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school, and it is under that name that the satire of subsequent writers has handed it down to the laughter of after-generations. Yet a perspicacious eye might have seen even in these absurd and tasteless productions the signs of a progressive movement—the possibility, at least, of a true advance. For the contortions of the "Precious” writers were less the result of their inability to write well than of their desperate efforts to do so. They were trying, as hard as they could, to wriggle themselves into a beautiful pose; and, naturally enough, they were unsuccessful. They were, in short, too self-conscious; but it was in this very self-consciousness that the real hope for the future lay. The teaching of Malherbe, if it did not influence the actual form of their work, at least impelled them towards a deliberate effort to produce some form, and to be content no longer with the vague and the haphazard. In two directions particularly this new self-consciousness showed itself. It showed itself in the formation of literary salons of which the chief was the famous blue drawing-room of the Hôtel de Rambouillet-where every conceivable question of taste and art, grammar and vocabulary, was discussed with passionate intensity; and it showed itself even more strongly in the establishment, under the influence of Richelieu, of an official body of literary experts—the French Academy.
How far the existence of the Academy has influenced French literature, either for good or for evil, is an extremely dubious question. It was formed for the purpose of giving fixity and correctness to the language, of preserving a high standard of literary taste, and of creating an authoritative centre from which the ablest men of letters of the day should radiate their influence over the country. To a great extent these ends have been attained; but they have been accompanied by corresponding drawbacks. Such an institution must necessarily be a conservative one; and it is possible that the value of the Academy as a centre of purity and taste has been at least balanced by the extreme reluctance which it has always shown to countenance any of those forms of audacity and change without which no literature can be saved from petrifaction. All through its history the Academy has been timid and out of date. The result has been that some of the very greatest of French writers—including Molière, Diderot, and Flaubert-have remained outside it; while all the most fruitful developments in French literary theory have come about only after a
bitter and desperate resistance on its part. On the whole, perhaps the most important function performed by the Academy has been a more indirect one. The mere existence of a body of writers officially recognised by the authorities of the State has undoubtedly given a peculiar prestige to the profession of letters in France. It has emphasised that tendency to take the art of writing seriously-to regard it as a fit object for the most conscientious craftsmanship and deliberate carewhich is so characteristic of French writers. The amateur is very rare in French literature
-as rare as he is common in our own. How many of the greatest English writers would have denied that they were men of letters! Scott, Byron, Gray, Sir Thomas Browne, perhaps even Shakespeare himself. When Congreve begged Voltaire not to talk of literature, but to regard him merely as an English gentleman, the French writer, who, in all his multifarious activities, never forgot for a moment that he was first and foremost a follower of the profession of letters, was overcome with astonishment and disgust. The difference is typical of the attitude of the two nations towards literature: the English, throwing off their glorious masterpieces by the way, as if they were trifles; and the French bending all v
the resources of a trained and patient energy to the construction and the perfection of marvellous works of art.
Whatever view we may take of the ultimate influence of the French Academy, there can be no doubt at all that one of its first actions was singularly inauspicious. Under the guidance of Cardinal Richelieu it delivered a futile attack upon the one writer of the time who stood out head and shoulders above his contemporaries, and whose works bore all the marks of unmistakable genius—the great CORNEILLE. With the production, in 1636, of Corneille's tragedy, Le Cid, modern French drama came into existence. Previous to that date, two main movements are discernible in French dramatic art-one carrying on the medieval traditions of the mystery- and miracle-play, and culminating, early in the seventeenth century, with the rough, vigorous and popular drama of Hardy; and the other, originating with the writers of the Renaissance, and leading to the production of a number of learned and literary plays, composed in strict imitation of the tragedies of Seneca,-plays of which the typical representative is the Cléopâtre of Jodelle. Corneille's achievement was based upon a combination of what was best in these two movements. The work of Jodelle, written with a genuinely artistic intention, was nevertheless a dead thing on the stage; while Hardy's melodramas, bursting as they were with vitality, were too barbaric to rank as serious works of art. Corneille combined art with vitality, and for the first time produced a play which was at once a splendid piece of literature and an immense popular success. Henceforward it was certain that French drama would develop along the path which had been opened out for it so triumphantly by the Cid. But what was that path? Nothing shows more strikingly the strength of the literary opinion of that age than the fact that it was able to impose itself even upon the mighty and towering spirit of Corneille. By nature, there can be little doubt that Corneille was a romantic. His fiery energy, his swelling rhetoric, his love of the extraordinary and the sublime, bring him into closer kinship with Marlowe than with any other writer of his own nation until the time of Victor Hugo. But Corneille could not do what Marlowe did. He could not infuse into the free form of popular drama the passion and splendour of his own genius, and thus create a type of tragedy that was at once exuberant and beautiful. And he could not do this because the literary theories of the