It had been well if after this Corneille had been content to write no more plays, for everyone he now produced only proved that his genius had decayed. The old cunning was gone. A young rival sprung up, the graceful Racine, and for awhile the old favorite was forgotten, or laughed at.
Racine took a line from one of his pieces and used it in such a manner as to excite laughter. Corneille said: “It ill becomes a young man to make game of other people’s verses.” Unfortunately he was tempted into a duel with Racine. The latter triumphed as a writer for the time, and Corneille stopped his pen, as he should have done a long time before. But often he had the pleasure of seeing some of his best pieces enacted upon the stage, and they always excited great enthusiasm. He also knew that the refined and critical loved his best plays—the better the more they read them.
The conduct of the poet through his whole life was, in the main, such as to excite great admiration in after generations. He was no sycophant in that age of fawning courtiers. He was simple and manly. He was always melancholy and cared little for the vanities of life. Though poor in early life, he cared but little about money. The king gave him a pension of two thousand francs, which at that time was a good income. He was generous and died utterly poor. One evening when age had bowed his form he entered a Paris theater. The great Conde was present, and prince and people as one man rose in honor of the great dramatist. He died in his seventy-ninth year, and Racine pronounced a high eulogy upon him, before the academy. Such was its beauty that the king caused it to be recited before him. In it he extolled the genius of the man who had at one time been his rival, and he taught his children to revere his memory.
In France, much more in Paris, the name of Corneille is to-day half sacred. The house he lived and died in has many visitors, and to his tomb many a pilgrim comes. And it is not strange that Parisians adore him, for he was the father of comedy as well as tragedy. It was his plays that caused the erection of commodious theaters. His plays have continued to hold their place in the affections of the nation, and he is reverenced more to-day than he was while living. The foreigner cannot understand fully the character of modern French dramatists, and that of their works, without knowing something of Corneille, nor can he wander long among the streets of Paris, without becoming aware of the estimation in which he is held at the present time by the intelligent classes.
THE GREAT JESTER
Rabelais was born in 1483. He was a learned scholar, a physician, and a philosopher. He was called “the great jester of France,” by Lord Bacon. Many buffooneries are ascribed to him unjustly, and he was a greater man than certain modern writers make him out to be.