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an impromptu, the door of this temple of Reason suddenly opened to admit a young man of middle height, dark complexion, and grave deportment, clad in the picturesque bourgeoise costume of the period. Madame de Rambouillet, who was seated on her throne at the far end of the room, rose to receive her visitor, and, by way of making him feel more at his ease in a strange company, overpowered him with the volubility of her flattery. He who stood momentarily abashed in the midst of this throng of tufthunters and dolts, who formed the "cynosure of neighboring eyes," was none other than the comedian Molière-he who afterward dealt the death-blow to the dunces of his epoch. At this time Molière was but known as the manager of an itinerant troupe, and as a man who, in addition to considerable histrionic power, had also evinced a talent for composition. He was welcomed by Madame de Rambouillet as the author of "L'Etourdi" and "Le Dépit Amoureux," and as such took his place among the celebrities of his time. It is well for both England and France, I had almost said for the common sense of the civilized world, that two such men as Gifford and Molière had the courage and the genius to crush, each in his own time, that hydra of bathos who periodically threatens to devour reason. That which William Gifford effected, in the early part of this century, by the publication of his merciless" Baviad and Mæviad," Molière achieved more than two centuries before him, with the 'Précieuses Ridicules." But the venture of Molière was of a far more courageous nature than that of Gifford. . The latter was an author of renown, and a man of good position in the republic of letters. The former, on the other hand, was but a poor comedian from the provinces, who had come to Paris in search of the fortune he had failed to find elsewhere, and who depended for his success very much upon the patronage of the very coterie whose extravagances he, on public grounds, so bitterly resented. A few months after his reception by Madame de Rambouillet, Molière made his triumphant assault upon the false taste and follies of his time. The title of his play excited general curiosity; there was a great demand for places. Ménage, himself a member of the society so severely handled by Molière, was present at the first representation of "Les Précieuses Ridicules." He tells us that Mademoiselle de Rambouillet, her sister Madame de Grignan, and the whole of the Rambouillet coterie attended. Its opening scenes were received with silence. None knew whether to be offended or not-whether to ignore the taunt or to repel it. At length an old man rose
“ Ménagiana," edition 1715, vol. ii., p. 65. VOL. VII.-20
slowly from his seat, and in a voice trembling with enthusiasm, cried: “Courage, Molière ! Voilà la véritable Comédie!"* The truth of these words has indeed been echoed by posterity. Ménage was so satisfied with the success of the piece as to be certain of its effect on the public. On leaving the theatre he seized Chapelain's arm, and exclaimed: "We are both guilty of the follies which have been satirized with so much power and good sense; henceforward we must burn what we have adored, and adore what we have burned." These words were amply verified. Molière's chef-d'œuvre dealt a fatal blow at the Hôtel Rambouillet-people began to see the absurdity of the situation, and the “précieuses" were laughed into obscurity. The success of this piece was so great, and so urgent were the demands for admission, that on the second representation the company doubled its prices. To the applause of society that of the court was soon joined, and the fame of Molière spread to the Pyrenees. Molière was astounded at this unexpected triumph. He is said to have exclaimed: "I need no longer study Plato or Terence, nor pore over the fragments of Menander-henceforth I will study the world."
Although "Les Précieuses Ridicules " did not entirely extirpate all the pedantic nonsense which characterized the literary clique at which it was leveled, it greatly diminished the buffoonery which prevailed at the Hôtel Rambouillet. A few blue-stockings survived all the ridicule their conduct had provoked, and gave Molière an excuse for that second assault so successfully made in his charming comedy, "Les Femmes Savantes."
Toward the close of 1660, Molière's theatre, the Petit Bourbon, which had grown so popular under his guidance, was pulled down in order to make room for the colonnade of the Louvre. This would have been a serious blow to its proprietor had not Louis XIV. graciously placed at his disposal the Salle of the Palais Royal, constructed by Cardinal Richelieu for the representation of his doleful tragedy "Mirame," a play which not only cost its author a fabulous sum of money, but fatally affected his reputation as a man of wit. Here also, after Molière's death, were given the first of those lyric tragedies now known as operas. Alas! alas! this memorable theatre, associated with the fame of both Racine and Molière, has since those palmy days been twice rebuilt and as often destroyed by fire. Here Molière produced no less than thirty of his comedies, and here he struck the first sparks of that Promethean fire which burns for him eter* Grimarest, p. 36. "Mémoires sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Molière," p. 24.
Taschereau, vol. i., p. 51. 1825.
nally. Within this little theatre, also, in times when England was drunk with joy at the restoration of the Stuarts, the unhappy consort of Charles I. witnessed the first representation of "L'Ecole des Maris."
In the autumn of 1661 Molière produced "Les Fâcheux," whose conception furnishes an example of the fertility of his genius and its rapidity of execution. After the first performance of this play, while the King and Molière conversed apart, the latter doubtless receiving his august master's compliments, a certain Monsieur de Soyecourt, his Majesty's grand veneur, happened to pass. "Look!" whispered the monarch, "there is a character whom you have not yet drawn." The hint was not lost on Molière, who, without making any reply, in less than twenty-four hours introduced a new scene into his play at the expense of the gentleman above named. The King, who appears to have been somewhat vain of his wit, was highly gratified at the thought that he himself had furnished the suggestion, and at last began almost to regard the piece as peculiarly his own. Madame de Sévigné has immortalized Soyecourt by an anecdote which gives us a notion of the great original. "On one occasion,” says this talented authoress, "while Monsieur de Soyecourt was passing the night in an apartment with several other courtiers, this personage persisted in talking platitudes with one of his companions until the small hours of morning. This would not have been so objectionable, but that he would shout all he had to say at the very top of his voice. Another gentleman, who seems to have been more inclined to sleep than to listen, at last exclaimed, reproachfully: Eh! morbleu ! tais-toi; tu m'empêches de dormir.' Est-ce que je te parle à toi ?' naïvely retorted Monsieur de Soyecourt."
But the grand veneur had his deserts-his victim was avenged, and the world laughed merrily when this "grand original" figured as the chasseur in "Les Fâcheux." This piece appears to have been composed, got up, and performed within a fortnight—a performance which fully justified the couplet of Boileau:
“Rare et sublime esprit, dont la fertile veine Ignore, en écrivant, le travail et la peine."
We now come to an incident in Molière's career to which brief allusion must be made. Though fortunate in his success as a comedian, as an author, and in the possession of patrons, he was correspondingly unfortunate in his domestic affairs. When forty years of age he married a girl of seventeen, named Armande Béjart, a member of his troupe. Disparity in age, and the temptations to which this young and hand
some actress was exposed, rendered this marriage unhappy. Taschereau doubts whether they enjoyed so much as an hour's contentment; but this at least is certain-Molière's imprudent and heartless neglect of his bride fostered the coldness, and strengthened the dislike, which subsequently paved the way to mutual infidelity. Though historians have condemned the conduct of Madame Molière, they touch with gentleness the errors of her husband, for whom they are pleased to advance the hackneyed plea of genius -a title which only his personal enemies have ventured to deny him. Moore has told us that genius has its prerogative-an assertion which it is not in my power to question. But this at least is certain-that genius, by reason of its luster, should be doubly circumspect in its conduct. It should remember with what eagerness the world watches for every divergence from the paths of virtue, and how loud are the condemnations of the envious. It may be asked, What constitutes genius? Despite the brilliant examples which adorn our literature and that of other lands, we are told that the faculty pertains not less to the quiescent than to the active power. Byron, in The Prophecy of Dante," says:
The god within them, and rejoined the stars
It may then be presumed that genius belongs to that undefinable and often uncreative humanity which lives before its time. To rise, like Molière, above the fashions, the prejudices, and the follies of our contemporaries constitutes a prophetic nature; and prophecy is as near an approach to what men call "genius" as it is possible for humanity to attain.
In the summer of 1662 Molière, in his capacity as "valet de chambre du roi," followed Louis le Grand to Lorraine. He was at this time pondering over a comedy which was to assail hypocrisy, and the following anecdote may not be out of place: The King was in the habit of restricting himself, during his campaigns, to one repast a day. On a certain evening-albeit one of the days set apart by the Church for fasting
the King felt so hungry that he resolved to break his rule. Being sociably inclined, Louis invited his old friend Bishop Péréfixe to keep him company. The Bishop, however, put on a sanctimonious air, and, drawing himself up to his full height, not only coldly declined the King's invitation, but took occasion to inform his Ma
jesty that it was not his custom to regale on fast
This incident was not lost on Molière, who happened to be present, and eighteen months afterward Louis XIV. beheld himself reflected in the amusing scene between Orgon and Dorine. This trifling circumstance, which made the Prince in some measure instrumental to Molière's glory, materially assisted in removing the proscription R which a nation of hypocrites had contrived against "Tartufe." *
When Molière returned to Paris, he was waited on by a youth, manuscript in hand, who begged the favor of an audience. The generous comedian, with outstretched hand, received the ominous roll, and scanned it narrowly. It was poor stuff, we are told—a tragedy founded on a fable-heavy, spiritless, motionless; but Molière read it through, and highly praised its author.
"You are young," said he, "and you have a future; be patient; labor will reward you with success. But stay-one can not live on flattery; I see you are not rich: accept this little sum, and au revoir." The little sum was one hundred louis-d'or—the young man Racine.
The condition of comedians in the seventeenth century has been characterized as infa
Even the acknowledged genius of Molière was insufficient to override the popular prejudice against his profession. He had to submit to endless annoyances at the hands of his associates at court, who never failed to make him feel his position acutely. It was one day brought to the notice of Louis that some of his attendants had gone so far as to refuse to sit at the same board with Molière. His Majesty resolved forthwith to instruct them in politeness. He caused the great comedian to be summoned, and, much to every one's surprise, invited him to dine at his own table. Immediately in front of the King was a chicken, a wing of which he politely handed to Molière, reserving its fellow for The courtiers were dumfounded at
this unusual condescension.
"You see me," said the King to those present-"you see me occupied in giving Molière something to eat, for I understand that he is not deemed fit company for my attendants." This lesson had the required effect, and Molière was ever after welcome to dine when and where he pleased. The King's evident partiality for Molière earned him the respect of the whole court, where his popularity rose to a height only equaled by his fame abroad. Louis commissioned him to write a comedy for the amusement of the royal household. The result of this command was "Le Mariage Forcé "—a play founded on an incident in the career of De Grammont-in the performance of which not only the court, but the King himself joined. Louis XIV. figured in the ballet, a proceeding which provoked the satire of Racine, who in "Britannicus" addressed the King as follows:
"Ignorez-vous tout ce qu'ils osent dire? Néron, s'ils en sont crus, n'est point né pour l'empire."
During the Versailles fêtes of May, 1664, Molière presented for the first time his inimitable comedy "Tartufe." The vein of hypocrisy runs deeper, perhaps, at court than in any other section of society, and the mirror which Molière now held up to nature gave dire offense to his audience. The author of "Don Juan" has well said: "In these days the profession of hypocrite possesses marvelous advantages. Hypocrisy is an art wherein imposture commands respect; for, though it may be discovered, none dare say a word against it. All other vices are exposed to censure, every one is free to attack them; but
hypocrisy is a privileged vice, which shuts the
world's mouth with its hand, and revels in sovereign impunity."
Molière was held up to the vengeance of both God and man as an atheist. The popular clamor against "Tartufe" was irresistible, and its author was compelled to withdraw it after the first performance. In justice to Louis XIV., it must be stated that this persecution against Molière entirely failed to command his sympathy. Though compelled by public opinion to prohibit the performance of "Tartufe," the King made amends by promoting Molière's troupe to the envied position of "comedians to the King," and attached Molière to his person, with an annual salary of seven thousand francs.
It is interesting to note that up to the middle of the seventeenth century, soldiers were admitted to theatres without payment. This privilege was obviously unjust to the people, who, owing to the scant accommodation at command, were
* "Euvres de Molière, avec les Remarques de Bret," frequently unable to find seats. Molière, on be
half of his players, appealed to the King for
reform in this particular, and his request was "Le Malade Imaginaire," but in several other granted.
But the soldiers rebelled. They came in large bodies to the door, and demanded admission. The door-keeper at the Palais Royal, of course, protested; but, being at length compelled to yield, he threw down his sword and cried, "Miséricorde!" It availed him not. The soldiers, infuriated by his previous resistance, drew their sabers and cut him to pieces. Over his body they entered the theatre, and went in quest of the actors. It was resolved to subject men and women to similar treatment. The first person they met was a youth named Béjart, who was disguised as an old man for the piece about to be played. With great presence of mind Béjart exclaimed: "Gentlemen! at least spare an old man of seventy-five, who can at best have but a short time to live." They were not deceived, but his wit calmed them; and at this moment Molière came upon the scene. In a few words, and without the slightest sign of fear, he pointed out the danger of disobeying the lawful commands of the King, and by his manner so impressed the rioters that order ensued. But the excitement was not so easily allayed. The actors fled through every hole and alley. One prodigious personage, Hubert by name, contrived to pierce a hole, through which he promptly forced his head and shoulders, leaving the rest to chance; "but," says Grimarest, "jamais le reste ne put suivre," so the wretched man was reluctantly drawn back into the theatre by his comrades.
Molière, who leveled his satire against humbug in every form, did not spare the doctors. Indeed, from all accounts, the medical profession gave ample cause for sarcasm. Though pathology was, in the seventeenth century, but little understood, its deficiency was veiled by the vilest affectation of wisdom. The "medicine-man," mounted on a mule, paced up and down the streets, gabbling Latin and Greek to those foolish enough to consult him. Whenever he deigned to use his native language, he managed so to interlard his speech with scholastic bombast and scientific expressions as to render himself unintelligible. The following verse conveys a just notion of the class to which Molière so successfully devoted his attention:
"Affecter un air pédantesque,
Molière followed the example of De Montagne, and wounded the susceptibilities of the "faculty" not only in "L'Amour Médecin" and
comedies. All Paris laughed with Molière, and the quacks had a bad time of it. In order to give some idea of the insults to which these unfortunate wretches were subjected, I will repeat an anecdote which has been pronounced authentic, and the truth of which there is no reason to doubt. One day while Guénaut, physician in ordinary to Louis XIV., was driving in his coach through the streets of Paris, he happened to be detained by a block of carriages. The driver of a public vehicle, who knew Guénaut by sight, bawled out to his fellows: Laissons passer monsieur le docteux; c'est li qui nous a fait la grâce de tuer le cardinal." A remark which reminds us of the words inscribed by some Roman wag over the door of Adrian's physician"Here dwells the liberator of his country."
In the last year of a life passed in combating hypocrisy, Molière, broken in health and spirits, expressed himself thus: "Un médecin est un homme que l'on paie pour conter des fariboles dans la chambre d'un malade jusqu'à ce que la nature l'ait guéri ou que les remèdes l'aient tué ”*
words which show with what tenacity he clung to the convictions he had so often expressed in his comedies.
Close to the little Gothic church at Auteuil, which soon, alas! will be leveled with the ground, there stands a villa. This house, though "new vamped," as our fathers would have said, is as interesting as the church itself. Here, on sultry summer nights, came Molière, Boileau, Lafontaine, Chapelle, Racine, and others whose names have been inscribed on the tablets of Fame. Chapelle appears to have been the leading spirit at these gatherings; his rollicking humor and unflagging wit cast a charm over a society whose conversation might otherwise have been a trifle too learned. Chapelle had a great fault, however, and one which, to a certain extent, annoyed his companions. He was too fond of his bottle-a weakness for which he was once taken seriously to task by Boileau. They met in the street. Chapelle appeared convinced of the truth and justice of Boileau's admonition. He promised to give his friend's warning serious attention, but in order, as he said, to talk more at their ease, he invited Boileau to enter a house close at hand, which chanced to be a cabaret. Chapelle, according to custom, ordered a bottle of winethen another-which was in due course followed by a third. While thus employed he kept on replenishing Boileau's glass, which the good man, wholly absorbed by his own homily, as promptly drained. The result might have been foreseen. When every invective against “inflaming wine—
* Grimarest, p. 74.
pernicious to mankind," had been exhausted, neither the moralist nor his auditor could stand! Such was Chapelle, the gayest dog in that giddy company. Such was Molière's most intimate friend; one who loved him truly, and who stood by him through every blast of affliction, every curse of prejudice, to the very last. Of the revelry which ran riot in that little villa at Auteuil I have not the space to speak. Let the reader turn to the glowing pages of Voltaire, Grimarest, and Saint-Marc, pages which will amply reward him for the trouble.
I have already briefly alluded to Molière's generous conduct toward young Racine-generosity which has been rarely equaled and never surpassed in the history of letters. It was that sympathy of kindred genius which courts rather than fears rivalry. We have seen Racine admitted by Molière to the intimacy of Boileau, Lafontaine, and the great spirits of that great age, favors for which Molière had a right to expect something like gratitude. But I regret to say that the only return made by Racine consisted in the record, after Molière's death, of a scandal, the truth of which impartial history has abundantly disproved. I should not have mentioned this baseness, but that it forms a particle of that mosaic of human existence, whose completeness would be marred by the absence of a single stone. It may be a worthless pebble in itself, and yet its presence is required in order to form a somber contrast to the glory of Molière. Generosity is the child of genius. Molèire's benevolence was not confined to any particular object, it was the outcome of a nature easily susceptible to compassion. On one occasion, having been importuned by a poor comedian named Mondorge for means to rejoin his troupe, Molière gave him twenty-four pistoles and several splendid theatrical costumes. On another, while driving with Charpentier, a poor man at the roadside implored his charity. Molière unhesitatingly threw him a piece of money, and drove off. The carriage had gone some distance when Charpentier observed the mendicant running after them, making violent gestures. They ordered the coachman to pull up. When the poor man arrived, breathless, he exclaimed, "Sir, you are probably not aware that you gave me a louis-d'or -I am come to return it." "Stay, my friend," replied Molière, "en voilà un autre." As they drove off he whispered to Charpentier, "Où la vertu va-t-elle se nicher?"
On August 5, 1667, "Tartufe," which had for so long been proscribed, was for the first time publicly performed under its new title, “L'Imposteur." It received enthusiastic approval, a circumstance which so disconcerted all the tartufes in Paris that they once more prevailed upon
Parliament to interdict its performance. This satire was all the more pungent on account of Molière selecting the Abbé de Roquet for delineation in its principal role. This individual, afterward elevated to the bishopric of Autun, was one of Madame de Longueville's admirers, and famous for his profligacy. Fielding has well said: "Let a man abuse a physician, he makes another physician his friend; let him rail at a lawyer, another will plead his cause gratis; but let him once attack a hornet, or a priest, both nests are instantly sure to be upon him." This was a case in point. Without an instant's hesitation the entire priesthood of France rose like a mighty wave against Molière, and swept his obnoxious satire from the stage. The clamor raised against its immorality was as incessant as causeless. Its sole offense consisted in a too merciless exposure of the cant and hypocrisy rampant at the time. In after years Molière had his revenge. "Tartufe" revived, never more to die, but to form an eternal monument of genius. "L'Avare" and "Les Femmes Savantes" followed close upon the footprints of "Tartufe." Avarice, that "fine old gentlemanly vice," and the pedantry to which I have elsewhere alluded, gave the indefatigable satirist ample scope for derision. The upper and middle classes, ever at variance, were never more estranged from each other than at this time. Not only did they view the fitness of life from opposite standpoints, but the natural jealousy which exists between them was heightened by a want of that sympathy which only a community of interests can awaken. The gallants who infested court and society dissipated without hesitation the heritage of their fathers. They sought fortune at gaming-tables, and wasted what was left of their leisure in the pursuit of amorous intrigues. The middle class, on the other hand, were for the most part content to pass their days in seclusion. They learned to read and write, not for mental culture, but for the purpose of promoting mercantile ventures, and passed their lives storing up riches, wherein they saw the only chance of happiness. It was essentially an age of avarice, and the ridicule hurled at Harpagon was but an appeal to reason. The miser's grief at the loss of his money-chest has afforded, and will continue to afford, merriment to posterity. This play, in 1733, was imported into England by Fielding, who infused much genuine wit into his adaptation. The "Avare" pleased instantly, and had a long run on the English stage.
"Les Femmes Savantes " forms a sequel to "Les Précieuses Ridicules," to which it is in every respect superior. The characters Trissotin and Vadius, drawn from life-the former Abbé Cotin, the latter Ménage-might, with but little