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they courted the opinion of the world. In France, before the reign of public opinion, the opinion of the world prevailed; before the elections they had the drawing-room. Hence, for the ambitious or the vain of all times, the necessity was greater in France than elsewhere, to make us believe in their virtues or their talents. The art of that consists chiefly in avoiding scandal and ridicule. It is that to which the two sons-in-law of Dupré particularly applied themselves, and they believed that they had succeeded. But it happened to them as it often happened to political men: they thought of every thing that was remote, and forgot what was near at hand; they have succeeded with extreme attention in managing the public, but they have neglected and maltreated their father; they put themselves on their guard against the scandal and ridicule of every one except that of their family, because they believed that they had nothing to fear from that quarter; and it is for that they have been wounded, it is for that they are made ridiculous and odious; all to the great joy of the spectators, who laugh at seeing them punished for the very cause of their transgression. In this consists the whole art of comedy.
Dalainville is about to be appointed a minister. It is much talked of; as is usually the case, he believes it the more they talk of it. His brother-in-law, Dervière, who hates him, has even complimented him on the subject. Madame Dalainville does not enjoy less than her husband his expected promotion: in this office she sees beautiful equipages, valets, coachmen, running footmen, and all the retinue of people of quality, which is as pleasing to her vanity as to her husband's ambition. At this moment, a letter is received from M. Dupré, who announces to his two sons-inlaw that their conduct has compelled him to estrange himself forever; that he had fortunately obtained resources which would render him independent, and that their conduct would soon be made known to all the world. This letter, and especially this last word, struck terror into the hearts of the two sons-in-law, and a terror worthy of comedy, which amuses us at the same time that it makes us laugh. The mutual reproaches which they address to each other, cause the dread which they have of seeing their offences made known, to appear in the most striking manner. Take care, said the philanthropist to the future minister;
All eyes seem now to be fixed on you;
Dervière. Do not fear that they will sacrifice you;
We see how Dervière finds a sort of pleasure in foretelling to Dalainville all the malicious talk that the public have against him; Dalainville, in his turn, does not fail to take his revenge against the philanthropist.
If I ought to dread the injustice of the public,
Dervière. Will they thus dare to falsify the truth?
Finally, as in this piece, each person must be punished for his fault by his accomplice, and it is the justness of the comedy that Madame Dalainville, this frivolous woman who forgot her father for the world, should also be reproached for her wrongs by her husband:
Do not accuse others,
For the greatest wrongs, madame, are yours.
But the eclat of your grandeurs has turned your head,
Forgetting your friends and your poor parents,
Act iii. scene 8.
The harsh truth of these reproaches overwhelms Madame Dalainville, who is ready to faint: and here is the moral punishment of the ambitious, and a comical punishment: he has the great world at his house, and his wife, who must do the honors to this frivolous and wicked company, his wife begins to weep! What would one think of it! What does he say? .. Dry your tears; It is very essential, I warn you:
Those who dine with me are not my friends.
Act iii. scene 8.
This intrigue and this dialogue are excellent. They naturally arise from the different passions which animate the personages, and from the fault which they have committed. We well know that we may say that these passions do not spring from ingratitude : it is ambition, charlatanism, or vanity. It is not ingratitude, but they are all intimately connected with it. The true ingrate-that is to say, the man who feels pleasure in returning evil for good-is rare and monstrous, and moreover, would be scarcely tolerated at the Theatre in tragedy. But this ingratitude which proceeds from selfishness, and which is only the preference which man has for himself over his benefactor; this ingratitude which has a little corner in all hearts, is put in comedy because it is not necessarily odious. Such is the ingratitude of the two sonsin-law they are more selfish than ungrateful.
We have remarked the kind of morality which the story illustrates. This story takes the side of fathers; but it does so because the father, after the first moment of wickedness, had the intention of duping the hypocrites; and the story seems especially to put an end to this narrative. It would be an error, however, to believe that such is the general character of the literature of the middle ages, and that in the tales or romances of chivalry, the fathers have not the dignity and authority which they ought to have. On the contrary, there is in these old fabliaux a great respect for the sentiments and natural duties of man: the paternal character is there every where honored; filial piety is there every where commended
and rewarded. Never, in the romances of chivalry, are fathers ridiculous; never are the sons insolent and disrespectful. The events are often strange and fabulous, but the sentiments are always true, and of a noble and elevated character. In these narratives, which are a faithful picture of the manners of the feudal society, kings are sometimes treated with little consideration, and the great Charlemagne is not always painted in favorable colors: he is impatient and quarrelsome; he is inclined to anger and suspicion; and is even sometimes represented as having been insulted and beaten by his vassals. But there is, above royal majesty, another majesty more inviolable and more sacred: it is that of paternal authority, which no son would dare to outrage with impunity, were he even to become a greater proprietor than his father. And we may add, as a last trait, that, in these romances, the paternal power is conscious of its dignity, and that it never lowers itself for a moment, even for love. "My Lord," says his wife, Mabilette, to the old Chevalier Guérin de Montglave, our four sons will return to see us to-day. You have told them to go and seek their fortunes in the world; they have obeyed you, and they are now dukes, counts, and great barons, having under their banners many men-at-arms, and in their dungeons a quantity of gold and silver. Let us hasten to meet them at the gate of the city of Bordeaux, that we may the sooner see and embrace them." "My Lady," replied Guérin de Montglave, "our children do their duty in coming to see us, and I have hastened to embrace them; but I do not wish to deprive them of the honor of rendering to us all the homage which they will also receive one day from their own children. Let us await them. Only come with me to this window, that you may see them coming afar off."
We see in what a touching and natural manner the sentiments of paternal and maternal love are expressed in the literature of the middle ages: the mother thinks of embracing her children soonest; the father, without loving them less, thinks of the respect which they owe him, and, to reconcile his dignity and tenderness, goes to place himself at the window, to see them while they are yet afar off.
OF FATHERS IN COMEDY, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE COMEDIES OF
COMEDY is embarrassed, when it wishes to defend fathers; it is less restrained when it attacks them; but it meets on this side a dangerous rock: it runs the risk of becoming immoral, and it is this which caused J. J. Rousseau to censure comedy, and especially the comedies of Moliere:
"It is assuredly a great vice," (says he in his letter on theatrical exhibitions,) "to be avaricious, and to lend money on usury; but is it not a still greater vice for a son to rob his father, to be disrespectful to him, to make insulting reproaches to him; and when this angry father gives him his malediction, to answer with a grumbling air, that he cares nothing about his gifts? If this pleasantry is excellent, is it less punishable on that account? And is the piece in which the make us love the insolent son who has made it, less a school of bad manners ?"
In the eighteenth century, J. J. Rousseau attacked comedy, and censured it for teaching children the forgetfulness of the respect which they owe to their parents, as Aristophanes in former times, in The Clouds,* accused philosophy of perverting the minds of the young, and weakening the authority of paternal power in their hearts. And it is thus that comedy and philosophy, the two most reckless arts in the world, the one by raillery, and the other by suggesting doubt, have in their disputations alternately recognized and denounced each other, for violating the sacredness of the paternal power, which lies at the foundation of society.
*See in The Clouds, the scene where Phidippides beats Strepsiades, his father, and demonstrates to him, by the aid of the principles of Socrates, that he has a right to beat him.