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DES MEILLEURS ÉCRIVAINS FRANÇAIS
DISPOSÉ DANS L'ORDRE DES DATES ET PRÉSENTANT UN TABLEAU
FRANCE JUSQU'A CE JOUR ;
PAR CASIMIR LADREYT.
ENTERED According to Act of Congress, in the year 1845,
BY W. E. DEAN, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District
of New York.
A WORK of this kind requires no preface for those who are conversant with the French language, they will judge for themselves.
Thus we shall only make a few remarks for the satisfaction of such persons as must necessarily feel interested in a school book, and yet are unable to judge of its merit or demerit for want of a sufficient knowledge of a foreign tongue.
In his well known " Répertoire de Littérature Française," the author had comprised the French writers only of the four last centuries, his object being at that time, as announced in the preface to it, to publish another volume which was to be devoted to the writers of the present age. That second volume was ready for the press about fifteen months ago, but the edition of the first one happening to be nearly all out then, and the demands for it being daily fast increasing, it was deemed necessary to prepare a new edition of the same, with some intended improvements in it, before printing the latter part of the work, in order to publish the whole at the same time. Yet, after preparing a sufficient quantity of valuable matter to make two volumes, which were to comprise above four hundred writers, it was suggested that such a work would be by far too extensive for the use of schools, and this was probably true. So that, painful as it was for the author to sacrifice so much labor, a change of plan having become unavoidable, he has come to the conclusion to make a compendium of the whole, to be published in one volume, and such is the work now offered to the public under this new title. This change of title has become necessary to make it correspond with the entirely new character of the work.
We have been compelled to leave out 75 of the authors comprised in the former publication, in order to make room for 86 new ones, but care has been taken not to omit any of the most eminent, either ancient or modern, and especially those whom public judgment has pronounced to be the most perfect models in the language in all respects.
Thus, although reduced to a small compass, this publication
contains both a much more perfect edition of the former one and the full continuation of the same, and exhibits a general and correct view of the history of French literature, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the present day, together with specimens of the compositions of each writer.
We have endeavored to make not only a profitable school book, but also an interesting and useful family book, and it may well be called a real multum in parvo.
The selection of the pieces given of each writer comprises standards of all kinds of composition both in prose and poetry, and on subjects calculated to offer the same degree of interest to the readers of all nations, there being nothing that can interfere with any religious creed, or national prejudices of any kind.
We have given a good proportion of light literature, as the main object of the work seems to require it
, but we have strictly adhered to the principles we have adopted in our former publications. There will not be found anything contrary to good literary taste, nothing vulgar or common, not a single word or idea that can be objected to on any account whatever.
Our biographical and literary notes have been purposely written in a plain, clear, and easy style, that they can be read and understood even by beginners, for it is very natural that they wish to know something of so many men and women whose compositions they study. Here we have also indicated the best editions of the complete works of each author, except in a few cases in which we could not positively ascertain.
In regard to the typographical part of the work, it is believed there will not be found a single error of any material importance.
In concluding these remarks we would state, that no work like this was ever published in this country nor in Europe, although attempts have already been made, it seems, to imitate it under specious pretexts. There are individuals who, being very anxious to show their names with assumed titles, and yet unable to produce anything of their own contrivance, are ever ready and bold enough to appropriate to themselves the works of others, when they can do it with impunity ; but they betray their ignorance and want of judgment in supposing that the public will not discover their injustice and pitiful vanity.
We intended also to say a few words about a compilation lately published in this city with the avowed intention of superseding the suce cess of our little enterprise, and we dare suppose that a moderate defence against a premeditated and unprovoked injury to us and others, would not be deemed improper, but the gentleman who undertook it has shown so little skill to accomplish his design, that we dare scarcely speak of it for fear we should aggravate the unenviable position into which he has imprudently precipitated himself, a position which reminds us of certain fables and old proverbs. Inasmuch as we feel more than sufficiently vindicated by the fact that his pretended production happens to be a good recommendation for our own publications, as we are told, and were we to seek only our interest we would use some means to make it known. But we are unwilling to take advantage of the misfortune of any one, and in order to spare his feelings we shall neither give his name, nor touch upon the most delicate portion of his transaction, unless circumstances should require it at some future time. It is the first coup d'essai of the compiler, and indeed it must be confessed, he has been very unlucky. And this is the more surprising as, with the two volumes of the work he has compiled, even a schoolboy of good sense would have made an excellent book, as he had only to cut out the most interesting pieces of that fine and large collection. But the pretended author dared not announce his book as his own travail, as he says, without inserting in it at least a dozen pieces of his own choice, and it is by doing this that he has made himself ridiculous. “ Tout ce qui nous a paru beau, interessant et digne a été choisi par nous,” says he. It cannot be said that he has made his book in a hurry, for it was announced to many schools at least two years before its publication. Young people,” says he in his curious French preface, if it can be called French,“ do not like a severe and little open face, (we translate it literally,) I have made young the physiognomy of the work as much as it has been in my power.” Now, young reader, how has he done this to please you? He has inserted above fifty long pieces on the subject of death! which form about one half of his book. There is a pretty smiling physiognomy and nicely wide open big face! It is true that we find among the beautiful pieces chosen by him, some extremely common farces written just two hundred years ago, some insipid old tales of ghosts, some trifling stories about little dogs and other fictitious “grand bête," and other similar nonsense ; but all that is so dull, so witless, and so uninteresting, that it is proper to make children sleep and disgust them of study. this what people call the beautiful French language ?” asked a little girl one day." Do you call such things models of literature ?” said a lady to us two or three days ago. Certainly not, madam, and I do not believe that any Frenchman would publish it under that title, if any could be found that would publish it at all in a school book. We need not teach what is too common, children will learn it too soon without taking the trouble to commit it to memory. And besides, all those who study French here are reasonable and well-informed persons, who want to read something worthy of their attention. Too common or low things are not to be committed to memory, for they cannot be an ornament to the mind. I think also that ridicules about religion, and certain passages which delicate ladies will not read, are unfit for school books." I am surprised that he could find any body who would publish such a book.”—The bookseller is not to be blamed, madam ; he expected the author understood his business. But the book is not bad properly speaking, there are excellent things in it.—" It is what makes the rest appear worse.”—True it is, but the author is excusable.-“ How 80 ?”—He tells us in his preface that he is young.–“ Not so young ; but then why talk of his experience ?”—Well, then he wrote it perhaps to justify Addison's Spectator, when he says authors write prefaces only to