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seau, La Fontaine, and Molière lately published. The last of these, which forms the subject of our Article, is a compilation of all that has ever been recorded of the life of Molière ; made up without any great expense of original reflection ; and without any other novelty of material, than the occasional transcript from a parish register. Most of its contents, indeed, are to be found scattered over the notes and prefaces of M. Bret's popular edition of the French Dramatist. It is executed, however, in an agreeable manner, and has the merit of examining with more accuracy, than has been hitherto done, certain doubtful points in his biography; and of assembling together, in a convenient form, what has before been diffused over a great variety of surface. But however familiar most of these particulars may be to the countrymen of Molière (by far the greatest comic genius in his own nation, and, in
very many respects, inferior to none in any other), they are not so current elsewhere, as to lead us to imagine that some account of his life and literary labors would be altogether unacceptable to our readers.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Molière), was born in Paris, January 15, 1622. His father was an upholsterer, as his grandfather had been before him ; and the young Poquelin was destined to exercise the same hereditary craft; to which indeed he served an apprenticeship until the age of fourteen. In this determination his father was confirmed by the office, which he had obtained for himself, in connexion with his original vocation, of valet de chambre to the king, with the promise of a reversion of it to his son, on his own decease. The youth accordingly received only such a meagre elementary education, as was usual with the artisans of that day. But a secret consciousness of his own powers convinced him, that he was destined by nature for higher purposes, than that of quilting sofas and hanging tapestry. His occasional presence at the theatrical representations of the Hôtel de Bourgogne is said also to have awakened in his mind, at this period, a passion for the drama. He therefore solicited his father to assist him in obtaining more liberal instruction; and when the latter at length yielded to the repeated entreaties of his son, it was with the reluctance of one, who imagines that he is spoiling a good mechanic in order to make a poor scholar. He was accordingly introduced into the Jesuits' college of Clermont, where he followed the usual course of study for five years with diligence and credit. He was fortunate enough to pursue the study of philosophy under the direction of the celebrated Gassendi ; with his fellow pupils, Chapelle the poet, afterwards his intimate friend ; and Bernier, so famous subsequently for his travels in the East, but who, on his return, had the misfortune to lose the favor of Louis the Fourteenth, by replying to him, that of all the countries he had ever seen, he preferred Switzerland.'
On the completion of his studies in 1641, he was required to accompany the king, then Louis the Thirteenth, in his capacity of valet de chambre (his father being detained in Paris by his infirmities), on an excursion to the south of France. This journey afforded him the opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with the habits of the court, as well as those of the provinces, of which he afterwards so repeatedly availed himself in his comedies. On his return, he commenced the study of the law, and had completed it, it would appear, when his old passion for the theatre revived with increased ardor, and, after some hesitation, he determined no longer to withstand the decided impulse of his genius. He associated himself with one of those city companies of players, with which Paris had swarmed since the days of Richelieu ; a minister who aspired after the same empire in the republic of letters, which he had so long maintained over the state; and whose ostentatious patronage eminently contributed to develope that taste for dramatic exhibition, which has distinguished his countrymen ever since.
The consternation of the elder Poquelin, on receiving the intelligence of his son's unexpected determination, may be readily conceived. It blasted at once all the fair promise which the rapid progress the latter had made in his studies had justified him in forming; and it degraded him to an unfortunate profession, esteemed at that time even more lightly in France, than it has been in other countries. The humiliating dependence of the comedian on the popular favor, the daily exposure of his person to the caprice and insults of an unfeeling audience, the numerous temptations incident to his precarious and unsettled life, may furnish abundant objections to this profession in the mind of every parent. But in France, to all these objections, were superadded others of a graver cast, founded on religion. The clergy, there, alarmed at the rapidly increasing taste for dramatic exhibitions, openly denounced these elegant recreations as a flagrant insult to the Deity; and the pious father anticipated, in this preference of his son, his spiritual no less than his temporal perdition. He actually made an earnest remonstrance to him to this effect, through the intervention of one of his friends, who, however, instead of converting the youth, was himself pursuaded to join the company then organizing under his direction. His family, however, were never reconciled to his proceeding; and even at a later period of his life, when his splendid successes in his new career had shown how rightly he had understood the character of his own genius, they never condescended to avail themselves of the freedom of admission to his theatre, which he repeatedly proffered. M.Bret, his editor, also informs us, that he had himself seen a genealogical tree, in the possession of the descendants of this same family, in which the name of Molière was not even admitted! Unless it were to trace their connexion with so illustrious a name, what could such a family want of a genealogical tree ! It was from a deference to these scruples that our hero annexed to his patronymic the name of Molière, by which alone he has been recognised by posterity.
During the three following years, he continued playing in Paris, until the turbulent regency of Anne of Austria withdrew the attention of the people from the quiet pleasures of the drama, to those of civil broil and tumult. Molière then quitted the capital, for the south of France. From this period, 1646 to 1658, his history presents few particulars worthy of record. He wandered with his company through the different provinces ; writing a few farces, which have long since perished; performing at the principal cities; and, wherever he went, by his superior talent withdrawing the crowd from every other spectacle, to the exhibition of his own. During this period, too, he was busily storing his mind with those nice observations of men and manners, so essential to the success of the dramatist; and which were to ripen there, until a proper time for their developement should arrive. At the town of Pezénas they still show an elbow-chair of Molière's (as at Montpelier they show the gown of Rabelais), in which the poet, it is said, ensconced in a corner of a barber's shop, would sit for the hour together, silently watching the air, gestures, and grimaces of the village politicians, who, in those days, before coffee-houses were introduced into France, used to congregate in this place of resort. The fruits of this study may be easily discerned in those original draughts of character from the middling and lower classes with which his pieces everywhere abound.
In the south of France he met with the prince of Conti, with whom he had contracted a friendship at the college of Clermont, and who received him with great hospitality. The prince pressed upon him the office of his private secretary, but, fortunately for letters, Molière was constant in his devotion to the drama ; assigning as his reason, that the occupation was of too serious a complexion to suit his taste ; and that though he might make a passable author, he should make a very poor secretary. Perhaps he was influenced in this refusal, also, by the fate of the preceding incumbent, who had lately died of a fever, in consequence of a blow from the firetongs, which bis highness, in a fit of ill-humor, had given him on the temple. However this may be, it was owing to the good offices of the prince, that he obtained access to Monsieur, the only brother of Louis the Fourteenth, and father of the celebrated regent, Philip of Orleans, who, on his return to Paris in 1658, introduced him to the king; before whom, in the month of October following, he was allowed, with his company, to perform a tragedy of Corneille's, and one of his own farces.
His little corps was now permitted to establish itself under the title of the Company of Monsieur'; and the theatre of the Petit-Bourbon was assigned as the place for its perform
Here, in the course of a few weeks, he brought out his Etourdi and Le Dépit Amoureux, comedies in verse and in five acts, which he had composed during his provincial pilgrimage; and which, although deficient in an artful liaison of scenes, and in probability of incident, exhibit, particularly the last, those fine touches of the ridiculous, which revealed the future author of the Tartuffe and the Misanthrope. They indeed found greater favor with the audience, than some of his later pieces ; for, in the former, they could only compare him with the wretched models that had preceded him, while in the latter, they were to compare him with himself.
In the ensuing year, Molière exhibited his celebrated farce of Les Précieuses Ridicules ; a piece in only one act, but which, by its inimitable satire, effected such a revolution in the literary taste of his countrymen, as has been accomplished by few works of a more imposing form; and which may be considered as the basis of the dramatic glory of Molière, and the
dawn of good comedy in France. This epoch was the commencement of that brilliant period in French literature, which is so well known as the age of Louis the Fourteenth. And yet it was distinguished by such a puerile, meretricious taste, as is rarely to be met with, except in the incipient stages of civilization, or in its last decline. The cause of this melancholy perversion of intellect is mainly imputable to the influence of a certain coterie of wits, whose rank, talents, and successful authorship had authorized them, in some measure, to set up as the arbiters of taste and fashion. This choice assembly, consisting of the splenetic Rochefoucault; the belesprit Voiture ; Balzac, whose letters afford the earliest example of numbers in French prose; the lively and licentious Bussy ; Rabutin ; Chapelain, who, as a wit has observed, might still have had a reputation had it not been for his · Pucelle the poet Bensérade; Ménage, and others of less note; together with such eminent females as Madame Lafayette, Mademoiselle Scudéri (whose eternal romances, the delight of her own age, have been the despair of every other), and even the elegant Sévigné ;-was accustomed to hold its réunions principally at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, the residence of the Marchioness of that name, and which, from this circumstance, has acquired such ill-omened notoriety in the history of letters.
Here they were wont to hold the most solemn discussions on the most frivolous topics, but especially on matters relating to gallantry and love, which they debated with all the subtilty and metaphysical refinement, that, centuries before, had characterized the romantic Courts of Love in the South of France. All this was conducted in an affected jargon, in which the most common things, instead of being called by their usual names, were signified by ridiculous periphrases; which, while it required neither wit nor ingenuity to invent them, could have had no other merit, even in their own eyes, than that of being unintelligible to the vulgar. To this was superadded a tone of exaggerated sentiment, and a ridiculous code of etiquette, by which the intercourse of these exclusives was to be regulated with each other, all borrowed from the absurd romances of Calprenede and Scudéri. Even the names of the parties underwent a metamorphosis ; and Madame de Rambouillet's christian name of Catherine, being found too trite and unpoetical, was converted into Arthénice, by which she was so generally recognised as to be designated by it in