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Condè, the brother to the Grand Condè. The latter entertained a very high admiration and even a strong personal regard for Molière in after life. It is related that, with an equal delicacy of consideration and a warmth of regard, he said once to him, Molière, I perhaps ask you to come to me too often; I therefore interfere with your writing; but I shall hope that, whenever you have a leisure hour, you will come to me of your own accord. Tell one of my people to let me know that you are arrived, and I will leave all other engagements to be with you." The Prince was as good as his word, too, for after one of those interviews he had been heard to say, I am never tired of conversing with Molière. He is a man of universal power of mind. His erudition and his judgment are inexhaustible." The death of Molière caused Condè so keen a grief, that he could not resist a sort of rough retort when a certain Abbe presented him with an epitaph that he had written upon the deceased Wit, "Ah!" said Condè, "why. isn't he here to write yours!"
Molière commenced his career by studying the law, but it does not appear that he ever practised it ;and shortly after, his passion for the stage induced him to place himself at the head of a famous troupe of comedians, at the same time exchanging the family name of Poquelin for that of Molière. We cannot get at the reason that induced him to take the name of "Molière"; there is no clue to it at all. He changed his name, however, to spare his parents. and relations the approbrium which the prejudice of the age had attached to the theatrical profession. But the family resentment was not appeased by this forbearance on his part; they abjured him, and when they mounted their genealogical tree he was left out. It is droll enough-the Poquelins repudiating the contamination with the play-actor Molière; the illustrious Poquelins refusing to acknowledge and to admit in their distinguished fraternity the
poor, "vagabond" Molière ! You will remember that in our Queen Elizabeth's time, in that celebrated 49th Act of hers, all the play-actors, and bear-wards, and such fellows, were styled "vagabonds." Even amongst his own forcible delineations of humanity's extravagances and absurd mistakes, there exists no more pregnant instance of folly than this; for where now would be the name of Poquelin, unless visible through posterity by the reflected light from that of Molière? I am afraid the time is still distant when men will be received and esteemed for their integrity of character, whatever may be their calling, rather than for the fortuitous chance of their position in society, how questionable soever their integrity of character may be. As Lear says, "Robes and fur gowns hide all.”
That Molière was capable of rightly comprehending and justly estimating his own powers; that he was neither to be misled by a vain ambition, nor daunted by the stigma of a false prejudice from pursuing the path which he had so wisely chosen, is evinced by his refusal afterwards to give up his dramatic career, and to accept a position of high worldly repute. When the offer of secretaryship to his old schoolfellow the Prince de Conde was made him, he declined it in terms as witty as modest, "If I may believe the public voice, I am a tolerable actor and author, but I might make a very bad secretary. I please the Prince by my present performances; I should only displease him by a grave work ill performed."
Molière's facility in composition equalled his power of conception. The dates of his several productions show them to have been executed in an incredibly short space of time. He must have had industry quite equal to his ability; for when it is remembered that he was actor as well as author; that he was dramatic manager and director, besides being dramatic writer; and moreover that he was in
great social demand, it seems absolutely marvellous that even so prolific a pen as his could have achieved the large number of admirable comedies which he poured out in rapid succession.
His wit is as easy as it is keen and polished; his humour is as flowing as it is rich. Never, certainly, was style more uncònstrained, more unstilted, and more natural. The repartee is prompt, quick, telling; perfectly unstudied in its air. The expressions are replete with the most artistic turns, and yet nothing can have a less artificial effect. Boileau, himself a fine wit, designated Molière's as "that genius rare and sublime, whose fertile vein in writing knew neither toil nor pain."
There can be little doubt that Molière's private life had an important effect upon his writings. He married Armande Béjart, a young actress of great beauty, grace, and sprightliness, whom he himself had been the means of educating and bringing forward in her profession. She was of a light, coquettish, inconstant disposition, which prevented her appreciating the merit of a man like Molière. His feelings were perpetually wounded by her levity, while his senses were unable to resist the effects of her charms. His judgment was continually at war with his passion on her account. His understanding condemned her, while his heart only too fondly approved her. He was the incessant sport of her caprice and her frivolities; for while he would fain have emancipated himself from the influence which she possessed over his mind, he could not withstand the potent spell which her personal fascinations exercised over his fancy. There is an affecting conversation upon record, in which he once confided his domestic anguish to a friend, and it affords a very powerful picture of an unhappy love for a wife who ill deserved it; an irresistible passion towards one whom reason told him was not worthy of so profound and sincére an attachment.
We have only to look upon his beautiful faceyou may see his bust in the Crystal Palace, though I do not say that is beautiful, for it represents him in the latter part of his life, when his face had been worn with feelings and passions-but it is lineally handsome; and then there is a young portrait in the Dulwich Gallery which is beautiful;—we have only to look upon his face to feel that he was as sensitive as he was refinedly sensual and gentle. There are some physiognomic betrayals which it were mere prejudice or obtuseness to disallow, and of these Molière's features beamed an expression of intellectual and affectionate beauty that consummated the charm in their lineal combination.
In all his comedies his domestic perplexities and conjugal griefs had their influence; they are all to be traced in his writings. The author often painted what the man felt; and some of his most forcible passages upon the inconsistencies of love;-its pangs of doubt, its tortures of suspense, and its anguish of jealous fear, owe their passionate strength to his own experience as a lover, and a husband,-as one who loved "not wisely, but too well."
Molière was the first to introduce upon the French stage the pure comedy of character and manners; and, like our own Shakspere in many of his artistic productions, his genius carried him at once to a climax in the great dramatic composition of "The Misanthrope." It has been very well said by one of the commentators upon this play, that, "Comedy is the portraiture of society; it corrects in exposing its follies and absurdities, and not in presenting us models of idealised perfection."
French wit and French humour are super-excellent. The language is eminently calculated for the expression of humorous ideas, and its construction affords peculiar scope for witty turns of phraseology. Wit is an intrinsic element in French style; indeed so much so that it pervades their very tragedy; and
some of Racine's gravest lines contain wit, from the anthithetical turn and epigrammatic point that distinguish them. I would refer you, as an instance, to that passage where one of his tragic heroines, about to stab the man whom she loves, exclaims:
"I pierce that heart I have no power to touch." The passion is here all but lost in the polished antithesis. Another of his characters, rushing out to obtain evidence of her suitor's faith or suspected falsity, declares she will:
"Crush the traitor, or crown the lover's truth." The tumult of feeling, the agitation and distraction of pathos, the vehemence of anguish, become merged in the refining of sentiments, and the skill of wordturning. A tragic event is thus destroyed by its tooaccomplished diction. The grace and exactness of the smooth-flowing lines, with their smart, neat finish, impair the energy and the vigour of high passion; and this is one of the secrets of the want of power in French tragedy-power of a certain class, I mean; not power of language, but power of passion. The elaboration of the writing belongs rather to wit than to feeling. It injures emotional expression, although it heightens sensational enjoyment; therefore, while unsuited to the rugged impetuosity of tragic utterance, it is admirably suited for the requirements of comedy. Byron stigmatises French versification as ;—
"That whetstone of the teeth Monotony in wire.”
The meaning of the phrase I think it would be difficult to interpret, but it sounds as though he could find nothing in it but that which is unmusical and stiff. But if the regular cadence of French verse ill adapts it for the force of tragedy, its elegance, its airiness, and its vivacity, render it exquisitely appropriate for comic dialogue. In the hands of so great a master as Molière it becomes a delightful medium