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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Beaumarchais gave readings of it


many scientific explorations, so many new discoveries of nature's secrets were seconded and celebrated by an analogous movement in literature. Rousseau had led the way to impassioned admiration of the beauties of nature; Bernardin de St. Pierre had just published his _Etudes de la Nature;_ he had in the press his _Paul et Virginie;_ Abbe Delille was reading his _Jardin,_ and M. de St. Lambert his _Saisons_. In their different phases and according to their special instincts, all minds, scholarly or political, literary or philosophical, were tending to the same end, and pursuing the same attempt. It was nature which men wanted to discover or recover: scientific laws and natural rights divided men's souls between them. Buffon was still alive, and the great sailors were every day enriching with their discoveries the _Jardin du Roi;_ the physicists and the chemists, in the wake of Lavoisier, were giving to science a language intelligible to common folks; the jurisconsults were attempting to reform the rigors of criminal legislation at the same time with the abuses they had entailed, and Beaumarchais was bringing on the boards his _Manage de Figaro_.

The piece had been finished and accepted at the Theatre Francais since the end of 1781, but the police-censors had refused permission to bring it out. Beaumarchais gave readings of it; the court itself was amused to see itself attacked, caricatured, turned into ridicule; the friends of Madame de Polignac

reckoned among the most ardent admirers of the _Manage de Figaro_. The king desired to become acquainted with the piece. He had it read by Madame de Campan, lady of the chamber to the queen, and very much in her confidence. The taste and the principles of Louis XVI. were equally shocked. "Perpetually Italian concetti!" he exclaimed. When the reading was over: "It is detestable," said the king; "it shall never be played; the Bastille would have to be destroyed to make the production of this play anything but a dangerous inconsistency. This fellow jeers at all that should be respected in a government."

Louis XVI. had correctly criticised the tendencies as well as the effects of a production sparkling with wit, biting, insolent, licentious; but he had relied too much upon his persistency in his opinions and his personal resolves. Beaumarchais was more headstrong than the king; the readings continued. The hereditary grand-duke of Russia, afterwards Paul I., happening to be at Paris in 1782, under the name of Count North, no better diversion could be thought of for him than a reading of the _Manage de Figaro_. Grimm undertook to obtain Beaumarchais' consent. "As," says Madame de Oberkirsch, who was present at the reading,--as the mangy (_chafouin_) looks of M. de la Harpe had disappointed me, so the fine face, open, clever, somewhat bold, perhaps, of M. de Beaumarchais bewitched me. I was found fault with for it. I was told he was a good-for-naught. I do not deny it, it is possible; but he has prodigious wit, courage enough for anything, a strong will which nothing can stop, and these are great qualities."

Beaumarchais took advantage of the success of the reading to boldly ask the keeper of the seals for permission to play the piece; he was supported by public curiosity, and by the unreflecting enthusiasm of a court anxious to amuse itself; the game appeared to have been won, the day for its representation, at the _Menus-Plaisirs Theatre,_ was fixed, an interdiction on the part of the king only excited the ill-humor and intensified the desires of the public. "This prohibition appeared to be an attack upon liberty in general," says Madame Campan. "The disappointment of all hopes excited discontent to such a degree, that the words oppression and tyranny were never uttered, in the days preceding the fall of the throne, with more passion and vehemence." Two months later, the whole court was present at the representation of the _Mariage de Figaro,_ given at the house of M. de Vandreuil, an intimate friend of the Duchess of Polignac, on his stage at Gennevilliers. "You will see that Beaumarchais will have more influence than the keeper of the seals," Louis XVI. had said, himself foreseeing his own defeat. The _Mariage de Figaro_ was played at the Theatre Francais on the 27th of April, 1784.

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