free ebooks

A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

The art of Racine languished in inferior hands


1: Or was this Rivarol's ironical jest?]

The successor of J.-B. Rousseau in the grand ode was Ecouchard Lebrun (1729-1807), rival of Pindar. All he wanted to equal Pindar was some forgetfulness of self, some warmth, some genuine enthusiasm, some harmony, a touch of genius; a certain dignity of imagination he exhibits in his best moments. If we say that he honoured Buffon and was the friend of Andre Chenier, we have said in his praise that which gives him the highest distinction; yet it may be added that if he often falsified the ode, he, like Rousseau, excelled in epigram. It was not the great lyric but _le petit lyrisme_ which blossomed and ran to seed in the thin poetic soil. The singers of fragile loves and trivial pleasures are often charming, and as often they are merely frivolous or merely depraved. Grecourt; Piron; Bernard, the curled and powdered Anacreon; Bernis, Voltaire's "Babet la Bouquetiere," King Frederick's poet of "sterile abundance"; Dorat, who could flutter at times with an airy grace; Bertin, born in the tropics, and with the heat of the senses in his verse; Parny, an estray in Paris from the palms and fountains of the Isle Bourbon, the "dear Tibullus" of Voltaire--what a swarm of butterflies, soiled or shining!

If two or three poets deserve to be distinguished from the rest, one is surely JEAN-BAPTISTE-LOUIS GRESSET (1709-77), whose parrot _Vert-Vert_, instructed by the pious Sisters, demoralised

by the boatmen of the Loire, still edifies and scandalises the lover of happy badinage in verse; one is the young and unfortunate NICOLAS-JOSEPH-LAURENT GILBERT (1751-80), less unfortunate and less gifted than the legend makes him, yet luckless enough and embittered enough to become the satirist of Academicians and philosophers and the society which had scorned his muse; and the third is JEAN-PIERRE CLARIS DE FLORIAN (1755-94), the amiable fabulist, who, lacking La Fontaine's lyric genius, fine harmonies, and penetrating good sense, yet can tell a story with pleasant ease, and draw a moral with gentle propriety.

In every poetic form, except comedy, that he attempted, Voltaire stands high among his contemporaries; they give us a measure of his range and excellence. But the two greatest poets of the eighteenth century wrote in prose. Its philosophical poet was the naturalist Buffon; its supreme lyrist was the author of _La Nouvelle Heloise_.


In the history of French tragedy only one name of importance--that of Crebillon--is to be found in the interval between Racine and Voltaire. Campistron feebly, Danchet formally and awkwardly, imitated Racine; Duche followed him in sacred tragedy; La Grange-Chancel (author of the _Philippiques_, directed against the Regent) followed him in tragedies on classical subjects. If any piece deserves to be distinguished above the rest, it is the _Manlius_ (1698) of La Fosse, a work--suggestive rather of Corneille than of Racine--which was founded on the _Venice Preserved_ of Otway. The art of Racine languished in inferior hands. The eighteenth century, while preserving its form, thought to reanimate it by the provocatives of scenic decoration and more rapid and more convulsive action.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us