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undervalue it,that his representations—though perhaps not entirely
Quinault, though severely satirized by Boileau, who probably levelled his wit more at the opera than the poet, and rather meant to discountenance the former than to deny the talents of the latter, certainly possessed a poetical genius far above mediocrity, and has been praised by a variety of accomplished critics. Voltaire, who cannot be suspected of dealing too liberally in panegyric, has observed, that “artless and inimitable strokes of nature “frequently appear with interesting charms in the compositions of “Quinault.”
Lully, an Italian exotic, was early transplanted to the rankest hotbed of vanity and sensuality existing at that time in Europe. At tne age of ten years he was made a page to Madame de Montpensier, niece to Lewis the Fourteenth; from which place he was removed, and made an under-scullion in the kitchen. He was, however, so distinguished for a genius and natural tendency to music that he received instructions from a master so successfully
* Doctor Johnson's prologue on the opening of the theatre royal Drurylane, in 1747.
rhaps notentirth lifferent from the ic. Like Hamleh thing if not criti: critical without
mixed up with his most serious Yet in what he ent and presump. of the opera is ench stage prero edit, such as it is del for scenes), sing, fiddlinguo od pageantry and ared with trigo it it entirely to
and became such a proficient on the violin that he was recom-
was unable to accomplish it without gratifying the presumptuous intruder with an addition of about two thousand unnecessary lines. Had the great Corneille stood firm to his post with the spirit and perseverance becoming a man of genius, at that crisis when the wayward projects of Mazarine were struggling to lower the public taste to a relish for the stupid vulgar nonsense of the opera—had he even remained neuter, and left the vile innovation to make its own way unassisted, tragedy would have maintained its station, and common sense and classical taste would have none of those mortifications to encounter which they now so constantly experience from that insane and unnatural exhibition, opera; and that disgusting, loathsome outrage upon nature and reason, pantomime. It is a painful task to mark the degradation of genius and merit: yet it is one which cannot be at all times, with propriety, declined. We have already observed,” that Corneille, exiled by the puppetshow mummery of the opera, had, to his great loss, retired from the stage; but that at the end of three years, yielding to mistaken prudential motives, he condescended to lay his honourable ambition at the feet of contemptible expediency, and to prostitute his astonishing talents in giving support and grace and currency to an innovation which he, in his heart, despised and execrated; that he composed for the purpose his Andromache, and that, to their temporary satisfaction and eternal shame, the people of France saw their greatest dramatic poet—that poet who was and ever since has been the principal luminary of their stage, dancing in, as partner and fellow candidate for applause, with the scene painters, mechanists and carpenters of the playhouse. The historian, from whom we collect these facts, seems to have been so disgusted with the subject, that he could not enter with the minuteness which it perhaps deserves, into the description of all the particulars of the puppet-show set off, in the Andromache, by the brilliant talents of Pierre Corneille. He, however, states that the principal object of admiration was a real, living Pegasus, slung in so peculiar a way that he sprang into the air and seemed lost in the clouds. It seems that the poor horse which was used for the purpose, was kept without food till he was almost starved into madness with hunger, and in that condition was fastened in the
* See page 338, Volume III.
flies to a cord with pulleys so constructed that, by a counterpoise, his
long. He then stood in public opinion infinitely higher than all the dramatic poets put together. Adored by the people, and independent in his circumstances, he had nothing to fear, and was competent, if not immediately to control, certainly to mould the public taste into what shape, and ultimately to give it what direction he might have resolved upon. If, instead of first recoiling with disgust, he had affected a temperate disapprobation only, and said to the people “One part of this new business is admirable: I mean the improvement in the scenery; for our scenery has hitherto been very defective and mean—inadequate to the purposes of necessary illusion, and unworthy of the dignity of the tragic muse; but your machines and mechanical operations are abominable; however ingenious in themselves, they disgrace the drama, and degrade tragedy to the base level of pantomime;”—the judicious would not be at this day tortured as they are by such senseless representations. But instead of doing so, he first fluctuated, then gave himself up, devotedly to the capricious fashions of the times; and, in a word, became a mere purveyor to that kind of half pantomime. Encouraged by the success of his tragedy of Andromache, he the next year (1651) brought out a kind of heroic comedy, intitled Don Sanche de Arragon, which, though it had some success at first, owing to the machinery, added nothing to his reputation, and was finally withdrawn from the Parisian boards, and represented only in the provinces. The piece was no doubt unworthy of his muse: it was taken from two Spanish productions, which had themselves been borrowed from romances, and, owing to that circumstance or more probably to his constructing it merely for scenic and mechanical effect, it was so inartificially conceived, and so very lamely conducted, that he became inextricably entangled, and was obliged to cut the knot he could not untie by bringing down a person from the clouds to accomplish the catastrophe. Corneille, in fact, seems to have now forgotten that he was a poet, and to have sunk into a mere pantomime projector. Being neither comedy, nor tragedy, in Ot opera—neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring, as the saying is, this heterogeneous piece of his failed even of its temporary expected productiveness, was actually prohibited, and very much impaired the reputation of the author. The next year he made another experiment with still less success. He wrote a tragedy called Wicomede, upon a plan which he himself confessed to be very extraordinary, tacking to the