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French Literature

BERNARDIN DE SAINT-PIERRE connects Rousseau with Chateaubriand and the romantic school of the nineteenth century. The new feeling for external nature attained through him a wider range, embracing the romance of tropic lands; it acquired an element of the exotic; at the same time, descriptive writing became more vivid and picturesque, and the vocabulary for the purposes of description was enlarged.

THE EPIC OF ANTIQUITY

 

FROM THE PLÉIADE TO MONTAIGNE

The literature of the second half of the seventeenth century was monarchical, Christian, classical. The eighteenth century was to lose the spirit of classical art while retaining many of its forms, to overthrow the domination of the Church, to destroy the monarchy. It was an age not of great art but of militant ideas, which more and more came to utilise art as their vehicle. Political speculation, criticism, science, sceptical philosophy invaded literature.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, aided by the labours of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, came a revival of the study of antiquity and of the sentiment for classical art. The Count de Caylus (1692-1765), travelling in Italy and the East with the enthusiasm of an archæologist, presented in his writings an ideal of beauty and grace which was new to sculptors and painters of the time. The discovery of Pompeii followed, after an interval, the discovery of Herculaneum.

The novel in the nineteenth century has yielded itself to every tendency of the age; it has endeavoured to revive the past, to paint the present, to embody a social or political doctrine, to express private and personal sentiment, to analyse the processes of the heart, to idealise life in the magic mirror of the imagination.

ROMANCES OF LOVE AND COURTESY

 

Poetry other than dramatic grew in the eighteenth century upon a shallow soil. The more serious and the more ardent mind of the time was occupied with science, the study of nature, the study of society, philosophical speculation, the criticism of religion, of government, and of social arrangements. The old basis of belief upon which reposed the great art of the preceding century had given way. The analytic intellect distrusted the imagination. The conventions of a brilliant society were unfavourable to the contemplative mood of high poetry.

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