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In the seventy years that elapsed between the death of Montaigne and the accession to power of Louis XIV the tendencies in French literature were fluctuating and uncertain. It was a period of change, of hesitation, of retrogression even; and yet, below these doubtful, conflicting movements, a great new development was germinating, slowly, surely, and almost unobserved.
The break in the Renaissance movement was largely the result of political causes. The stability and peace which seemed to be so firmly established by the brilliant monarchy of Francis I vanished with the terrible outbreak of the Wars of Religion.
For about sixty years, with a few intermissions, the nation was a prey to the horrors of civil strife. And when at last order was restored under the powerful rule of Cardinal Richelieu, and the art of writing began to be once more assiduously practised, the fresh rich glory of the Renaissance spirit had irrevocably passed away.
His object was to purify the French tongue; to make it--even at the cost of diminishing its flavour and narrowing its range--strong, supple, accurate and correct; to create a language which, though it might be incapable of expressing the fervours of personal passion or the airy fancies of dreamers, would be a perfect instrument for the enunciation of noble truths and fine imaginations, in forms at once simple, splendid and sincere.
Malherbe's importance lies rather in his influence than in his actual work. Some of his Odes--among which his great address to Louis XIII on the rebellion of La Rochelle deserves the highest place--are admirable examples of a restrained, measured and weighty rhetoric, moving to the music not of individual emotion, but of a generalized feeling for the beauty and grandeur of high thoughts.
He was essentially an oratorical poet; but unfortunately the only forms of verse ready to his hand were lyrical forms; so that his genius never found a full scope for its powers. Thus his precept outweighs his example.
His poetical theories found their full justification only in the work of his greater and more fortunate successors; and the masters of the age of Louis XIV looked back to Malherbe as the intellectual father of their race.
Malherbe's immediate influence, however, was very limited. Upon the generation of writers that followed him, his doctrines of sobriety and simplicity made no impression whatever.
Their tastes lay in an entirely different direction. For now, in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, there set in, with an extreme and sudden violence, a fashion for every kind of literary contortion, affectation and trick.
The value of a poet was measured by his capacity for turning a somersault in verse--for constructing ingenious word-puzzles with which to express exaggerated sentiments; and no prose-writer was worth looking at who could not drag a complicated, ramifying simile through half a dozen pages at least.
These artificialities lacked the saving grace of those of the Renaissance writers--their abounding vigour and their inventive skill. They were cold-blooded artificialities, evolved elaborately, simply for their own sake. The new school, with its twisted conceits and its super-subtle elegances, came to be known as the 'Precious' school, and it is under that name that the satire of subsequent writers has handed it down to the laughter of after-generations.
Yet a perspicacious eye might have seen even in these absurd and tasteless productions the signs of a progressive movement--the possibility, at least, of a true advance. For the contortions of the 'Precious' writers were less the result of their inability to write well than of their desperate efforts to do so.
They were trying, as hard as they could, to wriggle themselves into a beautiful pose; and, naturally enough, they were unsuccessful.
They were, in short, too self-conscious; but it was in this very self-consciousness that the real hope for the future lay. In two directions particularly this new self-consciousness showed itself.
How far the existence of the Academy has influenced French literature, either for good or for evil, is an extremely dubious question. It was formed for the purpose of giving fixity and correctness to the language, of preserving a high standard of literary taste, and of creating an authoritative centre from which the ablest men of letters of the day should radiate their influence over the country.
To a great extent these ends have been attained; but they have been accompanied by corresponding drawbacks. Such an institution must necessarily be a conservative one; and it is possible that the value of the Academy as a centre of purity and taste has been at least balanced by the extreme reluctance which it has always shown to countenance any of those forms of audacity and change without which no literature can be saved from petrifaction.
All through its history the Academy has been timid and out of date. The result has been that some of the very greatest of French writers--including Moliere, Diderot, and Flaubert--have remained outside it; while all the most fruitful developments in French literary theory have come about only after a bitter and desperate resistance on its part.
On the whole, perhaps the most important function performed by the Academy has been a more indirect one. The mere existence of a body of writers officially recognized by the authorities of the State has undoubtedly given a peculiar prestige to the profession of letters in France.
It has emphasized that tendency to take the art of writing seriously--to regard it as a fit object for the most conscientious craftsmanship and deliberate care--which is so characteristic of French writers. The amateur is very rare in French literature--as rare as he is common in our own.
How many of the greatest English writers have denied that they were men of letters! When Congreve begged Voltaire not to talk of literature, but to regard him merely as an English gentleman, the French writer, who, in all his multifarious activities, never forgot for a moment that he was first and foremost a follower of the profession of letters, was overcome with astonishment and disgust.
The difference is typical of the attitude of the two nations towards literature: Whatever view we may take of the ultimate influence of the French Academy, there can be no doubt at all that one of its first actions was singularly inauspicious.
Under the guidance of Cardinal Richelieu it delivered a futile attack upon the one writer who stood out head and shoulders above his contemporaries, and whose works bore all the marks of unmistakable genius--the great CORNEILLE.20 The Chess-Players.
[July, he acted with the spirit of the hero. Thus he was prepared for every kind of opposition, as well from the criticisms of the learn- ed, . Anglo-Saxon verse at its best has grandeur, mystery, force, a certain kind of pathos.
But it is almost entirely devoid of sweetness, of all the lighter artistic attractions, of power to represent other than religious passion, of adaptability to the varied uses of lyric. A summary of Motifs in George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Learn exactly what happened in this chapter, scene, or section of Animal Farm and what it means. Perfect for acing essays, tests, and quizzes, as well as for writing lesson plans. The History of the Byzantine Jews explores the Jewish microcosmos in Byzantium.
Under the Romans, Jews enjoyed the privileges of knighthood and nobility. Although these luxuries were significantly diminished under Theodosius II- whose wife, Eudoxia, was a judaizing Empress- and the Codex Justinianus, they remained a powerful entity in Byzantium.
Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. The old chronicles of Robert de Clari and Villehardouin show us something of the minds of the French dupes. was Michel de Montaigne, the inventor of the essay form and the founder of the modern French ideology He refused any compromise, any relaxation, any tolerance.
But this intransigence, which gives him a somber grandeur, also led.