« AnkstesnisTęsti »
discerned in the abbe's piece something that could please the public, and so palmed it upon them as his own.”
The abbe might have written a piece upon this subject, but it was perfectly unnecessary that Moliere should copy that piece; for he had only to go to the same source whence the abbe derived his materials, which was a book intitled Le Nuits faceticuses du Seigneur Straparole; which is a history of a man who communicates to his friend all that passes between him and his mistress, not knowing that his friend is his rival.
But it now became pitiable to see pieces on the theatres in the shape of disjointed critiques; and really it is to be regretted, that Moliere, in imitation of the sun when the flies wanted to put him out, did not shine on instead of condescending to notice the swarm of tiny critics that surrounded him. As it was, the cabal against him, though it did not injure him, gave him great inconvenience; and more than one critique, which would have died away forgotten, became noticeable to the public by his pointing it out.
Boursault, a writer of real merit, and who was now coming forward, took occasion to render himself popular by bringing out at the hotel de Bourgogne, a piece called Le Portrait du Peintre, which was not only a critique of l'Ecole des Permes, but produced at the same time; and contained, as far as he could learn or imagine, the same matter as Moliere's piece under that title. This was certainly no difficult matter; for nothing could be easier than to select the known and acknowledged faults of l'Ecole des Femmes, and excuse them exactly in the way that its author would do. This was what struck Boursault, who succeeded so well in his design that at last it was said, in addition to Moliere's having stolen his Ecole des Femmes from l'Abbe du Buisson, he stole his critique of l’Ecole des Femmes from Boursault!
Moliere now began really to be piqued; and he brought out in the same year his Impromptu de Versailles, levelled directly at Boursault, whom he treated with the greatest contempt and derision, reserving to himself, however, a degree of nobleness; for this contempt and this derision went no further than the genius and talents of Boursault, whereas Boursault has descended in his strictures on Moliere to attack his private character.
This piece also is a most severe and successful satire on the performers at the Hotel de Bourgogne, whom Moliere considers as having instigated Boursault to ridicule him; and, indeed, though no one could commend this spirit of party between two bodies 'whose business was only to entertain the public, yet Moliere received and deserved great praise for the able manner in which he conducted this controversy; for in answer to their pitiful invectives, which he scorned to imitate, he contented himself with pointing out their faults as performers, particularly the sleepy monotony of their declamation; which he did with such judgment, that the ridicule which followed this discovery drove them into a corner, and they were obliged to correct their faults or be laughed at; and thus Moliere, in resenting a private injury, did a public benefit.
Boursault, whom I shall now introduce, was one of those extraordinary proofs that show us how infinitely genius ranks before education. He was born at Bourgogne in 1638, and died in Paris in 1701. We find him at the age of twenty-three bringing out successful comedies, and two years afterwards entering into a controversy with a man of Moliere's wonderful talents, though he could speak nothing but a provincial jargon called Patois, no more like French than Erse or Irish is to English, at thirteen, and had then first to learn to write, and afterwards to choose what language he should write in.
It was not long, however, after he came to Paris, which was in 1651, before he taught himself to write and speak French elegant. ly; and, what may appear very extraordinary, without knowing a word of Greek or Latin, his style was fraught with the native purity of the ancients. But I cannot find any thing irreconcilable in this. Nature taught them, nature taught him. Neither they nor he had been tainted with the foppery of the schools.
His conception was so strong, his ideas were so true, and his fancy was so pliant, that he had nothing to do but to think and write. His happy genius accommodated itself to every style. His tragedies manifest a firm mind and a strength of conception equal to a description of the noblest passions. His comedies contain lively pictures of men and manners, suitable to all ranks, all ages, and all times. He is serious, comic, moral, and lively, without violating the rules of taste.
It must now be recollected, that I am speaking of his best and latest productions. In his early ones there is certainly, and it would be wonderful if there were not, a great deal of trash; but there are traits of genius every where; and he arrived at last to a taste so pure, and a style so chaste, that “ he was correct without affectation,” to use the words of various French writers, “and ought to be considered as the literary lawgiver to the language of that nation."
There is something so peculiar in a character of this description, that I cannot help dwelling on Boursault a little longer. His fame soon reached the court; and having, at the express desire of Lewis the Fourteenth, written a book called La Veritable Etude de: Souverains, by the way a bold undertaking, the king was so charmed with it that he appointed him preceptor of Monseigneur; but he could not ratify the appointment, because Boursault knew nothing of Latin, an indispensable qualification for that post.
The dutchess of Angouleme made Boursault her secretary, and engaged him to write a weekly gazette in verse. Lewis and his court were greatly entertained with this work; but Boursault having aimed some satiric tracts against the Franciscans in general, and the Capuchins in particular, the queen's confessor used such powerful interest that the gazette was suppressed, and the author's pension of two thousand livres taken away; and had not very high friends interfered this poetical newsmonger would have gone to the bastile.
At the time Boursault had this controversy with Moliere, in which there is certainly a great deal of the vivacity and folly of a young man, he had, besides his Portrait du Peintre, brought out three pieces, all which succeeded. They had, however, glaring faults, but gave wonderful promise of something better.
As Moliere's career for the next ten years, at the end of which he died, makes up a very brilliant interval in the French drama, I shall follow it unmixed with any other circumstances but such as result from it, in order to do every justice to a man of such uncommon merit.
La Princesse d'Elide was performed in 1664, and made up a part of those splendid entertainments which Lewis the Fourteenth, in compliment to his mother and his own queen, gave under the title of des Plaisirs l'Isle Enchantée. These fetes, which continued seven days, and were conducted with great magnificence and taste, united all that could be got together of the true and the marvellous; in short, a kind of entremets regulated and disposed so as not to outrage the understanding. The Italian Vigarani, an ingenious mechanist, furnished the decorations; the celebrated Lully composed the music; the President de Perigny wrote the complimentary odes; Benserade produced a variety of light and lively eulogiums; and Moliere introduced this comedy; all which, with the assistance of various appropriate devices and well-timed applications, contributed to render this fete very celebrated.
The king gave Moliere but a short time to prepare his comedy. He borrowed the fable from Augustin Moreta, and was so pressed that he could only put the first act and part of the second into
Le Marriage Forcé was performed in 1664. This piece originally came out at the Louvre, accompanied by a ballet under the same title, in which Lewis the Fourteenth danced. The plot of this play was suggested to Moliere by a circumstance which occurred to the famous count de Grammont. That nobleman, while he resided in London, fell in love with a young lady of the name of Hamilton. Their amours even made some noise; when on a sudden he set out for France, without taking leave of the family. The brother of the young lady, who now began to look upon the affair as a little equivocal, followed the count to Dover with a determination to call him to account. He encountered him before he had an opportunity to embark, and asked, in a tone that sufficiently gave him to understand what he was at, whether he had not forgotten something at London. The count, who, perhaps, was ashamed of himself, and glad of an opportunity to atone for his conduct, answered with perfect good humor, "you are certainly in the right; I really forgot to marry your sister: but, to convince you how glad I am that you put me in mind of it, I'll return with you, and offer her my hand.”
Le Festin de Pierre made its appearance, as written by Moliere, in 1665. This strange subject has been so often treated, and in so many languages and shapes, that it is unnecessary to say much about it. It was first brought out on the Italian stage, afterwards on the Spanish, then on the French, by at least five authors, Moliere and Corneille two of them, and at last the English, whose good sense would have revolted at witnessing a representation of it in dialogue, have contented themselves with seeing this abominable subject danced throughout the kingdom from the opera to all the pappet shows. Moliere has nevertheless thrown great strength and beauty into this horrid piece, on purpose, one should imagine, to show that the worst subject may be treated well by a good master of his art.
L'Amour Medicin came out in 1665. Moliere all his life had been an enemy to the whole tribe of Galen. His motives have been variously attributed; but it is most probable that they originated from his inveterate hatred to every species of hypocrisy. He defines a physician to be a man who chatters nonsense in the bed chambers of the sick either till nature has cured or physic killed the patient. To give this piece all the effect he could, Moliere had masks which were likenesses of all the court physicians, and these he wore as he represented different medical characters.
The names also pointed out who were meant. Desfonandres, which signifies man-killer, was meant for De Fougerais, who always prescribed violent remedies; Bakis, which signifies to yelp, was designed for M. Esprit, who stuttered; Macraton was pointed at Guenaut, because he spoke remarkably slow; and Tomés, which means a bleeder, was levelled at d’Aquin, who upon all occasions ordered phlebotomy.
Le Misanthrope, in five acts, and in verse, was performed for the first time in 1666. This piece failed at its first representation; but Moliere withdrew it, and brought it forward again in a month, preceded by the Fagotier, or Médicin Malgre, which had such success that it was performed three months in succession, but always with the Misanthrope. The farce saved the comedy.
This play, however, soon made its way by its own proper merit. It has not only been considered as the best of Moliere's productions, but the best comedy ever written; but enthusiastic praise is in general an injury to authors. Moliere's enemies, who could not bear this warmth in his adherents, set themselves to work every way to lower his piece in the opinion of the public. Ridiculously enough, however, and without success. Among other endeavours to injure Moliere, an effort was made to persuade the Duc de Montausier, who was remarkable for the austeriiy of his manners, that in the Misanthrope Moliere had attempted to draw his character. The duke went immediately and saw the piece, and, as he left the theatre, was heard to say, that he should be happy, indeed, if it were true that he resembled the Misanthrope of Moliere.
(To be continued.)