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Setting out with the principle that poetical-still further excited by the good poetry was only good prose, with romantic and occasionally extravagant the addition of measure and rhyme, he tone of the Spanish drama, which was frequently prosaic and negligent had been his favourite study. That in his verses. He had few of those union of the spirit of the romantic drabold forms of expression, those origi- ma with the classical, which Voltaire nal turns, and those bold images, yainly laboured to effect, because in which form the accent of poetry. He truth he felt not the inspiration of was not less rigorously faithful to the either, is attained so far as such a union etiquette of our theatre. He even ex- was practicable (for we have already aggerated its habitual pomp, and its said, that in its full extent it is impos. periphrases of politeness, without cor- sible) in the plays of Corneille. His rectivg them by those naive turns which dramas remind us of some ancient RoCorneille found in the language of his man monument, like the tomb of Ce. day, and which Racine dexterously cilia Metella-some "stern round mingled with that of the court. Thus tower of ancient days"-converted, he was at once less poetical, less simple, during the middle ages, into a place of and less true, than his great predeces- defence ; exhibiting feudal outworks sors."
and barbaric ornaments embossed upon It is impossible, we think, to claim a classic fabric, but so harmonized and for Voltaire even an equality with Cor. blended with the original structure, by neille and Racine. Compare the im- the softening touch of time and the pressions left on the mind by the pe- growth of vegetation, that the whole rusal of the works of the three great possesses a sombre and stately ur ity of dramatists, and the inferiority of the effect. The effect of Racine's dramas, third is at once perceptible.“ Cor- again, very much resembles that of the neille," says St Beuve, “with his architecture of Palladio ; it exbibits a great qualities and defects, produces on purely classic framework, internally ine the effect of one of those great trees, and with some difficulty accommodanaked, rugged, sombre in the trunk, ted to modern usages, but yet so graceand adorned with branches and a ful in its outward proportions, so dusky verdure only towards the sum- finished and polished within, that the mit. They are strong, gigantic, scan- limited accommodation of the editice is tily leaved ; an abundant sap circu. forgotten in the compactness and prolates through them, but we are not to portion and elegance of the apartments. expect from them shade, shelter, or But Voltaire, without any real feeling flowers. They bud late, begin to shed for the classic drama, as his contemptheir foliage early, and live a long time tuous style of treating Sophocles in the half shorn of their leaves. Even after preface to the Edipus shows, and their bare heads havesurrendered their equally incapable of appreciating any leaves to the autumpal wind, the viva- thing of the spirit of the romantic stage, city of their nature still throws out or of borrowing from it any thing here and there scattered branches and but a few bints for theatrical effect suckers; and when they fall, they re- and a more lively dialogue_has meresemble, in their crash and groans, that ly put together incoherent fragments trunk covered with armour to which from antiquity and feudalism-" To Lucan has compared the fall of Pom- make a third he joined the other two,” pey."
but without real blending of parts or This fanciful comparison which St unity of spirit. His compositions might Beuve has applied to the old age of the be appropriately compared to an artigreat Corneille, is applicable to his ficial ruin, in which the modern aspect poetical character generally, only in of the materials is in contradiction to so far as it expresses not inaptly the the form and architecture of the ediidea of irregular grandeur, which is fice. the characteristic of Corneille's mind; Of his great works, Brutus, the Or. for, amidst the conventional limitations phan of China, Zaire, and the Death of of the French stage, the genius of the Cæsar - the two latter owed their very poet obviously drew its nourishment existence, and almost their whole dra. from an imagination naturally highly matic merit, to the inspiration of Shake
• Critiques et Portraits Litéraires. Première Série-Corneille.
speare. With a warm admiration for and no less than three separate love Zaire, Villemain candidly admits, that stories are interwoven with the “ fate in all which evinces deep and pro- of Cato and of Rome.". If the refound insight into the heart, or the marks of Villemain contain little that power of artfully indicating and pre-- is absolutely new so far as regards paring remote future effects, in which the peculiar excellencies of Shaka perhaps, more than any thing else, speare's play, they have at least a dramatic skill is evinced, Shakspeare species of novelty in the mouth of a in bis Othello has infinitely the ad. French critic, from their candour vantage over Voltaire.
Nay, even and impartiality, unmixed with extrain regard to mere art of narration or vagance; for, to confess the truth, we exposition, the very point on which would in most cases rather put up with Voltaire and the French dramatists the sneers of Voltaire, or the cold and have piqued themselves most, he seems niggard approbation of La Harpe, than inclined to give the preference to the rhapsodical and indiscriminating Othello's speech to the Venetian Se. admiration of many modern French nate over the corresponding explana. critics, bestowed as it is without reation of Orosmane, in which he commu. son or intelligible principle, and pracnicates his position and designs to tically exemplified and illustrated by Zaire. He concludes, however, by ob- extravagant and revolting caricatures serving, with a natural wish to do juse of the peculiarities of Shakspeare's tice to a very talented imitation, which age, without the least approach to the in some respects almost borders on redeeming qualities of his genius. genius, “ If in the subject itself, which Shakspeare has taken the Roman is borrowed from Shakspeare, that of history as he found it; he has inventjealousy and murder, Voltaire is infe- ed nothing-he has retrenched little. rior in pathos and even in art—if he In the costume and the language he is less energetic, less natural, less pro- may have erred occasionally, from bable-he has, notwithstanding, infus. ignorance of classical minutiæ ; but ed into Zaire an unequalled (?) charm in the numerous and contrasted chaand interest. What he has created racters of the piece, particularly in that makes annends for what he has feebly of the philosophical Brutus uniting imitated; and although Voltaire was the firmness and unshaken dignity of probably in jest when he compared this the Stoic with the gentlest affections, piece to Polyeucte, it is the Christian Shakspeare shows his usual mastery. episode-it is Lusignan and the Cru- When the spirit of human nature is to sade-which constitute the immortal be divined, such as it exists in all ages beauty of Zaire."
and countries among ambitious nobles, In Zaire, Voltaire had conformed to interested demagogues, and an idle, his original, and, on the French stage, heartless, and vacillating populace, prescriptive plan of making love the Shakspeare is never mistaken. moving power of the pieco. In his Voltaire, on the contrary, has chosen Death of Cæsar, all the best points of to step beyond history, and his invenwhich plainly were suggested by the tion marks the real want of dramatic Julius Cæsar of Shakspeare, he re- refinement which is observable in his verted to an idea he had long enter- plays, disguised as they are in a dratained of a tragedy constructed on a pery of pompous morality. The vague more austere and patriotic principle. suspicion founded on some tale of scanHe determined to compose a tragedy, dal, that Brutus was the son of Cæsar, as he says, in the English taste, bas becomes with him the nodus, and connishing not merely love intrigues, but stitutes the main interest of the piece. almost all interference on the part of Patriotism, it would seem, according to women ; though, where he found the French ideas, is presented in its most authority for this novel kind of unity- imposing form when accompanied by the unity of sex-we are at a lossto ima- parricide. The conjugal scenes begine. Not in Shakspeare certainly; tween Brutus and Portia, which, by for in Julius Cæsar, Portia, slightly as their homefelt beauty, so finely relieve she is brought into view, is felt to be, the republican hardness of the political and not undeservedly, a personage of interest, Voltaire has entirely banishstrong interest and influence. Stilled; and we are left without a glimpse less in tlie Cato of his friend Addison, into domestic life, or one tranquil conwhere, it' we remember rightly, “the versation in which the Stoic and the noble Martia towers above her sex," politician relaxes into the man.
The famous scene, in which the rival “I will confess," says Villemain, leaders pronounce their orations over " the sublime of art once more appears the dead body of Cæsar, has been in to me to be on the side of Shakspeare." many passages translated by Voltaire. - In Voltaire's play, Antony begins In others he has attempted to improve thus :upon it, with what success a few spe
Oui, je l'aimais, Romains; cimens will enable the reader to judge. Oui, j'aurais de mes jours prolongé ses The speech of Brutus, written with destins. laconic brevity, and in prose, proba. Hélas ! vous avez tous pensé comme moibly in order to raise it out of the ordi- même, nary level of the verse, and thus to give El lorsque de son front otant le diadème, it more the appearance of a formal ora
Ce heros à vos lois s'immolait aujourd'hui, tion, Voltaire bas placed less appro
Qui de vous, en effet, n'eut expiré pour priately in the mouth of Cassius, and
Jui?" his version, we admit, is fairly execu
This is much too rapid, too unprepated. But how absurd the unanimous red an apostrophe. The prejudices of reply which he puts into the mouth of the people had not been soothed, by the multitude :
reminding them, not only how deeply
Cæsar had suffered for his fault, if he “Aux vengeurs de l'état nos cæurs sont assurés !"
were ambitious, but also how much cerThis is about as natural as the admi- the supposition of his ambition. Before
tain parts of his conduct contradicted ring antithesis which La Motte makes
introducing the declinature of the crown the Greek army repeat in chorus after the reconciliation of Achilles and Aga- his audience how often the ransom of
upon the Lupercal, Antony reminds memnon:
Cæsar's captives had gone into the ge“ Tout le camp s'écriait dans une joie ex- neral coffers, and how," when the poor trême,
had cried, Cæsar had wept.” “ AmbiQue ne vaincra-t-il pas ; il s'est vaincu lui- tion should be made of sterner stuff!"
même !" Shakspeare, says Villemain, has gone he reminds them of the refusal of the
Only when the way is thus prepared, differently to work, in giving a soul to
crown, and asks, was this ambitious ? the crowd, and completing his drama
Then first he recalls to their recollecby personages without a name. It is
tion their own love for Cæsar, which thus that his Roman people answer after the discourse of Brutus :
Voltaire so inartificially thrusts almost
into the opening lines of his oration : “ Live, Brutus, live!
“ You all did love him once, not without 1st Plebeian. Bring him with triumph home unto bis house. 2d Pleb. Give him a statue with his an
What cause withholds you then to mourn
for bim ? 3d Pleb, Let him be Cæsar."
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason! Bear " Let him be Cæsar!” Such is the
with me; notion of a republic entertained by the My heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar, mob of Rome. Their gratitude has no And I must pause till it come back to me.' other form of homage but servitude..
The contrast is still more remark. Antony mounts the chair-at first able, in the way in which Brutus is stormfully received-- bespeaking indul- spoken of by Shakspeare and by Volgence for Brutus' sake; then opening taire. In the Mort de Cæsar, Antony in a subdued and humbled tone, feeling bursts out against him in a torrent of his way, as if deprecating the idea that
abuse : he came to praise Cæsar or to com
“ Chers amis, je succombe, et mes sens sont plain of his fate. Compare the re
interdits : spective commencements of Shak.
Brutus, son assassin ! ce monstre était son speare and Voltaire :
fils, “ Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me
Brutus ! où suis je ? O ceil! O crime! O
barbarie !” your ears, I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him ;
Would the Romans have allowed The evil that men do lives after them language like this to be used as to The good is oft interred with their bones. Brutus ? Shakspeare, who knew betSo let it be with Caesar! The noble Brutus ter, makes Antony's tone as to Brutus Has told you Cæsar was ambitious : complimentary throughout. He is an If it were so, it was a grievous fault, honourable man; SO
are they all. And grievously hath Cæsar answer'd it.” Even when speaking of the assassina
tion, there is no strong epithet of in- passion for controversy : Catholicism vective used: a more poignant and is for him what the empire was for the effective reproach is contained in the other. Both occasionally flatter their word, the well-beloved Brutus," enemy; but they take pleasure in al. than in all the “ monsters" and “as- lusions which tend to discredit and sassins" with which the attack of An- degrade it. Thus the canto descriptony in Voltaire's play is eked out. tive of the St Bartholomew is the
The superiority of Shakspeare is finest in the Henriade. But the pasjust as obvious in the artful delay of sion of the poet is little in harmony Antony to read the will, which he re- with the constrained denouement of serves to the last as the fit climax to be his piece—the abjuration of Protesaddressed to such an audience, as com- tantism by Henry. And there is a pared with the French version, where similar contradiction between the scep. he hastens at once to proclaim its con- tical maxims with which he has intertents; and in the pretended modera- spersed his poem, and the Christian tion with which, after stirring up to marvels which he employs." an ecstacy of indignation the passions That the political and philosophical of the people, he affects to control the speculations of Voltaire exercised a tempest be had raised, and which he strong influence over his own age, and knew to be ungovernable-precipita- tended greatly to accelerate those atting the people into the career of ven- tacks upon all authority which heralded geance, while affecting to restrain the Revolution, no calm observer can them; while in Voltaire's play, it is reasonably doubt. It may be very true Antony bimself who is the first to that he himself had no very clear percall for vengeance on Cæsar's murder- ception of their tendency. It may ers, and to urge on the crowd to rise even be the case that the subversion of and mutiny.
an established government was the last If the claims of Voltaire as a dra. thing in his thoughts. But the aristomatist cannot be considered as stand- cratic insult to which he had been subing very high, it is still less possible jected, and which had driven him to to consider him as entitled even to the England,“ probably left on his mind no name of an epic poet. Villemain bas very pleasing impression in regard to a long parallel between the Pharsalia hereditary rank; and the maxims of and the Henriade: in which he gives popular liberty, and the limitation of the preference, on the whole, to the the monarchical power, which he was latter poem. We grant to Voltaire the accustomed to hear from bis Whig merit of better taste, for he has no- acquaintances in England, probably thing of the tumid and somewhat bom- gave him as strong a leaning as he was bastic diction of Lucan: but, on the capable of towards a popular form of other hand, where in the Henriade government, or rather towards a goshall we find passages like the con- vernment which was to be in the trasted characters of Cæsar and Pom- hands of an aristocracy of letters, over pey? or the pregnant beauty and which he himself was to reign as the truth of such brief traits as those by despotic sovereign. which the rival leaders are discrimin- The sincerity of his anti-religious ated, and in which the secret of their views, and the zeal with which he disfortunes may be said to be embodied ? charged the apostolate of infidelity, are “Solusque pudor non vincere bello," matters which admit of less question. the marking trait in the character of He did not merely doubt or deny, but the first : the other, “ Magni nominis he detested, Christianity. He never umbra,” a man who had over-lived speaks of it but with a feeling of perhis greatness, which had always been sonal hatred. “ Je finis toutes mes exaggerated. “Voltaire in the Hen- lettres par dire écrasons l'enflame !" riade," says Villemain, “is Lucan He writes to D'Alembert (25th Feb. abridged, tempered, calmed down— 1768), “ Comme Caton dit, delenda est Lucan without exaggerated figures, Carthago.'
To the Count D'Argenwithout declamation, but also less tal he writes (3d Oct. 1761), “ Ah! energetic, and less dazzling.” “The chiens de Chrétiens, que je vous deFrench poet, like the Roman, has his teste ! que mon mépris et ma haine
In revenge for an expression which Voltaire bad launched against a man of rank, he received a sound drubbing, a few days after, at the gate of the Hotel Sully.
pour vous augmentent continuelle- professor has led him to do rather ment!” In his aversion to Christianity, more than justice; for, granting the therefore, he was admitted to come up high tone of morality and religion to the true Holbachean and Helvetian which it was the object of Rollin to instandard; but as he wavered in regard fuse into his educational system, the to Atheism, and had not quite adopted cold correctness, the dryness, and, after the creed of the Système de la Nature, all, the defect of real learning or comhe was considered a weak and timor- prehensive view which his Ancient Hisous reformer, whose ideas were still tory exhibits, are surely sufficient to clouded by childish fears or narrow exclude him from the list of great bisviews, and consequently very scurvily torians. To St Simon, the last of the treated by his brother apostles of what Jansenist colony surviving amidst the was called the Holy Philosophical eighteenth century, Villemain is pecuChurch. “ The patriarch, poor man," liarly favourable. He seems almost says Baron de Grimm, who went all disposed to concede to him the praise lengths, “ still sticks to his Remu. of genius. And there is no doubt that, nerateur-Vengeur, without whom he as compared with Dangeau and the fancies the world would go on very other annalists or keepers of Court ill. He is resolute enough for putting diaries, the graphic spirit and caustic down the God of knaves and bigots, but sketches of St Simon—a close obseris not for parting with that of the vir. ver, feeling strongly, writing from a tuous and rational. He reasons upon
full mind, tainted with strong preju. all this, too, like a baby; a very smart dices, particularly in favour of aristobaby it must be owned, but a baby cracy, and tinging everything he notwithstanding !"
wrote with the peculiarities of his own But enough of Voltaire, whether as character-are most amusing. “ The a poct or a philosopher. To us he dead figures of the day,” says Villeappears to far more advantage in his main, “are resuscitated in the pages Contés—his graceful Vers de Société, of St Simon; bis electrical expression and in his Romans, than in any of his gives motion to all this ossuary of a more elaborate compositions. What
Court." ever may be thought of the tendency To the same school, in point of of his romances, the ingenuity with taste, belong the great novelists of which they are framed so as to bring the commencement of the eighteenth out in comic relief the idea which he century- Le Sage, Prevôt, and Marewishes to ridicule, is admirable. His
The popularity of the two latEpitre à Horace, and his Stances à ter has, in all probability, for ever Madame du Deffant, are more perfect passed away; for the merits of Prevôt's in their way than the well-rounded de- Manon L'Escaut have been exaggerclamation of his tragedy, or the la- ated, and, were they greater than they boured episodes of the Henriade. are, they would hardly make amends
While Voltaire was thus carrying for the tediousness of Cleveland and the spirit of mockery, of universal dis- the Dean of Coleraine ; and, with all belief, and contempt for established deference to French criticism, we canopinion, into every department of li- not help regarding the Marianne and terature, for he essayed them all in the Paysan parvenu as in the highest turn, a remnant of the spirit of the 17th degree wearisome. On the other hand, century was kept alive by the Chan- the popularity of the first of these nocellor D'Aguesseau, in the magistracy; velists, at the distance of two centuries by Rollin, in the literary and religious remains undiminished, and without exeducation of youth; and by the Dukede periencing even a momentary fluctuaSt Simon, at Court. Villemain's esti- tion. In truth, the whole character of mate of D'Aguesseau is somewhat Gil Blas is so essentially popular—its lower than that to which we have been beauties lie so much on the surface, and accustomed; even as a magistrate, a are so independent of all peculiarities lawyer, and a man of business, he seems of opinion, or deep and subtle enquiry to think him somewhat timorous and —that we could almost as easily contime-serving, notwithstanding the ex- ceive a man tiring of the common air, cellence of his ordonnances or the irre- or the cheerful sunlight, as of its proachable character of his life. To lively, natural, and good humoured Rollin, on the other hand, we think the pictures. Voltaire, however, and it is a esprit de corps in favour of a brother great proof of his want of simple and