1902 Encyclopedia > Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille
French dramatist
(1606-84)




PIERRE CORNEILLE (1606-1684), was born at Rouen, in the Rue de la Pie, on the 7th June 1606. The house, which was long preserved, was destroyed a few years ago.

His father, whose Christian name was the same, was avocet du roi à la Table de Marbre du Palais, and also held the position of maître des eaux et fôrets in the vicomté of Rouen. In this latter office he is said to have shown himself a vigorous magistrate, supporting brigandage and plunder without regard to his personal safety. He was ennobled in 1637 (it is said not without regard to his son’s distinction), and the honour was renewed in favour of his sons Pierre and Thomas in 1669, when a general repeal of the letters of nobility recently granted had taken place. There appears, however, to be no instance on record of the poet himself assuming the "de" of nobility. His mother’s name was Marthe le Pesant.

After being educated by the Jesuits of Rouen, Corneille at the age of eighteen was entered as avocet, and in 1624 took the oaths, as we are told, four years before the regular time, a dispensation having been procured. He was afterwards appointed advocate to the admiralty and to the "waters and forests," but both these posts must have been of small value, as we find parting with them in 1650 for the insignificant sum of 6000 livres. No other evidence of any professional employment on his part is forthcoming, though he seems to have discharged certain parochial functions. His first play, Mélite, was acted in 1629. It is said by Fontenelle to have been inspired by personal experiences, and was extremely popular, either because or in spite of its remarkable difference from the popular plays of the day those of Hardi. In 1632 Clitandre, a tragedy, followd; in the following year La Veuve, and in 1634 the Galerie du Palais and La Suivante, all the three last-named plays being comedies. In 1634, also, having been selected as the composer of a Latin elegy to Richelieu on the occasion of the cardinal visiting Rouen, he was introduced to the subject of his verses, and was soon after enrolled among the ‘five poets." These officers (the others being Colletet, Bois Robert, and De l’Etoile, who in no way merited the title, and Rotrou, who was no unworthy yokefellow even of Corneille) had for tasks the more profitable than dignified occupation of working up Richelieu’s ideas into dramatic form. No one could be less suited for such work than Corneille, and he soon incurred his employer’s displeasure by altering the plan of the third act of Les Thuileries, which had been intrusted to him.

Meanwhile the year 1635 saw the production of two dramas—La Place Royale, a comedy of the same stamp as his preceding works, the Médeé, a grand but unequal tragedy. In the next year the singular extravaganza entitled L’illusion comique followed, and was succeeded by the Cid. The triumphant success of this, perhaps the most "epoch-making" play in all literature, the jealousy of Richelieu and the Academy, the open attacks of Scudéri and Mairet and others, and the pamphlet-was which followed, are among the best-known incidents in the history of letters. The trimming verdict of the Academy, when its arbitration was demanded by Richelieu, and not openly repudiated by Corneille, was virtually unimportant; but it is worth remembering that Scudéri, a winter of at least temporary eminence and of some talent, gravely and apparently sincerely asserted and maintained of this great play that the subject was utterly bad, that all the rules of dramatic composition were violated, that the action was badly conducted, the versification constantly faulty, and the beauties as a rule stolen! Corneille himself was awkwardly situated in this dispute. The esprit bourru by which he was at all times distinguished, and which he now displayed in his rather arrogant Excuse à Ariste, unfitted him for controversy, and it was of vital importance to him that he should not lose the outward marks of favour which Richelieu continued to show him. Perhaps the pleasantest feature in the whole matter is the unshaken and generous admiration with which Rotrou, the only contemporary whose genius entitled him to criticize Corneille, continued to regard his friend, rival, and in some sense (though Rotrou was the younger of the two) pupil. Finding it impossible to make himself fairly heard in the matter. Corneille (who had retired from his position among the "five poets") withdrew to Rouen and passed nearly three years in quiet there. In 1639, or at the beginning of 1640, appeared Horace with a dedication to Richelieu. The good offices of Madame de Combalet, to whom the Cid had been dedicated, and perhaps the satisfaction of the cardinal’s literary jealously, had healed what breach there may have been, and indeed the poet was in no position to quarrel with his patron. Richelieu not only allowed hi, 500 crowns a year, but soon afterwards employed his omnipotence in reconciling the father of the poet’s mistress, Marie de Lampériére, to the marriage of the lovers. These were years of considerable importance to Corneille. Not only Horace but Cinna appeared therein. A brief but very serious illness attacked him, and the death of his father increased his family anxieties by leaving his mother in very indifferent circumstances.

Towards the end of 1640 Polyeucte was produced; and in the following year, Corneille figured as a contributor to the Guirlande de Julie, a famous album which the marquis de Montausier, assisted by all the literary men of the day, offered to his lady love Julie d’Angennes. 1642 saw La Mort de Pompée and the memorable comedy of Le Menteur, which though adapted from the Spanish stood in relation to French comedy very much as Le Cid, which owed to Spain only its subject, stood to French tragedy. The sequel which followed it in 1644 was not popular, but Rodogune was a brilliant success. Théodore, a tragedy on a somewhat perilous subject, was the first of Corneille’s plays which was definitely damned. Some amends may have been made to him by the commission which he received to write verses for the Triomphes poétiques de Louis XIII. Soon after (January 22, 1647) the Academy at last (it had twice rejected him on frivolous pleas) admitted the greatest of living French writers Heraclius (1647), Androméde (1650), a spectacle rather than a play, Don Sanche d’ Aragon (1650), and Nicoméde (1651) were the products of the next few years’ work; but in 1653 Pertharite was recoved with decided disfavour, and the poet in disgust resolved, like Ben Jonson, to quit the loathed stage. In this resolution he persevered for six years, during which he worked at a verse translation of the Imitation of Christ (finished in 1656), at his three Discourses on Dramatic Poetry, and at the Examens whicha re usually printed at the end of his plays. In 1659 Fouquet, the Maecenas of the time, persuaded him to alter his resolve, and Aedipe, a play which became a great favourite with Louis XIV., was the result. It was followed by La Toison d’Or (1660), Sertorius (1162), and Sophonisbe (1663). In this latter year Corneille was included among the list of men of letters pensioned at the proposal of Colbert. He received 2000 livres. Othon (1664), Agésilas (1666), Attila (1667), and Tite et Bérénice (1670), were generally considered as proofs of failing powers,—the cruel quatrain of Boileau—

Aprés l’Agésilas
Hélas!
Mais après l’Attila
Holà!

in the case of these two plays, and the unluckly comparison with Racine in the Bérénice, telling heavily against them. In 1655 and 1670 some versifications of devotional works addressed to the Virgin had appeared. The part which Corneille took in Psyché (1671), Moliére and Quinault being his coadjutors, showed signs of renewed vigour; but Pulchérie (1672) and Suréna (1674) were allowed even by his faithful followers to be failures. He livred for ten years after the appearance of Suréna, but was almost silent save for the publication, in 1676, of some beautiful verses thanking Louis XIV. for ordering the revival of his plays. He died at his lodging in the Rue d’Argenteuil on the 30th of September 1684. For nine years (1674-81), and again in 1683, his pension had, for what reason is unknown, been suspended, and he was in great straits. The story goes that at last Boileau, hearing of this, went to the king and offered to resign his own pension of there were not money enough for Corneille, and that Louis sent the aged poet 200 pistoles. He might have said, with a great English poet in like case, "I have no time to spend them." Two days afterwards he was dead.

Corneille was buried in the church of St Roch, where no monument marked his grace until 1821. he had six children, of whom four survived him. Pierre, the eldest son, a cavalry officer, left posterity in whom the name had continued; Marie, the eldest daughter, was twice married, and by her second husband, M. de Farcy, became the ancestress of Charlotte Corday. Repeatedly efforts have been made for the benefit of the poet’s descendants, Voltaire, Charles X., and the Comédie Francaise having all borne part therein.

The portraits of Corneille (the best and most trustworthy of which is from the bruin of Lasne, an engraver of Caen-represent him as a man of serious, almost of stern countenance, and this aggress well enough with such descriptions as we have of his appearance and with the idea of him which we should form from his writings and conduct. His nephew Fontenelle admits that his general address and manner were by no means prepossessing. Others use stronger language, and it seems to be confessed that either from shyness, from pride, or from physical defects of utterance, probably from all three combined, he did not attract strangers. Racine is said to have assured his son that Corneille made verses "cent fois plus beaux" than his own, but that his own greater popularity was owing to the fact that he took some trouble to make himself personally agreeable. Almost all the anecdotes which have been recorded concerning the greatest of French dramatists testify to a rugged and somewhat unamiable self-contentment. "Je n’ai pas le mérite de ce pays-ci," he said of the court. "Je n’en suis pas moins Pierre Corneille," he is said to have replied to his friends whenever they dared to suggest certain shortcomings in his behavior, manner, or speech. "je suis saoul de gloire et affamé d’argent" was his reply to the compliments of Boileau. Yet tradition is unanimous as to his affection for his family and as to the harmony in which he lived with his brother Thomas who had married Marguerite de Lampérière, younger sister of Marie, and whose household both at Rouen and at Paris was practically one with that of his brother. No story about Corneille is better known than that which tells of the trap between the two houses, and how Pierre, whose facility of versification was much inferior to his brother’s, would lift it when hard bestead, and call out "Sans-souci, une rime!" Notwithstanding this domestic felicity, an impression is left on the reader of Corneille’s biographies that he was by no means a happy man. Melancholy of temperament will partially explain this, but there were other reasons. He appears to have been quite free from envy properly so called, and to have been already to acknowledge the excellencies of his contemporaries. But, as was the case with a very different man—Goldsmith—praise bestowed on others always man—Goldsmith—praise bestowed on others always made him uncomfortable unless it were accompanied by praise bestowed on himself. As Guizot has excellently said, "Sa jalousie fut celle d’un enfant qui veut qu’un sourire le rassure contre les caresses que reçoit son frère."





Another cause of discomfort must have been excellently of poverty. His pensions covered but a small part of his long life and were most irregularly paid. The occasional presents of rich men, such as Montauron (who gave him 1000, others say 200, pistoles for the defication of Cinna) and Fouquet (who commissioned Aedipe), were few and far between, though they have exposed him to reflections which show great ignorance of the manners of the age. Of his professional earnings, the small sum for which as we have seen, he gave up his offices, and the expression of Fontenelle that he practiced "sans gout et sans succés’ are sufficient proof. His patrimony and his wife’s dowry must have been both trifling. On the other hand, it was during the early and middle part of his career impossible, and during the later part very difficult, for a dramatist to live decently by his pieces. It was not till the middle of the century that the custom of allowing the author two shares in the profits during the first run of the piece was observed, and even then revivals profited him nothing. Thomas Corneille himself, who to his undoubted talents united wonderful facility, untiring industry, and (gift valuable above all others to the playwright) an extraordinary knack of hitting the public fancy died, notwithstanding his simple tastes, "as poor as Job." We know that Pierre received for two of his later pieces 2000 livres each, and it would seem that this was the utmost he ever did receive.

But if his gains in money were small and insufficient, it must be supposed that his reward in fame was stinted. Corneille, unlike many of the great writers of the world, was not driven to wait for "the next age" to do him justice. The cabal which attacked the Cid was a cabal of a purely cliquish character, and had, as we are assured on the amplest evidence, no effect whatever on the judgment of the public. All his subsequent masterpieces were received with the same ungrudging applause, and the raising star of Racine, even in conjunction with the manifest inferiority of the last five or six plays of the author of Cinna, with difficulty prevailed against the towering reputation of the latter. The great men of his time—Condé, Turenne, the maréchal de Grammont, the knight-errant duc de Guise—were his fervent admirers. Nor had he less justice done him by a class from whom less justice might have been expected, the brother men of letters whose criticisms he treated with such scant courtesy. The respectable mediocrity of Chapelain might misapprehend him; the lesser geniuses of Scudéri and Mairet might fell alarm at his advent; the envious Claverets and D’Aubignacs might snarl and scribble. But Balzac did him justice; Rotrou, as we have seen, never failed in generous appreciation; Molière in conversation and in print recognized him as his own master and the foremost of dramatists. We have quoted the informal tribute of Racine; but it should not be forgotten that Racine, in discharge of his duty as respondent at the Academical reception of Thomas Corneille, pronounced upon the memory of Pierre perhaps the noblest and most just tribute of eulogy that ever issued from the lips of a rival. Boileau’s testimony is of a more chequered character; yet he seems never to have failed in admiring Corneille whenever his principles would allow him to do so. Of his conduct in the poet’s dire necessity we have spoken already, and there is one story ofteh period of his extreme old age which must not be omitted. Questioned as to the great men of Louis XIV.’s reign, he is said to have replied: "I only know three,—Corneille, Molière, and myself." "And how about Racince?" his auditor ventured to remark. "he was an extremely clever fellow whom I taught with great difficulty to write verse." It was reserved for the 18th century to exalt Racine above Corneille. Voltaire. Who was prompted by his natural benevolence to comment on the latter (the profits went to a relation of the poet), was not altogether fitted by nature to appreciate Corneille, and moreover, as has been ingeniously pointed out, was not a little wearied by the length of his task. His partially unfavourable verdict was endorsed earlier by Vauvenargues, who knew little of poetry, and later by La Harpe, whose critical stand-point has now been universally abandoned. Napoleon I. was a great admirer of Corneille ("s’il vivait je le ferias prince," he said), and under the Empire and the Restoration as approach to a sounder appreciation was made. But it was the glory of the romantic school, or rather of the more catholic study of letters which that school brought about, to restore Corneille to his true rank, that of the greatest writer of France,—perhaps the only one who up to our times can take rank with the Dantes and Shakespeares of other countries. So long, indeed, as a certain kind of criticism was pursued due appreciation was impossible. When it was though sufficient to say with Boileau that Corneille excites, not pity or terror, but admiration which was not a tragic passion; or that

D’un seul nom quelquefois le son dur ou bizarre
Rend un poème entire ou burlesque ou barbare;"

When Voltaire could think it crushing to add to his exposure of the "infamies" of Thèodore -- "après cela comment osons nous condemner les pieces de Lope de Vèga et de Shakespeare?" it is obvious that the Cid and Polyeucte, much more Don Sanche d’Atragon and Rodogune, were sealed books to the critic.

Almost the first thing which strikes a reader is the singular inequality of this poet. Producing, as he certainly has produced, work which classes him with the greatest names in literature, he has also signed an extraordinary quantity of verse which has not merely the defects of genius, irregularity, extravagance, bizarretè, but the faults which we are apt to regard as exclusively belonging to those who lack genius, to wit, the dullness and tediousness of mediocrity. Molière’s manner of accounting for this is famous in literary history or legend. My friend Corneille, "has a familiar who inspires him with the finest verses in the world. But sometimes the familiar leaves him to shift for himself, and the he fares very badly." That Corneille was by no means destitute of the critical faculty his Discourses and the Examens (often admirably acute) of his plays show well enough. But an enemy might certainly contend that a poet’s critical faculty should be of the Promethean, not the Epimethan order. The fact seems to be that the form in which Corneille’s work was cast, and which by an odd irony of fate he did so much to originate and make popular, was very partially suited to his talents. He could imagine admirable situations, and he could write verses of incomparable grandeur—verses that reverberate again and again in the memory. But he could not, with the patient docility of Racine, labour at strictly proportioning the action of tragedy, at maintaining a uniform rate of interest in the course of the plot and of excellence in the fashion of the verse. Especially in his later plays a verse and a couplet will crash out with fulgurous brilliancy, and then be succeeded by pages of very second-rate declamation or argument. It was urged against him also by the partly of the Doucereux, as he called them, that he could not manage, or did not attempt, the great passion of love, and that except in the case of Chimène his principle seemed to be that of one of his own heroines—

"Laissons, seigneur, laissons pour les petites ames
ce commerce rampant de soupirs et de flames."
(Aristic in Sertorius.)

There is perhaps some truth in this accusation, however much some of us may be disposed to think that the line just quoted is a fair enough description of the admired ecstasies of Achille and Bajazet. But these are all the defects which can be fairly urged against him; and in a dramatist bound to a less strict service they would hardly have been even remarked. On the English stage the liberty of unrestricted incident and complicated action, the power of multiplying characters and introducing prose scenes, would have exactly suited his somewhat intermittent genius, both of covering defects and by giving greater scope for the exhibition of power.





How great that power is can escape no one. The splendid soliloquies of Medea, which, as Voltaire happily says, "annoncent Corneille," the entire parts of Rodrigune and Chimène, the final of Cinna, the dialoques of Pauline and Sévère in Polyeucte, the magnificently-contrasted conception and exhibition of the best and worst forms of feminine dignity in the Cornélie of Pompée and the Cléopatre of Rodogune, the singularly fine scene in Don Sanche d’Aragon, between the haughtiness of the Spanish nobles and the unshaken dignity of the supposed adventurer Carlos, and the characters of Aristie, Viriate, and Sertorious himself, in the play named after the latter, are not to be surpassed in grandeur of thought, felicity of design, or appropriateness of language. Admiration may or may not properly be excited by tragedy, and until this important question is settled the name of tragedian may be at pleasure given to or withheld from the author of Rodogune. But his rank among the greatest of dramatic poets is not a matter of question. For a poet is to be judged by his best things, and the best things of Corneille are second to none.

It was, however, some time before his genius came to perfection. It is undeniable that the first six or seven of his plays are of no very striking intrinsic merit. On the other hand, it requires only a very slight acquaintance with the state of the drama in France at the time to see that these works, poor as that may now seem, must have struck the spectators as something new and surprising. The language and dialogue of Mélite are on the whole simple and natural, and though the construction is not very artful (the fifth act being as is not unusual in Corneille superfluous and clumsy) it is still passable. The fact that one of the characters jumps on another’s back, and the rather promiscuous kissing which takes place, are nothing to the liberties usually taken in contemporary plays. A worse fault is the GREEK, or, to borrow Butler’s expression, the Cat and Puss dialogue which abounds. But the common objection to the play at the time was that it was too natural and too devoid of striking incidents. Corneille accordingly, as he tells us, set to work to cure these faults, and produced a truly wonderful works, Clitandre. Murders, combats, escapes and outrages of all kinds are provided; and the language makes The Rehearsal no burlesuque. One of the heroines rescues herself from a ravisher by blinding him with a hair-pin, and as she escapes the seducer apostrophizes the blood which trickles from his eye, and the weapon which has wounded it, in a speech forty verses long. This, however, was his only attempt of the kind. His next four pieces were comedies. They are not particularly comic, and they labour under the same defect of construction as Mélite. But there is claimed for them the introduction of some important improvements, such as the choosing for scenes places well known improvements, such as the choosing for scenes places well know in actual life (as in the Galerie du Palais), and the substitution as a stock comic character of the soubrette in place of the old inconvenient and grotesque nurse. It is certain, however, that there is more interval between these six plays and Médée than between the latter and Corneille’s greatest drama. Here first do we find those sudden and magnificent lines which characterize the poet. The title role is, however, the only good one, and as a whole the play is heavy. Much the same may be said of its curious successor, L’illusion comique. This is not only a play within a play, but in part of it there is actually a third involution, one set of characters beholding another set discharging the parts of yet another. It contains, however, some very fine lines—in particular, a defence of the stage and some heroics put into the mouth of a braggadocio. We have seen it said of the Cid that it is difficult to understand the enthusiasm it excited. But the difficulty can only exist for persons who are insensible to dramatic excellence, or who so strongly object to the forms of the French drama that they cannot relish anything so presented. To relish Iphigénie one must in some sort make oneself of the age of its first spectators. But Rodrigune, Chemène, Don Diègue are not of any age but of all time. The conflicting passions of love, honour, duty, are here represented as they never had been on French stage, and no one who has ever felt either can be indifferent to their representation in the "strong style" which was Corneille’s own. Of the many objections urged against the play, perhaps the weightiest is that which condemns the frigid and superfluous part of the Infanta. Horace, though more skillfully constructed, is perhaps less satisfactory. There is a hardness about the younger Horace which might have quite out of proportion to the space she occupied. The splendid declaration of Camille, and the excellent part of the elder Horace, do not altogether atone fro these defects. Cinna is perhaps generally considered the poet’s masterpiece, and it undoubtedly contains the finest single in all French tragedy, a scene which may take rank with any other perhaps ever written. The blot on it is certainly the character of Emilie, who is spiteful and thankless, not heroic. Polyeude has sometimes been elevated to the same position. There is, however, a certain coolness about the hero’s affection for his wife which somewhat detracted from the merit of his sacrifice; while the Christian part of the matter is scarcely so well treated as in the Saint Genest of Rotrou or the Virgin Martyr of Massinger. On the other hand, the entire parts of Pauline and Sevère are beyond praise, and the manner in which the former reconciles her duty as a wife with her affection for here lover is an astonishing success. In Pompée (for La Mort de Pompée, though the more appropriate, was not the original title) the splendid declamation of Cornélie is the chief thing to be marked. Le Menteur, which in its English form is well known to play-goers on this side the Channel, fully deserves the honour which Molière paid to it. Its continuation, notwithstanding the judgment of some French critics, we cannot think so happy. But Théodore is perhaps the most surprising of literary anomalies. The central situation, which so greatly shocked Voltaire and indeed all French critics from the date of the piece, does not seem to blame. A virgin martyr who is threatened with loss of honour as a bitterer punishment than loss of life offers points as powerful as they are perilous. But the treatment is thoroughly bad. From the heroine, who is in a phrase of Dryden’s "one of the coolest and most insignificant" heroines ever drawn, to the undignified Valens, the termagant Marcelle, and the peevish Placide, there is hardly a good character. Immediately upon this is most printed editions, though older in representation, follows the play which (therein agreeing rather with the author than with his critics) we should rank as his greatest triumph, Rodogune. Here there is hardly a weak point. The magnificent and terrible character of Cleopatre, and the contracted dispositions of the two princes, of course attract most attention. But the character of Rodogune herself, which has not escaped criticism, comes hardly short of these. Heraclius, despite great art and much fine poetry, is injured by the extreme complication of its argument and by the blustering part of Pulchérie. Androméde, with the later spectacle piece, the Toison d’Or, do not call for comment, and we have already alluded to the chief merit of Don Sanche, a play which, however, deserves both admiration and study. Nicoméde, often considered one of Corneille’s best plays, is chiefly remarkable for the curious and unusual character of its hero. Of Pertharite it need only be said that no single critic has to our knowledge disputed the justice of its damnation. Aedipe is certainly unworthy of its subject and its author, but in Sertonius we have one of Corneille’s finest plays. It is remarkable not only from its splendid verses and for the nobility of its sentiment, but from the fact that not one of its characters lacks interest, a commendation not generally to be bestowed on its author’s work. Of the last six plays we may say that perhaps only one of them, Agésilas, is almost wholly worthless. Its irregular verses make one very glad that they found few imitators. In the others, though the spectator would not be likely to appreciate them, yet the reader will find not a little verse of the brand which only Corneille could impose. Not a few speeches of Suréna and of Othon are of a very high order. As to the poet’s non-dramatic works, we have already spoken of his extremely interesting critical dissertations. His minor poems and poetical devotions are not likely to be read save from motives of duty or curiosity. The verse translation of à Kempis, indeed, which was in its day immensely popular (it passed through many editions), condemns itself. Yet these, as well as his greater works, deserve honour as the instruments by which Corneille wroughts, perhaps, a mightier change in his mother tongue than any one man ever effected. Of him much rather than of Dryden might it be said, Lateritiam invenit, reliquit marmoream. And in so saying it need not be forgotten that for some purposes brick is better than marble.

The subject of the biography of Corneille has been recently treated in the most exhaustive manner by M. E. Picot in his Bibliographie Corneilienne (Paris, 1875) Less elaborate but still ample information may be found in Taschereau’s Vie and in M. Marty Laveaux’s edition, vol. i. p. 47. the chief collected editions in the poet’s lifetime were those of 1644, 1648, 1652, 1660 (with important corrections), 1664, and 1682. In 1692 T. Corneille published a complete Théâtre in 5 vols. 12 mo. Numerous editions appeared in the early part of the 18th century, that of 1740 (5 vols. 12 mo, Amsterdam) containing the Aeuves diverses as well as the plays. Eight editions are recorded between this and that of Voltaire (12 vol. 8vo; Geneva, 1764, 1776, 8 vols. 4to), whose Commentaires have often been reprinted separately. In the year IX. (1801) appeared an editions have been extremely numerous. Those chiefly to be remarked are the following. Lefèvre’s (12 vols. 8º, Paris, 1854), well printed and with a useful variorum commentary, lacks bibliographical information and is disfigured by hideous engravings. Louandre’s (2 vols. 18 mon. Paris, 1853), though entitled Aeures des deux Corneilles, contains only twelve pieces with some miscellaneous works of Pierre. It is, however very well edited, and good as far as it goes. Of Taschereau’s, in the Bibliotheque Elzévirienne, only two volumes were published. Lahure’s appeared in 5 vols. (1857-62) and 7 vols. (1864-66). The edition of Ch. Laveaux in Rehnier’s Grands Ecrivains de la France (1862-68), in 12 vols. 8vo, is likely for some time to remain the standard. In appearance and careful editing it leaves nothing to desire, containing the entire works, a lexicon, full bibliographical information, and an album of illustrations of the poet’s places of residence, his arms, some title pages of his plays, facsimiles of his writings, &c. Nothing is wanting but variorum comments, which Lefévre’s edition supplies. A handy edition of the plays appeared in 1873 (3 vols. 8vo Paris). Fontenelle’s Life of His Uncle is the chief original authority on that subject, but Taschereau’s Histoire de la Vie et des Ouvrages de P. Corneille (1st ed. 1829, 2d in the Bibl. Elzévirienne, 1855) is the standard work. Its information has been corrected and augmented in various later publications, but not materially. Of the exceedingly numerous writings relative to Corneille we can only mention the Recueil de dissertations sur plusieurs tragedies de Corneille et de racine of the Abbé Granet (Paris, 1740) the criticisms already alludes to of Voltaire, La Harpe, and Palissot, the well-known work of Guizot, Corneille et son temps, and the essay of Sainte-Beuve. The best-known English criticism that of Hallam, is inadequate. The translations of separate plays are very numerous, but of the complete Théâtre only one version (into Italian) is recorded by the French editors. Fontenelle tells us that his uncle had transactions of the Cid in every European tongue but Turkish and Slavonic, and M. Picot’s book apprises us that the latter want at any rate is now supplied. Corneille has suffered less than some other writers from the attribution of spurious works. Besides a tragedy, Sylla, the chief piece thus assigned is L’occasion perdue recouverte, a rather loose tale is verse. Internal evidence by no means fathers it on Corneille, and all external testimony (except a foolish story that the poet composed his devotional works as a penance for its production) ascribes it to a contemporary poet Cantenac. It has never been included in Corneille’s work. It is curious that a translation of Statius (Thebaid, bk. iii), an author of whom Corneille was extremely fond, though known to have been written, printed, and published, has entirely dropped out of sight. Three verses quoted by Ménage are all we possess. (G. SA.)



The above article was written by George Edward Bateman Saintsbury, M.A.; Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, Edinburgh University, from 1895; author of A Short History of French Literature, The Flourishing of Romance and the Rise of Allegory, A Short History of English Literature, etc.




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