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natural tastes, seems to have formed a Even a romantic and elevated interest most inadequate notion of the merits, is thrown into it by the episode of the and we may indeed say the genius, of father, disowned through mere pride Le Sage. Speaking of his works in by his son ; and few passages on the his Age of Louis XIV., he says, with French stage are more effective than a brief and disdainful air of condescen.. that when Lycandre thus addresses sion, “ His romance of Gil Blas has him :survived, because it is natural.” It is
“ J'entends, la vanité me declare à
genoux, curious now to reflect, that for one fo
Qu'un père infortuné n'est pas digne de reigner who is even tolerably acquaint
vous," ed with the works of him who thus
The solitary comedy of Destouches took it upon himself arbitrarily to dispense er cathedrû the meed of literary its success in a great degree to the for
which rises above mediocrity, owed fame, there are at least a hundred to
tunate choice of a subject, to which the whom every scene in Gil Blas, from the adventure with the parasiteat Cor- existing state of society gave point and
interest. The same cause in a great cuelo down to the double marriage,
measure determined the superiority of celebrated at Lirias, is as familiar as
Piron's clever Metromanie over the most passages in the life of an actual
other now forgotten productions of his acquaintance. li so happened, too, that the best comic pen. Having known by experience the
miseries to which the dramatist is heir poets of the day took part rather with familiar with the mysteries nnd inthe spiritofthe seventeenth centurythan
trigues of stage managementthe eighteenth. Gresset, Destouches, and even Piron, were all hostile to
“ The insolence of office, and the spurns the philosophers. At the present That patient merit of the unworthy takes;'' day, we should be disposed to repeat he was struck with tlie notion of turn“non tali auxilio," and to think that ing his experience to account, and of religion and morality were in nearly making the life of a poet the subject as great danger from their friends as of a drama, composed half in the spirit from their foes. Piron preaching mo- of comedy, half in earnestness. Rey. rality, is certainly as vear an approach nolds, in treating the same subject, has to the devil citing Scripture for his made it merely farcical. Piron's drapurpose, as can well beimagined. matist actually carries our sympathies
Destouches, like Voltaire, had made with him, and we are smitten with the a residence of some length in England; infection of his enthusiasm. but it may be doubted whetherl.is study The merits of Gresset's Méchant of the English theatre of the time was we are less able to perceive. calculated to improve bis taste. Mo- picture of the hollowness, the slanderliere would have been a far safer guide ous spirit, the ridicule of self, in order than either Vanburgli or Congreve, to be allowed the freer scope for the with wliich he was probably most fa- ridicule of others —as a portrait, in miliar. Their licentiousness lie no short, of the combined wit and utter doubt avoided, but their exaggeration heartlessness of the eighteenth cenof comic character he retained. All tury, the play has the merit which beliis plays, even the Glorieux, are full longs to a faithful portrait of an unof this tendency. In the Glorieux, attractive subject; but it has little of Destouches certainly made what is the originality of the Metromanie. technically called “ a hit." The rage We confess we are of the number of for financial speculation and adventure those who prefer the Ver-vert, or the of all kinds, which distinguished the Chartreuse, to the Méchant. time of Louis XV.-the sudden rise At this period is observable the rise of the vulgar to opulence and distinc- of that Comedie Larmoyante, which tion
subsequently became so popular in the “ Seigneur Suzerain de deux mille d' rough, vigorous, and coarse prose Ecus,"
dramas of Diderot. The tendency is and the fall of the noble and the opu- perceptible even in the Glorieux of lent into poverty, with the consequent Destouches, as well as in several of approximation of wealth and insolence his other works. But the system first to pride and poverty,—these are the appears reduced into form in those sources from which the contrasted cha- Tragédics Bourgeoises, to which La racters of the Glorious were drawn. Chaussée chose most inappropriately
to give the name of comedies. The of some novel fact in natural history name might have been, with nearly succeeds an account of the binary equal propriety, applied to the Game. arithmetic of Leibnitz; and observas ster or George Burnwell; for though tions on a comet seen at Pekin, are they neither conclude with suicide or followed by calculations of the power the gallows, their whole tone and spi- of steam. It was in his eloges, howrit is tragical, and they certainly con- ever, of the different members of the tained little which was calculated to Academy, that his union of accurate refute the truth which was laughingly knowledge with a good taste, and his conveyed, in some lines, by a satirist power of popularizing science, apof the Foire
pear most conspicuous. The charm
of his style in these compositions, “ Le comique ecrit noblement Fait bâiller ordinairement.'
which is great, appears to increase as
he grows older; for age seems to reThe name of Fontenelle is well
move the tendency to subtility and known to foreign readers, but such is over-refinement which existed in youth, nearly the whole extent of their ac- , and to communicate to his observations quaintance with the man or his works. on life and morals a more tender and Yet his influence during a long liter- earnest character. ary
life was so extensive, that he can. The philosophical depth of Montesnot be overlooked in any tableau of quieu has certainly been overrated. He French literature. He connects the writes sententious epigrams, or sup: seventeenth century with the eight- ports ingenious paradoxes on polity and eenth. In the former, he might be government, in the style of a French viewed as a timid reformer; in the Tacitus, but with a false brilliancy of latter, as one who still held fast by the diction, inconsistent with true grandeur ancient landmarks, and opposed a pla- or profundity of mind. As a discoverer cid passive resistance to the further in the science of politics or ethics, we movement of opinions. The nephew are at a loss to perceive what new view of the great Corneille, he seems to have he has originated, or what point attendconceived that he had a hereditary ed with doubt his learning or his pene. turn for poetry. In youth, he com. tration has cleared up. In his treatise posed Latin poems, and Greek verses on the Greatness and Decline of the “ equal to those of Homer;" for in Romans, we see he adopts as implicitly fact they were borrowed from him. At true the common narrative of Livy. a more advanced age, he tried trage. The contradictions and difficulties dy: with what success, the epigrams since pointed out by Niebuhr, and of Racine attest. Eclogues, lettres suspected even before Montesquieu's galantes, dialogues of the dead, suc- time, never embarrass him : be reasons ceeded; all deformed by affectation, on the received accounts without even none exbibiting any high appearance a suspicion of their authenticity; of genius. What, then, was the source and, accordingly, those brilliant lights of Fontenelle's influence in his age? which the German critic occasionally
It lay chiefly in the skill with which throws across the obscurity of some he applied the rules of good taste, and portions of the Roman history, such a kind of pleasing fancy, to composi- as the Agrarian laws, or the relations tions on matters of science. Without of client and patron, are wholly wantbeing deeply acquainted with any of ing in the clever and amusing, but the sciences, he had acquired a super superficial work of Montesquieu. Tho ficial knowledge of all; nor is it pos- same objection is applicable to bis sible to peruse, without admiration, the celebrated Spirit of Laws, where the long series of reports prepared by him inartificial divisions, and the indiscrion all subjects, while officiating as se- minating adoption of statements as the cretary to the Academy-a duty which basis of his reasonings, which will not he only resigned in his eighty-fourth bear investigation, render the book, year, that he might have time to finish though it may stimulate thought, one some theatrical pieces which still lay of very slender practical utility. on his hands. General physics, ana- It matters not, in truth, to the learn. tomy, chemistry, botany, mathema- ed and ingenious president, whether tics, astronomy, optics, hydrography, his facts come from France, Bantam, acoustics ; nothing seems to come or Timbuctoo, from “ Nova Zembla, amiss to Fontenelle. The description or the Lord knows where;” they are
all assumed with equal complacency, criticism he frequently throws out as grounds on which a pompous edifice views, derived no doubt from the of speculation may be built up. As it study of foreign literature, and with. stands, then, the work seems to justify out form or system, but which were the observation of the Prince de Ligne, both new and important to his counthat it is not so much l’Esprit des Lois, trymen. “ Diderot,” says Villemain, as l’Esprit sur les Lois.
“ is a superior critic; though he is The same epigrammatic tendency frequently wanting in exact justice. which pervades the works of Montes- But he feels what he judges; he anaquieu, appears not less obvious in the lyses with eloquence. His imaginahistorical writers of this period. His- tion takes its colour from that of tory had been timid and subservient others : he assumes the language and during the reign of Louis XIV., nor the accent of those he is about to was much boldness to be expected, praise. You think him emphatical where even a doubtful speculation and declamatory: it is because he is with regard to the origin of the writing a dissertation on Seneca. But French nation, had been sufficient to read the few pages he has written consign an unlucky antiquary, the on Terence; it is impossible to be learned Freret, to the Bastile. But, in more simple, more elegant, more preproportion to its former restraint, cise, more tasteful. Terence had fasseemed to be its present license of por- cinated him; and he preserves his traiture and of speculation. The spirit image as a sensitive eye, which has of free enquiry, which Voltaire had been for some time fixed upon a bright probably imbibed from his intercourse and distinct colour, preserves its imwith England, he bequeathed to a pression, and carries it for some time numerous body of imitators; and along with it." from the labours of the French school, The name of Diderot is almost did our English historians in turn inseparably associated with that of borrow that more reasoning and phi D'Alembert, his friend and fellow losophizing character which distinc labourer in the Encyclopédie : a man guishes the works of Hume, Robert- of great ability, not merely as a mason, and Gibbon, from their predeces- thematician, but of singular clearness, sors. Voltaire cannot certainly be method, and very considerable grasp, in considered a great historian: he want all those provinces of literature which ed learning, conscientiousness, know- depended rather on the vigorous apledge of original sources; but he was plication of the intellect, than of the an admirable narrator—an art indeed sensibilities or the imagination. Where in wbich his Charles XII. may be these were necessary, he entirely fails. considered as a masterpiece.
His style is particularly cold and conWe pass over the disagreeable sub- strained, totally destitute of that naject of the gradual growth of the new tural vigour and ease in which Diderot, infidel philosophy, till it reached its with his carelessness and his coarseheight in the Materialism of La Met- ness, is rarely deficient. D'Alembert trie, and the thorough-going Atheism carried the austere style of science of Diderot. But while nothing can even into literature itself. He disliked be more detestable than the philosophy the style of Buffon, and inveighed of Diderot, it cannot be denied that against it to a friend as pompous and bis views of criticism, though undigest. declamatory : “ Why, what would you ed and incomplete, were more com- have?" said the person to whom the prehensive and liberal than those of criticism was addressed ; " it not many of his countrymen-that he had every one that can pretend to be as a feeling of the beauty of simplicity, dry as yourself!" and natural expression of passion, a Unquestionably, however, where mind of very remarkable activity and the subject was one where breadth of fire-thoughi
, as Barante observes, it philosophical view was legitimately was often fire without fuel—and that associated with this austerity of style, he possessed something which, with- as in his celebrated Preliminary Disout amounting to genius, occasionally course to the Encyclopédie, D'Alemmade an approach to it. As a narra- bert appears to great advantage. The tor, the directness and rapidity of his correctness of particular opinions in manner in his best passages, equal that dissertation, has been justly ques. the manner of Voltaire ; and in his tioned; and D'Alembert unquestionably dogmatises a little on subjects with useful opponent of the metaphysics of which bis acquaintance was but par religion — an observer favourable to tial ; but an accomplished judge has scepticism—and by them he was as admitted the general grandeur, sim- much lauded as Bonnet of Geneva was plicity, and nobleness of the outline decried, though their doctrines have in traced by D'Alembert, and afterwards fact many points of connexion. He sucimitated, corrected, and surpassed by ceeded in a great measure, in France, himself.*
to the great reputation which Voltaire The turning of the tide in philoso. had created for Locke, as the founder phy, from materialism towards ideal- of a new and liberal philosophy.” ism, becomes first visible in Condillac, Amidst all this parade of intellecin his Essai sur l'Origine des Connais- tual and philosophical analysis, and sanccs Humaines. “ The philosophy this predominance of an absolute maof Condillac affects to lay aside systems, terialism, what was the condition of and to rest upon observation and rea. poetry? “ So wan, so woe-begone, so soning. It speaks a language precise spiritless,” that it scarcely deserved and without imagery, but agreeable the name ; for all genuine poetical by its justness. It marks a resting- belief and inspiration were for the place—a schism in the eighteenth cen- time at an end, swept away by the tury. Condillac first brought mate- current of a universal scepticism and rialism into serious doubt. He inves. selfishness. A feeble attempt at detigates, examines, distinguishes, when scriptive poetry, in the manner of the age was accustomed to dogmatise. Thomson, was made in the Seasons He perceives the double nature of man of St Lambert: a work, the popuin that which Diderot, Helvetius, and larity of which, though extensive, was Holbach explained by the simple fer- but of short duration, and which was mentation of matter, or the play of or. afterwards thrown completely into the gans. Like them he sets out from the shade by the more finished performaction of the senses ; but in his course ances, in the same department, of be becomes an idealist, and this inter- Delitte. " The elegance of St Lampreter of sensation has even, it may be bert," says Villemain,“is not the elesaid, erred upon the side of over-spiri- gance of a fine and classic diction, it tualism, in attributing to the mind the has but the appearance of it, without power of creating the forms and col- the soul and life. The words are pure ours which it perceives.”
--the turn of the language harmonious. “Yet as men, and even philosophers, Sometimes we find nobleness — noare often satisfied with appearances, where passion ; often coldness--never Condillac has very often been judged eloquence.” Comparing him with of by the first words of his doctrine ; it is Thomson, he observes, " Thomson has thus that he has been styled an odious not the grandeur and precision of antiphilosopher by that vehement spiritu- quity, but his heart overflows at the alist M. de Maistre, and denounced sight of the country. He abounds in true in our own day as the father of sen- images in simple emotions. He sualisin. The character and conse- possesses that poetry of the domestic quences of his philosophy, however, hearth, in which the English have alhad from the first been sufficiently waysexcelled, and he has blended it with obvious to the materialists; and the all the beauties of nature which for him difference between him and them had are only shadows of the Creator's early become apparent. Diderot, in hand. Religious, and a painter, how praising him publicly for some articles could he fail to be a poet? Yet he wrote he had communicated to the Encyclopé. during the same age with St Lambert, die, took offence at certain passages, and but a few years before him, in a and characterised him as a schoolman country even more philosophic than and an idealist. It was even partly for France. Whence this difference bethe purpose of combating his views, tween the two poems ? It does not arise that he entered upon his own physio- solely from the inequality of their talogical explanations of thought. T. lents. But the English poet, from the many others less clear-sighted than Di. midst of the luxury and the philosophy derot, Condillac no doubt appeared a of the capital, seeksthe country, travers
* Stewart's Preliminary Dissertation to the Encyclopædia,
sing it in poverty and on foot, to breathe quence, warmth, and imagination to the the purer atmosphere of Old English descriptions of natural history, in the morality. Though he dedicates his animated pages of Buffon. It is doubt. work to a great lady, his feelings are ful whether Buffon is entitled to the with the people, people rich and character of a man of genius, and still proud of a free country. Like them, more to the magnificent eulogy wbich his imagination is nourished by the he lived to see inscribed on his statue, imagery of the Bible. Like them, he “ Majestati nature par ingenium" loves its pastures, its forests, and its his own conception of genius, which fields. Thence springs his glowing he described as une longue patience, manner ; thence, under a gloomy sky, seems rather to indicate a man of and in a period of cold philosophy, is strong conception, united to resohis poetry so full of freshness and lution and perseverance of character; colour."
and to the union of these qualiTwo other names of this period ties, the laborious and yet striking awaken attention and sympathy, per- compositions of Buffon owe their orihaps as much by their misfortunes as gin. “Some descriptions," says Villetheir genius–Malfilâtre and Gilbert. main, “ have been extracted from The first had a conception of poetry his great work, which it is usual which rose far above the languid ele- to admire in an insulated form. This gance of St Lambert or Colardeau. is doing Buffon injustice; the great His fragments translated from Virgil, inerit of his works on animal life lies, though sketches, mutilated and some. on the whole, in the way in which tra. times incorrect, seem a revival, as Vil. dition, observation, narrative, and critilemain says, of the happy boldness of cism, are united and blended. The Racine. He is at least the first of the too pompous elegance of some of his French poets since Racine, who indi- commencements, only makes way for cates something of a genuine lyrical the precision of details, and the clear talent ; while, in perusing his imper- simplicity of narrative ; and it is there, fect compositions, we must remember in particular, that his excellence as a that want and misfortune clouded his writer consists. talents, that “ sharp misery had worn “ The true or conjectural painting him to the bone,” and consigned him of the habits of animals, the descripto the grave at the age of thirty-four, tion of the places which they inhabit ere he had time to labour for eternity. - this contrast, this blending of ani“ La faim mit au tombeau Malfilâtre ig- most vivid colours to the historian.
mate and inanimate nature, present the
Pliny has sometimes caught them in said Gilbert, a poet of a different their greatest diversities-as he destamp, but resembling Malfilâtre in scribes the lion or the nightingale, he the early and melancholy termination is by turns energetic or brilliant, with of his career, which closed in suicide, the same striking effect. Buffon is committed during an accès of madness more equal, more elevated, more pure. in the hospital. With a mind ardent Pliny belonged to that school of imaand impetuous, with many traits of gination rather than taste, which, in genius, and a sullen energy of expres, Tacitus, produced one incomparable sion which resembles Juvenal; with a painter, but which is elsewhere stampstyle unequal, unformed, but always ed with the impress of declamation pregnant with ideas—still full of the and subtility. Pliny frequently throws faults of youth, but full also of the the veil of a far-fetched style over promise of a powerful manhood-his fables or notions in themselves false. fate, like that of Chatterton, excites Buffon, enlightened by modern science, deep sympathy and regret for the early is severe and precise even in his most blight of a genius which promised to ornate descriptions. His diction, more revive, in some degree, the sinking irreproachable than that of Rousseau, spirit of poetry in a worn-out and is free from that affectation which helplessly prosaic period.
mingles with the style(so truly French) It is somewhat singular, indeed, to of Montesquieu. By another and still find that the spirit of poetry, no longer rører privilege, during forty years no able to animate into life an exhausted decline, no falling off, is visible in his frame, passes in some shape into that mind-if we except some needless cir. of science, and communicates elo- cumlocutions, some pompous phrases,