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Landmarks in French Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 149 pages of information about Landmarks in French Literature.

For this reason, doubtless, no writer has ever been so gushed over as Montaigne; and no writer, we may be sure, would be so horrified as he at such a treatment.  Indeed, the adulation of his worshippers has perhaps somewhat obscured the real position that he fills in literature.  It is impossible to deny that, both as a writer and as a thinker, he has faults—­and grave ones.  His style, with all its delightful abundance, its inimitable ease, and its pleasant flavour of antiquity, yet lacks form; he did not possess the supreme mastery of language which alone can lead to the creation of great works of literary art.  His scepticism is not important as a contribution to philosophical thought, for his mind was devoid both of the method and of the force necessary for the pursuit and discovery of really significant intellectual truths.  To claim for him such titles of distinction is to overshoot the mark, and to distract attention from his true eminence.  Montaigne was neither a great artist nor a great philosopher; he was not great at all.  He was a charming, admirable human being, with the most engaging gift for conversing endlessly and confidentially through the medium of the printed page ever possessed by any man before or after him.  Even in his self-revelations he is not profound.  How superficial, how insignificant his rambling ingenuous outspokenness appears beside the tremendous introspections of Rousseau!  He was probably a better man than Rousseau; he was certainly a more delightful one; but he was far less interesting.  It was in the gentle, personal, everyday things of life that his nature triumphed.  Here and there in his Essays, this simple goodness wells up clear and pure; and in the wonderful pages on Friendship, one sees, in all its charm and all its sweetness, that beautiful humanity which is the inward essence of Montaigne.

CHAPTER III

THE AGE OF TRANSITION

In the seventy years that elapsed between the death of Montaigne (1592) 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.  From one point of view, indeed, this age may be considered the most important in the whole history of the literature, since it prepared the way for the most splendid and characteristic efflorescence in prose and poetry that France has ever known; without it, there would have been no Grand Siecle. In fact, it was during this age that the conception was gradually evolved which determined the lines upon which all French literature in the future was to advance.  It can hardly be doubted that if the fertile and varied Renaissance movement, which had given birth to the Pleiade, to Rabelais, and to Montaigne, had

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