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academy, however, persevered in fulminating their censures, greatly to the advantage of Corneille: for the more rancorous and calumnious that body was, the more resolute and active were all other men to defend and do him justice. On this occasion Corneille elegantly remarked that it was but just his piece should meet the same fate as the person who was the subject of it: “ Horatius," added he, “ was condemned by the duumvirs, but absolved by the " people.”
The fecundity of Corneille's muse, considering the very superior excellence of her productions, is perfectly marvellous: for while yet the public were loud in their applause of the Horace, nay, while they were hot in pursuit of it, he brought out his tragedy of CINNA, which many think the best of all his productions. In truth, any reader of taste will find it difficult to confess that there exists to this day, in the French language, any drama superior to it. The cold sentence of the closet critic on a dramatic production, though no doubt intitled to its share of consideration, vanishes when opposed to the decision of the heart and public feelings on its representation. Of the extraordinary effect of the Cinna, two instances are mentioned, which would be sufficient to confirm its claim to immortality; and those have been recorded only because they related to the very highest and most illustrious personages; but it is fair to conclude, that there were multitudes who were as feelingly interested, and, if they had been exposed at the time to similar circumstances, would have shown it as openly as those great personages did. One of them was Lewis the Fourteenth-the other, the great Conde.
The chevalier De Rohan was lying under sentence of death for conspiring against the state, and Lewis had obstinately resisted every application made in his behalf,-nay, refused to listen to the solicitations of the m powerful persons, or even of those who were most important to his concerns, and most dear to his heart. The night preceding the day appointed for the chevalier's execu. tion, the king went to the representation of Cinna, and was so forcibly struck by many of the passages, and particularly by that speech of Augustus in the fifth act, in which he so eloquently :ongratulates himself on having obtained a conquest over his pasions, that though, from pride, or some other consideration, he rerained from voluntarily issuing an immediate revocation of the entence, he afterwards frequently declared, that if at that moment
he had been solicited to save the life of De Rohan, he could not have refused to do it.
The other instance is that of the great Condé who, at the age twenty years, was so deeply affected by the Cinna that he wept heartily in spite of him. This being related to Lewis, struck him as a most fortunate prognostic, and a certain presage of that prince's future good conduct and greatness.
The next year (1640) the muse of Corneille had another child named POLIEUCTE, which had like to have perished in the birth. The history of this piece is singular. Corneille sent it to the theatre to be perused and approved by the actors. Though it holds equal rank with the Cinna in the opinions of a large portion of the critical world, and by not a few is deemed superior, the actors thought it not worth performing, and refused it. It happened that one of them, who was intrusted by the rest to return it to Corneille, took it into his head to take another loose glance at it as he walked up and down his chamber; and meeting a passage in it which to his over-delicate taste was so offensive and so greatly discomposed his temper that he dashed it out of his hand, throwing it in such a direction that, by mere accident, it fell upon the tester of his bed, and he thought no more of it or at least he did not think it worth his while to give himself any further trouble about it, and there left it. For a considerable time no one knew what had become of poor Polieucte, till about eighteen months after, when an upholsterer, being employed to take down the bed, found the manuscript, and thus rescued one of the most beautiful productions of the human mind from oblivion.
Corneille, being in his heart persuaded that the play was deserving of a very different fate from that which the actors assigned to it, and from which it had so miraculously escaped, resolved to press forward the representation of it; and, to that end, read the piece to a body which then constituted the most learned, ingenious, and liberal tribunal over all literary controversies existing in France, and which met at the hotel de Rambouillet. Out of regard to the feelings of a person whose exalted merit deserved the greatest respect, the members applauded the piece in the presence of Corneille; but on his departure, committed it in charge to M. de Voiture to inform Corneille, in the most delicate manner possible, that Polieucte was not viewed by that body with that encouraging warmth that might be expected; and that there were some passages in it, those espe
cially which touched upon religion, that displeased them. Coming forth under such unpromising auspices, who could have imagined that this production, thus censured for its freedom with religion, was to be the play which would first open the eyes of the French public to the respectability of dramatic entertainments, CONSIDERED IN A MORAL LIGHT; and thus rejected by the actors, was to be that which, by occasioning players to be viewed with a respect and consideration they never experienced before, would induce them to deserve it by a complete amendment of their moral conduct.
Upon the discouraging representation of Voiture, the modesty of Corneille impelled him to withdraw his piece from the stage; but he was at length prevailed upon to leave it in the hands of the actors; with strict injunctions however on his part, and a promise on that of one of the performers, that it should not be acted. Whether they were privately instigated by some friend of Corneille’s of superior judgment to the rest, or imagined it would be beneficial to the theatre, and, whatever he might pretend, pleasing to him, the actors fortunately violated their promise, and Polieucte was performed in public.
That night made an era in the art of acting in France.--In Polieucte' there is a scene touching religion, the awfulness of which struck the principal performer with a persuasion that it demanded a solemnity in the execution not practised on the stage, and indeed that it required a total departure from the usual extravagance and frivolity of scenic representation. It is in the fourth act. SEVERUS being smitten with the conviction of the unity of God, makes known to Fabian his doubts respecting the polytheistical tenets of the pagans. In conveying these sentiments, BELLEROSE, a celebrated actor, who performed the part of Severus, had the ingenuity and the discretion to depart from his accustomed mode of action and delivery; and instead of it assumed such an air and tone of simple solemnity, so natural a demeanor, and such good sense, that the people who, in all their lives before, had never seen any thing but almost frantic extravagance and unnatural bombast, were struck with wonder and delight, and, for the first time, found their eyes opened to the true delineation of nature on the stage. Out of respect to religion, Bellerose was averse to the introduction in any way of a subject so sacred on the mimic scene: but it being determined to act the play, he undertook the part with emotions of reverential awe, and exerted himself to make it as solemn and impressive as
possible. The play was in consequence greatly admired. The public approbation of the sentiments it contained was extended to the actors, who were from that time treated with a respect which had never before belonged to them; and were so raised in estimation that the next year the following arret was made in their favour.
“ In case the said comedians regulate the action of their per“ formances so as to be entirely free from impurity, we will that “ their exhibitions—as by this means they will innocently amuse “ the public,-be considered as void of blame and reproach; and also, that their occupation shall not be pleaded as an impediment
to the exercise of business, or connexion in public commerce." From which arret it appears, that the members of that profession had before laboured under very severe disqualifications.
One would imagine that the composing of three such tragedies as Horace, Cinna and Polieucte, within two years, would have exhausted any mind, however affluent; and yet early in the next year (1641) we find Corneille producing another tragedy, Pompee, not at all inferior to the other three.
As it is impossible to speak of Corneille fairly, without being tempted to speak in censure of Richelieu, we will separate the subjects as soon as we can, and get rid of the cardinal with the best grace possible, by stating, that in the year 1642, in the course of which our poet brought out his best comedy, Le Menteur, his eminence went to another, and we hope a better, world, precisely at that crisis when the fame of the object of his hatred had reached its meridian.
The character of this extraordinary man may have its use: it may serve to mortify the pride of rank and power, and warn men against the pernicious fatuity of grasping at objects which nature and circumstances have placed out of their reach. In his instance, the pitiful ambition of excelling in poetry not only misled the car. dinal's understanding, but corrupted his heart. So voracious was his appetite for fame as well as power, that while he thought nothing above his attainment, there were few things too low for his emulation; and the end being once proposed, he seemed no ways scrupulous about the means. To Richelieu the character which queen Catherine, in Shakspeare's Henry the Eighth, gives of cardinal "Volsey, is in many points applicable
Yet thus far, Griffith, give me leave to speak of him,
Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking
But his performance, -as he is now,-nothing. So omnivorous was Richelieu's vanity that, while he completely governed France, was scourging the house of Austria, and ruling the politics of Europe at will, and to that end employed himself in promoting mischief and exciting national commotions, the same exorbitant restlessness and turbulence of passion extended itself to the theatre, the academy, and every establishment in France connected with poetry and literature, and inflamed them also to intestine commotions. Though without any reasonable pretensions to emulation with Corneille, he set up as his rival, and was thrown into greater trepidation by the Cid than he would have been if the hostile military powers of Europe, and the malcontents of France, were armed at the gates of Paris. What a load of misery must this man have brought down upon himself by this perverted ambition, if it be true, as no doubt it is, what Fontenelle says, that, after the Cid, “ Corneille became more elevated in Horace,--still more in “Cinna--and still more in Polieucte,-beyond which nothing could « reach?" Yet as it is ordained that every evil shall have its concomitant good, this preposterous passion of the cardinal, while it degraded him, advanced the drama. Every writer, who had talents sufficient to flatter himself that he had more, fell to work with earnestness, if not to reach the goal of fame, at least to obtain the cardinal's patronage and good will, while those who were most eminent for talents strained every nerve in emulation of each other: the consequence of which was, that the drama and the French stage were, during his eminence's time, raised to the greatest elevation they ever attained.
As to Corneille himself, whatever mortification his feelings may have endured, his productions were no doubt benefited and his fame enhanced by the cardinal's malicious efforts to injure them. For it is the nature of all men, except the very worst, to favour those who are the innocent objects of oppression: yet no sooner was the cardinal taken off than Corneille's muse assumed a higher station;