Moliere wrote many new plays and farces, but his days were fast drawing to a close. He was overworked, and took little care of his health. The king asked him one day what he did with his doctor. “We converse together,” he replied—“he writes prescriptions, which I do not take, and I recover.” He had a weak chest, and a constant cough.
About this time his friends persuaded him to invite his wife again to his house, and she urged him to a more generous diet, but he grew the worse for it. He now brought out a new play, and could not be prevented from taking a prominent part in it. On the fourth night he was much worse, and friends gathered around him, beseeching him not to go on the stage longer. He replied, “There are fifty poor workmen whose bread depends on the daily receipts. I should reproach myself if I deprived them of it.” But while making others laugh, he was actually dying. He was, while in the ballet, seized with a fit of coughing, and burst a blood-vessel. A priest was sent for, but such was their antipathy to the comedian, that it was long before one could be found willing to attend him. He expired with but few friends around him. Two sisters of charity whom he had been in the habit of receiving in his house while they were collecting alms during Lent, remembered his generosity, and attended his death-bed.
The archbishop of Paris refused the rites of burial to the body. His wife was much moved by this act, and exclaimed, “What! refuse burial to one who deserves that altars should be erected to him!” She ran to the king, who being offended by some indiscretion of hers, refused to interfere in the matter, though he privately ordered the archbishop to take off the interdiction. When the funeral took place, a mob of low people, excited by their priestly advisers, attended, intending to offer insult to the body, but the comedian’s widow propitiated them by throwing a thousand francs among them. We see by this shameful treatment of a man whom France honored, and who, though not irreproachable in character, was as pure as those who persecuted him.
Moliere was almost universally honored—always excepting those bodies which he had ridiculed. He was very generous, and would, long before his death, have given up acting on the stage, were it not for his companions whose subsistence depended upon his appearance with them.
Very many years after, the eulogy of Moliere was made the subject of a prize; and when it was delivered, two persons by the name of Poguelin were honored by a seat on the stage.
At his death the band of comedians was broken up. His widow received a pension, in after years, of one thousand livres. But one of his children survived, and that one had no issue—so the race soon became extinct.