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“Hic tandem stetimus nobis ubi defuit changes, in short, resulting only in urbis."

the conviction, that nothing has been The difficulty of forming an impar. substantially gained, and that the litial estimate of the literature of the berty enjoyed under a popular King eighteenth century in France, is still can scarcely be distinguished from the great ; for the whole character of that despotism so falsely complained of literature was 60 closeiy connected under the restored dynasty, have with social and political changes, the taught men generally to distrust fine effects of which are still felt, that its theories, to look with doubt on highmerits or demerits become less a ques. sounding prufessions, to give greater tion of taste than of personal feeling, weight to experience, to be more to be decided according to the preju- tolerant of all opinions, and less disdices entertained by the critic in favour posed to identify themselves with any. of or against the changes themselves. They have created a spirit of indifferThirty years, for instance, after the ence, favourable to impartiality in death of Voltaire, the struggle between criticism, though not to original inhis admirers and the opponents of his vention; which, by excluding or fame, was waged as fiercely and unre. weakening, in a great measure, the lentingly as at the moment when he influence of personal feelings, interclosed his career; for he was still to ests, or political convictions, enables both parties, not so much the drama- the reader more distinctly to perceive tist, the historian, the poet, or the and to judge of the questions of liternovelist, as the apostle of opmions, to ature and taste, which the criticism of which the one party clung as essential the great writers of the last century to social progress and political im. involves. provement, and which the other more The total change, too, which has justly identified with the subversion of taken place in literature itself, affords all morality and all government. His another important aid in forming a reputation became like the dead body just estimation of that by which it was of Patroclus, the central object round preceded; for many of those novelties which the conflict of opinion was niain- and experiments in taste which were tained. Political discussion, excluded then advocated, have now been practifrom actual life during the stern rule cally tried, and the result lies before us. of Napoleon, took the direction of We have lived to see the old barriers literary criticism, making the opinions of taste removed—the wall of parti. expressed with regard to the literature tion, which separated the literature of of the preceding century, not judg. France from those of other countries, ments, but contradictory pleadings, broken down-the unities banished acrimonions, one-sided, or distorted. from the stage-conventional decorum

The changes which have taken has given way to wild force-an un. place in France since the fall of the regulated imagination has superseded dynasty of Bonaparte--the restoration philosophy and the extreme of liand second expulsion of the Bourbons cense has succeeded the extreme of —the establishment, amidst an all but caution. We shall not at present anuniversal exultation, of a monarchy ticipate the answer to the question, Has owing its existence to a popular move- France been a gainer by the change? ment, and then labouring, from the Or has she exchanged a grave, digni. first moment of its foundation, to tame fied, and tasteful, though not imaginaor crush the power by which it had tive, literature, which she had carried to been created; on the one hand, the a high pitch of perfection, for one essengradual decline of popular enthusiasm, tially foreign to her national tastes, in consequent on disappointed expecta- which an appearance of originality is tions, however unreasonable ; on the attained only by the gross exaggeraother, the apprehensions of the more tion of the features which she has borsober and rational, that the barriers rowed from other quarters ? But, unof a steady and constitutional liberty doubtedly, the result of this series of have been already so shaken, or beaten experiments, particularly in the lite. down, by the sacrifices made to the rature of imagination as displayed democratic impulse, and the false prin- in the later productions of France, ciple on which the existing monarchy admittedly unpromising, unsatisfac. is based, that all hope of a firm and tury, and unnatural, enables us more settled government in France is for correctly to estimate the justice of some time at an end ; - all these those views on which the great works


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of the eighteenth century were composed; and of their principles of composition, so much inore in harmony with the character of a people eminently intellectual, and finely alive to ridicule, but neither distinguished by high imagination, nor great depth or earnestness of feeling.

The task of tracing the literary history of that period, could hardly have fallen into the hands of a more candid critic than Villemain. While the influence of his age, and his familiarity with the better models of literature in other countries, have emancipated him from narrow views, taught him to value the old conventional rules of his country only at their true worth-that is to say, not as essentials applicable to all literature, but simply as convenient precepts suitable to the national taste-he is no warm partisan of the modern school of composition, no advocate of the more than Shakspearian license of plot, and the atrocities, eclipsing those of Massinger and Shirley, in which they indulge, and which often make the reader lay down the book with a feeling, in regard to the writer, similar to that of Alceste in the Misanthrope, "Qu'un homme est pen. dable après les avoir faits." His tastes, on the contrary, lean decidedly towards the simple, the natural, the kindly, and the elevated. Doing justice to many of Shakspeare's excellences, it is yet evident that Villemain rejects the idea that Shakspeare's dramatic system can be placed on a level with that of the Greek dramatists, and, indeed, that he has much difficulty in bringing himself to admit that he has any system at all. And, accordingly, though he seems abundantly sensible of the nature, tenderness, and profundity of individual passages in Shakspeare; nay, is disposed to admit, occasionally, even his higher art in comparison with the French dramatists, as well as his deeper acquaintance with the human heart and human sympathies, his leaning, on the whole, seems to be towards the more stately, decorous, and wellordered march of the tragedy of his own country, of which Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire are the great representatives. His work, therefore, though written on more enlarged and liberal principles than that of La Harpe, certainly breathes

more of the rationalizing spirit of the first half of the eighteenth century, which it illustrates, than of the nineteenth, amidst the stormy influences of which it has been composed.

The genius of the seventeenth century had been formed under these different influences - a religious faith, strong, uniform, and undoubting; the spirit of reverence for antiquity; and the pomp and circumstance of a tranquil and imposing monarchy. It wore an aspect, accordingly, of dignity, outward moral propriety, and good sense, rather than depth of thinking, conveyed in the garb of a pure simple expression so far as regarded style. It is expressed in its most attractive form, either in the pointed neatness of Boileau, or in the drama, which had been raised at once from infancy to manhood by the vigorous and original genius of Corneille, and which received the last polish and grace of which its artificial and rhetorical form, was susceptible, from the delicacy and tenderness of Racine.

The dominant influences, on the contrary, under which the literature of the eighteenth century may be said to have grown into shape, are a sceptical philosophy, the imitation of foreign literature, and the mania for political reform. Some traces of the sceptical spirit of a later period, may indeed be traced even among the contemporaries of Bossuet, in the extensive erudition of Bayle, combined with a spirit of mockery and universal doubt, which labours to reduce the most opposite opinions, as to facts or doctrines, to an equilibrium; and whose multifarious researches afforded to his successors, at an easy rate, a storehouse of learning, which was turned to ample account when the crusade against established opinions was commenced in earnest by the authors of the Encyclo. pédie. Still, when Louis XIV., the survivor of almost every great man who had illustrated his court or his reign, died, on the 1st September, 1715, the general characteristics of French literature were reverence for religion, loyalty to the throne, a pride in the extensive influence of France over other nations, which was justified both by her political ascendency, and by the adoption of her critical views and the imitation of her great writers; and a complacent satisfaction with the present, which rendered men compa


ratively indifferent to the future, and any way in which they could be most indisposed to experiment or alteration readily turned to a marketable acin the existing state of things.

count, A change, however, soon becomes In the drama, a temporary, popuperceptible as we advance into the larity and appearance of novelty was reign of Louis XV. In religion, the obtained by Crebillon, the father of fervency and unction which give an the novelist. The examples of Cor. appearance of inspiration to many neille and Racine had fixed certain of the compositions of Bossuet on principles in dramatic composition so subjects of Christian belief, were firmly, that they soon became unaltersucceeded by a school of pulpit able rules, from which no dramatist eloquence, in which morality, cha- could safely venture to deviate. Such rity, or the performance of duty, were the invariable introduction of were more insisted on than faith ; a love as the moving principle of the school analogous to that of Tillotson drama, even amidst circumstances and and Barrow and South in our own periods of society when its intervencountry. In Massillon, the predomi- tion was the most incongruous; a nance of action over sentiment as the mythological or antique dignity in the great principle of religion, becomes personages and events represented ; evident ; while the lessons he ventures an avoidance of modern or domestic to convey to royalty as to its duties, subjects; the limitations of time, place, and the corresponding rights of sub- and action, with their natural conseects, contrasting so strangely with quences, long recitals, soliloquies, and the divine-right doctrines systematic expositions in words rather than accally inculcated by Bossuet, show that tion; a sustained pomp of expression monarchy had soon begun to lose its in the dialogue banishing all common imposing aspect under the weak suc- or familiar words, however natural in cessor of Louis XIV., and that it was the expression of powerful feeling; already beginning to listen to that lan- the rigorous exclusion of every thing guage of remonstrance from the pulpit, comic from the sphere of tragedy, and which was at no distant period to be at the same time, a nervous dread of conveyed in accents of thunder from pushing the tragic effect too far, if the democratic demagogues and infuri- death or physical suffering were allowated multitudes in the courts of Ver- ed to be displayed upon the stage; for sailles or the Tuileries.

which scarcely any better reason could In lyric poetry, the pretensions of be given, than the authority of a line in French literature were but feebly sup- Horace's Art of Poetry. ported by the epicurean verses of So strongly were these artificial peChaulieu and the odes of J. B. Rous. culiarities rooted and grounded in the seau — compositions destitute of any very being of French tragedy, that true religious sentiment, and producing even writers of some poetical ability, their effect only by some force and sen- well acquainted with the dramatic tentiousness of expression, coinbined literature both of antiquity and of forwith a sonorous and harmonious ver- eign countries — like Lafosse, the sification. Placed beside the choruses author of Manlius—while attempting in the Esther and the Athalie, they ap- to throw more of natural feeling into pear altogether false and unnatural; the French drama, thought it vain to the difference between the real inspi- contend against the current of settled ration of Racine, and the laboured opinion, so far as regarded rules and artificial enthusiasm of Rousseau, which were looked on as dramatic is palpable at first sight. It is such as axioms no longer admitting of dismight be expected from the contrasted pute or modification, and therefore characters of the two poeis; that of continued to pursue the formal and the dramatist-mild, gentle, sincerely somewhat stilted framework of the pious, speaking from his own heart, 17th century ; while on the other hand and speaking to ours; that of the lyric he leans, with a visible acimiration, poet — vain, turbulent, unconscien- towards the natural movement of the tious, immersed in literary intrigues, romantic drama, so far as regarded the just as ready to compose an obscene expression of sentiment. Among per. epigram or a defamatory libel as a sonages who had not even the talent canticle or a sac-cd ode, and anxious (such as it was) of Lafosse, like Lato make merchandise of his talents in grange Chancel, the conventional and


courtly tone of Racine, and his system. atic adaptation of Greek manners to the tone of Freuch society, appear in the most ludicrous caricature, unredeemed by his real tenderness, and the exquisite polish and beauty of his versification. The romance writers of the school of Scudery and Calprenede, whose aim it was "peindre Caton galant et Brutus dameret," found a not unworthy dramatic rival in Chancel; whose Orestes, Meleager, Arsaces, and Alceste, form as extraordinary a travestie of antiquity as can well be imagined.

Crebillon certainly rises considerably above these feeble imitators of Racine; for, coarse as his tastes were, he was a man who thought for himself at least within the limits which the existing rules of the drama permitted; for these rules, as laid down by the pre. cept or practice of Corneille or Racine, he adopted to the letter. He is, indeed, the very reverse of an innovator, so far as regards the established dramatic creed of his time; but, endowed with a sombre, fantastic, and vigorous turn of mind, approaching to the savage, he has occasionally thrown a force and vivacity, derived from his own character, into those mythological terrors which he borrowed from antiquity, of which, at first sight, such subjects would hardly have appeared susceptible. "Corneille," he used to say, has laid hold of heaven, Racine of earth; nothing was left to me but hell, and I have thrown myself into it, heart and soul." "Unfortunately," as Villemain dryly observes, "he is not always quite so infernal as he seems to think." Placed side by side with love intrigues and dialogues, in which the argument, however agitating, is maintained with a politeness worthy of the school of Chesterfield; his scenes of bloodshed, incest, and crime, very often wear an almost ludicrous air, though we admit the forcible effect of some scenes or passages, like that of the famous line borrowed from the Thyestes of Seneca,* when Thyestes addresses his brother, after the hideous banquet, with the words

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Reconnais tu ce sang? Je reconnais

But though Crebillon could conceive and embody, with a sort of stoical pomp of thought and laconic condensation of expression, somewhat in the style of Seneca, (with whom he has many points of resemblance,) scenes of atrocity and gloom, he is in general completely deficient in the delineation of all feeling or character of a more level, natural, or tender kind. We say in general, because we willingly exempt from this charge his tragedy of Rhadamiste, which appeared in 1711, the solitary dramatic work between the time of Racine and Voltaire, which even approaches to the character of genius; and to which we are glad to see that justice is done by Villemain. He blames the first act as "ill-written, because without passion,"—of which we are scarcely disposed to demand much in a first act-but admits that the rest is eloquent and tragic, and realizes all that could be effected within the narrow limits then allowed to French tragedy.

With one remark of Crebillon we suppose most readers will be disposed entirely to concur when asked which of his works he preferred, his answer was, "It is difficult to say which is the best; but this," pointing to his 'scape. grace son, the novelist, "is certainly the worst."

La Motte, a contemporary of Crebillon, did endeavour to effect what Crebillon seems to have in no respect aimed at: viz. an innovation in the recognised dramatic code. His great principle, besides an attack on the unities, was this, that the drama gained nothing by being written in verse; and he illustrated his proposition by the production of an Edipus in prose and an dipus in verse, which certainly left the reader in a pleasing uncertainty which was most intolerable.

And yet, in his speculations as to the unities, though apparently ignorant even of the existence of Shakspeare, and certainly entirely unacquainted with his works, it is interesting to observe how much his notion of a Roman tragedy, conducted upon the principles which he was disposed to recognise as just, seems to correspond with the man

mon frère."

* "Natos et quidem noscis tuos ?-Agnosco fratrem."

ner in which such subjects had been with certain modifications to suit the actually treated by Shakspeare. Take, expression to the taste of a Parisian for instance, his remarks as to the plan public, be made effective upon the on which a tragedy, founded on the sub. French stage. He aimed, in short, at ject of Coriolanus, might be conceived the difficult, and, there is reason to and theatrically embodied. “I should think, incompatible task, of amalgamnot be surprised if a people, intelligent, ating two dramatic systems, the princi. though less attached to rules, should ples of which are not only unharmonireconcile itself to the idea of witnessing ous, but in many respects contradictory. the history of Coriolanus divided into It is well known that, in the opinion of several acts. In the first, that patrician, certain French critics of no inean note, accused by the tribunes, defended by Voltaire has succeeded in his atteinpt. the consul and the people whom he has La Harpe seems to think that he had saved, and then condemned by the peo- perfected what Corneille had begun ple to perpetual exile: in the second, and Racine improved, by adding to the the despair of his family, and the gloomy dignified or graceful sentiments of his grief with which he separates from predecessors, more life, energy, and them: in the third, the magnanimous natural movement in the dialogue. He boldness with which he presents him- has been described as— Vainqueur de self to the Volscian general, whom he deux rivaux qui regnaient sur la scène.has so often vanquished; ready to sacri- 'Time, however, has pronounced a diffice his life if he can but associate him ferent judgment. Villemain remarks in his vengeance: in the fourth, the that the plays of Corneille, and the hero at the gates of Rome, the depu. chefs d'aurre of Racine, when revived, tations of the consuls and priests, the about twenty years ago, were receiv. prayers and tears of a mother obtaining ed with the same enthusiasm as at favour for Rome.” La Motte does not first, while those of Voltaire fell cold pursue the subject down to the assas. and dull upon the public ear. Though sination of Coriolanus in Antium ; but nearer in date to his audience, he was so far as he goes, there is a strong, less felt, less understood; his thcathough apparently unconscious, resem- trical effects and philosophic maxims blance between his sketch and the outs were found hackneyed; his sonorous line traced by Shakspeare.

eloquence did not touch the feelings The views of Voltaire (the third like the bursts of genius of Corneille, member of the French Dramatic Tri- or the passionate refinement of Racine. umvirate) as to the drama, changed The want of a genuine enthusiasm greatly after his compulsory residence for high poetry of any kind was too in England, His first play, the Edipus, palpable in Voltaire ; while the faith produced at the age of twenty-three, which animated his dramatic rivals, was in all respects a play of the school and the seriousness with which they of Corneille and Racine. But the ac. viewed the high aim of tragedy, had, quaintance he had acquired with Eng- on the contrary, imparted to their comlish literature, superficial in many re. positions a perennial freshness and enspects as it was, had impressed him during life. with the conviction of the powerful ef- “ Voltaire,” says Villemain, “wished fects which the irregular drama of the to give boldness and animation to the northern nations was capable of pro- scene-to multiply theatrical effects. ducing; and without in the least degree He has frequently succeeded : but in meaning to call in question the laws the grandeur and novelty of character, which had been laid down by his pre. which is the very life of the drama, has decessors, except perhaps as to the em. he approached his models? Has he proployment of the passion of love as an duced anything that can be compared indispensable dramatic agent, he seems with such original and novel creations to have conceived that a great deal of as Don Diego, Pauline, Severa, Bur. the spirit of the romantic drama might rhus, Acomat, or Joad? Is his dic. be thrown into the classical form; that tion, dramatic as it is, in point of the natural eloquence of Antony, the movement and warmth, equally so in jealousy of the Moor, or the philosophic point of truth? Does it equal the or sceptical musings and melancholy of poetry of Racine and Corneille, when Hamlet, or perhaps the impression of he is Corneille ? And is not the per. supernatural terror which the ghost fection of poetry a necessary part of scenes of Shakspeare produce, might, our severe and regular theatre ? ..

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