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INTRODUCTION

JEAN DE LA BRUYÈRE was born at Paris in August 1645. He studied law, but gave up the bar as early as 1673 and purchased the office of treasurer at Caen.

His new duties did not, however, prevent him from staying in Paris, where he led a quiet and independent life until 1684, when, being introduced by Bossuet to the great Condé, he undertook to give history lessons to his grandson, the Duke of Bourbon. He then lived under the Prince's roof, and even remained a member of his household after his pupil's education was completed. Nothing could have been more fortunate-if not for the man, at any rate for the moralist--for he was thus enabled to approach and study that brilliant but frivolous world of courtiers which he has so cleverly depicted and which, had it not been for this post of observation, would never have been opened to him.

Reserved and silent, he watched with the keenest interest all that was going on around him, and wrote down every day his impressions on what he had seen or heard. He then classified these reflexions, divided

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them into chapters and published them anonymously in 1688, as an appendix to a translation of the Characters of Theophrastus. The first edition was modestly entitled : Les Caractères de Théophraste, traduits du grec, avec les Caractères ou les mours de ce siècle. It met with such success that it was followed by two others before the end of the year.

The revision of his work, of which he gave six more editions, was henceforth almost the only occupation of his life. He constantly corrected it, and added so many reflexions and portraits that the last edition he saw through the press contained nearly three times as much matter as the first.

If La Bruyère's keenness of observation and wonderfully clever style won general applause and admiration, his biting satire, on the other hand, created him many enemies. It was useless for him to declare that he had not intended to paint any one in particular, but had borrowed from different sources the various features of which each “caractère " was composed. His readers would persist in ascribing the name of some temporary to each of his portraits, and those who were thus pointed out to the malignity of the public or considered themselves more or less openly attacked by the satirist were very bitter against him. This enmity came to light when the author knocked at the door of the French Academy in 1691, for the academicians, rather than admit him, chose in his place a third-rate

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poet called Pavillon. It was only thanks to the strenuous efforts of Boileau, Racine, and the Secretary of State, Pontchartrain, that he was elected two years later.

His election took place on the 15th of June 1693, and the speech he delivered on that occasion caused the greatest excitement. The famous quarrel between the partisans of the Ancients and those of the Moderns was then at its height; and the new member, after praising all those of his colleagues who were in favour of antiquity, boldly assailed the others and insisted upon the soundness and truth of Boileau's criticisms in the very presence of the writers that the poet had so mercilessly ridiculed. As if this were not enough, he proclaimed his admiration for Racine's genius in such a way as to imply that Corneille was inferior to him, and thus provoked the wrath of all the friends of the earlier dramatist. Corneille's brother, Thomas, and his nephew, Fontenelle, who had already recognised his own portrait in the Caractères under the name of Cydias, had violent articles published against the moralist in the Mercure Galant, which he answered in his Preface to his Discours à l'Académie.

La Bruyère had just finished revising the ninth edition of his work and was busy writing some Dialogues on Quietism when he died suddenly at Versailles of an apoplectic fit on the roth of May 1696.

If his life is but little known, we can still form a pretty accurate idea of what the man was both from the testimony of several of his contemporaries and from his work itself, in which, though he seldom speaks of himself deliberately, he constantly betrays his personality in his reflexions. “On me l'a dépeint,” says d'Olivet,

" “comme un philosophe qui ne songeait qu'à vivre tranquille avec des amis et des livres, faisant un bon choix des uns et des autres, ne cherchant ni ne fuyant le plaisir, toujours disposé à une joie modeste et ingénieux à la faire naître, poli dans ses manières et sage dans ses discours, craignant toute sorte d'ambition, même celle de montrer de l'esprit.” The nobleness of his nature reveals itself in almost every page he wrote.

If he sometimes shows some bitterness when he thinks of the disproportion between his talent and his social position, his heart was easily open to pity. Proud and dignified in his intercourse with the great, he was full of sympathy for the lowly. Disdaining worldly honours and riches, he always gave proofs of the greatest disinterestedness, as when he abandoned the profits of the sale of his work to his publisher, Michallet, as a dowry for his daughter.

Accused by some of having written the Caractères only to satisfy his malignity, by others of having composed them day by day, according to the inspiration of the hour, without any method or order, La Bruyère endeavoured to justify himself in his preface to his

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