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necessary to publish them in Holland, though the ist vol. was printed at Paris.
Many of our readers will, perhaps, be surprised that the ftern, proud critic and satirift, Boileau, after having been truly ennobled by his writings, had the filly vanity to pique himself upon the high antiquity of his lineage. Lewis XIV. in 1695, having established a commiffion of enquiry into the validity of ticles affumed by the pretended noblesse of his kingdom ; in the severe scrutiny that was made, a suit was commenced againft the family of Boileau, who pretended that John Boileau, their ancestor, was ennobled in 1371 by Charles V. King of France. The poet, in a letter to his friend and commentator, Brossette, boasted of his having gained his cause with flying colours. • I have now (says he) the patent in my 'poffeffion, which allows me a nobility of 400 years antiquity. However (says D'ALEMBERT), some persons, very well informed and worthy of credit, have assured me that the sentence passed in favour of Boileau's nobility was in consequence of his reputation as a poet, honoured with the protection of the King; that the titles had been fabricated by a man of the name of Haudiquer ; and that many years after the transaction, a receipt had been found among his papers for 20 Louis d'ors, paid by Boileau for his fare in the titles which Haudiquer had forged. The friends of the poet will doubtless say that this money was not given as a bribe to an impostor, but as a recompence to a genealogist; while others, prone to scandal, may say that he a&ted on the prudent and well-known axiom in law, that' a judge well paid is always clear-sighted.' Be this as it will, obscure ancestors could add nothing to the merits of De preaux ; it is himself that gives a luftre to them; his own writings are his best Letirés de Noblesse.
Boileau had several brothers of very fingular characters: James, a doctor of the Sorbonne, and canon of the holy chapel, well known by a number of works in a peculiar style, some of which were not remarkable for decency; but these he wrote in Latin, left the B shops, he said, should understand and condemn them. This Doctor loved the Jesuits no more than bis brother, the poet; he described them as men who lengthened the Creed and Shortened the Commandments. As dean of the chapter of Sens, he was appointed to barangue the celebrated Prince of Condé when he pafled through the city. This great commander had a particular pleasure on those occasions, in disconcerting his panegyrists, and tried to ftare them out of countenance ; but the Doctor perceiving his intention, counterfeiting great confufion, addressed him in the following manner: 'Your Highness will not be surprised, I trust, at seeing me tremble in your prefence, at the head of a company of peaceful priests ; I fhould tremble Aill more if I was at the head of 30,000 soldiers.'
Another brother of Despreaux, Boileau de Puimorin, was a man of wit as well as James, but was too much addicted to pleasure, and 100 idle for study. The answer which he made to Chapeiain's bitter invectives, who told him that he could not read, has served for a point to one of the satirist's epigrams:
Shall a scribe, cold and harsh, who deserves to be head :
Since the nonsense you write is so frequently printing! The death of Puimorin is ascribed to a very fingular cause. He and some friends agreed that the first of them who should die, would give the other an account of his situation; and one of them dying soon after, Puimorin imagining that he had appeared to him in the night, was seized with a deep melancholy, which soon put an end to his existence.
Little is said of a third brotber of the poet, Jerome Boileau, Register of the Parliament, except that he was a great gamester, and when he was unfortunate, a great blasphemer. He married a capricious woman who was a violent vixen, and whose character is described by Boileau in several parts of his Satire againft Womeo. The Poet however lived in the same house with her, after the decease of her husband; but she was not his wife.
Despreaux, when a boy, was regarded by his father as heavy and itupid, and was so hardly used by him, and by his elder brothers, that he often declared if he could be reftored to infancy, on the hard conditions he had experienced, he would not accept them; and he always disputed the common opinion, that infancy is the happiest period of our lives. Can that time,' says the Poet, ' be regarded as pleasant, in which we are never allowed to be free agents? It is in vain to say that all this restraint and tyranny is for our good; of what use is it to be told the value of our chains when we have got rid of them, if we are insensible to all but their weight while we carry them? It is but a poor kind of happiness that cannot be perceived, and it is still more worthless, if it seems a misfortune. Not that Despreaux thought the other parts of his life more happy than his infancy; all appeared to him equally miserable: youth tormented with paffions, maturity with cares, and old age with infirmities; and he seemed nearly of that philosopher's opinion, who, when he was asked, what was the happiest period of a man's life, answered, that which is paft. It would be difficult,' faid Despreaux, 'to determine this question; we are sure, however, that it is hardly ever the present time.'
The Duc de Montaufier, himself a Cynic, who had long spoken of the severity of Boileau's personal satires as intolerable, and injurious to society, was gained over to the Poet's party bý
a fingle a single stroke of Aattery, which verified, says D'ALEMBERT, the lines of La Fontaine :
Amuse the Great with adulation,
The bait goes down, and you're their friend. Boileau was fond of relating what passed between him and his priest, concerning his satires, at the time of confeflion, What is your occupation ? says the priest. I am a poet-a vile trade, says the priest; and of what kind is your poetry ?-Satire, -Still worse. And against wbom do you write your satires ? -Against the authors of operas and romances.-Oh! for that matter, says the confessor, I see no great harm in what you have done ; and he gave bim absolution immediately.
For the honour of Boileau, according to M. D'ALEMBERT, he made a proper distinction in his fatires between folly and vice, never attacking bad taste and dunces with any other arms than ridicule, while vice and profligacy were treated with indignation.
After this, we have some excellent reflections on the genius and originality of Boileau, which have been disputed as well as thore of Pope. Voltaire, who frequently denied the equity of the decisions of Despreaux in matters of criticism, says, in a letter to Helvetius, 'I agree with you that Boileau is not a sublime poet ; but he executed admirably whatever he undertook. He is clear, easy, happy in his expression; he seldom rises very high, but he never finks. Beside, the subjects he treats are not of a kind to require great elevation. I shall therefore always warmly recommend that kind of writing which he has so well taught, that respect for the language, that quick succession of ideas, the art and facility with which he conducts his reader from one subject to another; and above all, bis fimplicity, which is the fruit of true genius.'
The natives of France now fee, and can venture to censure, the vanity of Lewis XIV. and the gross flattery of his panegyrists. The rest of Europe had long seen the excess of both; but perhaps the splendor of the prince, and the pensions of his poets, were objects of cnvy to other princes and other poets. The inexorable Boileau, who boasted that his chief ftudy and glory were to censure every thing else, became, he said, a faithful historian, in speaking of this prince, even before he was penfioned. But who would venture to swear that the first encomiums were not to gain, and the subsequent to keep, his penfion ? M. D'ALEMBERT's refleclions on this subject are those of a philosopher not much contaminated by monarchical ideas.
Adulation was carried to a more ridiculous excess by the Aatterers of Lewis XIV. than by those of any other prince of .6
modern modern times. Voltaire compares him to a man who was smothered with rose-leaves. When the monarch complained to the Abbé d'Estrées of the loss of all his teeth, one after another :
Sire,' says the Abbé, who has any teeth”. And in his both year, when his majefty asked another courtier wbat was his age-On Sir,' says the courtier, the age of every body: I am fixty.'
It was the opinion of Father Hardouin, that most of the claflical productions of ancient Rome had been written by the monks of the 13th century. ' I know nothing of all that (says
Boileau); but though I am not very partial to the monks, I should not have been sorry to have lived with Friar Tibullus, Friar Juvenal, Dom Virgil, Dom Cicero, and such kind of folk. Boileau was the first who formed the national taste of France, and by his translations and imitations gave his countrymen a true relish for the epistles and satires of Horace, which before his time used to be much less esteemed than his odes. ,
Many of D'ALEMBERT's critical remarks and reflections are local, particularly in speaking of the quarrels and controverfies relative to the comparative merit of his countrymen. It is curious, however, to see the vicissitudes of cafte and manners in à few years; and how small a number of the decisions of the most respectable members of the republic of letters of the laft age, have been confirmed by pofterity. Voiture, whom nobody reads at present, had an honour conferred on him at his de. cease, by the French academy going into mourning for him, which has never been bestowed on any subsequent affociate. , Boilear's Satire against Women, the most bitter and outrageous of all, is said to have arisen from his having early in life been jilted by a young person to whom he was going to be married, and who ran away with a Mosquetaire. If this will not confole the fair-sex, let us try what we can do further in accounting for his enmity. Racine the younger, and son of his particular friend, says that he never had a mistress, nor ever thought of marrying. Here is a natural and confirmed infenfibility which rendered him as unfit to judge of female charms as a deaf man to speak of music, or a blind one of painting. The exaggerated vices and foibles of a few are made general, and in thole blandishments and virtues which captivate the rest of mankind, he was an inveterate infidel.
For the honour of French gallantry, he was attacked from all quarters, on the first publication of this satire. His friend Racine consoled him as well as he could. Courage !' says he, you have attacked a numerous corps, which is all tongue; but the ftorm will blow over.' Indeed the storm did cease after some time, but the subsequent calm was of no great service to the work; and this satire against women, says M. D'ALEMBERT,
has always borne the marks of violence with which it was brought into the world. Indeed, if we may judge by his writings, his love of mankind was limited to a very small number, But though blunt, barth, and auftere by nature, he feldon carried bis severity into society, where his conversation was mild and gentle, and as he used to say himself, without nails or claws. Many actions of benevolence and generosity are recorded of him, and it has been said, that he was only cruel in verse.
At the death of Colberi, the penfion which he had given co the poet Corneille was supprefied, though this great man was poor, old, infirm, and dying. Bcileau, on hearing of his lors, few to the King, in order to try if he could get the pension restored, offering to transfer his own to Corneille, and telling the mor parch, that he fhould be ashamed to receive his bounty while such a man was in want of it. He bought Patru's library, as the Empress of Ruflia did that of Diderot, leaving bim the use of it, to the time of his death. When Despreaux died, he bequeathed almoft bis whole pofleflions to the poor. He was attended at bis funeral by a great number of persons of rank and literature, How came this man. (cries a woman in the street) to bave so many friends? They say he never spoke well of any body in his life.
Boilean and Perrault, after injuring the reputation of each other by epigrams and reproaches as much as they were able, cill the public began to be tired with their disputes, were reconciled by the good offices of their common friends ; which should have been put in practice sooner. The reconciliation was fincere on the part of Perrault; and Boileau addressed to him a writing, which he called a letter of reconciliation, but in which, through all the forced compliments with which it abounded, it was not difficult to discover strong remains of spleen and farcalm, which it is so hard for a profeffed fatirift to eradicate. This letter was so equivocal, and like a new attack, that a friend of Despreaux said to him on reading it, “ I hope we are on lafting good terms together; but if we do happen to quarrel, let us never attempt to be reconciled: for I dread such repararion much more than abuse.”
Personal satire foon loses its salt and piquancy; and the satires of Boileau, as well as the Dunciad of Pope, are less read now than any of their other works. Abuse and indecency are equally unworthy of such writers, and unneceffary to their fame. Satire, says M. D'ALEMBERT, will be always a ready resource to men of no genius; because, whether keen or coarse, gay or Splenetic, grofs or subtle, it will be always offentive, and confequently read, and perhaps secretly aberted, by be pretended friends of these to whom it is addre(led. A writer from whom so little is expected, can never be in want of a subject : App, Rev. Vol. LXXIX.