ePub 版
[ocr errors]

conceived that a pretty little talent for poetry, which he really possessed, raised him to a level with Corneille; he looked upon that

a great man as his rival, as his rival hated him, and absolutely suffered himself to be so far gone in fatuity as to be madly jealous of the celebrity of The CID of that wonderful poet; in consequence of which he employed some of his literary hirelings to attack Core neille, and, by all practicable means, to depreciate his compositions.

The cardinal's private poetical cabal consisted of Routrou, Desmarets, Colletet, and Boisrobert. These four with Corneille helped the cardinal in the composition of some wretched pieces. It is generally thought most likely that he wrote them first himself, and that they were then revised and amended by the five poets, who underwent the disgrace of fathering the miserable things in order to shield the great statesman and divine from the scandal of being a dramatic poet. Of those pieces. thus fathered to the public eye, by those writers, who went by the name of “ The Five Poets," the names of three are particularly recorded as being the cardi. nal's, accompanied with some anecdotes well worth relating, as highly descriptive of the character of that extraordinary personage.

Being not only persuaded in his own mind of the excellence of a piece he had just composed, called Europe, but perfectly confident of its success, he resolved to have the opinion of the French academy to back his own. Of obtaining this he had little doubt, not only because he was assured of the merits of his composition, but because that academy was founded by himself, and was chiefly composed of his own creatures. He, therefore, ordered Boisrobert to lay it before that learned body; and, in his name, to desire they would peruse it and give their opinion of it, sincerely, and unqualified by flattery, and entirely apart from any partial consideration of their respect and personal feelings towards him: he added too, an injunction that they should freely and candidly correct any thing they found in it censurable by the rules of the stage or the general laws of poetry.

Flattered by the condescension of the cardinal--not a little elated with pride at the testimony to their merits contained in this unlimited privilege-and unwilling to neglect such an opportunity of showing their wisdom and authority, they sat down with the most perfect good will and appetite to the work of criticism; and without once giving theinselves time to consult their own cunning or their patron's feelings, they so mangled the bantling of the cardinal's

brain, that, when it came back to him, a very small portion of it was legible, it was so mutilated and filled with blots. Like poor Sir John Suckling's stockings, it was so mended, patched, pieced, and darned, that very little of the original fabric remained to testify to the cardinal that it had once been his own.

The triumph of cutting up the cardinal being over, the confi. dence of Boisrobert began to flag as he returned to his eminence: on his way he was troubled with doubts and misgivings of the prudence of the academy, and could not help lamenting that the very first act of sincerity to his grace of which they had been guilty, was likely to be attended with serious consequences. It was now however too late, and far out of his competence to correct it: he therefore, with every softening circumstance which caution and cunning could suggest, made his report to Richelieu, and at the same time presented to him his copy in its dismal state of mutilation.

The cardinal, though universally renowned, has been celebrated for nothing more than the equanimity and christian patience with which he could bear the disasters of his country, and stand unmoved under the severest shocks which the state and empire sustained under his warlike administration; but his country and the bantling of his brain were two different things, and very differently indeed affected him: he fairly sunk under the blow given to the latter, lost all patience, and with it all his prudence, and his comfort too; so tearing to pieces the copy in a paroxysm of rage and disappointment, he threw the fragments into the fireplace, and, groaning with despondency and grief, retired to his bed.

After he had lain for some time sadly ruminating on his misfortune, his temper settled down and his reason in some sort returned lo its office. He began to suspect that he had been rather rash; and it afforded him a gleam of comfort to reflect that there had been no fire burning in the fireplace into which he had thrown his precious production. He, therefore, thought it best to make a virtue of necessity, and to save his dear offspring, disfigured as it was by the barbarous hands of the tasteless academical ruffians; so he sent for his secretary Cheret--ordered him carefully to collect all the fragments of paper in the chimney, sent him to the laundry for some starch, and, these being brought, sat up the whole night pasting and piecing the play till, just about day-break, he had it restored to an almost legible condition. That day he stood by while it was


recopied, and, as it was in the process of transcription, ordered the corrections of the academy to be altered, some few trivial ones excepted; which done, he sent the new copy back by Boisrobert to the academy, with a condescending intimation to them, that they might observe he had profited by their advice-But that, as it was possible they might not be more infallible than him, he had not altogether abided by their alterations.

• The academy were at first confounded; but Boisrobert, Desmarets and Colletet soon found means to convince them that they had been all wrong, that the cardinal was a better judge of his own play than all of them put together, or at least that, however judicious. they might be as poets, they must have been silly politicians to find fault where they were expected to praise; wherefore they came to a resolution nem. con. to return the play to his eminence unaltered, and to accompany it with a reverential letter stating their approbation of the piece, professing the vast delight they felt in reperusing it, and assuring him of their confidence of its success before the public.

Another characteristic anecdote of the cardinal shows him in a still more ridiculous and contemptible view. He procured, at the expense of one hundred thousand crowns, a play of his, called Mirame, to be brought upon the stage. It failed of success on the first representation. He assisted, himself, in person at the performance, and was nearly frantic with despair when he found it rejected. Filled with rage, consternation and chagrin, he repaired to his palace and gave orders for Desmarets to attend him straight. Frightened to an agony at the thoughts of facing the cardinal alone, the unhappy poet brought along with him a friend of the name of Petit, a shrewd, cunning fellow, full of humour, and happy in a more than common share of impudence and presence of mind. The moment they entered the cardinal's closet, he abruptly. ex. claimed to them. What think you now? Will the French people, do you think, ever have any taste? Could you have believed it possible? Do you know, they were not delighted with my Mirame?"Petit, who saw that Desmarets was overwhelmed with confusion, and thought that he himself knew better how to humour the cardinal, without hesitation replied, “ I assure you, monseigneur, it was not the fault of the play, which is really admirable;- it was entirely the fault of the actors. Your eminence cannot but have perceived that they were not only imperfect in their parts but that they were


all beastly drunk."- — Yes, yes," said the cardinal, “ I could perceive it; it was plain enough:-well! we shall see what is to be done on the next representation." The part they had to perform was now plain enough to the two parasites. They contrived to se. lect and pack an audience, all of whom were admitted gratis, and some were even paid for attending. Miserable weakness stupid infatuation! deplorable inconsistency That a man whose counsels were to guide and govern a mighty empire, and to whose will it was competent to agitate and shake the whole continent of Europe, should be the dupe of such mean, such pilfering propensities, and so blinded by his passions as not to see that his petty artifices were transparent, and that such creatures as those who stooped to be his agents were incapable of fidelity.

Paul Pellison Fontanier, the historian of Lewis the Fourteenth, in his history of the French academy, states with pointed circumstantiality, that the great Richelieu enjoyed the plaudits of this hired audience with as enthusiastic delight as if it were the real voluntary applause of an impartial, unhired audience; that in order to encourage and increase the applause, and bring it to bear more directly upon him personally, he constantly showed himself to the audience; that he frequently commanded silence, in order that the particular passages, which he most affected, might be more distinctly heard, and better attended to, and that he even went so far as sometimes to applaud the piece himself, in order to induce the crowd to applaud also.

And now for a specimen of what the pandars of such men may expect from their principals! In his zeal to accomplish his object for the cardinal, and the hurry and bustle attending the packing of the house, poor Boisrobert, not being able to distinguish his recruits, or to discriminate between their characters, unfortunately introduced some women of tainted reputation into the same box with the Dutchess of Aiguillon, who, upon being informed of the very bad character of the ladies who had been thus set cheek by jowi with her in public, was so exceedingly enraged that she insisted on Richelieu's discarding the unhappy offender. The cardinal was mean and ungrateful enough to comply, and poor Boisrobert was banished. The academy however acted, upon the occasion, with a spirit which may be considered as in some sort atoning for their abject submission in the affair of the altered play of Europe: for Vou. III.

2 D

knowing how very little cause the cardinal had to be displeased with Boisrobert, they demanded his recal, which nevertheless was delayed, till Richelieu, being taken ill with chagrin and mortification at the issue of that shameful affair, sent to his physician for a recipe; when Monseigneur le Medicin, who probably had his cue, as well as fee from his eminence, answered that the best physic would be the presence of Boisrobert; on which authority the discarded favourite was recalled.

The cardinal brought forth a comedy called The Tuilleries, which he caused to be performed at his own palace, attending the disposition and arrangement of the scenes, with all the industry and earnestness of the manager of a strolling company. Corneille was desirous to make an alteration in one of the acts, and felt rather embarrassed upon the occasion, fearing to offend his eminence on the one hand, and on the other being averse to let the piece go into the world with an absurdity on the face of it, which could not fail to excite merriment at the expense either of the cardinal or his stalking horses, the five poets; but when, with some difficulty, he proposed it, the great man replied, " Il falloit avoir un esprit de fuite," or in plain English, that he must take care and be very accommodating!

The stage history of all the nations of the earth presents nothing that can maintain a competition in weakness, absurdity, and monstrous taste with the writings and conduct of Richelieu as a dramatist. For the comedy of The Tuilleries he wrote a prologue, which, to the public eye, he saddled for a time on his packhorse Chapelain. In this curious composition he fulsomely praised in detail all his authors, who were placed, for the purpose of receiving this contemptible incense, in conspicuous situations among the audience. When the comedy was fairly transcribed, Colletet was ordered by his eminence to read it to him. Colletet proceeded to comply; but no sooner had the cardinal heard him read the following four lines in the first scene of it

En meme temps J'ai vu, sur le bord d'un ruisseau
La canne s'humecter de la bourbe de l'eau
D'une voix enrouee, et d'un battement d'aile

Animer le canard qui languit aupres d'elle, than he stopped him short, and, in the fulness of his raptures at the beauty of the passage, laid him down fifty pistoles, bidding him at the same time read no further, for that the whole revenue of the


« 上一頁繼續 »