This was the man who, in the years that followed him, ruled, as it were, the intellect of Paris and France. He was a mighty man, and the fact that he was bitterly persecuted, gave him a hold upon the sympathies of succeeding generations. The conduct of the church toward him was shameful, and he made the sad mistake of rejecting all religion, the true as well as the false.
His plays and writings abound with shocking sentiments, and some of his writings are exceedingly coarse. These scoffs, coming from an ordinary man, would have wrought little harm; but from the great Voltaire, who was worshiped by the French people, they possessed an astonishing power to work iniquity. A New Englander can scarcely credit his senses in Paris when he finds the estimation in which Voltaire and his writings are held by a vast class of the most intelligent Parisians. In religious America he is regarded as a monster of iniquity; in France as a great poet, philosopher, and advocate of human liberty.
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The place where Moliere, the great comic writer of France, lived in Paris, was pointed out to me one day while near the Rue St. Honore; and I have often noticed on one of the prominent streets a very neat monument to the memory of the great man. It is a niche, with two Corinthian columns, surmounted by a half-circular pediment, which is richly ornamented. A statue of Moliere is placed in the niche in a sitting posture, and in a meditative mood. In front of the columns on each side, there are allegorical figures—one representing his serious, the other his comic plays. Each bears a scroll which contains—one, his comic plays, arranged in chronological order; and the other, his serious plays, arranged in like manner. The basement is beautifully sculptured. The inscriptions are as follows: “A. Moliere. Ne a Paris, le 15 Jauvier, 1622, et mort a Paris, le 17 Fevrier, 1673.” The monument is over fifty feet in height, and cost one hundred and sixty-eight thousand francs. It was erected in 1844, with a great deal of attendant ceremony when it was finished.
Moliere is one of the names of which France is justly proud, and in Paris his memory is half-worshiped. Not to know him well, would be in the eyes of a Parisian the sure sign of intolerable stupidity. He was the greatest comic writer of France, and perhaps of the world. It will not be out of place, therefore, to give a slight sketch of his life.
The real name of Moliere was Jean Baptiste Poguelin, and he was born in a little house in the Rue St. Honore, in the year 1622. His father was a carpet-furnisher to the king, and he was brought up to the same business by his father. His mother died when he was only ten years old, and his father was left with a large family of children to educate. The boy passed his early days in his father’s warehouse, but his grandfather was accustomed to take him often to the play-house, where he listened to some of the great Corneille’s plays, to his thorough delight. Thus in his youth, even while a mere boy, the taste for the drama was created. His father at one time remonstrated with the old man for taking the boy thus early to the theater, and asked, “Do you mean to make an actor of him?”