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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

Which literature dared not deviate from


Cartesianism brought with it certain important limitations and deficiencies. Boileau himself is reported to have said that "the philosophy of Descartes has cut the throat of poetry;"[436] and there can be no doubt that this is the exaggerated expression of a certain inevitable truth. The excessive insistence on the reason brought with it a corresponding undervaluation of the imagination. The rational and rigidly scientific basis of Cartesianism was forced on classicism; and reality became its supreme object and its final test:--

"Rien n'est beau que le vrai."

Reference has already been made to various disadvantages imposed on classicism by the very nature of its origin and growth; but the most vital of all these disadvantages was the influence of the Cartesian philosophy or philosophic temper. With the scientific basis thus imposed on literature, its only safeguard against extinction was the vast influence of a certain body of fixed rules, which literature dared not deviate from, and which it attempted to justify on the wider grounds of philosophy. These rules, then, the contribution of Italy, saved poetry in France from extinction during the classical period; and of this a remarkable confirmation is to be found in the fact that not until the rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was superseded in France, did French literature rid itself of this body of Renaissance rules. Cartesianism,

or at least the rationalistic spirit, humanized these rules, and imposed them on the rest of Europe. But though quintessentialized, they remained artificial, and circumscribed the workings of the French imagination for over a century.


[417] Sedano, _Parnaso Espanol_, viii. 61.

[418] Hannay, _Later Renaissance_, 1898, p. 39.

[419] Menendez y Pelayo, iii. 434.

[420] _Ibid._ iii. 447 _sq._

[421] Menendez y Pelayo, iii. 464.

[422] The _Commentaire_ is printed entire in Lalanne's edition of Malherbe, Paris, 1862, vol. iv. The critical doctrine of Malherbe has been formulated by Brunot, _Doctrine de Malherbe_, pp. 105-236.

[423] _Cf._ Horace, _Ars Poet._ 71, 72.

[424] Brunot, p. 149.

[425] _Oeuvres_, Lalanne's edition, iv. 91.

[426] _Caracteres_, "Des Ouvrages de l'Esprit."

[427] _Lettres_, i. 413. The references are to the edition by Tamizey de Larroque, Paris, 1880-1883.

[428] _Ibid._ i. 156.

[429] _Ibid._ i. 631 _sq._

[430] These epics have been treated at length by Duchesne, _Histoire des Poemes Epiques francais du XVII Siecle_, Paris, 1870.

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