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Traces of French influence are visi- self,) engaging in an interchange of ble in Lessing, whose deistical views flatteries with Voltaire, talking of were undoubtedly derived from Vol. liberating the serfs of Russia, and taire, Diderot, and the Encyclope- actually transmitting to Paris a copy dists; and in many of the second-rate of a grand code of laws for the TarGerman writers of the time, the imi. tars and Cossacks, which she had not tation of the polish and coldness of the most distant intention of ever carthe French models is sufficiently per. rying into effect. In the case of Ca. ceptible. But one man only, of tharine, this pretended zeal for tolerasuperior ability as a classic writer, tion and political liberty was probably was completely formed in the school partly sincere, partly affected, as a of the French. We refer to Wie- blind to cover her ambitious designs land, whom the influence of Vol. against Poland and Turkey, and to taire and the other sceptical philoso- secure the quiet enjoyment of a real phers of France, suddenly converted despotism while pretending an anxious for a time from a religious mystic into desire for the emancipation and imthe apologist of the Helvetian system provement of her subjects. The same of selfishness-the painter of voluptu- adoption of French philosophy and li. ous pictures_thescandalous chronicler terature (and probably with more sin. of antiquity—the imitator of that irony cerity) as the reigning tone of the day, which pervades the lighter poetry appears in the writings of the weak of Voltaire, which throws disbelief or and unfortunate Gustavus III. of Sweridicule on all enthusiastic feeling, and den. To throw aside the native lan. all exertions of human virtue—but guage, and the remains of its early who lived long enough to become a literature, as relics of barbarism ; to sadder and a wiser man, and to make obliterate the traces of the homely and a tardy atonement to those virtuous simple manners of old, as far as that sentiments which he had outraged or was possible; and to convert the court depreciated, by his beautiful poem of of Sweden into a miniature represen. Oberon.
tation of that of France, with all its If the ascendency of France was vices, intrigues, and some portion of thus felt in countries where science its external varnish of elegance-were had long flourished, where literature objects after which he appears to have had long assumed a settled and na. laboured with more energy than distional form, and which had outstrip. cretion. And in truth he had his reped even France itself in the earlier ward: for, to the profligacy engen. stages of the march of civilisation, it dered by his own example, and the may easily be conceived that the great principles he had laboured to popula. states of the North, still struggling rize, he probably owed the blow which with comparative barbarism of man. terminated his existence. ners, and with a literature which yet Most extensive and imposing, then, remained to be created, should readily was the influence of French literature yield to the general contagion. France, on other countries from 1750 to the accordingly, was the source from which close of the eighteenth century. “The Russia, Denmark, and Sweden, in the works of the French writers," says eighteenth century, borrowed refine- Villemain, “and particularly the work ment of manyers and the impulse of of Montesquieu, à genius combining scientific and social improvement. boldness with moderation, issuing from Such civilisation and literature as Rus. Paris, became the reason of state' sia possessed, were in truth entirely with most sovereigns, or at least the French. We see the Semiramis of public official reason of state. The the North, as she was styled by Vol. ancient Machiavelism, no doubt, retaire (with a nearer approach to truth mained as a concealed spring-as a than was generally to be found in his secret of the cabinet ; but what was compliments to crowned heads), crea- avowed, what was proclaimed to the ting academies on the French model, people, were the ideas of tolerance adopting the language and the man and humanity, professed by Montesners of the court of France, affecting quieu and Voltaire. Voltaire, the the character of a philosophic monarch, most popular of writers, whose protranslating Belisarius, (the chapters of fundity is concealed under his power which she portioned out among her of pleasing, whose audacity is masked court favourites, reserving what she by frivolity, exercised the more extendconsidered the most striking to her. ed influence over the elevated ranks of society in all countries of Europe. from first to last, with more than orThe authority of Montesquieu purified dinary plausibility and address. the ostensible policy of the govern. The character of Louis XV. was ill ments."
calculated to sustain the sinking dig. But while the energies which France nity of the crown. Without the had awakened by her literature con- energy of his predecessor, who sin. tinued to work thus powerfully, both cerely wished to elevate France, so far for good and evil, among the other as that could be done without lowergovernments of Europe, that litera. ing the royal authority; without the ture itself had ceased to display the strength of mind which Louis XIV. vigour of maturity, and to those who conspicuously developed in misforlooked beneath the surface, wore an tune; indifferent to glory and to the appearance of exhaustion and decay. arts, sunk in sensual pleasures, a prey In fact, influences peculiarly calcu. to the intrigues and the favouritism lated to lower the tone of national mo. of successive mistresses; he saw the rality, and to paralyse the creative foundations of the monarchy, and of powers of the imagination, had been society itself, undermined in all direc. at work during the very period when tions with unconsciousness or indifferFrance presented so imposing an as. ence. pect to other nations, and, in litera. The church, the best bulwark of the ture as well as manners, seemed to monarchy, had ceased to be the depo. give laws to the world.
sitory of the highest genius and virIn every class of society, and in every tue. The age of Louis XIV. had in. institution, from the throne to the herited that great secret by which humblest department of literature, the the Papal power had so long supportprogress of decline may be detected. ed the dignity of its Hierarchy—that Louis XIV. succeeding to a throne to of making ecclesiastical promotion the which the policy of Richelieu, in reward of merit, independently of birth crushing the power of the nobles, had or interest. France could not have lent a stability and authority hitherto furnished names of more exalted abi. unknown, had invested it with grace lity or purer character thau Bossuet, as well as dignity, by surrounding it Fenélon, Massillon, and Fléchier. The in the days of his youth with the com- latter had commenced his humble bined lustre of arts and arms. His career in the shop of a candlemaker : patronage of literature, though in he closed it in the Episcopal chair of some measure resulting from the mere Nismes. vanity of making even genius subser- This principle of honest and imparvient to the splendour of the crown, was tial selection, which had conferred on also unquestionably to some extent the church the authority and influence sincere. To his steady protection, resulting from the combination of geMoliere was indebted for the discom. nius, learning, and character, was soon fiture of more than one court intrigue abandoned under the short-sighted and against him. “ Remember," he used selfish policy of Louis XV. Rank, influto say to Boileau, “ I shall always ence, interest at court, the graces of have half an hour at your service.” manner, subserviency to the interests The glories of that literature to which of the reigning favourite, sometimes he had lent his patronage, indeed de- even the production of compositions scended to his successor; but the earlier discreditable to any one, and doubly triumphs of arms had been tarnished by so to a minister of the church, be. later reverses, till the very memory of came the passports to promotion. The those sieges which Boileau has pomp. natural result was, that the pulpit soon ously praised in the most prosaic of ceased to be illustrated by any superior odes, had been effaced by the disasters talent ; the impressive or affecting of Ramilies and Blenheim, which Ad. eloquence of Bossuet and Fénélon was dison has commemorated in strains succeeded by the dry moral discusscarcely more poetical than those of sions or academic theology of the his rival. On the whole, however, Abbé Poulle or the Père Neuville ; Louis had not merely sustained but “ The hungry sheep looked up and raised the character and reputation of were not fed ;" and thus one of the France: and if there was a want of true chief pillars on which the monarchy nobleness and simplicity in his charac. should have rested in the hour of ter, he must be admitted to have at least need, was itself crumbling to its fall. played the part of a dignified monarch Nor could the character and in. fluence of the other great bulwark of dicial cruelty worthy of the darkest monarchical power, the pobility,supply times, and against which the feelings that support to the throne which the of Europe, now rendered particularly church was no longer in a condition sensitive on the subject of torture by to afford ; for they too had survived the philanthropic maxims which were their greatness. In drawing them from every where abroad, most powerfully their ancestral castles and their mili- revolted. tary governments in the provinces, Something might perhaps have been where each had been a little monarch done to infuse fresh vigour into the among his vassals, dispensing patron. exhausted condition of French society, age and diffusing industry, to domestic had the administration of affairs been cate them as dependents of a court, and guided by any man of commanding appendages to the splendour of the talent, able to perceive the consequen, throne, Louis XIV, had deprived them ces to which these corruptions and this of their real authority and influence on confusion were tending, and deteropinion. They themselves, now accus. mined to meet them by vigorous and tomed to court the smiles of a mo- unsparing remedies- vincentem strenarch, or even a mistress, and to em. pitus et natum rebus agendis." But ploy the crooked arts of intrigue in the ministry of Choiseul was a miniorder to distance each other in the race stry of expedients : he pursued no of royal favour, had lost that self, great or regular plan either of foreign respect, that confidence in their own policy or internal administration; he rights and importance, in which the thought only of meeting the daily exi. strength of such a privileged body gency, evading the immediate difficul. resides. And the transition from the ty, escaping the most pressing danger. want of honourable employment and 6 We see him," says Villemain, noble emulation to the adoption of all « struggling with rebellious materials the vices of the court, was but too which would not yield to his hand : easy, where the church no longer forming a thousand projects : now ventured to speak the language of striving to arrest the progress of the authoritative rebuke,
Empress, now of the King of Prussia ; " And the prince of all the land
trying to prop up the ancient colossus Led them on."
of Turkey, which was already medi
tating his fall; and, in the midst of his The judicial bodies which in the ear- diplomatic ambition, hurled from power lier days of French history had played by the most scandalous of palace inso all-important a part, and either de. trigues ; at the same time that the termined or influenced every change to parliaments, which, in spite of their which the monarchy had been subject. prejudices, were becoming too powered, had also shared in a great degree ful for an expiring government, were the fall of the nobility. The engross. suppressed by a coup d'etat of the ing power of the crown under Louis chancellor Maupeau." XIV. had humbled the parliaments. Amidst this general progress toThey had become little more than in- wards decay, the state of literature struments for registering the edicts and and of literary men presented nothing giving the appearance of a judicial sanc. which was of a more cheering and tion to the mandates of the sovereign, elevated character. At first, literature The show of independence evinced had been upheld by that very fanatiby their first step after the death of cism in favour of change, which, opeLouis XIV., that of annulling his tes rating as an animating principle, gave tament, was followed up by no cor. to its productions warmth and an air responding act of firmness. “Occupied of reality. The infidel philosophy of with miserable theological disputes, France, by which all existing opinions sometimes combating the Molinists, and institutions were assailed, was in. sometimes the philosophers, the par deed the only portion of its literature liaments, who had become Jansenists which at this time wore any thing like through mere hatred to the Jesuits,were the stamp of conviction, or an appearno longer influenced or guided by any ance of power. For the instinct of degreat interest, social or political.” In- struction in some degree supplied, for decision in all cases marked their con- a time, the want of that ancient inspi. duct; while in some instances, as in ration derived from faith and reve. the celebrated case of La Barre, they rence for authority; and the number seemed to have sanctioned acts of ju- and strength of the forces “ that durst defy the Omnipotent to arms"_their ennent du caur!” “ Strange singulagreat resources, their discipline, and rity !” says Villemain, “ while French perfect unity of purpose-their confi- society was labouring with the hope dence in themselves, their still increa. . of liberalizing and elevating itself, sing dominion over the public mind, by and seeking to regain a civic virtue, which that confidence was more and a party of writers were systematically more exalted, presented a spectacle employed in giving vent in their writwhich it was impossible to contem. ings to opinions the most hostile to all plate without a feeling of awe. dignity or independence of mind. But
it is not the belief in personal interest “ Apparent diræ facies inimicaque Troja
and necessity; it is not the doctrine Numina."
which deprives man of his soul, and But when all the doctrines of infidelity makes him but the passive instrument andmaterialism had been promulgated of his own organs; it is not such a doc
- when the“ Remunerateur Vengeur," trine which can inspire the courage whom even Voltaire scrupled to dis
necessary for great devotion, the pense with, had been cashiered by the heroism necessary for great duties more thorough-going Atheists of the social reform and materialism scem Système de la Nature - when philosophy contradictory terms." had ventilated her philanthropic ward. robe, till it had actually assumed the
“ For when was public virtue ever found look of cast-off finery-when ridicule
Where private was not ? Can he love the
whole had been successively and successfully
Who loves no part? He be a nation's friend cast upon every thing as it was, and
Who is in truth the friend of no man all imaginable schemes of impossible
there? reform had been propounded-even
Can he be strenuous in his country's cause this species of literature, stimulating Who slights the charities for whose dear as it had been, ceased to interest- the
sake productive talent of the country gra. That country, if at all, must be beloved ? " dually took another direction; and while the principles of the French phi.
To the many, no doubt, who regard. losophers were operating with all the
ed literature merely as a profession, or force of novelty in other countries,
a means of rising in the world, such a and with fear of change perplexing
state of things might seem tolerable enmonarchs, they had ceased in France
ough. The regular Helots of literature to excite enthusiasm, and, to a superfi.
continued to do their spiriting as before cial observer, might appear likely to
-not gently indeed but equably-fur. pass away without any abiding effect
nishing the daily tale of bricks as in bet. either on society or government.
ter times; for theirs was a source of inBut, in truth, a permanent and incur.
spiration unaffected by the absence of able injury had been done to the national
faith or genuine feeling. But to minds and to the literary character. The doc
of a better order, who had not wholly trines of selfishness which resulted from
yielded to the degrading doctrines of materialism, and which have ever been
the time, the prospect appeared in the found to be the accompaniments of a
last degree gloomy and uncheering;
nor need we wonder that when the nastate of social decline-the want of all fixed belief in a future state-the
tural feelings of such men found vent
in words, the sentiments expressed examples of servility to power, shame.
should be indicative of profound lifeless flattery, mean rivalry, and in
weariness and contempt for a world trigue, which had been set even by
which offered neither comfort here such men as Voltaire-seemed to have
nor hope hereafter. Gilbert, dying destroyed every source of inspiration
in youth in the hospital, tired of springing from belief or enthusiasm of feeling ; while the torpor in which
existence, tired even of fame, in one society generally was plunged-the
of the few strains of genuine feeling drowsy current in which affairs seemed
of which the poetry of this period has to run on-equally excluded the stimu
to boast, doubtless speaks the senti. lus which might have been given to
ments of many on whose hearts the the imagination by the vicinity of great
aspect of all around pressed as heavily events and engrossing public interests.
as on his own:Just and striking is the remark of Vau. " Au banquet de la vie, infortuné convive, venargues, “Les grandes penseés vi- J'apparus un jour, et je meurs.
Je meurs --et sur la tombe où lentement and its generous feelings; for, as the j'arrive
imagination teaches us to apprehend Nul ne viendra verser de pleurs. the great, the heart enables us to ap“ Adieu, champs que j'amais, adieu, douce preciate the true. The full beauty of verdure,
those reflections, which, being based Adieu, riant exil des bois ;
in the everlasting nature of man, are Ciel, pavillon de l'homme, admirable na felt at the present day as they were in ture,
the days of Homer_those strokes of Adieu pour la derniere fois !”
feeling which, like an electric chain, The effect of this absence of all that make the world kin, can only be tho. was calculated to stimulate the higher roughly perceived by those who, in faculties of the mind, appeared in the an age of outworn civilisation, have form which literature, so far as it ex. yet preserved something of their youthisted at all, now assumed. Hencefor fulness of spirit and simplicity of ward, it became almost entirely criti. feeling. cal; instead of adding to the stock of The highest criticism, too, at least independent creations, it was content when applied to the productions of with analysing, comparing, comment. high art, must be reverential. The ing upon what had been already writ critic must not forget the infinite disten, or with translating and imitating tance which separates the great crea. the literature of other nations. Such tive artist from him who only judges is generally the direction which litera. of the creations of genius-the interture takes in periods of decline. The preter from him whose oracles he extendency, indeed, towards criticism, pounds. It is the poet after all that had become apparent even in the time makes the critic; it is from the genius of Diderot and Voltaire, and many of of the former that the torch of the the happiest productions of the latter latter is kindled. He will approach are of a purely analytical character; his task, then, in the spirit of reverence but after his death the critical spirit in his praise will be warm and sympaFrench literature became universal. thetic-his censure respectful ; where
Before we advert, however, to par. he fails to apprehend completely the ticular productions in this department, purpose of the artist, he will yet belet us bestow a few words on the gen. lieve that the deficiency may be not in eral character of the criticism which the poet but in bimself. No spectacle arose under such circumstances ; as can be more ridiculous than that of contrasted with what criticism ought a self-satisfied critic reading a lecture to be.
ex cathedra to Homer or Shakspeare, « Pour avoir du goût, il faut avoir on the barbarisms of their epic or de l'ame," is another of those just dramatic poetry; perhaps bestowing remarks of Vauvenargues which make on them a “ Euge puer!” at the conus regret his early death. With- clusion; or dismissing them, as the out heart and imagination, there can Archbishop of Granada dismissed his be no elevated nor even useful criti. secretary, wishing them all manner cism. The soaring inventive imagina. of good fortune, with a little more tion of the poet is not indeed necessary taste." to the critic; but that lower degree To such requisites criticism must of imagination is essential, which cn. add, of course, learning to correct her ables him to step beyond the narrow estimates—that logic and good sense circle of individual or even national which constitutes the balance of imahabits and tastes-to follow the poet gination—that delicacy of taste which with a firm step, as Dante follows Vir. exposes the ridiculous, as well as degil over the "svast abrupt,"and through tects the beautiful in compositionthe regions where he marshals the way and that spirit of conscientiousness,
to acknowledge the divinity of ge. and absence of self-interest and selfnius, though presented to him under display, without which all criticism, unaccustomed forms, and to interpret however adorned by wit or ingenuity, its revelations with whatever novelty is valueless. The foundations of all of language they may be uttered. sound criticism must be laid in truth,
And to the gift of this imagination and its superstructure must be reared, is necessarily allied the possession of not merely by a logical head, but by pure and natural sensibility - the a lively imagination and a loving ready sympathy with human nature heart.