, cured me in some measure of
     the romance madness; and I soon came to prefer Agesilaus, Brutus,
     and Aristides, to Orondates, Artemenes, and Juba. From these
     interesting studies, joined to the conversations to which they gave
     rise with my father, resulted that free, republican spirit, that
     haughty and untamable character, fretful of restraint or
     subjection, which has tormented me my life long, and that in
     situations the least suitable for giving it play. Incessantly
     occupied with Rome and Athens, living, so to speak, with their
     great men, born myself the citizen of a republic [Geneva], the son
     of a father with whom patriotism was the ruling passion, I caught
     the flame from him--I imagined myself a Greek or a Roman, and
     became the personage whose life I was reading.

On such food of reading and of reverie, young Rousseau's imagination and
sentiment battened, while his reason and his practical sense starved and
died within him. Unconsciously thus in part was formed the dreamer of
the "Émile" and of "The Social Contract." Another glimpse of the
home-life--if home-life such experience can be called--of this
half-orphan, homeless Genevan boy:--

     I had a brother, my elder by seven years.... He fell into the ways
     of debauchery, even before he was old enough to be really a
     libertine.... I remember once when my father was chastising him
     severely and in anger, that I impetuously threw myself between
     them, clasping him tightly. I thus covered him with my body,
     receiving the blows that were aimed at him; and I held out so
     persistently in this position, that whether softened by my cries
     and tears, or fearing that I should get the worst of it, my father
     was forced to forgive him. In the end my brother turned out so bad
     that he ran away and disappeared altogether.

It is pathetic--Rousseau's attempted contrast following, between the
paternal neglect of his older brother and the paternal indulgence of

     If this poor lad was carelessly brought up, it was quite otherwise
     with his brother.... My desires were so little excited, and so
     little crossed, that it never came into my head to have any. I can
     solemnly aver, that, till the time when I was bound to a master, I
     never knew what it was to have a whim.

Poor lad! "Never knew what it was to have a whim!" It well might be,
however--his boy's life all one whim uncrossed, unchecked; no contrast
of saving restraint, to make him know that he was living by whim alone!
The "Confessions" truly say:--

     Thus commenced the formation or the manifestation in me of that
     heart at once so haughty and so tender, of that effeminate and yet
     unconquerable character which, ever vacillating between courage and
     weakness, between virtue and yielding to temptation, has all along
     set me in contradiction to myself, and has resulted in my failing
     both of abstinence and enjoyment, both of prudence and pleasure.

The half-orphan becomes orphan entire, not by the death, but by the
withdrawing, of the father. That father, having been accused of a
misdemeanor, "preferred," Rousseau somewhat vaguely says, "to quit
Geneva for the remainder of his life, rather than give up a point
wherein honor and liberty appeared to him compromised." Jean Jacques was
sent to board with a parson, who taught him Latin, and, along with
Latin, supplied, Rousseau scornfully says, "all the accompanying mass of
paltry rubbish styled education." He adds:--

     The country was so entirely new to me, that I could never grow
     weary in my enjoyment of it; and I acquired so strong a liking for
     it, that it has never become extinguished.

Young Jean Jacques was at length apprenticed to an engraver. He
describes the contrast of his new situation and the effect of the
contrast upon his own character and career:--

     I learned to covet in silence, to dissemble, to dissimulate, to
     lie, and at last to steal,--a propensity for which I had never
     hitherto had the slightest inclination, and of which I have never
     since been able quite to cure myself....

     My first theft was the result of complaisance, but it opened the
     door to others which had not so laudable a motive.

     My master had a journeyman named M. Verrat.... [He] took it into
     his head to rob his mother of some of her early asparagus and sell
     it, converting the proceeds into some extra good breakfasts. As he
     did not wish to expose himself, and not being very nimble, he
     selected me for this expedition.... Long did I stickle, but he
     persisted. I never could resist kindness, so I consented. I went
     every morning to the garden, gathered the best of the asparagus,
     and took it to "the Molard," where some good creature, perceiving
     that I had just been stealing it, would insinuate that little fact,
     so as to get it the cheaper. In my terror I took whatever she chose
     to give me, and carried it to M. Verrat.

     This little domestic arrangement continued for several days before
     it came into my head to rob the robber, and tithe M. Verrat for the
     proceeds of the asparagus.... I thus learned that to steal was,
     after all, not so very terrible a thing as I had conceived; and ere
     long I turned this discovery to so good an account, that nothing I
     had an inclination for could safely be left within my reach....

     And now, before giving myself over to the fatality of my destiny,
     let me, for a moment, contemplate what would naturally have been my
     lot had I fallen into the hands of a better master. Nothing was
     more agreeable to my tastes, nor better calculated to render me
     happy, than the calm and obscure condition of a good artisan, more
     especially in certain lines, such as that of an engraver at
     Geneva.... In my native country, in the bosom of my religion, of my
     family, and my friends, I should have led a life gentle and
     uncheckered as became my character, in the uniformity of a pleasing
     occupation and among connections dear to my heart. I should have
     been a good Christian, a good citizen, a good father, a good
     friend, a good artisan, and a good man in every respect. I should
     have loved my station; it may be I should have been an honor to it:
     and after having passed an obscure and simple, though even and
     happy, life, I should peacefully have departed in the bosom of my
     kindred. Soon, it may be, forgotten, I should at least have been
     regretted as long as the remembrance of me survived.

     Instead of this... what a picture am I about to draw!

Thus ends the first book of the "Confessions."

The picture Rousseau is "about to draw" has in it a certain Madame de
Warens for a principal figure. (Apprentice Jean Jacques has left his
master, and entered on a vagabond life.) This lady is a character very
difficult for us Protestant Americans in our contrasted society to
conceive as real or as possible. She kept a house of, what shall we call
it? detention, for souls doubtfully in the way of being reclaimed from
Protestant error into the bosom of the Roman-Catholic Church. She was
herself a Roman-Catholic convert from Protestantism. She had forsaken a
husband, not loved, and was living on a bounty from King Victor Amadeus
of Sardinia. For Annecy, the home of Madame de Warens, our young Jean
Jacques, sent thither by a Roman-Catholic curate, sets out on foot. The
distance was but one day's walk; which one day's walk, however, the
humor of the wanderer stretched into a saunter of three days. The man of
fifty-four, become the biographer of his own youth, finds no loathness
of self-respect to prevent his detailing the absurd adventures with
which he diverted himself on the way. For example:--

     Not a country-seat could I see, either to the right or left,
     without going after the adventure which I was certain awaited me.
     I could not muster courage to enter the mansion, nor even to knock,
     for I was excessively timid; but I sang beneath the most inviting
     window, very much astonished to find, after wasting my breath, that
     neither lady nor miss made her appearance, attracted by the beauty
     of my voice, or the spice of my songs,--seeing that I knew some
     capital ones that my comrades had taught me, and which I sang in
     the most admirable manner.

Rousseau describes the emotions he experienced in his first meeting with
Madame de Warens:--

     I had pictured to myself a grim old devotee--M. de Pontverre's
     "worthy lady" could, in my opinion, be none other. But lo, a
     countenance beaming with charms, beautiful, mild blue eyes, a
     complexion of dazzling fairness, the outline of an enchanting neck!
     Nothing escaped the rapid glance of the young proselyte; for that
     instant I was hers, sure that a religion preached by such
     missionaries could not fail to lead to paradise!

This abnormally susceptible youth had remarkable experiences, all within
his own soul, during his sojourn, of a few days only, on the present
occasion, under Madame de Warens's hospitable roof. These experiences,
the autobiographer, old enough to call himself "old dotard," has,
nevertheless, not grown wise enough to be ashamed to be very detailed
and psychological in recounting. It was a case of precocious love at
first sight. One could afford to laugh at it as ridiculous, but that it
had a sequel full of sin and of sorrow. Jean Jacques was now forwarded
to Turin, to become inmate of a sort of charity school for the
instruction of catechumens. The very day after he started on foot, his
father, with a friend of his, reached Annecy on horseback, in pursuit
of the truant boy. They might easily have overtaken him, but they let
him go his way. Rousseau explains the case on behalf of his father as

     My father was not only an honorable man, but a person of the most
     reliable probity, and endowed with one of those powerful minds that
     perform deeds of loftiest heroism. I may add, he was a good father,
     especially to me. Tenderly did he love me, but he loved his
     pleasures also; and, since our living apart, other ties had, in a
     measure, weakened his paternal affection. He had married again, at
     Nyon; and though his wife was no longer of an age to present me
     with brothers, yet she had connections; another family-circle was
     thus formed, other objects engrossed his attention, and the new
     domestic relations no longer so frequently brought back the
     remembrance of me. My father was growing old, and had nothing on
     which to rely for the support of his declining years. My brother
     and I had something coming to us from my mother's fortune; the
     interest of this my father was to receive during our absence. This
     consideration did not present itself to him directly, nor did it
     stand in the way of his doing his duty; it had, however, a silent,
     and to himself imperceptible, influence, and at times slackened his
     zeal, which, unacted upon by this, would have been carried much
     farther. This, I think, was the reason, that, having traced me as
     far as Annecy, he did not follow me to Chamberi, where he was
     morally certain of overtaking me. This will also explain why, in
     visiting him many times after my flight, I received from him on
     every occasion a father's kindness, though unaccompanied by any
     very pressing efforts to retain me.

Rousseau's filial regard for his father was peculiar. It did not lead
him to hide, it only led him to account for, his father's sordidness.
The son generalized and inferred a moral maxim for the conduct of life
from this behavior of the father's,--a maxim, which, as he thought, had
done him great good. He says:--

     This conduct on the part of a father of whose affection and virtue
     I have had so many proofs, has given rise within me to reflections
     on my own character which have not a little contributed to maintain
     my heart uncorrupted. I have derived therefrom this great maxim of
     morality, perhaps the only one of any use in practice; namely, to
     avoid such situations as put our duty in antagonism with our
     interest, or disclose our own advantage in the misfortunes of
     another, certain that in such circumstances, however sincere the
     love of virtue we bring with us, it will sooner or later, and
     whether we perceive it or not, become weakened, and we shall come
     to be unjust and culpable in our acts without having ceased to be
     upright and blameless in our intentions.

The fruitful maxim thus deduced by Rousseau, he thinks he tried
faithfully to put in practice. With apparent perfect assurance
concerning himself, he says:--

     I have sincerely desired to do what was right. I have, with all the
     energy of my character, shunned situations which set my interest in
     opposition to the interest of another, thus inspiring me with a
     secret though involuntary desire prejudicial to that man.

Jean Jacques at Turin made speed to convert himself, by the abjurations
required, into a pretty good Catholic. He was hereon free to seek his
fortune in the Sardinian capital. This he did by getting successively
various situations in service. In one of these he stole, so he tells us,
a piece of ribbon, which was soon found in his possession. He said a
maid-servant, naming her, gave it to him. The two were confronted with
each other. In spite of the poor girl's solemn appeal, Jean Jacques
persisted in his lie against her. Both servants were discharged. The
autobiographer protests that he has suffered much remorse for this lie
of his to the harm of the innocent maid. He expresses confident hope
that his suffering sorrow, already experienced on this behalf, will
stand him in stead of punishment that might be his due in a future
state. Remorse is a note in Rousseau that distinguishes him from
Montaigne. Montaigne reviews his own life to live over his sins, not to
repent of them.

The end of several vicissitudes is, that young Rousseau gets back to
Madame de Warens. She welcomes him kindly. He says:--

     From the first day, the most affectionate familiarity sprang up
     between us, and that to the same degree in which it continued
     during all the rest of her life. _Petit_--Child--was my name,
     _Maman_--Mamma--hers; and _Petit_ and _Maman_ we remained, even
     when the course of time had all but effaced the difference of our
     ages. These two names seem to me marvellously well to express our
     tone towards each other, the simplicity of our manners, and, more
     than all, the relation of our hearts. She was to me the tenderest
     of mothers, never seeking her own pleasure, but ever my welfare;
     and if the senses had any thing to do with my attachment for her,
     it was not to change its nature, but only to render it more
     exquisite, and intoxicate me with the charm of having a young and
     pretty mamma whom it was delightful for me to caress. I say quite
     literally, to caress; for it never entered into her head to deny me
     the tenderest maternal kisses and endearments, nor into my heart to
     abuse them. Some may say that, in the end, quite other relations
     subsisted between us. I grant it; but have patience,--I cannot tell
     every thing at once.

With Madame de Warens, Rousseau's relations, as is intimated above,
became licentious. This continued until, after an interval of years
(nine years, with breaks), in a fit of jealousy he forsook her.
Rousseau's whole life was a series of self-indulgences, grovelling,
sometimes, beyond what is conceivable to any one not learning of it all
in detail from the man's own pen. The reader is fain at last to seek the
only relief possible from the sickening story, by flying to the
conclusion that Jean Jacques Rousseau, with all his genius, was wanting
in that mental sanity which is a condition of complete moral

We shall, of course, not follow the "Confessions" through their
disgusting recitals of sin and shame. We should do wrong, however, to
the literary, and even to the moral, character of the work, were we not
to point out that there are frequent oases of sweetness and beauty set
in the wastes of incredible foulness which overspread so widely the
pages of Rousseau's "Confessions." Here, for example, is an idyll of
vagabondage that might almost make one willing to play tramp one's
self, if one by so doing might have such an experience:--

     I remember, particularly, having passed a delicious night without
     the city on a road that skirted the Rhone or the Saône, for I
     cannot remember which. On the other side were terraced gardens. It
     had been a very warm day; the evening was charming; the dew
     moistened the faded grass; a calm night, without a breeze; the air
     was cool without being cold; the sun in setting had left crimson
     vapors in the sky, which tinged the water with its roseate hue,
     while the trees along the terrace were filled with nightingales
     gushing out melodious answers to each other's song. I walked along
     in a species of ecstasy, giving up heart and senses to the
     enjoyment of the scene, only slightly sighing with regret at
     enjoying it alone. Absorbed in my sweet reverie, I prolonged my
     walk far into the night, without perceiving that I was wearied out.
     At length I discovered it. I lay voluptuously down on the tablet of
     a sort of niche or false door sunk in the terrace wall. The canopy
     of my couch was formed by the over-arching boughs of the trees; a
     nightingale sat exactly above me; its song lulled me to sleep; my
     slumber was sweet, and my awaking still more so. It was broad day;
     my eyes, on opening, fell on the water, the verdure, and the
     admirable landscape spread out before me. I arose and shook off
     dull sleep; and, growing hungry, I gayly directed my steps towards
     the city, bent on transforming two _pièces de six blancs_ that I
     had left, into a good breakfast. I was so cheerful that I went
     singing along the whole way.

This happy-go-lucky, vagabond, grown-up child, this sentimentalist of
genius, had now and then different experiences,--experiences to which
the reflection of the man grown old attributes important influence on
the formation of his most controlling beliefs:--

     One day, among others, having purposely turned aside to get a
     closer view of a spot that appeared worthy of all admiration, I
     grew so delighted with it, and wandered round it so often, that I
     at length lost myself completely. After several hours of useless
     walking, weary and faint with hunger and thirst, I entered a
     peasant's hut which did not present a very promising appearance,
     but it was the only one I saw around. I conceived it to be here as
     at Geneva and throughout Switzerland, where all the inhabitants in
     easy circumstances are in the situation to exercise hospitality. I
     entreated the man to get me some dinner, offering to pay for it. He
     presented me with some skimmed milk and coarse barley bread,
     observing that that was all he had. I drank the milk with delight,
     and ate the bread, chaff and all; but this was not very restorative
     to a man exhausted with fatigue. The peasant, who was watching me
     narrowly, judged of the truth of my story by the sincerity of my
     appetite. All of a sudden, after having said that he saw perfectly
     well that I was a good and true young fellow that did not come to
     betray him, he opened a little trap-door by the side of his
     kitchen, went down and returned a moment afterwards with a good
     brown loaf of pure wheat, the remains of a toothsome ham, and a
     bottle of wine, the sight of which rejoiced my heart more than all
     the rest. To these he added a good thick omelette, and I made such
     a dinner as none but a walker ever enjoyed. When it came to pay,
     lo! his disquietude and fears again seized him; he would none of my
     money, and rejected it with extraordinary manifestations of
     disquiet. The funniest part of the matter was, that I could not
     conceive what he was afraid of. At length, with fear and trembling,
     he pronounced those terrible words, _Commissioners_ and
     _Cellar-rats_. He gave me to understand that he concealed his wine
     because of the excise, and his bread on account of the tax, and
     that he was a lost man if they got the slightest inkling that he
     was not dying of hunger. Every thing he said to me touching this
     matter, whereof, indeed, I had not the slightest idea, produced an
     impression on me that can never be effaced. It became the germ of
     that inextinguishable hatred that afterwards sprang up in my heart
     against the vexations to which these poor people are subject, and
     against their oppressors. This man, though in easy circumstances,
     dared not eat the bread he had gained by the sweat of his brow, and
     could escape ruin only by presenting the appearance of the same
     misery that reigned around him.

A hideously false world, that world of French society was, in Rousseau's
time. The falseness was full ripe to be laid bare by some one; and
Rousseau's experience of life, as well as his temperament and his
genius, fitted him to do the work of exposure that he did. What we
emphatically call character was sadly wanting in Rousseau--how sadly,
witness such an acted piece of mad folly as the following:--

     I, without knowing aught of the matter,... gave myself out for a
     [musical] composer. Nor was this all: having been presented to M.
     de Freytorens, law-professor, who loved music, and gave concerts at
     his house, nothing would do but I must give him a sample of my
     talent; so I set about composing a piece for his concert quite as
     boldly as though I had really been an adept in the science. I had
     the constancy to work for fifteen days on this fine affair, to copy
     it fair, write out the different parts, and distribute them with as
     much assurance as though it had been a masterpiece of harmony.
     Then, what will scarcely be believed, but which yet is gospel
     truth, worthily to crown this sublime production, I tacked to the
     end thereof a pretty minuet which was then having a run on the
     streets.... I gave it as my own just as resolutely as though I had
     been speaking to inhabitants of the moon.

     They assembled to perform my piece. I explain to each the nature of
     the movement, the style of execution, and the relations of the
     parts--I was very full of business. For five or six minutes they
     were tuning; to me each minute seemed an age. At length, all being
     ready, I rap with a handsome paper _bâton_ on the leader's desk the
     five or six beats of the "_Make ready_." Silence is made--I gravely
     set to beating time--they commence! No, never since French operas
     began, was there such a _charivari_ heard. Whatever they might have
     thought of my pretended talent, the effect was worse than they
     could possibly have imagined. The musicians choked with laughter;
     the auditors opened their eyes, and would fain have closed their
     ears. But that was an impossibility. My tormenting set of
     symphonists, who seemed rather to enjoy the fun, scraped away with
     a din sufficient to crack the tympanum of one born deaf. I had the
     firmness to go right ahead, however, sweating, it is true, at every
     pore, but held back by shame; not daring to retreat, and glued to
     the spot. For my consolation I heard the company whispering to each
     other, quite loud enough for it to reach my ear: "It is not
     bearable!" said one. "What music gone mad!" cried another. "What a
     devilish din!" added a third. Poor Jean Jacques, little dreamed
     you, in that cruel moment, that one day before the King of France
     and all the court, thy sounds would excite murmurs of surprise and
     applause, and that in all the boxes around thee the loveliest
     ladies would burst forth with, "What charming sounds! what
     enchanting music! every strain reaches the heart!"

     But what restored every one to good humor was the minuet. Scarcely
     had they played a few measures than I heard bursts of laughter
     break out on all hands. Every one congratulated me on my fine
     musical taste; they assured me that this minuet would make me
     spoken about, and that I merited the loudest praises. I need not
     attempt depicting my agony, nor own that I well deserved it.

Readers have now had an opportunity to judge for themselves, by
specimen, of the style, both of the writer and of the man Jean Jacques
Rousseau. The writer's style they must have felt, even through the
medium of imperfect anonymous translation, to be a charming one. If they
have felt the style of the man to be contrasted, as squalor is
contrasted with splendor, that they must not suppose to be a contrast of
which Jean Jacques himself, the confessor, was in the least displacently
conscious. Far from it. In a later part of his "Confessions," a part
that deals with the author as one already now acknowledged a power in
the world of letters, though with all his chief works still to write,
Rousseau speaks thus of himself (he was considering at the time the ways
and means available to him of obtaining a livelihood):--

     I felt that writing for bread would soon have extinguished my
     genius, and destroyed my talents, which were less in my pen than in
     my heart, and solely proceeded from an elevated and noble manner of
     thinking.... It is too difficult to think nobly when we think for a

Is not that finely said? And one need not doubt that it was said with
perfect sincerity. For our own part, paradoxical though it be to declare
it, we are wholly willing to insist that Rousseau did think on a lofty
plane. The trouble with him was, not that he thus thought with his
heart, rather than with his head,--which, however, he did,--but that he
thought with his heart alone, and not at all with his conscience and his
will. In a word, his thought was sentiment rather than thought. He was a
sentimentalist instead of a thinker. One illustration of the divorce
that he decreed for himself, or rather--for we have used too positive a
form of expression--that he allowed to subsist, between sentiment and
conduct, will suffice. It was presently to be his fortune, as author of
a tract on education (the "Émile"), to change the habit of a nation in
the matter of nurture for babes. French mothers of the higher social
class in Rousseau's time almost universally gave up their infants to be
nursed at alien bosoms. Rousseau so eloquently denounced the
unnaturalness of this, that from his time it became the fashion for
French mothers to suckle their children themselves. Meantime, the
preacher himself of this beautiful humanity, living in unwedded union
with a woman (not Madame de Warens, but a woman of the laboring class,
found after Madame de Warens was abandoned), sent his illegitimate
children, against the mother's remonstrance, one after another, to the
number of five, to be brought up unknown at the hospital for foundlings!
He tells the story himself in his "Confessions." This course on his own
part he subsequently laments with many tears and many self-upbraidings.
But these, alas, he intermingles with self-justifications, nearly as
many,--so that at last it is hard to say whether the balance of his
judgment inclines for or against himself in the matter. A paradox of
inconsistencies and self-contradictions, this man,--a problem in human
character, of which the supposition of partial insanity in him, long
working subtly in the blood, seems the only solution. The occupation
finally adopted by Rousseau for obtaining subsistence, was the copying
of music. It extorts from one a measure of involuntary respect for
Rousseau, to see patiently toiling at this slavish work, to earn its
owner bread, the same pen that had lately set all Europe in ferment with
the "Émile" and "The Social Contract."

From Rousseau's "Confessions," we have not room to purvey further. It is
a melancholy book,--written under monomaniac suspicion on the part of
the author that he was the object of a wide-spread conspiracy against
his reputation, his peace of mind, and even his life. The poor,
shattered, self-consumed sensualist and sentimentalist paid dear in the
agonies of his closing years for the indulgences of an unregulated life.
The tender-hearted, really affectionate and loyal, friend came at length
to live in a world of his own imagination, full of treachery to himself.
David Hume, the Scotchman, tried to befriend him; but the monomaniac was
incapable of being befriended. Nothing could be more pitiful than were
the decline and the extinction that occurred of so much brilliant
genius, and so much lovable character. It is even doubtful whether
Rousseau did not at last take his own life. The voice of accusation is
silenced, in the presence of an earthly retribution so dreadful. One may
not indeed approve, but one may at least be free to pity, more than he
blames, in judging Rousseau.

Accompanying, and in some sort complementing, the "Confessions," are
often published several detached pieces called "Reveries," or "Walks."
These are very peculiar compositions, and very characteristic of the
author. They are dreamy meditations or reveries, sad, even sombre, in
spirit, but "beautiful exceedingly," in form of expression. Such works
as the "Réné" of Chateaubriand, works but too abundant since in French
literature, must all trace their pedigree to Rousseau's "Walks." We
introduce two specimen extracts. The shadow of Rousseau's monomania will
be felt thick upon them:--

     It is now fifteen years since I have been in this strange
     situation, which yet appears to me like a dream; ever imagining
     that, disturbed by indigestion, I sleep uneasily, but shall soon
     awake, freed from my troubles, but surrounded by my friends....

     How could I possibly foresee the destiny that awaited me?... Could
     I, if in my right senses, suppose that one day, the man I was, and
     yet remain, should be taken, without any kind of doubt, for a
     monster, a poisoner, an assassin, the horror of the human race, the
     sport of the rabble, my only salutation to be spit upon, and that a
     whole generation would unanimously amuse themselves in burying me
     alive? When this strange revolution first happened, taken by
     unawares, I was overwhelmed with astonishment; my agitation, my
     indignation, plunged me into a delirium, which ten years have
     scarcely been able to calm: during this interval, falling from
     error to error, from fault to fault, and folly to folly, I have, by
     my imprudence, furnished the contrivers of my fate with
     instruments, which they have artfully employed to fix it without

     * * *

     Every future occurrence will be immaterial to me; I have in the
     world neither relative, friend, nor brother; I am on the earth as
     if I had fallen into some unknown planet; if I contemplate any
     thing around me, it is only distressing, heart-rending objects;
     every thing I cast my eyes on conveys some new subject either of
     indignation or affliction; I will endeavor henceforward to banish
     from my mind all painful ideas which unavailingly distress me.
     Alone for the rest of my life, I must only look for consolation,
     hope, or peace in my own breast; and neither ought nor will,
     henceforward, think of any thing but myself. It is in this state
     that I return to the continuation of that severe and just
     examination which formerly I called my Confessions; I consecrate my
     latter days to the study of myself, and to the preparation of that
     account which I must shortly render up of my actions. I resign my
     thoughts entirely to the pleasure of conversing with my own soul;
     that being the only consolation that man cannot deprive me of. If
     by dint of reflection on my internal propensities, I can attain to
     putting them in better order, and correcting the evil that remains
     in me, these meditations will not be utterly useless; and though I
     am accounted worthless on earth, shall not cast away my latter
     days. The leisure of my daily walks has frequently been filled with
     charming contemplations, which I regret having forgot; but I will
     write down those that occur in future; then, every time I read them
     over, I shall forget my misfortunes, disgraces, and persecutors,
     in recollecting and contemplating the integrity of my own heart.

Rousseau's books in general are now little read. They worked their work,
and ceased. But there are in some of them passages that continue to
live. Of these, perhaps quite the most famous is the "Savoyard Curate's
Confession of Faith," a document of some length, incorporated into the
"Émile." This, taken as a whole, is the most seductively eloquent
argument against Christianity that perhaps ever was written. It
contains, however, concessions to the sublime elevation of Scripture and
to the unique virtue and majesty of Jesus, which are often quoted, and
which will bear quoting here. The Savoyard Curate is represented
speaking to a young friend as follows:--

     I will confess to you further, that the majesty of the Scriptures
     strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel hath its
     influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers with
     all their pomp of diction; how mean, how contemptible, are they,
     compared with the Scripture! Is it possible that a book at once so
     simple and sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible
     that the Sacred Personage, whose history it contains, should be
     himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the tone of an
     enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity, in
     his manners! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What
     sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses!
     What presence of mind, what subtilety, what truth, in his replies!
     How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where
     the philosopher, who could so live and die, without weakness and
     without ostentation? When Plato described his imaginary good man
     loaded with all the shame of guilt, yet meriting the highest reward
     of virtue, he described exactly the character of Jesus Christ: the
     resemblance was so striking that all the Fathers perceived it.

     What prepossession, what blindness, must it be to compare the son
     of Sophroniscus to the Son of Mary! What an infinite disproportion
     there is between them! Socrates, dying without pain or ignominy,
     easily supported his character to the last; and if his death,
     however easy, had not crowned his life, it might have been doubted
     whether Socrates, with all his wisdom, was any thing more than a
     vain sophist. He invented, it is said, the theory of morals.
     Others, however, had before put them in practice; he had only to
     say what they had done, and reduce their examples to precepts.
     Aristides had been _just_ before Socrates defined justice; Leonidas
     gave up his life for his country before Socrates declared
     patriotism to be a duty; the Spartans were a sober people before
     Socrates recommended sobriety; before he had even defined virtue,
     Greece abounded in virtuous men. But where could Jesus learn, among
     his compatriots, that pure and sublime morality of which he only
     has given us both precept and example? The greatest wisdom was made
     known amidst the most bigoted fanaticism, and the simplicity of the
     most heroic virtues did honor to the vilest people on the earth.
     The death of Socrates, peaceably philosophizing with his friends,
     appears the most agreeable that could be wished for; that of Jesus,
     expiring in the midst of agonizing pains, abused, insulted, cursed
     by a whole nation, is the most horrible that could be feared.
     Socrates, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed indeed the
     weeping executioner who administered it; but Jesus, in the midst of
     excruciating tortures, prayed for his merciless tormentors. Yes, if
     the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and
     death of Jesus are those of a God. Shall we suppose the evangelic
     history a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks
     of fiction; on the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody
     presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ.
     Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty without
     removing it; it is more inconceivable that a number of persons
     should agree to write such a history, than that one only should
     furnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors were incapable of the
     diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the gospel, the
     marks of whose truth are so striking and inimitable that the
     inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero.

So far in eloquent ascription of incomparable excellence to the Bible
and to the Founder of Christianity. But then immediately Rousseau's
Curate proceeds:--

     And yet, with all this, the same gospel abounds with incredible
     relations, with circumstances repugnant to reason, and which it is
     impossible for a man of sense either to conceive or admit.

The compliment to Christianity almost convinces you,--until suddenly you
are apprised that the author of the compliment was not convinced

Jean Jacques Rousseau, in the preface to his "Confessions," appealed
from the judgment of men to the judgment of God. This judgment it was
his habit, to the end of his days, thanks to the effect of his early
Genevan education, always to think of as certainly impending. Let us
adjourn our final sentence upon him, until we hear that Omniscient



A cenotaph is a monument erected to the memory of one dead, but not
marking the spot in which his remains rest. The present chapter is a
cenotaph to the French Encyclopædists. It is in the nature of a memorial
of their literary work, but it will be found to contain no specimen
extracts from their writings.

Everybody has heard of the Encyclopædists of France. Who are they? They
are a group of men who, during the eighteenth century, associated
themselves together for the production of a great work to be the
repository of all human knowledge,--in one word, of an encyclopædia. The
project was a laudable one; and the motive to it was laudable--in part.
For there was mixture of motive in the case. In part, the motive was
simple desire to advance the cause of human enlightenment; in part,
however, the motive was desire to undermine Christianity. This latter
end the encyclopædist collaborators may have thought to be an
indispensable means subsidiary to the former end. They probably did
think so--with such imperfect sincerity as is possible to those who set
themselves, consciously or unconsciously, against God. The fact is,
that the Encyclopædists came at length to be nearly as much occupied in
extinguishing Christianity, as in promoting public enlightenment. They
went about this their task of destroying, in a way as effective as has
ever been devised for accomplishing a similar work. They gave a vicious
turn of insinuation against Christianity to as many articles as
possible. In the most unexpected places, throughout the entire work,
pitfalls were laid of anti-Christian implication, awaiting the unwary
feet of the reader. You were nowhere sure of your ground. The world has
never before seen, it has never seen since, an example of propagandism
altogether so adroit and so alert. It is not too much to say further,
that history can supply few instances of propagandism so successful. The
Encyclopædists might almost be said to have given the human mind a fresh
start and a new orbit. The fresh start is, perhaps, spent; the new orbit
has at length, to a great extent, returned upon the old; but it holds
true, nevertheless, that the Encyclopædists of France were for a time,
and that not a short time, a prodigious force of impulsion and direction
to the Occidental mind. It ought to be added that the aim of the
Encyclopædists was political also, not less than religious. In truth,
religion and politics, Church and State, in their day, and in France,
were much the same thing. The "Encyclopædia" was as revolutionary in
politics as it was atheistic in religion.

The leader in this movement of insurrectionary thought was Denis
Diderot. Diderot (1713-1784) was born to be an encyclopædist, and a
captain of encyclopædists. Force inexhaustible, and inexhaustible
willingness to give out force; unappeasable curiosity to know;
irresistible impulse to impart knowledge; versatile capacity to do every
thing, carried to the verge, if not carried beyond the verge, of
incapacity to do any thing thoroughly well; quenchless zeal and
quenchless hope; levity enough of temper to keep its subject free from
those depressions of spirit and those cares of conscience which weigh
and wear on the over-earnest man; abundant physical health,--gifts such
as these made up the manifold equipment of Diderot for rowing and
steering the gigantic enterprise of the "Encyclopædia" triumphantly to
the port of final completion, through many and many a zone of stormy
adverse wind and sea, traversed on the way. Diderot produced no signal
independent and original work of his own; probably he could not have
produced such a work. On the other hand, it is simply just to say that
hardly anybody but Diderot could have achieved the "Encyclopædia." That,
indeed, may be considered an achievement not more to the glory, than to
the shame, of its author; but whatever its true moral character, in
whatever proportion shameful or glorious, it is inalienably and
peculiarly Diderot's achievement; at least in this sense, that without
Diderot the "Encyclopædia" would never have been achieved.

We have already, in discussing Voltaire, adverted sufficiently to Mr.
John Morley's volumes in honor of Diderot and his compeers. Diderot is
therein ably presented in the best possible light to the reader; and we
are bound to say, that, despite Mr. Morley's friendly endeavors, Diderot
therein appears very ill. He married a young woman, whose simple and
touching self-sacrifice on her husband's behalf, he presently requited
by giving himself away, body and soul, to a rival. In his writings, he
is so easily insincere, that not unfrequently it is a problem, even for
his biographer, to decide when he is expressing his sentiments truly and
when not; insomuch that, once and again, Mr. Morley himself is obliged
to say, "This is probably hypocritical on Diderot's part," or something
to that effect. As for filthy communication out of his mouth and from
his pen,--not, of course, habitual, but occasional,--the subject will
not bear more than this mention. These be thy gods, O Atheism! one, in
reading Mr. Morley on Diderot, is tempted again and again to exclaim. To
offset such lowness of character in the man, it must in justice be added
that Diderot was, notwithstanding, of a generous, uncalculating turn of
mind, not grudging, especially in intellectual relations, to give of his
best to others, expecting nothing again. Diderot, too, as well as
Voltaire, had his royal or imperial friends, in the notorious Empress
Catherine of Russia, and in King Stanislaus of Poland. He visited
Catherine once in her capital, and was there munificently entertained
by her. She was regally pleased to humor this gentleman of France,
permitting him to bring down his fist in gesture violently on the
redoubtable royal knee, according to a pleasant way Diderot had of
emphasizing a point in familiar conversation. His truest claim to praise
for intellectual superiority is, perhaps, that he was a prolific
begetter of wit in other men.

D'Alembert (Jean le Rond, 1717-1783) was an eminent mathematician. He
wrote especially, though not at first exclusively, on mathematical
subjects, for the "Encyclopædia." He was, indeed, at the outset,
published as mathematical editor of the work. His European reputation in
science made his name a tower of strength to the "Encyclopædia,"--even
after he ceased to be an editorial coadjutor in the enterprise. For
there came a time when D'Alembert abdicated responsibility as editor,
and left the undertaking to fall heavily on the single shoulder,
Atlantean shoulder it proved to be, of Diderot. The celebrated
"Preliminary Discourse," prefixed to the "Encyclopædia," proceeded from
the hand of D'Alembert. This has always been esteemed a masterpiece of
comprehensive grasp and lucid exposition. A less creditable contribution
of D'Alembert's to the "Encyclopædia" was his article on "Geneva," in
the course of which, at the instance of Voltaire, who wanted a chance to
have his plays represented in that city, he went out of his way to
recommend to the Genevans that they establish for themselves a theatre.
This brought out Rousseau in an eloquent harangue against the theatre as
exerting influence to debauch public morals. D'Alembert, in the contest,
did not carry off the honors of the day. D'Alembert's "Éloges," so
called, a series of characterizations and appreciations written by the
author in his old age, of members of the French Academy, enjoy deserved
reputation for sagacious intellectual estimate, and for clear, though
not supremely elegant, style of composition.

Diderot and D'Alembert are the only men whose names appear on the
title-page of the "Encyclopædia;" but Voltaire, Rousseau, Turgot,
Helvétius, Duclos, Condillac, Buffon, Grimm, D'Holbach, with many others
whom we must not stay even to mention, contributed to the work.

The influence of the "Encyclopædia," great during its day, is by no
means yet exhausted. But it is an influence indirectly exerted, for the
"Encyclopædia" itself has long been an obsolete work.

There is a legal maxim that the laws are silent, when a state of war
exists. Certainly, amid the madness of a Revolution such as, during the
closing years of the eighteenth century, the influence of Voltaire,
Rousseau, and the Encyclopædists, with Beaumarchais, reacting against
the accumulated political and ecclesiastical oppressions of ages,
precipitated upon France, it might safely be assumed that letters would
be silent. But the nation meantime was portentously preparing material
for a literature which many wondering centuries to follow would occupy
themselves with writing.



In looking backward over the preceding pages, we think of many things
which we should like still to say. Of these many things, we limit
ourselves to saying here, as briefly as we can, some four or five only.

To begin with, in nearly every successive case, we have found ourselves
lamenting afresh that, from the authors to be represented, the
representative extracts must needs be so few and so short. We have,
therefore, sincerely begrudged to ourselves every line of room that we
felt obliged to occupy with matter, preparatory, explanatory, or
critical, of our own. Whatever success we may have achieved in
fulfilling our purpose, our purpose has been to say ourselves barely so
much as was indispensable in order finally to convey, upon the whole, to
our readers, within the allotted space, the justest and the fullest
impression of the selected authors, through the medium of their own
quoted words.

In the second place, it was with great regret that we yielded to the
necessity of omitting entirely, or dismissing with scant mention, such
literary names, for example, as Boileau, of the age of Louis Quatorze,
and, a little later than he, Fontenelle, spanning with his century of
years the space from 1657 to 1757,--these, and, belonging to the period
that ushered in the Revolution, Bernardin St. Pierre, the teller of the
tale of "Paul and Virginia," with also that hero of a hundred romantic
adventures, Beaumarchais, half Themistocles, half Alcibiades, the author
of "The Barber of Seville." The line had to be drawn somewhere; and,
whether wisely or not, at least thoughtfully, we drew it to run as it

A third, and a yet graver, occasion of regret was that we must stop
short on the threshold, without crossing it, of the nineteenth-century
literature of France. With so many shining names seen just ahead of us,
beacon-like, to invite our advance, we felt it as a real self-denial to
stay our steps at that point. We hope still to deal with Chateaubriand,
Madame de Staël, Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, Sainte-Beuve, Victor Hugo,
and perhaps others, in a future volume.

Our eye is caught with the antithetical terms, "classicism" and
"romanticism," occurring here and there; and the observation is forced
upon us, that these terms, in their mutual relation, are nowhere by us
defined. The truth is, they scarcely, as thus used, admit of hard and
fast definition. It is in a somewhat loose conventional sense of each
term, that, in late literary language, they are set off, one over
against the other. They name two different, but by no means necessarily
antagonistic, forces or tendencies in literature. Classicism stands for
what you might call the established order, against which romanticism is
a revolt. Paradoxical though it be to say so, both the established
order, and the revolt against it, are good things. The established
order, which was never really any thing more or less than the dominance
in literature of rules and standards derived through criticism from the
acknowledged best models, especially the ancient, tended at last to
cramp and stifle the life which it should, of course, only serve to
shape and conform. The mould, always too narrow perhaps, but at any rate
grown too rigid, needed itself to be fashioned anew. Fresh life, a full
measure, would do this. Such is the true mission of romanticism,--not to
break the mould that classicism sought to impose on literary production,
but to expand that mould, make it more pliant, more free. A mould, for
things living and growing, should be plastic in the passive, as well as
in the active, sense of that word,--should accept form, as well as give
form. Romanticism will accordingly have won its legitimate victory, not
when it shall have destroyed classicism and replaced it, but when it
shall have made classicism over, after the law of a larger life. To risk
a concrete illustration--among our American poets, Bryant, in the
perfectly self-consistent unity of his whole intellectual development,
may be said to represent classicism; while in Lowell, as Lowell appears
in the later, more protracted, phase of his genius, romanticism is
represented. The "Thanatopsis" of Bryant and the "Cathedral" of Lowell
may stand for individual examples respectively of the classic and the
romantic styles in poetry. Compare these two productions, and in the
difference between the chaste, well-pruned severity of the one, and the
indulged, perhaps stimulated, luxuriance of the other, you will feel the
difference between classicism and romanticism. But Victor Hugo is the
great recent romanticist; and when, hereafter, we come to speak somewhat
at large of him, it will be seasonable to enter more fully into the
question of these two tendencies in literature.

We cannot consent to have said here our very last word, without
emphasizing once again our sense of the really extraordinary
pervasiveness in French literature of that element in it which one does
not like to name, even to condemn it,--we mean its impurity. The
influence of French literary models, very strong among us just now, must
not be permitted insensibly to pervert our own cleaner and sweeter
national habit and taste in this matter. But we, all of us together,
need to be both vigilant and firm; for the beginnings of corruption here
are very insidious. Let us never grow ashamed of our saving Saxon
shamefacedness. They may nickname it prudery, if they will; but let us,
American and English, for our part, always take pride in such prudery.


[The merest approximation only can be attempted, in hinting here the
pronunciation of French names. In general, the French distribute the
accent pretty evenly among all the syllables of their words. We mark an
accent on the final syllable, chiefly in order to correct a natural
English tendency to slight that syllable in pronunciation. In a few
cases, we let a well-established English pronunciation stand. N notes a
peculiar nasal sound, ü, a peculiar vowel sound, having no equivalent
in English.]

Ab'é-lard (1079-1142), 6.

Academy, French, 10, 12, 75, 156, 287.

Æs'chy-lus, 94, 152, 166, 168.

Æ'sop, 85.

Al-ci-bi'a-des, 289.

Alembert. _See_ D'Alembert.

Al-ex-an'der (the Great), 5, 131.

Al-ex-an'drine, 5, 86, 153.

Am-y-ot' (ä-me-o´), Jacques (1513-1593), 8.

An'ge-lo, Michel, 156.

Ariosto, 245, 247.

Ar'is-tot-le, 50.

Ar-nauld' (ar-nō´), Antoine (1612-1694), 119.

Ar'thur (King), 5.

Au'gus-tīne, St., Latin Christian Father, 83.

Au'gus'tus (the Emperor), 131.

Ba'con, Francis, 48, 63.

Ba'ker, Jehu, 226.

Bā´laam, 154.

Băl´zac, Jean Louis Guez de (1594-1654), 10, 11.

Beau-mar-chais´, de (bō-mar-shā´), Pierre Augustin Caron
(1732-1799), 287, 289.

Benedictines, 29.

Boi-leau´-Des-pré-aux´ (bwä-lō´-dā-prā-o´), Nicolas
(1636-1711), 9, 12, 14, 83, 84, 167, 168, 171, 289.

Bolton, A. S., 69.

=BOS-SU-ET=´(bo-sü-ā´), Jacques Bénigne (1627-1704), 11, 12, 77, 127,
166, 170, 182-188, 205, 206, 224, 225.

=BOUR-DA-LOUE=´, Louis (1632-1704), 3, 12, 77, 143, 148, 182, 185, 188,
189-197, 198, 201, 202.

Brook Farm, 38.

Bry´ant, William Cullen, 290, 291.

Buckle, Henry Thomas, 234.

Buffon (büf-foN´), Georges Louis Leclerc de (1707-1788), 287.

Bur´gun-dy, Duke of (1682-1712), 177, 207, 208, 209, 214, 216.

Burke, Edmund, 48, 75.

Bussy (büs-se´), Count, 135.

By´ron, Lord, 48.

Cæsar, Julius, 56, 131.

Calas (cä-lä´), Jean, 253.

Calvin, John (1509-1564), 7.

Carlyle, Thomas, 251, 255.

Catherine (Empress of Russia), 285.

Cham-fort´ (shäN-for´), Sébastien Roch Nicolas (1741-1794), 85.

_Chanson _(shäN-soN´), 5.

Char-le-magne´ (shar-le-mān´), 5.

Charles I. (of England), 170, 185.

Charles IX. (of France), 63.

Cha-teau-bri-and´ (shä-tō-bre-äN´), François Auguste de (1768-1848),
3, 13, 14, 206, 277, 289.

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 5, 20.

"Classicism," 10, 14, 224, 289, 290.

Claude, Jean (1619-1687), 182.

Coleridge, S. T., 7, 34, 43.

Comines (kō-meen´), Philippe de (1445-1509), 7, 25, 28.

Condé (koN-dā´), Prince of, "The Great Condé" (1621-1686), 144.

Condillac (koNde-yäk´), Étienne Bonnot de (1715-1780), 287.

Condorcet (koN-dor-sā´), Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat de
(1743-1794), 128.

=CORNEILLE= (kor-nāl´), Pierre (1606-1684), 2, 11, 12, 16, 78, 79, 80,
151-166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 182, 183, 239.

Cotin (ko-tăN´), Abbé, 100.

Cotton, Charles (1630-1687), 44, 48.

Cousin (koo-zăN´), Victor (1792-1867), 128.

D'Alembert (dä-läN-bêr´), Jean le Rond (1717-1783), 13, 251, 286, 287.

Dante, 50, 93, 94, 114.

David (King), 198.

Descartes (dā-kärt´), René (1596-1650), 11, 12, 104, 115.

D'Holbach (dōl-bäk´), Paul Henri Thyry (1723-1789), 287.

Dickens, Charles, 35, 149.

Diderot (de-drō´), Denis (1713-1784), 13, 237, 250, 284, 285, 286,

Dryden, John, 48, 166.

Duclos (dü-klō´), Charles Pineau (1704-1772), 287.

"_Écrasez l'Infâme_," 252.

Edinburgh Review, 140.

Edward (the Black Prince), 21-25.

Edwards, President, 194.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 49, 51, 52, 61.

Encyclopædia Britannica, 18.

=ENCYCLOPÆDISTS=, 13, 218, 249, 250, 282-288.

Epictetus, 65.

Epicurus, 50.

Erasmus, 43, 126.

Euripides, 153, 166, 171.

_Fabliaux_ (fab´le-ō´), 6.

Faugère (fō-zhêr´), Arnaud Prosper (1810- ), 128.

=FÉNELON= (fān-loN´), François de Salignac de la Mothe (1651-1715), 12,
85, 177, 178, 181, 205-224.

Fléchier (flā-she-ā´), Esprit (1632-1710), 182.

Foix (fwä), Count de, 26, 27.

Fontenelle (foNt-nĕl´), Bernard le Bovier (1657-1757), 289.

Franciscans, 29.

Frederick (the Great), 254.

Friar John, 40.

=FROISSART= (frwä-sar´), Jean (1337-1410?), 7, 18-28.

Gaillard (gă-yar´), Gabriel Henri (1726-1806), 155.

Gar-gant´ua, 29, 36, 37, 39.

Gibbon, Edward, 153.

Goldsmith, Oliver, 83, 225.

Grignan (green-yäN´), Madame de, 138.

Grimm, Friedrich Melchior (1723-1807), 287.

Gulliver's Travels, 37.

Guyon (ğe-yoN´), Madame (1648-1717), 210.

Hallam, Henry, 18, 34.

Havet (ä-va´) (editor of Pascal's works), 128, 129.

Hawkesworth, Dr., 222.

Hazlitt, W. Carew, 48.

Helvétius (ēl-vā-se-üss´), Claude Adrien (1715-1771), 287.

Henriette, Princess, 170.

Henry of Navarre, 63.

Herod (King), 198.

Herodotus, 7, 18.

Holbach. _See_ D'Holbach.

Homer, 244.

Hooker ("The judicious"), 205.

Horace, 245.

Hugo (ü-go´), Victor. _See_ Victor Hugo.

Hume, David, 48, 276.

Isaiah (the prophet), 94.

Israel, 154.

James (King), 210.

Job, 94, 210.

John (the Baptist), 198.

John (King), 21, 22.

Johnes, Thomas, 19.

Johnson, Samuel, 160, 249.

Joinville (zhwăN-vel´), Jean de (1224?-1319?), 7.

Julian (the Apostate), 178.

Kant, Emmanuel, 42.

Knox, John, 198.

La Boëtie (lä bō-ă-tē´), Étienne (1530-1563), 58, 59.

=LA BRUYÈRE= (lä brü-e-y êr´), Jean (1646?-1696), 12, 75-81, 153.

=LA FONTAINE= (lä foN-tān´), Jean de (1621-1695), 12, 81-92.

Lamartine (lä-mar-tēn´), Alphonse Marie Louis de (1780-1869), 14, 206, 289.

_Langue d'oc_, 4.

_Langue d'oïl_, 4.

Lanier, Sidney (1842-1881), 25.

=LA ROCHEFOUCAULD= (lä rōsh-foo-kō´), François, Duc de (1613-1680),
12, 48, 66-75, 131, 147, 148.

Longfellow, Henry W., 50.

Louis IX. (1215-1270) (St. Louis), 6, 7.

Louis XI. (1423-1483), 7.

Louis XIII. (1601-1643), 10, 95.

Louis XIV. (1638-1715) (Quatorze), 10, 12, 113, 135, 136, 169, 172, 176,
181, 184, 189, 190, 198, 199, 200, 207, 208, 213, 217-219, 223, 255.

Louis XV. (1710-1774), 199, 214, 254.

Louvois (loo-vwä´), Marquis de, 142.

Lowell, James Russell, 291.

Lucan, 151, 153, 240.

Lucretius, 94, 166.

Luther, Martin, 7, 40.

Maintenon (măN-teh-noN´), Madame de (1635-1719), 172, 181, 210, 211.

Malherbe (mäl-êrb´), François (1555-1628), 9, 10, 14.

Martin (mar-tăN´), Henri (1810- ), 183.

Mary, Queen of Scots, 8, 198.

=MASSILLON= (mäs-se-yoN´), Jean Baptiste (1663-1742), 3, 12, 148, 182,
185, 188, 197-205.

M'Crie, Thomas, 119.

Michael (the Archangel), 205.

Milton, John, 92, 182, 206, 247.

=MOLIÈRE= (mo-le-êr´) (real name, Jean Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-1673), 12,
16, 83, 92-114, 127, 154, 165, 167, 169, 240.

Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley, 151.

=MONTAIGNE= (mon-tān´), Michel Eyquem de (1533-1592), 2, 7, 8, 44-65,
67, 75, 131, 230, 234, 257, 268.

Montespan (moN-tĕss-päN´), Madame de (1641-1707), 138, 139, 140.

=MONTESQUIEU=, de (moN-tĕs-kê-uh´), Charles de Secondat (1689-1755),
13, 218, 225-237.

Morley, Henry, 249.

Morley, John, 249, 251, 285.

Motteux, Peter Anthony (1660-1718), 30.

Musset (mü-sā´) (1810-1857), Alfred de, 289.

Napoleon Bonaparte, 13, 166.

Nathan (the prophet), 198.

Newton, Sir Isaac, 115.

Nicole (ne-kŏl´), Pierre (1625-1695), 3, 143, 147, 168.

"Obscurantism" (disposition, in the sphere of the intellect, to love
darkness rather than light), 252.

Pan-tag´-ru-el, 29, 40, 41, 42.

Panurge (pä-nürzh´), 40, 41, 42.

=PASCAL=, Blaise (1623-1662), 3, 12, 48, 62, 65, 80, 115-133, 193.

Pascal, Jacqueline, 116.

Pelisson (pĕl-ē-soN´), 149.

Petrarch, Francesco, 20.

Phædrus, 85.

Plato, 50, 51, 59.

Pleiades (plē´ya-dēz), 8, 10, 13.

Plutarch, 8, 48, 56.

Po-co-cu´rant-ism, 248.

Pompadour, Madame de, 254.

Pompey, 56.

Pope, Alexander, 48, 166.

Poquelin (po-ke-lăN´). _See_ Molière, 94, 95.

Port Royal, 119, 127, 128, 147, 168.

Pradon (prä-doN´), 171.

_Provençal_ (pro-väN-sal), 4.

Ptolemy Philadelphus, 8.

Quentin Durward, 7.

=RABELAIS= (ră-blā´), François (1495?-1553?), 3, 7, 28-43, 60, 65,
83, 146.

=RACINE= (rä-seen´), Jean (1639-1699), 12, 78, 79, 80, 83, 151, 152, 153,
166-181, 205.

Rambouillet (räN-boo-yā´), Hôtel de, 10, 11, 12, 100, 105, 155, 156,

Raphael (archangel), 205.

Récamier (rā-kä-me-ā´), Madame (1777-1849), 11.

Richard, the Lion-hearted, 117.

Richelieu (rēsh-le-uh´), Cardinal, 10, 12, 95, 154, 156.

_Roman_ (ro-mäN´), 5.

"Romanticism," 224, 289, 290.

"Romanticists," 14.

Ronsard (roN-sar´), Pierre de (1524-1585), 8, 9.

Ronsardism, 14.

Rousseau (roo-sō´), Jean Baptiste (1670-1741), 255.

=ROUSSEAU=, Jean Jacques (1712-1778), 3, 13, 14, 48, 206, 218, 249, 250,
251, 255-281, 287.

Ruskin, John, 73.

Rutebeuf (rü-te-buf´) (_b._ 1230), _trouvère,_ 6.

Sablíère (sä-blï-êr´), Madame de la, 83, 84.

Saci (sä-se´), M. de, 65.

Saintsbury, George, 17, 58.

Sainte-Beuve (săNt-buv´), Charles Augustin (1804-1869), 9, 14, 189,
193, 199, 235, 289.

Sal´a-din (Saracen antagonist of Richard the Lion-hearted), 117.

_Salon_ (sä-loN´), 11.

Sand (säNd), George (Madame Dudevant, 1804-1876), 3, 14.

Saurin (sō-răN´), Jacques (1677-1730), 182.

"Savoyard Curate's Confession," 279.

Scott, Sir Walter, 7, 19, 25, 105.

Selden, John ("The learned"), 205.

Seneca, 48, 50.

SÉVIGNÉ (sā-vēn-yā´), Madame de, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal
(1626-1696), 11, 105, 134-151, 170.

Shakspeare, 16, 48, 63, 92, 94, 114, 160, 240.

Socrates (contrasted by Rousseau with Jesus), 280, 281.

Sophocles, 153, 166, 168.

Staël-Holstein (stä-ĕl´ ol-stăN´), Anne Louise Grermanie de
(1766-1817), 13, 289.

Stanislaus (King of Poland), 285.

St. John, Bayle, 56, 58, 59.

St. Pierre, Jacques Henri Bernardin de (1737-1814), 289.

St. Simon (sē-moN´), Louis de Rouvroi, Duc de (1675-1755), 208, 209.

Swift, Dean, 37.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 94.

Tacitus, 7.

Taine, H. (1828-), 233.

Tartuffe (tar-tüf´), 106-114, 147.

Tasso, 245, 247.

Thélème (tā-lĕm´), 38, 40.

Themistocles, 289.

Thibaud (tē-bō´), _troubadour_ (1201-1253), 6.

Trajan, 254.

_Troubadour_, 4.

_Trouvère_ (troo-vêr´), 5, 6.

Tully (Cicero), 246.

Turgot (tür-gō´), Anne RobertJacques (1727-1781), 287.

Urquhart, Sir Thomas, 30.

Van Laun, H., 17.

Vatel, 143, 144, 145.

Vauvenargues (vō-ve-narg´), Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de (1715-1747),
79, 80, 81.

Vercingetorix, 226.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), 14, 16, 94, 289, 291.

Villehardouin (vēl-ar-doo-ăN´), Geoffrey (1165?-1213?), 7.

Villemain (vēl-măN´), Abel François (1790-1870), 118.

Virgil, 5, 9, 81, 166, 172, 245.

Voiture (vwä-tür´), Vincent (1598-1648), 11.

=VOLTAIRE= (vol-têr´), François Marie Arouet de (1694-1778), 2, 13, 38,
48, 68, 80, 127, 152, 153, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 204, 218, 234,
235, 238-255, 285, 286, 287.

Wall, C. H., 106.

Walpole, Horace, 151, 230.

Warens (vä-räN´), Madame de, 264, 265, 268, 269, 275.

Webster, Daniel, 188.

Wright, Elizur, 86.

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