In this way, he has fashioned the magnificent form, which the great prose writers of the last half of the seventeenth century will find at their disposal when they seek to give outward shape to the sublime conceptions of their minds. This could not be otherwise; the principles which gained distinction for him were the same as those invoked for the literary reform.
But reason, whose sovereign authority Descartes proclaimed and whose power he demonstrated, was the same reason whose absolutism Malherbe sought to establish in literature. The craving for order and uniformity which made itself felt in every branch of literature seized the theatrical world and achieved the masterpieces of the classic drama.
The plot turns on one incident which is tragic without a trace of the comic element, the action does not extend beyond one day, and there is no change of scene. The framework of classical tragedy was created; what was needed was a writer of genius to fill in the structure. Corneille was this man in the merveille of "Le Cid", he gave to the French stage its first masterpiece.
Lofty sentiments, strong dialogue, a brilliant style, and rapid action, not exceeding twenty-four hours were all combined in this play. While its subject was taken from modern history, Corneille , after the famous controversy on "Le Cid", stirred up by his jealous rivals, returned to subjects taken from Roman history for this later pieces, which date from to , namely, "Horace", "Cinna", and "Polyeucte". In these the plot becomes more and more complicated; the poet prefers perplexing and anomalous situations, and looks for variety and strangeness of incident to the neglect of the sentiments and the passions.
Corneille's "Polyeucte" shows traces of the controversies on Divine Grace which at that time agitated the minds of men. Jansenism profoundly influenced the entire literature of the seventeenth century, giving rise, first and foremost, to one of its prose masterpieces, the "Lettes provinciales" of Pascal.
In these the author champions the cause of his friends of Port-Royal against the Jesuits. They display all of the qualities which it had taken sixty years of progress in literature to develop: clearness of exposition, beauty of form, elegance and distinction of style, a subtle wit, graceful irony, and geniality. Divested of all dull learning and all dialectic formalism, it placed within the reach of every serious mind the deepest theological questions. As far removed form the vigorous rhetorical of Balzac as from the studied wit of Voiture, it embodied in prose the greatest effort to reach perfection that we meet with in the early part of the seventeenth century.
Second period ; the Great Epoch Towards all the literary characteristics which we have seen gradually developing in the previous sixty years have taken definite form. This is now reinforced by the influence of the court. After the short-lived trouble of France , one man embodies all the destinies of France : the king, Louis XIV , young, victorious, at the zenith of his glory. In literature, as in his government, the king will successfully carry out his taste for regularity, for harmony, and for nobility.
The influence of his strong personality will check the tendencies toward the caprice, eccentricity, and imaginative waywardness that characterized the preceding period. Henceforth nothing is appreciated in literature but what is reasonable, natural, and harmoniously proportionate, and what depicts the universal in man.
Then follow in succession all those masterpieces which realise this idea , upheld by Boileau , the great law giver of classicism. Even his farces are full of points drawn from observation and study. In his great comedies it is clear that he rejects everything which is not based on a study of the heart. Each of his characters is an exhaustive study of some particular failing or the comprehensive presentment of a whole type in a single physiognomy.
The only dramas produced by him in this last period were "Esther" and "Athalie" His tragedies were a reaction against the heroic and romantic drama which had prevailed during the first part of the century. He places on the stage the representation of reality; his plays have their source in reason rather than in imagination. The result is a loss of apparent grandeur, on the one hand, but also, on the other hand, an increased moral range and a wider psychology.
It is, accordingly, the study of character and emotion that we must look for in Racine. In "Britannicus" and "Athalie" he has painted the passion of ambition ; but it is love which dominates his tragedies. The vigour, the vehemence, with which Racine has analysed this passion show what a degree of audacity may coexist with that classic genius of which he himself is the best example.
Balzac honoré de
In some points of detail, La Fontaine, whose "Fables" began to appear in , differs from the other great classics. He has a weakness for the old authors of the sixteenth century and even for those of the Middle Ages , for the words and phrases of a bygone time, and certain popular expressions. But he is an utter classic in the correctness and appropriateness of expression, in the nice attention to details of composition displayed in his "Fables" a charming genre which he himself created , and in the added perfection of nature as he paints it. In this second period of the seventeenth century, all forms of literature bear their fine flower.
In his "Maxims" , the Duke de la Rochefoucald displays a profound knowledge of human nature , and an almost perfect literary style. Finally, it would be a misconception of the classical genius not to allow to religious inspiration a marked place in this period.
The whole corpus of the seventeenth century was deeply penetrated by the spirit of religion. Few of its writers escaped that influence; and those who did, also remained outside the general current and the philosophic movement of the century. Pulpit oratory, too, reached a high degree of excellence.
The first years of the century had been, so to say, fragrant with the oratory of that most lovable of saints , Francis de Sales He had, in , preached the Lenten sermons before Henry IV at the Louvre, and ravished his hearers by the unction of his discourse, overflowing with a wealth of pleasing imagery. The religious revival was then universal; orders were founded or reformed. Among them the Oratorians , like the Jesuits , produced more than one remarkable and vigorous preacher.
The Jansenists , in their turn, introduced in pulpit eloquence a sober style without any great wealth of fancy, without vivacity or brilliancy, but simple, grave, uniform. Thus, sacred eloquence, already flourishing before , gradually rid itself of the defects from which it had suffered in the preceding period: the trivialities, the tawdry refinements, the abuse of profane learning. It was especially during the brilliant period extending from to that Christian eloquence reached its greatest power and perfection, when its two most illustrious representatives were Bossuet and Bourdaloue.
In Bossuet preached in Paris , at the Minims, his first course of Lenten sermons; during the next ten years his mighty voice was heard pouring forth eloquent sermons, panegyrics, and funeral orations. Animated, earnest, and familiar in his sermons , sublime in his funeral orations, simple and lucid in theological expositions, he always carried out the principle, embodied in a celebrated definition, "of employing the word only for the thought, and the thought for truth and virtue". Not only is he a magnificent orator, the greatest that ever occupied the pulpit in France , but he is also, perhaps, the writer who has had the most delicate appreciation of the French language.
Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that Bossuet , in his "Discourse on Universal History" did the work of a historian. He is, indeed, the only historian of the seventeenth century. In the art of investigating historical causes, he is a master of exceptional penetration, and his conclusions have been confirmed by the most recent discoveries of historical science.
He founded the philosophy of history, and Montesquieu, in the following century, had but little to add to his work. Bourdaloue , who ascended the pulpit left vacant by Bossuet , is a very different man. In Bourdaloue we do not find the abruptness and familiarity Bossuet , but an unbroken evenness, a style always regular and symmetrical, above all a logician ; he appeals to the reason rather than to the imagination and the sensibilities. From to In the short space of eighteen years classical literature was in its glory.
It resulted from the equilibrium between all the forces of society and all the faculties of the mind, an equilibrium not destined to last long. If, during the last years of the century, the great writers still living preserve their powers unimpaired to the end, we feel, nonetheless, that new forces are forming. In , the king, aged and absorbed by the cares of his foreign policy, ceased to take his former interest in literature.
Discipline becomes relaxed. The salon, which for a while had been eclipsed by the Court, gradually regained its ascendancy. Under its influence, preciosity, which had disappeared during the great period of classicism, began to revive. He is a wonderful rhetorician who sacrifices too much to the adornments of style. Besides, the conception of style prevalent from to underwent a change. In the writers of the golden age the period was, perhaps, somewhat too long, but it was broad and spacious, effectively reproducing the movements of the thought; it was now replaced by a shorter phrase, more rapid and more incisive.
He is a writer, however, who from many points of view is connected with the seventeenth century. In dramatic literature comedy follows the same tendencies. The eighteenth century To do justice to the writers of the eighteenth century, we must change our point of view. In truth , the eighteenth century's conception of literature differed profoundly from that of the great writers of the time of Louis XIV.
The eighteenth century, moreover, never rises above mediocrity when it attempts to follow in the footsteps of the seventeenth, but is always interesting when it breaks loose from it. To follow its literary development, we must divide it, like the preceding century, into three periods: 1 ; 2 ; 3 From to After the death of Louis XIV , the tendencies which already manifested themselves in the last period of the seventeenth century became more marked. The classical ideal became more and more distorted and weakened.
Consequently, all the great branches of literature which flourished by following this ideal either decay of are radically modified. The tragic vein in particular is completely exhausted. After Racine , there are no longer any great writers of tragedy, but only imitators, of whom the most brilliant is Voltaire, whose versatility fits him for every kind of literature.
Comedy shows more vitality than tragedy. With Dancourt it has taken the direction of portrayal of manners in their most fleeting aspects, and the tendency betrays itself in Lesage Applying the same methods to romantic literature Lesage wrote "Gil Blas", which first appeared in , and in which, in spite of a peculiar method of narration, borrowed from Spain , the manners and the society of the time are drawn to the life. Thus "Gil Blas" inaugurates in French literature the romance of manners.
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The most original of the writers of comedy in this period, however, is Marivaux, who, between and , produced his charming works, "La surprise de l'amour", "Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard", "Le Legs", "Les fausses confidences", etc. But if the great classical types are exhausted or fall to pieces giving birth to new forms, literature is compensated by the enlargement of its domain in some directions, absorbing new sources of inspiration. Writers turn away from the consideration of man as a moral unit; on the other hand they devote themselves to the study of man regarded as a product of the changing conditions of the State, political, social, and religious.
In fact, this new direction of literary activity is favoured by the birth of what has been called "the philosophic spirit". After the death of Louis XIV , the severe restraint upon men's intellects was at an end. From the earliest years of the eighteenth century, on the contrary, an aggressive movement against every form of authority, spiritual as well as temporal, becomes perceptible. Montesquieu, indeed, does not manifest any destructive inclination in regard to government and religion; nevertheless, the "Lettres persanes" , there is a tone of satire previously unknown.
The "Lettres persanes" is a pamphlet rather than the work of a moralist. They make an epoch in the history of French literature, marking the first appearance of the political satire. In the "Esprit des Lois", his studies how laws are evolved under the influences of government, climate, religion, and manners. On all these subjects, in spite of certain errors of detail, he threw a light that was altogether new. With Montesquieu, jurisprudence , politics, and sociology made their entrance into literature.
With Buffon, science has its turn. Buffon, in his "Histoire naturelle", the first volumes of which appeared in , set forth the ideas of his time on geology and biological species in a style that is brilliant and highly coloured, but somewhat studied in its magnificence. No doubt Buffon's descriptions are written in a pompous, ambition style ill-suited to the severity of a scientific subject, and they are too often interlarded with commonplaces. It is none the less true that in introducing natural history into literature he exercised a considerable influence; from Buffon, who set forth nature in its various aspects, a number of writers were to issue.
The consequence of this broadening of literature was the loss of the purely speculative and disinterested character which it displayed in the seventeenth century, when the sole aim of the writer had been production of a beautiful work and the inculcation of certain moral truths. The writers of the eighteenth century, on the contrary, wish to spread in society the philosophical and scientific theories they have adopted, and this diffusion is effected in the salons.
From the beginning of the century the salons, formed from the debris of Louis XIV's court, has assumed a considerable importance. First, it was the little court of the Duchesse du Maine, at Sceaux, and the salon of the Marquise de Lambert, at Paris. These salons in their day represented public opinion, and the authors wrote to influence the views of those who frequented them. Moderately perceptible in the first half of the century, this tendency of literature to become an instrument of propaganda and even of controversy became bolder in the second.
From to Voltaire is one of the first to mark the character of this period. Of the writers who flourished about the middle of the eighteenth century, the greatest glory surrounds Voltaire The kind of intellectual sovereignty which he enjoyed, not only in France by throughout Europe , is attributable to his great talent as a writer of prose as well as to his great versatility. It has been said of him that he was only "second in every class", and again that he is the "first of mediocrities". Though paradoxically expressed, these verdicts are partial truths.
In no branch of literature was Voltaire an originator in the full sense of the word. A man of varied gifts, living at a time when thought extended its domain in every direction and took hold of every novelty, he is the most accomplished and the most brilliant of the popularizers. In the early part of his career, from to , he confines himself almost entirely to purely literary work; but after his writings assume the militant character which henceforth distinguishes French literature.
Finally, the "Dictionnaire philosophique" and a number of treatises dealing with both philosophy and exegesis , which Voltaire gave to the world between and , are wholly devoted to religious polemics. But, while Voltaire shows his hostility to religion, he attacks neither political authority, nor the social hierarchy ; he is conservative, not revolutionary, in this respect. With Diderot and the Encyclopedists , however, literature becomes frankly destructive of the established order of things. Like Voltaire, Diderot is one of the most prolific writers of the eighteenth century, producing in turn romances, philosophical treatises tending toward atheism , essays in art-criticism, dramas.
But it is only in productiveness that Diderot can be compared with Voltaire, for he has none of Voltaire's admirable literary gifts. He is above all an improvisatore, and, with the exception of some pages which are remarkable for movement and colour, his work is confused and uneven. His principle production is the "Encyclopedia", to which the author devoted the greatest part of his life; the first two volumes appeared in The aim of this bulky publication was to give a summary of science , art, literature, philosophy and politics, up to the middle of the eighteenth century.
To bring this enterprise to a successful issue, Diderot, who reserved to himself the greatest part of the work, called to his assistance numerous collaborators, amongst whom were Voltaire, Buffon, Montesquieu, D'Alembert and Condillac. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was entrusted with the department of music. Despite the assistance of talents so diverse, the same spirit breathes throughout the work. In philosophy, the Encyclopedists seek to subvert the principles on which the existing institutions and the authority of dogma in religion were based. The Encyclopedia, therefore, which embodies all the opinions of that age, is a work of destruction.
However that may be, its influence was considerable; it served as a rallying-point for the philosophers , and by acting on public opinion, as Diderot had intended, came to "change the common way of thinking". The Encyclopedia wrought the ruin of society , but proposed nothing to take its place; Jean-Jacques Rousseau dreamed of effecting its re-constitution on a new plan. On certain points, Rousseau breaks with the philosophes and the Encyclopedists. They also believed in the omnipotence of science , in human progress and in civilization guided by reason and science.
Rousseau on the contrary, in his first notable work, "Discours sur les sciences et les arts" , assails reason and science , and in a certain sense denies progress. On the other hand, in maintaining the natural goodness of man he approaches the philosophes. From the publication of his first work, Rousseau won a success that was immediate and startling. This was because he brought qualities which were entirely novel or which had long been forgotten.
With him eloquence returns to literature. Leaving aside his influence on the movement of politics, we must give him credit for all that the French literature of the nineteenth century owes to him. Rousseau, by causing a reaction against the philosophy of his time, prepared the revival of religious sentiment. It was he who, by signalizing in his most beautiful pages the emotions awakened in him by certain landscapes, aroused in the popular imagination the feeling for nature.
Rousseau, too, by his thoroughly plebeian manner of parading his personality and displaying his egotism, helped to develop that sentiment of individualism , whence sprang the lyric poetry of the nineteenth century. The close of the eighteenth century is from some points of view a time of regeneration, and forebodes a still more radical and complete transformation of literature in the immediate future.
Some branches of literature that had been neglected in the course of the century receive new life and energy. His originality as a playwright consists in the political and social satire with which his comedies are filled. In this respect they are the children of the eighteenth century, especially combative. In the "Mariagede Figaro" the satire becomes more violent; the famous monologue of the fifth act is a bitter invective against the aristocracy, against the inequality of social conditions and the restrictions imposed on liberty of thought.
In presence of the horrors of the Terror, stirred up by wrath and impelled by indignation, he composed his "Iambles" It is true that under the influence of events, a new literary genre arises, that of political eloquence. The isolated protestations of the States-General under the monarchy afforded no opportunity for public speaking; it was in other modes, notably through the pulpit , that the eloquence for which a strictly appropriate platform was lacking must perforce manifest itself in that period.
Passage de Choiseul
But the great revolutionary assemblies favoured the development of remarkable oratorical gifts. The nineteenth century It is yet too early to attempt the task of determining the due place of the nineteenth century in the literary history of France ; the men and affairs of the century are still near to us, and in the study of literature a true perspective can be obtained only from a certain distance. A few general characteristics, however, may be taken as already fairly ascertained.
The nineteenth was one of renascence in literature: in it, following immediately upon great events, a great intellectual movement came into being, and at one definitely assignable movement there appeared a splendid efflorescence of genius; most of all this movement was a renascence because it rid itself of those theories, adopted by the preceding century, which had been the death of that century's impoverished literature.
Imagination and feeling reappear in literature, and out of these qualities lyric poetry and the romance develop. At the same time the sciences , daily acquiring more importance, exercise a greater influence on thought, so that minds take a new mould. We may distinguish three periods in the nineteenth century: the first, the period of preparation, is that of the First Empire; the second, that of intellectual efflorescence, extends from to ; lastly, the modern period, which seems to us in these days less brilliant because the works produced in it have not yet attained the prestige that comes with age.
From to Chateaubriand is the great originator of nineteenth-century French literature; from him proceed nearly the whole line of nineteenth-century writers. He asserts the necessity of breaking with classical tradition, which has had its day and is exhausted, and of opening a new way for art.
This is one of the great ideas developed by this author and thenceforth all is over with Classicism.
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Lastly, in the many beautiful passages of "Les Martyrs", or of his description of travels, he furnishes models of a magnificent prose style, full of color, rythmical, well-fitted to reproduce the most brilliant aspects of nature and to express the deepest emotions of the heart. Where Chateaubriand personifies the reaction against the eighteenth century, Mme.
And yet in many respects she must be regarded as an innovator. Lastly, in her principal work, "De l'Allemagne" , she reveals to France a whole literature then unknown to that country, the influence of which is to make itself felt in the Romantic writers. From to In this period those literary ideas in which the germs had been placed in Chateaubriand found their fullest expression with the romantic school.
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