« AnteriorContinuar »
amusement of the lower orders, who require satire to he bold and strongly marked. George Dandin, Pourceattgnac, le Bourgeois Gentilkomme, and the Fmirberies de Scapin, are of the same class—extremely diverting, but coarsely drawn. Moliere gave himself more time in the composition of the Femmes Savantes, in which he ingeniously satirized the ridiculous affectation and pedantic erudition of the Hotel de Rambouillet. The incidents in this play, as in most of his others, are not sufficiently connected; but the plot, though barren in itself, presents some amusing situations. The scene of Trissotin and Vadius, was taken from a real dispute which occurred between Cotin and Manage. The Malade Imaginaire is a play of a different description; but it exposes, with the usual sagacity and ingenuity of Moliere, the pedantry and quackery of the medical tribe. It will be chiefly remembered, however, as the last production of this illustrious man, during the representation of which, he was seized with the illness of which he died. He had been indisposed for some time; and his friends in vain exhorted him to repose himself— "But what," said he, " will become of so many poor workmen? I should for ever reproach myself for having missed one day in procuring them bread!" The exertions he made while performing himself the Malade Imaginaire, overpowered him, and a convulsion seized him on the stage. It was remarked, that as he pronounced the word juro, his countenance changed, and the blood immediately issuing from his mouth, suffocated him a few hours after, on the 17th February, 1673, in his 54th year. The archbishop of Paris at first refused to permit his body to be interred in consecrated ground—an illiberal and unjust prejudice against comedians which prevailed even in the last century. The wife of Moliere exclaimed, "they refuse a tomb to the man to whom Greece would have erected altars!" The king, at length, desired the »
prelate to retract Ins prohibition, and the body was interred in the church of St. Joseph. The populace was with difficulty prevented from disturbing the ceremony of the funeral.
As an actor, though respectable, his talents were not so conspicuous as in his writings. In his person, he was tall—of a dark complexion, and his countenance was capable of every expression he chose to give it. He was not calculated for tragedy, and in vain endeavoured to surmount his many deficiencies. His voice was low and thick, and possessing little flexibility, forced him to confine himself to comedy, in which he contrived to make his defects serviceable to him. He not only pleased in the parts of Mascarille and Sganarelle, but excelled in those of Arnolphe, Orgon, Harpagon, &c. It was in those characters that, by the intelligence, his accurate conception and strength of colouring which he displayed, he often so deceived the spectators as to render them unable to distinguish between the comedian and the personage he represented. He therefore, in general, selected for himself the longest and the most difficult parts.
In private life he was highly and deservedly esteemed. His country-house, at Auteuil, was the resort of all the wits of his age. By them he was respected as a man of genius, and beloved for the mildness and liberality of his disposition. The Marechal de Vivonne lived with him in all that intimacy which places genius and talents on a level with affluence and rank. The great Conde often required his visits; and would acknowledge, that from his conversation he always derived something new. His merit, as a writer, was universally allowed by the men of genius, of all classes, who adorned that fertile age. When Louis XIV. once asked Racine, whom he conceived to be Fbance.] MOLIETIE.
the first of the authors who had illustrated his reign, lie instantly replied, Moliere.—" I should not have thought so," said the king, "but you are a better judge than 1 am." So many marks of distraction corrupted neither his heart nor his mind—he was mild, compassionate, and generous. The instances of his liberality are innumerable, and have been too often related to require insertion here. But we may be allowed to repeat one anecdote of his benevolence not so generally known. He was one day at his country-house, with Baron, afterwards so celebrated as an actor, who told him that he wished to introduce an indigent performer of the name of Mondorge. "Oh!" said Moliere, "I know him well. He was my companion in Languedoc, and is a very honest fellow. What shall we give him r" "Suppose four Louis," said Baron, after some hesitation. "Well," replied Moliere, " I will give him the four Louis, as from myself. There are twenty more lying on the table—you shall bestow them, as coming from you." Mondorge was introduced— Moliere affectionately embraced him—said all he could to console him in his distress—and, to the very liberal present which he had already made him, added that of a magnificent theatrical dress to appear in on the stage.
Moliere, who contributed so largely to the amusement of others, was himself the sport and prey of domestic misfortune and misery. When he originally formed his company of actors, he connected himself, (as we have already said), with La Bejart, a provincial actress of some celebrity. She had a daughter, the issue of a private marriage with M. de Modene, a gentleman of Avignon. In vain did the mother, as the reputation of Moliere increased, press him to give a legal sanction to their union. The younger charms of the daughter had captivated his heart; and in spite of the resistance of La Bejart, the marriage took place. Those who knew the long and intimate connection that had subsisted between La Bejart and him, accused hiin of incestuously marrying his own daughter. But the calumny was easily refuted, by irrefragable proofs that she was -born before Moliere became acquainted with her mother. The marriage, however, was highly imprudent, and was to him a source of perpetual inquietude. La Bejart, a haughty intriguing woman, who preferred being even the mistress than the mother-in-law of Moliere, by her extravagant jealousy of her daughter, and the continual disputes which it occasioned, disturbed his peace of mind, and embittered his days. The daughter, who was so much indebted to his love for her, and had deceived him by a false shew of gratitude and fondness, no sooner became his wife, than she displayed all the extravagance and caprice of a coquette. She exhibited herself to the court and city in all the splendour of dress and equipage —while the unfortunate husband, whose philosophy had not taught him to live without a wife, was a prey to jealousy and disappointed love. She neglected or disdained to sooth either one or the other—prayers, intreaties, and remonstrances were in vain—till, despairing of success, he gave himself up to the enjoyments of his closet, and the society of his friends. He thus added to the list of unhappy husbands; and, if his pen, in describing the errors and frailties of the sex, has such a glow of nature and of truth, it was because a living model of vexation was in his own house. After his death, she again married an obscure comedian, named Le Grand. She retained no respect for the memory of her illustrious husband; and was so careless of his manuscripts, that none of them have been preserved. This culpable indifference extended even to a daughter who was the fruit of this inauspicious union; and who, neglected by her parent, eloped from her at a very early age, and lived and died in obscurity.
Moliere had studied and even translated Lucretius, and would have published his translation; but an unfortunate accident deprived the world of a work, which probably would have still increased his fame. A valet, whom he had ordered to curl his wig, made use of the papers which contained his translation. Moliere, whose anger was easily raised, threw the whole into the fire. Thus, it is said, Montesquieu and Fenclon lost two considerable works, by the carelessness of their servants. As he advanced in the version, Moliere was accustomed to consult Rohault, a celebrated metaphysician. As a proof of his good sense, he had translated into prose all the philosophical matter of the poem, and reserved only for poetry those beautiful descriptions with which Lucretius abounds.
He always evinced himself the early protector and liberal encourager of merit. A young man had written a tragedy, entitled, Tkcugene el Cltariclee, and presented it to Moliere, who soon discovered that it was good for nothing, but rewarded him as he would have done had the play been good. Some time after he himself conceived the plan of the Frh es Ennemis; and, sending fortheyoungman, gave him the most ample instructions, and desired him, if possible, to bring an act every week. The youth obeyed; but when he produced his manuscript, Moliere immediately perceived that he had borrowed nearly the whole from the Thiba'ide of Rotrou. Moliere mildly convinced him of the impropriety of engrossing the labours of another, and the impolicy of taking from a tragedy sufficiently recent to be in the perfect recollection of the audience: he even assisted him in planning the necessary alterations. The piece was then successful. But Racine (for the youthful poet was no other than that celebrated man) gradually neglected his benefactor; and Moliere did not attempt to reclaim him. lie does not appear to have had much esteem for Racine. lie had been promised the