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“ But what is the result,” says Vil. learns at last, from the grief of the lemain, “ of this contrast of the tragic slave, that Admetus, through regard and the comic, of sorrow and merri. for the laws of hospitality, has deceived ment, which surprises us a little, not- him; that she whose death had been withstanding the literary eclecticism spoken of is no stranger, but Alcestis of our time? This noisy guest, who herself, who has died for her husband. delivers himself up to joy beside a Struck with pain and regret, he exmourning of which he is unconscious, claims
• I with reluctance pass'd
Her sepulture?' “ Hercules hurries towards the tomb, to Voltaire-he had the good sense to combats the Genius of Death, who was perceive the incongruity of the form carrying away the young and beauti, in which the Greek drama had been ful Alcestis, tears her from his hands, recast by Corneille and Racine, nameand leads her back, unknown and ly, the perpetual introduction of love veiled, into the presence of her hus- scenes, and the language of modern band.
gallantry into the austere tragic pathos « This was what charmed and en- of the Greek mythology. He had chanted the Greeks. What a power himself, in his earliest piece, “ The of religious illusion was necessary to Edipus," adopted this conventional make them adopt this fable of a wife absurdity ; but he had the sense to rescued from death and restored to the perceive, and the candour afterwards husband, who is lamenting her loss ? to admit, his error. In the epistle But that belief once admitted, what a dedicatory of his “ Orestes," addressed pathetic charm in such a spectacle! to the Duchess of Maine, speaking of What becomes of those vulgar rules, the reception of Edipus, he observes, so often repeated, which insist that “Every thing which was in the taste the progress of tragedy shall always of Sophocles was generally applauded, be from happiness to misfortune ? and all which savoured a little of The pathetic and theatrical, in such a the passion of love, was condemned by subject, is to be found in the return every enlightened critic. And, in of Alcestis, still pallid from the tomb, truth, what room for gallantry amidst and the unexpected happiness of her the parricide and incest which are dehusband; the tragic, in the contrast solating a family, and the plague which between the funeral preparations of is ravaging a country? What more Alcestis, the grief of her children, the striking example of the absurdities of lamentations of her husband and the our theatre, and of the force of habit, merriment of that stranger who sits than Corneille on the one hand mak. indifferent at table.
ing Theseus say“ Do we not recognise those vicissitudes of human life which are so strik
Quelque ravage affreux qu'etale fci la ing in Shakspeare? That beautiful
L'absence aux vrais amans est encore plus Juliet who had glittered at the ball,
funeste !!! two days after is dead. The musicians who had been invited for the And myself, on the other, sixty years celebration of her nuptials are come ; after him, addressing the language of there are now no nuptials to be cele- antiquated love to an ancient Jocasta, brated : they are to assist at a very and all this to flatter the emptiest different ceremony - at her funeral. and falsest taste that ever corrupted And beside that chamber where Juliet literature.' is extended in death, and where the The criticisms of Voltaire on the family are mourning, they are con- literature of modern Europe, are unversing and uttering their pleasant. equal. Spain he has treated with ries.'
great injustice, arising probably from In one point, however-to do justice a very inadequate acquaintance with
its highly peculiar literature. To the of the battle in general; to the needprofundity, and even romantic beauty less erection of the Doric palace in which mingles, with broad humour, in hell, for the purpose of addressing the the wonderful romance of Cervantes, infernal host, “ to whom Satan might he appears to have been insensible. just as well have spoken in the open Lope is dealt with only as a brilliant air;" and he is clear that “the devil. barbarian; and Calderon, from whose speaks too much, and harps too long rich and inventive genius Corneille on the same strain." had more than once borrowed his Boileau's distich :sources of inspiration, is judged of by one of the wildest of his plays, though
“ Eh ! quel objet enfin à presenter aux full of traits of grandeur, La Vida es
yeux Sueno, from which the Heraclius of Que le diable toujours heurlaut contre les
cieux !” Corneille was mainly derived. On the other hand, Voltaire has conferred In these objections there is a mix. an undue importance on the Arau- ture of truth and falsehood; the fol. cana of Ercilla —a work which derives lowing passage, however, is in better its chief interest from its embodying taste :the personal experiences and adven. « There are two causes, I believe, tures of its amiable author; but which of the popularity which Paradise Lost is no more entitled to the character of will always retain ; the first, the inan epic, than the many other produc- terest we take in a happy and inno. tions of the same kind, in which an cent pair whom a powerful and jealattempt was made to celebrate the ous being renders guilty and miserable triumphs of Charles V., the very by his seductions; the second, the names of which are now forgotten. beauty of the details.
In his criticisms on Italian literature “ The French smiled when they he has been less unjust, though he is far were told that England possessed an enough from being satisfactory. The epic poem of which the subject was the gloomy grandeur of Dante, and the combat of the devil against God, and religious mysticism which he has the serpent persuading the woman to incorporated with his pictures of hu- eat an apple; they conceived that such man feelings and human sufferings, a subject could afford matter for no. appear to have revolted him, and he thing but vaudevilles. They were speaks of the Divina Commedia with afterwards astonished to find in a subcomparative coldness and severity. ject which appeared so barren, such Petrarch is blamed for his tediousness fertility of imagination displayed. and monotony; but some translations They admired the majestic traits with from this poet which Voltaire has exe- which Milton has dared to delineate cuted, are among the best specimens God, and the still more striking cha. of the kind which French literature racter which he has given to the devil. possesses. But justice, on the whole, They read with delight the description is done to Tasso ; and between him of the garden of Eden, and the innoself and Ariosto there were sufficient cent loves of Adam and Eve. It is, points in common, particularly in the indeed, worthy of remark, that in other light ironical and irreligious vein which poems, love is regarded as a weak. pervades the compositions of both, to ness; in Milton alone, it is a virtue. render his estimate of that poet emi. He has raised, with a chaste hand, the nently true and happy.
veil which elsewhere covers the pleaVoltaire piqued himself upon having sures of this passion; he transports the been the first to make known to his reader into Paradise ; he makes him countrymen that England possessed taste the pure delights with which the what they wanted, a great epic poem, hearts of Adam and Eve are filled ; he in the Paradise Lost of Milton. He does not elevate himself above human objects, as might be expected, to nature, but only above the corruptions the war between the good and evil of human nature; and as there is no angels, o where the sublime too often example of similar love, there is no merges in the extravagant;" to the instance of similar poetry.” harangues and repartees of the infer- Voltaire's treatment of Shakspeare nal council; to the employment of less admits of defence; for his deprecannon in the great encounter of the ciating estimation of the prince of warring hosts, and to the manœuvres dramatic poets was evidently dictated by mere jealousy and envy. As long scrawls, of which there are still five as he conceived that the reputation of volumes to come? Have you a suffShakspeare could not possibly intere ciently vigorous hatred against this fere with his own; he was willing to ex- impudent imbecile? Will you submit tend to him a condescending patronage.
to the affront which he has put upon Though certainly unable to compre
us? In the whole of France there are hend the deep mechanism of Shak- not pillories and fools' caps enough for speare's tragedies, he was perfectly such a scoundrel! The blood boils in alive to some of his excellencies, as my old veins while speaking of him. the many passages which he has bor- The frightful part of the business is, rowed from him, and ingeniously in- that the monster has a party in France. terwoven into his dramas, sufficiently And to crown this calamity and horshow. But when he found that his ror, it was I who was the first to protege was likely to become his rival speak of this Shakspeare: I was the --that the French were beginning to first to exhibit to the French some study Shakspeare, and to relish his pearls which I had picked up in his beauties, even when conveyed through enormous dunghill. Little did I expect the stilted prose translation of Letour- that I should one day be instrumental neur—that in this way the source of in treading into the dust the crowns his depredations would be discovered, of Racine and Corneille, to ornament and restitution to the right owner en- with them the brow of a barbarian forced, if indeed the whole artificial player. The Gilles and Pierrots (clowns fabric of the French theatre were not and harlequins) of the Foire St Gerthreatened with subversion by the na- main fifty years ago, were Cinnas and tive and masculine boldness of the Polyeucteses in comparison with the English dramatist ;-he instantly re- personages of this drunkard Shaktracted his praises, and passed from speare (cet yvrogne de Shakspeare), the expression of admiration to that of whom M. Letourneur styles the god the most unmeasured invective. Vils of the theatre.” lemain compares him to the nobles This sally Voltaire followed up by invoking the States-General in 1788, à regular indictment against Shakand emigrating two years afterwards speare, in the shape of a long letter in disgust at the consequences of the addressed to the French Academy, innovation which they had caused. and read to them officially by their In 1730 Voltaire writes :
:-* I have secretary D'Alembert, written with found among the English what I was more than his usual wit and ingenuity, in search of; and the paradox of Ho- in which he took a rapid review of mer's reputation has been explained the plays of Shakspeare, selecting from to me. Shakspeare, their first tragic them an anthology of quibbles, ob. poet, has in England no other epithet scenities, specimens of bombast, and than the divine.' When I had ac- so forth; and concluding, “ Figure to quired a sufficient acquaintance with yourselves, gentlemen, Louis the XIV., the language, I perceived that the in his gallery at Versailles, surroundEnglish were in the right; and that ed by his brilliant court; a clown adit is impossible that a whole nation vances covered with rags, and gravely should be deceived in a matter of feel. proposes to this assembly to leave the ing, or be wrong in the pleasure which tragedies of Racine for a mountebank, it enjoys."
who makes contortions, and exhibits Years afterwards, when the in- some happy sallies of wit." It is creasing reputation of Shakspeare in needless to add, that, with the Aca. France had begun to suggest the idea demy, such an appeal as this was consi. of a future rival, Voltaire, in speaking dered as decisive of the whole question. of Letourneur's translation (which it But enough of Voltaire, who, as may be fairly admitted was worthy of Villemain remarks, meets us at every all vituperation), bursts forth into the turn in our progress through the liter. following tirade; in which it is not ature of his period. We will only difficult to perceive that, under the add that the best specimens of his cripretext of vindicating the fame of ticism, as may be expected, are his Racine and Corneille, the chief object estimates of the works of French of his apprehension is the reputation writers, or writings avowedly comof Voltaire.
posed in the French taste. In these, “ Have you read his abominable his clear judgment, his intuitive per
ception of the ludicrous, the inappro- interests had presented themselves in priate, or the exaggerated, would have France for the developement of a manalways rendered his remarks of valu- ly and effective eloquence, remained able application, if, unfortunately, the to the last, notwithstanding the most insincerity of his mind had not often anxious efforts on his part, a mere led him to compliment persons whom rhetorician, laboriously composing criin his secret heart he laughed at and tical eloges of personages long before despised. Thus, while the once cele- quietly inurned, which, though they brated Thomas was in reality a fre- might excite the applause of acaquent subject of ridicule with him, so demies, fell coldly on the public ear much so that in speaking of any piece of his own time, and have been forof bombastic nonsense, he used to call gotten by posterity. it, not galimatias, but gali- Thomas ; How different from those funeral he gravely addressed him after read- discourses which the great orators of ing his Eloge on Descartes :
antiquity or of France had occasion• Descartes is no longer read ; but ally pronounced in circumstances really his eulogy will be read, which is at the calculated to call forth a genuine and same time your own. Ah! what a impassioned eloquence in the speaker, noble and enlightened spirit do you and to leave on the minds of his audidisplay," &c. &c.
ence impressions that might be at once “I am told you are writing an epic of immediate power and of abiding poem on the Czar Peter.
utility! When Pericles pronounced created to celebrate great men; it is
the funeral oration of those who had for you to paint your brethren." fallen in the Peloponnesian war, he
Thomas, to whom these ironical was surrounded by the survivors of the praises were addressed, though a great contest, and by the fathers, prphans, man in his day and generation, has and widows of those who had died for sunk, and we think not without reason, their country; the youth of Athens into oblivion. We are surprised to stood intent to hear the praises of their find Gibbon in his journal speaking of bravest heroes spoken by their greathim in language like this," I have est statesman, and to gather from his finished the Eloge of the Duc de Sully. lips incentives to imitate or surpass M. Thomas is a great orator. What the fallen. When strength of thought; what rapidity of nounced his solemn address above style! He has the soul of a citizen, the dead body of Louis XIV., or the spirit of a philosopher, and the Bossuet over that of Turenne, the pencil of a great painter. It is De- pall which covered the narrow manmosthenes, but Demosthenes who has sion into which royalty had shrunk, sacrificed to the graces.” Were any lay before the eyes of the audience ; thing wanting to show that Gibbon's they saw before them the very coffin taste was nearly in the inverse ratio of in which the victor of a hundred bathis learning, this notable estimate of tles now rested from his labours. All Thomas would be sufficient to settle around them was the contrast of the the question.
trappings of royalty and the trophies In one respect certainly, Thomas of military renown with the solemn had greatly the advantage of Voltaire emblems of mortality; and from above and of most of the literary men by them looked down the fretted roof of whom he was surrounded. He was a that ancient pile which had already man of conscience and probity, of opened its vaults to so many of the simple manners, well acquainted with princes and heroes of France, and was antiquity, with a sincere enthusiasm yet destined to receive so many more in favour of reason and truth, of which into its bosom. The very numbers he seemed to consider himself a sort of the multitude thus congregated toof missionary. “ By temperament gether, where each could read the re« and principles,” says Marmontel," he flection of his own feelings in another's was a stoic, whose
virtues should have eyes, incalculably increased the power been exposed to the severest trials." and the magic of speech, because each These, however, were not to be found borrowed excitement from the enthuin Parisian society, and amidst the siasm of his neighbour. Before the even current of the eighteenth century; orator had uttered a word, the preand Thomas, who might really have vailing tone of feeling, which it was been an orator, if fit occasions and great his province to excite, had already
penetrated all hearts ; he had but the ing over chairs ; and the success of the simple task assigned to him of deve- French Rhetorician and the German loping and heightening it, and direct. Baron, in attaining the respective obing it to the contemplations of the va- jects of their exertions, has been very nity of earthly grandeur, and the dis- much upon a par. There is more simple appointment of all hopes which were beauty in the following passage from not “ anchored in heaven."
one of Thomas' letters written to Ducis
the dramatist, in which, avoiding en“ So fades, so languishes, grows dim, and tirely the galithomas of which Voltaire dies
complained, he expresses the natural All that this world is proud of. From
emotions created by a visit to the their spheres
Grande Chartreuse, than in the pomThe stars of human glory are cast down, Perish the roses and the flowers of kings, pous paragraphs of the Eloge on DesPrinces and emperors; and the crowns
cartes, or Sully, or Marcus Aurelius.
" I wish I could accompany you on and palms Of all the mighty, wither'd and consumed!” your visit to the Grande Chartreuse.
The place is made for you. How many No wonder if « in such a place as tender and melancholy ideas will it this, at such an hour," surrounded with awaken in your imagination! I know such accompaniments, the hearts of you will be more than once tempted the vast audience vibrated responsive to remain ; you will leave it at least to every varied movement of the with the deepest regret. These pious orator, as he traced the carcer of the solitaries have abridged and simplified monarch or the warrior, from its help- the drama of life; they think of noless commencement in infancy to that thing but its denouement, to which inevitable termination which awaits they are incessantly hurrying. There the rich and poor alike, and were alter- life is but the apprenticeship of death; nately roused to deep reflection, melt- but a death that borders upon heaed to sympathetic tears, or impressed it is a gate that opens upon eter. with the ardent wish to become hum- nity. The very gloom of the desert bler, wiser, and better.
they inhabit, resembles a tomb. They But those eloges in which Thomas seem to have retired to the farthest dealt, in which that warmth and vehe. distance from life. mence of sentiment which can only be “ Ah! how different will the sight appropriately employed in reference to of Ferney be to you! What a conthe feelings of the present was applied trast! There every thing tended toto the past, and our enthusiasm or our wards agitation and restlessness. It, tears invoked for those who had closed
too, was a retreat; but the retreat of their account centuries before, nay, to one who, from his solitude, wished to use the language of Sir Thomas Brown, shake the world, and mingled in all had
quietly rested beneath the those events, the most distant rumour drums and tramplings of three con- of which never reaches the other quests,” are at once felt to be unreal, asylum. Even now we can scarcely and therefore inefficient; eloquence believe that his dust enjoys repose. uttered to the wind-the voice of one " I have learned with grief the death crying in the desert— without a mo- of the poor Abbe Millot. My dear tive and without an audience; with no friend, the cannon is piercing our other practical object, in fact, except lines, the ranks are closing up every to display his own talent in such aca- moment. This is fearful.
Let us demical exercitations. We cannot be. love each other to our latest hour; lieve that the orator is himself influ. and let him that survives the other, enced by the feelings which he seeks continue to love and cherish his me. to excite.
mory. What asylum more sweet or " What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
more honourable can it have than in That he should weep for her ?"
the heart of a friend ?"
The writings of Thomas may be conOur sympathies are on their guard sidered as entirely belonging to the against him, and the more he labours class of criticism ; for his Eulogies are by an assumed warmth to excite them, critical biographies of those great men the less he is likely to succeed in his aim. to whom he thought fit to assign & For eloquence is not attained by strain place in his Pantheon; and his Essai ing any more than liveliness by jump sur les Eloges (as if he thought be