1902 Encyclopedia > Marie-Joseph de Chénier

Marie-Joseph de Chénier
French poet and dramatist

MARIE-JOSEPH DE CHÉNIER, (1764-1811), poet and dramatist, was a younger brother of André Chénier, and like him, was born at Constantinople, reared at Carcassonne, and educated at tbe College de Navarre. Entering the army at seventeen, he left it soon afterwards ; and at twenty he produced Azémire, a tragedy, which had a languid sort of success. His next venture, Charles IX., which commenced the renown of Talma, excited an extraordinary enthusiasm (1789), and still keeps the stage. In 1791 appeared Henri VIII. and Calas, with the performance of the first of which the Theatre de la République was solemnly inaugurated; in 1792 he produced his Caius Gracchus, which was proscribed and burned at the instance of Albitte for an anti-anarchical hemistich (Des lois et non du sang 1); and in 1793 his Timoléon, set in MéhuFs music, was also proscribed. His brother's death on the scaffold is supposed to have diverted him from the theatre ; and only once again, in 1804, with his unsuccessful Cyrus, did he attempt the scene. Long a prominent member of the Jacobins' Club, Joseph Chénier was one of the busiest of literary politicians, one of the most prolific of political poets. He was a member of the Convention and of the Council of Five Hundred, over both of which he presided ; he had a seat in the Tribunate ; he belonged to the Committees of Public Instruction, of General Security, and of Public Safety. In 1801 he was one of the educational jury for the Seine ; from 1803 to 1806 he was inspector-general of public instruction. In 1806 and 1807 he delivered a course of lectures at the Athénée on the language and literature of France from the earliest years ; and in 1808, at the emperor's request, he prepared his Tableau his-torique de l'état et du progrès de la littérature française— a work, reprinted so late as 1862, in which he shows to great advantage, as a writer, as a critic, as a man. He died January 10, 1811. The list of his works is too long for quotation ; a glance at them will indicate his industry and the suppleness and strength of his talent. He wrote hymns and national songs-—among others, the famous Chant du Départ ; odes—Sur la Mort de Mirabeau, Sur l'Oligarchie de Robespierre, &c. ; tragedies, which never reached the stage—Brutus et Cassius, Philippe Deux, Tibère ; translations from Sophocles and Lessing, from Gray and Horace, from Tacitus and Aristotle; with elegies, dithyrambics, and Ossianic rhapsodies. As a satirist he is said to possess great merit—see La Calomnie (1797) and the Épître à Voltaire (1806)—though he sins from an excess of severity, and is sometimes malignant and unjust.

See Œuvres Complètes de Joseph Chénier, 8 vols,, Paris, 1823-1826 ; Poésies, Paris (Charpentier) 1844 ; Chefs-d'œuvre des Auteurs Tragiques, vol. ii.

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