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an impromptu, the door of this temple of Reason slowly from his seat, and in a voice trembling suddenly opened to admit a young man of mid- with enthusiasm, cried : “ Courage, Molière ! dle height, dark complexion, and grave deport- Voilà la véritable Comédie !"* The truth of ment, clad in the picturesque bourgeoise costume these words has indeed been echoed by posterity. of the period. Madame de Rambouillet, who Ménage was so satisfied with the success of the was seated on her throne at the far end of the piece as to be certain of its effect on the public. room, rose to receive her visitor, and, by way of On leaving the theatre he seized Chapelain's arm, making him feel more at his ease in a strange and exclaimed: “We are both guilty of the follies company, overpowered him with the volubility which have been satirized with so much power of her flattery. He who stood momentarily and good sense; henceforward we must burn abashed in the midst of this throng of tuft- what we have adored, and adore what we have hunters and dolts, who formed the “cynosure of burned.” These words were amply verified. neighboring eyes," was none other than the Molière's chef-d'æuvre dealt a fatal blow at the comedian Molière—he who afterward dealt the Hôtel Rambouillet-people began to see the abdeath-blow to the dunces of his epoch. At this surdity of the situation, and the “ précieuses” were time Molière was but known as the manager of laughed into obscurity. The success of this piece an itinerant troupe, and as a man who, in addi- was so great, and so urgent were the demands tion to considerable histrionic power, had also for admission, that on the second representation evinced a talent for composition. He was wel- the company doubled its prices. To the applause comed by Madame de Rambouillet as the author of society that of the court was soon joined, and of “ L'Etourdi” and “Le Dépit Amoureux," and the fame of Molière spread to the Pyrenees. as such took his place among the celebrities of Molière was astounded at this unexpected trihis time. It is well for both England and France, umph. He is said to have exclaimed: “I need I had almost said for the common sense of the no longer study Plato or Terence, nor pore over civilized world, that two such men as Gifford the fragments of Menander-henceforth I will and Molière had the courage and the genius to study the world." crush, each in his own time, that hydra of bathos Although “ Les Précieuses Ridicules did who periodically threatens to devour reason. not entirely extirpate all the pedantic nonsense That which William Gifford effected, in the early which characterized the literary clique at which part of this century, by the publication of his it was leveled, it greatly diminished the buffoonmerciless“ Baviad and Mæviad,” Molière achieved ery which prevailed at the Hôtel Rambouillet. A more than two centuries before him, with the few blue-stockings survived all the ridicule their “ Précieuses Ridicules.” But the venture of Mo- conduct had provoked, and gave Molière an exlière was of a far more courageous nature than cuse for that second assault so successfully made that of Gifford. . The latter was an author of in his charming comedy, Les Femmes Sarenown, and a man of good position in the re- vantes.” public of letters. The former, on the other hand, Toward the close of 1660, Molière's theatre, was but a poor comedian from the provinces, the Petit Bourbon, which had grown so popular who had come to Paris in search of the fortune under his guidance, was pulled down in order to he had failed to find elsewhere, and who de- make room for the colonnade of the Louvre. pended for his success very much upon the This would have been a serious blow to its propatronage of the very coterie whose extrava- prietor had not Louis XIV. graciously placed at gances he, on public grounds, so bitterly resented. his disposal the Salle of the Palais Royal, conA few months after his reception by Madame de structed by Cardinal Richelieu for the represenRambouillet, Molière made his triumphant as- tation of his doleful tragedy “Mirame," a play sault upon the false taste and follies of his time. which not only cost its author a fabulous sum of The title of his play excited general curiosity; money, but fatally affected his reputation as a there was a great demand for places. Ménage, man of wit. † Here also, after Molière's death, himself a member of the society so severely were given the first of those lyric tragedies now handled by Molière, was present at the first rep- known as operas. Alas! alas ! this memorable resentation of “Les Précieuses Ridicules.” He theatre, associated with the fame of both Racine tells us * that Mademoiselle de Rambouillet, her and Molière, has since those palmy days been sister Madame de Grignan, and the whole of the twice rebuilt and as often destroyed by fire. Rambouillet coterie attended. Its opening scenes Here Molière produced no less than thirty of his were received with silence. None knew whether comedies, and here he struck the first sparks of to be offended or not-whether to ignore the that Promethean fire which burns for him etertaunt or to repel it. At length an old man rose
* Grimarest, p. 36. "Mémoires sur la Vie et les
Ouvrages de Molière," p. 24. # " Ménagiana," edition 1715, vol. ii., p. 65.
+ Taschereau, vol. i., p. 51. 1825.
nally. Within this little theatre, also, in times some actress was exposed, rendered this marwhen England was drunk with joy at the resto- riage unhappy. Taschereau doubts whether ration of the Stuarts, the unhappy consort of they enjoyed so much as an hour's contentment; Charles I. witnessed the first representation of but this at least is certain—Molière's imprudent “L'Ecole des Maris."
and heartless neglect of his bride fostered the In the autumn of 1661 Molière produced coldness, and strengthened the dislike, which “ Les Fâcheux,” whose conception furnishes an subsequently paved the way to mutual infidelity. example of the fertility of his genius and its ra- Though historians have condemned the conduct pidity of execution. After the first performance of Madame Molière, they touch with gentleness of this play, while the King and Molière con- the errors of her husband, for whom they are versed apart, the latter doubtless receiving his pleased to advance the hackneyed plea of genius august master's compliments, a certain Monsieur -a title which only his personal enemies have de Soyecourt, his Majesty's grand veneur, hap- ventured to deny him. Moore has told us that pened to pass. “Look!" whispered the mon- genius has its prerogative-an assertion which it arch, “there is a character whom you have not is not in my power to question. But this at least yet drawn.” The hint was not lost on.Molière, is certain—that genius, by reason of its luster, who, without making any reply, in less than should be doubly circumspect in its conduct. It twenty-four hours introduced a new scene into should remember with what eagerness the world his play at the expense of the gentleman above watches for every divergence from the paths of named. The King, who appears to have been virtue, and how loud are the condemnations of somewhat vain of his wit, was highly gratified the envious. It may be asked, What constitutes at the thought that he himself had furnished the genius ? Despite the brilliant examples which suggestion, and at last began almost to regard adorn our literature and that of other lands, we the piece as peculiarly his own. Madame de Sé- are told that the faculty pertains not less to the vigné has immortalized Soyecourt by an anec- quiescent than to the active power. Byron, in dote which gives us a notion of the great original. The Prophecy of Dante,” says: “On one occasion,” says this talented authoress, “while Monsieur de Soyecourt was passing the
Many are poets who have never penned night in an apartment with several other cour
Their inspiration, and perchance the best : tiers, this personage persisted in talking plati
They felt, and loved, and died, but would not
lend tudes with one of his companions until the
Their thoughts to meaner things; they comsmall hours of morning. This would not have
pressed been so objectionable, but that he would shout
The god within them, and rejoined the stars all he had to say at the very top of his voice.
Unlaureled upon earth. .." Another gentleman, who seems to have been more inclined to sleep than to listen, at last ex- It may then be presumed that genius belongs claimed, reproachfully: ‘Eh! morbleu ! tais-toi; to that undefinable and often uncreative humanitu m'empêches de dormir.' • Est-ce que je te ty which lives before its time. To rise, like Moparle à toi ?' naively retorted Monsieur de Soye- lière, above the fashions, the prejudices, and the court."
follies of our contemporaries constitutes a proBut the grand veneur had his deserts—his phetic nature; and prophecy is as near an apvictim was avenged, and the world laughed mer- proach to what men call“ genius" as it is possirily when this "grand original " figured as the ble for humanity to attain. chasseur in " Les Fâcheux.” This piece appears
In the summer of 1662 Molière, in his capato have been composed, got up, and performed city as“ valet de chambre du roi,” followed Louis within a fortnight-a performance which fully le Grand to Lorraine. He was at this time ponjustified the couplet of Boileau :
dering over a comedy which was to assail hy“ Rare et sublime esprit, dont la fertile veine
pocrisy, and the following anecdote may not be Ignore, en écrivant, le travail et la peine."
out of place : The King was in the habit of re
stricting himself, during his campaigns, to one We now come to an incident in Molière's repast a day. On a certain evening_albeit one career to which brief allusion must be made. of the days set apart by the Church for fasting Though fortunate in his success as a comedian, -the King felt so hungry that he resolved to as an author, and in the possession of patrons, break his rule. Being sociably inclined, Louis he was correspondingly unfortunate in his domes- invited his old friend Bishop Péréfixe to keep him tic affairs. When forty years of age he married company. The Bishop, however, put on a sanca girl of seventeen, named Armande Béjart, a timonious air, and, drawing himself up to his member of his troupe. Disparity in age, and full height, not only coldly declined the King's the temptations to which this young and hand- invitation, but took occasion to inform his Ma
jesty that it was not his custom to regale on fast “ You see me," said the King to those presdays. This reply excited the risible muscles of ent—"you see me occupied in giving Molière the courtier, who, in spite of every endeavor to something to eat, for I understand that he is not suppress his laughter, attracted the King's no- deemed fit company for my attendants.” This tice. When the Bishop retired Louis was fain lesson had the required effect, and Molière was to know the cause of his courtier's merriment. ever after welcome to dine when and where he “Sire,” replied the culprit, “your Majesty need pleased. The King's evident partiality for Monot be anxious on the score of the Bishop's ap- lière earned him the respect of the whole court, petite"; whereupon he proceeded to give minute where his popularity rose to a height only equaled details of a sumptuous repast which the prelate by his fame abroad. Louis commissioned him had that day enjoyed, and at which he, the of- to write a comedy for the amusement of the fender, had been present. At the mention of royal household. The result of this command each plat the good-humored Louis exclaimed, was “ Le Mariage Forcé "-a play founded on an “Le pauvre homme!" varying the tone of his incident in the career of De Grammont–in the voice in a manner irresistibly comic.
performance of which not only the court, but This incident was not lost on Molière, who the King himself joined. Louis XIV. figured in happened to be present, and eighteen months the ballet, a proceeding which provoked the satafterward Louis XIV. beheld himself reflected in ire of Racine, who in “Britannicus” addressed the amusing scene between Orgon and Dorine. the King as follows: This trifling circumstance, which made the Prince in some measure instrumental to Molière's glory,
* Ignorez-vous tout ce qu'ils osent dire ? materially assisted in removing the proscription Néron, s'ils en sont crus, n'est point né pour l'emwhich a nation of hypocrites had contrived
pire.” against “ Tartufe." *
During the Versailles fêtes of May, 1664, MoWhen Molière returned to Paris, he was
lière presented for the first time his inimitable waited on by a youth, manuscript in hand, who comedy “Tartufe.” The vein of hypocrisy runs begged the favor of an audience. The generous deeper, perhaps, at court than in any other seccomedian, with o`tstretched hand, received the tion of society, and the mirror which Molière ominous roll, and scanned it narrowly. It was
now held up to nature gave dire offense to his poor stuff, we are told—a tragedy founded on a audience. The author of “ Don Juan ” has well fable-heavy, spiritless, motionless; but Molière said: “In these days the profession of hypocrite read it through, and highly praised its author.
possesses marvelous advantages. Hypocrisy is “ You are young,” said he, "and you have a
an art wherein imposture commands respect; future; be patient; labor will reward you with for, though it may be discovered, none dare say But stay-one can not live on flattery;
a word against it. All other vices are exposed I see you are not rich: accept this little sum, to censure, every one is free to attack them; but and au revoir.” The little sum was one hun- hypocrisy is a privileged vice, which shuts the dred louis-d'or—the young man Racine.
world's mouth with its hand, and revels in sovThe condition of comedians in the seven
ereign impunity.” teenth century has been characterized as infa
Molière was held up to the vengeance of both Even the acknowledged genius of Mo- God and man as an atheist. The popular clamlière was insufficient to override the popular pre
or against “Tartufe" was irresistible, and its judice against his profession. He had to submit author was compelled to withdraw it after the to endless annoyances at the hands of his asso- first performance. In justice to Louis XIV., it ciates at court, who never failed to make him must be stated that this persecution against Mofeel his position acutely. It was one day brought lière entirely failed to command his sympathy. to the notice of Louis that some of his attend- Though compelled by public opinion to prohibit ants had gone so far as to refuse to sit at the the performance of “Tartufe,” the King made same board with Molière. His Majesty resolved amends by promoting Molière's troupe to the enforthwith to instruct them in politeness. He vied position of “comedians to the King," and caused the great comedian to be summoned, attached Molière to his person, with an annual and, much to every one's surprise, invited him to salary of seven thousand francs. dine at his own table. Immediately in front of
It is interesting to note that up to the middle the King was a chicken, a wing of which he po- of the seventeenth century, soldiers were admitlitely handed to Molière, reserving its fellow for ted to theatres without payment. This privilege himself. The courtiers were dumfounded at
was obviously unjust to the people, who, owing this unusual condescension.
to the scant accommodation at command, were * "Euvres de Molière, avec les Remarques de Bret,” frequently unable to find seats. Molière, on be1773.
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.
comedies. All Paris laughed with Molière, and But the soldiers rebelled. They came in large the quacks had a bad time of it. In order to bodies to the door, and demanded admission. give some idea of the insults to which these unThe door-keeper at the Palais Royal, of course, fortunate wretches were subjected, I will repeat protested; but, being at length compelled to an anecdote which has been pronounced authenyield, he threw down his sword and cried, “Mi- tic, and the truth of which there is no reason to séricorde !” It availed him not. The soldiers, doubt. One day while Guénaut, physician in orinfuriated by his previous resistance, drew their dinary to Louis XIV., was driving in his coach sabers and cut him to pieces. Over his body through the streets of Paris, he happened to be they entered the theatre, and went in quest of detained by a block of carriages. The driver of the actors. It was resolved to subject men and a public vehicle, who knew Guénaut by sight, women to similar treatment. The first person bawled out to his fellows: “Laissons passer they met was a youth named Béjart, who was monsieur le docteux; c'est li qui nous a fait la disguised as an old man for the piece about to grâce de tuer le cardinal.” A remark which rebe played. With great presence of mind Béjart minds us of the words inscribed by some Roexclaimed : “Gentlemen ! at least spare an old man wag over the door of Adrian's physicianman of seventy-five, who can at best have but a “ Here dwells the liberator of his country." short time to live." They were not deceived, In the last year of a life passed in combating but his wit calmed them; and at this moment hypocrisy, Molière, broken in health and spirits, Molière came upon the scene. In a few words, expressed himself thus: “Un médecin est un and without the slightest sign of fear, he pointed homme que l'on paie pour conter des fariboles out the danger of disobeying the lawful com- dans la chambre d'un malade jusqu'à ce que la mands of the King, and by his manner so im- nature l'ait guéri ou que les remèdes l'aient tué"* pressed the rioters that order ensued. But the words which show with what tenacity he clung excitement was not so easily allayed. The actors to the convictions he had so often expressed in fled through every hole and alley. One prodi- his comedies. gious personage, Hubert by name, contrived to Close to the little Gothic church at Auteuil, pierce a hole, through which he promptly forced which soon, alas! will be leveled with the ground, his head and shoulders, leaving the rest to chance; there stands a villa. This house, though “new “but,” says Grimarest,“ jamais le reste ne put vamped,” as our fathers would have said, is as suivre," so the wretched man was reluctantly interesting as the church itself. Here, on sultry drawn back into the theatre by his comrades. summer nights, came Molière, Boileau, Lafon
Molière, who leveled his satire against hum- taine, Chapelle, Racine, and others whose names bug in every form, did not spare the doctors. have been inscribed on the tablets of Fame. Indeed, from all accounts, the medical profession Chapelle appears to have been the leading spirit gave ample cause for sarcasm.. Though pathol- at these gatherings; his rollicking humor and ogy was, in the seventeenth century, but little unflagging wit cast a charm over a society whose understood, its deficiency was veiled by the vilest conversation might otherwise have been a trifle affectation of wisdom. The “medicine-man,” too learned. Chapelle had a great fault, however, mounted on a mule, paced up and down the and one which, to a certain extent, annoyed his streets, gabbling Latin and Greek to those fool- companions. He was too fond of his bottle-a ish enough to consult him. Whenever he deigned weakness for which he was once taken seriously to use his native language, he managed so to in- to task by Boileau. They met in the street. terlard his speech with scholastic bombast and Chapelle appeared convinced of the truth and scientific expressions as to render himself unin- justice of Boileau's admonition. He promised telligible. The following verse conveys a just to give his friend's warning serious attention, but notion of the class to which Molière so success- in order, as he said, to talk more at their ease, he fully devoted his attention:
invited Boileau to enter a house close at hand,
which chanced to be a cabaret. Chapelle, ac“ Affecter un air pédantesque,
cording to custom, ordered a bottle of wineCracher du grec et du latin,
then another—which was in due course followed Longue perruque, habit grotesque,
by a third. While thus employed he kept on reDe la fourrure et du satin, Tout cela réuni fait presque
plenishing Boileau's glass, which the good man,
wholly absorbed by his own homily, as promptly Ce qu'on appelle un médecin !"
drained. The result might have been foreseen. Molière followed the example of De Mon- When every invective against “inflaming winetagne, and wounded the susceptibilities of the “ faculty" not only in “L'Amour Médecin" and
* Grimarest, p. 74.
pernicious to mankind," had been exhausted, Parliament to interdict its performance. This neither the moralist nor his auditor could stand! satire was all the more pungent on account of Such was Chapelle, the gayest dog in that giddy Molière selecting the Abbé de Roquet for delinecompany. Such was Molière's most intimate ation in its principal rôle. This individual, afterfriend; one who loved him truly, and who stood ward elevated to the bishopric of Autun, was by him through every blast of affliction, every one of Madame de Longueville's admirers, and curse of prejudice, to the very last. Of the rev- famous for his profligacy. Fielding has well elry which ran riot in that little villa at Auteuil I said : “Let a man abuse a physician, he makes have not the space to speak. Let the reader another physician his friend ; let him rail at a turn to the glowing pages of Voltaire, Grima- lawyer, another will plead his cause gratis; but rest, and Saint-Marc, pages which will amply re- let him once attack a hornet, or a priest, both ward him for the trouble.
nests are instantly sure to be upon him." This I have already briefly alluded to Molière's was a case in point. Without an instant's hesigenerous conduct toward young Racine-gener- tation the entire priesthood of France rose like a osity which has been rarely equaled and never mighty wave against Molière, and swept his obsurpassed in the history of letters. It was that noxious satire from the stage. The clamor raised sympathy of kindred genius which courts rather against its immorality was as incessant as causethan fears rivalry. We have seen Racine ad- less. Its sole offense consisted in a too mercimitted by Molière to the intimacy of Boileau, less exposure of the cant and hypocrisy rampant Lafontaine, and the great spirits of that great at the time. In after years Molière had his reage, favors for which Molière had a right to ex- venge. “Tartufe " revived, never more to die, pect something like gratitude. But I regret to but to form an eternal monument of genius. say that the only return made by Racine consist- “L'Avare” and “ Les Femmes Savantes” foled in the record, after Molière's death, of a scan- lowed close upon the footprints of “Tartufe.” dal, the truth of which impartial history has Avarice, that fine old gentlemanly vice," and abundantly disproved. I should not have men- the pedantry to which I have elsewhere alluded, tioned this baseness, but that it forms a particle gave the 'indefatigable satirist ample scope for of that mosaic of human existence, whose com- derision. The upper and middle classes, ever at pleteness would be marred by the absence of a variance, were never more estranged from each single stone. It may be a worthless pebble in other than at this time. Not only did they view itself, and yet its presence is required in order to the fitness of life from opposite standpoints, but form a somber contrast to the glory of Molière. the natural jealousy which exists between them Generosity is the child of genius. Molèire's be- was heightened by a want of that sympathy nevolence was not confined to any particular ob- which only a community of interests can awaken. ject, it was the outcome of a nature easily sus- The gallants who infested court and society disceptible to compassion. On one occasion, have sipated without hesitation the heritage of their ing been importuned by a poor comedian named fathers. They sought fortune at gaming-tables, Mondorge for means to rejoin his troupe, Molière and wasted what was left of their leisure in the gave him twenty-four pistoles and several splen- pursuit of amorous intrigues. The middle class, did theatrical costumes. On another, while driv- on the other hand, were for the most part coning with Charpentier, a poor man at the roadside tent to pass their days in seclusion. They learned implored his charity. Molière unhesitatingly to read and write, not for mental culture, but for threw him a piece of money, and drove off. The the purpose of promoting mercantile ventures, carriage had gone some distance when Charpen- and passed their lives storing up riches, wherein tier observed the mendicant running after them, they saw the only chance of happiness. It was making violent gestures. They ordered the essentially an age of avarice, and the ridicule coachman to pull up. When the poor man ar- hurled at Harpagon was but an appeal to reason. rived, breathless, he exclaimed, “Sir, you are The miser's grief at the loss of his money-chest probably not aware that you gave me a louis-d'or has afforded, and will continue to afford, merri-I am come to return it.” “Stay, my friend," ment to posterity. This play, in 1733, was imreplied Molière, “en voilà un autre." As they ported into England by Fielding, who infused drove off he whispered to Charpentier, “Où la much genuine wit into his adaptation. The vertu va-t-elle se nicher?”
“Avare " pleased instantly, and had a long run On August 5, 1667, “ Tartufe," which had for on the English stage. so long been proscribed, was for the first time “ Les Femmes Savantes " forms a sequel to publicly performed under its new title, “ L'Im- “Les Précieuses Ridicules," to which it is in evposteur.” It received enthusiastic approval, a ery respect superior. The characters Trissotin circumstance which so disconcerted all the tar. and Vadius, drawn from life—the former Abbé tufes in Paris that they once more prevailed upon Cotin, the latter Ménage-might, with but, little