« VorigeDoorgaan »
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 althan 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 ariful 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 ahjuration 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 scephe 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 he had raised, and which he strong influence over his owu age, and knew to be ungovernable-precipita. tended greatly to accelerate those at. ting 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 himself 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 has 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 his 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 dis. fortunes 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 batred. « 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'Argen. without 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 had launched against a man of rank, be received a sound drubbing, a feu 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 com. he was considered a weak and timor. prehensive view which his Ancient His. bus 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 pecu. Church. “ 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 hiş Remu- of genius. And there is no doubt that, perateur-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 resolnte enough for putting diaries, the graphic spirit and caustic down the God of knaves and bigots, but sketches of St Simon-a close obser. is 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 prejus 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 every thing he notwithstanding !"
wrote with the peculiarities of his own But enough of Voltaire, whether as character-are most amusing. - The & poet 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; his electrical expression and in his Rumans, 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 Mare. wishes to ridicule, is admirable. His The popularity of the two late Epitre 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 Henriude. 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 can. opinion, 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 fluctua. St 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 aceustomed ; 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 commun 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
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 acquainted with the works of him who thus
The solitary comedy of Destouches took it upon himself arbitrarily to dis.
which rises above mediocrity, owed pense ex cathedrâ the meed of literary its success in a great degree to the forfame, 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 parasite at 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 the 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. Reyrality, is certainly as near an approachnolds, in treating the same subject, has to the devil citing Scripture for his made it merely farcical. Piron's drapurpose, as can well be imagined. 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; infecticn of his enthusiasm. but it may be doubted whether his study The merits of Gresset's Méchant of the English theatre of the time was we are less able to perceive. As a calculated to improve his 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 Vanburgh or Congreve, to be allowed the freer scope for the with which he was probably most fa- ridicule of others —as a portrait, in miliar. Their licentiousness he no short, of the combined wit and utter doubt avoided, but their exaggeration heartlessness of the eighteenth cen. of comic character he retained. All
tury, the play has merit which behis 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
Tragédies Bourgeoises, to which La racters of the Glorieux 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 Barnwell; 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 spin of steam. It was in his eloges, how rit 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 “ Le comique ecrit noblement
of his style in these compositions, 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, Dearly 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 Montes. not be overlooked in any tableau of quieu has certainly been overrated. He French literature. H connects the writes sententious epigrams, or supseventeenth 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 attend: conceived 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 s 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: he reasons ceeded; all deformed by affectation, on the received accounts without even none exhibiting 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 ory, 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. The ficial knowledge of all ; nor is it pos- same objection is applicable to his 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 learntomy, 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 editice views, derived no doubt from the of speculation may be built up. As it study of foreign literature, and witha 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 coun. that 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 ana. quieu, appears not less obvious in the lyses with eloquence. His imaginas historical writers of this period. His- tion takes its colour from that of tory bad 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 fasa seemed to be its present license of por- einated 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 im, with 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 ma. son, and Gibbon, from their predeces. thematician, but of singular clearness,
Voltaire cannot certainly be method, and very considerablegrasp, in considered a great historian: he wantall those provinces of literature which ed learning, conscientiousness, know, depended rather on the vigorous apo ledge 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 which 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 growih 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 his views of criticism, though undigest- declamatory : “ Why, what would you ed and incomplete, were more com- lave?" said the person to whom the prehensive and liberal than those of criticism was adoressed ; " it is 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 breadıh of fire--though, 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'Alembertunquestionably