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Edward Dowden

The history of comedy, from Larivey to Molière, is one of arrested development, followed by hasty and ill-regulated growth. During the first twenty-five years of the seventeenth century, comedy can hardly be said to have existed; whatever tended to beauty or elevation, took the form of tragi-comedy or pastoral; what was rude and popular became a farce. From the farce Molière's early work takes its origin, but of the repertory of his predecessors little survives. Much, indeed, in these performances was left to the improvisation of the burlesque actors.

The movement of Voltaire's mind went with that of the general mind of France. During the first half of the century he was primarily a man of letters; from about 1750 onwards he was the aggressive philosopher, the social reformer, using letters as the vehicle of militant ideas.

POETRY OF THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL

Literary criticism in the eighteenth century had been the criticism of taste or the criticism of dogma; in the nineteenth century it became naturalistic—a natural history of individual minds and their products, a natural history of works of art as formed or modified by social, political, and moral environments, and by the tendencies of races. Such criticism must inevitably have followed the growth of the comparative study of literatures in an age dominated by the scientific spirit. If we are to name any single writer as its founder, we must name Mme. de Staël.

With the close of the sanguinary follies of the Fronde, with the inauguration of the personal government of Louis XIV. and the triumph of an absolute monarchy, a period of social and political reorganisation began.

DIDEROT AND THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA—PHILOSOPHERS, ECONOMISTS, CRITICS—BUFFON

The eighteenth century did homage to the reason; it sought for general truths, scientific, social, political; its art was in the main an inheritance, diminished with lapse of time, from the classical art of the preceding century. With Rousseau came an outburst of the personal element in literature, an overflow of sensibility, an enfranchisement of the passions, and of imagination as connected with the passions; his eloquence has in it the lyrical note. The romantic movement was an assertion of freedom for the imagination, and an assertion of the rights of individuality.

 

The following notes are designed as an indication of some books which may be useful to students.

Of the many Histories of French Literature the fullest and most trustworthy is that at present in course of publication under the editorship of M. Petit de Julleville, Histoire de la Langue et de la Littérature française (A. Colin et Cie.). M. Lanson's Histoire de la Littérature française should be in the hands of every student, and this may be supplemented by M. Lintilhac's Littérature française (2 vols.).

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