Page images

For satire to friends and to foes is such food,

As, provided 'tis spiteful, will always be good *. An anecdote is inserted at the end of the eloge on the Abbé d'Abeille, which ought to have bad fome effect on fatirical epi. grammatifts. This Abbé, who was a kind of amateur among authors, had written several plays, which had been received with various success. Being at Rouen, in the faite of the Marefchal de Luxembourg, Governor of that city, he found there a poet who had written a very abusive epigram on the failure of bis laft play. The Abbé, instead of Dunning him, or returning the blow, made him a vifit, and presented him to the Governor, with such encomiums as gained him a very flattering and unexpected reception. At length the poet was so penetrated with the Abbé's zeal to serve him, that he cried out in the violence of remorse, “ Ah Sir! what an uncommon kind of vengeance you are exercising on me! and what a leffon you have given me! It will completely cure me of satire as long as I live." The writer of the epigram, who communicated the anecdote to M. D'ALEMBERT, told him, that though he had often related the story to young poets, in hopes of checking their rage for this wretched and mischievous species of writing, yet he believed the adventure had never been of use to any but himself.

In his notes on the Eloge de Regnier Démarais, M. D'ALEM. BERT relates a circumitance that will doubtless surprise some of our readers. The learned Menage, author of the celebrated Etymological Didionary Dell Origini della Lingua Italiana (where he undertook to refute fome of the natives themselves in particular refinements of the language), durft not venture to speak Italian, though he was much in the pra&ice of writing it. " There is a great difference,” says he, “ between knowing Italian, and knowing Italian words;" and he only ranked his knowlege in the latter class. He added, with equal courage and modefty for a man of erudition, that " it was the same with ancient idioms; that the best modern scholars could only Aatter themselves with knowing a few Latin and Greek words.

Among the notes in Vol. III. on the Eloge of the celebrated Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray, is inserted an inedited Jetter addressed, by that most worthy prelate, to Lewis XIV. about the year 1694, wherein be predicts all the calamities

* M. D'Alembert says, “ I am far from withing wholly to de. prive mediocrity of this resource, or the public of the pleasure which such writings may afford them : all must live; and the world must be amused.'. The late secretary of the academy was more charitable than Compte D'Argenson, the secretary of state, who when the Abbé Desfontaines was taken up for writing libels, and said in excule mult live, Sir'c''I lee no necessity for it,' replied the Count.



which afterward befel that prince in his reverse of fortune. Whether this letter, of which D'ALEMBERT had seen the original, was ever perused by the monarch, is uncertain ; but it is written with the zeal, eloquence, and freedom of an ambaffador from God, pleading before an earthly fovereign the cause of his people. There is an energy and a vigour in this letter, without deviating from the respect due to royalty or truth, that renders it fit for the perusal of every vain, splendid, and ambitious monarch in the universe. The miseries which Lewis bad brought on his people, by his ambition, luxury, pomp, profusion, perfecution, and even conquests, are related, and censured with fuch freedom and undifsembled indignation, as kings but seldom meet with from so dutiful, virtuous, and eloquent a subject.

Unluckily, Lewis XIV. did not love Fenelon, and only re. garded him as a bel esprit, a name by which he affected to call bim. Madame de Maintenon, with more penetration, persuaded this prince, in spite of his prejudice, to appoint him preceptor to his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy. In the end, both Madame de Maintenon and the monarch repented of this choice : Madame de Maintenon, because when the preceptor was confulted about the King's marriage, he dissuaded him from it; and Lewis, because he foon had the mortification to find, by the principles which Fenelon instilled into the Duke of Burgundy, ihat his education was an indirect satire on bis own reign. But the source of this repentance was a ftrong proof of the worthiness of their choice.

The gentle and benignant autbor of Telemachus had ideas of government and civil liberty that were not likely to please lo deIpotic a prince as Lewis : « A wise sovereiga (says he) should only with to be the guardian and dispenser of the laws, under the guidance of a supreme council io temper bis authority.”. And he quoted, in support of his principles, the example of two of the best kings which the history of France can boalt. Lewis XII. absolutely for bad his parliament to register any edicts that appeared to them unjuft; and Henry IV. who in 1596 convened an afsembly of notables, opened it with the following memorable (peech from the throne: “ I have assembled you here to receive your advice, and to put myself under your cuition ! 'Tis a with, perhaps, which few victorious princes, with grey beards, like myself, would form ; but the defire of rendering my people happy, makes the measure easy and honourable."

We meet with much entertainment in M. D'ALEMBERT'S account of La Motte. This writer, the friend of Fontenelle, and the opponent of Madame Dacier, in the famous dispute concerning the ancients and moderns, which occupied the learned

UU 2


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

throughout Europe about the beginning of the present century, had the courage, during the life of Despreaux, to communicare to him some of his objections to Homer. “ I remember (says he) in mentioning to him one day the ludicrous and indecent manner in which the bard had employed bis divinities, that he disdained to have recourse to allegories in defending bim; but confided to me a very fingular idea, which feems peculiar to himself, though, however persuaded he may have been of its truth, he never ventured to publish it: he supposed that Homer, fearing to tire with an uninterrupted tiffue of tragical events, in the description of battles, and the fatal effects of hu. man paffions, had enlivened his poem at the expence of the gods themselves, by afsigning to them the comic characters in the interludes with which he had furnished his fable for the amusement of his readers between the aes.”

Though this solution of the difficulty was far from fatisfying La Motte, he did not venture to publish either bis own Iliad, or his criticisms on Homer, and the ancients in general, till after the death of Boileau ; and he then had the critical Amazon, Ma. dame Dacier, to encounter, who attacked him with so much acri. mony, that the most zealous admirers of the ancients were alhamed of her violence, and exclaimed,

You injure our cause by fanatic excess ;

You'd have serv'd it much more by defending it lefs. Perrault, La Motte, and Fontenelle, the modern chiefs, had more wit than talents for poetry. But talents and taste are different attributes. A man of taste may discover defects in a picture or a poem, without being able to use a pencil, or produce good verses. Indeed, after the death of Boileau, the moderns Teem to have had all the wit on their fide in France, while the ancients, however good their cause, were but awkwardly defended. Boileau himself was too much enlightened not to allow that the apologifts for antiquity were not always worthy either of the gods to whom they facrificed, or the chiefs under whose banners they fought. He laughed at the fanaticism of Daiier, a mere translator and pedant.“ By depreciating the ancients (says he) you debase the only coin in his coffers." He had not more respect for another enthufiaft, who, in the heat of the difpute concerning the Iliad, had made a vow to read every day two thousand verses of Homer, as a reparation for the injories which he had received from infidels, and as an amende honorable to appcale his manes.

Dacier, in receiving M. de Boze into the French Academy as fuccefTor to Fenelon, attacked those who had reftfed adoration to the ancients with great heat, in his oficial discourse. La Motte answered him at the same meeting with bis fable of the Crabfifa Philosopher, who advises his companions to try to move forward,

[ocr errors]


like other animals, that their limbs might have the benefit of
their eyes. But he was treated with the utmost contempt by the
old Crabs for making so absurd a proposition :

The fage was hill'd from place to place,
By all who gloried in the grace

And ease of backward motion;
For ev'ry counter-marching blade
Thought all advancement retrograde,

Was wisdom and devotion.
From ancient errors let's withdraw
All blind and superstitious awe,

And fift whate'er is new;
Excess in both will lead astray,
But reason never lost her way;

Let's keep her full in view.
The fables of La Motte have neither the wit nor the original
humour which abound in those of La Fontaine ; but they are re-
plete with good senfe, knowlege of mankind, and philosophical
maxims; many of which are become proverbial in France.
Such as : It is fafer to please than to serve mankind.-L'Ennui
is the child of uniformity - Hatred is watchful, friendship drowsy.

Whoe'er corrects and gives no pain
Of head and heart, may well be vain.
Contempt provokes the meaneft elf;
No clown but feels its sting:
For ev'ry one is fond of felf,

And is, in pride, a king.“
On Alexander the Great, after his conquefts:

As yet you pow'r alone can plead ;
Govern us well, you're king indeed.
In conq'ring, all his time was spent,
He had none to spare for government.
So have I seen an infant cry.
Because he was not fix feet high ;
But on a table plant the dunce,-

He thinks himself a man at once.
At the dress of a fage the Grand Turk made a pother;

Yet the one was a man, and á puppet the other.
His fables, however, were severely criticised, even on the
ftage, by Fusilier, in a comedy called Momus turned Fabuli.
This piece ran 30 nights when it first came out, though it was
little noticed on its revival in 1745, long after the death of La
Motte. But, says M. D'ALEMCERT, the occafion was for-
gotten, and public malignity had no living victim to sacrifice.'

La Motte is faid to have been the best prose writer of all the French poets, except Voltaire. The politeness with which he answered Mad. Dacier's abusive address, gave occafion to the saying, that he had been treated à la Grecque, and the lady, à la Françoise . His prefaces are regarded as maiter. pieces of elegance ; Ủu 3


and his Eloge on Lewis XIV, which he pronounced in the French Academy after the death of that Prince, is the only one of all his funeral orations that has not been long forgotten; though all the pulpits in the kingdom resounded with the same praises of this monarch at his death, with which he had been intoxicated when living.

La Motte had the peculiar art of reading his works in fo captivating a manner at the French Academy, or rather reciting them (for when between 30 and 40 years old he lost his fight), that those productions which were afterward the moft feverely criticised, were heard with rapture. His enemies applied to him, on these occafions, an epigram which had been made on St. Amand, who probably read his bad verses in the same seducing manner as that with which La Motte had transformed medias crity into excellence.

Thy verses, pronounc'd by thyself, are enchanting;

Without thee, they're non sente indeed ;
As thy arts of recital so often are wanting,

Write something which others can read. His memory was so tenacious, that when a young author had read to him a new tragedy for his approbation, he told him that his piece abounded with beauties, but he was forry to say that the fincit scene in it was stolen. The poet, extremely surprised and Shocked at this charge, begged him to authenticate his affertion; when La Motte, after a short enjoyment of the author's aftonithment, cried out, “Come, come, do not be discouraged; your scene was so beautiful, that I could not help getting it by heart."

La Motte was so patient under abuse, that Gacor, the moft virulent of all his enemies, unable to extort a reply to any one of the many fcurrilous' pamphlets which be bad written against him, told the poet's friends, that he would get nothing by his forbearance ; for, says he, “ I am going to publish a work intitled, An answer to the silence of M. de la Motte

Having received a flap on the face for treading on a man's toes in a crowd, he only said, “Why do you put yourself in a paffion? I am blind.”-It was the determination of his friend Fontenelle, never to dispute. “ Everybody has his way of thinking, and every body is in the right." And as he was averse to disputation, he was ftill more fo to quarrelling. “Men (lays be) are filly, vain, and spiteful; but I am obliged to live with them, and I have long known on what conditions.La Motte lived in strict friend thip with Fontenelle till the time of his death, in 1731, at 59 years of age.

We mult now quit, with regret, M. D'ALEMBERT's agreeable work, though we have advanced no further than the 4th volume. Indeed the eminence and various talents of the per


« PreviousContinue »