Landmarks in French Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 183 pages of information about Landmarks in French Literature.
done, Monsieur le Comte,’ he bursts out at last to his master, ’to deserve all these advantages?—­I know. Vous vous etes donne la peine de naitre!’ In that sentence one can hear—­far off, but distinct—­the flash and snap of the guillotine.  To those happy listeners, though, no such sound was audible.  Their speculations went another way.  All was roseate, all was charming as the coaches dashed through the narrow streets of Paris, carrying their finely-powdered ladies and gentlemen, in silks and jewels, to the assemblies of the night.  Within, the candles sparkled, and the diamonds, and the eyes of the company, sitting round in gilded delicate chairs.  And then there was supper, and the Marquise was witty, and the Comte was sententious, while yet newer vistas opened of yet happier worlds, dancing on endlessly through the floods of conversation and champagne.



The French Revolution was like a bomb, to the making of which every liberal thinker and writer of the eighteenth century had lent a hand, and which, when it exploded, destroyed its creators.  After the smoke had rolled away, it became clear that the old regime, with its despotisms and its persecutions, had indeed been abolished for ever; but the spirit of the Philosophes had vanished likewise.  Men’s minds underwent a great reaction.  The traditions of the last two centuries were violently broken.  In literature, particularly, it seemed as if the very foundations of the art must be laid anew; and, in this task, if men looked at all for inspiration from the Past, it was towards that age which differed most from the age of their fathers—­towards those distant times before the Renaissance, when the medieval Church reigned supreme in Europe.

But before examining these new developments more closely, one glance must be given at a writer whose qualities had singularly little to do with his surroundings.  ANDRE CHENIER passed the active years of his short life in the thick of the revolutionary ferment, and he was guillotined at the age of thirty-two; but his most characteristic poems might have been composed in some magic island, far from the haunts of men, and untouched by ‘the rumour of periods’.  He is the only French writer of the eighteenth century in whom the pure and undiluted spirit of poetry is manifest.  For this reason, perhaps, he has often been acclaimed as the forerunner of the great Romantic outburst of a generation later; but, in reality, to give him such a title is to misjudge the whole value of his work.  For he is essentially a classic; with a purity, a restraint, a measured and accomplished art which would have delighted Boileau, and which brings him into close kinship with Racine and La Fontaine.  If his metrical technique is somewhat looser than the former poet’s, it is infinitely less loose than the latter’s; and his occasional departures

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Landmarks in French Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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