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French Literature

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.

HENRI BEYLE, who wrote under the pseudonym of Stendhal, not popular among his contemporaries, though winning the admiration of Mérimée and the praise of Balzac, predicted that he would be understood about 1880. If to be studied and admired is to be understood, the prediction has been fulfilled. Taine pronounced him the greatest psychologist of the century; M. Zola, doing violence to facts, claimed him as a literary ancestor; M. Bourget discovered in him the author of a nineteenth-century Bible and a founder of cosmopolitanism in letters.

LYRICAL POETRY—FABLES, AND RENARD THE FOX—FABLIAUX—THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE

THE FRENCH ACADEMY—PHILOSOPHY (DESCARTES)—RELIGION (PASCAL)

In the history of French tragedy only one name of importance—that of Crébillon—is to be found in the interval between Racine and Voltaire. Campistron feebly, Danchet formally and awkwardly, imitated Racine; Duché followed him in sacred tragedy; La Grange-Chancel (author of the Philippiques, directed against the Regent) followed him in tragedies on classical subjects.

THE REVOLUTION AND THE EMPIRE—MADAME DE STAËL—CHATEAUBRIAND

Lyrical and idealistic are epithets which a critic is tempted to affix to the novels of George Sand; but from her early lyrical manner she advanced to perfect idyllic narrative; and while she idealised, she observed, incorporating in her best work the results of a patient and faithful study of reality. A vaguer word may be applied to whatever she wrote; offspring of her idealism or her realism, it is always in a true sense poetic.

THE DRAMA (MONTCHRESTIEN TO CORNEILLE)

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