grand Voltaire, is content, so far as his theory of poetry is concerned, to follow the obvious footprints of Boileau. His Henriade is as cold and pedantic as La Pucelle or the Franciade; it is for the most part in his epigrams and occasional verses that we find the admirable irony and wise humour which make Candide immortal. The age of Reason continues its grim course, but after a time we find a sentimental spirit beginning to invade prose literature; l'Abbé Prévost writes Manon Lescaut and translates some of Richardson's novels; and although for many years this new spirit finds no expression in poetry, its appearance is a definite step in the direction of romantic art; even when it existed side by side with the classic style, it was in reality its enemy. The far-sighted Boileau knew this when he laughed at the type of lover who murmurs tenderly je vous hais in the ear of his mistress. He had detected one of the eternal commonplaces of sentimentalism.

It was a writer of prose who gave the death-wound to the faded and uninspired remnants of the classical tradition and made existence possible for lyric poetry. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloïse appeared in 1761, and the return to nature and individualism began in earnest soon after its appearance. One's own emotions and other people's tears, the effect of beautiful scenery on the sensitive temperament, the freedom of passion, the sublime self-assertiveness of love,--these were the themes which this new writer proclaimed with extraordinary lyrical fervour. Another prose writer, Buffon, quickened the languid interest in the beauty of the world with his magnificent works on Natural History, which appeared during the latter half of the eighteenth century. The Abbé Delille and Saint-Lambert began to write poems of nature which would have shocked Wordsworth; but if their form is often contorted and absurd, they at least show a desire for simplicity in their choice of a subject. Quite near the end of the century Pompeii (one might almost add Greece) was disinterred, and the writings of Winckelmann and Brunck aroused a keen if somewhat unscholarly enthusiasm in the art and mythology of the Hellenes,--an enthusiasm which is commemorated in the quaint and charming artificiality of First Empire furniture and decoration. This is another instance of reaction against the `classical' tradition, which was influenced almost entirely by the Latins. It was in the midst of this little Greek renaissance that André Chénier lived. To him, as to Ronsard, the spirit of that old literature came with strange fragrance across a desert of unctuous and inept conceits. Like Ronsard, he was strongly influenced by the Alexandrians. His mother was a Greek, and we may presume that her beautiful native country was the chief topic of conversation in her salon when Lebrun--Lebrun `Pindare'--and the rest of the neo-Hellenes were present. But whilst Lebrun and his friends were solemnly comparing the Tiers État with Latona and calling the Tennis Court Delos,1 André Chénier was writing elegies that have the soft yet clearly-cut beauty of a Sicilian coin of the great period, and idylls that have really caught some of the freshness and simplicity of Theocritus. Part of his work is marred by the rhetorical tricks of his time, but no praise can be too high for these little pictures in which the beauty of some incident of pastoral life, some golden moment of a long summer day, is made eternal.

Yet these little poems were, after all, only studies that he executed whilst he was on his way to greater achievement, for he had wide ambitions, and was a sharer in the new enthusiasm for nature which the writings of Buffon had aroused. The fragment of his Hermes shows us that he aspired to be the Lucretius of his epoch, and his metrical innovations were daring and successful. He had a keen sense of music in words, and one has only to read his contemporaries to discover how completely this sense was lost in France when he wrote. But his tragic death came, as it came to Keats, at the moment when he was preparing for a loftier flight; his poems were not published for many years; and it is the voice of Lebrun-- `Pindare',--after all, that sings the swan-song of the eighteenth century.


The writers of the great epoch of French lyric poetry are sufficiently well known in England to make a detailed account of their art superfluous in this volume. It is, however, worth while to observe that the germ of almost every quality which the poets of the nineteenth century possess is to be found in the work of a master of prose. Chateaubriand is the genius of the revolt against the classical fetish.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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