XLII. LOUIS XIII., RICHELIEU, AND LITERATURE.
Cardinal Richelieu was dead, and "his works followed him," to use the words of Holy Writ. At home and abroad, in France and in Europe, he had to a great extent continued the reign of Henry IV., and had completely cleared the way for that of Louis XIV. "Such was the strength and superiority of his genius that he knew all the depths and all the mysteries of government," said La Bruyere in his admission-speech before the French Academy; "he was regardful of foreign countries, he kept in hand crowned heads, he knew what weight to attach to their alliance; with allies he hedged himself against the enemy. . . . And, can you believe it, gentlemen? this practical and austere soul, formidable to the enemies of the state, inexorable to the factious, overwhelmed in negotiations, occupied at one time in weakening the party of heresy, at another in breaking up a league, and at another in meditating a conquest, found time for literary culture, and was fond of literature and of those who made it their profession!" From inclination and from personal interest therein this indefatigable and powerful mind had courted literature; he had foreseen its nascent power; he had divined in the literary circle he got about him a means of acting upon the whole nation; he had no idea of neglecting them; he did not attempt to subjugate them openly; he brought them near to him and protected them. It is one of Richelieu's triumphs to have founded the French Academy.
We must turn back for a moment and cast a glance at the intellectual condition which prevailed at the issue of the Renaissance and the Reformation.
For sixty years a momentous crisis had been exercising language and literature as well as society in France. They yearned to get out of it. Robust intellectual culture had, ceased to be the privilege of the erudite only; it began to gain a footing on the common domain; people no longer wrote in Latin, like Erasmus; the Reformation and the Renaissance spoke French. In order to suffice for this change, the language was taking form; everybody had lent a hand to the work; Calvin with his Christian Institutes (Institution Chretienne) at the same time as Rabelais with his learned and buffoonish romance, Ramus with his Dialectics, and Bodin with his Republic, Henry Estienne with his essays in French philology, as well as Ronsard and his friends by their classical crusade. Simultaneously with the language there was being created a public intelligent, inquiring, and eager. Scarcely had the translation of Plutarch by Amyot appeared, when it at once became, as Montaigne says, "the breviary of women and of ignoramuses." "God's life, my love," wrote Henry IV. to Mary de' Medici, "you could not have sent me any more agreeable news than of the pleasure you have taken in reading. Plutarch has a smile for me of never-failing freshness; to love him is to love me, for he was during a long while the instructor of my tender age; my good mother, to whom I owe everything, and who set so great store on my good deportment, and did not want me to be (that is what she used to say) an illustrious ignoramus, put that book into my hands, though I was then little more than a child at the breast. It has been like my conscience to me, and has whispered into my ear many good hints and excellent maxims for my behavior and for the government of my affairs."
Thanks to Amyot, Plutarch "had become a Frenchman:" Montaigne would not have been able to read him easily in Greek. Indifferent to the Reformation, which was too severe and too affirmative for him, Montaigne, "to whom Latin had been presented as his mother-tongue," rejoiced in the Renaissance without becoming a slave to it, or intoxicated with it like Rabelais or Ronsard. "The ideas I had naturally formed for myself about man," he says, "I confirmed and fortified by the authority of others and by the sound examples of the ancients, with whom I found my judgment in conformity." Born in 1533, at the castle of Montaigne in Perigord, and carefully brought up by "the good father God had given him," Michael de Montaigne was, in his childhood, "so heavy, lazy, and sleepy, that he could not be roused from sloth, even for the sake of play." He passed several years in the Parliament of Bordeaux, but he had never taken a liking to jurisprudence, though his father had steeped him in it, when quite a child, to his very lips, and he was always asking himself why common language, so easy for every other purpose, becomes obscure and unintelligible in a contract or will, which made him fancy that the men of law had "muddled everything in order to render themselves necessary." He had lost the only man he had ever really loved, Stephen de la Boetie, an amiable and noble philosopher, counsellor in the Parliament of Bordeaux. "If I am pressed to declare why I loved him," Montaigne used to say, "I feel that it can only be expressed by answering, because he was he, and I was I." Montaigne gave up the Parliament, and travelled in Switzerland and Italy, often stopping at Paris, and gladly returning to his castle of Montaigne, where he wrote down what he had seen; "hungering for self-knowledge," inquiring, indolent, without ardor for work, an enemy of all constraint, he was at the same time frank and subtle, gentle, humane, and moderate. As an inquiring spectator, without personal ambition, he had taken for his life's motto, "Who knows? (Que sais-je?)" Amidst the wars of religion he remained without political or religious passion. "I am disgusted by novelty, whatever aspect it may assume, and with good reason," he would say, "for I have seen some very disastrous effects of it." Outside as well as within himself, Montaigne studied mankind without regard to order and without premeditated plan. "I have no drill-sergeant to arrange my pieces (of writing) save hap-hazard only," he writes; "just as my ideas present themselves, I heap them together; sometimes they come rushing in a throng, sometimes they straggle single file. I like to be seen at my natural and ordinary pace, all a-hobble though it be; I let myself go, just as it happens. The parlance I like is a simple and natural parlance, the same on paper as in the mouth, a succulent and a nervous parlance, short and compact, not so much refined and finished to a hair as impetuous and brusque, difficult rather than wearisome, devoid of affectation, irregular, disconnected, and bold, not pedant-like, not preacher-like, not pleader-like." That fixity which Montaigne could not give to his irresolute and doubtful mind he stamped upon the tongue; it came out in his Essays supple, free, and bold; he had made the first decisive step towards the formation of the language, pending the advent of Descartes and the great literature of France.
The sixteenth century began everything, attempted everything; it accomplished and finished nothing; its great men opened the road of the future to France; but they died without having brought their work well through, without foreseeing that it was going to be completed. The Reformation itself did not escape this misappreciation and discouragement of its age; and nowhere do they crop out in a more striking manner than in Montaigne. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Rabelais is a satirist and a cynic, he is no sceptic; there is felt circulating through his book a glowing sap of confidence and hope; fifty years later, Montaigne, on the contrary, expresses, in spite of his happy nature, in vivid, picturesque, exuberant language, only the lassitude of an antiquated age. Henry IV. was still disputing his throne with the League and Spain. Several times, amidst his embarrassments and his wars, the king had manifested his desire to see Montaigne; but the latter was ill, and felt "death nipping him continually in the throat or the reins." And he died, in fact, at his own house, on the 13th of September, 1592, without having had the good fortune to see Henry IV. in peaceable possession of the kingdom which was destined to receive from him, together with stability and peace, a return of generous hope. All the writers of mark in the reign of Henry IV. bear the same imprint; they all yearn to get free from the chaos of those ideas and sentiments which the sixteenth century left still bubbling up. In literature as well as in the state, one and the same need of discipline and unity, one universal thirst for order and peace was bringing together all the intellects and all the forces which were but lately clashing against and hampering one another; in literature, as well as in the state, the impulse, everywhere great and effective, proceeded from the king, without pressure or effort. "Make known to Monsieur de Geneve," said Henry IV. to one of the friends of St. Francis de Sales, "that I desire of him a work to serve as a manual for all persons of the court and the great world, without excepting kings and princes, to fit them for living Christianly each according to their condition. I want this manual to be accurate, judicious, and such as any one can make use of." St. Francis de Sales published, in 1608, the Introduction to a Devout Life, a delightful and charming manual of devotion, more stern and firm in spirit than in form, a true Christian regimen softened by the tact of a delicate and acute intellect, knowing the world and its ways. "The book has surpassed my hope," said Henry IV. The style is as supple, the fancy as rich, as Montaigne's; but scepticism has given place to Christianism; St. Francis de Sales does not doubt, he believes; ingenious and moderate withal, he escapes out of the controversies of the violent and the incertitudes of the sceptics. The step is firm, the march is onward towards the seventeenth century, towards the reign of order, rule, and method.
The vigorous language and the beautiful arrangement in the style of the magistrates had already prepared the way for its advent. Descartes was the first master of it and its great exponent.
Never was any mind more independent in voluntary submission to an inexorable logic. Rene Descartes, who was born at La Haye, near Tours, in 1596, and died at Stockholm in 1650, escaped the influence of Richelieu by the isolation to which he condemned himself, as well as by the proud and somewhat uncouth independence of his character. Engaging as a volunteer, at one and twenty, in the Dutch army, he marched over Germany in the service of several princes, returned to France, where he sold his property, travelled through the whole of Italy, and ended, in 1629, by settling himself in Holland, seeking everywhere solitude and room for his thoughts. "In this great city of Amsterdam, where I am now," he wrote to Balzac, "and where there is not a soul, except myself, that does not follow some commercial pursuit, everybody is so attentive to his gains, that I might live there all my life without being noticed by anybody. I go walking every day amidst the confusion of a great people with as much freedom and quiet as you could do in your forest-alleys, and I pay no more attention to the people who pass before my eyes than I should do to the trees that are in your forests and to the animals that feed there. Even the noise of traffic does not interrupt my reveries any more than would that of some rivulet." Having devoted himself for a long time past to the study of geometry and astronomy, he composed in Holland his Treatise on the World (Traite du Monde). "I had intended to send you my World for your New Year's gift," he wrote to the learned Minime, Father Mersenne, who was his best friend; "but I must tell you that, having had inquiries made, lately, at Leyden and at Amsterdam, whether Galileo's system of the world was to be obtained there, word was sent me that all the copies of it had been burned at Rome, and the author condemned to some fine, which astounded me so mightily that I almost resolved to burn all my papers, or at least not let them be seen by anybody. I confess that if the notion of the earth's motion is false, all the foundations of my philosophy are too, since it is clearly demonstrated by them. It is so connected with all parts of my treatise that I could not detach it without rendering the remainder wholly defective. But as I would not, for anything in the world, that there should proceed from me a discourse in which there was to be found the least word which might be disapproved of by the church, so would I rather suppress it altogether than let it appear mutilated."
Descartes' independence of thought did not tend to revolt, as he had proved: in publishing his Discourse on Method he halted at the threshold of Christianism without laying his hand upon the sanctuary. Making a clean sweep of all he had learned, and tearing himself free, by a supreme effort, from the whole tradition of humanity, he resolved "never to accept anything as true until he recognized it to be clearly so, and not to comprise amongst his opinions anything but what presented itself so clearly and distinctly to his mind that he could have no occasion to hold it in doubt." In this absolute isolation of his mind, without past and without future, Descartes, first of all assured of his own personal existence by that famous axiom, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am), drew from it, as a necessary consequence, the fact of the separate existence of soul and of body; passing oft by a sort of internal revelation which he called innate ideas, he came to the pinnacle of his edifice, concluding for the existence of a God from the notion of the infinite impressed on the human soul. A laborious reconstruction of a primitive and simple truth which the philosopher could not, for a single moment, have banished from his mind all the while that he was laboring painfully to demonstrate it.
By a tacit avowal of the weakness of the human mind, the speculations of Descartes stopped short at death. He had hopes, however, of retarding the moment of it. "I felt myself alive," he said, at forty years of age, "and, examining myself with as much care as if I were a rich old man, I fancied I was even farther from death than I had been in my youth." He had yielded to the entreaties of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had promised him an observatory, like that of Tycho Brahe. He was delicate, and accustomed to follow a regimen adapted to his studies. "O flesh!" he wrote to Gassendi, whose philosophy contradicted his own: "O idea!" answered Gassendi. The climate of Stockholm was severe; Descartes caught inflammation of the lungs; he insisted upon doctoring himself, and died on the 11th of February, 1650. "He didn't want to resist death," said his friends, not admitting that their master's will could be vanquished by death itself. His influence remained for a long while supreme over his age. Bossuet and Fenelon were Cartesians. "I think, therefore I am," wrote Madame de Sevigne to her daughter. "I think of you tenderly, therefore I love you; I think only of you in that manner, therefore I love you only." Pascal alone, though adopting to a certain extent Descartes' form of reasoning, foresaw the excess to which other minds less upright and less firm would push the system of the great philosopher. "I cannot forgive Descartes," he said; "he would have liked, throughout his philosophy, to be able to do without God, but he could not help making Him give just a flick to set the world in motion; after that he didn't know what to do with God." A severe, but a true saying; Descartes had required everything of pure reason; he had felt a foreshadowing of the infinite and the unknown without daring to venture into them. In the name of reason, others have denied the infinite and the unknown. Pascal was wiser and bolder when, with St. Augustine, he found in reason itself a step towards faith. "Reason would never give in if she were not of opinion that there are occasions when she ought to give in."
By his philosophical method, powerful and logical, as well as by the clear, strong, and concise style he made use of to expound it, Descartes accomplished the transition from the sixteenth century to the seventeeth; he was the first of the great prose-writers of that incomparable epoch, which laid forever the foundations of the language. At the same moment the great Corneille was rendering poetry the same service.
It had come out of the sixteenth century more disturbed and less formed than prose; Ronsard and his friends had received it from the hands of Marot, quite young, unsophisticated and undecided; they attempted, at the first effort, to raise it to the level of the great classic models of which their minds were full. The attempt was bold, and the Pleiad did not pretend to consult the taste of the vulgar. "The obscurity of Ronsard," says M. Guizot, in his Corneille et son Temps, "is not that of a subtle mind torturing itself to make something out of nothing; it is the obscurity of a full and a powerful mind, which is embarrassed by its own riches, and has not learned to regulate the use of them. Furnished, by his reading of the ancients, with that which was wanting in our poetry, Ronsard thought he could perceive in his lofty and really poetical imagination what was needed to supply it; he cast his eyes in all directions, with the view of enriching the domain of poetry. 'Thou wilt do well to pick dexterously,' he says, in his abridgment of the art of French poetry, 'and adopt to thy work the most expressive words in the dialects of our own France; there is no need to care whether the vocables are Gascon, or Poitevin, or Norman, or Mancese, or Lyonnese, or of other districts, provided that they are good, and properly express what thou wouldst say.' Ronsard was too bold in extending his conquests over the classical languages; it was that exuberance of ideas, that effervescence of a genius not sufficiently master over its conceptions, which brought down upon him, in after times, the contempt of the writers who, in the seventeenth century, followed, with more wisdom and taste, the road which he had contributed to open. 'He is not,' said Balzac, 'quite a poet; he has the first beginnings and the making of a poet; we see in his works nascent and half-animated portions of a body which is in formation, but which does not care to arrive at completion.'"
This body is that of French poetry; Ronsard traced out its first lineaments, full of elevation, play of fancy, images, and a poetic fire unknown before him. He was the first to comprehend the dignity which befits grand subjects, and which earned him in his day the title of Prince of poets. He lived in stormy times, not much adapted for poetry, and steeped in the most cruel tragedies; he felt deeply the misfortunes of his country rent by civil war, when he wrote,—
There was something pregnant, noble, and brilliant about Ronsard, in spite of his exaggerations of style and faults of taste; his friends and disciples imitated and carried to an extreme his defects, without possessing his talent; the unruliness was such as to call for reform. Peace revived with Henry IV., and the court, henceforth in accord with the nation, resumed that empire over taste, manners, and ideas, which it was destined to exercise so long and so supremely under Louis XIV. Malherbe became the poet of the court, whose business it was to please it, to adopt for it that literature which had but lately been reserved for the feasts of the learned. "He used often to say, and chiefly when he was reproached with not following the meaning of the authors he translated or paraphrased, that he did not dress his meat for cooks, as if he had meant to infer that he cared very little to be praised by the literary folks who understood the books he had translated, provided that he was understood by the court-folks." A complete revolution in the opposite direction to that which Ronsard attempted appeared to have taken place, but the human mind never loses all the ground it has once won; in the verses of Malherbe, often bearing the imprint of beauties borrowed from the ancients, the language preserved, in consequence of the character given to it by Ronsard, a dignity, a richness of style, of which the times of Marot showed no conception; and it was falling, moreover, under the chastening influence of an elegant correctness. It was for the court that Malherbe made verses, "striving," as he said, "to degasconnize it," seeking there his public and the source of honor as well as profit. As passionate an admirer of Richelieu as of Henry IV., naturally devoted to the service of the order established in the state as well as in poetry, he, under the regency of Mary de' Medici, favored the taste which was beginning to show itself for intellectual things, for refined pleasures, and elegant occupations. It was not around the queen that this honorable and agreeable society gathered; it was at the Hotel Rambouillet, around Catherine de Vivonne, in Rue St. Thomas du Louvre. Literature was there represented by Malherbe and Racan, afterwards by Balzac and Voiture, Gombault and Chapelain, who constantly met there, in company with Princess de Conde and her daughter, subsequently Duchess de Longueville, Mademoiselle du Vigean, Madame and Mdlle. d'Epernon, and the Bishop of Lucon himself, quite young as yet, but already famous. "All the wits were received at the Hotel Rambouillet, whatever their condition," says M. Cousin: "all that was asked of them was to have good manners; but the aristocratic tone was established there without any effort, the majority of the guests at the house being very great lords, and the mistress being at one and the same time Rambouillet and Vivonne. The wits were courted and honored, but they did not hold the dominion." At that great period which witnessed the growth of Richelieu's power, and of the action he universally exercised upon French society, at the outcome from the moral licentiousness which Henry IV.'s example had encouraged in his court, and after a certain roughness, the fruit of long civil wars, a lesson was taught at Madame de Rambouillet's of modesty, grace, and lofty politeness, together with the art of forming good ideas and giving them good expression, sometimes with rather too much of far-fetched and affected cleverness, always in good company, and with much sweetness and self-possession on the part of the mistress of the house. In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu, having become minister, sent the Marquis of Rambouillet as ambassador to Spain. He wanted to be repaid for this favor. One of his friends went to call upon Madame de Rambouillet. At the first hint of what was expected from her, "I do not believe that there are any intrigues between Cardinal Valette and the princess," said she, "and, even if there were, I should not be the proper person for the office it is intended to put upon me. Besides, everybody is so convinced of the consideration and friendship I have for his Eminence that nobody would dare to speak ill of him in my presence; I cannot, therefore, ever have an opportunity of rendering him the services you ask of me."
The cardinal did not persist, and remained well disposed towards Hotel Rambouillet. Completely occupied in laying solidly the foundations of his power, in checkmating and punishing conspiracies at court, and in breaking down the party of the Huguenots, he had no leisure just yet to think of literature and the literary. He had, nevertheless, in 1626, begun removing the ruins of the Sorbonne, with a view of reconstructing the buildings on a new plan and at his own expense. He wrote, in 1627, to M. Saintot, "I thank him for the care he has taken of the Sorbonne, begging him to continue it, assuring him that, though I have many expenses on my hands, I am as desirous of continuing to build up that house as of contributing, to the best of my little ability, to pull down the fortifications of La Rochelle." The works were not completely finished at the death of the cardinal, who provided therefor by his will.
At the same time that he was repairing and enriching the Sorbonne, the cardinal was helping Guy de la Brosse, the king's physician, to create the Botanic Gardens (Le Jardin des Plantes), he was defending the independence of the College of France against the pretensions of the University of Paris, and gave it for its Grand Almoner his brother, the Archbishop of Lyons. He was preparing the foundation of the King's Press (Imprimerie royale), definitively created in 1640; and he gave the Academy or King's College (college royal) of his town of Richelieu a regulation-code of studies which bears the imprint of his lofty and strong mind. He prescribed a deep study of the French tongue. "It often happens, unfortunately, that the difficulties which must be surmounted and the long time which is employed in learning the dead languages, before any knowledge of the sciences can be arrived at, have the effect, at the outset, of making young gentlemen disgusted and hasten to betake themselves to the exercise of arms without having been sufficiently instructed in good literature, though it is the fairest ornament of their profession. . . . It has, therefore, been thought necessary to establish a royal academy at which discipline suitable to their condition may be taught them in the French tongue, in order that they may exercise themselves therein, and that even foreigners, who are curious about it, may learn to know its riches and the graces it hath in unfolding the secrets of the highest discipline." Herein is revealed the founder of the French Academy, skilful as he was in divining the wants of his day, and always ready to profit by new means of action, and to make them his own whilst doing them service.
Associations of the literary were not unknown in France; Ronsard and his friends, at first under the name of the brigade and then under that of the Pleiad, often met to read together their joint productions, and to discuss literary questions; and the same thing was done, subsequently, in Malherbe's rooms.
"Now let us speak at our ease," Balzac would say, when the sitting was over, "and without fear of committing solecisms."
When Malherbe was dead and Balzac had retired to his country house on the borders of the Charente, some friends, "men of letters and of merits very much above the average," says Pellisson in his Histoire de l'Academie Francaise, "finding that nothing was more inconvenient in this great city than to go often and often to call upon one another without finding anybody at home, resolved to meet one day in the week at the house of one of them. They used to assemble at M. Conrart's, who happened to be most conveniently quartered for receiving them, and in the very heart of the city (Rue St. Martin). There they conversed familiarly as they would have on an ordinary visit, and upon all sorts of things, business, news, and literature. If any one of the company had a work done, as, often happened, he readily communicated its contents to all the others, who freely gave him their opinion of it, and their conferences were followed sometimes by a walk and sometimes by a collation which they took together. Thus they continued for three or four years, as I have heard many amongst them say; it was an extreme pleasure and an incredible gain, insomuch that, when they speak nowadays of that time and of those early days of the Academy, they speak of it as a golden age during the which, without bustle and without show, and without any other laws but those of friendship, they enjoyed all that is sweetest and most charming in the intercourse of intellects and in rational life."
Even after the intervention and regulationizing of Cardinal Richelieu, the French Academy still preserved something of that sweetness and that polished familiarity in their relations which caused the regrets of its earliest founders. [They were MM. Godeau, afterwards Bishop of Grasse, Conrart and Gombault who were Huguenots, Chapelain, Giry, Habert, Abbe de Cerisy, his brother, M. de Serizay and M. de Maleville.] The secret of the little gatherings was not so well kept but that Bois-Robert, the cardinal's accredited gossip, ever on the alert for news to divert his patron, heard of them and begged before long to be present at them. "There was no probability of his being refused, for, besides that he was on friendly terms with many of these gentlemen, the very favor he enjoyed gave him some sort of authority and added to his consequence. He was full of delight and admiration at what he saw, and did not fail to give the cardinal a favorable account of the little assembly, insomuch that the cardinal, who had a mind naturally inclined towards great things, and who loved the French language, which he himself wrote extremely well, asked if those persons would not be disposed to form a body and assembly regularly and under public authority." Bois-Robert was intrusted with the proposal.
Great was the consternation in the little voluntary and friendly Academy. "There was scarcely one of these gentlemen who did not testify displeasure:" MM. de Serizay and de Maleville, who were attached to the households of the Duke of La Rochefoucauld and Marshal Bassompierre, one in retirement on his estates and the other a prisoner in the Bastille, were for refusing and excusing themselves as best they might to the cardinal. Chapelain, who had a pension from his Eminence, represented that "in good truth he could have been well pleased to dispense with having their conferences thus bruited abroad, but in the position to which things were reduced, it was not open to them to follow the more agreeable of the two courses; they had to do with a man who willed in no half-hearted way whatever he willed, and who was not accustomed to meet resistance or to stiffer it with impunity; he would consider as an insult the disregard shown for his protection, and might visit his resentment upon each individual; he could, at any rate, easily prohibit their assemblies, breaking up by that means a society which every one of them desired to be eternal." The arguments were strong, the members yielded; Bois-Robert was charged to thank his Eminence very humbly for the honor he did them, assuring him that they were all resolved to follow his wishes. "I wish to be of that assembly the protector and the father," said Richelieu, giving at once divers proofs that he took a great interest in that establishment, a fact which soon brought the Academy solicitations from those who were most intimate with the cardinal, and who, being in some sort of repute for wit, gloried in being admitted to a body which he regarded with favor.
In making of this little private gathering a great national institution, Cardinal Richelieu yielded to his natural yearning for government and dominion; he protected literature as a minister and as an admirer; the admirer's inclination was supported by the minister's influence. At the same time, and perhaps without being aware of it, he was giving French literature a centre of discipline and union whilst securing for the independence and dignity of writers a supporting-point which they had hitherto lacked. Whilst recompensing them by favors nearly always conferred in the name of the state, he was preparing for them afar off the means of withdrawing themselves from that private dependence, the yoke of which they nearly always had to bear. Set free at his death from the weight of their obligations to him, they became the servants of the state; ere long the French Academy had no other protector but the king.
Order and rule everywhere accompanied Cardinal Richelieu; the Academy drew up its statutes, chose a director, a chancellor, and a perpetual secretary: Conrart was the first to be called to that honor; the number of Academicians was set down at forty by letters patent from the king. "As soon as God had called us to the conduct of this realm, we had for aim, not only to apply a remedy to the disorders which the civil wars had introduced into it, but also to enrich it with all ornaments suitable for the most illustrious and the most ancient of the monarchies that are at this day in the world. Although we have labored without ceasing at the execution of this design, it hath been impossible for us hitherto to see the entire fulfilment thereof. The disturbances so often excited in the greater part of our provinces, and the assistance we have been obliged to give to many of our allies, have diverted us from any other thought but that of war, and have hindered us for a long while from enjoying the repose we procured for others. . . . Our very clear and very much beloved cousin, the cardinal-duke of Richelieu, who hath had the part that everybody knows in all these things, hath represented to us that one of the most glorious signs of the happiness of a kingdom was that the sciences and arts should flourish there, and that letters should be in honor there as well as arms; that, after having performed so many memorable exploits, we had nothing further to do but to add agreeable things to the necessary, and ornament to utility; and he was of opinion that we could not begin better than with the most noble of all the arts, which is eloquence; that the French tongue, which up to the present hath only too keenly felt the neglect of those who might have rendered it the most perfect of the day, is more than ever capable of becoming so, seeing the number of persons who have knowledge of the advantages it possesses; it is to establish fixed rules for it that he hath ordained an assembly whose propositions were satisfactory to him. For these reasons and in order to secure the said conferences, we will that they continue henceforth, in our good city of Paris, under the name of French Academy, and that letters patent be enregistered to that end by our gentry of the Parliament of Paris."
The Parliament was not disposed to fulfil the formality of enregistration. The cardinal had compressed it, stifled it, but he had never mastered it; the Academy was a new institution, it was regarded as his work; on that ground it inspired great distrust in the public as well as the magistrates. "The people, to whom everything that came from this minister looked suspicious, knew not whether beneath these flowers there were not a serpent concealed, and were apprehensive that this establishment was, at the very least, a new prop to support is domination, that it was but a batch of folks in his pay, hired to maintain all that he did and to observe the actions and sentiments of others. It went about that he cut down scavenging expenses of Paris by eighty thousand livres in order to give them a pension of two thousand livres apiece; the vulgar were so frightened, without attempting to account for their terror, that a tradesman of Paris, who had taken a house that suited him admirably in Rue Cinq Diamants, where the Academy then used to meet at M. Chapelain's, broke off his bargain on no other ground but that he did not want to be in a street where a 'Cademy of Conspirators (une Cademie e Manopoleurs) met every week." The wits, like St. Evremond, in his comedy of the Academistes, turned into ridicule the body which, as it was said, claimed to subject the language of the public to its decisions:—
said Maynard, who, nevertheless, was one of the forty.
The letters patent for establishment of the French Academy had been sent to the Parliament in 1635; they were not registered until 1637 at the express instance of the cardinal, who wrote to the premier President to assure him that "the foundation of the Academy was useful and necessary to the public, and the purpose of the Academicians was quite different from what it had been possible to make people believe hitherto."
The decree of verification, when it at length appeared, bore traces of the jealous prejudices of the Parliament. "They the said assembly and academy," it ran, "shall not be powered to take cognizance of anything but the ornamentation, embellishment, and augmentation of the French language, and of the books that shall be made by them and by other persons who shall desire it and want it."
The French Academy was founded; it was already commencing its Dictionary in accordance with the suggestion enunciated by Chapelain at the second meeting; the cardinal was here carrying out that great moral idea of literature which he had expressed but lately in a letter to Balzac: "The conceptions in your letters," said he, "are forcible and as far removed from ordinary imaginations as they are in conformity with the common sense of those who have superior judgment. Truth has this advantage, that it forces those who have eyes and mind sufficiently clear to discern what it is to represent it without disguise." Neither Balzac and his friends, nor the protection of Cardinal Richelieu, sufficed as yet to give lustre to the Academy; great minds and great writers alone could make the glory of their society. The principle of the association of men of letters was, however, established: men of the world, friendly to literature, were already preparing to mingle with them; the literary, but lately servitors of the great, had henceforth at their disposal a privilege envied and sought after by courtiers; their independence grew by it and their dignity gained by it. The French Academy became an institution, and took its place amongst the glories of France. It had this piece of good fortune, that Cardinal Richelieu died without being able to carry out the project he had conceived. He had intended to open on the site of the horse-market, near Porte St. Honore and behind the Palais-Cardinal, "a great Place which he would have called Ducale in imitation of the Royale, which is at the other end of the city," says Pellisson; he had placed in the hands of M. de la Mesnardiere, a memorandum drawn up by himself for the plan of a college "which he was meditating for all the noble sciences, and in which he designed to employ all that was most telling for the cause of literature in Europe. He had an idea of making the members of the Academy directors and as it were arbiters of this great establishment, and aspired, with a feeling worthy of the immortality with which he was so much in love, to set up the French Academy there in the most distinguished position in the world, and to offer an honorable and pleasant repose to all persons of that class who had deserved it by their labors." It was a noble and a liberal idea, worthy of the great mind which had conceived it; but it would have stifled the fertile germ of independence and liberty which he had unconsciously buried in the womb of the French Academy. Pensioned and barracked, the Academicians would have remained men of letters, shut off from society and the world. The Academy grew up alone, favored indeed, but never reduced to servitude; it alone has withstood the cruel shocks which have for so long a time agitated France; in a country where nothing lasts, it has lasted, with its traditions, its primitive statutes, its reminiscences, its respect for the past. It has preserved its courteous and modest dignity, its habits of polite neutrality, the suavity and equality of the relations between its members. It was said just now that Richelieu's work no longer existed save in history, and that revolutions have left him nothing but his glory; but that was a mistake: the French Academy is still standing, stronger and freer than at its birth, and it was founded by Richelieu, and has never forgotten him.
Amongst the earliest members of the Academy the cardinal had placed his most habitual and most intimate literary servants, Bois-Robert, Desmarets, Colletet, all writers for the theatre, employed by Richelieu in his own dramatic attempts. Theatrical representations were the only pleasure the minister enjoyed, in accord with the public of his day. He had everywhere encouraged this taste, supporting with marked favor Hardy and the Theatre Parisien. With his mind constantly exercised by the wants of the government, he soon sought in the theatre a means of acting upon the masses. He had already foreseen the power of the press; he had laid hands on Doctor Renaudot's Gazette de France; King Louis XIII. often wrote articles in it; the manuscript exists in the National Library, with some corrections which appear to be Richelieu's. As for the theatre, the cardinal aspired to try his own hand at the work; his literary labors were nearly all political pieces; his tragedy of Mirame, to which he attached so much value, and which he had represented at such great expense for the opening of his theatre in the Palais-Cardinal, is nothing but one continual allusion, often bold even to insolence, to Buckingham's feelings towards Anne of Austria. The comedy, in heroic style, of Europe, which appeared in the name of Desmarets, after the cardinal's death, is a political allegory touching the condition of the world. Francion and Ibere contend together for the favors of Europe, not without, at the same time, paying court to the Princess Austrasia (Lorraine). All the cardinal's foreign policy, his alliances with Protestants, are there described in verses which do not lack a certain force: Germanique (the emperor) pleads the cause of Ibere with Europe:—
 Bernard of Saxe-Weimar.  Prince of Orange.  The Hollanders.
Already, in Mirame, Richelieu had celebrated the fall of Rochelle and of the Huguenot party, bringing upon the scene the King of Bithynia, who is taking arms
As epigraph to Europe there were these lines:—
The enemies of France did not wait for the comedy, in heroic style, of Europe in order to frequently say ill of Cardinal Richelieu.
Occupied as he was in governing the affairs of France and of Europe otherwise than in verse, the cardinal chose out work-fellows; there were five of them, to whom he gave his ideas and the plan of his piece; he intrusted to each the duty of writing an act, and "by this means finished a comedy a month," says Pellisson. Thus was composed the comedy of the Tuileries and the Aveugle de Smyrne, which were printed in 1638; Richelieu had likewise taken part in the composition of the Visionnaires of Desmarets, and supported in a rather remarkable scene the rule of the three unities against its detractors. A new comedy, the Grande Pastorale, was in hand. "When he was purposing to publish it," says the History of the Academy, "he desired M. Chapelain to look over it, and make careful observations upon it. These observations were brought to him by M. de Bois-Robert, and, though they were written with much discretion and respect, they shocked and nettled him to such a degree, either by their number or by the consciousness they caused him of his faults, that, without reading them through, he tore them up. But on the following night, when he was in bed, and all his household asleep, having thought over the anger he had shown, be did a thing incomparably more estimable than the best comedy in the world, that is to say, he listened to reason, for he gave orders to collect and glue together the pieces of that torn paper, and, having read it from one end to the other, and given great thought to it, he sent and awakened M. de Bois-Robert to tell him that he saw quite well that the gentlemen of the Academy were better informed about such matters than he, and that there must be nothing more said about that paper and print."
The cardinal ended by permitting the liberties taken in literary matters by Chapelain and even Colletet. His courtiers were complimenting him about some success or other obtained by the king's arms, saying that nothing could withstand his Eminence. "You are mistaken," he answered, laughing; "and I find even in Paris persons who withstand me. There's Colletet, who, after having fought with me yesterday over a word, does not give in yet; look at this long letter that he has just written me!" He counted, at any rate, in the number of his five work-fellows one mind too independent to be subservient for long to the ideas and wishes of another, though it were Cardinal Richelieu and the premier minister. In conjunction with Colletet, Bois-Robert, De l'Etoile, and Rotrou, Peter Corneille worked at his Eminence's tragedies and comedies. He handled according to his fancy the act intrusted to him, with so much freedom that the cardinal was shocked, and said that he lacked, in his opinion, "the follower-spirit" (l'esprit de suite). Corneille did not appeal from this judgment; he quietly took the road to Rouen, leaving henceforth to his four work-fellows the glory of putting into form the ideas of the all-powerful minister; he worked alone, for his own hand, for the glory of France and of the human mind.
Peter Corneille, born at Rouen on the 6th of June, 1606, in a family of lawyers, had been destined for the bar from his infancy; he was a briefless barrister; his father had purchased him two government posts, but his heart was otherwise set than "on jurisprudence;" in 1635, when he quietly renounced the honor of writing for the cardinal, Corneille had already had several comedies played. He himself said of the first, Melite, which he wrote at three and twenty, "It was my first attempt, and it has no pretence of being according to the rules, for I did not know then that there were any. I had for guide nothing but a little common sense, together with the models of the late Hardy, whose vein was rather fertile than polished." "The comedies of Corneille had met with success; praised as he was by his competitors in the career of the theatre, he was as yet, in their eyes, but one of the supports of that literary glory which was common to them all. Tranquil in their possession of bad taste, they were far from foreseeing the revolution which was about to overthrow its sway and their own." [Corneille et son Temps, by M. Guizot.]
Corneille made his first appearance in tragedy, in 1633, with a Medee. "Here are verses which proclaim Corneille," said Voltaire:—
They proclaimed tragedy; it had appeared at last to Corneille; its features, roughly sketched, were nevertheless recognizable. He was already studying Spanish with an old friend of his family, and was working at the Cid, when he brought out his Illusion Comique, a mediocre piece, Corneille's last sacrifice to the taste of his day. Towards the end of the year 1636, the Cid was played for the first time at Paris. There was a burst of enthusiasm forthwith. "I wish you were here," wrote the celebrated comedian Mondory to Balzac, on the 18th of January, 1637, "to enjoy amongst other pleasures that of the beautiful comedies that are being played, and especially a Cid who has charmed all Paris. So beautiful is he that he has smitten with love all the most virtuous ladies, whose passion has many times blazed out in the public theatre. Seated in a body on the benches of the boxes have been seen those who are commonly seen only in gilded chamber and on the seat with the fleurs-de-lis. So great has been the throng at our doors, and our place has turned out so small, that the corners of the theatre, which served at other times as niches for the pageboys, have been given as a favor to blue ribbons, and the scene has been embellished, ordinarily, with the crosses of knights of the order." "It is difficult," says Pellisson, "to imagine with what approbation this piece was received by court and people." It was impossible to tire of seeing it, nothing else was talked of in company; everybody knew some portion by heart; it was taught to children, and in many parts of France it had passed into a proverb to say, "Beautiful as the Cid." Criticism itself was silenced for a while; carried along in the general twirl, bewildered by its success, the rivals of Corneille appeared to join the throng of his admirers; but they soon recovered their breath, and their first sign of life was an effort of resistance to the torrent which threatened to carry them away; with the exception of Rotrou, who was worthy to comprehend and enjoy Corneille, the revolt was unanimous. The malcontents and the envious had found in Richelieu an eager and a powerful auxiliary.
Many attempts have been made to fathom the causes of the cardinal's animosity to the Cid. It was a Spanish piece, and represented in a favorable light the traditional enemies of France and of Richelieu; it was all in honor of the duel which the cardinal had prosecuted with such rigorous justice; it depicted a king simple, patriarchal, genial in the exercise of his power, contrary to all the views cherished by the minister touching royal majesty; all these reasons might have contributed to his wrath, but there was something more personal and petty in its bitterness. In tacit disdain for the work that had been entrusted to him, Corneille had abandoned Richelieu's pieces; he had retired to Rouen; far away from the court, he had only his successes to set against the perfidious insinuations of his rivals. The triumph of the Cid seemed to the resentful spirit of a neglected and irritated patron a sort of insult. Therewith was mingled a certain shade of author's jealousy. Richelieu saw in the fame of Corneille the success of a rebel. Egged on by base and malicious influences, he attempted to crush him as he had crushed the house of Austria and the Huguenots.
The cabal of bad taste enlisted to a man in this new war. Scudery was standard-bearer; astounded that such fantastic beauties should have seduced knowledge as well as ignorance, and the court as well as the cit, and conjuring decent folks to suspend judgment for a while, and not condemn without a hearing Sophonisbe, Cesar, Cleopdtre, Hercule, Marianne, Cleomedon, and so many other illustrious heroes who had charmed them on the stage. Corneille might have been satisfied; his adversaries themselves recognized his great popularity and success.
A singular mixture of haughtiness and timidity, of vigorous imagination and simplicity of judgment! It was by his triumphs that Corneille had become informed of his talents; but, when once aware, he had accepted the conviction thereof as that of those truths which one does not arrive at by one's self absolutely, without explanation, without modification.
"Let him rise on the wings of composition," said La Bruyere, "and he is not below Augustus, Pompey, Nicodemus, Sertorius; he is a king and a great king; he is a politician, he is a philosopher." Modest and bashful in what concerns himself, when it has nothing to do with his works and his talents, Corneille, who does not disdain to receive a pension from Cardinal Richelieu, or, in writing to Scudery, to call him "your master and mine," becomes quite another creature when he defends his genius:
The contest was becoming fierce and bitter; much was written for and against the Cid; the public remained faithful to it; the cardinal determined to submit it to the judgment of the Academy, thus exacting from that body an act of complaisance towards himself as well as an act of independence and authority in the teeth of predominant opinion. At his instigation, Scudery wrote to the Academy to make them the judges in the dispute. "The cardinal's desire was plain to see," says Pellisson; "but the most judicious amongst that body testified a great deal of repugnance to this design. They said that the Academy, which was only in its cradle, ought not to incur odium by a judgment which might perhaps displease both parties, and which could not fail to cause umbrage to one at least, that is to say, to a great part of France; that they were scarcely tolerated, from the mere fancy which prevailed that they pretended to some authority over the French tongue; what would be the case if they proved to have exercised it in respect of a work which had pleased the majority and won the approbation of the people? M. Corneille did not ask for this judgment, and, by the statutes of the Academy, they could only sit in judgment upon a work with the consent and at the entreaty of the author." Corneille did not facilitate the task of the Academicians: he excused himself modestly, protesting that such occupation was not worthy of such a body, that a mere piece (un libelle) did not deserve their judgment. . . . "At length, under pressure from M. de Bois-Robert, who gave him pretty plainly to understand what was his master's desire, this answer slipped from him: 'The gentlemen of the Academy can do as they please; since you write me word that my Lord would like to see their judgment, and it would divert his Eminence, I have nothing further to say.'"
These expressions were taken as a formal consent, and as the Academy still excused themselves, "Let those gentlemen know," said the cardinal at last, "that I desire it, and that I shall love them as they love me."
There was nothing for it but to obey. Whilst Bois-Robert was amusing his master by representing before him a parody of the Cid, played by his lackeys and scullions, the Academy was at work drawing up their Sentiments respecting the Cid.
Thrice submitted to the cardinal, who thrice sent it back with some strong remarks appended, the judgment of the Academicians did not succeed in satisfying the minister. "What was wanted was the complaisance of submission, what was obtained was only that of gratitude." "I know quite well," says Pellisson, "that his Eminence would have wished to have the Cid more roughly handled, if he had not been adroitly made to understand that a judge must not speak like a party to a suit, and that in proportion as he showed passion, he would lose authority."
Balzac, still in retirement at his country-place, made no mistake as to the state of mind either in the Academy or in the world when he wrote to Scudery, who had sent him his Observations sur le Cid, "Reflect, sir, that all France takes sides with M. Corneille, and that there is not one, perhaps, of the judges with whom it is rumored that you have come to an agreement, who has not praised that which you desire him to condemn; so that, though your arguments were incontrovertible and your adversary should acquiesce therein, he would still have the wherewith to give himself glorious consolation for the loss of his case, and be able to tell you that it is something more to have delighted a whole kingdom than to have written a piece according to regulation. This being so, I doubt not that the gentlemen of the Academy will find themselves much hampered in delivering a judgment on your case, and that, on the one hand, your arguments will stagger them, whilst, on the other, the public approbation will keep them in check. You have the best of it in the closet; he has the advantage on the stage. If the Cid be guilty, it is of a crime which has met with reward; if he be punished, it will be after having triumphed; if Plato must banish him from his republic, he must crown him with flowers whilst banishing him, and not treat him worse than he formerly treated Homer."
The Sentiments de l'Academie at last saw the light in the month of December, 1637, and as Chapelain had foreseen, they did not completely satisfy either the cardinal or Scudery, in spite of the thanks which the latter considered himself bound to express to that body, or Corneille, who testified bitter displeasure. "The Academy proceeds against me with so much violence, and employs so supreme an authority to close my mouth, that all the satisfaction I have is to think that this famous production, at which so many fine intellects have been working for six months, may no doubt be esteemed the opinion of the French Academy, but will probably not be the opinion of the rest of Paris. I wrote the Cid for my diversion and that of decent folks who like Comedy. All the favor that the opinion of the Academy can hope for is to make as much way; at any rate, I have had my account settled before them, and I am not at all sure that they can wait for theirs."
Corneille did not care to carry his resentment higher than the Academy. At the end of December, 1637, when writing to Bois-Robert a letter of thanks for getting him his pension, which he calls "the liberalities of my Lord," he adds, "As you advise me not to reply to the Sentiments de l'Academie, seeing what personages are concerned therein, there is no need of interpreters to understand that; I am somewhat more of this world than Heliodorus was, who preferred to lose his bishopric rather than his book; and I prefer my master's good graces to all the reputations on earth. I shall be mum, then, not from disdain, but from respect."
The great Corneille made no further defence he had become a servitor again; but the public, less docile, persisted in their opinion.
said Boileau subsequently.
The dispute was ended, and, in spite of the judgment of the Academy, the cardinal did not come out of it victorious; his anger, however, had ceased: the Duchess of Aiguillon, his niece, accepted the dedication of the Cid; when Horace appeared, in 1639, the dedicatory epistle, addressed to the cardinal, proved that Corneille read his works to him beforehand; the cabal appeared for a while on the point of making head again. "Horace, condemned by the decemvirs, was acquitted by the people," said Corneille. The same year Cinna came to give the finishing touch to the reputation of the great poet:—
Corneille had withdrawn to the obscurity which suited the simplicity of his habits; the cardinal, it was said, had helped him to get married; he had no longer to defend his works, their fame was amply sufficient. "Henceforth Corneille walks freely by himself and in the strength of his own powers; the circle of his ideas grows larger, his style grows loftier and stronger, together with his thoughts, and purer, perhaps, without his dreaming of it; a more correct, a more precise expression comes to him, evoked by greater clearness in idea, greater fixity of sentiment; genius, with the mastery of means, seeks new outlets. Corneille writes Polyeucte." [Corneille et son Temps, by M. Guizot.]
It was a second revolution accomplished for the upsetting of received ideas, at a time when paganism was to such an extent master of the theatre that, in the midst of an allegory of the seventeenth century, alluding to Gustavus Adolphus and the wars of religion, Richelieu and Desmarets, in the heroic comedy of Europe, dared not mention the name of God save in the plural. Corneille read his piece at the Hotel Rambouillet. "It was applauded to the extent demanded by propriety and the reputation already achieved by the author," says Fontenelle; "but some days afterwards, M. de Voiture went to call upon M. Corneille, and took a very delicate way of telling him that Polyeucte had not been so successful as he supposed, that the Christianism had been extremely displeasing." "The story is," adds Voltaire, "that all the Hotel Rambouillet, and especially the Bishop of Vence, Godeau, condemned the attempt of Polyeucte to overthrow idols." Corneille, in alarm, would have withdrawn the piece from the hands of the comedians who were learning it, and he only left it on the assurance of one of the comedians, who did not play in it because he was too bad an actor. Posterity has justified the poor comedian against the Hotel Rambouillet; amongst so many of Corneille's masterpieces it has ever given a place apart to Polyeucte; neither the Saint-Genest of Rotrou, nor the Zaire of Voltaire, in spite of their various beauties, have dethroned Polyeucte; in fame as well as in date it remains the first of the few pieces in which Christianism appeared, to gain applause, upon the French classic stage.
Richelieu was no longer there to lay his commands upon the court and upon the world: he was dead, without having been forgiven by Corneille:—
The great literary movement of the seventeenth century had begun; it had no longer any need of a protector; it was destined to grow up alone during twenty years, amidst troubles at home and wars abroad, to flourish all at once, with incomparable splendor, under the reign and around the throne of Louis XIV. Cardinal Richelieu, however, had the honor of protecting its birth; he had taken personal pleasure in it; he had comprehended its importance and beauty; he had desired to serve it whilst taking the direction of it. Let us end, as we began, with the judgment of La Bruyere: "Compare yourselves, if you dare, with the great Richelieu, you men devoted to fortune, you who say that you know nothing, that you have read nothing, that you will read nothing. Learn that Cardinal Richelieu did know, did read; I say not that he had no estrangement from men of letters, but that he loved them, caressed them, favored them, that he contrived privileges for them, that he appointed pensions for them, that he united them in a celebrated body, and that he made of them the French Academy."
The Academy, the Sorbonne, the Botanic Gardens (Jardin des Plantes), the King's Press have endured; the theatre has grown and been enriched by many masterpieces, the press has become the most dreaded of powers; all the new forces that Richelieu created or foresaw have become developed without him, frequently in opposition to him and to the work of his whole life; his name has remained connected with the commencement of all these wonders, beneficial or disastrous, which he had grasped and presaged, in a future happily concealed from his ken.