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sity. They cast, indeed, a deserved ridicule on the chimera of an organized conspiracy of kings and philosophers for the overthrow of religion and civil order; but they leave us at full liberty to investigate the share which each individual may have had in linking together that indissoluble concatenation of cause and effect of which none could discover the end or anticipate the ulterior connections. One generation is now almost passed away since the bursting of the tempest; and the succeeding race may take a more philosophical survey of events than was permitted to the contending passions and interests of their predecessors.

• Le siècle leur paraîtrait comme un vaste drame, dont le dénouement était inévitable, de même que le commencement et la marche étaient nécessaires. Ils suivraient le cours des opinions pendant cette époque, chercheraient le point de départ, marqueraient les divers degrés qui ont été parcourus, et le terme qui a été atteint. La littérature ne serait, à leurs yeux, ni une conjuration entreprise en commun par tous les écrivains pour renverser l'ordre établi, ni un noble concert pour le bonheur de l'espèce humaine; ils la considéreraient comme l'expression de la société, ainsi que l'ont définie d'excellens esprits. Appliquant cette idée au dix-buitième siècle, ils la développeraient dans tous ses détails. Ils essayeraient de faire voir, que les lettres, au lieu de disposer, comme quelques-uns le disent, des opinions et des mæurs d'un peuple, en sont bien plutôt le résultat ; qu'elles en dépendent immédiatement; et qu'un ne peut changer le forme ou l'esprit d'un gouvernement, les habitudes de la société, en un mot, les relations des hommes entr'eux, sans que, peu après, la littérature éprouve un changement correspondant. " Ils montreraient comme se forment les opinions du public, comment les écrivains les adoptent et les développent, et comment la direction dans laquelle marchent ces écrivains leur est donnée par le siècle. C'est un courant sur lequel ils naviguent : leurs mouveinens en accélèrent la rapidité, mais ils lui doivent la première impulsion.'--pp. 7, 8.

We shall not now stop to examine the general but masterly sketch which our author has exhibited of the state of French literature previous to the commencement of the era which he has chosen to celebrate. The golden age of Louis the Fourteenth had long expired; and the same fate that attended the reputation of the monarch seemed await the arts and sciences which had been fostered by its influence. Bayle, who, as one of the earliest sceptical philosophers of France, comes in for his full share in the imaginary conspiracy, is happily characterized as “le plus hardi et le plus froid douteur de tous.' Others, it is remarked, make use of doubt as an instrument for destroying that which exists aud substituting their own opinion in its room. But the doubt by which Bayle is distinguished, appears not like the means but the end. He does not seek or desire to terminate his suspense; but seems to find his chief delight in that state of mind which, to most men, is

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a state

a state of positive torment. This species of philosophy is not so dangerous in itself as in its consequences.

Ce ne sont pas des ouvrages comme ceux de Bayle, qui égarent le vulgaire : c'est peut-être plus tard qu'ils sont devenus funestes ; cette érudition immense qui les compose, en a fait un vaste arsenal, où l'incrédulité est venue facilement emprunter les armes ; on y trouva aussi le triste exemple de cette raillerie continuelle qui s'en va flétrissant 'routes les opinions, tous les mouvemens élevés de l'âme, qui considère comme désordre ou comme folie, tout ce qui ne se rapporte pas à son froid raisonnement.'

About the close of the preceding age, the theatre seems to have been cleared, as if purposely, for the more important operations of that which we are now contemplating. " Authority had lost its respect and some of its power; religion had ceased to be an universal check, and doubt had begun to overturn old persuasions ; the habit of thinking was growing fashionable, and private judgment of easier carriage; every body had learned to attach more importance to his own person and opinion, and to care less about received impressions. At this crisis arose “ un homme destiné à recueillir la plus grande part de la gloire de ce siècle, à en porter toute l'empreinte, à en être, pour ainsi dire, le représentant, au point qu'il s'en est peu fallu qu'il ne lui ait imposé son nom.' The character of Voltaire's genius seems to be conceived with admirable precision. It presents to us the singular phenomenon of a man to whom the faculty of reflection is almost altogether denied, but who is, at the same time, gifted in the highest degree with the liveJiest powers of sensation and expression. This is the source both of his beauties and of his failings. It has multiplied his contradictions and his aberrations from truth and reason; but, on the other hand,

· Cet abandon entier à son impression, cette impetuosité de sentiment, cette irritabilité si délicate et si vive, a produit ce pathéthique, cet entraînement irrésistible, cette verve d'éloquence ou de plaisanterie, cette grace continuelle qui découle d'une facilité sans bornes ; et quand la raison et la vérité viennent à être revêtes de ces brillans dehors, alors elles acquièrent le charme le plus séduisant; il semble qu'elles naissent sans efforts, toutes brillantes d'une lumière directe et naturelle, et leur interprête laisse loin derrière lui tous ceux qui les recherchent péniblement par le jugement, la comparaison, et l'expérience.'--p.47.

The contempt of opinion and defiance of authority which mark his principal writings are observed not to have proceeded from the vative character of his mind. His earlier works breathe the air of a supple courtier rather than of a proud and independent philosopher. The progress of his mind may be traced more particularly in his fugitive poetry, 'chefs-d'ælivre de grace et de badinage,' in

which

1812. Littérature Française pendant le 18me Siècle. 292 which we discover by what imperceptible gradations the intoxica-, tion of successful vauity betrayed his better judgment, till he became fixed in the habit of treating all things with the same light and dangerous irreverence. In this evil propensity he kept hardly more than even measure with the times. If the world was corrupted by his writings; those writings owed their existence to the world's applause; and the very errors which were so injurious to public opinion, that same public opinion fostered and encouraged. When such was the temper of the age, in vain was the irreligious heretic proscribed, imprisoned, exiled, excommunicated. No. measures could so effectually have spread the contlagration which they were designed to extinguish. It is needless to trace these painful recollections farther; but if this opinion of Voltaire's character and conduct required confirmation, it might be found in some of the later writings of Voltaire himself, who, though he lived to witness but the preludes of that universal destruction which he is imagined to have meditated, evinced at intervals a desire to contribute bis ineffectual aid to resist the disorders which he saw rapidly gathering force and activity around himn. In this view be is happily compared to his own Babouc, who, when charged to examine into the customs and institutions of Persepolis, lays open its vices, laughs at its follies, and attacks every thing with all the licence of unrestrained satire ; but, as soon as he begins to tlrink that his sentence may perhaps involve the destruction of that great city and its inhabitants, he finds in all things advantages which he had not before perceived, and refuses to lend himself to the ruin which he contemplates. Malheureusement,' adds our author, • quand une nation en est arrivée à philosopher comme Babouc, elle ne sait pas, comme lui, s'arrêter et balancer son jugement; ce n'est que par une déplorable expérience qu'elle s'aperçoit, mais trop tard, qu'il n'aurait pas fallu détruire Persepolis.

Our author has not displayed less critical taste in estimating the genius of Voltaire with reference to the several departments of li-. terature in which it shone most conspicuous, than sagacity and soundness of reflection in the survey of his general character.

As a tragic poet he is distinguished by the various manners (to borrow a phrase from the painters) which he adopted at different periods of his life. In his earlier years he displayed that obedience to established forms and received opinions which has before been remarked in him; and his first manner was deeply imbued with his admiration of the former masters of the stage, particularly of Racine. Of this imitated style the Edipe and Mariamne are cited as specimens. But success did not attend his early efforts; and Zaire gave to the world the first favourable impression of his dramatic genius. T3

. Ce

299 Littérature Française pendant le 18me Siècle. Dec.

« Ce n'est point la perfection des vers de Racine, et leur mélodieuse, douceur; ce n'est pas ce soin, ce scrupule dans la contexture de l'intrigue, ces gradations infinies du sentiment; ce n'est pas non plus la haute imagination et la simplicité de Corneille ; et pourtant il est en Voltaire quelque chose qui ne se trouve pas dans les autres, et qu'on y pourrait regretter. Il a une certaine chaleur de passion, un abandon entier, une verve de sentiment qui entraîne et qui émeut, une grâce qui charme et qui subjugue. On voit que des vers, tels que les siens, ont dû être produits par l'homme de l'imagination la plus ardente ; et si quelque chose peut donner l'idée d'un auteur en proie à tout l'enivrement de la passion et de la poésie, c'est un ouvrage tel

que

Zaïre. Il est impossible, même en l'examinant avec reflexion, de ne pas être frappé de ce caractère de force, de facilité, et de grâce, qui distingue la muse tragique de Voltaire.'--p. 57.

Voltaire's failure in the department of epic poetry is confessed with a candour which we do not often observe among national critics, but for which this author deserves, in numerous instances, the highest praise. We feel ourselves, perhaps, on that account, the more disposed to acquiesce in the elegant eulogium which he has pronounced on the Poésies fugitives,'. with some very important exceptions indeed, but those exceptions are as delicately admitted as the praise is gracefully administered. We shall cite one remark only, which merits the peculiar attention of some of our own humorous writers. · La gaîté, comme le sublime, demande une sorte de naïveté et de bonne foi. Elle ne ressemble pas au persifflage et à la raillerie.'

Voltaire, historien,' does not meet from this sensible writer with that measure of applause which some even of our own countrymen seem inclined to confer upon him. Vivacity of impression and absence of reflection form nearly the exact couverse of the qualities most essential to the historical character; and a writer so perversely gifted for the office which he assumes must naturally, in the same proportion that he amuses, fail to instruct. Charles the Twelfth is pronounced to be the most fortunate, as it was the earliest, of bis historical essays. * La réflexion avait peu de prise sur la vie du roi de Suéde ; elle en eût même détruit l'intérêt. Il fallait de la rapidité dans le recit, et des couleurs éclatantes. La connaissance profonde et la juste appréciation des hommes étaient peu nécessaires, quand il s'agissait d'un prince qui s'était montré tout en dehors. Il n'y avait pas de grandes conceptions à juger, de motifs secrets à déméler; Charles XII. était tout entier dans les faits. Il n'y avait qu'à peindre, et c'était un des talens de Voltaire.'

The name of Montesquieu has sometimes been associated, as a member of the grand literary conspiracy, with that of Voltaire. It is in this work more sensibly remarked that, notwithstanding the

gravity

gravity of his character and the regularity of his life, that celebrated author exhibits in his writings some remarkable features of the age to which he belonged. His boldness of inquiry, his leaning to paradox, ces jugemens sur les meurs, les lois, les institutions, ce libertinage d'opinion, qui attestent a-la-fois la vivacité, la puissance, et l'imprudence de l'esprit,' are principally observable in his earliest writings ; and, in this respect, his character affords a remarkable contrast to that of the extraordinary being whom we have just been contemplating. Of his powers of raillery it is said that they possess more bitterness than those of Voltaire, and are capable of producing a much greater effect, being levelled, not at the surface, but at the very foundations of things. Yet the danger of the Lettres Persanes is contined to the most superficial class of readers: amidst all the errors of the work, the traces of a noble and elevated mind are constantly discernible.

The bigh and important situation which Montesquieu sustained in after life, produced the most beneficial effects upon his character and conduct. He was gifted with a mind to feel all the response sibility both of his native and of his acquired dignities. His was not that dangerous independence which men, exclusively attached to literary pursuits, make it their boast to assume; il ne vivait pas loin des affaires, et n'habitait pas ce monde théorique où les écrivains ne trouvent rien de positif qui puisse les ramener à la raison et au vrai, quand ils viennent à s'en écarter.' In his retirement he did not associate with the literary circles of his time, but' se consacra tout entier à étudier, en philosophe, les lois qu'il connaissait dejà comme magistrat.' Under circumstances such as these he produeed that work which may perhaps be considered as the proudest monument of his age and nation. Its character is beautifully illustrated by a comparison drawn somewhat after the manuer of Plutarch's parallels.

Ce n'est pas cette haute éloquence de Bossuet planant au-dessus des empires, jetant un regard d'aigle sur leurs révolutions et sur leurs débris, 'se plaçant comme spectateur au-dessus de la nature humaine pour chercher les voies de la Providence. Il n'y a rien là qui soit utile ou applicable au bien des hommes et à la police des sociétés. On y apprend à dédaigner, par une sublime exaltation, les plus vastes évènemens de ce monde, pour ne songer qu'à un autre avenir. Mais un autre genre d'honneur est dû à celui qui offre des leçons praticables, et qui trouve le point précis où les principes des choses se rattachent à la fois aux détails positifs de la politique, et à la connaissance générale et élevée des hommes, de leurs vertus, de leurs vices, de leurs divers tendances. C'est là le caractère du livre de Montesquieu. On se plaît à voir une âme superieure, animant par la grandeur de ses vues la méditation des règles iextuelles qui nous gouvernent. On éprouve tout le charme de cette chaleur, qui regne dans la région idéale de la

philosophie,

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