1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/French Literature
FRENCH LITERATURE. Origins.—The history of French literature in the proper sense of the term can hardly be said to extend farther back than the 11th century. The actual manuscripts which we possess are seldom of older date than the century subsequent to this. But there is no doubt that by the end at least of the 11th century the French language, as a completely organized medium of literary expression, was in full, varied and constant use. For many centuries previous to this, literature had been composed in France, or by natives of that country, using the term France in its full modern acceptation; but until the 9th century, if not later, the written language of France, so far as we know, was Latin; and despite the practice of not a few literary historians, it does not seem reasonable to notice Latin writings in a history of French literature. Such a history properly busies itself only with the monuments of French itself from the time when the so-called Lingua Romana Rustica assumed a sufficiently independent form to deserve to be called a new language. This time it is indeed impossible exactly to determine, and the period at which literary compositions, as distinguished from mere conversation, began to employ the new tongue is entirely unknown. As early as the 7th century the Lingua Romana, as distinguished from Latin and from Teutonic dialects, is mentioned, and this Lingua Romana would be of necessity used for purposes of clerical admonition, especially in the country districts, though we need not suppose that such addresses had a very literary character. On the other hand, the mention, at early dates, of certain cantilenae or songs composed in the vulgar language has served for basis to a superstructure of much ingenious argument with regard to the highly interesting problem of the origin of the Chansons de Geste, the earliest and one of the greatest literary developments of northern French. It is sufficient in this article, where speculation would be out of place, to mention that only two such cantilenae actually exist, and that neither is French. One of the 9th century, the “Lay of Saucourt,” is in a Teutonic dialect; the other, the “Song of St Faron,” is of the 7th century, but exists only in Latin prose, the construction and style of which present traces of translation Early monuments. from a poetical and vernacular original. As far as facts go, the most ancient monuments of the written French language consist of a few documents of very various character, ranging in date from the 9th to the 11th century. The oldest gives us the oaths interchanged at Strassburg in 842 between Charles the Bald and Louis the German. The next probably in date and the first in literary merit is a short song celebrating the martyrdom of St Eulalia, which may be as old as the end of the 9th century, and is certainly not younger than the beginning of the 10th. Another, the Life of St Leger, in 240 octosyllabic lines, is dated by conjecture about 975. The discussion indeed of these short and fragmentary pieces is of more philological than literary interest, and belongs rather to the head of French language. They are, however, evidence of the progress which, continuing for at least four centuries, built up a literary instrument out of the decomposed and reconstructed Latin of the Roman conquerors, blended with a certain limited amount of contributions from the Celtic and Iberian dialects of the original inhabitants, the Teutonic speech of the Franks, and the Oriental tongue of the Moors who pressed upwards from Spain. But all these foreign elements bear a very small proportion to the element of Latin; and as Latin furnished the greater part of the vocabulary and the grammar, so did it also furnish the principal models and helps to literary composition. The earliest French versification is evidently inherited from that of the Latin hymns of the church, and for a certain time Latin originals were followed in the choice of literary forms. But by the 11th century it is tolerably certain that dramatic attempts were already being made in the vernacular, that lyric poetry was largely cultivated, that laws, charters, and such-like documents were written, and that commentators and translators busied themselves with religious subjects and texts. The most important of the extant documents, outside of the epics presently to be noticed, has of Epic poetry. late been held to be the Life of Saint Alexis, a poem of 625 decasyllabic lines, arranged in five-line stanzas, each of one assonance or vowel-rhyme, which may be as early as 1050. But the most important development of the 11th century, and the one of which we are most certain, is that of which we have evidence remaining in the famous Chanson de Roland, discovered in a manuscript at Oxford and first published in 1837. This poem represents the first and greatest development of French literature, the chansons de geste (this form is now preferred to that with the plural gestes). The origin of these poems has been hotly debated, and it is only recently that the importance which they really possess has been accorded to them,—a fact the less remarkable in that, until about 1820, the epics of ancient France were unknown, or known only through late and disfigured prose versions. Whether they originated in the north or the south is a question on which there have been more than one or two revolutions of opinion, and will probably be others still, but which need not be dealt with here. We possess in round numbers a hundred of these chansons. Three only of them are in Provençal. Two of these, Ferabras and Betonnet d’Hanstonne, are obviously adaptations of French originals. The third, Girartz de Rossilho (Gerard de Roussillon), is undoubtedly Provençal, and is a work of great merit and originality, but its dialect is strongly tinged with the characteristics of the Langue d’Oïl, and its author seems to have been a native of the debatable land between the two districts. To suppose under these circumstances that the Provençal originals of the hundred others have perished seems gratuitous. It is sufficient to say that the chanson de geste, as it is now extant, is the almost exclusive property of northern France. Nor is there much authority for a supposition that the early French poets merely versified with amplifications the stories of chroniclers. On the contrary, chroniclers draw largely from the chansons, and the question of priority between Roland and the pseudo-Turpin, though a hard one to determine, seems to resolve itself in favour of the former. At most we may suppose, with much probability, that personal and family tradition gave a nucleus for at least the earliest.
Chansons de Geste.—Early French narrative poetry was
divided by one of its own writers, Jean Bodel, under three heads—poems
relating to French history, poems relating to
ancient history, and poems of the Arthurian cycle
(Matières de France, de Bretagne, et de Rome). To the
de Geste. first only is the term chansons de geste in strictness applicable. The definition of it goes partly by form and partly by matter. A chanson de geste must be written in verses either of ten or twelve syllables, the former being the earlier. These verses have a regular caesura, which, like the end of a line, carries with it the licence of a mute e. The lines are arranged, not in couplets or in stanzas of equal length, but in laisses or tirades, consisting of any number of lines from half a dozen to some hundreds. These are, in the earlier examples assonanced,—that is to say, the vowel sound of the last syllables is identical, but the consonants need not agree. Thus, for instance, the final words of a tirade of Amis et Amiles (II. 199-206) are erbe, nouvelle, selles, nouvelles, traversent, arrestent, guerre, cortége. Sometimes the tirade is completed by a shorter line, and the later chansons are regularly rhymed. As to the subject, a chanson de geste must be concerned with some event which is, or is supposed to be, historical and French. The tendency of the trouvères was constantly to affiliate their heroes on a particular geste or family. The three chief gestes are those of Charlemagne himself, of Doon de Mayence, and of Garin de Monglane; but there are not a few chansons, notably those concerning the Lorrainers, and the remarkable series sometimes called the Chevalier au Cygne, and dealing with the crusades, which lie outside these groups. By this joint definition of form and subject the chansons de geste are separated from the romances of antiquity, from the romances of the Round Table, which are written in octosyllabic couplets, and from the romans d’aventures or later fictitious tales, some of which, such as Brun de la Montaigne, are written in pure chanson form.
Not the least remarkable point about the chansons de geste is their vast extent. Their number, according to the strictest definition, exceeds 100, and the length of each chanson varies from 1000 lines, or thereabouts, to 20,000 or even 30,000. The entire mass, including, it may be Volume and changes of early epics. supposed, the various versions and extensions of each chanson, is said to amount to between two and three million lines; and when, under the second empire, the publication of the whole Carolingian cycle was projected, it was estimated, taking the earliest versions alone, at over 300,000. The successive developments of the chansons de geste may be illustrated by the fortunes of Huon de Bordeaux, one of the most lively, varied and romantic of the older epics, and one which is interesting from the use made of it by Shakespeare, Wieland and Weber. In the oldest form now extant, though even this is probably not the original, Huon consists of over 10,000 lines. A subsequent version contains 4000 more; and lastly, in the 14th century, a later poet has amplified the legend to the extent of 30,000 lines. When this point had been reached, Huon began to be turned into prose, was with many of his fellows published and republished during the 15th and subsequent centuries, and retains, in the form of a roughly printed chap-book, the favour of the country districts of France to the present day. It is not, however, in the later versions that the special characteristics of the chansons de geste are to be looked for. Of those which we possess, one and one only, the Chanson de Roland, belongs in its present form to the 11th century. Their date of production extends, speaking roughly, from the 11th to the 14th century, their palmy days were the 11th and the 12th. After this latter period the Arthurian romances, with more complex attractions, became their rivals, and induced their authors to make great changes in their style and subject. But for a time they reigned supreme, and no better instance of their popularity can be given than the fact that manuscripts of them exist, not merely in every French dialect, but in many cases in a strange macaronic jargon of mingled French and Italian. Two classes of persons were concerned in them. There was the trouvère who composed them, and the jongleur who carried them about in manuscript or in his memory from castle to castle and sang them, intermixing frequent appeals to his auditory for silence, declarations of the novelty and the strict copyright character of the chanson, revilings of rival minstrels, and frequently requests for money in plain words. Not a few of the manuscripts which we now possess appear to have been actually used by the jongleur. But the names of the authors, the trouvères who actually composed them, are in very few cases known, those of copyists, continuators, and mere possessors of manuscripts having been often mistaken for them.
The moral and poetical peculiarities of the older and more authentic of these chansons are strongly marked, though perhaps not quite so strongly as some of their encomiasts have contended, and as may appear to a reader of the most famous of them, the Chanson de Roland, alone. In that poem, indeed, war and religion are the sole motives employed, and its motto might be two lines from another of the finest chansons (Aliscans, 161-162):—
“Dist à Bertran: ‘N’avons mais nul losir,
In Roland there is no love-making whatever, and the hero’s betrothed “la belle Aude” appears only in a casual gibe of her brother Oliver, and in the incident of her sudden death at the news of Roland’s fall. M. Léon Gautier and others have drawn the conclusion that this stern and masculine character was a feature of all the older chansons, and that imitation of the Arthurian romance is the cause of its disappearance. This seems rather a hasty inference. In Amis et Amiles, admittedly a poem of old date, the parts of Bellicent and Lubias are prominent, and the former is demonstrative enough. In Aliscans the part of the Countess Guibourc is both prominent and heroic, and is seconded by that of Queen Blancheflor and her daughter Aelis. We might also mention Oriabel in Jourdans de Blaivies and others. But it may be admitted that the sex which fights and counsels plays the principal part, that love adventures are not introduced at any great length, and that the lady usually spares her knight the trouble and possible indignities of a long wooing. The characters of a chanson of the older style are somewhat uniform. There is the hero who is unjustly suspected of guilt or sore beset by Saracens, the heroine who falls in love with him, the traitor who accuses him or delays help, who is almost always of the lineage of Ganelon, and whose ways form a very curious study. There are friendly paladins and subordinate traitors; there is Charlemagne (who bears throughout the marks of the epic king common to Arthur and Agamemnon, but is not in the earlier chanson the incapable and venal dotard which he becomes in the later), and with Charlemagne generally the duke Naimes of Bavaria, the one figure who is invariably wise, brave, loyal and generous. In a few chansons there is to be added to these a very interesting class of personages who, though of low birth or condition, yet rescue the high-born knights from their enemies. Such are Rainoart in Aliscans, Gautier in Gaydon, Robastre in Gaufrey, Varocher in Macaire. These subjects, uniform rather than monotonous, are handled with great uniformity if not monotony of style. There are constant repetitions, and it sometimes seems, and may sometimes be the case, that the text is a mere cento of different and repeated versions. But the verse is generally harmonious and often stately. The recurrent assonances of the endless tirade soon impress the ear with a grateful music, and occasionally, and far more frequently than might be thought, passages of high poetry, such as the magnificent Granz doel por la mort de Rollant, appear to diversify the course of the story. The most remarkable of the chansons are Roland, Aliscans, Gerard de Roussillon, Amis et Amiles, Raoul de Cambrai, Garin le Loherain and its sequel Les quatre Fils Aymon, Les Saisnes (recounting the war of Charlemagne with Witekind), and lastly, Le Chevalier au Cygne, which is not a single poem but a series, dealing with the earlier crusades. The most remarkable group is that centring round William of Orange, the historical or half-historical defender of the south of France against Mahommedan invasion. Almost all the chansons of this group, from the long-known Aliscans to the recently printed Chançon de Willame, are distinguished by an unwonted personality of interest, as well as by an intensified dose of the rugged and martial poetry which pervades the whole class. It is noteworthy that one chanson and one only, Floovant, deals with Merovingian times. But the chronology, geography, and historic facts of nearly all are, it is hardly necessary to say, mainly arbitrary.
Arthurian Romances.—The second class of early French epics consists of the Arthurian cycle, the Matière de Bretagne, the earliest known compositions of which are at least a century junior to the earliest chanson de geste, but which soon succeeded the chansons in popular favour, and obtained a vogue both wider and far more enduring. It is not easy to conceive a greater contrast in form, style, subject and sentiment than is presented by the two classes. In both the religious sentiment is prominent, but the religion of the chansons is of the simplest, not to say of the most savage character. To pray to God and to kill his enemies constitutes the whole duty of man. In the romances the mystical element becomes on the contrary prominent, and furnishes, in the Holy Grail, one of the most important features. In the Carlovingian knight the courtesy and clemency which we have learnt to associate with chivalry are almost entirely absent. The gentix ber contradicts, jeers at, and execrates his sovereign and his fellows with the utmost freedom. He thinks nothing of striking his cortoise moullier so that the blood runs down her cler vis. If a servant or even an equal offends him, he will throw the offender into the fire, knock his brains out, or set his whiskers ablaze. The Arthurian knight is far more of the modern model in these respects. But his chief difference from his predecessor is undoubtedly in his amorous devotion to his beloved, who, if not morally superior to Bellicent, Floripas, Esclairmonde, and the other Carlovingian heroines, is somewhat less forward. Even in minute details the difference is strongly marked. The romances are in octosyllabic couplets or in prose, and their language is different from that of the chansons, and contains much fewer of the usual epic repetitions and stock phrases. A voluminous controversy has been held respecting the origin of these differences, and of the story or stories which were destined to receive such remarkable attention. Reference must be made to the article Arthurian Legend for the history of this controversy and for an account of its present state. This state, however, and all subsequent states, are likely to be rather dependent upon opinion than upon actual knowledge. From the point of view of the general historian of literature it may not be improper here to give a caution against the frequent use of the word “proven” in such matters. Very little in regard to early literature, except the literary value of the texts, is ever susceptible of proof; although things may be made more or less probable. What we are at present concerned with, however, is a body of verse and prose composed in the latter part of the 12th century and later. The earliest romances, the Saint Graal, the Quête du Saint Graal, Joseph d’Arimathie and Merlin bear the names of Walter Map and Robert de Borron. Artus and part at least of Lancelot du Lac (the whole of which has been by turns attributed and denied to Walter Map) appear to be due to unknown authors. Tristan came later, and has a stronger mixture of Celtic tradition. At the same time as Walter Map, or a little later, Chrétien (or Chrestien) de Troyes threw the legends of the Round Table into octosyllabic verse of a singularly spirited and picturesque character. The chief poems attributed to him are the Chevalier au Lyon (Sir Ewain of Wales), the Chevalier à la Charette (one of the episodes of Lancelot), Eric et Enide, Tristan and Percivale. These poems, independently of their merit, which is great, had an extensive literary influence. They were translated by the German minnesingers, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried of Strassburg, and others. With the romances already referred to, which are mostly in prose, and which by recent authorities have been put later than the verse tales which used to be postponed to them, Chrétien’s poems complete the early forms of the Arthurian story, and supply the matter of it as it is best known to English readers in Malory’s book. Nor does that book, though far later than the original forms, convey a very false impression of the characteristics of the older romances. Indeed, the Arthurian knight, his character and adventures, are so much better known than the heroes of the Carlovingian chanson that there is less need to dwell upon them. They had, however, as has been already pointed out, great influence upon their rivals, and their comparative fertility of invention, the much larger number of their dramatis personae, and the greater variety of interests to which they appealed, sufficiently explain their increased popularity. The ordinary attractions of poetry are also more largely present in them than in the chansons; there is more description, more life, and less of the mere chronicle. They have been accused of relaxing morality, and there is perhaps some truth in the charge. But the change is after all one rather of manners than of morals, and what is lost in simplicity is gained in refinement. Doon de Mayence is a late chanson, and Lancelot du Lac is an early romance. But the two beautiful scenes, in the former between Doon and Nicolette, in the latter between Lancelot, Galahault, Guinevere, and the Lady of Malehaut, may be compared as instances of the attitude of the two classes of poets towards the same subject.
Romances of Antiquity.—There is yet a third class of early narrative poems, differing from the two former in subject, but agreeing, sometimes with one sometimes with the other in form. These are the classical romances—the Matière de Rome—which are not much later than those of Charlemagne and Arthur. The chief subjects with which their authors busied themselves were the conquests of Alexander and the siege of Troy, though other classical stories come in. The most remarkable of all is the romance of Alixandre by Lambert the Short and Alexander of Bernay. It has been said that the excellence of the twelve-syllabled verse used in this romance was the origin of the term alexandrine. The Trojan romances, on the other hand, are chiefly in octosyllabic verse, and the principal poem which treats of them is the Roman de Troie of Benoit de Sainte More. Both this poem and Alixandre are attributed to the last quarter of the 12th century. The authorities consulted for these poems were, as may be supposed, none of the best. Dares Phrygius, Dictys Cretensis, the pseudo-Callisthenes supplied most of them. But the inexhaustible invention of the trouvères themselves was the chief authority consulted. The adventures of Medea, the wanderings of Alexander, the Trojan horse, the story of Thebes, were quite sufficient to spur on to exertion the minds which had been accustomed to spin a chanson of some 10,000 lines out of a casual allusion in some preceding poem. It is needless to say that anachronisms did not disturb them. From first to last the writers of the chansons had not in the least troubled themselves with attention to any such matters. Charlemagne himself had his life and exploits accommodated to the need of every poet who treats of him, and the same is the case with the heroes of antiquity. Indeed, Alexander is made in many respects a prototype of Charlemagne. He is regularly knighted, he has twelve peers, he holds tournaments, he has relations with Arthur, and comes in contact with fairies, he takes flights in the air, dives in the sea and so forth. There is perhaps more avowed imagination in these classical stories than in either of the other divisions of French epic poetry. Some of their authors even confess to the practice of fiction, while the trouvères of the chansons invariably assert the historical character of their facts and personages, and the authors of the Arthurian romances at least start from facts vouched for, partly by national tradition, partly by the authority of religion and the church. The classical romances, however, are important in two different ways. In the first place, they connect the early literature of France, however loosely, and with links of however dubious authenticity, with the great history and literature of the past. They show a certain amount of scholarship in their authors, and in their hearers they show a capacity of taking an interest in subjects which are not merely those directly connected with the village or the tribe. The chansons de geste had shown the creative power and independent character of French literature. There is, at least about the earlier ones, nothing borrowed, traditional or scholarly. They smack of the soil, and they rank France among the very few countries which, in this matter of indigenous growth, have yielded more than folk-songs and fireside tales. The Arthurian romances, less independent in origin, exhibit a wider range of view, a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more extensive command of the sources of poetical and romantic interest. The classical epics superadd the only ingredient necessary to an accomplished literature—that is to say, the knowledge of what has been done by other peoples and other literatures already, and the readiness to take advantage of the materials thus supplied.
Romans d’Aventures.—These are the three earliest developments of French literature on the great scale. They led, however, to a fourth, which, though later in date than all except their latest forms and far more loosely associated as a group, is so closely connected with them by literary and social considerations that it had best be mentioned here. This is the roman d’aventures, a title given to those almost avowedly fictitious poems which connect themselves, mainly and centrally, neither with French history, with the Round Table, nor with the heroes of antiquity. These began to be written in the 13th century, and continued until the prose form of fiction became generally preferred. The later forms of the chansons de geste and the Arthurian poems might indeed be well called romans d’aventures themselves. Hugues Capet, for instance, a chanson in form and class of subject, is certainly one of this latter kind in treatment; and there is a larger class of semi-Arthurian romance, which so to speak branches off from the main trunk. But for convenience sake the definition we have given is preferable. The style and subject of these romans d’aventures are naturally extremely various. Guillaume de Palerme deals with the adventures of a Sicilian prince who is befriended by a were-wolf; Le Roman de l’escoufle, with a heroine whose ring is carried off by a sparrow-hawk (escoufle), like Prince Camaralzaman’s talisman; Guy of Warwick, with one of the most famous of imaginary heroes; Meraugis de Portléguez is a sort of branch or offshoot of the romances of the Round Table; Cléomadès, the work of the trouvère Adenès le Roi, who also rehandled the old chanson subjects of Ogier and Berte aux grans piés, connects itself once more with the Arabian Nights as well as with Chaucer forwards in the introduction of a flying mechanical horse. There is, in short, no possibility of classifying their subjects. The habit of writing in gestes, or of necessarily connecting the new work with an older one, had ceased to be binding, and the instinct of fiction writing was free; yet those romans d’aventures do not rank quite as high in literary importance as the classes which preceded them. This under-valuation arises rather from a lack of originality and distinctness of savour than from any shortcomings in treatment. Their versification, usually octosyllabic, is pleasant enough; but there is not much distinctness of character about them, and their incidents often strike the reader with something of the sameness, but seldom with much of the naïveté, of those of the older poems. Nevertheless some of them attained to a very high popularity, such, for instance, as the Partenopex de Blois of Denis Pyramus, which has a motive drawn from the story of Cupid and Psyche and the charming Floire et Blanchefleur, giving the woes of a Christian prince and a Saracen slave-girl. With them may be connected a certain number of early romances and fictions of various dates in prose, none of which can vie in charm with Aucassin et Nicolette (13th century), an exquisite literary presentment of medieval sentiment in its most delightful form.
In these classes maybe said to be summed up the literature of feudal chivalry in France. They were all, except perhaps the last, composed by one class of persons, the trouvères, and performed by another, the jongleurs. The latter, indeed, sometimes presumed to compose for himself, General characteristics of early narrative. and was denounced as a troveor batard by the indignant members of the superior caste. They were all originally intended to be performed in the palais marberin of the baron to an audience of knights and ladies, and, when reading became more common, to be read by such persons. They dealt therefore chiefly, if not exclusively, with the class to whom they were addressed. The bourgeois and the villain, personages of political nonentity at the time of their early composition, come in for far slighter notice, although occasionally in the few curious instances we have mentioned, and others, persons of a class inferior to the seigneur play an important part. The habit of private wars and of insurrection against the sovereign supply the motives of the chanson de geste, the love of gallantry, adventure and foreign travel those of the romances Arthurian and miscellaneous. None of these motives much affected the lower classes, who were, with the early developed temper of the middle- and lower-class Frenchman, already apt to think and speak cynically enough of tournaments, courts, crusades and the other occupations of the nobility. The communal system was springing up, the towns were receiving royal encouragement as a counterpoise to the authority of the nobles. The corruptions and maladministration of the church attracted the satire rather of the citizens and peasantry who suffered by them, than of the Spread of literary taste. nobles who had less to fear and even something to gain. On the other hand, the gradual spread of learning, inaccurate and ill-digested perhaps, but still learning, not only opened up new classes of subjects, but opened them to new classes of persons. The thousands of students who flocked to the schools of Paris were not all princes or nobles. Hence there arose two new classes of literature, the first consisting of the embodiment of learning of one kind or other in the vulgar tongue. The other, one of the most remarkable developments of sportive literature which the world has seen, produced the second indigenous literary growth of which France can boast, namely, the fabliaux, and the almost more remarkable work which is an immense conglomerate of fabliaux, the great beast-epic of the Roman de Renart.
Fabliaux.—There are few literary products which have more originality and at the same time more diversity than the fabliau. The epic and the drama, even when they are independently produced, are similar in their main characteristics all the world over. But there is nothing in previous literature which exactly corresponds to the fabliau. It comes nearest to the Aesopic fable and its eastern origins or parallels. But differs from these in being less allegorical, less obviously moral (though a moral of some sort is usually if not always enforced), and in having a much more direct personal interest. It is in many degrees further removed from the parable, and many degrees nearer to the novel. The story is the first thing, the moral the second, and the latter is never suffered to interfere with the former. These observations apply only to the fabliaux, properly so called, but the term has been used with considerable looseness. The collectors of those interesting pieces, Barbazan, Méon, Le Grand d’Aussy, have included in their collections large numbers of miscellaneous pieces such as dits (rhymed descriptions of various objects, the most famous known author of which was Baudouin de Condé, 13th century), and débats (discussions between two persons or contrasts of the attributes of two things), sometimes even short romances, farces and mystery plays. Not that the fable proper—the prose classical beast-story of “Aesop”—was neglected. Marie de France—the poetess to be mentioned again for her more strictly poetical work—is the most literary of not a few writers who composed what were often, after the mysterious original poet, named Ysopets. Aesop, Phaedrus, Babrius were translated and imitated in Latin and in the vernacular by this class of writer, and some of the best known of “fablers” date from this time. The fabliau, on the other hand, according to the best definition of it yet achieved, is “the recital, generally comic, of a real or possible incident occurring in ordinary human life.” The comedy, it may be added, is usually of a satiric kind, and occupies itself with every class and rank of men, from the king to the villain. There is no limit to the variety of these lively verse-tales, which are invariably written in eight-syllabled couplets. Now the subject is the misadventure of two Englishmen, whose ignorance of the French language makes them confuse donkey and lamb; now it is the fortunes of an exceedingly foolish knight, who has an amiable and ingenious mother-in-law; now the deserved sufferings of an avaricious or ill-behaved priest; now the bringing of an ungrateful son to a better mind by the wisdom of babes and sucklings. Not a few of the Canterbury Tales are taken directly from fabliaux; indeed, Chaucer, with the possible exception of Prior, is our nearest approach to a fabliau-writer. At the other end of Europe the prose novels of Boccaccio and other Italian tale-tellers are largely based upon fabliaux. But their influence in their own country was the greatest. They were the first expression of the spirit which has since animated the most national and popular developments of French literature. Simple and unpretending as they are in form, the fabliaux announce not merely the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles and the Heptameron, L’Avocat Patelin, and Pantagruel, but also L’Avare and the Roman comique, Gil Blas and Candide. They indeed do more than merely prophesy the spirit of these great performances—they directly lead to them. The prose-tale and the farce are the direct outcomes of the fabliau, and the prose-tale and the farce once given, the novel and the comedy inevitably follow.
The special period of fabliau composition appears to have been
the 12th and 13th centuries. It signifies on the one side the
growth of a lighter and more sportive spirit than had
yet prevailed, on another the rise in importance of
other and lower orders of men than the priest and the Social importance
of fabliaux. noble, on yet another the consciousness on the part of these lower orders of the defects of the two privileged classes, and of the shortcomings of the system of polity under which these privileged classes enjoyed their privileges. There is, however, in the fabliau proper not so very much of direct satire, this being indeed excluded by the definition given above, and by the thoroughly artistic spirit in which that definition is observed. The fabliaux are so numerous and so various that it is difficult to select any as specially representative. We may, however, mention, both as good examples and as interesting from their subsequent history, Le Vair Palfroi, treated in English by Leigh Hunt and by Peacock; Le Vilain Mire, the original consciously or unconsciously followed in Le Médecin malgré lui; Le Roi d’Angleterre et le jongleur d’Éli; La houce partie; Le Sot Chevalier, an indecorous but extremely amusing story; Les deux bordeors ribaus, a dialogue between two jongleurs of great literary interest, containing allusions to the chansons de geste and romances most in vogue; and Le vilain qui conquist paradis par plait, one of the numerous instances of what has unnecessarily puzzled moderns, the association in medieval times of sincere and unfeigned faith with extremely free handling of its objects. This lightheartedness in other subjects sometimes bubbled over into the fatrasie, an almost pure nonsense-piece, parent of the later amphigouri.
Roman de Renart.—If the fabliaux are not remarkable for direct satire, that element is supplied in more than compensating quantity by an extraordinary composition which is closely related to them. Le Roman de Renart, or History of Reynard the Fox, is a poem, or rather series of poems, which, from the end of the 12th to the middle of the 14th century, served the citizen poets of northern France, not merely as an outlet for literary expression, but also as a vehicle of satirical comment,—now on the general vices and weaknesses of humanity, now on the usual corruptions in church and state, now on the various historical events which occupied public attention from time to time. The enormous popularity of the subject is shown by the long vogue which it had, and by the empire which it exercised over generations of writers who differed from each other widely in style and temper. Nothing can be farther from the allegorical erudition, the political diatribes and the sermonizing moralities of the authors of Renart le Contre-fait than the sly naïveté of the writers of the earlier branches. Yet these and a long and unknown series of intermediate bards the fox-king pressed into his service, and it is scarcely too much to say that, during the two centuries of his reign, there was hardly a thought in the popular mind which, as it rose to the surface, did not find expression in an addition to the huge cycle of Renart.
We shall not deal with the controversies which have been raised as to the origin of the poem and its central idea. The latter may have been a travestie of real persons and actual events, or it may (and much more probably) have been an expression of thoughts and experiences which recur in every generation. France, the Netherlands and Germany have contended for the honour of producing Renart; French, Flemish, German and Latin for the honour of first describing him. It is sufficient to say that the spirit of the work seems to be more that of the borderland between France and Flanders than of any other district, and that, wherever the idea may have originally arisen, it was incomparably more fruitful in France than in any other country. The French poems which we possess on the subject amount in all to nearly 100,000 lines, independently of mere variations, but including the different versions of Renart le Contre-fait. This vast total is divided into four different poems. The most ancient and remarkable is that edited by Méon under the title of Roman du Renart, and containing, with some additions made by M. Chabaille, 37 branches and about 32,000 lines. It must not, however, be supposed that this total forms a continuous poem like the Aeneid or Paradise Lost. Part was pretty certainly written by Pierre de Saint-Cloud, but he was not the author of the whole. On the contrary, the separate branches are the work of different authors, hardly any of whom are known, and, but for their community of subject and to some extent of treatment, might be regarded as separate poems. The history of Renart, his victories over Isengrim, the wolf, Bruin, the bear, and his other unfortunate rivals, his family affection, his outwittings of King Noble the Lion and all the rest, are too well known to need fresh description here. It is perhaps in the subsequent poems, though they are far less known and much less amusing, that the hold which the idea of Renart had obtained on the mind of northern France, and the ingenious uses to which it was put, are best shown. The first of these is Le Couronnement Renart, a poem of between 3000 and 4000 lines, attributed, on no grounds whatever, to the poetess Marie de France, and describing how the hero by his ingenuity got himself crowned king. This poem already shows signs of direct moral application and generalizing. These are still more apparent in Renart le Nouvel, a composition of some 8000 lines, finished in the year 1288 by the Fleming Jacquemart Giélée. Here the personification, of which, in noticing the Roman de la rose, we shall soon have to give extended mention, becomes evident. Instead of or at least beside the lively personal Renart who used to steal sausages, set Isengrim fishing with his tail, or make use of Chanticleer’s comb for a purpose for which it was certainly never intended, we have Renardie, an abstraction of guile and hypocrisy, triumphantly prevailing over other and better qualities. Lastly, as the Roman de la rose of William of Lorris is paralleled by Renart le Nouvel, so its continuation by Jean de Meung is paralleled by the great miscellany of Renart le Contre-fait, which, even in its existing versions, extends to fully 50,000 lines. Here we have, besides floods of miscellaneous erudition and discourse, political argument of the most direct and important kind. The wrongs of the lower orders are bitterly urged. They are almost openly incited to revolt; and it is scarcely too much to say, as M. Lenient has said, that the closely following Jacquerie is but a practical carrying out of the doctrines of the anonymous satirists of Renart le Contre-fait, one of whom (if indeed there was more than one) appears to have been a clerk of Troyes.
Early Lyric Poetry.—Side by side with these two forms of
literature, the epics and romances of the higher classes, and the
fabliau, which, at least in its original, represented rather the
feelings of the lower, there grew up a third kind, consisting of
purely lyrical poetry. The song literature of medieval France
is extremely abundant and beautiful. From the 12th to the
15th century it received constant accessions, some signed, some
anonymous, some purely popular in their character, some the
work of more learned writers, others again produced by members
of the aristocracy. Of the latter class it may fairly be said that
the catalogue of royal and noble authors boasts few if any names
superior to those of Thibaut de Champagne, king of Navarre
at the beginning of the 13th century, and Charles d’Orléans, the
father of Louis XII., at the beginning of the 15th. Although
much of this lyric poetry is anonymous, the more popular part
of it almost entirely so, yet M. Paulin Paris was able to enumerate
some hundreds of French chansonniers between the 11th and the
13th century. The earliest song literature, chiefly known in the
delightful collection of Bartsch (Altfranzösische Romanzen und
Pastourellen), is mainly sentimental in character. The collector
divides it under the two heads of romances and pastourelles,
the former being usually the celebration of the loves of a noble
knight and maiden, and recounting how Belle Doette or Eglantine
or Oriour sat at her windows or in the tourney gallery, or embroidering
silk and samite in her chamber, with her thoughts
on Gerard or Guy or Henry,—the latter somewhat monotonous
but naïve and often picturesque recitals, very often in the first
person, of the meeting of an errant knight or minstrel with a
shepherdess, and his cavalier but not always successful wooing.
With these, some of which date from the 12th century, may be
contrasted, at the other end of the medieval period, the more
varied and popular collection dating in their present form from
the 15th century, and published in 1875 by M. Gaston Paris.
In both alike, making allowance for the difference of their age
and the state of the language, may be noticed a charming lyrical
faculty and great skill in the elaboration of light and suitable
metres. Especially remarkable is the abundance of refrains of
an admirably melodious kind. It is said that more than 500 of
these exist. Among the lyric writers of these four centuries
whose names are known may be mentioned Audefroi le Bastard Audefroit
Thibaut de Champagne. (12th century), the author of the charming song of Belle Idoine, and others no way inferior, Quesnes de Bethune, the ancestor of Sully, whose song-writing inclines to a satirical cast in many instances, the Vidame de Chartres, Charles d’Anjou, King John of Brienne, the châtelain de Coucy, Gace Bruslé, Colin Muset, while not a few writers mentioned elsewhere—Guyot de Provins, Adam de la Halle, Jean Bodel and others—were also lyrists. But none of them, except perhaps Audefroi, can compare with Thibaut IV. (1201–1253), who united by his possessions and ancestry a connexion with the north and the south, and who employed the methods of both districts but used the language of the north only. Thibaut was supposed to be the lover of Blanche of Castile, the mother of St Louis, and a great deal of his verse is concerned with his love for her. But while knights and nobles were thus employing lyric poetry in courtly and sentimental verse, lyric forms were being freely employed by others, both of high and low birth, for more general purposes. Blanche and Thibaut themselves came in for contemporary lampoons, and both at this time and in the times immediately following, a cloud of writers composed light verse, sometimes of a lyric sometimes of a narrative kind, and sometimes in a mixture of both. By far the Rutebœf. most remarkable of these is Rutebœuf (a name which is perhaps a nickname), the first of a long series of French poets to whom in recent days the title Bohemian has been applied, who passed their lives between gaiety and misery, and celebrated their lot in both conditions with copious verse. Rutebœuf is among the earliest French writers who tell us their personal history and make personal appeals. But he does not confine himself to these. He discusses the history of his times, upbraids the nobles for their desertion of the Latin empire of Constantinople, considers the expediency of crusading, inveighs against the religious orders, and takes part in the disputes between the pope and the king. He composes pious poetry too, and in at least one poem takes care to distinguish between the church which he venerates and the corrupt churchmen whom he lampoons. Besides Rutebœuf the most characteristic figure of his class and time (about the middle of the 13th century) is Adam de
Lais. Adam de la Halle, commonly called the Hunchback of Arras. The earlier poems of Adam are of a sentimental character, the later ones satirical and somewhat ill-tempered. Such, for instance, is his invective against his native city. But his chief importance consists in his jeux, the Jeu de la feuillie, the Jeu de Robin et Marion, dramatic compositions which led the way to the regular dramatic form. Indeed the general tendency of the 13th century is to satire, fable and farce, even more than to serious or sentimental poetry. We should perhaps except the lais, the chief of which are known under the name of Marie de France. These lays are exclusively Breton in origin, though not in application, and the term seems originally to have had reference rather to the music to which they were sung than to the manner or matter of the pieces. Some resemblance to these lays may perhaps be traced in the genuine Breton songs published by M. Luzel. The subjects of the lais are indifferently taken from the Arthurian cycle, from ancient story, and from popular tradition, and, at any rate in Marie’s hands, they give occasion for some passionate, and in the modern sense really romantic, poetry. The most famous of all is the Lay of the Honeysuckle, traditionally assigned to Sir Tristram.
Satiric and Didactic Works.—Among the direct satirists of the middle ages, one of the earliest and foremost is Guyot de Provins, a monk of Clairvaux and Cluny, whose Bible, as he calls it, contains an elaborate satire on the time (the beginning of the 13th century), and who was imitated by others, especially Hugues de Brégy. The same spirit soon betrayed itself in curious travesties of the romances of chivalry, and sometimes invades the later specimens of these romances themselves. One of the earliest examples of this travesty is the remarkable composition entitled Audigier. This poem, half fabliau and half romance, is not so much an instance of the heroi-comic poems which afterwards found so much favour in Italy and elsewhere, as a direct and ferocious parody of the Carlovingian epic. The hero Audigier is a model of cowardice and disloyalty; his father and mother, Turgibus and Rainberge, are deformed and repulsive. The exploits of the hero himself are coarse and hideous failures, and the whole poem can only be taken as a counterblast to the spirit of chivalry. Elsewhere a trouvère, prophetic of Rabelais, describes a vast battle between all the nations of the world, the quarrel being suddenly atoned by the arrival of a holy man bearing a huge flagon of wine. Again, we have the history of a solemn crusade undertaken by the citizens of a country town against the neighbouring castle. As erudition and the fancy for allegory gained ground, satire naturally availed itself of the opportunity thus afforded it; the disputes of Philippe le Bel with the pope and the Templars had an immense literary influence, partly in the concluding portions of the Renart, partly in the Roman de la rose, still to be mentioned, and partly in other satiric allegories of which the chief is the romance of Fauvel, attributed to François de Rues. The hero of this is an allegorical personage, half man and half horse, signifying the union of bestial degradation with human ingenuity and cunning. Fauvel (the name, it may be worth while to recall, occurs in Langland) is a divinity in his way. All the personages of state, from kings and popes to mendicant friars, pay their court to him.
But this serious and discontented spirit betrays itself also
in compositions which are not parodies or travesties in form.
One of the latest, if not absolutely the latest (for
Cuvelier’s still later Chronique de Du Guesclin is only a
most interesting imitation of the chanson form adapted Baudouin
de Sebourc. to recent events), of the chansons de geste is Baudouin de Sebourc, one of the members of the great romance or cycle of romances dealing with the crusades, and entitled Le Chevalier au Cygne. Baudouin de Sebourc dates from the early years of the 14th century. It is strictly a chanson de geste in form, and also in the general run of its incidents. The hero is dispossessed of his inheritance by the agency of traitors, fights his battle with the world and its injustice, and at last prevails over his enemy Gaufrois, who has succeeded in obtaining the kingdom of Friesland and almost that of France. Gaufrois has as his assistants two personages who were very popular in the poetry of the time,—viz., the Devil, and Money. These two sinister figures pervade the fabliaux, tales and fantastic literature generally of the time. M. Lenient, the historian of French satire, has well remarked that a romance as long as the Renart might be spun out of the separate short poems of this period which have the Devil for hero, and many of which form a very interesting transition between the fabliau and the mystery. But the Devil is in one respect a far inferior hero to Renart. He has an adversary in the Virgin, who constantly upsets his best-laid schemes, and who does not always treat him quite fairly. The abuse of usury at the time, and the exactions of the Jews and Lombards, were severely felt, and Money itself, as personified, figures largely in the popular literature of the time.
Roman de la Rose.—A work of very different importance from
all of these, though with seeming touches of the same spirit,
a work which deserves to take rank among the most
important of the middle ages, is the Roman de la rose,—one
of the few really remarkable books which isWilliam
of Lorris. the work of two authors, and that not in collaboration but in continuation one of the other. The author of the earlier part was Guillaume de Lorris, who lived in the first half of the 13th century; the author of the later part was Jean de Meung, who was born about the middle of that century, and whose part in the Roman dates at least from its extreme end. This great poem exhibits in its two parts very different characteristics, which yet go to make up a not inharmonious whole. It is a love poem, and yet it is satire. But both gallantry and raillery are treated in an entirely allegorical spirit; and this allegory, while it makes the poem tedious to hasty appetites of to-day, was exactly what gave it its charm in the eyes of the middle ages. It might be described as an Ars amoris crossed with a Quodlibeta. This mixture exactly hit the taste of the time, and continued to hit it for two centuries and a half. When its obvious and gallant meaning was attacked by moralists and theologians, it was easy to quote the example of the Canticles, and to furnish esoteric explanations of the allegory. The writers of the 16th century were never tired of quoting and explaining it. Antoine de Baïf, indeed, gave the simple and obvious meaning, and declared that “La rose c’est d’amours le guerdon gracieux”; but Marot, on the other hand, gives us the choice of four mystical interpretations,—the rose being either the state of wisdom, the state of grace, the state of eternal happiness or the Virgin herself. We cannot here analyse this celebrated poem. It is sufficient to say that the lover meets all sorts of obstacles in his pursuit of the rose, though he has for a guide the metaphorical personage Bel-Accueil. The early part, which belongs to William of Lorris, is remarkable for its gracious Jean de Meung. and fanciful descriptions. Forty years after Lorris’s death, Jean de Meung completed it in an entirely different spirit. He keeps the allegorical form, and indeed introduces two new personages of importance, Nature and Faux-semblant. In the mouths of these personages and of another, Raison, he puts the most extraordinary mixture of erudition and satire. At one time we have the history of classical heroes, at another theories against the hoarding of money, about astronomy, about the duty of mankind to increase and multiply. Accounts of the origin of loyalty, which would have cost the poet his head at some periods of history, and even communistic ideas, are also to be found here. In Faux-semblant we have a real creation of the theatrical hypocrite. All this miscellaneous and apparently incongruous material in fact explains the success of the poem. It has the one characteristic which has at all times secured the popularity of great works of literature. It holds the mirror up firmly and fully to its age. As we find in Rabelais the characteristics of the Renaissance, in Montaigne those of the sceptical reaction from Renaissance and reform alike, in Molière those of the society of France after Richelieu had tamed and levelled it, in Voltaire and Rousseau respectively the two aspects of the great revolt,—so there are to be found in the Roman de la rose the characteristics of the later middle age, its gallantry, its mysticism, its economical and social troubles and problems, its scholastic methods of thought, its naïve acceptance as science of everything that is written, and at the same time its shrewd and indiscriminate criticism of much that the age of criticism has accepted without doubt or question. The Roman de la rose, as might be supposed, set the example of an immense literature of allegorical poetry, which flourished more and more until the Renaissance. Some of these poems we have already mentioned, some will have to be considered under the head of the 15th century. But, as usually happens in such cases and was certain to happen in this case, the allegory which has seemed tedious to many, even in the original, became almost intolerable in the majority of the imitations.
We have observed that, at least in the later section of the
Roman de la rose, there is observable a tendency to import into
the poem indiscriminate erudition. This tendency is
now remote from our poetical habits; but in its own
day it was only the natural result of the use of poetry Early
verse. for all literary purposes. It was many centuries before prose became recognized as the proper vehicle for instruction, and at a very early date verse was used as well for educational and moral as for recreative and artistic purposes. French verse was the first born of all literary mediums in modern European speech, and the resources of ancient learning were certainly not less accessible in France than in any other country. Dante, in his De vulgari eloquio, acknowledges the excellence of the didactic writers of the Langue d’Oïl. We have already alluded to the Bestiary of Philippe de Thaun, a Norman trouvère who lived and wrote in England during the reign of Henry Beauclerc. Besides the Bestiary, which from its dedication to Queen Adela has been conjectured to belong to the third decade of the 12th century, Philippe wrote also in French a Liber de creaturis, both works being translated from the Latin. These works of mystical and apocryphal physics and zoology became extremely popular in the succeeding centuries, and were frequently imitated. A moralizing turn was also given to them, which was much helped by the importation of several miscellanies of Oriental origin, partly tales, partly didactic in character, the most celebrated of which is the Roman des sept sages, which, under that title and the variant of Dolopathos, received repeated treatment from French writers both in prose and verse. The odd notion of an Ovide moralisé used to be ascribed to Philippe de Vitry, bishop of Meaux (1291?–1391?), a person complimented by Petrarch, but is now assigned to a certain Chrétien Legonais. Art, too, soon demanded exposition in verse, as well as science. The favourite pastime of the chase was repeatedly dealt with, notably in the Roi Modus (1325), mixed prose and verse; the Deduits de la chasse (1387), of Gaston de Foix, prose; and the Tresor de Venerie of Hardouin (1394), verse. Very soon didactic verse extended itself to all the arts and sciences. Vegetius and his military precepts had found a home in French octosyllables as early as the 12th century; the end of the same age saw the ceremonies of knighthood solemnly versified, and napes (maps) du monde also soon appeared. At last, in 1245, Gautier of Metz translated from various Latin works into French verse a sort of encyclopaedia, while another, incongruous but known as L’Image du monde, exists from the same century. Profane knowledge was not the only subject which exercised didactic poets at this time. Religious handbooks and commentaries on the scriptures were common in the 13th and following centuries, and, under the title of Castoiements, Enseignements and Doctrinaux, moral treatises became common. The most famous of these, the Castoiement d’un père à son fils, falls under the class, already mentioned, of works due to oriental influence, being derived from the Indian Panchatantra. In the 14th century the influence of the Roman de la rose helped to render moral verse frequent and popular. The same century, moreover, which witnessed these developments of well-intentioned if not always Artificial forms of verse. judicious erudition witnessed also a considerable change in lyrical poetry. Hitherto such poetry had chiefly been composed in the melodious but unconstrained forms of the romance and the pastourelle. In the 14th century the writers of northern France subjected themselves to severer rules. In this age arose the forms which for so long a time were to occupy French singers,—the ballade, the rondeau, the rondel, the triolet, the chant royal and others. These received considerable alterations as time went on. We possess not a few Artes poëticae, such as that of Eustache Deschamps at the end of the 14th century, that formerly ascribed to Henri de Croy and now to Molinet at the end of the 15th, and that of Thomas Sibilet in the 16th, giving particulars of them, and these particulars show considerable changes. Thus the term rondeau, which since Villon has been chiefly limited to a poem of 15 lines, where the 9th and 15th repeat the first words of the first, was originally applied both to the rondel, a poem of 13 or 14 lines, where the first two are twice repeated integrally, and to the triolet, one of 8 only, where the first line occurs three times and the second twice. The last is an especially popular metre, and is found where we should least expect it, in the dialogue of the early farces, the speakers making up triolets between them. As these three forms are closely connected, so are the ballade and the chant royal, the latter being an extended and more stately and difficult version of the former, and the characteristic of both being the identity of rhyme and refrain in the several stanzas. It is quite uncertain at what time these fashions were first cultivated, but the earliest poets who appear to have practised them extensively were born at the close of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries. Of these Guillaume de Machault (c. 1300–1380) is the oldest. He has left us 80,000 verses, never yet completely printed. Eustache Deschamps (c. 1340–c. 1410) was nearly as prolific, but more fortunate as more meritorious, the Société des anciens Textes having at last provided a complete edition of him. Froissart the historian (1333–1410) was also an agreeable and prolific poet. Deschamps, the most famous as a poet of the three, has left us nearly 1200 ballades and nearly 200 rondeaux, besides much other verse all manifesting very considerable poetical powers. Less known but not less noteworthy, and perhaps the earliest of all, is Jehannot de Lescurel, whose personality is obscure, and most of whose works are lost, but whose remains are full of grace. Froissart appears to have had many countrymen in Hainault and Brabant who devoted themselves to the art of versification; and the Livre des cent ballades of the Marshal Boucicault (1366–1421) and his friends—c. 1390—shows that the French gentleman of the 14th century was as apt at the ballade as his Elizabethan peer in England was at the sonnet.
Early Drama.—Before passing to the prose writers of the
middle ages, we have to take some notice of the dramatic
productions of those times—productions of an extremely
interesting character, but, like the immense
majority of medieval literature, poetic in form. The Mysteries
miracles. origin or the revival of dramatic composition in France has been hotly debated, and it has been sometimes contended that the tradition of Latin comedy was never entirely lost, but was handed on chiefly in the convents by adaptations of the Terentian plays, such as those of the nun Hroswitha. There is no doubt that the mysteries (subjects taken from the sacred writings) and miracle plays (subjects taken from the legends of the saints and the Virgin) are of very early date. The mystery of the Foolish Virgins (partly French, partly Latin), that of Adam and perhaps that of Daniel, are of the 12th century, though due to unknown authors. Jean Bodel and Ruteboeuf, already mentioned, gave, the one that of Saint Nicolas at the confines of the 12th and 13th, the other that of Théophile later in the 13th itself. But the later moralities, soties, and farces seem to be also in part a very probable development of the simpler and earlier forms of the fabliau and of the tenson or jeu-parti, a poem in simple dialogue much used by both troubadours and trouvères. The fabliau has been sufficiently dealt with already. It chiefly supplied the subject; and some miracle-plays and farces are little more than fabliaux thrown into dialogue. Of the jeux-partis there are many examples, varying from very simple questions and answers to something like regular dramatic dialogue; even short romances, such as Aucassin et Nicolette, were easily susceptible of dramatization. But the Jeu de la feuillie (or feuillée) of Adam de la Halle seems to be the earliest piece, profane in subject, containing something more than mere dialogue. The poet has not indeed gone far for his subject, for he brings in his own wife, father and friends, the interest being complicated by the introduction of stock characters (the doctor, the monk, the fool), and of certain fairies—personages already popular from the later romances of chivalry. Another piece of Adam’s, Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, also already alluded to, is little more than a simple throwing into action of an ordinary pastourelle with a considerable number of songs to music. Nevertheless later criticism has seen, and not unreasonably, in these two pieces the origin in the one case of farce, and thus indirectly of comedy proper, in the other of comic opera.
For a long time, however, the mystery and miracle-plays remained the staple of theatrical performance, and until the 13th century actors as well as performers were more or less taken from the clergy. It has, indeed, been well pointed out that the offices of the church were themselves dramatic performances, and required little more than development at the hands of the mystery writers. The occasional festive outbursts, such as the Feast of Fools, that of the Boy Bishop and the rest, helped on the development. The variety of mysteries and miracles was very great. A single manuscript contains forty miracles of the Virgin, averaging from 1200 to 1500 lines each, written in octosyllabic couplets, and at least as old as the 14th century, most of them perhaps much earlier. The mysteries proper, or plays taken from the scriptures, are older still. Many of these are exceedingly long. There is a Mystère de l’Ancien Testament, which extends to many volumes, and must have taken weeks to act in its entirety. The Mystère de la Passion, though not quite so long, took several days, and recounts the whole history of the gospels. The best apparently of the authors of these pieces, which are mostly anonymous, were two brothers, Arnoul and Simon Gréban (authors of the Actes des apôtres, and in the first case of the Passion), c. 1450, while a certain Jean Michel (d. 1493) is credited with having continued the Passion from 30,000 lines to 50,000. But these performances, though they held their ground until the middle of the 16th century and extended their range of subject from sacred to profane history—legendary as in the Destruction de Troie, contemporary as in theProfane drama. Siège d’Orléans—were soon rivalled by the more profane performances of the moralities, the farces and the soties. The palmy time of all these three kinds is the 15th century, while the Confrérie de la Passion itself, the special performers of the sacred drama, only obtained the licence constituting it by an ordinance of Charles VI. in 1402. In order, however, to take in the whole of the medieval theatre at a glance, we may anticipate a little. The Confraternity was not itself the author or performer of the profaner kind of dramatic performance. This latter was due to two other bodies, the clerks of the Bazoche and the Enfans sans Souci. As the Confraternity was chiefly composed of tradesmen and persons very similar to Peter Quince and his associates, so the clerks of the Bazoche were members of the legal profession of Paris, and the Enfans sans Souci were mostly young men of family. The morality was the special property of the first, the sotie of the second. But as the moralities were sometimes decidedly tedious plays, though by no means brief, they were varied by the introduction of farces, of which the jeux already mentioned were the early germ, and of which L’Avocat Patelin, dated by some about 1465 and certainly about 200 years subsequent to Adam de la Halle, is the most famous example.
The morality was the natural result on the stage of the immense literary popularity of allegory in the Roman de la rose and its imitations. There is hardly an abstraction, a virtue, a vice, a disease, or anything else of the kind, which does not figure in these compositions. There is Bien Advisé and Mal Advisé, theMoralities. good boy and the bad boy of nursery stories, who fall in respectively with Faith, Reason and Humility, and with Rashness, Luxury and Folly. There is the hero Mange-Tout, who is invited to dinner by Banquet, and meets after dinner very unpleasant company in Colique, Goutte and Hydropisie. Honte-de-dire-ses-Péchés might seem an anticipation of Puritan nomenclature to an English reader who did not remember the contemporary or even earlier personae of Langland’s poem. Some of these moralities possess distinct dramatic merit; among these is mentioned Les Blasphémateurs, an early and remarkable presentation of the Don Juan story. But their general character appears to be gravity, not to say dullness. The Enfans sans Souci, on the other hand, were definitely satirical, and nothing if not amusing. The chief of the society was entitledSoties. Prince des Sots, and his crown was a hood decorated with asses’ ears. The sotie was directly satirical, and only assumed the guise of folly as a stalking-horse for shooting wit. It was more Aristophanic than any other modern form of comedy, and like its predecessor, it perished as a result of its political application. Encouraged for a moment as a political engine at the beginning of the 16th century, it was soon absolutely forbidden and put down, and had to give place in one direction to the lampoon and the prose pamphlet, in another to forms of comic satire more general and vague in their scope. The farce, on the other hand, having neither moral purpose nor political intention, was a purer work of art, enjoyed a wider range of subject, and was in no danger of any permanent extinction. Farcical interludes were interpolated in the mysteries themselves; short farces introduced and rendered palatable the moralities, while the sotie was itself but a variety of farce, and all the kinds were sometimes combined in a sort of tetralogy. It was a short composition, 500 verses being considered sufficient, while the morality might run to at least 1000 verses, the miracle-play to nearly double that number, and the mystery to some 40,000 or 50,000, or indeed to any length that the author could find in his heart to bestow upon the audience, or the audience in their patience to suffer from the author. The number of persons and societies who acted these performances grew to be very large, being estimated at more than 5000 towards the end of the 15th century. Many fantastic personages came to join the Prince des Sots, such as the Empereur de Galilée, the Princes de l’Étrille, and des Nouveaux Mariés, the Roi de l’Épinette, the Recteur des Fous. Of the pieces which these societies represented one only, that of Maître Patelin, is now much known; but many are almost equally amusing. Patelin itself has an immense number of versions and editions. Other farces are too numerous to attempt to classify; they bear, however, in their subjects, as in their manner, a remarkable resemblance to the fabliaux, their source. Conjugal disagreements, the unpleasantness of mothers-in-law, the shifty or, in the earlier stages, clumsy valet and chambermaid, the mishaps of too loosely given ecclesiastics, the abuses of relics and pardons, the extortion, violence, and sometimes cowardice of the seigneur and the soldiery, the corruption of justice, its delays and its pompous apparatus, supply the subjects. The treatment is rather narrative than dramatic in most cases, as might be expected, but makes up by the liveliness of the dialogue for the deficiency of elaborately planned action and interest. All these forms, it will be observed, are directly or indirectly comic. Tragedy in the middle ages is represented only by the religious drama, except for a brief period towards the decline of that form, when the “profane” mysteries referred to above came to be represented. These were, however, rather “histories,” in the Elizabethan sense, than tragedies proper.
Prose History.—In France, as in all other countries of whose literary developments we have any record, literature in prose is considerably later than literature in verse. We have certain glosses or vocabularies possibly dating as far back as the 8th or even the 7th century; we have theEarly chronicles. Strassburg oaths, already described, of the 9th, and a commentary on the prophet Jonas which is probably as early. In the 10th century there are some charters and muniments in the vernacular; of the 11th the laws of William the Conqueror are the most important document; while the Assises de Jérusalem of Godfrey of Bouillon date, though not in the form in which we now possess them, from the same age. The 12th century gives us certain translations of the Scriptures, and the remarkable Arthurian romances already alluded to; and thenceforward French prose, though long less favoured than verse, begins to grow in importance. History, as is natural, was the first subject which gave it a really satisfactory opportunity of developing its powers. For a time the French chroniclers contented themselves with Latin prose or with French verse, after the fashion of Wace and the Belgian, Philippe Mouskés (1215–1283). These, after a fashion universal in medieval times, began from fabulous or merely literary origins, and just as Wyntoun later carries back the history of Scotland to the terrestrial paradise, so does Mouskés start that of France from the rape of Helen. But soon prose chronicles, first translated, then original, became common; the earliest of all is said to have been that of the pseudo-Turpin, which thus recovered in prose the language which had originally clothed it in verse, and which, to gain a false appearance of authenticity, it had exchanged still earlier for Latin. Then came French selections and versions from the great series of historical compositions undertaken by the monks of St Denys, the so-called Grandes Chroniques de France from the date of 1274, when they first took form in the hands of a monk styled Primat, to the reign of Charles V., when they assumed the title just given. But the first really remarkable author who used French prose as a vehicle of historical expression is Geoffroi de Villehardouin, marshal of Champagne, who was born rather after the middle of the 12th Villehardouin. century, and died in Greece in 1212. Under the title of Conquête de Constantinoble Villehardouin has left us a history of the fourth crusade, which has been accepted by all competent judges as the best picture extant of feudal chivalry in its prime. The Conquête de Constantinoble has been well called a chanson de geste in prose, and indeed in the surprising nature of the feats it celebrates, in the abundance of detail, and in the vivid and picturesque poetry of the narration, it equals the very best of the chansons. Even the repetition of the same phrases which is characteristic of epic poetry repeats itself in this epic prose; and as in the chansons so in Villehardouin, few motives appear but religious fervour and the love of fighting, though neither of these excludes a lively appetite for booty and a constant tendency to disunion and disorder. Villehardouin was continued by Henri de Valenciennes, whose work is less remarkable, and has more the appearance of a rhymed chronicle thrown into prose, a process which is known to have been actually applied in some cases. Nor is the transition from Villehardouin to Jean de Joinville (considerable in point of time, for Joinville was not born till ten years after Villehardouin’s death) in point of literary history immediate. The rhymed chronicles of Philippe Mouskés and Guillaume Guiart belong to this interval; and in prose the most remarkable works are the Chronique de Reims, a well-written history, having the interesting characteristics of taking the lay and popular side, and the great compilation edited (in the modern sense) by Baudouin d’Avesnes Joinville. (1213–1289). Joinville (? 1224–1317), whose special subject is the Life of St Louis, is far more modern than even the half-century which separates him from Villehardouin would lead us to suppose. There is nothing of the knight-errant about him personally, notwithstanding his devotion to his hero. Our Lady of the Broken Lances is far from being his favourite saint. He is an admirable writer, but far less simple than Villehardouin; the good King Louis tries in vain to make him share his own rather high-flown devotion. Joinville is shrewd, practical, there is even a touch of the Voltairean about him; but he, unlike his predecessor, has political ideas and antiquarian curiosity, and his descriptions are often very creditable pieces of deliberate literature.
It is very remarkable that each of the three last centuries of feudalism should have had one specially and extraordinarily gifted chronicler to describe it. What Villehardouin is to the 12th and Joinville to the 13th century, that Jean Froissart (1337–1410) is to the 14th. His picture is the most Froissart. famous as it is the most varied of the three, but it has special drawbacks as well as special merits. French critics have indeed been scarcely fair to Froissart, because of his early partiality to our own nation in the great quarrel of the time, forgetting that there was really no reason why he as a Hainaulter should take the French side. But there is no doubt that if the duty of an historian is to take in all the political problems of his time, Froissart certainly comes short of it. Although the feudal state in which knights and churchmen were alone of estimation was at the point of death, and though new orders of society were becoming important, though the distress and confusion of a transition state were evident to all, Froissart takes no notice of them. Society is still to him all knights and ladies, tournaments, skirmishes and feasts. He depicts these, not like Joinville, still less like Villehardouin, as a sharer in them, but with the facile and picturesque pen of a sympathizing literary onlooker. As the comparison of the Conquête de Constantinoble with a chanson de geste is inevitable, so is that of Froissart’s Chronique with a roman d’aventures.
For Provençal Literature see the separate article under that heading.
15th Century.—The 15th century holds a peculiar and somewhat disputed position in the history of French literature, as, indeed, it does in the history of the literature of all Europe, except Italy. It has sometimes been regarded as the final stage of the medieval period, sometimes as the earliest of the modern, the influence of the Renaissance in Italy already filtering through. Others again have taken the easy step of marking it as an age of transition. There is as usual truth in all these views. Feudality died with Froissart and Eustache Deschamps. The modern spirit can hardly be said to arise before Rabelais and Ronsard. Yet the 15th century, from the point of view of French literature, is much more remarkable than its historians have been wont to confess. It has not the strongly marked and compact originality of some periods, and it furnishes only one name of the highest order of literary interest; but it abounds in names of the second rank, and the very difference which exists between their styles and characters testifies to the existence of a large number of separate forces working in their different manners on different persons. Its theatre we have already treated by anticipation, and to it we shall afterwards recur. It was the palmy time of the early French stage, and all the dramatic styles which we have enumerated then came to perfection. Of no other kind of literature can the same be said. The century which witnessed the invention of printing naturally devoted itself at first more to the spreading of old literature than to the production of new. Yet as it perfected the early drama, so it produced the prose tale. Nor, as regards individual and single names, can the century of Charles d’Orléans, of Alain Chartier, of Christine de Pisan, of Coquillart, of Comines, and, above all, of Villon, be said to lack illustrations.
First among the poets of the period falls to be mentioned the
shadowy personality of Olivier Basselin. Modern criticism
has attacked the identity of the jovial miller, who
was once supposed to have written and perhaps
invented the songs called vaux de vire, and to haveChristine
de Pisan. also carried on a patriotic warfare against the English. But though Jean le Houx may have written the poems published under Basselin’s name two centuries later, it is taken as certain that an actual Olivier wrote actual vaux de vire at the beginning of the 15th century. About Christine de Pisan (1363–1430) and Alain Chartier (1392–c. 1430) there is no such doubt. Christine was the daughter of an Italian astrologer who was patronized by Charles V. She was born in Italy but brought up in France, and she enriched the literature of her adopted country Alain
Chartier. with much learning, good sense and patriotism. She wrote history, devotional works and poetry; and though her literary merit is not of the highest, it is very far from despicable. Alain Chartier, best known to modern readers by the story of Margaret of Scotland’s Kiss, was a writer of a somewhat similar character. In both Christine and Chartier there is a great deal of rather heavy moralizing, and a great deal of rather pedantic erudition. But it is only fair to remember that the intolerable political and social evils of the day called for a good deal of moralizing, and that it was the function of the writers of this time to fill up as well as they could the scantily filled vessels of medieval science and learning. A very different Charles d’Orléans. person is Charles d’Orléans (1391–1465), one of the greatest of grands seigneurs, for he was the father of a king of France, and heir to the duchies of Orléans and Milan. Charles, indeed, if not a Roland or a Bayard, was an admirable poet. He is the best-known and perhaps the best writer of the graceful poems in which an artificial versification is strictly observed, and helps by its recurrent lines and modulated rhymes to give to poetry something of a musical accompaniment even without the addition of music properly so called. His ballades are certainly inferior to those of Villon, but his rondels are unequalled. For fully a century and a half these forms engrossed the attention of French lyrical poets. Exercises in them were produced in enormous numbers, and of an excellence which has only recently obtained full recognition even in France. Charles d’Orléans is himself sufficient proof of what can be done in them in the way of elegance, sweetness, and grace which some have unjustly called effeminacy. But that this effeminacy was no natural or inevitable fault of the ballades and the rondeaux was fully proved by the most remarkable literary figure of the 15th century in France. To François Villon (1431–1463?), Villon. as to other great single writers, no attempt can be made to do justice in this place. His remarkable life and character especially lie outside our subject. But he is universally recognized as the most important single figure of French literature before the Renaissance. His work is very strange in form, the undoubtedly genuine part of it consisting merely of two compositions, known as the great and little Testament, written in stanzas of eight lines of eight syllables each, with lyrical compositions in ballade and rondeau form interspersed. Nothing in old French literature can compare with the best of these, such as the “Ballade des dames du temps jadis,” the “Ballade pour sa mère,” “La Grosse Margot,” “Les Regrets de la belle Heaulmière,” and others; while the whole composition is full of poetical traits of the most extraordinary vigour, picturesqueness and pathos. Towards the end of the century the poetical production of the time became very large. The artificial measures already alluded to, and others far more artificial and infinitely less beautiful, were largely practised. The typical poet of the end of the 15th century is Guillaume Crétin (d. 1525), who distinguished himself by writing verses with punning rhymes, verses ending with double or treble repetitions of the same sound, and many other tasteless absurdities, in which, as Pasquier remarks, “il perdit toute la grâce et la Crétin. liberté de la composition.” The other favourite direction of the poetry of the time was a vein of allegorical moralizing drawn from the Roman de la rose through the medium of Chartier and Christine, which produced “Castles of Love,” “Temples of Honour,” and such like. The combination of these drifts in verse-writing produced a school known in literary history, from a happy phrase of the satirist Coquillart (v. inf.), as the “Grands Rhétoriqueurs.” The chief of these besides Crétin were Jean Molinet (d. 1507); Jean Meschinot (c. 1420–1491), author of the Lunettes des princes; Florimond Robertet (d. 1522); Georges Chastellain (1404–1475), to be mentioned again; and Octavien de Saint-Gelais (1466–1502), father of a better poet than himself. Yet some of the minor poets of the time are not to be despised. Such are Henri Baude (1430–1490), a less pedantic writer than most, Martial d’Auvergne (1440–1508), whose principal work is L’Amant rendu cordelier au service de l’amour, and others, many of whom formed part of the poetical court which Charles d’Orléans kept up at Blois after his release.
While the serious poetry of the age took this turn, there was no lack of lighter and satirical verse. Villon, indeed, were it not for the depth and pathos of his poetical sentiment, might be claimed as a poet of the lighter order, and the patriotic diatribes against the English to which we have alluded easily passed into satire. The political quarrels of the latter part of the century also provoked much satirical composition. The disputes of the Bien Public and those between Louis XI. and Charles of Burgundy employed many pens. The most remarkable piece of the light literature of the first is “Les Ânes Volants,” a ballad on some of the early favourites of Louis. The battles of France and Burgundy were waged on paper between Gilles des Ormes and the above-named Georges Chastelain, typical representatives of the two styles of 15th-century poetry already alluded to—Des Ormes being the lighter and more graceful writer, Chastelain a pompous and learned allegorist. The most remarkable representative of purely light poetry outside the Coquillart. theatre is Guillaume Coquillart (1421–1510), a lawyer of Champagne, who resided for the greater part of his life in Reims. This city, like others, suffered from the pitiless tyranny of Louis XI. The beginnings of the standing army which Charles VII. had started were extremely unpopular, and the use to which his son put them by no means removed this unpopularity. Coquillart described the military man of the period in his Monologue du gendarme cassé. Again, when the king entertained the idea of unifying the taxes and laws of the different provinces, Coquillart, who was named commissioner for this purpose, wrote on the occasion a satire called Les Droits nouveaux. A certain kind of satire, much less good-tempered than the earlier forms, became indeed common at this epoch. M. Lenient has well pointed out that a new satirical personification dominates this literature. It is no longer Renart with his cynical gaiety, or the curiously travestied and almost amiable Devil of the Middle Ages. Now it is Death as an incident ever present to the imagination, celebrated in the thousand repetitions of the Danse Macabre, sculptured all over the buildings of the time, even frequently performed on holidays and in public. With the usual tendency to follow pattern, the idea of the “dance” seems to have been extended, and we have a Danse aux aveugles (1464) from Pierre Michaut, where the teachers are fortune, love and death, all blind. All through the century, too, anonymous verse of the lighter kind was written, some of it of great merit. The folk-songs already alluded to, published by Gaston Paris, show one side of this composition, and many of the pieces contained in M. de Montaiglon’s extensive Recueil des anciennes poésies françaises exhibit others.
The 15th century was perhaps more remarkable for its achievements in prose than in poetry. It produced, indeed, no prose writer of great distinction, except Comines; but it witnessed serious, if not extremely successful, efforts at prose composition. The invention of printing finally substituted the reader for the listener, and when this substitution has been effected, the main inducement to treat unsuitable subjects in verse is gone. The study of the classics at first hand contributed to the same end. As early as 1458 the university of Paris had a Greek professor. But long before this time translations in prose had been made. Pierre Bercheure (Bersuire) (1290–1352) had already translated Livy. Nicholas Oresme (c. 1334–1382), the tutor of Charles V., gave a version of certain Aristotelian works, which enriched the language with a large number of terms, then strange enough, now familiar. Raoul de Presles (1316–1383) turned into French the De civitate Dei of St Augustine. These writers or others composed Le Songe du vergier, an elaborate discussion of the power of the pope. The famous chancellor, Jean Charlier or Gerson (1363–1429), to whom the Imitation has among so many others been attributed, spoke constantly and wrote often in the vulgar tongue, though he attacked the most famous and popular work in that tongue, the Roman de la rose. Christine de Pisan and Alain Chartier were at least as much prose writers as poets; and the latter, while he, like Gerson, dealt much with the reform of the church, used in his Quadriloge invectif really forcible language for the purpose of spurring on the nobles of France to put an end to her sufferings and evils. These moral and didactic treatises were but continuations of others, which for convenience sake we have hitherto left unnoticed. Though verse was in the centuries prior to the 15th the favourite medium for literary composition, it was by no means the only one; and moral and educational treatises—some referred to above—already existed in pedestrian phrase. Certain household books (Livres de raison) have been preserved, some of which date as far back as the 13th century. These contain not merely accounts, but family chronicles, receipts and the like. Accounts of travel, especially to the Holy Land, culminated in the famous Voyage of Mandeville which, though it has never been of so much importance in French as in English, perhaps first took vernacular form in the French tongue. Of the 14th century, we have a Menagier de Paris, intended for the instruction of a young wife, and a large number of miscellaneous treatises of art, science and morality, while private letters, mostly as yet unpublished, exist in considerable numbers, and are generally of the moralizing character; books of devotion, too, are naturally frequent.
But the most important divisions of medieval energy in prose composition are the spoken exercises of the pulpit and the bar. The beginnings of French sermons have been much discussed, especially the question whether St Bernard, whose discourses we possess in ancient, but doubtfully Early sermon-writers. contemporary French, pronounced them in that language or in Latin. Towards the end of the 12th century, however, the sermons of Maurice de Sully (1160–1196) present the first undoubted examples of homiletics in the vernacular, and they are followed by many others—so many indeed that the 13th century alone counts 261 sermon-writers, besides a large body of anonymous work. These sermons were, as might indeed be expected, chiefly cast in a somewhat scholastic form—theme, exordium, development, example and peroration following in regular order. The 14th-century sermons, on the other hand, have as yet been little investigated. It must, however, be remembered that this age was the most famous of all for its scholastic illustrations, and for the early vigour of the Dominican and Franciscan orders. With the end of the century and the beginning of the 15th, the importance of the pulpit begins to revive. The early years of the new age have Gerson for their representative, while the end of the century sees the still more famous names of Michel Menot (1450–1518), Olivier Maillard (c. 1430–1502), and Jean Rauhn (1443–1514), all remarkable for the practice of a vigorous and homely style of oratory, recoiling before no aid of what we should nowadays style buffoonery, and manifesting a creditable indifference to the indignation of principalities and powers. Louis XI. is said to have threatened to throw Maillard into the Seine, and many instances of the boldness of these preachers and the rough vigour of their oratory have been preserved. Froissart had been followed as a chronicler by Enguerrand de Monstrelet (c. 1390–1453) and by the historiographers of the Burgundian court, Chastelain, already mentioned, interesting Chronique de Jacques de Lalaing is much the most attractive part of his work, and Olivier de la Marche. The memoir and chronicle writers, who were to be of so much importance in French literature, also begin to be numerous at this period. Juvenal des Ursins (1388–1473), an anonymous bourgeois de Paris (two such indeed), and the author of the Chronique scandaleuse, may be mentioned as presenting the character of minute observation and record which has distinguished the class ever since. Jean le maire de (not des) Belges (1473–c. 1525) was historiographer to Louis XII. and wrote Illustrations des Gaules. But Comines (1445–1509) is no imitator of Froissart Comines. or of any one else. The last of the quartette of great French medieval historians, he does not yield to any of his three predecessors in originality or merit, but he is very different from them. He fully represents the mania of the time for statecraft, and his book has long ranked with that of Machiavelli as a manual of the art, though he has not the absolutely non-moral character of the Italian. His memoirs, considered merely as literature, show a style well suited to their purport,—not, indeed, brilliant or picturesque, but clear, terse and thoroughly well suited to the expression of the acuteness, observation and common sense of their author.
But prose was not content with the domain of serious literature.
It had already long possessed a respectable position as a vehicle
of romance, and the end of the 14th and the beginning of the
15th centuries were pre-eminently the time when
the epics of chivalry were re-edited and extended in The Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles.
prose. Few, however, of these extensions offer much
literary interest. On the other hand, the best prose of
the century, and almost the earliest which deserves the title of
a satisfactory literary medium, was employed for the telling
of romances in miniature. The Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles is
undoubtedly the first work of prose belles-lettres in French,
and the first, moreover, of a long and most remarkable class
of literary work in which French writers may challenge all
comers with the certainty of victory—the short prose tale
of a comic character. This remarkable work has usually been
attributed, like the somewhat similar but later Heptaméron,
to a knot of literary courtiers gathered round a royal personage,
in this case the dauphin Louis, afterwards Louis XI. Some
evidence has recently been produced which seems to show that
this tradition, which attributed some of the tales to Louis
himself, is erroneous, but the question is still undecided. The
subjects of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles are by no means new.
They are simply the old themes of the fabliaux treated in the
old way. The novelty is in the application of prose to such a
purpose, and in the crispness, the fluency and the elegance of
the prose used. The fortunate author or editor to whom these
admirable tales have of late been attributed is Antoine de la Antoine de
la Salle. Salle (1398–1461), who, if this attribution and certain others be correct, must be allowed to be one of the most original and fertile authors of early French literature. La Salle’s one acknowledged work is the story of Petit Jehan de Saintré, a short romance exhibiting great command of character and abundance of delicate draughtsmanship. To this not only the authorship, part-authorship or editorship of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles has been added; but the still more famous and important work of L’Avocat Patelin has been assigned by respectable, though of course conjecturing, authority to the same paternity. The generosity of critics towards La Salle has not even stopped here. A fourth masterpiece of the period, Les Quinze Joies de mariage, has also been assigned to him. This last work, like the other three, is satirical in subject, and shows for the time a wonderful mastery of the language. Of the fifteen joys of marriage, or, in other words, the fifteen miseries of husbands, each has a chapter assigned to it, and each is treated with the peculiar mixture of gravity and ridicule which it requires. All who have read the book confess its infinite wit and the grace of its style. It is true that it has been reproached with cruelty and with a lack of the moral sentiment. But humanity and morality were not the strong point of the 15th century. There is, it must be admitted, about most of its productions a lack of poetry and a lack of imagination, produced, it may be, partly by political and other conditions outside literature, but very observable in it. The old forms of literature Influence of the Renaissance. itself had lost their interest, and new ones possessing strength to last and power to develop themselves had not yet appeared. It was impossible, even if the taste for it had survived, to spin out the old themes any longer. But the new forces required some time to set to work, and to avail themselves of the tremendous weapon which the press had put into their hands. When these things had adjusted themselves, literature of a varied and vigorous kind became once more possible and indeed necessary, nor did it take long to make its appearance.
16th Century.—In no country was the literary result of the Renaissance more striking and more manifold than in France. The double effect of the study of antiquity and the religious movement produced an outburst of literary developments of the most diverse kinds, which even the fierce and sanguinary civil dissensions of the Reformation did not succeed in checking. While the Renaissance in Italy had mainly exhausted its effects by the middle of the 16th century, while in Germany those effects only paved the way for a national literature, and did not themselves greatly contribute thereto, while in England it was not till the extreme end of the period that a great literature was forthcoming—in France almost the whole century was marked by the production of capital works in every branch of literary effort. Not even the 17th century, and certainly not the 18th, can show such a group of prose writers and poets as is formed by Calvin, St Francis de Sales, Montaigne, du Vair, Bodin, d’Aubigné, the authors of the Satire Ménippée, Monluc, Brantôme, Pasquier, Rabelais, des Periers, Herberay des Essarts, Amyot, Garnier, Marot, Ronsard and the rest of the “Pléiade,” and finally Regnier. These great writers are not merely remarkable for the vigour and originality of their thoughts, the freshness, variety and grace of their fancy, the abundance of their learning and the solidity of their arguments in the cases where argument is required. Their great merit is the creation of a language and a style able to give expression to these good gifts. The foregoing account of the medieval literature of France will have shown sufficiently that it is not lawful to despise the literary capacities and achievements of the older French. But the old language, with all its merits, was ill-suited to be a vehicle for any but the simpler forms of literary composition. Pleasant or affecting tales could be told in it with interest and pathos. Songs of charming naïveté and grace could be sung; the requirements of the epic and the chronicle were suitably furnished. But it was barren of the terms of art and science; it did not readily lend itself to sustained eloquence, to impassioned poetry or to logical discussion. It had been too long accustomed to leave these things to Latin as their natural and legitimate exponent, and it bore marks of its original character as a lingua rustica, a tongue suited for homely conversation, for folk-lore and for ballads, rather than for the business of the forum and the court, the speculations of the study, and the declamation of the theatre. Efforts had indeed been made, culminating in the heavy and tasteless erudition of the schools of Chartier and Crétin, to supply the defect; but it was reserved for the 16th century completely to efface it. The series of prose writers from Calvin to Montaigne, of poets from Marot to Regnier, elaborated a language yielding to no modern tongue in beauty, richness, flexibility and strength, a language which the reactionary purism of succeeding generations defaced rather than improved, and the merits of which have in still later days been triumphantly vindicated by the confession and the practice of all the greatest writers of modern France.
16th-Century Poetry.—The first few years of the 16th century were naturally occupied rather with the last developments of the medieval forms than with the production of the new model. The clerks of the Bazoche and the Confraternity of the Passion still produced and acted mysteries, moralities and farces. The poets of the “Grands Rhétoriqueurs” school still wrote elaborate allegorical poetry. Chansons de geste, rhymed romances and fabliaux had long ceased to be written. But the press was multiplying the contents of the former in the prose form which they had finally assumed, and in the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles there already existed admirable specimens of the short prose tale. There even were signs, as in some writers already mentioned and in Roger de Collérye, a lackpenny but light-hearted singer of the early part of the century, of definite enfranchisement in verse. But the first note of the new literature was sounded by Marot. Clément Marot (1496/7–1544). The son of an elder poet, Jehan des Mares called Marot (1463–1523), Clément at first wrote, like his father’s contemporaries, allegorical and mythological poetry, afterwards collected in a volume with a charming title, L’Adolescence clémentine. It was not till he was nearly thirty years old that his work became really remarkable. From that time forward till his death, about twenty years afterwards, he was much involved in the troubles and persecutions of the Huguenot party to which he belonged; nor was the protection of Marguerite d’Angoulême, the chief patroness of Huguenots and men of letters, always efficient. But his troubles, so far from harming, helped his literary faculties; and his epistles, epigrams, blasons (descendants of the medieval dits), and coq-à-l’âne became remarkable for their easy and polished style, their light and graceful wit, and a certain elegance which had not as yet been even attempted in any modern tongue, though the Italian humanists had not been far from it in some of their Latin compositions. Around Marot arose a whole school of disciples and imitators, such as Victor Brodeau (1470?–1540), the great authority on rondeaux, Maurice Scève, a fertile author of blasons, Salel, Marguerite herself (1492–1549), of whom more hereafter, and Mellin de Saint Gelais (1491–1558). The last, son of the bishop named above, is a courtly writer of occasional pieces, who sustained as well as he could the style marotique against Ronsard, and who has the credit of introducing the regular sonnet into French. But the inventive vigour of the age was so great that one school had hardly become popular before another pushed it from its stool, and even of the Marotists just mentioned Scève and Salel are often regarded as chief and member respectively of a Lyonnese coterie, intermediate between the schools of Marot and of Ronsard, containing other members of repute such as Antoine Heroët and Charles Fontaine and Ronsard. claiming Louise Labé (v. inf.) herself. Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585) was the chief of this latter. At first a courtier and a diplomatist, physical disqualification made him change his career. He began to study the classics under Jean Daurat (1508–1588), and with his master and five other writers, Étienne Jodelle (1532–1573), Rémy Belleau (1528–1577), Joachim du Bellay (1525–1560), Jean Antoine de Baïf (1532–1589), and Pontus de Tyard (d. 1605, bishop of Châlons-sur-Saône), composed the famous “Pléiade.” The object of this band was to bring the French language, in vocabulary, The Pléiade. constructions and application, on a level with the classical tongues by borrowings from the latter. They would have imported the Greek licence of compound words, though the genius of the French language is but little adapted thereto; and they wished to reproduce in French the regular tragedy, the Pindaric and Horatian ode, the Virgilian epic, &c. But it is an error (though one which until recently was very common, and which perhaps requires pretty thorough study of their work completely to extirpate it) to suppose that they advocated or practised indiscriminate borrowing. On the contrary both in du Bellay’s famous manifesto, the Deffense et illustration de la langue française, and in Ronsard’s own work, caution and attention to the genius and the tradition of French are insisted upon. Being all men of the highest talent, and not a few of them men of great genius, they achieved much that they designed, and even where they failed exactly to achieve it, they very often indirectly produced results as important and more beneficial than those which they intended. Their ideal of a separate poetical language distinct from that intended for prose use was indeed a doubtful if not a dangerous one. But it is certain that Marot, while setting an example of elegance and grace not easily to be imitated, set also an example of trivial and, so to speak, pedestrian language which was only too imitable. If France was ever to possess a literature containing something besides fabliaux and farces, the tongue must be enriched and strengthened. This accession of wealth and vigour it received from Ronsard and the Ronsardists. Doubtless they went too far and provoked to some extent the reaction which Malherbe led. Their importations were sometimes unnecessary. It is almost impossible to read the Franciade of Ronsard, and not too easy to read the tragedies of Jodelle and Garnier, fine as the latter are in parts. But the best of Ronsard’s sonnets and odes, the finest of du Bellay’s Antiquités de Rome (translated into English by Spenser), the exquisite Vanneur of the same author, and the Avril of Belleau, even the finer passages of d’Aubigné and du Bartas, are not only admirable in themselves, and of a kind not previously found in French literature, but are also such things as could not have been previously found, for the simple reason that the medium of expression was wanting. They constructed that medium for themselves, and no force of the reaction which they provoked was able to undo their work. Adverse criticism and the natural course of time rejected much that they had added. The charming diminutives they loved so much went out of fashion; their compounds (sometimes it must be confessed, justly) had their letters of naturalization promptly cancelled; many a gorgeous adjective, including some which could trace their pedigree to the earliest ages of French literature, but which bore an unfortunate likeness to the new-comers, was proscribed. But for all that no language has ever had its destiny influenced more powerfully and more beneficially by a small literary clique than the language of France was influenced by the example and disciples of that Ronsard whom for two centuries it was the fashion to deride and decry.
In a sketch such as the present it is impossible to give a separate account of individual writers, the more important of whom will be found treated under their own names. The effort of the “Pléiade” proper was continued and shared by a considerable number of minor poets, The Ronsardists. some of them, as has been already noted, belonging to different groups and schools. Olivier de Magny (d. 1560) and Louise Labé (b. 1526) were poets and lovers, the lady deserving far the higher rank in literature. There is more depth of passion in the writings of “La Belle Cordière,” as this Lyonnese poetess was called, than in almost any of her contemporaries. Jacques Tahureau (1527–1555) scarcely deserves to be called a minor poet. There is less than the usual hyperbole in the contemporary comparison of him to Catullus, and he reminds an Englishman of the school represented nearly a century later by Carew, Randolph and Suckling. The title of a part of his poem—Mignardises amoureuses de l’admirée—is characteristic both of the style and of the time. Jean Doublet (c. 1528–c. 1580), Amadis Jamyn (c. 1530–1585), and Jean de la Taille (1540–1608) deserve mention at least as poets, but two other writers require a longer allusion. Guillaume de Salluste, seigneur du Bartas (1544–1590), Du Bartas. whom Sylvester’s translation, Milton’s imitation, and the copious citations of Southey’s Doctor, have made known if not familiar in England, was partly a disciple and partly a rival of Ronsard. His poem of Judith was eclipsed by his better-known La Divine Sepmaine or epic of the Creation. Du Bartas was a great user and abuser of the double compounds alluded to above, but his style possesses much stateliness, and has a peculiar solemn eloquence which he shared with the other French Calvinists, and which was derived from the study partly of Calvin and partly of the Bible. Théodore Agrippa d’Aubigné D’Aubigné. (1552–1630), like du Bartas, was a Calvinist. His genius was of a more varied character. He wrote sonnets and odes as became a Ronsardist, but his chief poetical work is the satirical poem of Les Tragiques, in which the author brands the factions, corruptions and persecutions of the time, and in which there are to be found alexandrines of a strength, vigour and original cadence hardly to be discovered elsewhere, save in Corneille and Victor Hugo. Towards the end of the century, Philippe Desportes (1546–1606) and Jean Bertaut (1552–1611), with much enfeebled strength, but with a certain grace, continue the Ronsardizing tradition. Among their contemporaries must be noticed Jean Passerat (1534–1602), a writer of much wit and vigour and rather resembling Marot than Ronsard, and Vauquelin de la Fresnaye (1536–1607), the author of a valuable Ars poëtica and of the first French satires which actually bear that title. Jean le Houx (fl. c. 1600) continued, rewrote or invented the vaux de vire, commonly known as the work of Olivier Basselin, and already alluded to, while a still lighter and more eccentric verse style was cultivated by Étienne Tabourot des Accords (1549–1590), whose epigrams and other pieces were collected under odd titles, Les Bigarrures, Les Touches, &c. A curious pair are Guy du Faur de Pibrac (1529–1584) and Pierre Mathieu (b. 1563), authors of moral quatrains, which were learnt by heart in the schools of the time, replacing the distichs of the grammarian Cato, which, translated into French, had served the same purpose in the middle ages.
The nephew of Desportes, Mathurin Regnier (1573–1613), marks the end, and at the same time perhaps the climax, of the poetry of the century. A descendant at once of the older Gallic spirit of Villon and Marot, in virtue of his consummate acuteness, terseness and wit, of the school of Ronsard Regnier. by his erudition, his command of language, and his scholarship, Regnier is perhaps the best representative of French poetry at the critical time when it had got together all its materials, had lost none of its native vigour and force, and had not yet submitted to the cramping and numbing rules and restrictions which the next century introduced. The satirical poems of Regnier, and especially the admirable epistle to Rapin, in which he denounces and rebuts the critical dogmas of Malherbe, are models of nervous strength, while some of the elegies and odes contain expression not easily to be surpassed of the softer feelings of affection and regret. No poet has had more influence on the revival of French poetry in the last century than Regnier, and he had imitators in his own time, the chief of whom was Courval-Sonnet (Thomas Sonnet, sieur de Courval) (1577–1635), author of satires of some value for the history of manners.
16th-Century Drama.—The change which dramatic poetry
underwent during the 16th century was at least as remarkable
as that undergone by poetry proper. The first half of the period
saw the end of the religious mysteries, the licence of which had
irritated both the parliament and the clergy. Louis XII., at
the beginning of the century, was far from discouraging the disorderly
but popular and powerful theatre in which the Confraternity
of the Passion, the clerks of the Bazoche, and the Enfans
sans souci enacted mysteries, moralities, soties and farces.
He made them, indeed, an instrument in his quarrel with the
papacy, just as Philippe le Bel had made use of the allegorical
poems of Jehan de Meung and his fellows. Under his patronage
were produced the chief works of Gringore or Gringoire (c. 1480–1547),
by far the most remarkable writer of this class of composition.
His Prince des sots and his Mystère de St Louis are among
the best of their kind. An enormous volume of composition of
this class was produced between 1500 and 1550. One morality
by itself, L’Homme juste et l’homme mondain, contains some
36,000 lines. But in 1548, when the Confraternity was formally
established at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, leave to play sacred
subjects was expressly refused it. Moralities and soties dragged
on under difficulties till the end of the century, and the farce,
which is immortal, continually affected comedy. But the effect
of the Renaissance was to sweep away all other vestiges of the
medieval drama, at least in the capital. An entirely new class
of subjects, entirely new modes of treatment, and a different
kind of performers were introduced. The change naturally
came from Italy. In the close relationship with that country
which France had during the early years of the century, Italian
translations of the classical masterpieces were easily imported.
Soon French translations were made afresh of the Electra, the
Hecuba, the Iphigenia in Aulis, and the French humanists
hastened to compose original tragedies on the classical model,
especially as exhibited in the Latin tragedian Seneca. It was
impossible that the “Pléiade” should not eagerly seize such an
opportunity of carrying out its principles, and one of its members,
Jodelle (1532–1573), devoting himself mainly to dramatic Regular tragedy
comedy. composition, fashioned at once the first tragedy, Cléopatre, and the first comedy, Eugène, thus setting the example of the style of composition which for two centuries and a half Frenchmen were to regard as the highest effort of literary ambition. The amateur performance of these dramas by Jodelle and his friends was followed by a Bacchic procession after the manner of the ancients, which caused a great deal of scandal, and was represented by both Catholics and Protestants as a pagan orgy. The Cléopâtre is remarkable as being the first French tragedy, nor is it destitute of merit. It is curious that in this first instance the curt antithetic στιχομυθία, which was so long characteristic of French plays and plays imitated from them, and which Butler ridicules in his Dialogue of Cat and Puss, already appears. There appears also the grandiose and smooth but stilted declamation which came rather from the imitation of Seneca than of Sophocles, and the tradition of which was never to be lost. Cléopâtre was followed by Didon, which, unlike its predecessor, is entirely in alexandrines, and observes the regular alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes. Jodelle was followed by Jacques Grévin (1540?–1570) with a Mort de César, which shows an improvement in tragic art, and two still better comedies, Les Ébahis and La Trésorière by Jean de la Taille (1540–1608), who made still further progress towards the accepted French dramatic pattern in his Saul furieux and his Corrivaux, Jacques, his brother (1541–1562), and Jean de la Péruse (1529–1554), who wrote a Médée. A very Garnier. different poet from all these is Robert Garnier (1545–1601). Garnier is the first tragedian who deserves a place not too far below Rotrou, Corneille, Racine, Voltaire and Hugo, and who may be placed in the same class with them. He chose his subjects indifferently from classical, sacred and medieval literature. Sédécie, a play dealing with the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, is held to be his masterpiece, and Bradamante deserves notice because it is the first tragi-comedy of merit in French, and because the famous confidant here makes his first appearance. Garnier’s successor, Antoine de Monchrétien or Montchrestien (c. 1576–1621), set the example of dramatizing contemporary subjects. His masterpiece is L’Écossaise, the first of many dramas on the fate of Mary, queen of Scots. While tragedy thus clings closely to antique models, comedy, as might be expected in the country of the fabliaux, is more independent. Italy had already a comic school of some originality, and the French farce was too vigorous and lively a production to permit of its being entirely overlooked. The first comic writer of great Larivey. merit was Pierre Larivey (c. 1550–c. 1612), an Italian by descent. Most if not all of his plays are founded on Italian originals, but the translations or adaptations are made with the greatest freedom, and almost deserve the title of original works. The style is admirable, and the skilful management of the action contrasts strongly with the languor, the awkward adjustment, and the lack of dramatic interest found in contemporary tragedians. Even Molière found something to use in Larivey.
16th-Century Prose Fiction.—Great as is the importance of the 16th century in the history of French poetry, its importance in the history of French prose is greater still. In poetry the middle ages could fairly hold their own with any of the ages that have succeeded them. The epics of chivalry, whether of the cycles of Charlemagne, Arthur, or the classic heroes, not to mention the miscellaneous romans d’aventures, have indeed more than held their own. Both relatively and absolutely the Franciade of the 16th century, the Pucelle of the 17th, the Henriade of the 18th, cut a very poor figure beside Roland and Percivale, Gerard de Roussillon, and Parthenopex de Blois. The romances, ballads and pastourelles, signed and unsigned, of medieval France were not merely the origin, but in some respects the superiors, of the lyric poetry which succeeded them. Thibaut de Champagne, Charles d’Orléans and Villon need not veil their crests in any society of bards. The charming forms of the rondel, the rondeau and the ballade have won admiration from every competent poet and critic who has known them. The fabliaux give something more than promise of La Fontaine, and the two great compositions of the Roman du Renart and the Roman de la rose, despite their faults and their alloy, will always command the admiration of all persons of taste and judgment who take the trouble to study them. But while poetry had in the middle ages no reason to blush for her French representatives, prose (always the younger and less forward sister) had far less to boast of. With the exception of chronicles and prose romances, no prose works of any real importance can be quoted before the end of the 15th century, and even then the chief if not the only place of importance must be assigned to the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, a work of admirable prose, but necessarily light in character, and not yet demonstrating the efficacy of the French language as a medium of expression for serious and weighty thought. Up to the time of the Renaissance and the consequent reformation, Latin had, as we have already remarked, been considered the sufficient and natural organ for this expression. In France as in other countries the disturbance in religious thought may undoubtedly claim the glory of having repaired this disgrace of the vulgar tongue, and of having fitted and taught it to express whatever thoughts the theologian, the historian, the philosopher, the politician and the savant had occasion to utter. But the use of prose as a vehicle for lighter themes was more continuous with the literature that preceded, and serves as a natural transition from poetry and the drama to history and science. Among the prose writers, therefore, of the 16th century we shall give the first place to the novelists and romantic writers.
Among these there can be no doubt of the precedence, in every sense of the word, of François Rabelais (c. 1490–1553), the one French writer (or with Molière one of the two) whom critics the least inclined to appreciate the characteristics of French literature have agreed to place among Rabelais. the few greatest of the world. With an immense erudition representing almost the whole of the knowledge of his time, with an untiring faculty of invention, with the judgment of a philosopher, and the common sense of a man of the world, with an observation that let no characteristic of the time pass unobserved, and with a tenfold portion of the special Gallic gift of good-humoured satire, Rabelais united a height of speculation and depth of insight and a vein of poetical imagination rarely found in any writer, but altogether portentous when taken in conjunction with his other characteristics. His great work has been taken for an exercise of transcendental philosophy, for a concealed theological polemic, for an allegorical history of this and that personage of his time, for a merely literary utterance, for an attempt to tickle the popular ear and taste. It is all of these, and it is none—all of them in parts, none of them in deliberate and exclusive intention. It may perhaps be called the exposition and commentary of all the thoughts, feelings, aspirations and knowledge of a particular time and nation put forth in attractive literary form by a man who for once combined the practical and the literary spirit, the power of knowledge and the power of expression. The work of Rabelais is the mirror of the 16th century in France, reflecting at once its comeliness and its uncomeliness, its high aspirations, its voluptuous tastes, its political and religious dissensions, its keen criticism, its eager appetite and hasty digestion of learning, its gleams of poetry, and its ferocity of manners. In Rabelais we can divine the “Pléiade” and Marot, the Cymbalum mundi and Montaigne, Amyot and the Amadis, even Calvin and Duperron.
It was inevitable that such extraordinary works as Gargantua and Pantagruel should attract special imitators in the direction of their outward form. It was also inevitable that this imitation should frequently fix upon these Rabelaisian characteristics which are least deserving of imitation, and most likely to be depraved in the hands of imitators. It fell within the plan of the master to indulge in what has been called fatrasie, the huddling together, that is to say, of a medley of language and images which is best known to English readers in the not always successful following of Sterne. It pleased him also to disguise his naturally terse, strong and nervous style in a burlesque envelope of redundant language, partly ironical, partly the result of superfluous erudition, and partly that of a certain childish wantonness and exuberance, which is one of his raciest and pleasantest characteristics. In both these points he was somewhat corruptly followed. But fortunately the romancical writers of the 16th century had not Rabelais for their sole model, but were also influenced by the simple and straightforward style of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. The joint influence gives us some admirable work. Nicholas of Troyes, a saddler of Champagne, came too early (his Grand Parangon des nouvelles nouvelles appeared in 1536) to copy Rabelais. But Noël du Fail (d. c. 1585?), a judge at Rennes, shows the double influence in his Propos rustiques and Contes d’Eutrapel, both of which, especially the former, are lively and well-written pictures of contemporary life and thought, as the country magistrate actually saw and dealt with them. In 1558, however, appeared two works of far higher literary and social interest. These are Des Periers. the Heptaméron of the queen of Navarre, and the Contes et joyeux devis of Bonaventure des Periers (c. 1500–1544). Des Periers, who was a courtier of Marguerite’s, has sometimes been thought to have had a good deal to do with the first-named work as well as with the second, and was also the author of a curious Lucianic satire, strongly sceptical in cast, the Cymbalum mundi. Indeed, not merely the queen’s prose works, but also the poems gracefully entitled Les Marguerites de la Marguerite, are often attributed to the literary men whom the sister of Francis I. gathered round her. However this may be, some single influence of power enough to give unity and distinctness of savour evidently The Heptaméron. presided over the composition of the Heptaméron. Composed as it is on the model of Boccaccio, its tone and character are entirely different, and few works have a more individual charm. The Tales of des Periers are shorter, simpler and more homely; there is more wit in them and less refinement. But both works breathe, more powerfully perhaps than any others, the peculiar mixture of cultivated and poetical voluptuousness with a certain religiosity and a vigorous spirit of action which characterizes the French Renaissance. Later in time, but too closely connected with Rabelais in form and spirit to be here omitted, came the Moyen de parvenir of Béroalde de Verville (1558?–1612?), a singular fatrasie, uniting wit, wisdom, learning and indecency, and crammed with anecdotes which are always amusing though rarely decorous.
At the same time a fresh vogue was given to the chivalric
romance by Herberay’s translation of Amadis de Gaula. French
writers have supposed a French original for the
Amadis in some lost roman d’aventures. It is of course
impossible to say that this is not the case, but there Amadis
of Gaul. is not one tittle of evidence to show that it is. At any rate the adventures of Amadis were prolonged in Spanish through generation after generation of his descendants. This vast work Herberay des Essarts in 1540 undertook to translate or retranslate, but it was not without the assistance of several followers that the task was completed. Southey has charged Herberay with corrupting the simplicity of the original, a charge which does not concern us here. It is sufficient to say that the French Amadis is an excellent piece of literary work, and that Herberay deserves no mean place among the fathers of French prose. His book had an immense popularity; it was translated into many foreign languages, and for some time it served as a favourite reading book for foreigners studying French. Nor is it to be doubted that the romancers of the Scudéry and Calprenède type in the next century were much more influenced both for good and harm by these Amadis romances than by any of the earlier tales of chivalry.
16th-Century Historians.—As in the case of the tale-tellers, so in that of the historians, the writers of the 16th century had traditions to continue. It is doubtful indeed whether many of them can risk comparison as artists with the great names of Villehardouin and Joinville, Froissart and Comines. The 16th century, however, set the example of dividing the functions of the chronicler, setting those of the historian proper on one side, and of the anecdote-monger and biographer on the other. The efforts at regular history made in this century were not of the highest value. But on the other hand the practice of memoir-writing, in which the French were to excel every nation in the world, and of literary correspondence, in which they were to excel even their memoirs, was solidly founded.
One of the earliest historical writers of the century was Claude de Seyssel (1450–1520), whose history of Louis XII. aims not unsuccessfully at style. De Thou (1553–1617) wrote in Latin, but Bernard de Girard, sieur du Haillan (1537–1610), composed a Histoire de France on Thucydidean principles as transmitted through the successive mediums of Polybius, Guicciardini and Paulus Aemilius. The instance invariably quoted, after Thierry, of du Haillan’s method is his introduction, with appropriate speeches, of two Merovingian statesmen who argue out the relative merits of monarchy and oligarchy on the occasion of the election of Pharamond. Besides du Haillan, la Popelinière (c. 1540–1608), who less ambitiously attempted a history of Europe during his own time, and expended immense labour on the collection of information and materials, deserves mention.
There is no such poverty of writers of memoirs. Robert de la Mark, du Bellay, Marguerite de Valois (the youngest or third Marguerite, first wife of Henri IV., 1553–1615), Villars, Tavannes, La Tour d’Auvergne, and many others composed commentaries and autobiographies. The well-known and very agreeable Histoire du gentil seigneur de Bayart (1524) is by an anonymous “Loyal Serviteur.” Vincent Carloix (fl. 1550), the secretary of the marshal de Vielleville, composed some memoirs abounding in detail and incident. The Lettres of Cardinal d’Ossat (1536–1604) and the Négociations of Pierre Jeannin (1540–1622) have always had a high place among documents of their kind. But there are four collections of memoirs concerning this time which far exceed all others in interest and importance. The turbulent dispositions of the time, the loose dependence of the nobles and even the smaller gentry on any single or central authority, the rapid changes of political situations, and the singularly active appetite, both for pleasure and for business, for learning and for war, which distinguished the French gentleman of the 16th century, place the memoirs of François de Lanoue (1531–1591), Blaise de Mon[t]luc (1503–1577), Agrippa d’Aubigné and Pierre de Bourdeille[s] Brantôme (1540–1614) almost at the head of the literature of their class. The name of Brantôme is known to all who have the least tincture of French literature, and the works of the others are not inferior in interest, and perhaps superior in spirit and conception, to the Dames Galantes, the Grands Capitaines and the Hommes illustres. The commentaries of Montluc, which Henri Quatre is said to have called the soldier’s Bible, are exclusively military and deal with affairs only. Montluc was governor in Guienne, where he repressed the savage Huguenots of the south with a savagery worse than their own. He was, however, a partisan of order, not of Catholicism. He hung and shot both parties with perfect impartiality, and refused to have anything to do with the massacre of St Bartholomew. Though he was a man of no learning, his style is excellent, being vivid, flexible and straightforward. Lanoue, who was a moderate in politics, has left his principles reflected in his memoirs. D’Aubigné, so often to be mentioned, gives the extreme Huguenot side as opposed to the royalist partisanship of Montluc and the via media of Brantôme. Lanoue. Brantôme, on the other hand, is quite free from any political or religious prepossessions, and, indeed, troubles himself very little about any such matters. He is the shrewd and somewhat cynical observer, moving through the crowd and taking note of its ways, its outward appearance, its heroisms and its follies. It is really difficult to say whether the recital of a noble deed of arms or the telling of a scandalous story about a court lady gave him the most pleasure, and impossible to say which he did best. Certainly he had ample material for both exercises in the history of his time.
The branches of literature of which we have just given an account may be fairly connected, from the historical point of view, with work of the same kind that went before as well as with work of the same kind that followed them. It was not so with the literature of theology, law, politics and erudition, which the 16th century also produced, and with which it for the first time enlarged the range of composition in the vulgar tongue. Not only had Latin been invariably adopted as the language of composition on such subjects, but the style of the treatises dealing with such matters had been traditional rather than original. In speculative philosophy or metaphysics proper even this century did not witness a great development; perhaps, indeed, such a development was not to be expected until the minds of men had in some degree settled down from their agitation on more practical matters. It is not without significance that Calvin (1509–1564) is the great figure in serious French prose in the first half of the century, Montaigne the corresponding figure in the second half. After Calvin and Montaigne we expect Descartes.
16th-Century Theologians.—In France, as in all other countries, the Reformation was an essentially popular movement, though from special causes, such as the absence of political homogeneity, the nobles took a more active part both with pen and sword in it than was the case in England. But the Calvin. great textbook of the French Reformation was not the work of any noble. Jean Calvin’s Institution of the Christian Religion is a book equally remarkable in matter and in form, in circumstances and in result. It is the first really great composition in argumentative French prose. Its severe logic and careful arrangement had as much influence on the manner of future thought, both in France and the other regions whither its widespread popularity carried it, as its style had on the expression of such thought. It was the work of a man of only seven-and-twenty, and it is impossible to exaggerate the originality of its manner when we remember that hardly any models of French prose then existed except tales and chronicles, which required and exhibited totally different qualities of style. It is indeed probable that had not the Institution been first written by its author in Latin, and afterwards translated by him, it might have had less dignity and vigour; but it must at the same time be remembered that this process of composition was at least equally likely, in the hands of any but a great genius, to produce a heavy and pedantic style neither French nor Latin in character. Something like this result was actually produced in some of Calvin’s minor works, and still more in the works of many of his followers, whose lumbering language gained for itself, in allusion to their exile from France, the title of “style refugié.” Nevertheless, the use of the vulgar tongue on the Protestant side, and the possession of a work of such importance written therein, gave the Reformers an immense advantage which their adversaries were some time in neutralizing. Even before the Institution, Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455–1537) and Guillaume Farel (1489–1565) saw and utilized the importance of the vernacular. Calvin (1509–1564) was much helped by Pierre Viret (1511–1571), who wrote a large number of small theological and moral dialogues, and of satirical pamphlets, destined to captivate as well as to instruct the lower people. The more famous Beza (Théodore de Bèze) (1519–1605) wrote chiefly in Latin, but he composed in French an ecclesiastical history of the Reformed churches and some translations of the Psalms. Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde (1530–1593), a gentleman of Brabant, followed Viret as a satirical pamphleteer on the Protestant side. On the other hand, the Catholic champions at first affected to disdain the use of the vulgar tongue, and their pamphleteers, when they did attempt it, were unequal to the task. Towards the end of the century a more decent war was waged with Philippe du Plessis Mornay (1549–1623) on the Protestant side, whose work is at least as much directed against freethinkers and enemies of Christianity in general as against the dogmas and discipline of Rome. His adversary, the redoubtable Cardinal du Perron (1556–1618), who, originally a Calvinist, went over to the other side, employed French most vigorously in controversial works, chiefly with reference to the eucharist. Du Perron was celebrated as the first controversialist of the time, and obtained dialectical victories over all comers. At the same time the bishop of Geneva, St Francis of Sales (1567–1622), supported the Catholic side, partly by controversial works, but still more by his devotional writings. The Introduction to a Devout Life, which, though actually published early in the next century, had been written some time previously, shares with Calvin’s Institution the position of the most important theological work of the period, and is in remarkable contrast with it in style and sentiment as well as in principles and plan. It has indeed been accused of a certain effeminacy, the appearance of which is in all probability mainly due to this very contrast. The 16th century does not, like the 17th, distinguish itself by literary exercises in the pulpit. The furious preachers of the League, and their equally violent opponents, have no literary value.
16th-Century Moralists and Political Writers.—The religious dissensions and political disturbances of the time could not fail to exert an influence on ethical and philosophical thought. Yet, as we have said, the century was not prolific of pure philosophical speculation. The Montaigne. scholastic tradition, though long sterile, still survived, and with it the habit of composing in Latin all works in any way connected with philosophy. The Logic of Ramus in 1555 is cited as the first departure from this rule. Other philosophical works are few, and chiefly express the doubt and the freethinking which were characteristic of the time. This doubt assumes the form of positive religious scepticism only in the Cymbalum mundi of Bonaventure des Periers, a remarkable series of dialogues which excited a great storm, and ultimately drove the author to commit suicide. The Cymbalum mundi is a curious anticipation of the 18th century. The literature of doubt, however, was to receive its principal accession in the famous essays of Michel Eyguem, seigneur de Montaigne (1533–1592). It would be a mistake to imagine the existence of any sceptical propaganda in this charming and popular book. Its principle is not scepticism but egotism; and as the author was profoundly sceptical, this quality necessarily rather than intentionally appears. We have here to deal only very superficially with this as with other famous books, but it cannot be doubted that it expresses the mental attitude of the latter part of the century as completely as Rabelais expresses the mental attitude of the early part. There is considerably less vigour and life in this attitude. Inquiry and protest have given way to a placid conviction that there is not much to be found out, and that it does not much matter; the erudition though abundant is less indiscriminate, and is taken in and given out with less gusto; exuberant drollery has given way to quiet irony; and though neither business nor pleasure is decried, both are regarded rather as useful pastimes incident to the life of man than with the eager appetite of the Renaissance. From the purely literary point of view, the style is remarkable from its absence of pedantry In construction, and yet for its rich vocabulary and picturesque brilliancy. The follower and imitator of Montaigne, Pierre Charron (1541–1603), carried his master’s scepticism to a somewhat more positive degree. His principal book, De la sagesse, scarcely deserves the comparative praise which Pope has given it. On the other hand Guillaume du Vair (1556–1621), a lawyer and orator, takes the positive rather than the negative side in morality, and regards the vicissitudes in human affairs from the religious and theological point of view in a series of works characterized by the special merit of the style of great orators.
The revolutionary and innovating instinct which showed itself in the 16th century with reference to church government and doctrine spread naturally enough to political matters. The intolerable disorder of the religious wars naturally set the thinkers of the age speculating on the doctrines of government in general. The favourite and general study of antiquity helped this tendency, and the great accession of royal power in all the monarchies of Europe invited a speculative if not a practical reaction. The persecutions of the Protestants naturally provoked a republican spirit among them, and the violent antipathy of the League to the houses of Valois and Bourbon made its partisans adopt almost openly the principles of democracy and tyrannicide.
The greatest political writer of the age is Jean Bodin (1530–1596), whose République is founded partly on speculative considerations like the political theories of the ancients, and partly on an extended historical inquiry. Bodin, like most lawyers who have taken the royalist side, is for unlimited Bodin. monarchy, but notwithstanding this, he condemns religious persecution and discourages slavery. In his speculations on the connexion between forms of government and natural causes, he serves as a link between Aristotle and Montesquieu. On the other hand, the causes which we have mentioned made a large number of writers adopt opposite conclusions. Étienne de la Boétie (1530–1563), the friend of Montaigne’s youth, composed the Contre un or Discours de la servitude volontaire, a protest against the monarchical theory. The boldness of the protest and the affectionate admiration of Montaigne have given la Boétie a much higher reputation than any extant work of his actually deserves. The Contre un is a kind of prize essay, full of empty declamation borrowed from the ancients, and showing no grasp of the practical conditions of politics. Not much more historically based, but far more vigorous and original, is the Franco-Gallia of François Hotmann (1524–1590), a work which appeared both in Latin and French, which extols the authority of the states-general, represents them as direct successors of the political institutions of Gauls and Franks, and maintains the right of insurrection. In the last quarter of the century political animosity knew no bounds. The Protestants beheld a divine instrument in Poltrot de Méré, the Catholics in Jacques Clément. The Latin treatises of Hubert Languet (1518–1581) and Buchanan formally vindicated—the first, like Hotmann, the right of rebellion based on an original contract between prince and people, the second the right of tyrannicide. Indeed, as Montaigne confesses, divine authorization for political violence was claimed and denied by both parties according as the possession or the expectancy of power belonged to each, and the excesses of the preachers and pamphleteers knew no bounds.
Every one, however, was not carried away. The literary merits of the chancellor Michel de l’Hôpital (1507–1573) are not very great, but his efforts to promote peace and moderation were unceasing. On the other side Lanoue, with far greater literary gifts, pursued the same ends, and pointed out the ruinous consequences of continued dissension. Du Plessis Mornay took a part in political discussion even more important than that which he bore in religious polemics, and was of the utmost service to Henri Quatre in defending his cause against the League, as was also Hurault, another author of state papers. Du Vair, already mentioned, powerfully assisted the same cause by his successful defence of the Salic law, the disregard of which by the Leaguer states-general was intended to lead to the admission of the Spanish claim to the crown. But the foremost work against Satire Ménippée. the League was the famous Satire Ménippée (1594), in a literary point of view one of the most remarkable of political books. The Ménippée was the work of no single author, but was due, it is said, to the collaboration of five, Pierre Leroi, who has the credit of the idea, Jacques Gillot, Florent Chrétien, Nicolas Rapin (1541–1596) and Pierre Pithou (1539–1596), with some assistance in verse from Passerat and Gilles Durand. The book is a kind of burlesque report of the meeting of the states-general, called for the purpose of supporting the views of the League in 1593. It gives an account of the procession of opening, and then we have the supposed speeches of the principal characters—the duc de Mayenne, the papal legate, the rector of the university (a ferocious Leaguer) and others. But by far the most remarkable is that attributed to Claude d’Aubray, the leader of the Tiers État, and said to be written by Pithou, in which all the evils of the time and the malpractices of the leaders of the League are exposed and branded. The satire is extraordinarily bitter and yet perfectly good-humoured. It resembles in character rather that of Butler, who unquestionably imitated it, than any other. The style is perfectly suited to the purpose, having got rid of almost all vestiges of the cumbrousness of the older tongue without losing its picturesque quaintness. It is no wonder that, as we are told by contemporaries, it did more for Henri Quatre than all other writings in his cause. In connexion with politics some mention of legal orators and writers may be necessary. In 1539 the ordinance of Villers-Cotterets enjoined the exclusive use of the French language in legal procedure. The bar and bench of France during the century produced, however, besides those names already mentioned in other connexions, only one deserving of special notice, that of Étienne Pasquier (1529–1615), author of a celebrated speech against the right of the Jesuits to take part in public teaching. This he inserted in his great work, Recherches de la France, a work dealing with almost every aspect of French history whether political, antiquarian or literary.
16th-Century Savants.—One more division, and only one, that of scientific and learned writers pure and simple, remains. Much of the work of this kind during the period was naturally done in Latin, the vulgar tongue of the learned. But in France, as in other countries, the study of the classics led to a vast number of translations, and it so happened that one of the translators deserves as a prose writer a rank among the highest. Many of the authors already mentioned contributed to the literature of translation. Des Periers translated the Platonic dialogue Lysis, la Boétie some works of Xenophon and Plutarch, du Vair the De corona, the In Ctesiphontem and the Pro Milone. Salel attempted the Iliad, Belleau the false Anacreon, Baïf some plays of Plautus and Terence. Besides these Lefèvre d’Étaples gave a version of the Bible, Saliat one of Herodotus, and Louis Leroi (1510–1577), not to be confounded with the part author of the Ménippée, many works of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek writers. But while most if not all of these translators owed the merits of their work to their originals, and deserved, much more deserve, to be read only by those to whom those originals are Amyot. sealed, Jacques Amyot (1513–1593), bishop of Auxerre, takes rank as a French classic by his translations of Plutarch, Longus and Heliodorus. The admiration which Amyot excited in his own time was immense. Montaigne declares that it was thanks to him that his contemporaries knew how to speak and to write, and the Academy in the next age, though not too much inclined to honour its predecessors, ranked him as a model. His Plutarch, which had an enormous influence at the time, and coloured perhaps more than any classic the thoughts and writings of the 16th century, both in French and English, was then considered his masterpiece. Nowadays perhaps, and from the purely literary standpoint, that position would be assigned to his exquisite version of the exquisite story of Daphnis and Chloe. It is needless to say that absolute fidelity and exact scholarship are not the pre-eminent merits of these versions. They are not philological exercises, but works of art.
On the other hand, Claude Fauchet (1530–1601) in two antiquarian works, Antiquités gauloises et françoises and L’Origine de la langue et de la poésie française, displays a remarkable critical faculty in sweeping away the fables which had encumbered history. Fauchet had the (for his time) wonderful habit of consulting manuscripts, and we owe to him literary notices of many of the trouvères. At the same time François Grudé, sieur de la Croix du Maine (1552–1592), and Antoine Duverdier (1544–1600) founded the study of bibliography in France. Pasquier’s Recherches, already alluded to, carries out the principles of Fauchet independently, and besides treating the history of the past in a true critical spirit, supplies us with voluminous and invaluable information on contemporary politics and literature. He has, moreover, the merit which Fauchet had not, of being an excellent writer. Henri Estienne [Stephanus] (1528–1598) also deserves notice in this place, both for certain treatises on the French language, full of critical crotchets, and also for his curious Apologie pour Hérodote, a remarkable book not particularly easy to class. It consists partly of a defence of its nominal subject, partly of satirical polemics on the Protestant side, and is filled almost equally with erudition and with the buffoonery and fatrasie of the time. The book, indeed, was much too Rabelaisian to suit the tastes of those in whose defence it was composed.
The 16th century is somewhat too early for us to speak of science, and such science as was then composed falls for the most part outside French literature. The famous potter, Bernard Palissy (1510–1590), however, was not much less skilful as a fashioner of words than as a fashioner of pots, and his description of the difficulties of his experiments in enamelling, which lasted sixteen years, is well known. The great surgeon Ambrose Paré (c. 1510–1590) was also a writer, and his descriptions of his military experiences at Turin, Metz and elsewhere have all the charm of the 16th-century memoir. The only other writers who require special mention are Olivier de Serres (1539–1619), who composed, under the title of Théâtre d’agriculture, a complete treatise on the various operations of rural economy, and Jacques du Fouilloux (1521–1580), who wrote on hunting (La Vénerie). Both became extremely popular and were frequently reprinted.
17th-Century Poetry.—It is not always easy or possible to make the end or the beginning of a literary epoch synchronize exactly with historical dates. It happens, however, that for once the beginning of the 17th century coincides almost exactly with an entire revolution in French literature. Malherbe. The change of direction and of critical standard given by François de Malherbe (1556–1628) to poetry was to last for two whole centuries, and to determine, not merely the language and complexion, but also the form of French verse during the whole of that time. Accidentally, or as a matter of logical consequence (it would not be proper here to attempt to decide the question), poetry became almost synonymous with drama. It is true, as we shall have to point out, that there were, in the early part of the 17th century at least, poets, properly so called, of no contemptible merit. But their merit, in itself respectable, sank in comparison with the far greater merit of their dramatic rivals. Théophile de Viau and Racan, Voiture and Saint-Amant cannot for a moment be mentioned in the same rank with Corneille. It is certainly curious, if it is not something more than curious, that this decline in poetry proper should have coincided with the so-called reforms of Malherbe. The tradition of respect for this elder and more gifted Boileau was at one time all-powerful in France, and, notwithstanding the Romantic movement, is still strong. In rejecting a large number of the importations of the Ronsardists, he certainly did good service. But it is difficult to avoid ascribing in great measure to his influence the origin of the chief faults of modern French poetry, and modern French in general, as compared with the older language. He pronounced against “poetic diction” as such, forbade the overlapping (enjambement) of verse, insisted that the middle pause should be of sense as well as sound, and that rhyme must satisfy eye as well as ear. Like Pope, he sacrificed everything to “correctness,” and, unluckily for French, the sacrifice was made at a time when no writer of an absolutely supreme order had yet appeared in the language. With Shakespeare and Milton, not to mention scores of writers only inferior to them, safely garnered, Pope and his followers could do us little harm. Corneille and Molière unfortunately came after Malherbe. Yet it would be unfair to this writer, however badly we may think of his influence, to deny him talent, and even a certain amount of poetical inspiration. He had not felt his own influence, and the very influences which he despised and proscribed produced in him much tolerable and some admirable verse, though he is not to be named as a poet with Regnier, who had the courage, the sense and the good taste to oppose and ridicule his innovations. Of Malherbe’s school, Honorat de Bueil, marquis de Racan (1589–1670), and François de Maynard (1582–1646) were the most remarkable. The former was a true poet, though not a very strong one. Like his master, he is best when he follows the models whom that master contemned. Perhaps more than any other poet, he set the example of the classical alexandrine, the smooth and melodious but monotonous and rather effeminate measure which Racine was to bring to the highest perfection, and which his successors, while they could not improve its smoothness, were to make more and more monotonous until the genius of Victor Hugo once more broke up its facile polish, supplied its stiff uniformity, and introduced vigour, variety, colour and distinctness in the place of its feeble sameness and its pale indecision. But the vigour, not to say the licence, of the 16th century could not thus die all at once. In Théophile de Viau (1591–1626) the early years of the 17th century had their Villon. The later poet was almost as unfortunate as the earlier, and almost as disreputable, but he had a great share of poetical and not a small one of critical power. The étoile enragée under which he complains that he was born was at least kind to him in this respect; and his readers, after he had been forgotten for two centuries, have once more done him justice. Racan and Théophile were followed in the second quarter of the century by two schools which sufficiently well represented the tendencies of each. The first was that of Vincent Voiture (1598–1648), Isaac de Benserade (1612–1691), and other poets such as Claude de Maleville (1597–1647), author of La Belle Matineuse, who were connected more or less with the famous literary coterie of the Hôtel de Rambouillet. Théophile was less worthily succeeded by a class, it can hardly be called a school of poets, some of whom, like Gérard Saint-Amant (1594–1660), wrote drinking songs of merit and other light pieces; others, like Paul Scarron (1610–1660) and Sarrasin (1603? 4? 5?-1654), devoted themselves rather to burlesque of serious verse. Most of the great dramatic authors of the time also wrote miscellaneous poetry, and there was even an epic school of the most singular kind, in ridiculing and discrediting which Boileau for once did undoubtedly good service. The Pucelle of Jean Chapelain (1595–1674), the unfortunate author who was deliberately trained and educated for a poet, who enjoyed for some time a sort of dictatorship in French literature on the strength of his forthcoming work, and at whom from the day of its publication every critic of French literature has agreed to laugh, was the most famous and perhaps the worst of these. But Georges de Scudéry (1601–1667) wrote an Alaric, the Père le Moyne (1602–1671) a Saint Louis, Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin (1595–1676), a dramatist and critic of some note, a Clovis, and Saint-Amant a Moïse, which were not much better, though Théophile Gautier in his Grotesques has valiantly defended these and other contemporary versifiers. And indeed it cannot be denied that even the epics, especially Saint Louis, contain flashes of finer poetry than France was to produce for more than a century outside of the drama. Some of the lighter poets and classes of poetry just alluded to also produced some remarkable verse. The Précieuses of the Hôtel Rambouillet, with all their absurdities, encouraged if they did not produce good literary work. In their society there is no doubt that a great reformation of manners took place, if not of morals, and that the tendency to literature elegant and polished, yet not destitute of vigour, which marks the 17th century, was largely developed side by side with much scandal-mongering and anecdotage. Many of the authors whom these influences inspired, such as Voiture, Saint-Évremond and others, have been or will be noticed. But even such poets and wits as Antoine Baudouin de Sénecé (1643–1737), Jean de Segrais (1624–1701), Charles Faulure de Ris, sieur de Charleval (1612–1693), Antoine Godeau (1605–1672), Jean Ogier de Gombaud (1590–1666), are not without interest in the history of literature; while if Charles Cotin (1604–1682) sinks below this level and deserves Molière’s caricature of him as Trissotin in Les Femmes savantes, Gilles de Ménage (1630–1692) certainly rises above it, notwithstanding the companion satire of Vadius. Ménage’s name naturally suggests the Ana which arose at this time and were long fashionable, stores of endless gossip, sometimes providing instruction and often amusement. The Guirlande de Julie, in which most of the poets of the time celebrated Julie d’Angennes, daughter of the marquise de Rambouillet, is perhaps the best of all such albums, and Voiture, the typical poet of the coterie, was certainly the best writer of vers de société who is known to us. The poetical war which arose between the Uranistes, the followers of Voiture, and the Jobistes, those of Benserade, produced reams of sonnets, epigrams and similar verses. This habit of occasional versification continued long. It led as a less important consequence to the rhymed Gazettes of Jean Loret (d. 1665), which recount in octosyllabic verse of a light and lively kind the festivals and court events of the early years of Louis XIV. It led also to perhaps the most remarkable non-dramatic poetry of the century, the Contes and Fables of Jean de la Fontaine (1621–1695). No French writer is better known than la Fontaine, and there is no need to dilate on his merits. It has been well said that he completes Molière, and that the two together give something to French literature which no other literature possesses. Yet la Fontaine is after all only a writer of fabliaux, in the language and with the manners of his own century.
All the writers we have mentioned belong more or less to the first half of the century, and so do Valentin Conrart (1603–1675), Antoine Furetière (1626–1688), Chapelle (Claude Emmanuel) l’Huillier (1626–1686), and others not worth special mention. The latter half of the century is far less productive, and the poetical quality of its production is even lower than the quantity. In it Boileau (1636–1711) is the chief poetical figure. Next to him can only be mentioned Madame Deshoulières (1638–1694), Guillaume de Brébeuf (1618–1661), the translator of Lucan, Philippe Quinault (1635–1688), the composer of opera libretti. Boileau’s satire, where it has much merit, is usually borrowed direct from Horace. He had a certain faculty as a critic of the slashing order, and might have profitably used it if he had written in prose. But of his poetry it must be said, not so much that it is bad, as that it is not, in strictness, poetry at all, and the same is generally true of all those who followed him.
17th-Century Drama.—We have already seen how the medieval
theatre was formed, and how in the second half of the 16th century
it met with a formidable rival in the classical drama of Jodelle
and Garnier. In 1588 mysteries had been prohibited, and with
the prohibition of the mysteries the Confraternity of the Passion
lost the principal part of its reason for existence. The other
bodies and societies of amateur actors had already perished, and
at length the Hôtel de Bourgogne itself, the home of the confraternity,
had been handed over to a regular troop of actors,
while companies of strollers, whose life has been vividly depicted
in the Roman comique of Scarron and the Capitaine Fracasse
of Théophile Gautier, wandered all about the provinces. The old
farce was for a time maintained or revived by Tabarin, a remarkable
figure in dramatic history, of whom but little is known.
The great dramatic author of the first quarter of the 17th century
was Alexandre Hardy (1569–1631), who surpassed even Heywood Hardy.
in fecundity, and very nearly approached the portentous
productiveness of Lope de Vega. Seven
hundred is put down as the modest total of Hardy’s pieces, but
not much more than a twentieth of these exist in print. From
these latter we can judge Hardy. They are hardly up to the
level of the worst specimens of the contemporary Elizabethan
theatre, to which, however, they bear a certain resemblance.
Marston’s Insatiate Countess and the worst parts of Chapman’s
Bussy d’Ambois may give English readers some notion of them.
Yet Hardy was not totally devoid of merit. He imitated and
adapted Spanish literature, which was at this time to France
what Italian was in the century before and English in the century
after, in the most indiscriminate manner. But he had a considerable
command of grandiloquent and melodramatic expression,
a sound theory if not a sound practice of tragic writing, and that
peculiar knowledge of theatrical art and of the taste of the
theatrical public which since his time has been the special possession
of the French playwright. It is instructive to compare the
influence of his irregular and faulty genius with that of the regular
and precise Malherbe. From Hardy to Rotrou is, in point of
literary interest, a great step, and from Rotrou to Corneille a
greater. Yet the theory of Hardy only wanted the genius of
Rotrou and Corneille to produce the latter. Jean de Rotrou
(1610–1650) has been called the French Marlowe, and there is Rotrou.
a curious likeness and yet a curious contrast between
the two poets. The best parts of Rotrou’s two best
plays, Venceslas and St Genest, are quite beyond comparison
in respect of anything that preceded them, and the central
speech of the last-named play will rank with anything in
French dramatic poetry. Contemporary with Rotrou were
other dramatic writers of considerable dramatic importance,
most of them distinguished by the faults of the Spanish
school, its declamatory rodomontade, its conceits, and its
occasionally preposterous action. Jean de Schélandre (d.
1635) has left us a remarkable work in Tyr et Sidon, which
exemplifies in practice, as its almost more remarkable preface by
François Ogier defends in principle, the English-Spanish model.
Théophile de Viau in Pyrame et Thisbé and in Pasiphaé produced
a singular mixture of the classicism of Garnier and the extravagancies
of Hardy. Scudéry in l’Amour tyrannique and other
plays achieved a considerable success. The Marianne of Tristan
(1601–1655) and the Sophonisbe of Jean de Mairet (1604–1686)
are the chief pieces of their authors. Mairet resembles Marston
in something more than his choice of subject. Another dramatic
writer of some eminence is Pierre du Ryer (1606–1648). But
the fertility of France at this moment in dramatic authors
was immense; nearly 100 are enumerated in the first quarter Corneille.
of the century. The early plays of Pierre Corneille
(1606–1684) showed all the faults of his contemporaries
combined with merits to which none of them except Rotrou,
and Rotrou himself only in part, could lay claim. His first play
was Mélite, a comedy, and in Clitandre, a tragedy, he soon produced
what may perhaps be not inconveniently taken as the
typical piece of the school of Hardy. A full account of Corneille
may be found elsewhere. It is sufficient to say here that his
importance in French literature is quite as great in the way of
influence and example as in the way of intellectual excellence.
The Cid and the Menteur are respectively the first examples of
French tragedy and comedy which can be called modern. But
this influence and example did not at first find many imitators.
Corneille was a member of Richelieu’s band of five poets. Of
the other four Rotrou alone deserves the title; the remaining
three, the prolific abbé de Boisrobert, Guillaume Colletet (whose
most valuable work, a MS. Lives of Poets, was never printed, and
burnt by the Communards in 1871), and Claude de Lestoile
(1597–1651), are as dramatists worthy of no notice, nor were they
soon followed by others more worthy. Yet before many years
had passed the examples which Corneille had set in tragedy and
in comedy were followed up by unquestionably the greatest comic
writer, and by one who long held the position of the greatest
tragic writer of France. Beginning with mere farces of the
Italian type, and passing from these to comedies still of an Italian
character, it was in Les Précieuses ridicules, acted in 1659, that Molière.
Racine. Molière (1622–1673), in the words of a spectator, hit at last on “la bonne comédie.” The next fifteen years comprise the whole of his best known work, the finest expression beyond doubt of a certain class of comedy that any literature has produced. The tragic masterpieces of Racine (1639–1699) were not far from coinciding with the comic masterpieces of Molière, for, with the exception of the remarkable aftergrowth of Esther and Athalie, they were produced chiefly between 1667 and 1677. Both Racine and Molière fall into the class of writers who require separate mention. Here we can only remark that both to a certain extent committed and encouraged a fault which distinguished much subsequent French dramatic literature. This was the too great individualizing of one point in a character, and the making the man or woman nothing but a blunderer, a lover, a coxcomb, a tyrant and the like. The very titles of French plays show this influence—they are Le Grondeur, Le Joueur, &c. The complexity of human character is ignored. This fault distinguishes both Molière and Racine from writers of the very highest order; and in especial it distinguishes the comedy of Molière and the tragedy of Racine from the comedy and tragedy of Shakespeare. In all probability this and other defects of the French drama (which are not wholly apparent in the work of Molière and Corneille, are shown in their most favourable light in those of Racine, and appear in all their deformity in the successors of the latter) arise from the rigid adoption of the Aristotelian theory of the drama with its unities and other restrictions, especially as transmitted by Horace through Boileau. This adoption was very much due to the influence of the French Academy, which was founded unofficially by Conrart in 1629, which received official standing six years later, The
Academy. and which continued the tradition of Malherbe in attempting constantly to school and correct, as the phrase went, the somewhat disorderly instincts of the early French stage. Even the Cid was formally censured for irregularity by it. But it is fair to say that François Hédélin, abbé d’Aubignac (1604–1676), whose Pratique du théâtre is the most wooden of the critical treatises of the time, was not an academician. It is difficult to say whether the subordination of all other classes of composition to the drama, which has ever since been characteristic of French literature, was or was not due to the predilection of Richelieu, the main protector if not exactly the founder of the Academy, for the theatre. Among the immediate successors and later contemporaries of the three great dramatists we do not find any who deserve high rank as tragedians, though there are some whose comedies are more than respectable. It is at least significant that the restrictions imposed by the academic theory on the comic drama were far less severe than those which tragedy had to undergo. The latter was practically confined, in respect of sources of attraction, to the dexterous manipulation of the unities; the interest of a plot attenuated as much as possible, and intended to produce, instead of pity a mild sympathy, and instead of terror a mild alarm (for the purists decided against Corneille that “admiration was not a tragic passion”); and lastly the composition of long tirades of smooth but monotonous verses, arranged in couplets tipped with delicately careful rhymes. Only Thomas Corneille (1625–1709), the inheritor of an older tradition and of a great name, deserves to be excepted from the condemnation to be passed on the lesser tragedians of this period. He was unfortunate in possessing his brother’s name, and in being, like him, too voluminous in his compositions; but Camma, Ariane, Le Comte d’Essex, are not tragedies to be despised. On the other hand, the names of Jean de Campistron (1656–1723) and Nicolas Pradon (1632–1698) mainly serve to point injurious comparisons; Joseph François Duché (1668–1704) and Antoine La Fosse (1653–1708) are of still less importance, and Quinault’s tragedies are chiefly remarkable because he had the good sense to give up writing them and to take to opera. The general excellence of French comedy, on the other hand, was sufficiently vindicated. Besides the splendid sum of Molière’s work, the two great tragedians had each, in Le Menteur and Les Plaideurs, set a capital example to their successors, which was fairly followed. David Augustin de Brueys (1640–1723) and Jean Palaprat (1650–1721) brought out once more the ever new Advocat Patelin besides the capital Grondeur already referred to. Quinault and Campistron wrote fair comedies. Florent Carton Dancourt (1661–1726), Charles Rivière Dufresny (c. 1654–1724), Edmond Boursault (1638–1701), were all comic writers of considerable merit. But the chief comic dramatist of the latter period of the 17th century was Jean François Regnard (1655–1709), whose Joueur and Légataire are comedies almost of the first rank.
17th-Century Fiction.—In the department of literature which comes between poetry and prose, that of romance-writing, the 17th century, excepting one remarkable development, was not very fertile. It devoted itself to so many new or changed forms of literature that it had no Heroic Romance. time to anticipate the modern novel. Yet at the beginning of the century one very curious form of romance-writing was diligently cultivated, and its popularity, for the time immense, prevented the introduction of any stronger style. It is remarkable that, as the first quarter of the 17th century was pre-eminently the epoch of Spanish influence in France, the distinctive satire of Cervantes should have been less imitated than the models which Cervantes satirized. However this may be, the romances of 1600 to 1650 form a class of literature vast, isolated, and, perhaps, of all such classes of literature most utterly obsolete and extinct. Taste, affectation or antiquarian diligence have, at one time or another, restored to a just, and sometimes a more than just, measure of reputation most of the literary relics of the past. Romances of chivalry, fabliaux, early drama, Provençal poetry, prose chronicles, have all had, and deservedly, their rehabilitators. But Polexandre and Cléopâtre, Clélie and the Grand Cyrus, have been too heavy for all the industry and energy of literary antiquarians. As we have already hinted, the nearest ancestry which can be found for them is the romances of the Amadis type. But the Amadis, and in a less degree its followers, although long, are long in virtue of incident. The romances of the Clélie type are long in virtue of interminable discourse, moralizing and description. Their manner is not unlike that of the Arcadia and the Euphues which preceded them in England; and they express in point of style the tendency which simultaneously manifested itself all over Europe at this period, and whose chief exponents were Gongora in Spain, Marini in Italy, and Lyly in England. Everybody knows the Carte de Tendre which originally appeared in Clélie, while most people have heard of the shepherds and shepherdesses who figure in the Astrée of Honoré D’Urfé (1568–1625), on the borders of the Lignon; but here general knowledge ends, and there is perhaps no reason why it should go much further. It is sufficient to say that Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701) principally devotes herself in the books above mentioned to laborious gallantry and heroism, La Calprénède (1610–1663) in Cassandre et Cléopâtre to something which might have been the historical novel if it had been constructed on a less preposterous scale, and Marin le Roy de Gomberville (1600–1647) in Polexandre to moralizings and theological discussions on Jansenist principles, while Pierre Camus, bishop of Belley (1582–1652), in Palombe and others, approached still nearer to the strictly religious story. In the latter part of the century, the example of La Fontaine, though he himself wrote in poetry, helped to recall the tale-tellers of France to an occupation more worthy of them, more suitable to the genius of the literature, and more likely to last. The reaction against the Clélie school produced first Madame de Villedieu (Cathérine Desjardins) (1632–1692), a fluent and facile novelist, who enjoyed great but not enduring popularity. The form which the prose tale took at this period was that of the fairy story. Perrault (1628–1703) and Madame d’Aulnoy (d. 1705) composed specimens of this kind which have never ceased to be popular since. Hamilton (1646–1720), the author of the well-known Mémoires du comte de Gramont, wrote similar stories of extraordinary merit in style and ingenuity. There is yet a third class of prose writing which deserves to be mentioned. It also may probably be traced to Spanish influence, that is to say, to the picaresque romances which the 16th and 17th centuries produced in Spain in large numbers. The most remarkable example of this is the Roman comique of the burlesque writer Scarron. The Roman bourgeois of Antoine Furetière (1619–1688) also deserves mention as a collection of pictures of the life of the time, arranged in the most desultory manner, but drawn with great vividness, observation and skill. A remarkable writer who had great influence on Molière has also to be mentioned in this connexion rather than in any other. This is Cyrano de Bergerac (1619–1655), who, besides composing doubtful comedies and tragedies, writing political pamphlets, and exercising the task of literary criticism in objecting to Scarron’s burlesques, produced in his Histoires comiques des états et empires de la lune et du soleil, half romantic and half satirical compositions, in which some have seen the original of Gulliver’s Travels, in which others have discovered only a not very successful imitation of Rabelais, and which, without attempting to decide these questions, may fairly be ranked in the same class of fiction with the masterpieces of Swift and Rabelais, though of course at an immense distance below them. One other work, and in literary influence perhaps the most remarkable of its kind in the century, remains. Madame de Lafayette, Marie de la Vergne (1634–1692), the friend of La Rochefoucauld and of Madame de Sévigné, though she did not exactly anticipate the modern novel, showed the way to it in her stories, the principal of which are Zaïde and still more La Princesse de Clèves. The latter, though a long way from Manon Lescaut, Clarissa, or Tom Jones, is a longer way still from Polexandre or the Arcadia. The novel becomes in it no longer a more or less fictitious chronicle, but an attempt at least at the display of character. La Princesse de Clèves has never been one of the works widely popular out of their own country, nor perhaps does it deserve such popularity, for it has more grace than strength; but as an original effort in an important direction its historical value is considerable. But with this exception, the art of fictitious prose composition, except on a small scale, is certainly not one in which the century excelled, nor are any of the masterpieces which it produced to be ranked in this class.
17th-Century Prose.—If, however, this was the case, it cannot
be said that French prose as a whole was unproductive at this
time. On the contrary, it was now, and only now,
that it attained the strength and perfection for which
it has been so long renowned, and which has perhaps, J. G. de Balzac and modern French
prose. by a curious process of compensation, somewhat deteriorated since the restoration of poetry proper in France. The prose Malherbe of French literature was Jean Guez de Balzac (1594–1654). The writers of the 17th century had practically created the literary language of prose, but they had not created a prose style. The charm of Rabelais, of Amyot, of Montaigne, and of the numerous writers of tales and memoirs whom we have noticed, was a charm of exuberance, of naïveté, of picturesque effect—in short, of a mixture of poetry and prose, rather than of prose proper. Sixteenth-century French prose is a delightful instrument in the hands of men and women of genius, but in the hands of those who have not genius it is full of defects, and indeed is nearly unreadable. Now, prose is essentially an instrument of all work. The poet who has not genius had better not write at all; the prose writer often may and sometimes must dispense with this qualification. He has need, therefore, of a suitable machine to help him to perform his task, and this machine it is the glory of Balzac to have done more than any other person to create. He produced himself no great work, his principal writings being letters, a few discourses and dissertations, and a work entitled Le Socrate chrétien, a sort of treatise on political theology. But if the matter of his work is not of the first importance, its manner is of a very different value. Instead of the endless diffuseness of the preceding century, its ill-formed or rather unformed sentences, and its haphazard periods, we find clauses, sentences and paragraphs distinctly planned, shaped and balanced, a cadence introduced which is rhythmical but not metrical, and, in short, prose which is written knowingly instead of the prose which is unwittingly talked. It has been well said of him that he “écrit pour écrire”; and such a man, it is evident, if he does nothing else, sets a valuable example to those who write because they have something to say. Voiture seconded Balzac without much intending to do so. His prose style, also chiefly contained in letters, is lighter than that of his contemporary, and helped to gain for French prose the tradition of vivacity and sparkle which it has always possessed, as well as that of correctness and grace.
17th-century History.—In historical composition, especially in the department of memoirs, this period was exceedingly rich. At last there was written, in French, an entire history of France. The author was François Eudes de Mézeray (1610–1683), whose work, though not exhibiting the perfection of style at which some of his contemporaries had already arrived, and though still more or less uncritical, yet deserves the title of history. The example was followed by a large number of writers, some of extended works, some of histories in part. Mézeray himself is said to have had a considerable share in the Histoire du roi Henri le grand by the archbishop Péréfixe (1605–1670); Louis Maimbourg (1610–1686) wrote histories of the Crusades and of the League; Paul Pellisson (1624–1693) gave a history of Louis XIV. and a more valuable Mémoire in defence of the superintendent Fouquet. Still later in the century, or at the beginning of the next, the Père d’Orléans (1644–1698) wrote a history of the revolutions of England, the Père Daniel (1649–1728), like d’Orléans a Jesuit, composed a lengthy history of France and a shorter one on the French military forces. Finally, at the end of the period, comes the great ecclesiastical history of Claude Fleury (1640–1723), a work which perhaps belongs more to the section of erudition than to that of history proper. Three small treatises, however, composed by different authors towards the middle part of the century, supply remarkable instances of prose style in its application to history. These are the Conjurations du comte de Fiesque, written by the famous Cardinal de Retz (1613–1679), the Conspiration de Walstein of Sarrasin, and the Conjuration des Espagnols contre Venise, composed in 1672 by the abbé de Saint-Réal (1639–1692), the author of various historical and critical works deserving less notice. These three works, whose similarity of subject and successive composition at short intervals leave little doubt that a certain amount of intentional rivalry animated the two later authors, are among the earliest and best examples of the monographs for which French, in point of grace of style and lucidity of exposition, has long been the most successful vehicle of expression among European languages. Among other writers of history, as distinguished from memoirs, need only be noticed Agrippa d’Aubigné, whose Histoire universelle closed his long and varied list of works, and Varillas (1624–1696), a historian chiefly remarkable for his extreme untrustworthiness. In point of memoirs and correspondence the period is hardly less fruitful than that which preceded it. The Régistres-Journaux of Pierre de l’Étoile (1540–1611) consist of a diary something of the Pepys character, kept for nearly forty years by a person in high official employment. The memoirs of Sully (1560–1641), published under a curious title too long to quote, date also from this time.
Henri IV. himself has left a considerable correspondence, which is not destitute of literary merit, though not equal to the memoirs of his wife. What are commonly called Richelieu’s Memoirs were probably written to his order; his Testament politique may be his own. Henri de Rohan (1579–1638) has not memoirs of the first value. Both this and earlier times found chronicle in the singular Historiettes of Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux (1619–1690), a collection of anecdotes, frequently scandalous, reaching from the times of Henri IV. to those of Louis XIV., to which may be joined the letters of Guy Patin (1602–1676). The early years of the latter monarch and the period of the Fronde had the cardinal de Retz himself, than whom no one was certainly better qualified for historian, not to mention a crowd of others, of whom we may mention Madame de Motteville (1621–1689), Jean Hérault de Gourville (1625–1703), Mademoiselle de Montpensier (“La Grande Mademoiselle”) (1627–1693), Conrart, Turenne and Mathieu Molé (1584–1663), François du Val, marquis de Fontenay-Mareuil (1594–1655), Arnauld d’Andilly (1588–1670). From this time memoirs and memoir writers were ever multiplying. The queen of them all is Madame de Sevigné (1626–1696), on whom, as on most of the great and better-known writers whom we have had and shall have to mention, it is impossible here to dwell at length. The last half of the century produced crowds of similar but inferior writers. The memoirs of Roger de Bussy-Rabutin (1618–1693) (author of a kind of scandalous chronicle called Histoire amoureuse des Gaules) and of Madame de Maintenon (1635–1719) perhaps deserve notice above the others. But this was in truth the style of composition in which the age most excelled. Memoir-writing became the occupation not so much of persons who made history, as was the case from Comines to Retz, as of those who, having culture, leisure and opportunity of observation, devoted themselves to the task of recording the deeds of others, and still more of regarding the incidents of the busy, splendid and cultivated if somewhat frivolous world of the court, in which, from the time of Louis XIV.’s majority, the political life of the nation and almost its whole history were centred. Many, if not most, of these writers were women, who thus founded the celebrity of the French lady for managing her mother-tongue, and justified by results the taste and tendencies of the blue-stockings and précieuses of the Hôtel Rambouillet and similar coteries. The life which these writers saw before them furnished them with a subject to be handled with the minuteness and care to which they had been accustomed in the ponderous romances of the Clélie type, but also with the wit and terseness hereditary in France, and only temporarily absent in those ponderous compositions. The efforts of Balzac and the Academy supplied a suitable language and style, and the increasing tendency towards epigrammatic moralizing, which reached its acme in La Rochefoucauld (1663–1680) and La Bruyère (1639–1696), added in most cases point and attractiveness to their writings.
17th-Century Philosophers and Theologians.—To these moralists we might, perhaps, not inappropriately pass at once. But it seems better to consider first the philosophical and theological developments of the age, which must share with its historical experiences and studies the credit of producing Descartes.these writers. Philosophy proper, as we have already had occasion to remark, had hitherto made no use of the vulgar tongue. The 16th century had contributed a few vernacular treatises on logic, a considerable body of political and ethical writing, and a good deal of sceptical speculation of a more or less vague character, continued into our present epoch by such writers as François de la Mothe le Vayer (1588–1672), the last representative of the orthodox doubt of Montaigne and Charron. But in metaphysics proper it had not dabbled. The 17th century, on the contrary, was to produce in René Descartes (1596–1650), at once a master of prose style, the greatest of French philosophers, and one of the greatest metaphysicians, not merely of France and of the 17th century, but of all countries and times. Even before Descartes there had been considerable and important developments of metaphysical speculation in France. The first eminent philosopher of French birth was Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655). Gassendi devoted himself to the maintenance of a modernized form of the Epicurean doctrines, but he wrote mainly, if not entirely, in Latin. Another sceptical philosopher of a less scientific character was the physicist Gabriel Naudé (1600–1653), who, like many others of the philosophers of the time, was accused of atheism. But as none of these could approach Descartes in philosophical power and originality, so also none has even a fraction of his importance in the history of French literature. Descartes stands with Plato, and possibly Berkeley and Malebranche, at the head of all philosophers in respect of style; and in his case the excellence is far more remarkable than in others, inasmuch as he had absolutely no models, and was forced in a great degree to create the language which he used. The Discours de la méthode is not only one of the epoch-making books of philosophy, it is also one of the epoch-making books of French style. The tradition of his clear and perfect expression was taken up, not merely by his philosophical disciples, but also by Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) and the school of Port Royal, who will be noticed presently. The very genius of the Cartesian philosophy was intimately connected with this clearness, distinctness and severity of style; and there is something more than a fanciful contrast between these literary characteristics of Descartes, on the one hand, and the elaborate splendour of Bacon, the knotty and crabbed strength of Hobbes, and the commonplace and almost vulgar slovenliness of Locke. Of the followers of Descartes, putting aside the Port Royalists, by far the most distinguished, both in philosophy and in literature, Malebranche. is Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715). His Recherche de la vérité, admirable as it is for its subtlety and its consecutiveness of thought, is equally admirable for its elegance of style. Malebranche cannot indeed, like his great master, claim absolute originality. But his excellence as a writer is as great as, if not greater than, that of Descartes, and the Recherche remains to this day the one philosophical treatise of great length and abstruseness which, merely as a book, is delightful to read—not like the works of Plato and Berkeley, because of the adventitious graces of dialogue or description, but from the purity and grace of the language, and its admirable adjustment to the purposes of the argument. Yet, for all this, philosophy hardly flourished in France. It was too intimately connected with theological and ecclesiastical questions, and especially with Jansenism, to escape suspicion and persecution. Descartes himself was for much of his life an exile in Holland and Sweden; and though the unquestionable orthodoxy of Malebranche, the strongly religious cast of his works, and the remoteness of the abstruse region in which he sojourned from that of the controversies of the day, protected him, other followers of Descartes were not so fortunate. Holland, indeed, became a kind of city of refuge for students of philosophy, though even in Holland itself they were by no means entirely safe from persecution. By far the most remarkable of French philosophical Bayle. sojourners in the Netherlands was Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), a name not perhaps of the first rank in respect of literary value, but certainly of the first as regards literary influence. Bayle, after oscillating between the two confessions, nominally remained a Protestant in religion. In philosophy he in the same manner oscillated between Descartes and Gassendi, finally resting in an equally nominal Cartesianism. Bayle was, in fact, both in philosophy and in religion, merely a sceptic, with a scepticism at once like and unlike that of Montaigne, and differenced both by temperament and by circumstance—the scepticism of the mere student, exercised more or less in all histories, sciences and philosophies, and intellectually unable or unwilling to take a side. His style is hardly to be called good, being diffuse and often inelegant. But his great dictionary, though one of the most heterogeneous and unmethodical of compositions, exercised an enormous influence. It may be called the Bible of the 18th century, and contains in the germ all the desultory philosophy, the ill-ordered scepticism, and the critical but negatively critical acuteness of the Aufklärung.
We have said that the philosophical, theological and moral
tendencies of the century, which produced, with the exception
of its dramatic triumphs, all its greatest literary works, are almost
inextricably intermingled. Its earliest years, however, bear
in theological matters rather the complexion of the Jansenists.
previous century. Du Perron and St Francis of Sales
survived until nearly the end of its first quarter, and the
most remarkable works of the latter bear the dates of 1608 and
later. It was not, however, till some years had passed, till the
counter-Reformation had reconverted the largest and most
powerful portion of the Huguenot party, and till the influence of
Jansenius and Descartes had time to work, that the extraordinary
outburst of Gallican theology, both in pulpit and in press, took
place. The Jansenist controversy may perhaps be awarded the
merit of provoking this, as far as writing was concerned. The
astonishing eloquence of contemporary pulpit oratory may be set
down partly to the zeal for conversion of which du Perron and
de Sales had given the example, partly to the same taste of the
time which encouraged dramatic performances, for the sermon
and the tirade have much in common. Jansenius himself, though
a Dutchman by birth, passed much time in France, and it was
in France that he found most disciples. These disciples consisted
in the first place of the members of the society of Port Royal
des Champs, a coterie after the fashion of the time, but one which
devoted itself not to sonnets or madrigals but to devotional
exercises, study and the teaching of youth. This coterie early Port Royal.
Pascal. adopted the Cartesian philosophy, and the Port Royal Logic was the most remarkable popular hand-book of that school. In theology they adopted Jansenism, and were in consequence soon at daggers drawn with the Jesuits, according to the polemical habits of the time. The most distinguished champions on the Jansenist side were Jean Duvergier de Hauranne, abbé de St Cyran (1581–1643), and Antoine Arnauld (1560–1619), but by far the most important literary results of the quarrel were the famous Provinciales of Pascal, or, to give them their proper title, Lettres écrites à un provincial. Their literary importance consists, not merely in their grace of style, but in the application to serious discussion of the peculiarly polished and quiet irony of which Pascal is the greatest master the world has ever seen. Up to this time controversy had usually been conducted either in the mere bludgeon fashion of the Scaligers and Saumaises—of which in the vernacular the Jesuit François Garasse (1585–1631) had already contributed remarkable examples to literary and moral controversy—or else in a dull and legal style, or lastly under an envelope of Rabelaisian buffoonery such as survives to a considerable extent in the Satire Ménippée. Pascal set the example of combining the use of the most terribly effective weapons with good humour, good breeding and a polished style. The example was largely followed, and the manner of Voltaire and his followers in the 18th century owes at least as much to Pascal as their method and matter do to Bayle. The Jansenists, attacked and persecuted by the civil power, which the Jesuits had contrived to interest, were finally suppressed. But the Provinciales had given them an unapproachable superiority in matter of argument and literature. Their other literary works were inferior, though still remarkable. Antoine Arnauld (the younger, often called “the great”) (1612–1694) and Pierre Nicole (1625–1695) managed their native language with vigour if not exactly with grace. They maintained their orthodoxy by writings, not merely against the Jesuits, but also against the Protestants such as the Perpétuité de la foi due to both, and the Apologie des Catholiques written by Arnauld alone. The latter, besides being responsible for a good deal of the Logic (L’Art de penser) to which we have alluded, wrote also much of a Grammaire générale composed by the Port Royalists for the use of their pupils; but his principal devotion was to theology and theological polemics. To the latter Nicole also contributed Les Visionnaires, Les Imaginaires and other works. The studious recluses of Port Royal also produced a large quantity of miscellaneous literary work, to which full justice has been done in Sainte-Beuve’s well-known volumes.
17th-Century Preachers.—When we think of Gallican theology during the 17th century, it is always with the famous pulpit orators of the period that thought is most busied. Nor is this unjust, for though the most prominent of them all, Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was remarkable as a writer of matter intended to be read, not merely as a speaker of matter intended to be heard, this double character is not possessed by most of the orthodox theologians of the time; and even Bossuet, great as is his genius, is more of a rhetorician than of a philosopher or a theologian. In no quarter was the advance of culture more remarkable in France than in the pulpit. We have already had occasion to notice the characteristics of French pulpit eloquence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though this was very far from destitute of vigour and imagination, the political frenzy of the preachers, and the habit of introducing anecdotic buffoonery, spoilt the eloquence of Maillard and of Raulin, of Boucher and of Rose. The powerful use which the Reformed ministers made of the pulpit stirred up their rivals; the advance in science and classical study added weight and dignity to the matter of their discourses. The improvement of prose style and language provided them with a suitable instrument, and the growth of taste and refinement purged their sermons of grossness and buffoonery, of personal allusions, and even, as the monarchy became more absolute, of direct political purpose. The earliest examples of this improved style were given by St Francis de Sales and by Fenouillet, bishop of Marseilles (d. 1652); but it was not till the latter half of the century, when the troubles of the Fronde had completely subsided, and the church was established in the favour of Louis XIV., that the full efflorescence of theological eloquence took place. There were at the time pulpit orators of considerable excellence in England, and perhaps Jeremy Taylor, assisted by the genius of the language, has wrought a vein more precious than any which the somewhat academic methods and limitations of the French teachers allowed them to reach. But no country has ever been able to show a more magnificent concourse of orators, sacred or profane, than that formed by Bossuet, Fénelon (1651–1715), Esprit Fléchier (1632–1710), Jules Mascaron (1634–1703), Louis Bourdaloue (1632–1704), and Jean Baptiste Massillon (1663–1742), to whom may be justly added the Protestant divines, Jean Claude (1619–1687) and Jacques Saurin (1677–1730). Bossuet. The characteristics of all these were different. Bossuet, the earliest and certainly the greatest, was also the most universal. He was not merely a preacher; he was, as we have said, a controversialist, indeed somewhat too much of a controversialist, as his battle with Fénelon proved. He was a philosophical or at least a theological historian, and his Discours sur l’histoire universelle is equally remarkable from the point of view of theology, philosophy, history and literature. Turning to theological politics, he wrote his Politique tirée de l’écriture sainte, to theology proper his Méditations sur les évangiles and his Élevations sur les mystères. But his principal work, after all, is his Oraisons funèbres. The funeral sermon was the special oratorical exercise of the time. Its subject and character invited the gorgeous if somewhat theatrical commonplaces, the display of historical knowledge and parallel, and the moralizing analogies, in which the age specially rejoiced. It must also be noticed, to the credit of the preachers, that such occasions gave them an opportunity, rarely neglected, of correcting the adulation which was but too frequently characteristic of the period. The spirit of these compositions is fairly reflected in the most famous and often quoted of their phrases, the opening “Mes frères, Dieu seul est grand” of Massillon’s funeral discourse on Louis XIV.; and though panegyric is necessarily by no means absent, it is rarely carried beyond bounds. While Bossuet made himself chiefly remarkable in his sermons and in his writings by an almost Hebraic grandeur and rudeness, the more special characteristics of Christianity, largely alloyed with a Greek and Platonic Fénelon. spirit, displayed themselves in Fénelon. In pure literature he is not less remarkable than in theology, politics and morals. His practice in matters of style was admirable, as the universally known Télémaque sufficiently shows to those who know nothing else of his writing. But his taste, both in its correctness and its audacity, is perhaps more admirable still. Despite of Malherbe, Balzac, Boileau and the traditions of nearly a century, he dared to speak favourably of Ronsard, and plainly expressed his opinion that the practice of his own contemporaries and predecessors had cramped and impoverished the French language quite as much as they had polished or purified it. The other doctors whom we have mentioned were more purely theological than the accomplished archbishop of Cambray. Fléchier is somewhat more archaic in style than Bossuet or Fénelon, and he is also more definitely a rhetorician than either. Mascaron has the older fault of prodigal and somewhat indiscriminate erudition. But the two latest of the series, Bourdaloue and Massillon, had far the greatest repute in their own time purely as orators, and perhaps deserved this preference. The difference between the two repeated that between du Perron and de Sales. Bourdaloue’s great forte was vigorous argument and unsparing denunciation, but he is said to have been lacking in the power of influencing and affecting his hearers. His attraction was purely intellectual, and it is reflected in his style, which is clear and forcible, but destitute of warmth and colour. Massillon, on the other hand, was remarkable for his pathos, and for his power of enlisting and influencing the sympathies of his hearers. Of minor preachers on the same side, Charles de la Rue, a Jesuit (1643–1725), and the Père Cheminais (1652–1680), according to a somewhat idle form of nomenclature, “the Racine of the pulpit,” may be mentioned. The two Protestant ministers whom we have mentioned, though inferior to their rivals, yet deserve honourable mention among the ecclesiastical writers of the period. Claude engaged in a controversy with Bossuet, in which victory is claimed for the invincible eagle of Meaux. Saurin, by far the greater preacher of the two, long continued to occupy, and indeed still occupies, in the libraries of French Protestants, the position given to Bossuet and Massillon on the other side.
17th-Century Moralists.—It is not surprising that the works of Montaigne and Charron, with the immense popularity of the former, should have inclined the more thoughtful minds in France to moral reflection, especially as many other influences, both direct and indirect, contributed to produce the same result. The constant tendency of the refinements in French prose was towards clearness, succinctness and precision, the qualities most necessary in the moralist. The characteristics of the prevailing philosophy, that of Descartes, pointed in the same direction. It so happened, too, that the times were more favourable to the thinker and writer on ethical subjects than to the speculator in philosophy proper, in theology or in politics. Both the former subjects exposed their cultivators, as we have seen, to the suspicion of unorthodoxy; and to political speculation of any kind the rule of Richelieu, and still more that of Louis XIV., were in the highest degree unfavourable. No successors to Bodin and du Vair appeared; and even in the domain of legal writings, which comes nearest to that of politics, but few names of eminence are to be found.
Only the name of Omer-Talon (1595–1652) really illustrates the legal annals of France at this period on the bench, and that of Olivier Patru (1604–1681) at the bar. Thus it happened that the interests of many different classes of persons were concentrated upon moralizings, which Pascal and pensée-writing. took indeed very different forms in the hands of Pascal and other grave and serious thinkers of the Jansenist complexion in theology, and in those of literary courtiers like Saint-Évremond (1613–1703) and La Rochefoucauld, whose chief object was to depict the motives and characters prominent in the brilliant and not altogether frivolous society in which they moved. Both classes, however, were more or less tempted by the cast of their thoughts and the genius of the language to adopt the tersest and most epigrammatic form of expression possible, and thus to originate the “pensée” in which, as its greatest later writer, Joubert, has said, “the ambition of the author is to put a book into a page, a page into a phrase, and a phrase into a word.” The great genius and admirable style of Pascal are certainly not less shown in his Pensées than in his Provinciales, though perhaps the literary form of the former is less strikingly supreme than that of the latter. The author is more dominated by his subject and dominates it less. Nicole, a far inferior writer as well as thinker, has also left a considerable number of Pensées, which have about them something more of the essay and less of the aphorism. They are, however, though not comparable to Pascal, excellent in matter and style, and go far to justify Bayle in calling their author “l’une des plus belles plumes de l’Europe.” In sharp contrast with these thinkers, who are invariably not merely respecters of religion but ardently and avowedly religious, who treat morality from the point of view of the Bible and the church, there arose side by side with them, or only a little later, a very different group of moralists, whose writings have been as widely read, and who have had as great a practical and literary influence as perhaps any other class of authors. The earliest to be born and the last to die of these was Charles de Saint-Denis, seigneur de saint-Évremond (1613–1703). Saint-Évremond. Saint-Évremond was long known rather as a conversational wit, some of whose good things were handed about in manuscript, or surreptitiously printed in foreign lands, than as a writer, and this is still to a certain extent his reputation. He was at least as cynical as his still better known contemporary La Rochefoucauld, if not more so, and he had less intellectual force and less nobility of character. But his wit was very great, and he set the example of the brilliant societies of the next century. Many of Saint-Évremond’s printed works are nominally works of literary criticism, but the moralizing spirit pervades all of them. No writer had a greater influence on Voltaire, and through Voltaire on the whole course of French literature after him. In direct literary value, however, no comparison can be made between Saint-Évremond and the author of the Sentences et maximes morales. François, duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), has other literary La Rochefoucauld. claims besides those of this famous book. His Mémoires were very favourably judged by his contemporaries, and they are still held to deserve no little praise even among the numerous and excellent works of the kind which that age of memoir-writers produced. But while the Mémoires thus invite comparison, the Maximes et sentences stand alone. Even allowing that the mere publication of detached reflections in terse language was not absolutely new, it had never been carried, perhaps has never since been carried, to such a perfection. Beside La Rochefoucauld all other writers are diffuse, vacillating, unfinished, rough. Not only is there in him never a word too much, but there is never a word too little. The thought is always fully expressed, not compressed. Frequently as the metaphor of minting or stamping coin has been applied to the art of managing words, it has never been applied so appropriately as to the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. The form of them is almost beyond praise, and its excellencies, combined with their immense and enduring popularity, have had a very considerable share in influencing the character of subsequent French literature. Of hardly less importance in this respect, though of considerably less intellectual and literary individuality, was the translator of Theophrastus and the author of the Caractères, La Bruyère. La Bruyère. Jean de la Bruyère (1645–1696), though frequently epigrammatic, did not aim at the same incredible terseness as the author of the Maximes. His plan did not, indeed, render it necessary. Both in England and in France there had been during the whole of the century a mania for character writing, both of the general and Theophrastic kind, and of the historical and personal order. The latter, of which our own Clarendon is perhaps the greatest master, abound in the French memoirs of the period. The former, of which the naïve sketches of Earle and Overbury are English examples, culminated in those of La Bruyère, which are not only light and easy in manner and matter, but also in style essentially amusing, though instructive as well. Both he and La Rochefoucauld had an enduring effect on the literature which followed them—an effect perhaps superior to that exercised by any other single work in French, except the Roman de la rose and the Essais of Montaigne.
17th-century Savants.—Of the literature of the 17th century there only remains to be dealt with the section of those writers who devoted themselves to scientific pursuits or to antiquarian erudition of one form or another. It was in this century that literary criticism of French and in French first began to be largely composed, and after this time we shall give it a separate heading. It was very far, however, from attaining the excellence or observing the form which it afterwards assumed. The institution of the Academy led to various linguistic works. One of the earliest of these was the Remarques of the Savoyard Claude Favre de Vaugelas (1595–1650), afterwards re-edited by Thomas Corneille. Pellisson wrote a history of the Academy itself when it had as yet but a brief one. The famous Examen du Cid was an instance of the literary criticism of the time which was afterwards represented by René Rapin (1621–1687), Dominique Bouhours (1628–1702) and René de Bossu (1631–1680), while Adrien Baillet (1649–1706) has collected the largest thesaurus of the subject in his Jugemens des savants. Boileau set the example of treating such subjects in verse, and in the latter part of the century Reflexions, Discourses, Observations, and the like, on particular styles, literary forms and authors, became exceedingly numerous. In earlier years France possessed a numerous band of classical scholars of the first rank, such as Scaliger and Casaubon, who did not lack followers. But all or almost all this sort of work was done in Latin, so that it contributed little to French literature properly so-called, though the translations from the classics of Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt (1606–1664) have always taken rank among the models of French style. On the other hand, mathematical studies were pursued by persons of far other and far greater genius, and, taking from this time forward a considerable position in education and literature in France, had much influence on both. The mathematical discoveries of Pascal and Descartes are well known. Of science proper, apart from mathematics, France did not produce many distinguished cultivators in this century. The philosophy of Descartes was not on the whole favourable to such investigations, which were in the next century to be pursued with ardour. Its tendencies found more congenial vent and are more thoroughly Controversy between Ancients and Moderns. exemplified in the famous quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns. This, of Italian origin, was mainly started in France by Charles Perrault (1628–1703), who thereby rendered much less service to literature than by his charming fairy tales. The opposite side was taken by Boileau, and the fight was afterwards revived by Antoine Houdar[d, t] de la Motte (1672–1731), a writer of little learning but much talent in various ways, and by the celebrated Madame Dacier, Anne Lefèvre (1654–1720). The discussion was conducted, as is well known, without very much knowledge or judgment among the disputants on the one side or on the other. But at this very time there were in France students and scholars of the most profound erudition. We have already mentioned Fleury and his ecclesiastical history. But Fleury is only the last and the most popular of a race of omnivorous and untiring scholars, whose labours have ever since, until the modern fashion of first-hand investigations came in, furnished the bulk of historical and scholarly references and quotations. To this century belong le Nain de Tillemont (1637–1698), whose enormous Histoire des empereurs and Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclésiastique served Gibbon and a hundred others as quarry; Charles Dufresne, seigneur de Ducange (1614–1688), whose well-known glossary was only one of numerous productions; Jean Mabillon (1632–1707), one of the most voluminous of the voluminous Benedictines; and Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741), chief of all authorities of the dry-as-dust kind on classical archaeology and art.
Opening of the 18th Century.—The beginning of the 18th century is among the dead seasons of French literature. All the greatest men whose names had illustrated the early reign of Louis XIV. in profane literature passed away long before him, and the last if the least of them, Boileau and Thomas Corneille, only survived into the very earliest years of the new age. The political and military disasters of the last years of the reign were accompanied by a state of things in society unfavourable to literary development. The devotion to pure literature and philosophy proper which Descartes and Corneille had inspired had died out, and the devotion to physical science, to sociology, and to a kind of free-thinking optimism which was to inspire Voltaire and the Encyclopedists had not yet become fashionable. Fénelon and Malebranche still survived, but they were emphatically men of the last age, as was Massillon, though he lived till nearly the middle of the century. The characteristic literary figures of the opening years of the period are d’Aguesseau, Fontenelle, Saint-Simon, personages in many ways interesting and remarkable, but purely transitional in their characteristics. Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757) is, indeed, perhaps the most typical figure of the time. He was a dramatist, a moralist, a philosopher, physical and metaphysical, a critic, an historian, a poet and a satirist. The manner of his works is always easy and graceful, and their matter rarely contemptible.
18th-Century Poetry.—The dispiriting signs shown during the 17th century by French poetry proper received entire fulfilment in the following age. The two poets who were most prominent at the opening of the period were the abbé de Chaulieu (1639–1720) and the marquis de la Fare (1644–1712), poetical or rather versifying twins who are always quoted together. They were both men who lived to a great age, yet their characteristics are rather those of their later than of their earlier contemporaries. They derive on the one hand from the somewhat trifling school of Voiture, on the other from the Bacchic sect of Saint-Amant; and they succeed in uniting the inferior qualities of both with the cramped and impoverished though elegant style of which Fénelon had complained. Their compositions are as a rule lyrical, as lyrical poetry was understood after the days of Malherbe—that is to say, quatrains of the kind ridiculed by Molière, and Pindaric odes, which have been justly described as made up of alexandrines after the manner of Boileau cut up into shorter or longer lengths. They were followed, however, by the one poet who succeeded in producing something resembling poetry J. B. Rousseau. in this artificial style, J. B. Rousseau (1671–1741). Rousseau, who in some respects was nothing so little as a religious poet, was nevertheless strongly influenced, as Marot had been, by the Psalms of David. His Odes and his Cantates are perhaps less destitute of that spirit than the work of any other poet of the century excepting André Chénier. Rousseau was also an extremely successful epigrammatist, having in this respect, too, resemblances to Marot. Le Franc de Pompignan (1700–1784), to whom Voltaire’s well-known sarcasms are not altogether just, and Louis Racine (1692–1763), who wrote pious and altogether forgotten poems, belonged to the same poetical school; though both the style and matter of Racine are strongly tinctured by his Port Royalist sympathies and education. Lighter verse was represented in the 18th century by the long-lived Saint-Aulaire (1643–1742), by Gentil Bernard (1710–1775), by the abbé (afterwards cardinal) de Bernis (1715–1794), by Claude Joseph Dorat (1734–1780), by Antoine Bertin (1752–1790) and by Evariste de Parny (1753–1814), the last the most vigorous, but all somewhat deserving the term applied to Dorat of ver luisant du Parnasse. The jovial traditions of Saint-Amant begat a similar school of anacreontic songsters, which, represented in turn by Charles François Panard (1674–1765), Charles Collé (1709–1783), Armand Gouffé (1775–1845), and Marc-Antoine-Madeleine Desaugiers (1772–1827), led directly to the best of all such writers, Béranger. To this class Rouget de Lisle (1760–1836) perhaps also belongs; though his most famous composition, the Marseillaise, is of a different stamp. Nor is the account of the light verse of the 18th century complete without reference to a long succession of fable writers, who, in an unbroken chain, connect La Fontaine in the 17th century with Viennet in the 19th. None of the links, however, of this chain, with the exception of Jean Pierre Florian (1759–1794) deserve Voltaire (poetry). much attention. The universal faculty of Voltaire (1694–1778) showed itself in his poetical productions no less than in his other works, and it is perhaps not least remarkable in verse. It is impossible nowadays to regard the Henriade as anything but a highly successful prize poem, but the burlesque epic of La Pucelle, discreditable as it may be from the moral point of view, is remarkable enough as literature.
The epistles and satires are among the best of their kind, the verse tales are in the same way admirable, and the epigrams, impromptus, and short miscellaneous poems generally are the ne plus ultra of verse which is not poetry. The Anglomania of the century extended into poetry, and the Seasons of Thomson set the example of a whole library of tedious descriptive verse, which in its turn revenged France upon England by producing or helping to produce English poems of the Darwin school. The first of these descriptive performances was the Saisons of Jean François de Saint-Lambert (1716–1803), identical in title with its model, but of infinitely inferior value. Saint-Lambert was followed by Jacques Delille (1738–1813) in Les Jardins, Antoine Marin le Mierre (1723–1793) in Les Fastes, and Jean Antoine Roucher (1745–1794) in Les Mois. Indeed, everything that could be described was seized upon by these describers. Delille also translated the Georgics, and for a time was the greatest living poet of France, the title being only disputed by Escouchard le Brun (1729–1807), a lyrist and ode writer of the school of J. B. Rousseau, but not destitute of energy. The only other poets until Chénier who deserve notice are Nicolas Gilbert (1751–1780)—the French Chatterton, or perhaps rather the French Oldham, who died in a workhouse at twenty-nine after producing some vigorous satires and, at the point of death, an elegy of great beauty; Jacques Charles Louis Clinchaut de Malfilâtre (1732–1767), another short-lived poet whose “Ode to the Sun” has a certain stateliness; and Jean Baptiste Gresset (1709–1777), the author of Ver-Vert and of other poems of the lighter order, which are not far, if at all, below the Chénier. level of Voltaire. André Chénier (1762–1794) stands far apart from the art of his century, though the strong chain of custom, and his early death by the guillotine, prevented him from breaking finally through the restraints of its language and its versification. Chénier, half a Greek by blood, was wholly one in spirit and sentiment. The manner of his verses, the very air which surrounds them and which they diffuse, are different from those of the 18th century; and his poetry is probably the utmost that its language and versification could produce. To do more, the revolution which followed a generation after his death was required.
18th-Century Drama.—The results of the cultivation of dramatic poetry at this time were even less individually remarkable than those of the attention paid to poetry proper. Here again the astonishing power and literary aptitude of Voltaire gave value to his attempts in a style which, notwithstanding that it counts Racine among its practitioners, was none the less predestined to failure. Voltaire’s own efforts in this kind are indisputably as successful as they could be. Foreigners usually prefer Mahomet and Zaïre to Bajazet and Mithridate, though there is no doubt that no work of Voltaire’s comes up to Polyeucte and Rodogune, as certainly no single passage in any of his plays can approach the best passages of Cinna and Les Horaces. But the remaining tragic writers of the century, with the single exception of Crébillon père, are scarcely third-rate. C. Jolyot de Crébillon (1674–1762) himself had genius, and there are to be found in his work evidences of a spirit which had seemed to die away with Saint-Genest, and was hardly to revive until Hernani. Of the imitators of Racine and Voltaire, La Motte in Inés de Castro was not wholly unsuccessful. François Joseph de la Grange-Chancel (1677–1758) copied chiefly the worst side of the author of Britannicus, and Bernard Joseph Saurin (1706–1781) and Pierre-Laurent de Belloy (1727–1775) performed the same service for Voltaire. Le Mierre and La Harpe, mentioned and to be mentioned, were tragedians; but the Iphigénie en Tauride of Guimond de la Touche (1725–1760) deserves more special mention than anything of theirs. There was an infinity of tragic writers and tragic plays in this century, but hardly any others of them even deserve mention. The muse of comedy was decidedly more happy in her devotees. Molière was a far safer if a more difficult model than Racine, and the inexorable fashion which had bound down tragedy to a feeble imitation of Euripides did not similarly prescribe an undeviating adherence to Terence. Tragedy had never been, has scarcely been since, anything but an exotic in France; comedy was of the soil and native. Very early In the century Alain René le Sage (1668–1747), in the admirable comedy of Turcaret, produced a work not unworthy to stand by the side of all but his master’s best. Philippe Destouches (1680–1754) was also a fertile comedy writer in the early years of the century, and in Le Glorieux and Le Philosophe marié achieved considerable success. As the age went on, comedy, always apt to lay hold of passing events, devoted itself to the great struggle between the Philosophes and their opponents. Curiously enough, the party which engrossed almost all the wit of France had the worst of it in this dramatic portion of the contest, if in no other. The Méchant of Gresset and the Métromanie of Alexis Piron (1689–1773) were far superior to anything produced on the other side, and the Philosophes of Charles Palissot de Montenoy (1730–1814), though scurrilous and broadly farcical, had a great success. On the other hand, it was to a Philosophe that the invention of a new dramatic style was due, and still more the promulgation of certain ideas on dramatic criticism and construction, which, after being filtered through the German mind, were to return to France and to exercise the most powerful influence on its dramatic productions. Diderot (plays). This was Denis Diderot (1713–1784), the most fertile genius of the century, but also the least productive in finished and perfect work. His chief dramas, the Fils naturel and the Père de famille, are certainly not great successes; the shorter plays, Est-il bon? est-il méchant? and La Pièce et le prologue, are better. But it was his follower Michel Jean Sédaine (1719–1797) who, in Le Philosophe sans le savoir and other pieces, produced the best examples of the bourgeois as opposed to the heroic drama. Diderot is sometimes credited or discredited with the invention of the Comédie Larmoyante, a title which indeed his own plays do not altogether refuse, but this special variety seems to be, in its invention, rather the property of Pierre Claude Nivelle de la Chaussée (1692–1754). Comedy sustained itself, and even gained ground towards the end of the century; the Jeune Indienne of Nicolas Chamfort (1741–1794), if not quite worthy of its author’s brilliant talent in other paths, is noteworthy, and so is the Billet perdu of Joseph François Edouard de Corsembleu Desmahis (1722–1761), while at the extreme limit of our present period there appears the remarkable figure of Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732–1799). The Mariage de Figaro and the Barbier de Séville are well known as having had attributed to them no mean place among the literary causes and forerunners of the Revolution. Their dramatic and literary value would itself have sufficed to obtain attention for them at any time, though there can be no doubt that their popularity was mainly due to their political appositeness. The most remarkable point about them, as about the school of comedy of which Congreve was the chief master in England at the beginning of the century, was the abuse and superfluity of wit in the dialogue, indiscriminately allotted to all characters alike. It is difficult to give particulars, but would be improper to omit all mention, of such dramatic or quasi-dramatic work as the libretti of operas, farces for performance at fairs and the like. French authors of the time from Le Sage downwards usually managed these with remarkable skill.
18th-Century Fiction.—With prose fiction the case was altogether different. We have seen how the short tale of a few pages had already in the 16th century attained high if not the highest excellence; how at three different periods the fancy for long-winded prose narration developed itself in the prose rehandlings of the chivalric poems, in the Amadis romances, and in the portentous recitals of Gomberville and La Calprenède; how burlesques of these romances were produced from Rabelais to Scarron; and how at last Madame de Lafayette showed the way to something like the novel of the day. If we add the fairy story, of which Perrault and Madame d’Aulnoy were the chief practitioners, and a small class of miniature romances, of which Aucassin et Nicolette in the 13th, and the delightful Jehan de Paris (of the 15th or 16th, in which a king of England is patriotically sacrificed) are good representatives, we shall have exhausted the list. The 18th century was quick to develop the system of the author of the Princesse de Clèves, but it did not abandon the cultivation of the romance, that is to say, fiction dealing with incident and with the simpler passions, in devoting itself to the novel, that is to say, fiction dealing with the analysis of sentiment and character. Le Sage, its first great novelist, in his Diable boiteux and Gil Blas, went to Spain not merely for his subject but also for his inspiration and manner, following the lead of the picaroon romance of Rojas and Scarron. Like Fielding, however, whom he much resembles, Le Sage mingled with the romance of incident the most careful attention to character and the most lively portrayal of it, while his style and language are such as to make his work one of the classics of French literature. The novel of character was really founded in France by the abbé Prévost d’Exilles (1697–1763), the author of Cleveland and of the incomparable Manon Lescaut. The popularity of this style was much helped by the immense vogue in France of the works of Richardson. Side by side with it, however, and for a time enjoying still greater popularity, there flourished a very different school of fiction, of which Voltaire, whose name occupies the first or all but the first place in every branch of literature of his time, was the most brilliant cultivator. This was a direct development of the earlier conte, and consisted usually of the treatment, in a humorous, satirical, and not always over-decent fashion, of contemporary foibles, beliefs, philosophies and occupations. These tales are of every rank of excellence and merit both literary and moral, and range from the astonishing wit, grace and humour of Candide and Zadig to the book which is Diderot’s one hardly pardonable sin, and the similar but more lively efforts of Crébillon fils (1707–1777). These latter deeps led in their turn to the still lower depths of La Clos and Louvet. A third class of 18th-century fiction consists of attempts to return to the humorous fatrasie of the 16th century, attempts which were as much influenced by Sterne as the sentimental novel was by Richardson. The Homme aux quarante écus of Voltaire has something of this character, but the most characteristic works of the style are the Jacques le fataliste of Diderot, which shows it nearly at its best, and the Compère Mathieu, sometimes attributed to Pigault-Lebrun (1753–1835), but no doubt in reality due to Jacques du Laurens (1719–1797), which shows it at perhaps its worst. Another remarkable story-teller was Cazotte (1719–1792), whose Diable amoureux displays much fantastic power, and connects itself with a singular fancy of the time for occult studies and diablerie, manifested later by the patronage shown to Cagliostro, Mesmer, St Germain and others. In this connexion, too, may perhaps also be mentioned most appropriately not mention Pierre de Marivaux (1688–1763) in this connexion as the equal of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), but merely as being in his way almost equally original and equally remote from any suspicion of school influence. He began with burlesque writing, and was also the author of several comedies, of which Les Fausses Confidences is the principal. But it is in prose fiction that he really excels. He may claim to have, at least in the opinion of his contemporaries, invented a style, though perhaps the term marivaudage, which was applied to it, has a not altogether complimentary connotation. He may claim also to have invented the novel without a purpose, which aims simply at amusement, and at the same time does not seek to attain that end by buffoonery or by satire. Gray’s definition of happiness, “to lie on a sofa and read endless novels by Marivaux” (it is true that he added Crébillon), is well known, and the production of mere pastime by means more or less harmless has since become so well-recognized a function of the novelist that Marivaux, as one of the earliest to discharge it, deserves notice. The name, J. J. Rousseau. however, of Jean Jacques Rousseau is of far different importance. His two great works, the Nouvelle Héloïse and Émile, are as far as possible from being perfect as novels. But no novels in the world have ever had such influence as these. To a great extent this influence was due mainly to their attractions as novels, imperfect though they may be in this character, but it was beyond dispute also owing to the doctrines which they contained, and which were exhibited in novel form.de la Bretonne, a remarkably original and voluminous writer, who was little noticed by his contemporaries and successors for the best part of a century. Restif, who was nicknamed the “Rousseau of the gutter,” Rousseau du ruisseau, presents to an English imagination many of the characteristics of a non-moral Defoe. While these various schools busied themselves more or less with real life seriously depicted or purposely travestied, the great vogue and success of Télémaque produced a certain number of didactic works, in which moral or historical information was sought to be conveyed under a more or less thin guise of fiction. Such was the Voyage du jeune Anacharsis of Jean Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795); such the Numa Pompilius and Gonzalve de Cordoue of Florian (1755–1794), who also deserves notice as a writer of pastorals, fables and short prose tales; such the Bélisaire and Les Incas of Jean François Marmontel (1723–1799). Between this class and that of the novel of sentiment may perhaps be placed Paul et Virginie and La Chaumière indienne; though Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814) should more properly be noticed after Rousseau and as a moralist. Diderot’s fiction-writing has already been referred to more than once, but his Religieuse deserves citation here as a powerful specimen of the novel both of analysis and polemic; while his undoubted masterpiece, the Neveu de Rameau, though very difficult to class, comes under this head as well as under any other. There are, however, two of the novelists of this age, and of the most remarkable, who have yet to be noticed, and these are the author of Marianne and the author of Julie. We do
Such are the principal developments of fiction during the century; but it is remarkable that, varied as they were, and excellent as was some of the work to which they gave rise, none of these schools was directly very fertile in results or successors. The period with which we shall next have to deal, that from the outbreak of the Revolution to the death of Louis XVIII., is curiously barren of fiction of any merit. It was not till English influence began again to assert itself in the later days of the Restoration that the prose romance began once more to be written.
18th-Century History.—It is not, however, in any of the departments of belles-lettres that the real eminence of the 18th century as a time of literary production in France consists. In all serious branches of study its accomplishments were, from a literary point of view, remarkable, uniting as it did an extraordinary power of popular and literary expression with an ardent spirit of inquiry, a great speculative ability, and even a far more considerable amount of laborious erudition than is generally supposed. The historical studies and results of 18th-century speculation in France are of especial and peculiar importance. There is no doubt that what is called the science of history dates from this time, and though the beginning of it is usually assigned to the Italian Vico, its complete indication may perhaps with equal or greater justice be claimed by the Frenchman Turgot. Before Turgot, however, there were great names in French historical writing, and perhaps the greatest of all is that of Charles Secondat de Montesquieu (1689–1755). The three principal works of this great writer are all historical and at the same time political in character. In the Lettres persanes he handled, with wit inferior to the wit of no other writer even in that witty age, the corruptions and dangers of contemporary morals and politics. The literary charm of this book—the plan of which was suggested by a work, the Amusements sérieux et comiques, of Dufresny (1648–1724), a comic writer not destitute of merit—is very great, and its plan was so popular as to lead to a thousand imitations, of which all, except those of Voltaire and Goldsmith, only bring out the immense superiority of the original. Few things could be more different from this lively and popular book than Montesquieu’s next work, the Grandeur et décadence des Romains, in which the same acuteness and knowledge of human nature are united with considerable erudition, and with a weighty though perhaps somewhat grandiloquent and rhetorical style. His third and greatest work, the Esprit des lois, is again different both in style and character, and such defects as it has are as nothing when compared with the merits of its fertility in ideas, its splendid breadth of view, and the felicity with which the author, in a manner unknown before, recognizes the laws underlying complicated assemblages of fact. The style of this great work is equal to its substance; less light than that of the Lettres, less rhetorical than that of the Grandeur des Romains, it is still a marvellous union of dignity and wit. Around Montesquieu, partly before and partly after him, is a group of philosophical or at least systematic historians, of whom the chief are Jean Baptiste Dubos (1670–1742), and G. Bonnot de Mably (1709–1785). Dubos, whose chief work is not historical but aesthetic (Réflexions sur la poésie et la peinture), wrote a so-called Histoire critique de l’établissement de la monarchie française, which is as far as possible from being in the modern sense critical, inasmuch as, in the teeth of history, and in order to exalt the Tiers état, it pretends an amicable coalition of Franks and Gauls, and not an irruption by the former. Mably (Observations sur l’histoire de la France) had a much greater influence than either of these writers, and a decidedly mischievous one, especially at the period of the Revolution. He, more than any one else, is responsible for the ignorant and childish extolling of Greek and Roman institutions, and the still more ignorant depreciation of the middle ages, which was for a time characteristic of French politicians. Montesquieu was, as we have said, followed by Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727–1781), whose writings are few in number, and not remarkable for style, but full of original thought. Turgot in his turn was followed by Condorcet (1743–1794), whose tendency is somewhat more sociological than directly historical. Towards the end of the period, too, a considerable number of philosophical histories were written, the usual object of which was, under cover of a kind of allegory, to satirize and attack the existing institutions and government of France. The most famous of these was the Histoire des Indes, nominally written by the Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal (1713–1796), but really the joint work of many members of the Philosophe party, especially Diderot. Side by side with this really or nominally philosophical school of history there existed another and less ambitious school, which contented itself with the older and simpler view of the science. The Abbé René de Vertot (1655–1735) belongs almost as much to the 17th as to the 18th century; but his principal works, especially the famous Histoire des Chevaliers de Malte, date from the later period, as do also the Révolutions romaines. Vertot is above all things a literary historian, and the well-known “Mon siège est fait,” whether true or not, certainly expresses his system. Of the same school, though far more comprehensive, was the laborious Charles Rollin (1661–1741), whose works in the original, or translated and continued in the case of the Histoire romaine by Jean Baptiste Louis Crévier (1693–1765), were long the chief historical manuals of Europe. The president Charles Jean François Hénault (1685–1770), and Louis Pierre Anquetil (1723–1806) were praiseworthy writers, the first of French history, the second of that and much else. In the same class, too, far superior as is his literary power, must be ranked the historical works of Voltaire, Charles XII., Pierre le Grand, &c. A very perfect example of the historian who is literary first of all is supplied by Claude Carloman de Rulhière (1735–1791), whose Révolution en Russie en 1762 is one of the little masterpieces of history, while his larger and posthumous work on the last days of the Polish kingdom exhibits perhaps some of the defects of this class of historians. Lastly must be mentioned the memoirs and correspondence of the period, the materials of history if not history itself. The century opened with the most famous of all these, the memoirs of the duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755), an extraordinary series of pictures of the court of Louis XIV. and the Regency, written in an unequal and incorrect style, but with something of the irregular excellence of the great 16th-century writers, and most striking in the sombre bitterness of its tone. The subsequent and less remarkable memoirs of the century are so numerous that it is almost impossible to select a few for reference, and altogether impossible to mention all. Of those bearing on public history the memoirs of Madame de Staël (Mlle Delaunay) (1684–1750), of Pierre Louis de Voyer, marquis d’Argenson (1694–1757), of Charles Pinot Duclos (1704–1772), of Stephanie Félicité de Saint-Aubin, Madame de Genlis (1746–1830), of Pierre Victor de Bésenval (1722–1791), of Madame Campan (1752–1822) and of the cardinal de Bernis (1715–1794), may perhaps be selected for mention; of those bearing on literary and private history, the memoirs of Madame d’Épinay (1726–1783), those of Mathieu Marais (1664–1737) the so-called Mémoires secrets of Louis Petit de Bachaumont (1690–1770), and the innumerable writings having reference to Voltaire and to the Philosophe party generally. Here, too, may be mentioned a remarkable class of literature, consisting of purely private and almost confidential letters, which were written at this time with very remarkable literary excellence. As specimens may be selected those of Mademoiselle Aissé (1694–1757), which are models of easy and unaffected tenderness, and those of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse (1732–1776) the companion of Madame du Deffand and afterwards of d’Alembert. These latter, in their extraordinary fervour and passion, not merely contrast strongly with the generally languid and frivolous gallantry of the age, but also constitute one of its most remarkable literary monuments. It has been said of them that they “burn the paper,” and the expression is not exaggerated. Madame du Deffand’s (1697–1780) own letters, many of which were written to Horace Walpole, are noteworthy in a very different way. Of lighter letters the charming correspondence of Diderot with Mademoiselle Voland deserves special mention. But the correspondence, like the memoirs of this century, defies justice to be done to it in any cursory or limited mention. In this connexion, however, it may be well to mention some of the most remarkable works of the time, the Confessions, Rêveries, and Promenades d’un solitaire of Rousseau. In these works, especially in the Confessions, there is not merely exhibited passion as fervid though perhaps less unaffected than that of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse—there appear in them two literary characteristics which, if not entirely novel, were for the first time brought out deliberately by powers of the first order, were for the first time made the mainspring of literary interest, and thereby set an example which for more than a century has been persistently followed, and which has produced some of the finest results of modern literature. The first of these was the elaborate and unsparing analysis and display of the motives, the weaknesses and the failings of individual character. This process, which Rousseau unflinchingly performed on himself, has been followed usually in respect to fictitious characters by his successors. The other novelty was the feeling for natural beauty and the elaborate description of it, the credit of which latter must, it has been agreed by all impartial critics, be assigned rather to Rousseau than to any other writer. His influence in this direction was, however, soon taken up and continued by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the connecting link between Rousseau and Chateaubriand, some of whose works have been already alluded to. In particular the author of Paul et Virginie set himself to develop the example of description which Rousseau had set, and his word-paintings, though less powerful than those of his model, are more abundant, more elaborate, and animated by a more amiable spirit.
18th-Century Philosophy.—The Anglomania which distinguished the time was nowhere more Condillac. Condillac (1714–1780), almost the only writer of the time in France who succeeded in keeping strictly to philosophy without attempting to pursue his system to its results in ethics, politics and theology. In the Traité des sensations, the Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines and other works Condillac elaborated and continued the imperfect sensationalism of Locke. As his philosophical view, though perhaps more restricted, was far more direct, consecutive and uncompromising than that of the Englishman, so his style greatly exceeded Locke’s in clearness and elegance and as a good medium of philosophical expression.shown than in the cast and direction of its philosophical speculations. As Montesquieu and Voltaire had imported into France a vivid theoretical admiration for the British constitution and for British theories in politics, so Voltaire, Diderot and a crowd of others popularized and continued in France the philosophical ideas of Hobbes and Locke and even Berkeley, the theological ideas of Bolingbroke, Shaftesbury and the English deists, and the physical discoveries of Newton. Descartes, Frenchman and genius as he was, and though his principles in physics and philosophy were long clung to in the schools, was completely abandoned by the more adventurous and progressive spirits. At no time indeed, owing to the confusion of thought and purpose to which we have already alluded, was the word philosophy used with greater looseness than at this time. Using it, as we have hitherto used it, in the sense of metaphysics, the majority of the Philosophes have very little claim to their title. There were some who manifested, however, an aptitude for purely philosophical argument, and one who confined himself strictly thereto. Among these the most remarkable are Julien Offroy de la Mettrie (1709–1751) and Denis Diderot. La Mettrie in his works L’Homme machine, L’Homme plante, &c., applied a lively and vigorous imagination, a considerable familiarity with physics and medicine, and a brilliant but unequal style, to the task of advocating materialistic ideas on the constitution of man. Diderot, in a series of early works, Lettre sur les aveugles, Promenade d’un sceptique, Pensées philosophiques, &c., exhibited a good acquaintance with philosophical history and opinion, and gave sign in this direction, as in so many others, of a far-reaching intellect. As in almost all his works, however, the value of the thought is extremely unequal, while the different pieces, always written in the hottest haste, and never duly matured or corrected, present but few specimens of finished and polished writing. Charles Bonnet (1720–1793), a Swiss of Geneva, wrote a large number of works, many of which are purely scientific. Others, however, are more psychological, and these, though advocating the materialistic philosophy generally in vogue, were remarkable for uniting materialism with an honest adherence to Christianity. The half mystical writer, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803) also deserves notice. But the French metaphysician of the century is undoubtedly Étienne Bonnot, abbé de
18th-Century Theology.—To devote a section to the history of the theological literature of the 18th century in France may seem something of a contradiction; for, indeed, all or most of such literature was anti-theological. The magnificent list of names which the church had been able to claim on her side in the 17th century was exhausted before the end of the second quarter of the 18th with Massillon, and none came to fill their place. Very rarely has orthodoxy been so badly defended as at this time. The literary championship of the church was entirely in the hands of the Jesuits, and of a few disreputable literary freelances like Élie Fréron (1719–1776) and Pierre François Guyot, abbé Desfontaines (1685–1745). The Jesuits were learned enough, and their principal journal, that of Trévoux, was conducted with much vigour and a great deal of erudition. But they were in the first place discredited by the moral taint which has always hung over Jesuitism, and in the second place by the persecutions of the Jansenists and the Protestants, which were attributed to their influence. But one single work on the orthodox side has preserved the least reputation; while, on the other hand, the names of Père Nonotte (1711–1793) and several of his fellows have been enshrined unenviably in the imperishable ridicule of Voltaire, one only of whose adversaries, the abbé Antoine Guénée (1717–1803), was able to meet him in the Lettres de quelques Juifs with something like his own weapons. It has never been at all accurately Voltaire (theology). decided how far what may be called the scoffing school of Voltaire represents a direct revolt against Christianity, and how far it was merely a kind of guerilla warfare against the clergy. It is positively certain that Voltaire was not an atheist, and that he did not approve of atheism. But his Dictionnaire philosophique, which is typical of a vast amount of contemporary and subsequent literature, consists of a heterogeneous assemblage of articles directed against various points of dogma and ritual and various characteristics of the sacred records. From the literary point of view, it is one of the most characteristic of all Voltaire’s works, though it is perhaps not entirely his. The desultory arrangement, the light and lively style, the extensive but not always too accurate erudition, and the somewhat captious and quibbling objections, are intensely Voltairian. But there is little seriousness about it, and certainly no kind of rancorous or deep-seated hostility. With many, however, of Voltaire’s pupils and younger contemporaries the case was altered. They were distinctively atheists and anti-supernaturalists. The atheism of Diderot, unquestionably the greatest of them all, has been keenly debated; but in the case of Étienne Damilaville (1723–1768), Jacques André Naigeon (1738–1810), Paul Henri Dietrich, baron d’Holbach, and others there is no room for doubt. By these persons a great mass of atheistic and anti-Christian literature was composed and set afloat. The characteristic work of this school, its last The “System of Nature.” word indeed, is the famous Système de la nature, attributed to Holbach (1723–1789), but known to be, in part at least, the work of Diderot. In this remarkable work, which caps the climax of the metaphysical materialism or rather nihilism of the century, the atheistic position is clearly put. It made an immense sensation; and it so fluttered not merely the orthodox but the more moderate freethinkers, that Frederick of Prussia and Voltaire, perhaps the most singular pair of defenders that orthodoxy ever had, actually set themselves to refute it. Its style and argument are very unequal, as books written in collaboration are apt to be, and especially books in which Diderot, the paragon of inequality, had a hand. But there is an almost entire absence of the heterogeneous assemblage of anecdotes, jokes good and bad, scraps of accurate or inaccurate physical science, and other incongruous matter with which the Philosophes were wont to stuff their works; and lastly, there is in the best passages a kind of sombre grandeur which recalls the manner as well as the matter of Lucretius. It is perhaps well to repeat, in the case of so notorious a book, that this criticism is of a purely literary and formal character; but there is little doubt that the literary merits of the work considerably assisted its didactic influence. As the Revolution approached, and the victory of the Philosophe party was declared, there appeared for a brief space a group of cynical and accomplished phrase-makers presenting some similarity to that of which, a hundred years before, Saint-Évremond was the most prominent figure. The chief of this group were Chamfort. Rivarol. Nicolas Chamfort (1747–1794) on the republican side, and Antoine Rivarol (1753–1801) on that of the royalists. Like the older writer to whom we have compared them, neither can be said to have produced any one work of eminence, and in this they stand distinguished from moralists like La Rochefoucauld. The floating sayings, however, which are attributed to them, or which occur here and there in their miscellaneous work, yield in no respect to those of the most famous of their predecessors in wit and a certain kind of wisdom, though they are frequently more personal than aphoristic.
18th-Century Moralists and Politicians.—Not the least part, however, of the energy of the period in thought and writing was devoted to questions of a directly moral and political kind. With regard to morality proper the favourite doctrine of the century was what is commonly called the selfish theory, the only one indeed which was suitable to the sensationalism of Condillac and the materialism of Holbach. The pattern book of this Helvétius. doctrine was the De l’esprit of Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771), the most amusing book perhaps which ever pretended to the title of a solemn philosophical treatise. There is some analogy between the principles of this work and those of the Système de la nature. With the inconsistency—some would say with the questionable honesty—which distinguished the more famous members of the Philosophe party when their disciples spoke with what they considered imprudent outspokenness, Voltaire and even Diderot attacked Helvétius as the former afterwards attacked Holbach. But whatever may be the general value of De l’esprit, it is full of acuteness, though Thomas. that acuteness is as desultory and disjointed as its style. As Helvétius may be taken as the representative author of the cynical school, so perhaps Alexandre Gérard Thomas (1732–1785) may be taken as representative of the votaries of noble sentiment to whom we have also alluded. The works of Thomas chiefly took the form of academic éloges or formal panegyrics, and they have all the defects, both in manner and substance, which are associated with that style. Of yet a third school, corresponding in form to La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère, and possessed of some of the antique vigour of preceding centuries, was Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues. Vauvenargues (1715–1747). This writer, who died very young, has produced maxims and reflections of considerable mental force and literary finish. From Voltaire downwards it has been usual to compare him with Pascal, from whom he is chiefly distinguished by a striking but somewhat empty stoicism. Between the moralists, of whom we have taken these three as examples, and the politicians may be placed Rousseau, who in his novels and miscellaneous works is of the first class, in his famous Contrat social of the second. All his theories, whatever their originality and whatever their value, were made novel and influential by the force of their statement and the literary beauties of its form. Of direct and avowed political writings there were few during the century, and none of anything like the importance of the Contrat social, theoretical acceptance of the established French constitution being a point of necessity with all Frenchmen. Nevertheless it may be said that almost the whole of the voluminous writings of the Philosophes, even of those who, like Voltaire, were sincerely aristocratic and monarchic in predilection, were of more or less veiled political significance. There was one branch of political writing, moreover, which could be indulged in without much fear. Political economy and administrative theories received much attention. The earliest writer of eminence on these subjects was the great engineer Sébastien le Prestre, marquis de Vauban (1633–1707), whose Oisivetés and Dîme royale exhibit both great ability and extensive observation. A more utopian economist of the same time was Charles Irénée Castel, abbé de Saint-Pierre (1658–1743), not to be confounded with the author of Paul et Virginie. Soon political economy in the hands of François Quesnay (1694–1774) took a regular form, and towards the middle of the century a great number of works on questions connected with it, especially that of free trade in corn, on which Ferdinand Galiani (1728–1787), André Morellet (1727–1819), both abbés, and above all Turgot, distinguished themselves. Of writers on legal subjects and of the legal profession, the century, though not less fertile than in other directions, produced few or none of any great importance from the literary point of view. The chief name which in this connexion is known is that of Chancellor Henri François d’Aguesseau (1668–1751), at the beginning of the century, an estimable writer of the Port Royal school, who took the orthodox side in the great disputes of the time, but failed to display any great ability therein. He was, as became his profession, more remarkable as an orator than a writer, and his works contain valuable testimonies to the especially perturbed and unquiet condition of his century—a disquiet which is perhaps also its chief literary note. There were other French magistrates, such as Montesquieu, Hénault (1685–1770), de Brosses (1706–1773) and others, who made considerable mark in literature; but it was usually (except in the case of Montesquieu) in subjects not even indirectly connected with their profession. The Esprit des lois stands alone; but as an example of work barristerial in kind, famous partly for political reasons but of some real literary merit, we may mention the Mémoire for Calas written by J. B. J. Élie de Beaumont (1732–1786).
18th-century Criticism and Periodical Literature.—We have said that literary criticism assumes in this century a sufficient importance to be treated under a separate heading. Contributions were made to it of many different kinds and from many different points of view. Periodical literature, the chief stimulus to its production, began more and more to come into favour. Even in the 17th century the Journal des savants, the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux, and other publications had set the example of different kinds of it. Just before the Revolution the Gazette de France was in the hands of J. B. A. Suard (1734–1817), a man who was nothing if not a literary critic. Perhaps, however, the most remarkable contribution of the century to criticism of the periodical kind was the Feuilles de Grimm, a circular sent for many years to the German courts by Frédéric Melchior Grimm (1723–1807), the comrade of Diderot and Rousseau, and containing a compte rendu of the ways and works of Paris, literary and artistic as well as social. These Leaves not only include much excellent literary criticism by Diderot, but also gave occasion to the incomparable salons or accounts of the exhibition of pictures from the same hand, essays which founded the art of picture criticism, and which have hardly been surpassed since. The prize competitions of the Academy were also a considerable stimulus to literary criticism, though the prevailing taste in such compositions rather inclined to elegant themes than to careful studies of analyses. The most characteristic critic of the mid-century was the abbé Charles Batteux (1713–1780) who illustrated a tendency of the time by beginning with a treatise on Les Beaux Arts réduits à un même principe (1746); reduced it and others into Principes de la littérature (1764) and added in 1771 Les Quatres Poétiques (Aristotle, Horace, Vida and Boileau). Batteux is a very ingenious critic and his attempt to conciliate “taste” and “the rules,” though inadequate, is interesting. Works on the arts in general or on special divisions of them were not wanting, as, for instance, that of Dubos before alluded to, the Essai sur la peinture of Diderot and others. Critically annotated editions of the great French writers also came into fashion, and were no longer written by mere pedants. Of these Voltaire’s edition of Corneille was the most remarkable, and his annotations, united separately under the title of Commentaire sur Corneille, form not the least important portion of his works. Even older writers, looked down upon though they were by the general taste of the day, received a share of this critical interest. In the earlier portion of the century Nicolas Lenglet-Dufresnoy (1674–1755) and Bernard de la Monnoye (1641–1728) devoted their attention to Rabelais, Regnier, Villon, Marot and others. Étienne Barbazan (1696–1770) and P. J. B. Le Grand d’Aussy (1737–1800) gathered and brought into notice the long scattered and unknown rather than neglected fabliaux of the middle ages. Even the chansons de geste attracted the notice of the Comte de Caylus (1692–1765) and the Comte de Tressan (1705–1783). The latter, in his Bibliothèque des romans, worked up a large number of the old epics into a form suited to the taste of the century. In his hands they became lively tales of the kind suited to readers of Voltaire and Crébillon. But in this travestied form they had considerable influence both in France and abroad. By these publications attention was at least called to early French literature, and when it had been once called, a more serious and appreciative study became merely a matter of time. The method of much of the literary criticism of the close of this period was indeed deplorable enough. Jean François de la Harpe (1739–1803), who though a little later in time as to most of his critical productions is perhaps its most representative figure, shows criticism in one of its worst forms. The critic specially abhorred by Sterne, who looked only at the stop-watch, was a kind of prophecy of La Harpe, who lays it down distinctly that a beauty, however beautiful, produced in spite of rules is a “monstrous beauty” and cannot be allowed. But such a writer is a natural enough expression of an expiring principle. The year after the death of La Harpe Sainte-Beuve was born.
18th-Century Savants.—In science and general erudition the 18th century in France was at first much occupied with the mathematical studies for which the French genius is so peculiarly adapted, which the great discoveries of Descartes had made possible and popular, and which those of his supplanter Newton only made more popular still. Voltaire took to himself the credit, which he fairly deserves, of first introducing the Newtonian system into France, and it was soon widely popular—even ladies devoting themselves to the exposition of mathematical subjects, as in the case of Gabrielle de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (1706–1749) Voltaire’s “divine Émilie.” Indeed ladies played a great part in the literary and scientific activity of the century, by actual contribution sometimes, but still more by continuing and extending the tradition of “salons.” The duchesse du Maine, Mesdames de Lambert, de Tencin, Geoffrin, du Deffand, Necker, and above all, the baronne d’Holbach (whose husband, however, was here the principal personage) presided over coteries which became more and more “philosophical.” Many of the greatest mathematicians of the age, such as de Moivre and Laplace, were French by birth, while others like Euler belonged to French-speaking races, and wrote in French. The physical sciences were also ardently cultivated, the impulse to them being given partly by the generally materialistic tendency of the age, partly by the Newtonian system, and partly also by the extended knowledge of the world provided by the circumnavigatory voyage of Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), and other travels. P. L. de Moreau Maupertuis (1698–1759) and C. M. de la Condamine (1701–1774) made long journeys for scientific purposes and duly recorded their experiences. The former, a mathematician and physicist of some ability but more oddity, is chiefly known to literature by the ridicule of Voltaire in the Diatribe du Docteur Akakia. Jean le Rond, called d’Alembert (1717–1783), a great mathematician and a writer of considerable though rather academic excellence, is principally known from his connexion with and introduction to the Encyclopédie, of which more presently. Chemistry was also assiduously cultivated, the baron d’Holbach, among others, being a devotee thereof, and helping to advance the science to the point where, at the conclusion of the century, it was illustrated by Berthollet and Lavoisier. During all this devotion to science in its modern acceptation, the older and more literary forms of erudition were not neglected, especially by the illustrious Benedictines of the abbey of St Maur. Dom Augustin Calmet (1672–1757) the author of the well-known Dictionary of the Bible, belonged to this order, and to them also (in particular to Dom Rivet) was due the beginning of the immense Histoire littéraire de la France, a work interrupted by the Revolution and long suspended, but diligently continued since the middle of the 19th century. Of less orthodox names distinguished for erudition, Nicolas Fréret (1688–1749), secretary of the Academy, is perhaps the most remarkable. But in the consideration of the science and learning in the 18th century from a literary point of view, there is one name and one book which require particular and, in the case of the book, somewhat extended mention. The man is Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1717–1788), the book the Encyclopédie. The immense Natural History of Buffon, Buffon. though not entirely his own, is a remarkable monument of the union of scientific tastes with literary ability. As has happened in many similar instances, there is in parts more literature than science to be found in it; and from the point of view of the latter, Buffon was far too careless in observation and far too solicitous of perfection of style and grandiosity of view. The style of Buffon has sometimes been made the subject of the highest eulogy, and it is at its best admirable; but one still feels in it the fault of all serious French prose in this century before Rousseau—the presence, that is to say, of an artificial spirit rather than of natural variety and power. The The Encyclopédie. Encyclopédie, unquestionably on the whole the most important French literary production of the century, if we except the works of Rousseau and Voltaire, was conducted for a time by Diderot and d’Alembert, afterwards by Diderot alone. It numbered among its contributors almost every Frenchman of eminence in letters. It is often spoken of as if, under the guise of an encyclopaedia, it had been merely a plaidoyer against religion, but this is entirely erroneous. Whatever anti-ecclesiastical bent some of the articles may have, the book as a whole is simply what it professes to be, a dictionary—that is to say, not merely an historical and critical lexicon, like those of Bayle and Moreri (indeed history and biography were nominally excluded), but a dictionary of arts, sciences, trades and technical terms. Diderot himself had perhaps the greatest faculty of any man that ever lived for the literary treatment in a workman-like manner of the most heterogeneous and in some cases rebellious subjects; and his untiring labour, not merely in writing original articles, but in editing the contributions of others, determined the character of the whole work. There is no doubt that it had, quite independently of any theological or political influence, an immense share in diffusing and gratifying the taste for general information.
1789–1830—General Sketch.—The period which elapsed
between the outbreak of the Revolution and the accession of
Charles X. has often been considered a sterile one in point of
literature. As far as mere productiveness goes, this judgment
is hardly correct. No class of literature was altogether neglected
during these stirring five-and-thirty years, the political events
of which have so engrossed the attention of posterity that it
has sometimes been necessary for historians to remind us that
during the height of the Terror and the final disasters of the
empire the theatres were open and the booksellers’ shops patronized.
Journalism, parliamentary eloquence and scientific
writing were especially cultivated, and the former in its modern
sense may almost be said to have been created. But of the higher
products of literature the period may justly be considered to
have been somewhat barren. During the earlier part of it there
is, with the exception of André Chénier, not a single name of the
first or even second order of excellence. Towards the midst
those of Chateaubriand (1768–1848) and Madame de Staël
(1766–1817) stand almost alone; and at the close those of
Courier, Béranger and Lamartine are not seconded by any
others to tell of the magnificent literary burst which was to
follow the publication of Cromwell. Of all departments of
literature, poetry proper was worst represented during this
period. André Chénier was silenced at its opening by the
guillotine. Le Brun and Delille, favoured by an extraordinary
longevity, continued to be admired and followed. It was the
palmy time of descriptive poetry. Louis, marquis de Fontanes
(1757–1821, who deserves rather more special notice as a critic
and an official patron of literature), Castel, Boisjolin, Esmenard,
Berchoux, Ricard, Martin, Gudin, Cournaud, are names which
chiefly survive as those of the authors of scattered attempts to
turn the Encyclopaedia into verse. Charles Julien de Chênedollé
(1769–1833) owes his reputation rather to amiability, and to his
association with men eminent in different ways, such as Rivarol
and Joubert, than to any real power. He has been regarded as
a precursor of Lamartine; but the resemblance is chiefly on
Lamartine’s weakest side; and the stress laid on him recently,
as on Lamartine himself and even on Chénier, is part of a passing
reaction against the school of Hugo. Even more ambitiously,
Luce de Lancival, Campenon, Dumesnil and Parseval de Grand-Maison
endeavoured to write epics, and succeeded rather worse
than the Chapelains and Desmarets of the 17th century. The
characteristic of all this poetry was the description of everything
in metaphor and paraphrase, and the careful avoidance of anything
like directness of expression; and the historians of the
Romantic movement have collected many instances of this
absurdity. Lamartine will be more properly noticed in the next
division. But about the same time as Lamartine, and towards
the end of the present period, there appeared a poet who may
be regarded as the last important echo of Malherbe. This was
Casimir Delavigne (1793–1843), the author of Les Messéniennes,
a writer of very great talent, and, according to the measure
of J. B. Rousseau and Lebrun, no mean poet. It is usual to
reckon Delavigne as transitionary between the two schools, but
in strictness he must be counted with the classicists. Dramatic
poetry exhibited somewhat similar characteristics. The system
of tragedy writing had become purely mechanical, and every
act, almost every scene and situation, had its regular and appropriate
business and language, the former of which the poet was
not supposed to alter at all, and the latter only very slightly.
Poinsinet, La Harpe, M. J. Chénier, Raynouard, de Jouy, Briffaut,
Baour-Lormian, all wrote in this style. Of these Chénier (1764–1811)
had some of the vigour of his brother André, from whom
he was distinguished by more popular political principles and
better fortune. On the other hand, Jean François Ducis (1733–1816),
who passes with Englishmen as a feeble reducer of Shakespeare
to classical rules, passed with his contemporaries as an
introducer into French poetry of strange and revolutionary
novelties. Comedy, on the other hand, fared better, as indeed
it had always fared. Fabre d’Églantine (1755–1794) (the
companion in death of Danton), Collin d’Harleville (1755–1806),
François G. J. S. Andrieux (1759–1833), Picard, Alexandre
Duval, and Népomucène Lemercier (1771–1840) (the most
vigorous of all as a poet and a critic of mark) were the comic
authors of the period, and their works have not suffered the
complete eclipse of the contemporary tragedies which in part
they also wrote. If not exactly worthy successors of Molière,
they are at any rate not unworthy children of Beaumarchais.
In romance writing there is again, until we come to Madame de
Staël, a great want of originality and even of excellence in
workmanship. The works of Madame de Genlis (1746–1830)
exhibit the tendencies of the 18th century to platitude and
noble sentiment at their worst. Madame Cottin (1770–1807),
Madame de Souza (1761–1836), and Madame de Krudener,
exhibited some of the qualities of Madame de Lafayette and
more of those of Madame de Genlis. Joseph Fiévée (1767–1839),
in Le Dot de Suzette and other works, showed some power over the
domestic story; but perhaps the most remarkable work in
point of originality of the time was Xavier de Maistre’s (1763–1852)
Voyage autour de ma chambre, an attempt in quite a
new style, which has been happily followed up by other writers.
Turning to history we find comparatively little written at this
period. Indeed, until quite its close, men were too much occupied
in making history to have time to write it. There is, however,
a considerable body of memoir writers, especially in the earlier
years of the period, and some great names appear even in history
proper. Many of Sismondi’s (1773–1842) best works were
produced during the empire. A. G. P. Brugière, baron de
Barante (1782–1866), though his best-known works date much
later, belongs partially to this time. On the other hand, the
production of philosophical writing, especially in what we may
call applied philosophy, was considerable. The sensationalist
views of Condillac were first continued as by Destutt de Tracy
(1754–1836) and Laromiguière (1756–1837) and subsequently
opposed, in consequence partly of a religious and spiritualist
revival, partly of the influence of foreign schools of thought,
especially the German and the Scotch. The chief philosophical
writers from this latter point of view were Pierre Paul Royer
Collard (1763–1845), F. P. G. Maine de Biran (1776–1824),
and Théodore Simon Jouffroy (1796–1842). Their influence on
literature, however, was altogether inferior to that of the reactionist
school, of whom Louis Gabriel, vicomte de Bonald
(1754–1840), and Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821) were the great
leaders. These latter were strongly political in their tendencies,
and political philosophy received, as was natural, a large share
of the attention of the time. In continuation of the work of
the Philosophes, the most remarkable writer was Constantin
François Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney (1757–1820), whose
Ruines are generally known. On the other hand, others belonging
to that school, such as Necker and Morellet, wrote from the
moderate point of view against revolutionary excesses. Of
the reactionists Bonald is extremely royalist, and carries out in
his Législations primitives somewhat the same patriarchal and
absolutist theories as our own Filmer, but with infinitely greater Maistre.
genius. As Bonald is royalist and aristocratic, so
Maistre is the advocate of a theocracy pure and
simple, with the pope for its earthly head, and a vigorous despotism
for its system of government. Pierre Simon Ballanche
(1776–1847), often mentioned in the literary memoirs of his
time, wrote among other things Essais de palingénésie sociale,
good in style but vague in substance. Of theology proper there
is almost necessarily little or nothing, the clergy being in the
earlier period proscribed, in the latter part kept in a strict and
somewhat discreditable subjection by the Empire. In moralizing
literature there is one work of the very highest excellence, which,
though not published till long afterwards, belongs in point of
composition to this period. This is the Pensées of Joseph Joubert.
Joubert (1754–1824), the most illustrious successor
of Pascal and Vauvenargues, and to be ranked perhaps
above both in the literary finish of his maxims, and certainly
above Vauvenargues in the breadth and depth of thought which
they exhibit. In pure literary criticism more particularly,
Joubert, though exhibiting some inconsistencies due to his time,
is astonishingly penetrating and suggestive. Of science and
erudition the time was fruitful. At an early period of it appeared
the remarkable work of Pierre Cabanis (1757–1808), the Rapports
du physique et du morale de l’homme, a work in which physiology
is treated from the extreme materialist point of view but with
all the liveliness and literary excellence of the Philosophe movement
at its best. Another physiological work of great merit
at this period was the Traité de la vie et de la mort of Bichat,
and the example set by these works was widely followed; while
in other branches of science Laplace, Lagrange, Haüy, Berthollet,
&c., produced contributions of the highest value. From the
literary point of view, however, the chief interest of this time
is centred in two individual names, those of Chateaubriand and
Madame de Staël, and in three literary developments of a more
or less novel character, which were all of the highest importance
in shaping the course which French literature has taken since
1824. One of these developments was the reactionary movement
of Maistre and Bonald, which in its turn largely influenced
Chateaubriand, then Lamennais and Montalembert, and was
later represented in French literature in different guises, chiefly
by Louis Veuillot (1815–1883) and Mgr Dupanloup (1802–1878).
The second and third, closely connected, were the immense
advances made by parliamentary eloquence and by political
writing, the latter of which, by the hand of Paul Louis Courier
(1773–1825), contributed for the first time an undoubted masterpiece
to French literature. The influence of the two combined
has since raised journalism to even a greater pitch of power in
France than in any other country. It is in the development of
these new openings for literature, and in the cast and complexion
which they gave to its matter, that the real literary importance
of the Revolutionary period consists; just as it is in the new
elements which they supplied for the treatment of such subjects
that the literary value of the authors of René and De l’Allemagne
mainly lies. We have already alluded to some of the beginnings
of periodical and journalistic letters in France. For some time,
in the hands of Bayle, Basnage, Des Maizeaux, Jurieu, Leclerc,
periodical literature consisted mainly of a series, more or less
disconnected, of pamphlets, with occasional extracts from
forthcoming works, critical adversaria and the like. Of a more
regular kind were the often-mentioned Journal de Trévoux and
Mercure de France, and later the Année littéraire of Fréron and
the like. The Correspondance of Grimm also, as we have pointed
out, bore considerable resemblance to a modern monthly review,
though it was addressed to a very few persons. Of political
news there was, under a despotism, naturally very little. 1789,
however, saw a vast change in this respect. An enormous
efflorescence of periodical literature at once took place, and a
few of the numerous journals founded in that year or soon afterwards
survived for a considerable time. A whole class of authors
arose who pretended to be nothing more than journalists, while
many writers distinguished for more solid contributions to literature
took part in the movement, and not a few active politicians
contributed. Thus to the original staff of the Moniteur, or, as
it was at first called, La Gazette Nationale, La Harpe, Lacretelle,
Andrieux, Dominique Joseph Garat (1749–1833) and Pierre
Ginguené (1748–1826) were attached. Among the writers of
the Journal de Paris André Chénier had been ranked. Fontanes
contributed to many royalist and moderate journals. Guizot
and Morellet, representatives respectively of the 19th and the
18th century, shared in the Nouvelles politiques, while Bertin,
Fievée and J. L. Geoffroy (1743–1814), a critic of peculiar
acerbity, contributed to the Journal de l’empire, afterwards
turned into the still existing Journal des débats. With Geoffroy,
François Bénoit Hoffman (1760–1828), Jean F. J. Dussault
(1769–1824) and Charles F. Dorimond, abbé de Féletz (1765–1850),
constituted a quartet of critics sometimes spoken of as
“the Débats four,” though they were by no means all friends.
Of active politicians Marat (L’Ami du peuple), Mirabeau (Courrier
de Provence), Barère (Journal des débats et des décrets), Brissot
(Patriote français), Hébert (Père Duchesne), Robespierre (Défenseur de la constitution), and Tallien (La Sentinelle) were the most
remarkable who had an intimate connexion with journalism.
On the other hand, the type of the journalist pure and simple
is Camille Desmoulins (1759–1794), one of the most brilliant, in a
literary point of view, of the short-lived celebrities of the time.
Of the same class were Pelletier, Durozoir, Loustalot, Royou.
As the immediate daily interest in politics drooped, there were
formed periodicals of a partly political and partly literary
character. Such had been the décade philosophique, which
counted Cabanis, Chénier, and De Tracy among its contributors,
and this was followed by the Revue française at a later period,
which was in its turn succeeded by the Revue des deux mondes.
On the other hand, parliamentary eloquence was even more
important than journalism during the early period of the Revolution.
Mirabeau naturally stands at the head of orators of this
class, and next to him may be ranked the well-known names of
Malouet and Meunier among constitutionalists; of Robespierre,
Marat and Danton, the triumvirs of the Mountain; of Maury,
Cazalès and the vicomte de Mirabeau, among the royalists;
and above all of the Girondist speakers Barnave, Vergniaud,
and Lanjuinais. The last named survived to take part in the
revival of parliamentary discussion after the Restoration. But
the permanent contributions to French literature of this period
of voluminous eloquence are, as frequently happens in such cases,
by no means large. The union of the journalist and the parliamentary
spirit produced, however, in Paul Louis Courier a Courier.
master of style. Courier spent the greater part of
his life, tragically cut short, in translating the classics
and studying the older writers of France, in which study he
learnt thoroughly to despise the pseudo-classicism of the 18th
century. It was not till he was past forty that he took to political
writing, and the style of his pamphlets, and their wonderful
irony and vigour, at once placed them on the level of the very
best things of the kind. Along with Courier should be mentioned
Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), who, though partly a romance
writer and partly a philosophical author, was mainly a politician
and an orator, besides being fertile in articles and pamphlets.
Lamennais, like Lamartine, will best be dealt with later, and the
same may be said of Béranger; but Chateaubriand and Madame
de Staël must be noticed here. The former represents, in the
influence which changed the literature of the 18th century into
the literature of the 19th, the vague spirit of unrest and “Weltschmerz,”
the affection for the picturesque qualities of nature,
the religious spirit occasionally turning into mysticism, and the
respect, sure to become more and more definite and appreciative,
for antiquity. He gives in short the romantic and conservative Madame
de Staël. element. Madame de Staël (1766–1817) on the other hand, as became a daughter of Necker, retained a great deal of the Philosophe character and the traditions of the 18th century, especially its liberalism, its sensibilité, and its thirst for general information; to which, however, she added a cosmopolitan spirit, and a readiness to introduce into France the literary and social, as well as the political and philosophical, peculiarities of other countries to which the 18th century, in France at least, had been a stranger, and which Chateaubriand himself, notwithstanding his excursions into English literature, had been very far from feeling. She therefore contributed to the positive and liberal side of the future movement. The absolute literary importance of the two was very different. Madame de Staël’s early writings were of the critical kind, half aesthetic half ethical, of which the 18th century had been fond, and which their titles, Lettres sur J. J. Rousseau, De l’influence des passions, De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, sufficiently show. Her romances, Delphine and Corinne, had immense literary influence at the time. Still more was this the case with De l’Allemagne, which practically opened up to the rising generation in France the till then unknown Chateaubriand. treasures of literature and philosophy, which during the most glorious half century of her literary history Germany had, sometimes on hints taken from France herself, been accumulating. The literary importance of Chateaubriand (1768–1848) is far greater, while his literary influence can hardly be exaggerated. Chateaubriand’s literary father was Rousseau, and his voyage to America helped to develop the seeds which Rousseau had sown. In René and other works of the same kind, the naturalism of Rousseau received a still further development. But it was not in mere naturalism that Chateaubriand was to find his most fertile and most successful theme. It was, on the contrary, in the rehabilitation of Christianity as an inspiring force in literature. The 18th century had used against religion the method of ridicule; Chateaubriand, by genius rather than by reasoning, set up against this method that of poetry and romance. “Christianity,” says he, almost in so many words, “is the most poetical of all religions, the most attractive, the most fertile in literary, artistic and social results.” This theme he develops with the most splendid language, and with every conceivable advantage of style, in the Génie du Christianisme and the Martyrs. The splendour of imagination, the summonings of history and literature to supply effective and touching illustrations, analogies and incidents, the rich colouring so different from the peculiarly monotonous and grey tones of the masters of the 18th century, and the fervid admiration for nature which were Chateaubriand’s main attractions and characteristics, could not fail to have an enormous literary influence. Indeed he has been acclaimed, with more reason than is usually found in such acclamations, as the founder of comparative and imaginative literary criticism in France if not in Europe. The Romantic school acknowledged, and with justice, its direct indebtedness to him.
Literature since 1830.—In dealing with the last period of the history of French literature and that which was introduced by the literary revolution of 1830 and has continued, in phases of only partial change, to the present day, a slight alteration of treatment is requisite. The subdivisions of literature have lately become so numerous, and the contributions to each have reached such an immense volume, that it is impossible to give more than cursory notice, or indeed allusion, to most of them. It so happens, however, that the purely literary characteristics of this period, though of the most striking and remarkable, are confined to a few branches of literature. The character of the 19th century in France has hitherto been at least as strongly marked as that of any previous period. In the middle ages men of letters followed each other in the cultivation of certain literary forms for long centuries. The chanson de geste, the Arthurian legend, the roman d’aventure, the fabliau, the allegorical poem, the rough dramatic jeu, mystery and farce, served successively as moulds into which the thought and writing impulse of generations of authors were successively cast, often with little attention to the suitability of form and subject. The end of the 15th century, and still more the 16th, owing to the vast extension of thought and knowledge then introduced, finally broke up the old forms, and introduced the practice of treating each subject in a manner more or less appropriate to it, and whether appropriate or not, freely selected by the author. At the same time a vast but somewhat indiscriminate addition was made to the actual vocabulary of the language. The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed a process of restriction once more to certain forms and strict imitation of predecessors, combined with attention to purely arbitrary rules, the cramping and impoverishing effect of this (in Fénelon’s words) being counterbalanced partly by the efforts of individual genius, and still more by the constant and steady enlargement of the range of thought, the choice of subjects, and the familiarity with other literature, both of the ancient and modern world. The literary work of the 19th century and of the great Romantic movement which began in its second quarter was to repeat on a far larger scale the work of the 16th, to break up and discard such literary forms as had become useless or hopelessly stiff, to give strength, suppleness and variety to such as were retained, to invent new ones where necessary, to enrich the language by importations, inventions and revivals, and, above all, to bring into prominence the principle of individualism. Authors and even books, rather than groups and kinds, demand principal attention.
The result of this revolution is naturally most remarkable in the belles-lettres and the kindred department of history. Poetry, not dramatic, has been revived; prose romance and literary criticism have been brought to a perfection previously unknown; and history has produced works more various, if not more remarkable, than at any previous stage of the language. Of all these branches we shall therefore endeavour to give some detailed account. But the services done to the language were not limited to the strictly literary branches of literature. Modern French, if it lacks, as it probably does lack, the statuesque precision and elegance of prose style to which between 1650 and 1800 all else was sacrificed, has become a much more suitable instrument for the accurate and copious treatment of positive and concrete subjects. These subjects have accordingly been treated in an abundance corresponding to that manifested in other countries, though the literary importance of the treatment has perhaps proportionately declined. We cannot even attempt to indicate the innumerable directions of scientific study which this copious industry has taken, and must confine ourselves to those which come more immediately under the headings previously adopted. In philosophy proper France, like other nations, has been more remarkable for attention to the historical side of the matter than for the production of new systems; and the principal exception among her philosophical writers, Auguste Comte (1793–1857), besides inclining, as far as his matter went to the political and scientific rather than to the purely philosophical side (which indeed he regarded as antiquated), was not very remarkable merely as a man of letters. Victor Cousin (1792–1867), on the other hand, almost a brilliant man of letters and for a time regarded as something of a philosophical apostle preaching “eclecticism,” betook himself latterly to biographical and other miscellaneous writing, especially on the famous French ladies of the 17th century, and is likely to be remembered chiefly in this department, though not to be forgotten in that of philosophical history and criticism. The same curious declension was observable in the much younger Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828–1893), who, beginning with philosophical studies, and always maintaining a strong tincture of philosophical determinism, applied himself later, first to literary history and criticism in his famous Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1864), and then to history proper in his still more famous and far more solidly based Origines de la France contemporaine (1876). To him, however, we must recur under the head of literary criticism. And not dissimilar phenomena, not so much of inconstancy to philosophy as of a tendency towards the applied rather than the pure branches of the subject, are noticeable in Edgar Quinet (1803–1875), in Charles de Rémusat (1797–1875), and in Ernest Renan (1823–1892), the first of whom began by translating Herder while the second and third devoted themselves early to scholastic philosophy, de Rémusat dealing with Abelard (1845) and Anselm (1856), Renan with Averroes (1852). More single-minded devotion to at least the historical side was shown by Jean Philibert Damiron (1794–1862), who published in 1842 a Cours de philosophie and many minor works at different times; but the inconstancy recurs in Jules Simon (1814–1896), who, in the earlier part of his life a professor of philosophy and a writer of authority on the Greek philosophers (especially in Histoire de l’école d’Alexandrie, 1844–1845), began before long to take an active and, towards the close of his life-work, all but a foremost part in politics. In theology the chief name of great literary eminence in the earlier part of the century is that of Lamennais, of whom more presently, in the later, that of Renan again. But Charles Forbes de Montalembert (1810–1870), an historian with a strong theological tendency, deserves notice; and among ecclesiastics who have been orators and writers the père Jean Baptiste Henri Lacordaire (1802–1861), a pupil of Lamennais who returned to orthodoxy but always kept to the Liberal side; the père Célestin Joseph Félix (1810–1891), a Jesuit teacher and preacher of eminence; and the père Didon (1840–1900), a very popular preacher and writer who, though thoroughly orthodox, did not escape collision with his superiors. On the Protestant side Athanase Coquerel (1820–1875) is the most remarkable name. Recently Paul Sabatier (b. 1858) has displayed, especially in dealing with Saint Francis of Assisi, much power of literary and religious sympathy and a style somewhat modelled on that of Renan, but less unctuous and effeminate. There are strong philosophical tendencies, and at least a revolt against the religious as well as philosophical ideas of the Encyclopédists, in the Pensées of Joubert, while the hybrid position characteristic of the 19th century is particularly noticeable in Étienne Pivert de Sénancour (1770–1846), whose principal work, Obermann (1804), had an extraordinary influence on its own and the next generation in the direction of melancholy moralizing. This tone was notably taken up towards the other end of the century by Amiel (q.v.), who, however, does not strictly belong to French literature: while in Ximénès Doudon (1800–1872), author of Mélanges et lettres posthumously published, we find more of a return to the attitude of Joubert—literary criticism occupying a very large part of his reflections. Political philosophy and its kindred sciences have naturally received a large share of attention. Towards the middle of the century there was a great development of socialist and fanciful theorizing on politics, with which the names of Claude Henri, comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Charles Fourier (1772–1837), Étienne Cabet (1788–1856), and others are connected. As political economists Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), L. G. L. Guilhaud de Lavergne (1809–1880), Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881), and Michel Chevalier (1806–1879) may be noticed. In Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) France produced a political observer of a remarkably acute, moderate and reflective character, and Armand Carrel (1800–1836), whose life was cut short in a duel, was a real man of letters, as well as a brilliant journalist and an honest if rather violent party politician. The name of Jean Louis Eugène Lerminier (1803–1857) is of wide repute for legal and constitutional writings, and that of Henri, baron de Jomini (1779–1869) is still more celebrated as a military historian; while that of François Lenormant (1837–1883) holds a not dissimilar position in archaeology. With the publications devoted to physical science proper we do not attempt to meddle. Philology, however, demands a brief notice. In classical studies France has till recently hardly maintained the position which might be expected of the country of Scaliger and Casaubon. She has, however, produced some considerable Orientalists, such as Champollion the younger, Burnouf, Silvestre de Sacy and Stanislas Julien. The foundation of Romance philology was due, indeed, to the foreigners Wolf and Diez. But early in the century the curiosity as to the older literature of France created by Barbazan, Tressan and others continued to extend. Dominique Martin Méon (1748–1829) published many unprinted fabliaux, gave the whole of the French Renart cycle, with the exception of Renart le contrefait, and edited the Roman de la rose. Charles Claude Fauriel (1772–1844) and François Raynouard (1761–1836) dealt elaborately with Provençal poetry as well as partially with that of the trouvères; and the latter produced his comprehensive Lexique romane. These examples were followed by many other writers, who edited manuscript works and commented on them, always with zeal and sometimes with discretion. Foremost among these must be mentioned Paulin Paris (1800–1881) who for fifty years served the cause of old French literature with untiring energy, great literary taste, and a pleasant and facile pen. His selections from manuscripts, his Romancero français, his editions of Garin le Loherain and Berte aus grans piés, and his Romans de la table ronde may especially be mentioned. Soon, too, the Benedictine Histoire littéraire, so long interrupted, was resumed under M. Paris’s general management, and has proceeded nearly to the end of the 14th century. Among its contents M. Paris’s dissertations on the later chansons de gestes and the early song writers, M. Victor le Clerc’s on the fabliaux, and M. Littré’s on the romans d’aventures may be specially noticed. For some time indeed the work of French editors was chargeable with a certain lack of critical and philological accuracy. This reproach, however, was wiped off by the efforts of a band of younger scholars, chiefly pupils of the École des Chartes, with MM. Gaston Paris (1839–1903) and Paul Meyer at their head. Of M. Paris in particular it may be said that no scholar in the subject has ever combined literary and linguistic competence more admirably. The Société des Anciens Textes Français was formed for the purpose of publishing scholarly editions of inedited works, and a lexicon of the older tongue by M. Godefroy at last supplemented, though not quite with equal accomplishment, the admirable dictionary in which Émile Littré (1801–1881), at the cost of a life’s labour, embodied the whole vocabulary of the classical French language. Meanwhile the period between the middle ages proper and the 17th century has not lacked its share of this revival of attention. To the literature between Villon and Regnier especial attention was paid by the early Romantics, and Sainte-Beuve’s Tableau historique et critique de la poésie et du théâtre au seizième siècle was one of the manifestoes of the school. Since the appearance of that work in 1828 editions with critical comments of the literature of this period have constantly multiplied, aided by the great fancy for tastefully produced works which exists among the richer classes in France; and there are probably now few countries in which works of old authors, whether in cheap reprints or in éditions de luxe can be more readily procured.
The Romantic Movement.—It is time, however, to return to the literary revolution itself, and its more purely literary results. At the accession of Charles X. France possessed three writers, and perhaps only three, of already remarkable eminence, if we except Chateaubriand, who was already of a Béranger. past generation. These three were Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780–1857), Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869), and Hugues Félicité Robert Lamennais (1782–1854). The first belongs definitely in manner, despite his striking originality of nuance, to the past. He has remnants of the old periphrases, the cumbrous mythological allusions, the poetical “properties” of French verse. He has also the older and somewhat narrow limitations of a French poet; foreigners are for him mere barbarians. At the same time his extraordinary lyrical faculty, his excellent wit, which makes him a descendant of Rabelais and La Fontaine, and his occasional touches of pathos made him deserve and obtain something more than successes of occasion. Béranger, moreover, was very far from being the mere improvisatore which those who cling to the inspirationist theory of poetry would fain see in him. His studies in style and composition were persistent, and it was long before he attained the firm and brilliant manner which distinguishes him. Béranger’s talent, however, was still too much a matter of individual genius to have great literary influence, and he formed no school. It was different Lamartine. with Lamartine, who was, nevertheless, like Béranger, a typical Frenchman. The Méditations and the Harmonies exhibit a remarkable transition between the old school and the new. In going direct to nature, in borrowing from her striking outlines, vivid and contrasted tints, harmony and variety of sound, the new poet showed himself an innovator of the best class. In using romantic and religious associations, and expressing them in affecting language, he was the Chateaubriand of verse. But with all this he retained some of the vices of the classical school. His versification, harmonious as it is, is monotonous, and he does not venture into the bold lyrical forms which true poetry loves. He has still the horror of the mot propre; he is always spiritualizing and idealizing, and his style and thought have a double portion of the feminine and almost flaccid softness which had come to pass for grace in French. The last of the trio, Lamennais, represents an altogether Lamennais. bolder and rougher genius. Strongly influenced by the Catholic reaction, Lamennais also shows the strongest possible influence of the revolutionary spirit. His earliest work, the Essai sur l’indifférence en matière de religion (1817 and 1818) was a defence of the church on curiously unecclesiastical lines. It was written in an ardent style, full of illustrations, and extremely ambitious in character. The plan was partly critical and partly constructive. The first part disposed of the 18th century; the second, adopting the theory of papal absolutism which Joseph de Maistre had already advocated, proceeded to base it on a supposed universal consent. The after history of Lamennais was perhaps not an unnatural recoil from this; but it is sufficient here to point out that in his prose, especially as afterwards developed in the apocalyptic Paroles d’un croyant (1839) are to be discerned many of the tendencies of the Romantic school, particularly its hardy and picturesque choice of language, and the disdain of established and accepted methods which it professed. The signs of the revolution itself were, as was natural, first given in periodical literature. The feudalist affectations of Chateaubriand and the legitimists excited a sort of aesthetic affection for Gothicism, and Walter Scott became one of the most favourite authors in France. Soon was started the periodical La Muse française, in which the names of Hugo, Vigny, Deschamps and Madame de Girardin appear. Almost all the writers in this periodical were eager royalists, and for some time the battle was still fought on political grounds. There could, however, be no special connexion between classical drama and liberalism; and the liberal journal, the Globe, with no less a person than Sainte-Beuve among its contributors, declared definite war against classicism in the drama. The chief “classical” organs were the Constitutionnel, the Journal des débats, and after a time and not exclusively, the Revue des deux mondes. Soon the question became purely literary, and the Romantic school proper was born in the famous cénacle or clique in which Hugo was chief poet, Sainte-Beuve chief critic, and Gautier, Gérard de Nerval, the brothers Émile (1791–1871) and Antony (1800–1869), Deschamps, Petrus Borel (1809–1859) and others were officers. Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset stand somewhat apart, and so does Charles Nodier (1780–1844), a versatile and voluminous writer, the very variety and number of whose works have somewhat prevented the individual excellence of any of them from having justice done to it. The objects of the school, which was at first violently opposed, so much so that certain academicians actually petitioned the king to forbid the admission of any Romantic piece at the Théâtre Français, were, briefly stated, the burning of everything which had been adored, and the adoring of everything which had been burnt. They would have no unities, no arbitrary selection of subjects, no restraints on variety of versification, no academically limited vocabulary, no considerations of artificial beauty, and, above all, no periphrastic expression. The mot propre, the calling of a spade a spade, was the great commandment of Romanticism; but it must be allowed that what was taken away in periphrase was made up in adjectives. Musset, who was very much of a free-lance in the contest, maintained indeed that the differentia of the Romantic was the copious use of this part of speech. All sorts of epithets were invented to distinguish the two parties, of which flamboyant and grisâtre are perhaps the most accurate and expressive pair—the former serving to denote the gorgeous tints and bold attempts of the new school, the latter the grey colour and monotonous outlines of the old. The representation of Hernani in 1830 was the culmination of the struggle, and during great part of the reign of Louis Philippe almost all the younger men of letters in France were Romantics. The representation of the Lucrèce of François Ponsard (1814–1867) in 1846 is often quoted as the herald or sign of a classical reaction. But this was only apparent, and signified, if it signified anything, merely that the more juvenile excesses of the Romantics were out of date. All the greatest men of letters of France since 1830 have been on the innovating side, and all without exception, whether intentionally or not, have had their work coloured by the results of the movement, and of those which have succeeded it as developments rather than reactions.
Drama and Poetry since 1830.—Although the immediate subject on which the battles of Classics and Romantics arose was dramatic poetry, the dramatic results of the movement have not been those of greatest value or most permanent character. The principal effect in the long run has been the introduction of a species of play called drame, as opposed to regular comedy and tragedy, admitting of much freer treatment than either of these two as previously understood in French, and lending itself in some measure to the lengthy and disjointed action, the multiplicity of personages, and the absence of stock characters which characterized the English stage in its palmy days. All Victor Hugo’s dramatic works are of this class, and each, as it was produced or published (Cromwell, Hernani, Marion de l’Orme, Le Roi s’amuse, Lucrèce Borgia, Marie Tudor, Ruy Blas and Les Burgraves), was a literary event, and excited the most violent discussion—the author’s usual plan being to prefix a prose preface of a very militant character to his work. A still more melodramatic variety of drame was that chiefly represented by Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870), whose Henri III and Antony, to which may be added later La Tour de Nesle and Mademoiselle de Belleisle, were almost as much rallying points for the early Romantics as the dramas of Hugo, despite their inferior literary value. At the same time Alexandre Soumet (1788–1845), in Norma, Une Fête de Néron, &c., and Casimir Delavigne in Marino Faliero, Louis XI, &c., maintained a somewhat closer adherence to the older models. The classical or semi-classical reaction of the last years of Louis Philippe was represented in tragedy by Ponsard (Lucrèce, Agnes de Méranie, Charlotte Corday, Ulysse, and several comedies), and on the comic side, to a certain extent, by Émile Augier (1820–1889) in L’Aventurière, Le Gendre de M. Poirier, Le Fils de Giboyer, &c. During almost the whole period Eugène Scribe (1791–1861) poured forth innumerable comedies of the vaudeville order, which, without possessing much literary value, attained immense popularity. For the last half-century the realist development of Romanticism has had the upper hand in dramatic composition, its principal representatives being on the one side Victorien Sardou (1831–1909), who in Nos Intimes, La Famille Benoîton, Rabagas, Dora, &c., chiefly devoted himself to the satirical treatment of manners, and Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–1895), author in 1852 of the famous Dame aux camélias, who in such pieces as Les Idées de Madame Aubray and L’Étrangère rather busied himself with morals and “problems,” while his Dame aux camélias (1852) is sometimes ranked as the first of such things in “modern” style. Certain isolated authors also deserve notice, such as Joseph Autran (1813–1877), a poet and academician having some resemblance to Lamartine, whose Fille d’Æschyle created for him a dramatic reputation which he did not attempt to follow up, and Gabriel Legouvé (b. 1807), whose Adrienne Lecouvreur was assisted to popularity by the admirable talent of Rachel. A special variety of drama of the first literary importance has also been cultivated in this century under the title of scènes or proverbes, slight dramatic sketches in which the dialogue and style are of even more importance than the action. The best of all of these are those of Alfred de Musset (1810–1857), whose Il faut qu’une porte soit ouverte ou fermée, On ne badine pas avec l’amour, &c., are models of grace and wit. Among his followers may be mentioned especially Octave Feuillet (1821–1890). Few social dramas of the kind in modern times have attained a greater success than Le Monde où l’on s’ennuie (1868) of Édouard Pailleron (1834–1899). (See also Drama.)
In poetry proper, as in drama, Victor Hugo showed the way. In him all the Romantic characteristics were expressed and embodied—disregard of arbitrary critical rules, free choice of subject, variety and vigour of metre, splendour and sonorousness of diction, abundant “local colour,” Victor Hugo. and that irrepressible individualism which is one of the chief, though not perhaps the chief, of the symptoms. If the careful attention to form which is also characteristic of the movement is less apparent in him than in some of his followers, it is not because it is absent, but because the enthusiastic conviction with which he attacked every subject somewhat diverts attention from it. As with the merits so with the defects. A deficient sense of the ludicrous which characterized many of the Romantics was strongly apparent in their leader, as was also an equally representative grandiosity, and a fondness for the introduction of foreign and unfamiliar words, especially proper names, which occasionally produces an effect of burlesque. Victor Hugo’s earliest poetical works, his chiefly royalist and political Odes, were cast in the older and accepted forms, but already displayed astonishing poetical qualities. But it was in the Ballades (for instance, the splendid Pas d’armes du roi Jean, written in verses of three syllables) and the Orientales (of which may be taken for a sample the sixth section of Navarin, a perfect torrent of outlandish terms poured forth in the most admirable verse, or Les Djinns, where some of the stanzas have lines of two syllables each) that the grand provocation was thrown to the believers in alexandrines, careful caesuras and strictly separated couplets. Les Feuilles d’automne, Les Chants du crépuscule, Les Voix intérieures, Les Rayons et les ombres, the productions of the next twenty years, were quieter in style and tone, but no less full of poetical spirit. The Revolution of 1848, the establishment of the empire and the poet’s exile brought about a fresh determination of his genius to lyrical subjects. Les Châtiments and La Légende des siècles, the one political, the other historical, reach perhaps the high-water mark of French verse; and they were followed by the philosophical Contemplations, the lighter Chansons des rues et des bois, the Année terrible, the second Légende des siècles, and the later work to be found noticed sub nom. We have been thus particular here because the literary productiveness of Victor Hugo himself has been the measure and sample of the whole literary productiveness of France on the poetical side. At five-and-twenty he was acknowledged as a master, at seventy-five he was a master still. His poetical influence has been represented in three different schools, from which very few of the poetical writers of the century can be excluded. These few we may notice first. Alfred Musset. de Musset, a writer of great genius, felt part of the Romantic inspiration very strongly, but was on the whole unfortunately influenced by Byron, and partly out of wilfulness, partly from a natural want of persevering industry and vigour, allowed himself to be careless and even slovenly in composition. Notwithstanding this, many of his lyrics are among the finest poems in the language, and his verse, careless as it is, has extraordinary natural grace. Auguste Barbier (1805–1882) whose Iambes shows an extraordinary command of nervous and masculine versification, also comes in here; and the Breton poet, Auguste Brizeux (1803–1858), much admired by some, together with Hégésippe Moreau, an unequal writer possessing some talent, Pierre Dupont (1821–1870), one of much greater gifts, and Gustave Nadaud (1820–1893), a follower of Béranger, also deserve mention. Of the school of Lamartine rather than of Hugo are Alfred de Vigny (1799–1865) and Victor de Laprade (1812–1887), the former a writer of little bulk and somewhat over-fastidious, but possessing one of the most correct and elegant styles to be found in French, with a curious restrained passion and a complicated originality, the latter a meditative and philosophical poet, like Vigny an admirable writer, but somewhat deficient in pith and substance, as well as in warmth and colour. Madame Ackermann (1813–1890) is the chief philosophical poetess of France, and this style has recently been very popular; but for actual poetical powers, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786–1859) perhaps excelled her, though in a looser and more sentimental fashion. The poetical schools which more directly derive from the Romantic movement as represented by Hugo are three in number, corresponding in point of time with the first outburst of the movement, with the period of reaction already alluded to, and with the closing years of the second empire. Of the first by far the most distinguished member was Théophile Gautier (1811–1872), the most perfect Gautier. poet in point of form that France has produced. When quite a boy he devoted himself to the study of 16th-century masters, and though he acknowledged the supremacy of Hugo, his own talent was of an individual order, and developed itself more or less independently. Albertus alone of his poems has much of the extravagant and grotesque character which distinguished early romantic literature. The Comédie de la mort, the Poésies diverses, and still more the Émaux et camées, display a distinctly classical tendency—classical, that is to say, not in the party and perverted sense, but in its true acceptation. The tendency to the fantastic and horrible may be taken as best shown by Petrus Borel (1809–1859), a writer of singular power almost entirely wasted. Gerard Labrunie or de Nerval (1808–1855) adopted a manner also fantastic but more idealistic than Borel’s, and distinguished himself by his Oriental travels and studies, and by his attention to popular ballads and traditions, while his style has an exquisite but unaffected strangeness hardly inferior to Gautier’s. This peculiar and somewhat quintessenced style is also remarkable in the Gaspard de la nuit of Louis Bertrand (1807–1841), a work of rhythmical prose almost unique in its character. One famous sonnet preserves the name of Félix Arvers (1806–1850). The two Deschamps were chiefly remarkable as translators. The next generation produced three remarkable poets, to whom may perhaps be added a fourth. Théodore de Banville (1823–1891), adopting the principles of Gautier, and combining with them a considerable satiric faculty, composed a large amount of verse, faultless in form, delicate and exquisite in shades and colours, but so entirely neutral in moral and political tone that it has found fewer admirers than it deserved. Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818–1894), carrying out the principle of ransacking foreign literature for subjects, went to Celtic, classical or even Oriental sources for his inspiration, and despite a science in verse not much inferior to Banville’s, and a far wider range and choice of subject, diffused an air of erudition, not to say pedantry, over his work which disgusted some readers, and a pessimism which displeased others, but has left poetry only inferior to that of the greatest of his countrymen. Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), by his choice of unpopular subjects and the terrible truth of his analysis, revolted not a few of those who, in the words of an English critic, cannot take pleasure in the representation if they do not take pleasure in the thing represented, and who thus miss his extraordinary command of the poetical appeal in sound, in imagery and in suggestion generally. Thus, by a strange coincidence, each of the three representatives of the second Romantic generation was for a time disappointed of his due fame. A fourth poet of this time, Joséphin Soulary (1815–1891), produced sonnets of rare beauty and excellence. A fifth, Louis Bouilhet (1822–1869), an intimate friend of Flaubert, pushed even farther the fancy for strange subjects, but showed powers in Melænis and other things. In 1866 a collection of poems, entitled after an old French fashion Le Parnasse contemporain, appeared. It included contributions by many of the poets just mentioned, but the mass of the contributors were hitherto unknown to fame. A similar collection appeared in 1869, and was interrupted by the German war, but continued after it, and a third in 1876.
The first Parnasse had been projected by MM. Xavier de Ricard (b. 1843) and Catulle Mendès (1841–1909) as a sort of manifesto of a school of young poets: but its contents were largely coloured by the inclusion among them of work by representatives of older generations—Gautier, Laprade, Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Baudelaire and others. The continuation, however, of the title in the later issues, rather than anything else, led to the formation and promulgation of the idea of a “Parnassien” or an “Impassible” school which was supposed to adopt as its watchword the motto of “Art for Art’s sake,” to pay especial attention to form, and also to aim at a certain objectivity. As a matter of fact the greater poets and the greater poems of the Parnasse admit of no such restrictive labelling, which can only be regarded as mischievous, though (or very mainly because) it has been continued. Another school, arising mainly in the later ’eighties and calling itself that of “Symbolism,” has been supposed to indicate a reaction against Parnassianism and even against the main or Hugonic Romantic tradition generally; with a throwing back to Lamartine and perhaps Chénier. This idea of successive schools (“Decadents,” “Naturists,” “Simplists,” &c.) has even been reduced to such an absurdum as the statement that “France sees a new school of poetry every fifteen years.” Those who have studied literature sufficiently widely, and from a sufficient elevation, know that these systematisings are always more or less delusive. Parnassianism, symbolism and the other things are merely phases of the Romantic movement itself—as may be proved to demonstration by the simple process of taking, say, Hugo and Verlaine on the one hand, Delille or Escouchard Lebrun on the other, and comparing the two first mentioned with each other and with the older poet. The differences in the first case will be found to be
differences at most of individuality: in the other of kind. We shall not, therefore, further refer to these dubious classifications: but specify briefly the most remarkable poets whom they concern, and all the older of whom, it may be observed, were represented in the Parnasse itself. Of these the most remarkable were Sully Prudhomme (1839–1907), François Coppée (1842–1908) and Paul Verlaine (1844–1896). The first (Stances et poèmes, 1865, Vaines Tendresses, 1875, Bonheur, 1888, &c.) is a philosophical and rather pessimistic poet who has very strongly rallied the suffrages of the rather large present public who care for the embodiment of these tendencies in verse; the second (La Grève des forgerons, 1869, Les Humbles, 1872, Contes et vers, 1881–1887, &c.) a dealer with more generally popular subjects in a more sentimental manner; and the third (Sagesse, 1881, Parallèlement, 1889, Poèmes saturniens, including early work, 1867–1890), by far the most original and remarkable poet of the three, starting with Baudelaire and pushing farther the fancy for forbidden subjects, but treating both these and others with wonderful command of sound and image-suggestion. Verlaine in fact (he was actually well acquainted with English) endeavoured, and to a small extent succeeded in the endeavour, to communicate to French the vague suggestion of visual and audible appeal which has characterized English poetry from Blake through Coleridge. Others of the original Parnassiens who deserve mention are Albert Glatigny (1839–1873), a Bohemian poet of great talent who died young; Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), afterwards chief of the Symbolists, also a true poet in his way, but somewhat barren, and the victim of pose and trick; José Maria de Heredia (1842–1905), a very exquisite practitioner of the sonnet but with perhaps more art than matter in him; Henri Cazalis (1840–1909), who long afterwards, under his name of Jean Lahor, appeared as a Symbolist pessimist; A. Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, another eccentric but with a spark of genius; Emmanuel des Essarts; Auguste de Châtillon (1810–1882); Léon Dierx (b. 1838) who, after producing even less than Mallarmé, succeeded him as Symbolist chief; Jean Aicard (b. 1848), a southern bard of merit; and lastly Catulle Mendès himself, who has been a brilliant writer in verse and prose ever since, and whose Mouvement poétique français de 1867 à 1900 (1903), an official report largely amplified so that it is in fact a history and dictionary of French poetry during the century, forms an almost unique work of reference on the subject. Among the later recruits the most specially noticeable was Armand Silvestre (1837–1901), whose verse (La Chanson des heures, 1878, Ailes d’or, 1880, La Chanson des étoiles, 1885), of an ethereal beauty, was contrasted with prose admirably written and sometimes most amusing, but “Pantagruelist,” and more, in manners and morals. This declension from poetry to prose fiction was also noticeable in Guy de Maupassant, André Theuriet, Anatole France and even Alphonse Daudet.
Yet another flight of poets may be grouped as those specially representing the last quarter of the century and (whether Parnassian, Symbolist or what not) the latest development of French poetry. Verlaine and Mallarmé already mentioned were in a manner the leaders of these. Perhaps something of the influence of Whitman may be detected in the irregular verses of Gustave Kahn (b. 1859), Francis Viélé Griffin, actually an American by birth (b. 1864), Stuart Merrill, of like origin, and Paul Fort (b. 1872). But the whole tendency of the period has been to relax the stringency of French prosody. Albert Samain (1859–1900), a musical versifier enough; Jean Moréas (1856–1910) who began with a volume called Les Syrtes in 1884; Laurent Tailhade (b. 1854) and others are more or less Symbolist, and contributed to the Symbolist periodical (one of many such since the beginning of the Romantic movement which would almost require an article to themselves), the Mercure de France. An older man than many of these, M. Jean Richepin (b. 1849), made for a time considerable noise with poetical work of a colour older even than his age, and harking back somewhat to the Jeune-France and “Bousingot” type of early Romanticism—La Chanson des gueux, Les Blasphèmes, &c. Other writers of note are M. Paul Déroulède (b. 1846), a violently nationalist poet; M. Maurice Bouchor (b. 1864), who started his serious and respectable work with Les Symboles in 1888; while M. Henri de Regnier, born in the same year, has received very high praise for work from Lendemains in 1886 and other volumes up to Les Jeux rustiques et divins (1897) and Les Médailles d’argile (1900). The truth, however, perhaps is that this extraordinary abundance of verse (for we have not mentioned a quarter of the names which present themselves, or a twentieth part of those who figure in M. Mendès’s catalogue for the last half-century) reminds the literary historian somewhat too much of similar phenomena in other times. There is undoubtedly a great diffusion of poetical dexterity, and not perhaps a small one of poetical spirit, but it requires the settling, clarifying and distinguishing effects of time to separate the poet from the minor poet. Still more perhaps must we look to time to decide whether the vers libre as it is called—that is to say, the verse freed from the minute traditions of the elder prosody, admitting hiatus, neglecting to a greater or less extent caesura, and sometimes relying upon mere rhythm to the neglect of strict metre altogether—can hold its ground. It has as yet been practised by no poet at all approaching the first class, except Verlaine, and not by him in its extremer forms. And the whole history of prosody and poetry teaches us that though similar changes often come in as it were unperceived, they scarcely ever take root in the language unless a great poet adopts them. Or rather it should perhaps be said that when they are going to take root in the language a great poet always does adopt them before very long.
Prose Fiction since 1830.—Even more remarkable, because more absolutely novel, was the outburst of prose fiction which followed 1830. Madame de Lafayette, Le Sage, Marivaux, Voltaire, the Abbé Prévost, Diderot, J. J. Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Fiévée had all of them produced work excellent in its way, and comprising in a more or less rudimentary condition most varieties of the novel. But none of them had, in the French phrase, made a school, and at no time had prose fiction been composed in any considerable quantities. The immense influence which Walter Scott exercised was perhaps the direct cause of the attention paid to prose fiction; the facility, too, with which all the fancies, tastes and beliefs of the time could be embodied in such work may have had considerable importance. But it is difficult on any theory of cause and effect to account for the appearance in less than ten years of such a group of novelists as Hugo, Gautier, Dumas, Mérimée, Balzac, George Sand, Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard, names to which might be added others scarcely inferior. There is hardly anything else resembling it in literature, except the great cluster of English dramatists in the beginning of the 17th century, and of English poets at the beginning of the 19th; and it is remarkable that the excellence of the first group was maintained by a fresh generation—Murger, About, Feuillet, Flaubert, Erckmann-Chatrian, Droz, Daudet, Cherbuliez and Gaboriau, forming a company of diadochi not far inferior to their predecessors, and being themselves not unworthily succeeded almost up to the present day. The romance-writing of France during the period has taken two different directions—the first that of the novel of incident, the second that of analysis and character. The first, now mainly deserted, was that which, as was natural when Scott was the model, was formerly most trodden; the second required the genius of George Sand and of Balzac and the more problematical talent of Beyle to attract students to it. The novels of Victor Hugo are novels of incident, with a strong infusion of purpose, and considerable but rather ideal character drawing. They are in fact lengthy prose drames rather than romances proper, and they have found no imitators. They display, however, the powers of the master at their fullest. Dumas. On the other hand, Alexandre Dumas originally composed his novels in close imitation of Scott, and they are much less dramatic than narrative in character, so that they lend themselves to almost indefinite continuation, and there is often no particular reason why they should terminate even at the end of the score or so of volumes to which they sometimes actually extend. Of this purely narrative kind, which hardly even attempts anything but the boldest character drawing, the best of them, such as Les Trois Mousquetaires, Vingt ans après, La Reine Margot, are probably the best specimens extant. Dumas possesses, almost alone among novelists, the secret of writing interminable dialogue without being tedious, and of telling the story by it. Of something the same kind, but of a far lower stamp, are the novels of Eugène Sue (1804–1857). Dumas and Sue were accompanied and followed by a vast crowd of companions, independent or imitative. Alfred de Vigny had already attempted the historical novel in Cinq-Mars. Henri de La Touche (1785–1851) (Fragoletta), an excellent critic who formed George Sand, but a mediocre novelist, may be mentioned: and perhaps also Roger de Beauvoir, whose real name was Eugène Auguste Roger de Bully (1806–1866) (Le Chronique de Saint Georges), and Frédéric Soulié (Les Mémoires du diable) (1800–1847). Paul Féval (La Fée des grèves) (1817–1877) and Amédée Achard (Belle-Rose) (1814–1875) are of the same school, and some of the attempts of Jules Janin (1804–1874), more celebrated as a critic, may also be connected with it. By degrees, however, the taste for the novel of incident, at least of an historical kind, died out till it was revived in another form, and with an admixture of domestic interest, by MM. Erckmann-Chatrian. The last and one of the most splendid instances of the old style was Le Capitaine Fracasse, which Théophile Gautier began early and finished late as a kind of tour de force. The last-named writer in his earlier days had modified the incident novel in many short tales, a kind of writing for which French has always been famous, and in which Gautier’s sketches are masterpieces. His only other long novel, Mademoiselle de Maupin, belongs rather to the class of analysis. With Gautier, as a writer whose literary characteristics even excel his purely tale-telling powers, may be classed Prosper Mérimée (1803–1870), one of the most exquisite 19th-century masters of the language. Already, however, in 1830 the tide was setting strongly in favour of novels of contemporary life and manners. These were of course susceptible of extremely various treatment. For many years Paul de Kock (1793–1871), a writer who did not trouble himself about Classics or Romantics or any such matter, continued the tradition of Marivaux, Crébillon fils, and Pigault Lebrun (1753–1835) in a series of not very moral or polished but lively and amusing sketches of life, principally of the bourgeois type. Later Charles de Bernard (1804–1850) (Gerfaut) with infinitely greater wit, elegance, propriety and literary skill, did the same thing for the higher classes of French society. But the two great masters of the novel of character and manners as opposed to that of history and incident are Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) and Aurore Dudevant, commonly called George Sand (1804–1876). Their influence affected the entire body of novelists who succeeded them, with very few exceptions. At the head of these exceptions may be placed Jules Sandeau (1811–1883), who, after writing a certain number of novels in a less individual style, at last made for himself a special subject in a certain kind of domestic novel, where the passions set in motion are less boisterous than those usually preferred by the French novelist, and reliance is mainly placed on minute character drawing and shades of colour sober in hue but very carefully adjusted (Catherine, Mademoiselle de Penarvan, Mademoiselle de la Seiglière). In the same class of the more quiet and purely domestic novelists may be placed X. B. Saintine (1798–1865) (Picciola), Madame C. Reybaud (1802–1871) (Clémentine, Le Cadet de Colobrières), J. T. de Saint-Germain (Pour en épingle, La Feuille de coudrier), Madame Craven (1808–1891) (Récit d’une sœur, Fleurange). Henri Beyle (1798–1865), who wrote under the nom de plume of Stendhal and belongs to an older generation than most of these, also stands by himself. His chief book in the line of fiction is La Chartreuse de Parme, an exceedingly powerful novel of the analytical kind, and he also composed a considerable number of critical and miscellaneous works. Of little influence at first (though he had great power over Mérimée) and never master of a perfect style, he has exercised ever increasing authority as a master of pessimist analysis. Indeed much of his work was never published till towards the close of the century. Last among the independents must be mentioned Henry Murger (1822–1861), the painter of what is called Bohemian life, that is to say, the struggles, difficulties and amusements of students, youthful artists, and men of letters. In this peculiar style, which may perhaps be regarded as an irregular descendant of the picaroon romance, Murger has no rival; and he is also, though on no extensive scale, a poet of great pathos. But with these exceptions, the influences of the two writers we have mentioned, sometimes combined, more often separate, may be traced throughout the whole of later novel literature. George Sand began with books strongly tinged with the spirit of revolt against moral and social arrangements, and she sometimes diverged into very curious paths of pseudo-philosophy, such as was popular in the second quarter of the century. At times, too, as in Lucrezia Floriani and some other works, she did not hesitate to draw largely on her own personal adventures and experiences. But latterly she devoted herself rather to sketches of country life and manners, and to novels involving bold if not very careful sketches of character and more or less dramatic situations. She was one of the most fertile of novelists, continuing to the end of her long life to pour forth fiction at the rate of many volumes a year. Of her different styles may be mentioned as fairly characteristic, Lélia, Lucrezia Floriani, Consuelo, La Mare au diable, La Petite Fadette, François le champi, Mademoiselle de la Quintinie. Considering the shorter Balzac the younger. length of his life the productiveness of Balzac was almost more astonishing, especially if we consider that some of his early work was never reprinted, and that he left great stores of fragments and unfinished sketches. He is, moreover, the most remarkable example in literature of untiring work and determination to achieve success despite the greatest discouragements. His early work was worse than unsuccessful, it was positively bad. After more than a score of unsuccessful attempts, Les Chouans at last made its mark, and for twenty years from that time the astonishing productions composing the so-called Comédie humaine were poured forth successively. The sub-titles which Balzac imposed upon the different batches, Scènes de la vie parisienne, de la vie de province, de la vie intime, &c., show, like the general title, a deliberate intention on the author’s part to cover the whole ground of human, at least of French life. Such an attempt could not succeed wholly; yet the amount of success attained is astonishing. Balzac has, however, with some justice been accused of creating the world which he described, and his personages, wonderful as is the accuracy and force with which many of the characteristics of humanity are exemplified in them, are somehow not altogether human. Since these two great novelists, many others have arisen, partly to tread in their steps, partly to strike out independent paths. Octave Feuillet (1821–1890), beginning his career by apprenticeship to Alexandre Dumas and the historical novel, soon found his way in a very different style of composition, the roman intime of fashionable life, in which, notwithstanding some grave defects, he attained much popularity and showed remarkable skill in keeping abreast of his time. The so-called realist side of Balzac was developed (but, as he himself acknowledged, with a double dose of intermixed if somewhat transformed Romanticism) by Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880), who showed culture, scholarship and a literary power over the language inferior to that of no writer of the century. No novelist of his generation has attained a higher literary rank than Flaubert. Madame Bovary and L’Éducation sentimentale are studies of contemporary life; in Salammbô and La Tentation de Saint Antoine erudition and antiquarian knowledge furnish the subjects for the display of the highest literary skill. Of about the same date Edmond About (1828–1885), before he abandoned novel-writing, devoted himself chiefly to sketches of abundant but not always refined wit (L’Homme à l’oreille cassée, Le Nez d’un notaire), and sometimes to foreign scenes (Tolla, Le Roi des montagnes). Champfleury (Henri Husson, 1829–1889), a prolific critic, deserves notice for stories of the extravaganza kind. During the whole of the Second Empire one of the most popular writers was Ernest Feydeau (1821–1873), a writer of great ability, but morbid and affected in the choice and treatment of his subjects (Fanny, Sylvie, Catherine d’Overmeire). Émile Gaboriau (1833–1873), taking up that side of Balzac’s talent which devoted itself to inextricable mysteries, criminal trials, and the like, produced M. Le Coq, Le Crime d’Orcival, La Dégringolade, &c.; and Adolphe Belot (b. 1829) for a time endeavoured to out-Feydeau Feydeau in La Femme de feu and other works. Eugène Fromentin (1820–1876), best known as a painter, wrote a novel, Dominique, which was highly appreciated by good judges.
During the last decade of the Second Empire there arose, continuing for varying lengths of time till nearly the end of the century, another remarkable group of novelists, most of whom are dealt with under separate headings, but who must receive combined treatment here; with the warning that even more danger than in the case of the poets is incurred by classing them in “schools.” Undoubtedly, however, the “Naturalist” tendency, starting from Balzac and continued through Flaubert, but taking quite a new direction under some of those to be mentioned, is in a manner dominant. Flaubert himself and Feuillet (an exact observer of manners but an anti-Naturalist) have already been mentioned. Victor Cherbuliez (1829–1899), a constant writer in the Revue des deux mondes on politics and other subjects, also accomplished a long series of novels from Le Comte Kostia (1863) onwards, of which the most remarkable are that just named, Le Roman d’une honnête femme (1866), and Meta Holdenis (1873). With something of Balzac and more of Feuillet, Cherbuliez mixed with his observation of society a dose of sentimental and popular romance which offended the younger critics of his day, but he had solid merits. Gustave Droz (b. 1832) devoted himself chiefly to short stories sufficiently “free” in subject (Monsieur, madame et bébé, Entre nous, &c.) but full of fancy, excellently written, and of a delicate wit in one sense if not in all. André Theuriet (1833–1907) began with poetry but diverged to novels, in which the scenery of France and especially of its great forests is used with much skill; Le Fils Maugars (1879) may be mentioned out of many as a specimen. Léon Cladel (1835–1892), whose most remarkable work was Les Va-nu-pieds (1874), had, as this title of itself shows, Naturalist leanings; but with a quaint Romantic tendency in prose and verse.
The Naturalists proper chiefly developed or seemed to develop one side of Balzac, but almost entirely abandoned his Romantic element. They aimed first at exact and almost photographic delineation of the accidents of modern life, and secondly at still more uncompromising non-suppression of the essential features and functions of that life which are usually suppressed. This school may be represented in chief by four novelists (really three, as two of them were brothers who wrote together till the rather early death of one of them), Émile Zola (1840–1903), Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897), and Edmond (1822–1897) and Jules (1830–1870) de Goncourt. The first, of Italian extraction and Marseillais birth, began by work of undecided kinds and was always a critic as well as a novelist. Of this first stage Contes à Ninon (1864) and Thérèse Raquin (1867) deserve to be specified. But after 1870 Zola entered upon a huge scheme (suggested no doubt by the Comédie humaine) of tracing the fortunes in every branch, legitimate and illegitimate, and in every rank of society of a family, Les Rougon-Macquart, and carried it out in a full score of novels during more than as many years. He followed this with a shorter series on places, Paris, Rome, Lourdes, and lastly by another of strangely apocalyptic tone, Fécondité, Travail, Vérité, the last a story of the Dreyfus case, retrospective and, as it proved, prophetic. The extreme repulsiveness of much of his work, and the overdone detail of almost the whole of it, caused great prejudice against him, and will probably always prevent his being ranked among the greatest novelists; but his power is indubitable, and in passages, if not in whole books, does itself justice.
MM. de Goncourt, besides their work in Naturalist (they would have preferred to call it “Impressionist”) fiction, devoted themselves especially to study and collection in the fine arts, and produced many volumes on the historical side of these, volumes distinguished by accurate and careful research. This quality they carried, and the elder of them after his brother’s death continued to carry, into novel-writing (Renée Mauperin, Germinie Lacerteux, Chérie, &c.) with the addition of an extraordinary care for peculiar and, as they called it, “personal” diction. On the other hand, Alphonse Daudet (who with the other three, Flaubert to some extent, and the Russian novelist Turgenieff, formed a sort of cénacle or literary club) mixed with some Naturalism a far greater amount of fancy and wit than his companions allowed themselves or could perhaps attain; and in the Tartarin series (dealing with the extravagances of his fellow-Provençaux) added not a little to the gaiety of Europe. His other novels (Fromont jeune et Risler aîné, Jack, Le Nabab, &c.), also very popular, have been variously judged, there being something strangely like plagiarism in some of them, and in others, in fact in most, an excessive use of that privilege of the novelist which consists in introducing real persons under more or less disguise. It should be observed in speaking of this group that the Goncourts, or rather the survivor of them, left an elaborate Journal disfigured by spite and bad taste, but of much importance for the appreciation of the personal side of French literature during the last half of the century.
In 1880 Zola, who had by this time formed a regular school of disciples, issued with certain of them a collection of short stories, Les Soirées de Médan, which contains one of his own best things, L’Attaque du moulin, and also the capital story, Boule de suif, by Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893), who in the same year published poems, Des vers, of very remarkable if not strictly poetical quality. Maupassant developed during his short literary career perhaps the greatest powers shown by any French novelist since Flaubert (his sponsor in both senses) in a series of longer novels (Une Vie, Bel Ami, Pierre et Jean, Fort comme la mort) and shorter stories (Monsieur Parent, Les Sœurs Rondoli, Le Horla), but they were distorted by the Naturalist pessimism and grime, and perhaps also by the brain-disease of which their author died. M. J. K. Huysmans (b. 1848), also a contributor to Les Soirées de Médan, who had begun a little earlier with Marthe (1876) and other books, gave his most characteristic work in 1884 with Au rebours and in 1891 with Là-bas, stories of exaggerated and “satanic” pose, decorated with perhaps the extremest achievements of the school in mere ugliness and nastiness. Afterwards, by an obvious reaction, he returned to Catholicism. Of about the same date as these two are two other novelists of note, Julien Viaud (“Pierre Loti,” b. 1850), a naval officer who embodied his experiences of foreign service with a faint dose of story and character interest, and a far larger one of elaborate description, in a series of books (Aziyadé, Le Mariage de Loti, Madame Chrysanthème, &c.), and M. Paul Bourget (b. 1852), an important critic as well as novelist who deflected the Naturalist current into a “psychological” channel, connecting itself higher with Stendhal, and composed in its books very popular in their way—Cruelle Énigme (1885), Le Disciple, Terre promise, Cosmopolis. As a contrast or complement to Bourget’s “psychological” novel may be taken the “ethical” novel of Edouard Rod (1857–1909)—La Vie privée de Michel Tessier (1893), Le Sens de la vie, Les Trois Cœurs. Contemporary with these as a novelist though a much older man, and occupied at different times of his life with verse and with criticism, came Anatole France (b. 1844), who in Le Crime de Silvestre Bonnard, La Rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque, Le Lys rouge, and others, has made a kind of novel as different from the ordinary styles as Pierre Loti’s, but of far higher appeal in its wit, its subtle fancy, and its perfect French. Ferdinand Fabre (1830–1898) and René Bazin (b. 1853) represent the union, not too common in the French novel, of orthodoxy in morals and religion with literary ability. Further must be mentioned Paul Hervieu (b. 1857), a dramatist rather than a novelist; the brothers Margueritte (Paul, b. 1860, Victor, b. 1866), especially strong in short stories and passages; another pair of brothers of Belgian origin writing under the name of “J. H. Rosny”—Zolaists partly converted not to religion but to science and a sort of non-Christian virtue; the ingenious and amusing, if not exactly moral, brilliancy of Marcel Prévost (b. 1862); the contorted but rather attractive style and the perverse sentiment of Maurice Barrès (b. 1862); and, above all, the audacious and inimitable dialogue pieces of “Gyp” (Madame de Martel, b. 1850), worthy of the best times of French literature for gaiety, satire, acuteness and style, and perhaps likely, with the work of Maupassant, Pierre Loti and Anatole France, to represent the capital achievement of their particular generation to posterity.
Periodical Literature since 1830. Criticism.—One of the causes which led to this extensive composition of novels was the great spread of periodical literature in France, and the custom of including in almost all periodicals, daily, weekly or monthly, a feuilleton or instalment of fiction. Of the contributors of these periodicals who were strictly journalists and almost political journalists only, the most remarkable after Carrel were his opponent in the fatal duel,—Émile de Girardin, Lucien A. Prévost-Paradol (1829–1870), Jean Hippolyte Cartier, called de Villemessant (1812–1879), and, above all, Louis Veuillot (1815–1883), the most violent and unscrupulous but by no means the least gifted of his class. The same spread of periodical literature, together with the increasing interest in the literature of the past, led also to a very great development of criticism. Almost all French authors of any eminence during nearly the last century have devoted themselves more or less to criticism of literature, of the theatre, or of art. And sometimes, as in the case of Janin and Gautier, the comparatively lucrative nature of journalism, and the smaller demands which it made for labour and intellectual concentration, have diverted to feuilleton-writing abilities which might perhaps have been better employed. At the same time it must be remembered that from this devotion of men of the best talents to critical work has arisen an immense elevation of the standard of such work. Before the romantic movement in France Diderot in that country, Lessing and some of his successors in Germany, Hazlitt, Coleridge and Lamb in England, had been admirable critics and reviewers. But the theory of criticism, though these men’s principles and practice had set it aside, still remained more or less what it had been for centuries. The critic was merely the administrator of certain hard and fast rules. There were certain recognized kinds of literary composition; every new book was bound to class itself under one or other of these. There were certain recognized rules for each class; and the goodness or badness of a book consisted simply in its obedience or disobedience to these rules. Even the kinds of admissible subjects and the modes of admissible treatment were strictly noted and numbered. This was especially the case in France and with regard to French belles-lettres, so that, as we have seen, certain classes of composition had been reduced to unimportant variations of a registered pattern. The Romantic protest against this absurdity was specially loud and completely victorious. It is said that a publisher advised the youthful Lamartine to try “to be like somebody else” if he wished to succeed. The Romantic standard of success was, on the contrary, to be as individual as possible. Victor Hugo himself composed a good deal of criticism, and in the preface to his Orientales he states the critical principles of the new school clearly. The critic, he says, has nothing to do with the subject chosen, the colours employed, the materials used. Is the work, judged by itself and with regard only to the ideal which the worker had in his mind, good or bad? It will be seen that as a legitimate corollary of this theorem the critic becomes even more of an interpreter than of a judge. He can no longer satisfy himself or his readers by comparing the work before him with some abstract and accepted standard, and marking off its shortcomings. He has to reconstruct, more or less conjecturally, the special ideal at which each of his authors aimed, and to do this he has to study their idiosyncrasies with the utmost care, and set them before his readers in as full and attractive a fashion as he can manage. The first writer who thoroughly grasped this necessity and successfully Sainte-Beuve. dealt with it was Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804–1869), who has indeed identified his name with the method of criticism just described. Sainte-Beuve’s first remarkable work (his poems and novels we may leave out of consideration) was the sketch of 16th-century literature already alluded to, which he contributed to the Globe. But it was not till later that his style of criticism became fully developed and accentuated. During the first decade of Louis Philippe’s reign his critical papers, united under the title of Critiques et portraits littéraires, show a gradual advance. During the next ten years he was mainly occupied with his studies of the writers of the Port Royal school. But it was during the last twenty years of his life, when the famous Causeries du lundi appeared weekly in the columns of the Constitutionnel and the Moniteur, that his most remarkable productions came out. Sainte-Beuve’s style of criticism (which is the key to so much of French literature of the last half-century that it is necessary to dwell on it at some length), excellent and valuable as it is, lent itself to two corruptions. There is, in the first place, in making the careful investigations into the character and circumstances of each writer which it demands, a danger of paying too much attention to the man and too little to his work, and of substituting for a critical study a mere collection of personal anecdotes and traits, especially if the author dealt with belongs to a foreign country or a past age. The other danger is that of connecting the genius and character of particular authors too much with their conditions and circumstances, so as to regard them as merely so many products of the age. These faults, and especially the latter, have been very noticeable in many of Sainte-Beuve’s successors, particularly in, perhaps, Hippolyte Taine, who, however, besides his work on English literature, did much of importance on French, and has been regarded as the first critic who did thorough honour to Balzac in his own country. A large number of other critics during the period deserve notice because, though acting more or less on the newer system of criticism, they have manifested considerable originality in its application. As far as merely critical faculty goes, and still more in the power of giving literary expression to criticism, Théophile Gautier yields to no one. His Les Grotesques, an early work dealing with Villon, the earlier “Théophile” de Viau, and other enfants terribles of French literature, has served as a model to many subsequent writers, such as Charles Monselet (1825–1888), and Charles Asselineau (1820–1874), the affectionate historian, in his Bibliographie romantique (1872–1874), of the less famous promoters of the Romantic movement. On the other hand, Gautier’s picture criticisms, and his short reviews of books, obituary notices, and other things of the kind contributed to daily papers, are in point of style among the finest of all such fugitive compositions. Jules Janin (1804–1874), chiefly a theatrical critic, excelled in light and easy journalism, but his work has neither weight of substance nor careful elaboration of manner sufficient to give it permanent value. This sort of light critical comment has become almost a speciality of the French press, and among its numerous practitioners the names of Armand de Pontmartin (1811–1890) (an imitator and assailant of Sainte-Beuve), Arsène Houssaye, Pierangelo Fiorentino (1806–1864), may be mentioned. Edmond Scherer (1815–1889) and Paul de Saint-Victor (1827–1881) represent different sides of Sainte-Beuve’s style in literary criticism, Scherer combining with it a martinet and somewhat prudish precision, while Saint-Victor, with great powers of appreciation, is the most flowery and “prose-poetical” of French critics. In theatrical censure Francisque Sarcey (1827–1899), an acute but somewhat severe and limited judge, succeeded to the good-natured sovereignty of Janin. The criticism of the Revue des deux mondes has played a sufficiently important part in French literature to deserve separate notice in passing. Founded in 1829, the Revue, after some vicissitudes, soon attained, under the direction of the Swiss Buloz, the character of being one of the first of European critical periodicals. Its style of criticism has, on the whole, inclined rather to the classical side—that is, to classicism as modified by, and possible after, the Romantic movement. Besides some of the authors already named, its principal critical contributors were Gustave Planche (1808–1857), an acute but somewhat truculent critic, Saint-René Taillandier (1817–1879), and Émile Montégut (1825–1895), a man of letters whom greater leisure would have made greater, but who actually combined much and varied critical power with an agreeable style. Lastly we must notice the important section of professorial or university critics, whose critical work has taken the form either of regular treatises or of courses of republished lectures, books somewhat academic and rhetorical in character, but often representing an amount of influence which has served largely to stir up attention to literature. The most prominent name among these is that of Abel Villemain (1790–1867), who was one of the earliest critics of the literature of his own country to obtain a hearing out of it. Désiré Nisard (1806–1888) was perhaps more fortunate in his dealings with Latin than with French, and in his History of the latter literature represents too much the classical tradition, but he had dignity, erudition and an excellent style. Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847), a Swiss critic of considerable eminence, Saint-Marc-Girardin (1801–1873), whose Cours de littérature dramatique is his chief work, and Eugène Géruzez (1799–1865), the author not only of an extremely useful and well-written handbook to French literature before the Revolution, but also of other works dealing with separate portions of the subject, must also be mentioned. One remarkable critic, Ernest Hello (1818–1885), attracted during his life little attention even in France, and hardly any out of it, his work being strongly tinctured with the unpopular flavour and colour of uncompromising “clericalism,” and his extremely bad health keeping him out of the ordinary fraternities of literary society. It was, however, as full of idiosyncrasy as of partisanship, and is exceedingly interesting to those who regard criticism as mainly valuable because it gives different aspects of the same thing.
Perhaps in no branch of belles-lettres did the last quarter of the century maintain the level at which predecessors had arrived better than in criticism; though whether this fact is connected with something of decadence in the creative branches, is a question which may be better posed than resolved here. A remarkable writer whose talent, approaching genius, was spoilt by eccentricity and pose, and who belonged to a more modern generation, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808–1889), poet, novelist and critic, produced much of his last critical work, and corrected more, in these later days. Not only did the critical work in various ways of Renan, Taine, Scherer, Sarcey and others continue during parts of it, but a new generation, hardly in this case inferior to the old, appeared. The three chiefs of this were the already mentioned Anatole France, Émile Faguet (b. 1847), and Ferdinand Brunetière (1849–1906), to whom some would add Jules Lemaître (b. 1853). The last, however, though a brilliant writer, was but an “interim” critic, beginning with poetry and other matters, and after a time turning to yet others, while, brilliant as he was, his criticism was often ill-informed. So too Anatole France, after compiling four volumes of La Vie littéraire in his own inimitable style and with singular felicity of appreciation, also turned away. The phenomenon in both cases may be associated, though it must not be too intimately connected in the relation of cause and effect, with the fact that both were champions and practitioners of “impressionist criticism”—of the doctrine (unquestionably sound if not exaggerated) that the first duty of the critic is to reproduce the effect produced on his own mind by the author. Brunetière and Faguet, on the other hand, are partisans of the older academic style of criticism by kind and on principle. Faguet, besides regular volumes on each of the four great centuries of French literature, has produced much other work—all of it somewhat “classical” in tendency and frequently exhibiting something of a want of comprehension of the Romantic side. Brunetière was still more prolific on the same side but with still greater effort after system and “science.” In the books definitely called L’Évolution des genres, in his Manuel of French literature, and in a large number of other volumes of collected essays he enforced with great learning and power of argument, if with a somewhat narrow purview and with some prejudice against writers whom he disliked, a new form of the old doctrine that the “kind” not the individual author or book ought to be the main subject of the critic’s attention. He did not escape the consequential danger of taking authors and books not as they are but as in relation to the kinds which they in fact constitute and to his general views. But he was undoubtedly at his death the first critic of France and a worthy successor of her best.
Of others older and younger must be mentioned Paul Stapfer (b. 1840), professor of literature, and the author of divers excellent works from Shakespeare et l’antiquité to volumes of the first value on Montaigne and Rabelais; Paul Bourget and Edouard Rod, already noticed; Augustin Filon (b. 1841), author of much good work on English literature and an excellent book on Mérimée; Alexandre Beljame (1843–1906), another eminent student of English literature, in which subject J. A. Jusserand (b. 1855), Legouis, K. A. J. Angellier (b. 1848), and others have recently distinguished themselves; Gustave Larroumet, especially an authority on Marivaux; Eugène Lintilhac (b. 1854); Georges Pellissier; Gustave Lanson, author of a compact history of French literature in French; Marcel Schwob, who had done excellent work on Villon and other subjects before his early death; René Doumic, a frequent writer in the Revue des deux mondes, who collected four volumes of Études sur la littérature française between 1895 and 1900; and the Vicomte Melchior de Vogüé (b. 1848), whose interests have been more political-philosophical than strictly literary, but who has done much to familiarize the French public with that Russian literature to which Mérimée had been the first to introduce them. But the body of recent critical literature in France is perhaps larger in actual proportion and of greater value when considered in relation to other kinds of literature than has been the case at any previous period.
History since 1830.—The remarkable development of historical studies which we have noticed as taking place under the Restoration was accelerated and intensified in the reigns of Charles X. and Louis Philippe. Both the scope and the method of the historian underwent a sensible alteration. For something like 150 years historians had been divided into two classes, those who produced elegant literary works pleasant to read, and those who produced works of laborious erudition, but not even intended for general perusal. The Vertots and Voltaires were on one side, the Mabillons and Tillemonts on another. Now, although the duty of a French historian to produce works of literary merit was not forgotten, it was recognized as part of that duty to consult original documents and impart original observation. At the same time, to the merely political events which had formerly been recognized as forming the historian’s province were added the social and literary phenomena which had long been more or less neglected. Old chronicles and histories were re-read and re-edited; innumerable monographs on special subjects and periods were produced, and these latter were of immense service to romance writers at the time of the popularity of the historical novel. Not a few of the works, for instance, which were signed by Alexandre Dumas consist mainly of extracts or condensations from old chronicles, or modern monographs, ingeniously united by dialogue and varnished with a little description. History, however, had not to wait for this second-hand popularity, and its cultivators had fully sufficient literary talent to maintain its dignity. Sismondi, whom we have already noticed, continued during this period his great Histoire des Français, and produced his even better-known Histoire des républiques italiennes au moyen âge. The brothers Thierry devoted themselves to early French history, Amédée Thierry (1797–1873) producing a Histoire des Gaulois and other works concerning the Roman period, and Augustin Thierry (1795–1856) the well-known history of the Norman Conquest, the equally attractive Récits des temps Mérovingiens and other excellent works. Philippe de Ségur (1780–1873) gave a history of the Russian campaign of Napoleon, and some other works chiefly dealing with Russian history. The voluminous Histoire de France of Henri Martin (1810–1883) is perhaps the best and most impartial work dealing in detail with the whole subject. A. G. P. Brugière, baron de Barante (1782–1866), after beginning with literary criticism, turned to history, and in his Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne produced a work of capital importance. As was to be expected, many of the most brilliant results of this devotion to historical subjects consisted of works dealing with the French Revolution. No series of historical events has ever perhaps received treatment at the same time from so many different points of view, and by writers of such varied literary excellence, among whom it must, however, be said that the purely royalist side is hardly at all represented. One of the earliest of these histories is that of François Mignet (1796–1884), a sober and judicious historian of the older school, also well known for his Histoire de Marie Stuart. About the same time was begun the brilliant if not extremely trustworthy work of Adolphe Thiers (1797–1877) on the Revolution, which established the literary reputation of the future president of the French republic, and was at a later period completed by the Histoire du consulat et de l’empire. The downfall of the July monarchy and the early years of the empire witnessed the publication of several works of the first importance on this subject. Barante contributed histories of the Convention and the Directory, but the three books of greatest note were those of Lamartine, Jules Michelet (1798–1874), and Louis Blanc (1811–1882). Lamartine’s Histoire des Girondins is written from the constitutional-republican point of view, and is sometimes considered to have had much influence in producing the events of 1848. It is, perhaps, rather the work of an orator and poet than of an historian. The work of Michelet is of a more original character. Besides his history of the Revolution, Michelet wrote an extended history of France, and a very large number of smaller works on historical, political and social subjects. His imaginative powers are of the highest order, and his style stands alone in French for its strangely broken and picturesque character, its turbid abundance of striking images, and its somewhat sombre magnificence, qualities which, as may easily be supposed, found full occupation in a history of the Revolution. The work of Louis Blanc was that of a sincere but ardent republican, and is useful from this point of view, but possesses no extraordinary literary merit. The principal contributions to the history of the Revolution of the third quarter of the century were those of Quinet, Lanfrey and Taine. Edgar Quinet (1803–1875), like Louis Blanc a devotee of the republic and an exile for its sake, brought to this one of his latest works a mind and pen long trained to literary and historical studies; but La Révolution is not considered his best work. P. Lanfrey devoted himself with extraordinary patience and acuteness to the destruction of the Napoleonic legend, and the setting of the character of Napoleon I. in a new, authentic and very far from favourable light. And Taine, after distinguishing himself, as we have mentioned, in literary criticism (Histoire de la littérature anglaise), and attaining less success in philosophy (De l’intelligence), turned in Les Origines de la France moderne to an elaborate discussion of the Revolution, its causes, character and consequences, which excited some commotion among the more ardent devotees of the principles of ’89. To return from this group, we must notice J. F. Michaud (1767–1839), the historian of the crusades, and François Pierre Guillaume Guizot (1787–1874), who, like his rival Thiers, devoted himself much to historical study. His earliest works were literary and linguistic, but he soon turned to political history, and for the last half-century of his long life his contributions to historical literature were almost incessant and of the most various character. The most important are the histories Des Origines du gouvernement représentatif, De la révolution d’Angleterre, De la civilisation en France, and latterly a Histoire de France, which he was writing at the time of his death. Among minor historians of the earlier century may be mentioned Prosper Duvergier de Hauranne (1798–1881) (Gouvernement parlementaire en France), J. J. Ampère (1800–1864) (Histoire romaine à Rome), Auguste Arthur Beugnot (1797–1865) (Destruction du paganisme d’occident), J. O. B. de Cléron, comte d’Haussonville (La Réunion de la Lorraine à la France), Achille Tendelle de Vaulabelle (1799–1870) (Les Deux Restaurations). In the last quarter of the century, under the department of history, the most remarkable names were still those of Taine and Renan, the former being distinguished for thought and matter, the latter for style. Indeed it may be here proper to remark that Renan, in the kind of elaborated semi-poetic style which has most characterized the prose of the 19th century in all countries of Europe, takes pre-eminence among French writers even in the estimation of critics who are not enamoured of his substance and tone. But, under the influence of Taine to some extent and of a general European tendency still more, France during this period attained or recovered a considerable place for what is called “scientific” history—the history which while, in some cases, though not in all, not neglecting the development of style attaches itself particularly to “the document,” on the one hand, and to philosophical arrangement on the other. The chief representative of the school was probably Albert Sorel (1842–1906), whose various handlings of the Revolutionary period (including an excursion into partly literary criticism in the shape of an admirable monograph on Madame de Staël) have established themselves once for all. In a wider sweep Ernest Lavisse (b. 1842), who has dealt mainly with the 18th century, may hold a similar position. Of others, older and younger, the duc de Broglie (1821–1901), who devoted himself also to the 18th century and especially to its secret diplomacy; Gaston Boissier (b. 1823), a classical scholar rather than an historian proper, and one of the latest masters of the older French academic style; Thureau-Dangin (b. 1837), a student of mid 19th-century history; Henri Houssaye (b. 1848), one of the Napoleonic period; Gabriel Hanotaux (b. 1853), an historian of Richelieu and other subjects, and a practical politician, may be mentioned. A large accession has also been made to the publication of older memoirs—that important branch of French literature from almost the whole of its existence since the invention of prose.
Summary and Conclusion.—We have in these last pages given such an outline of the 19th-century literature of France as seemed convenient for the completion of what has gone before. It has been already remarked that the nearer approach is made to our own time the less is it possible to give exhaustive accounts of the individual cultivators of the different branches of literature. It may be added, perhaps, that such exhaustiveness becomes, as we advance, less and less necessary, as well as less and less possible. The individual poet of to-day may and does produce work that is in itself of greater literary value than that of the individual trouvère. As a matter of literary history his contribution is less remarkable because of the examples he has before him and the circumstances which he has around him. Yet we have endeavoured to draw such a sketch of French literature from the Chanson de Roland onwards that no important development and hardly any important partaker in such development should be left out. A few lines may, perhaps, be now profitably given to summing up the aspects of the whole, remembering always that, as in no case is generalization easier than in the case of the literary aspects and tendencies of periods and nations, so in no case is it apt to be more delusive unless corrected and supported by ample information of fact and detail.
At the close of the 11th century and at the beginning of the 12th we find the vulgar tongue in France not merely in fully organized use for literary purposes, but already employed in most of the forms of poetical writing. An immense outburst of epic and narrative verse has taken place, and lyrical poetry, not limited as in the case of the epics to the north of France, but extending from Roussillon to the Pas de Calais, completes this. The 12th century adds to these earliest forms the important development of the mystery, extends the subjects and varies the manner of epic verse, and begins the compositions of literary prose with the chronicles of St Denis and of Villehardouin, and the prose romances of the Arthurian cycle. All this also, in this 12th century, forms of literature which busy themselves with the unprivileged classes begin to be born. The fabliau takes every phase of life for its subject; the folk-song acquires elegance and does not lose raciness and truth. In the next century, the 13th, medieval literature in France arrives at its prime—a prime which lasts until the first quarter of the 14th. The early epics lose something of their savage charms, the polished literature of Provence quickly perishes. But in the provinces which speak the more prevailing tongue nothing is wanting to literary development. The language itself has shaken off all its youthful incapacities, and, though not yet well adapted for the requirements of modern life and study, is in every way equal to the demands made upon it by its own time. The dramatic germ contained in the fabliau and quickened by the mystery produces the profane drama. Ambitious works of merit in the most various kinds are published; Aucassin et Nicolette stands side by side with the Vie de Saint Louis, the Jeu de la feuillie with Le Miracle de Théophile, the Roman de la rose with the Roman du Renart. The earliest notes of ballads and rondeau are heard; endeavours are made with zeal, and not always without understanding, to naturalize the wisdom of the ancients in France, and in the graceful tongue that France possesses. Romance in prose and verse, drama, history, songs, satire, oratory and even erudition, are all represented and represented worthily. Meanwhile all nations of western Europe have come to France for their literary models and subjects, and the greatest writers in English, German, Italian, content themselves with adaptations of Chrétien de Troyes, of Benoit de Sainte More, and of a hundred other known and unknown trouvères and fabulists. But this age does not last long. The language has been put to all the uses of which it is as yet capable; those uses in their sameness begin to pall upon reader and hearer; and the enormous evils of the civil and religious state reflect themselves inevitably in literature. The old forms die out or are prolonged only in half-lifeless travesties. The brilliant colouring of Froissart, and the graceful science of ballade and rondeau writers like Lescurel and Deschamps, alone maintain the literary reputation of the time. Towards the end of the 14th century the translators and political writers import many terms of art, and strain the language to uses for which it is as yet unhandy, though at the beginning of the next age Charles d’Orléans by his natural grace and the virtue of the forms he used emerges from the mass of writers. Throughout the 15th century the process of enriching or at least increasing the vocabulary goes on, but as yet no organizing hand appears to direct the process. Villon stands alone in merit as in peculiarity. But in this time dramatic literature and the literature of the floating popular broadsheet acquire an immense extension—all or almost all the vigour of spirit being concentrated in the rough farce and rougher lampoon, while all the literary skill is engrossed by insipid rhétoriqueurs and pedants. Then comes the grand upheaval of the Renaissance and the Reformation. An immense influx of science, of thought to make the science living, of new terms to express the thought, takes place, and a band of literary workers appear of power enough to master and get into shape the turbid mass. Rabelais, Amyot, Calvin and Herberay fashion French prose; Marot, Ronsard and Regnier refashion French verse. The Pléiade introduces the drama as it is to be and the language that is to help the drama to express itself. Montaigne for the first time throws invention and originality into some other form than verse or than prose fiction. But by the end of the century the tide has receded. The work of arrangement has been but half done, and there are no master spirits left to complete it. At this period Malherbe and Balzac make their appearance. Unable to deal with the whole problem, they determine to deal with part of it, and to reject a portion of the riches of which they feel themselves unfit to be stewards. Balzac and his successors make of French prose an instrument faultless and admirable in precision, unequalled for the work for which it is fit, but unfit for certain portions of the work which it was once able to perform. Malherbe, seconded by Boileau, makes of French verse an instrument suited only for the purposes of the drama of Euripides, or rather of Seneca, with or without its chorus, and for a certain weakened echo of those choruses, under the name of lyrics. No French verse of the first merit other than dramatic is written for two whole centuries. The drama soon comes to its acme, and during the succeeding time usually maintains itself at a fairly high level until the death of Voltaire. But prose lends itself to almost everything that is required of it, and becomes constantly a more and more perfect instrument. To the highest efforts of pathos and sublimity its vocabulary and its arrangement likewise are still unsuited, though the great preachers of the 17th century do their utmost with it. But for clear exposition, smooth and agreeable narrative, sententious and pointed brevity, witty repartee, it soon proves itself to have no superior and scarcely an equal in Europe. In these directions practitioners of the highest skill apply it during the 17th century, while during the 18th its powers are shown to the utmost of their variety by Voltaire, and receive a new development at the hands of Rousseau. Yet, on the whole, it loses during this century. It becomes more and more unfit for any but trivial uses, and at last it is employed for those uses only. Then occurs the Revolution, repeating the mighty stir in men’s minds which the Renaissance had given, but at first experiencing more difficulty in breaking up the ground and once more rendering it fertile. The faulty and incomplete genius of Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël gives the first evidence of a new growth, and after many years the Romantic movement completes the work. Whether the force of that movement is now, after three-quarters of a century, spent or not, its results remain. The poetical power of French has been once more triumphantly proved, and its productiveness in all branches of literature has been renewed, while in that of prose fiction there has been almost created a new class of composition. In the process of reform, however, not a little of the finish of French prose style has been lost, and the language itself has been affected in something the same way as it was affected by the less judicious innovations of the Ronsardists. The pedantry of the Pléiade led to the preposterous compounds of Du Bartas; the passion of the Romantics for foreign tongues and for the mot propre has loaded French with foreign terms on the one hand and with argot on the other, while it is questionable whether the vers libre is really suited to the French genius. There is, therefore, room for new Malherbes and Balzacs, if the days for Balzacs and Malherbes had not to all appearance passed. Should they be once more forthcoming, they have the failure as well as the success of their predecessors to guide them.is so far connected purely with the knightly and priestly orders, though it is largely composed and still more largely dealt in by classes of men, trouvères and jongleurs, who are not necessarily either knights or priests, and in the case of the jongleurs are certainly neither. With a possible ancestry of Romance and Teutonic cantilenae, Breton lais, and vernacular legends, the new literature has a certain pattern and model in Latin and for the most part ecclesiastical compositions. It has the sacred books and the legends of the saints for examples of narrative, the rhythm of the hymns for a guide to metre, and the ceremonies of the church for a stimulant to dramatic performance. By degrees
Finally, we may sum up even this summary. For volume and merit taken together the product of these eight centuries of literature excels that of any European nation, though for individual works of the supremest excellence they may perhaps be asked in vain. No French writer is lifted by the suffrages of other nations—the only criterion when sufficient time has elapsed—to the level of Homer, of Shakespeare, or of Dante, who reign alone. Of those of the authors of France who are indeed of the thirty but attain not to the first three Rabelais and Molière alone unite the general suffrage, and this fact roughly but surely points to the real excellence of the literature which these men are chosen to represent. It is great in all ways, but it is greatest on the lighter side. The house of mirth is more suited to it than the house of mourning. To the latter, indeed, the language of the unknown marvel who told Roland’s death, of him who gave utterance to Camilla’s wrath and despair, and of Victor Hugo, who sings how the mountain wind makes mad the lover who cannot forget, has amply made good its title of entrance. But for one Frenchman who can write admirably in this strain there are a hundred who can tell the most admirable story, formulate the most pregnant reflection, point the acutest jest. There is thus no really great epic in French, few great tragedies, and those imperfect and in a faulty kind, little prose like Milton’s or like Jeremy Taylor’s, little verse (though more than is generally thought) like Shelley’s or like Spenser’s. But there are the most delightful short tales, both in prose and in verse, that the world has ever seen, the most polished jewelry of reflection that has ever been wrought, songs of incomparable grace, comedies that must make men laugh as long as they are laughing animals, and above all such a body of narrative fiction, old and new, prose and verse, as no other nation can show for art and for originality, for grace of workmanship in him who fashions, and for certainty of delight to him who reads.
Bibliography.—The most elaborate book on French literature as a whole is that edited by Petit de Julleville, and composed of chapters by different authors, Histoire de la langue et de la littérature françaises (8 vols., Paris, 1896–1899). Unfortunately these chapters, some of which are of the highest excellence, are of very unequal value: they require connexions which are not supplied, and there is throughout a neglect of minor authors. The bibliographical indications are, however, most valuable. For a survey in a single volume Lanson’s Histoire has superseded the older but admirable manuals of Demogeot and Géruzez, which, however, are still worth consulting. Brunetière’s Manuel (translated into English) is very valuable with the cautions above given; and the large Histoire de la langue française depuis le seizième siècle of Godefroy supplies copious and well-chosen extracts with much biographical information. In English there is an extensive History by H. van Laun (3 vols., 1874, &c.); a Short History by Saintsbury (1882; 6th ed. continued to the end of the century, 1901); and a History by Professor Dowden (1895).
To pass to special periods—the fountain-head of the literature of the middle ages is the ponderous Histoire littéraire already referred to, which, notwithstanding that it extended to 27 quarto volumes in 1906, and had occupied, with interruptions, 150 years in publication, had only reached the 14th century. Many of the monographs which it contains are the best authorities on their subjects, such as that of P. Paris on the early chansonniers, of V. Leclerc on the fabliaux, and of Littré on the romans d’aventures. For the history of literature before the 11th century, the period mainly Latin, J. J. Ampère’s Histoire littéraire de la France avant Charlemagne, sous Charlemagne, et jusqu’au onzième siècle is the chief authority. Léon Gautier’s Épopées françaises (5 vols., 1878–1897) contains almost everything known concerning the chansons de geste. P. Paris’s Romans de la table ronde was long the main authority for this subject, but very much has been written recently in France and elsewhere. The most important of the French contributions, especially those by Gaston Paris (whose Histoire poétique de Charlemagne has been reprinted since his death), will be found in the periodical Romania, which for more than thirty years has been the chief receptacle of studies on old French literature. On the cycle of Reynard the standard work is Rothe, Les Romans de Renart. All parts of the lighter literature of old France are excellently treated by Lenient, Le Satire au moyen âge. The early theatre has been frequently treated by the brothers Parfaict (Histoire du théâtre français), by Fabre (Les Clercs de la Bazoche), by Leroy (Étude sur les mystères), by Aubertin (Histoire de la langue et de la littérature française au moyen âge). This latter book will be found a useful summary of the whole medieval period. The historical, dramatic and oratorical sections are especially full. On a smaller scale but of unsurpassed authority is G. Paris’s Littérature du moyen âge translated into English.
On the 16th century an excellent handbook is that by Darmesteter and Hatzfeld; and the recent Literature of the French Renaissance of A. Tilley (2 vols., 1904) is of high value. Sainte-Beuve’s Tableau has been more than once referred to. Ebert (Entwicklungsgeschichte der französischen Tragödie vornehmlich im 16ten Jahrhundert) is the chief authority for dramatic matters. Essays and volumes on periods and sub-periods since 1600 are innumerable; but those who desire thorough acquaintance with the literature of these three hundred years should read as widely as possible in all the critical work of Sainte-Beuve, of Schérer, of Faguet and Brunetière—which may be supplemented ad libitum from that of other critics mentioned above. The series of volumes entitled Les grands écrivains français, now pretty extensive, is generally very good, and Catulle Mendès’s invaluable book on 19th-century poetry has been cited above. As a companion to the study of poetry E. Crepet’s Poètes français (4 vols., 1861), an anthology with introductions by Sainte-Beuve and all the best critics of the day, cannot be surpassed, but to it may be added the later Anthologie des poètes français du XIX e siècle (1877–1879). (G. Sa.)