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the false taste of which is felt by all. There is no one that does not laugh, when, in the tragedy of the Golden Fleece, Hypsipyle says to Medea, alluding to her sorceries
Je n'ai que des attraits, et vous avez des charmes.
I have attractions only, you have charms. Corneille found the stage and every other department of literature infested with these puerilities, into which he rarely fell.
I wish here to speak only of such strokes of wit as would be admitted elsewhere, and as the serious style rejects. To their authors might be applied the sentence of Plutarch, translated with the happy naiveté of Amiot:
Tu tiens sans propos beaucoup de bons propos. There occurs to my recollection one of those brilliant passages, which I have seen quoted as a model in many works of taste, and even in the treatise on studies by the late M. Rollin. This piece is taken from the fine funeral oration on the great Turenne, composed by Fléchier. It is true, that in this oration Fléchier almost equalled the sublime Bossuet, whom I have called and still call the only eloquent man among so many elegant writers; but it appears to me that the passage of which I am speaking would not have been employed by the bishop of Meaux. Here it is :
“ Ye powers hostile to France, you live; and the spirit of christian charity forbids me to wish your death
but you live; and I mourn in this pulpit over a virtuous leader, whose intentions were pure ...
An apostrophe in this taste would have been suitable to Rome in the civil war, after the assassination of Pompey; or to London, after the murder of Charles I; because the interests of Pompey and Charles I were really in question. But is it decent to insinuate in the pulpit a wish for the death of the
emperor, the king of Spain, and the electors, and put in the balance against them the commander-in-chief employed by a king who was their enemy? Should the intentions of a leaderwhich can only be to serve his prince-be compared with the political interests of the crowned heads against
whom he served? What would be said of a German who should have wished for the death of the king of France, on the occasion of the death of General Merci, “whose intentions were pure ?”* Why then has this passage always been praised by the rhetoricians ? Because the figure is in itself beautiful and pathetic; but they do not thoroughly investigate the fitness of the thought.
I now return to my paradox;—that none of those glittering ornaments, to which we give the name of wit, should find a place in great works designed to instruct or to move the passions. I will even say that they ought to be banished from the opera. Music expresses passions, sentiments, images: but where are the notes that can render an epigram? Quinault was sometimes negligent, but he was always natural.
Of all our operas, that which is the most ornamented, or rather the most overloaded, with this epigramatic spirit, is the ballet of the Triumph of the Arts, composed by an amiable man,t who always thought with subtlety, and expressed himself with delicacy; but who, by the abuse of this talent, contributed a little to the decline of letters after the glorious era of Louis XIV. In this ballet, in which Pygmalion animates his statue,
And love for me your earliest movements show'd. I remember to have heard this line admired by some persons in my youth. But who does not perceive that the movements of the body of the statue are here confounded with the movements of the heart, and that in any sense the phrase is not French-that it is, in fact, a pun, a jest? How could it be, that a man who had so much wit, had not enough to retrench these egregious faults? This same man-who, despising Homer, translated him; who, in translating, thought to correct him, and by abridging him, thought to make him read -had a mind to make Homer a wit. It is he who, when Achilles re-appears, renconciled to the Greeks who are ready to avenge him, makes the whole camp exclaim- ,
* Fléchier took the half of this funeral oration over marshal Turenne, word for word, from that which Lingendes, bishop of Grenoble, had made on the duke of Savoy. But this piece, which was fitting for a sovereign, was not for a subject.
t La Molte.
Que ne vaincra-t-il point? Il s'est vaincu lui-même.
What shall oppose him, conqueror of himself? A man must indeed be fond of witticisms, when he makes fifty thousand men pun all at once upon the same word.
This play of the imagination, these quips, these cranks, these random shafts, these gaieties, these little broken sentences, these ingenious familiarities, which it is now the fashion to lavish so profusely, are befitting no works but those of pure amusement. The front of the Louvre, by Perrault, is simple and majestic: minute ornaments may appear.
in a cabinet. Have as much wit as you will, or as you can, in a madrigal, in light verses, in a scene of a comedy, when it is to be neither impassioned nor simple, in a compliment, in a ‘novellette,' or in a letter, where you assume gaiety yourself in order to communicate it to your friends.
Far from having reproached Voiture with having wit in his letters, I found, on the contrary, that he had not enough, although he was constantly seeking it. It is said that dancing-masters make their bow ill, because they are anxious to make it too well. I thought this was often the case with Voiture : his best letters are studied; you feel that he is fatiguing himself to find that which presents itself so naturally to count Anthony Hamilton, to madame de Sevigné, and to so many other women, who write these trifles without an effort, better than Voiture wrote them with labour. Despréaux, who in his first satires had ventured to compare Voiture to Horace, changed his opinion when his taste was ripened by age. I know that it matters very little, in the affairs of this world, whether Voiture was or was not a great genius,-whether he wrote only a few pretty letters, or that all his pieces of pleasantry
who cultivate and love the liberal arts, cast an attentive eye upon what is quite indifferent to the rest of the world. Good taste is to us in literature what it is to women in dress; and provided that one's opinion shall not be made a party matter, it appears to me that one may boldly say, that there are. but few excellent things in Voiture, and that Marot might easily be reduced to a few pages.
Not that we wish to take from them their reputation; on the contrary, we wish to ascertain precisely what that reputation cost them, and what are the real beauties for which their defects have been tolerated. We must know what we are to follow, and what we are to avoid; this is the real fruit of the profound study of the belles-lettres ; this is what Horace did when he examined Lucilius critically. Horace made himself enemies thereby ; but he enlightened his enemies themselves.
This desire of shining, and of saying in a novel manner what has been said by others, is the source of new expressions as well as far-fetched thoughts. He who cannot shine by a thought seeks to bring himself into notice by a word. Hence it has at last been thought proper to substitute the word 'amabilités,' for agrémens;' "négligement,' for négligence;' 'badiner les amours,' for · badiner avec les amours.' There are numberless other affectations of this kind; and if this be continued, the language of Bossuet, of Racine, of Corneille, of Boileau, of Fénélon, will soon be obsolete. Why avoid an expression which is in use, to introduce another which says precisely the same thing? A new word is pardonable only when it is absolutely necessary, intelligible, and sonorous. In physical science we are obliged to make them: a new discovery, a new machine, requires a new word. do we make any new discoveries in the human heart? Is there any other greatness than that of Corneille and Bossuet? Are there any other passions than those which have been delineated by Racine, and sketched by Quinault? Is there any other gospel morality than that of Bourdaloue?
They who charge our language with not being sufficiently copious, must indeed have found sterility somewhere; but it is in themselves. " Rem verba sequuntur.” When an idea is forcibly impressed on the mind,—when a clear and vigorous head is in full possession of its thought,-it issues from the brain, arrayed in suitable expressions, as Minerva came forth in full armour to wait upon Jupiter. In fine, the conclusion from this is, that neither thoughts nor expressions should be far-fetched; and that the art, in all
great works, is to reason well, without entering into too many arguments; to paint well, without striving to paint everything; and to be affecting, without striving constantly' to excite passions. Certes, I am here giving fine counsel. Have I taken it myself? Alas! no:
Pauci quos æquus amavit
Æneid, b. vi. v. 129.
It is a generic word, which always needs another word to determine it; and when we hear it said, “ This is a work of spirit,” or “ He is man of spirit," we have very good reason to ask—“ Spirit of what?" The sublime spirit of Corneille is neither the exact spirit of Boileau, nor the simple spirit of La Fontaine; and the spirit of La Bruyère, which is the art of pourtraying singularity, is not that of Malebranche, which is imaginative and profound.
When a man is said to have a judicious spirit,' the