An Italian secretary of the queen counseled him to this course, and advised him to read the “Cid” of de Castro, with an idea of making it a subject for a drama. Corneille followed his advice, and produced a tragedy which roused all France to enthusiasm. Paris was one prolonged storm of applause, and when one praised an object, he said “It is fine as the Cid!” The play was translated into the different languages of all the civilized nations. Fontenelle says: “I knew two men, a soldier and a mathematician, who had never heard of any other play that had ever been written, but the name of Cid had penetrated even the barbarous state in which they lived.”
The dramatist had enemies—no man can quickly achieve renown without making them—and some of them were exceedingly bitter in their attacks upon him. Richelieu, the cardinal, was excessively annoyed that the man he had reprimanded should have achieved success, and the French Academy of Criticism, which was deeply under his influence, after discussions decided somewhat against “The Cid.” This suited the cardinal, but the poet kept a wise silence, making no reply.
The next effort of Corneille was that resulting in the tragedy of “Horace,” which was a master-piece, and was received with unbounded applause. He surpassed this effort, however, in his next piece, called “Cinna.” After this—which many consider his best drama—came “Polyeceute", a beautiful piece. In it the Christian virtues are illustrated, and when read before a conclave of learned men, they deputied Voiture to the poet, to induce him, if possible, to withdraw it, for the christianity in it the people would not endure. But the play went to the people without amendment, and so beautiful was its character, and so delightful the acting, that it carried away the hearts of the listeners.
Corneille now tried again to write comedy, but did not succeed so well as in tragedy. He triumphed, however, over a rival, and that to him was something, though the play is an inferior one. From this time the poet wrote no better, but in truth worse and worse. He did not fail to write beautiful scenes, but failed in selecting good subjects. He established himself in Paris, and could do so with comfort, for the king bestowed a pension upon him. Before this he had resided at Rouen, running up to Paris quite often. In 1642 he was elected a member of the French Academy. He was never a courtier, and was not fitted to shine in gay Parisian circles. His tastes were very simple, and he was in his manners like a rustic. To see him in a drawing-room you would not think the man a genius, nor even a bright specimen of his kind. Some of his friends remonstrated with him, and tried to rouse him from his sluggishness in society. He always replied, “I am not the less Pierre Corneille.”
La Bruyere says of him, “He is simple and timid; tiresome in conversation—using one word for another—he knows not how to recite his own verses.” It is strange that he came to Paris, for he loved the country better, and many attribute the remove to his brother, who was also winning success as a dramatist.