1902 Encyclopedia > France > 17th Century French Savants

(Part 56)


17th Century Savants

Of the literature of the 17th century there only remains to be dealt with the section of those writers who devoted themselves to scientific pursuits or to antiquarian erudition of one form or another. It was in this century that literature criticism of French and in French first began to be largely composed. It was very far, however, from attaining the excellence or observing the form which it afterwards assumed. The institution of the Academy led to various linguistic works. One of the earliest of these was the Remarques of the Savoyard Vaugelas (1585-1650), afterwards re-edited by Thomas Corneille. Pellisson wrote a history of the Academy itself when itself it had as yet but a brief one. The famous Examen du Cid was an instance of the literary criticism of the time. Later, Boileau set the example of treating such subjects in verse, and in the latter part of the century Reflexions, Discourses, Observations, and the like, on particular styles, literary forms, and authors, became exceedingly numerous. In earlier years France possessed a numerous bend of classical authors of the first rank, as Scaliger and Casaubon, who did not lack followers. But all or almost all this sort of work was done in Latin, so that it contributed little to French literature properly so-called. On the other hand, mathematical studies were pursued by persons of far other and far greater genius, and, taking from this time forward a considerable position in education and literature in France, had much influence on both. The mathematical discoveries of Pascal and Descartes and well known, and from their time forward until the Revolution men of letters, such as Voltaire and Diderot, who would in England have been likely to hold aloof from such studies, devoted themselves thereto. OF science proper, apart from mathematics, France did not produce many distinguished cultivators in this century. The philosophy of Descartes was not on the whole favourable to such investigations, which were in the next century to be pursued with ardour. Its tendencies found more congenial vent and are more thoroughly exemplified in the famous quarrel between the ancient and the moderns, which was long carried on in the latter part of the century between Boileau and Madame Dacier, on the one hand, and Perrault on the other, and which was so euriously renewed in England. The discussion was conducted, as is well known, without very much knowledge or judgment among the disputants on the one side or on the other. But at this very time there were in France students and scholars of he most profound erudition. We have already mentioned Fleury and his ecclesiastical history. But Fleury is only the last and the most popular of a race of omnivorous and untiring scholars, whose labours have ever since, until the modern fashion of first-hand investigations came in, furnished the bulk of historical and scholarly references and quotations. To this century belong Tillemont (1637-1698), whose enormous Histoire des Empereurs and Mémoires servir a l’ Histoire Ecclesiastique served Gibbon and a hundred other ss as quarry ; Ducange (1614-1688), whose well-known glossary was only one of numerous productions ; Mabillon (1622-1707), one of the most voluminous of the voluminous Benedictines ; and Montfaucon (1655-1741), chief of all authorities of the dry-as-dust kind on classical archaeology and art.

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