« AnteriorContinuar »
ment, no one appears to have calculated of Voltaire ; and if Hobbes, Shaftesthe explosive force which would be de- bury, and Bolingbroke, furnished veloped when these barriers were re- hints for the Essai sur les Moeurs, moved, or the singe-tigre aspect under or the Age of Louis XIV., the obligawhich the human character, left to the tion was more than repaid by the. guidance of its own wild impulses, breadth of views, the lucid arrangement, would present itself. The votaries of the the artful union ofreflexion with narranew philosophy flattered themselves, tive, the skill in character drawing, and that self-interest, rightly understood, the elegance of composition, which the was a sufficient guarantee for the con- study of French models imparted to tinued peace and happiness of society; the histories of Hume, Robertson, that as philosophy had raised the Gibbon, and Ferguson. The influence storm, she could always allay it at plea- of the French drama, again, over our sure ; and that henceforth all mankind
own, during the period which
ranges were to be united under the peaceful from the commencement of the reign sway of the Goddess of Reason. No of Anne down to the close of that of one had foreseen the tempests which George II., appears in the declining were to close the day, of which the taste for the older writers, the comparamorning had appeared so bright and tive unpopularity even of Shakspeare promising ; nor, perhaps, could even himself, whom Garrick or Tate were à deeper forecast have enabled any allowed to mutilate, not merely with one to conjecture that opinions, many impunity but with applause, and the of which appeared so innocent, if growth of that so-called classic school, not beneficent in their application, in which Addison, Thomson, Young, would result in the general corruption Phillips, and Murphy, weré labour. of society, the subversion of all order, the school of Roman fathers the developement of a spirit of fero- and Grecian daughters, and discity, which the incessant employment tressed mothers and rival brothers, of the guillotine was unable to satiate most of them avowed translations, without the aid of the more wholesale or slenderly disguised imitations of massacre of the Noyades, and the ex. Racine and Voltaire ; in which the citement of a bloody war of opinions, want of simplicity and natural feelcarried on under the revolutionary ing was retained, while the tender, watchword— Fraternity or Death. ness or dramatic point of the original “ L'aimable siecle où l'homme dit à disappeared in the process of transla. l'homme,
tion. The other departments of poetry Soyons frères, ou je t'assomme!” * were not less unfavourably affected by But to whatever causes we are to
French influence: for the return to a impute the supremacy of French litere less artificial taste in Thomson was ature in Europe during the whole not followed out-wit, correctness, or of the eighteenth century, its universal a certain stilted and pseudo-classic diffusion and powerful influence in tone continued to be the qualities aimed all quarters are incontestable. If the at; and the accents of nature, once so spirit of bold speculation in morals powerful in English poetry, like the and political science, which had been successive reverberations of an echo, so characteristic of the French liter- grew fainter and fainter, till they şunk ature of this period, had received its into silence. first impulse from England, it soon If we turn to Italy, we trace the reacted, with no common energy,
ideas of Montesquieu and Voltaire, upon the literature of our own country. nay, even of Helvetius, in the political Against the irreligious doctrines of the or moral speculations of Beccaria, French school, though advocated with Genovesi, Verri, and Filangieri. The all the subtilty of Hume and the reverence, indeed, with which Beccalearning of Gibbon, a noble and effec- ria speaks of Helvetius and Holbach, tual stand was made, and sophistry appears at the present day not a little refuted with those very weapons of unaccountable. We see the principle reasoning, and appeals to common of social, political, and even religi. sense, which it had been the first to ous reform disseminated through the invoke. But our school of philoso- press, from Milan to Naples, phical historians was undoubtedly licenza de superiori"_encouraged by called into existence by the example absolute princes, and if not favoured,
Le Brun Pindare,
at least not discountenanced, even by pomanes, and Florida Blanca, both in the possessors of the chair of St Peter; its errors and in the advantages it and France subduing to her opinions conferred on Spain, may be traced to the countries which she was at no dis. 'those theories of national education tant period to subject by her arms. In and reform of political institutions, the literature of Italy, too, the same to which the agitation of opinions in powerful influences are perceptible. France had given birth; and thus Though Maffei criticised severely some Spain, with a singular contradiction, of the works of Corneille, his Merope borrowed from that quarter at once (the best of the Italian tragedies be. the principles of political liberty and fore Alfieri) is composed entirely in of poetical restraint. the taste of the French school. Gol. Nearly the same state of things may doni is, in his whole spirit, essentially be traced in Portugal under the reign French-latterly, indeed, he wrote for of Joseph I. and the sombre administhe French stage; and Alfieri, while tration of Pombal; who, filled with the hating the French nation, adopts the ideas of French philosophy, advocated conventional limitations of its drama, with a species of fanatical intolerance with a rigour which even French cri- the doctrines of toleration, labouring, tics themselves had hardly exacted. pot to direct or restrain, but to subvert
Even Spain, with all its strong na- the power of the Jesuits, and to force tionality, yields to the general infec. upon the nation, by the unsparing use tion, and submits its chivalrous drama of arbitrary and oppressive means, the and its oriental tastes, to the restraint Utopian schemes of improvement which of the rules and the studied decorum that philosophy had inspired. of French dramatic verse. During the In Germany, while the opinions of 18th century that romantic theatre, the French philosophers, so far as reso truly in unison with the national garded religious indifference and exspirit, which Lope had created to periments in government, found enwhich the highest perfection of which thusiastic converts in Frederick the its irregular character was susceptible, Great and Joseph II., and powerfully had been given by Calderon, and affected the policy of these sovereigns, which, by the brilliant facility of its the influence of French literature was poetry, the picturesque and stately far less felt. Frederick, imitating character of the manners represented, the sneer of Voltaire, was content to and the deep interest and curiosity wish his countrymen more wit and which its plots awakened, had for a fewer consonants; while he praclong time influenced the dramatic liter- tically laboured to decry and disa ature of all Europe, and strongly countenance his native literature and coloured that of France itself, as the his native language. But, even under
Cid and Heraclius of Corneille, and his military despotism, he could not Moliere's Festin de Pierre sufficiently render French literature “the order show, was abandoned for lifeless imita- of the day ;' his attempts to naturalize tions of the French drama, constructed it in Prussia, only created a reaction on those principles of criticism which , which hastened the developement of Luzan had borrowed, partly from the that varied and inventive native literPoetics of Aristotle, partly from the ature which adorned in Germany the prefaces of Corneille and Voltaire, until close of the 18th century and the coma feeble, and indeed unsuccessful, rally 'mencement of the 19th. was made in 1778, in favour of the older
“ Von dem grossten Deutschen sohne, drama by La Huerta in his Raquel. Von des grossen Friedrichs throne, Even the political innovations of the Ging sie schutzlos, ungeehrt. French philosophers found a favour Rühmend darfs der Deutsche sagen, able reception at the Court of Charles Höher darf das herz ihm schlagen, III., and the policy of Aranda, Cam- Selbst erschuf er sich den werth."*
Schiller.Die Deutsche Muse.
Unhonour'd from his throne ;
He form'd himself alone.
Traces of French influence are visi- self,) engaging in an interchange of ble in Lessing, whose deistical views flatteries with Voltaire, talking of were undoubtedly derived from Vol. liberating the serfs of Russia, and taire, Diderot, and the Encyclope- actually transmitting to Paris a copy dists ; and in many of the second-rate of a grand code of laws for the Tar. German writers of the time, the imi. tars and Cossacks, which she had not tation of the polish and coldness of the most distant intention of ever car. the French models is sufficiently per. rying into effect. In the case of Ca. ceptible, But one
man only, of tharine, this pretended zeal for tolerasuperior ability as a classic writer, tion and political liberty was probably was completely formed in the school partly sincere, partly affected, as a of the French. We refer to Wie- blind to cover her ambitious designs land, whom the influence of Vol. against Poland and Turkey, and to taire and the other sceptical philoso- secure the quiet enjoyment of a real phers of France, suddenly converted despotism while pretending an anxious for a time from a religious mystic into desire for the emancipation and imthe apologist of the Helvetian system provement of her subjects. The same of selfishness--the painter of voluptu- adoption of French philosophy and lious pictures thescandalous chronicler terature (and probably with more sin. of antiquity--the imitator of that irony cerity) as the reigning tone of the day, which pervades the lighter poetry appears in the writings of the weak of Voltaire, which throws disbelief or and unfortunate Gustavus III. of Swe. ridicule on all enthusiastic feeling, and den. To throw aside the native lan. all exertions of human virtue - but guage, and the remains of its early who lived long enough to become a literature, as relics of barbarism ; to sadder and a wiser man, and to make obliterate the traces of the homely and a tardy atonement to those virtuous simple manners of old, as far as that sentiments which he had outraged or was possible; and to convert the court depreciated, by his beautiful poem of of Sweden into a miniature represenOberon.
tation of that óf France, with all its If the ascendency of France was vices, intrigues, and some portion of thus felt in countries where science its external varnish of elegance-were had long flourished, where literature objects after which he appears to have had long assumed a settled and na- laboured with more energy than distional form, and which had outstrip. cretion. And in truth he had his reped even France itself in the earlier ward: for, to the profligacy engenstages of the march of civilisation, it dered by his own example, and the may easily be conceived that the great principles he had laboured to populastates of the North, still struggling rize, he probably owed the blow which with comparative barbarism of man. terminated his existence. ners, and with a literature which yet Most extensive and imposing, then, remained to be created, should readily was the influence of French literature yield to the general contagion. France, on other countries from 1750 to the accordingly, was the source from which close of the eighteenth century. “The Russia, Denmark, and Sweden, in the works of the French writers," says eighteenth century, borrowed refine- Villemain, “and particularly the work ment of manvers and the impulse of of Montesquieu, a genius combining scientific and social improvement. boldness with moderation, issuing from Such civilisation and literature as Rus. Paris, became the reason of state' sia possessed, were in truth entirely with most sovereigns, or at least the French. We see the Semiramis of public official reason of state. The the North, as she was styled by Vol. ancient Machiavelism, no doubt, retaire (with a nearer approach to truth mained as a concealed spring-as a than was generally to be found in his secret of the cabinet ; but what was compliments to crowned heads), crea avowed, what was proclaimed to the ting academies on the French model, people, were the ideas of tolerance adopting the language and the man- and humanity, professed by Montesners of the court of France, affecting quieu and Voltaire. Voltaire, the the character of a philosophic monarch, most popular of writers, whose protranslating Belisarius, (the chapters of fundity is concealed under his power which she portioned out among her of pleasing, whose audacity is masked court favourites, reserving what she by frivolity, exercised the more extendconsidered the most striking to her. ed influence over the elevated ranks of
society in all countries of Europe. from first to last, with more than orThe authority of Montesquieu purified dinary plausibility and address. the ostensible policy of the govern
The character of Louis XV. was ill ments.'
calculated to sustain the sinking dig. But while the energies which France nity of the crown. Without the had awakened by her literature con- energy of his predecessor, who sintinued to work thus powerfully, both cerely wished to elevate France, so far for good and evil, among the other as that could be done without lowergovernments of Europe, that litera. ing the royal authority; without the ture itself had ceased to display the strength of mind which Louis XIV. vigour of maturity, and to those who conspicuously developed in misforlooked beneath the surface, wore an tune; indifferent to glory and to the appearance of exhaustion and decay. arts, sunk in sensual pleasures, a prey In fact, influences peculiarly calcu. to the intrigues and the favouritism lated to lower the tone of national mo. of successive mistresses; he saw the rality, and to paralyse the creative foundations of the monarchy, and of powers of the imagination, had been society itself, undermined in all direc. at work during the very period when tions with unconsciousness or indiffer. France presented so imposing an aspect to other nations, and, in litera. The church, the best bulwark of the ture as well as manners, seemed to monarchy, had ceased to be the depogive laws to the world.
sitory of the highest genius and virIn every class of society, and in every tue. The age of Louis XIV. had ininstitution, from the throne to the herited that great secret by which humblest department of literature, the the Papal power had so long supportprogress of decline may be detected. ed the dignity of its hierarchy—that Louis XIV. succeeding to a throne to of making ecclesiastical promotion the which the policy of Richelieu, in reward of merit, independently of birth crushing the power of the nobles, had or interest. France could not have lent a stability and authority hitherto furnished names of more exalted abiunknown, had invested it with grace lity or purer character thau Bossuet, as well as dignity, by surrounding it Fenélon, Massillon, and Fléchier. The in the days of his youth with the com- latter had commenced his humble bined lustre of arts and arms. His career in the shop of a candlemaker : patronage of literature, though in be closed it in the Episcopal chair of some measure resulting from the mere Nismes. vanity of making even genius subser- This principle of honest and imparvient to the splendour of the crown, was tial selection, which had conferred on also unquestionably to some extent the church the authority and influence sincere. To his steady protection, resulting from the combination of geMoliere was indebted for the discom- nius, learning, and character, was soon fiture of more than one court intrigue abandoned under the short-sighted and against him.
“ Remember,” he used selfish policy of Louis XV. Rank, influto say to Boileau, “ I shall always ence, interest at court, the graces of have half an hour at your service.” manner, subserviency to the interests The glories of that literature to which of the reigning favourite, sometimes he had lent his patronage, indeed de- even the production of compositions scended to his successor; but the earlier discreditable to any one, and doubly triumphs of arms had been tarnished by so to a minister of the church, belater reverses,
till the very memory of came the passports to promotion. The those sieges which Boileau has pomp- natural result was, that the pulpit soon ously praised in the most prosaic of ceased to be illustrated by any superior odes, had been effaced by the disasters talent ; the impressive or affecting of Ramilies and Blenheim, which Ad- eloquence of Bossuet and Fénélon was dison has commemorated in strains succeeded by the dry moral discusscarcely more poetical than those of sions or academic theology of the his rival. On the whole, however, Abbé Poulle or the Père Neuville Louis had not merely sustained but “ The hungry sheep looked up and raised the character and reputation of were not fed ;" and thus one of the France: and if there was want of true chief pillars on which the monarchy nobleness and simplicity in his charac. should have rested in the hour of ter, he must be admitted to have at least need, was itself crumbling to its fall. played the part of a dignified monarch Nor could the character and in
fluence of the other great bulwark of dicial cruelty worthy of the darkest monarchical power, the nobility,supply times, and against which the feelings that support to the throne which the of Europe, now rendered particularly church was no longer in a condition sensitive on the subject of torture by to afford; for they too had survived the philanthropic maxims which were their greatness. In drawing them from every where abroad, most powerfully their ancestral castles and their mili- revolted. tary governments in the provinces, Something might perhaps have been where each had been a little monarch done to infuse fresh vigour into the among his vassals, dispensing patron. exhausted condition of French society, age and diffusing industry, to domesti- had the administration of affairs been cate them as dependents of a court, and guided by any man of commanding appendages to the splendour of the talent, able to perceive the consequen. throne, Louis XIV. had deprived them ces to which these corruptions and this of their real authority and influence on confusion were tending, and deteropinion. They themselves, now accus. mined to meet them by vigorous and tomed to court the smiles of a mo- unsparing remedies "vincentem strenarch, or even a mistress, and to em- pitus et natum rebus agendis." But ploy the crooked arts of intrigue in the ministry of Choiseul was a miniorder to distance each other in the race stry of expedients : he pursued no of royal favour, had lost that self- great or regular plan either of foreign respect, that confidence in their own policy internal administration ; he rights and importance, in which the thought only of meeting the daily existrength of such a privileged body gency, evading the immediate difficul. resides. And the transition from the ty, escaping the most pressing danger. want of honourable employment and 66 We see him," says Villemain, noble emulation to the adoption of all struggling with rebellious materials the vices of the court, was but too which would not yield to his hạnd; easy, where the church no longer forming a thousand projects : now - ventured to speak the language of striving to arrest the progress of the authoritative rebuke,
Empress, now of the King of Prussia; " And the prince of all the land
trying to prop up the ancient colossus Led them on.”
of Turkey, which was already medi.
tating his fall; and, in the midst of his The judicial bodies which in the ear- diplomatic ambition, hurled from power lier days of French history had played by the most scandalous of palace inso all-important a part, and either de trigues ; at the same time that the termined or influenced every change to parliaments, which, in spite of their which the monarchy had been subject. prejudices, were becoming too powered, had also shared in a great degree ful for an expiring government, were the fall of the nobility. The engross- suppressed by a coup d'etat' of the ing power of the crown under Louis chancellor Maupeau. XIV. had humbled the parliaments. Amidst this general progress toThey had become little more than in. wards decay, the state of literature struments for registering the edicts and and of literary men presented nothing giving the appearance of a judicial sance which was of a more cheering and tion to the mandates of the sovereign, elevated character. At first, literature The show of independence eviuced had been upheld by that very fanatiby their first step after the death of cism in favour of change, which, opeLouis XIV., that of annulling his tes. rating as an animating principle, gave tament, was followed up by no cor. to its productions warmth and an air responding act of firmness. Occupied of reality. The infidel philosophy of with miserable theological disputes, France, by which all existing opinions sometimes combating the Molinists, and institutions were assailed, was in. sometimes the philosophers, the par- deed the only portion of its literature liaments, who had become Jansenists which at this time wore any thing like through mere batred to the Jesuits, were the stamp of conviction, or an appearno longer influenced or guided by any ance of power. For the instinct of degreat interest, social or political." In struction in some degree supplied, for decision in all cases marked their con, a time, the want of that ancient inspiduct; while in some instances, as in ration derived from faith and reve. the celebrated case of La Barre, they rence for authority; and the number seemed to have sanctioned acts of ju- and strength of the forces “ that durst