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there is never a note too much. Alike in his shortest six-lined anecdote and his most elaborate pieces, in which detail follows detail and complex scenes are developed, there is no trace of the superfluous; every word has its purpose in the general scheme. This quality appears most clearly, perhaps, in the adroit swiftness of his conclusions. When once the careful preliminary foundation of the story has been laid, the crisis comes quick and pointed—often in a single line. Thus we are given a minute description of the friendship of the cat and the sparrow; all sorts of details are insisted on; we are told how, when the sparrow teased the cat
“En sage et discrète personne,
Then the second sparrow is introduced and his quarrel with the first. The cat fires up
“Le moineau du voisin viendra manger le
nôtre? Non, de par tous les chats!—Entrant lors Il croque l'étranger. Vraiment, dit maître
chat, Les moineaux ont un gout exquis et déli
And now in one line the story ends“Cette réflexion fit aussi croquer l'autre.”.
One more instance of La Fontaine's inimitable conciseness may be given. When Bertrand (the monkey) has eaten the chestnuts which Raton (the cat) has pulled out of the fire, the friends are interrupted; the fable ends thus
“Une servante vint; adieu, mes gens! Raton
N'était pas content, ce dit-on.” How admirable are the brevity and the lightness of that “adieu, mes gens”! In three words the instantaneous vanishing of the animals is indicated with masterly precision. One can almost see their tails whisking round the corner.
Modern admirers of La Fontaine have tended to throw a veil of sentiment over his figure, picturing him as the consoling beatific child of nature, driven by an unsympathetic generation to a wistful companionship with the dumb world of brutes. But nothing could be farther from the truth than this conception. La Fontaine was as unsentimental as Molière himself. This does not imply that he was unfeeling: feelings he had-delicate and poignant ones; but they never dominated him to the exclusion of good sense. His philosophy—if we may call so airy a thing by such a name was the philosophy of some gentle whimsical follower of Epicurus. He loved nature, but unromantically, as he loved a glass of wine and an ode of Horace, and the rest of the good things of life. As for the bad things—they were there; he saw them-saw the cruelty of the wolf, and the tyranny of the lion, and the rapacity of mansaw that“Jupin pour chaque état mit deux tables au
monde; L'adroit, le vigilant, et le fort sont assis
À la première; et les petits
Mangent leur reste à la seconde.” Yet, while he saw them, he could smile. It was better to smile--if only with regret; better, above all, to pass lightly, swiftly, gaily over the depths as well as the surface of existence; for life is short-almost as short as one of his own fables.
“Qui de nous des clartés de la voûte azurée
The age was great in prose as well as in poetry. The periods of BOSSUET, ordered, lucid, magnificent, reflect its literary ideals as clearly as the couplets of Racine. Unfortunately, however, in the case of Bossuet, the splendour and perfection of the form is very nearly all that a modern reader can appreciate: the substance is for the most part uninteresting and out of date. The truth is that Bossuet was too completely a man of his own epoch to speak with any great significance to after generations. His melodious voice enters our ears, but not our hearts. The honest, high-minded, laborious bishop, with his dignity and his enthusiasm, his eloquence and his knowledge of the world, represents for us the best and most serious elements in the court of Louis. The average good man of those days must have thought on most subjects as Bossuet thought-though less finely and intensely; and Bossuet never spoke a sentence from his pulpit which went beyond the mental vision of the most ordinary of his congregation. He saw all round his age, but
he did not see beyond it. Thus, in spite of his intelligence, his view of the world was limited. The order of things under Louis XIV was the one order: outside that, all was confusion, heresy, and the work of Satan. If he had written more often on the great unchanging fundamentals of life, more of his work would have been enduring. But it happened that, while by birth he was an artist, by profession he was a theologian; and even the style of Bossuet can hardly save from oblivion the theological controversies of two hundred years ago. The same failing mars his treatment of history. His Histoire Universelle was conceived on broad and sweeping lines, and contains some perspicacious thinking; but the dominating notion of the book is a theological one-the illustration, by means of the events of history, of the divine governance of the world; and the fact that this conception of history has now become extinct has reduced the work to the level of a finely written curiosity.
Purely as a master of prose Bossuet stands in the first rank. His style is broad, massive, and luminous; and the great bulk of his writing is remarkable more for its measured strength than for its ornament. Yet at times the warm spirit of the artist, glowing through