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IV. Limitations to Severity in War. By CHARLES BUXTON,
THE LIFE AND GENIUS OF MOLIÈRE.
CHAT are the authentic facts in the life of Jean Baptiste
Poquelin, alias Molière? What are the elements and characteristics of that genius which his works bewray ? To what extent are those elements and characteristics, on the one hand the produce of that spirit by which the whole literature of his age was governed, or, on the other, the true and genuine manifestation of the man's own soul?' The vices and foibles he so greatly dares to ridicule, do they change their nature and their name, when stripped of point-lace and peruke? are they like clocks and ruffles à la Louis Quatorze? has mankind outgrown them, like measles or hooping-cough, or are they a chronic disease, affecting every age and condition of society ? Such are the main inquiries towards the solution of which the writer of these pages would fain hope, in his measure and degree, to contribute something, were it but a mite. As regards the events in Molière's life, we plume ourselves less on the facts narrated than on the fictions omitted -fictions at which most biographers, we allow, are prone to sip, but which Molière's swallow at a gulp. In like manner, as regards our criticisms, we have no desire to be original at the risk of being wrong, holding it sorry wisdom to act in such matters after the fashion of those birds of whom old Fuller speaks, who cannot take wing except the wind be contrary. At the same time, we are determined to think for ourselves, firmly believing, with Molière, that'la bonne façon de juger d'une pièce, est de se laisser prendre aux choses, et de n'avoir ni prévention aveugle, ni complaisance affectée, ni délicatesse ridicule.' (La Critique de l'École des Femmes. Scene vi.)
* It behoves us, in limine, to say a word or two on the various sources of every kind, which we have at our disposal. Manuscripts of Molière there are none.* Confided by his widow to the care of Lagrange, an actor in the 'troupe and an editor of the collected works of the great poet, it is conjectured that they came to the hammer, on the death of that individual, which took place in 1692. We have relegated to a note such other facts as are to be gleaned respecting their subsequent history. It was in the year 1682 that Lagrange, aided by Vinot, also a friend of Molière, completed his editorial labours. To the general reader it may not be an oft-told tale, that of the edition thus completed, and as it came from the press, one solitary copy is known to exist. In the technical language of French bibliography, an edition of any work is said to be
cartonnée' when the integrity of any of the sheets composing it is destroyed by the substitution of one or more detached leaves, called 'cartons, in the place of such fourth, eighth, twelfth, &c. parts of the sheet as have been deemed objectionable. To this process (by which Voltaire recommended superseding lists of errata) Molière's works were subjected; the only copy which escaped interpolation, and thus preserved the genuine text of Molière's plays, having belonged to M. de la Reynie, who hurled the thunders of censorship at the time, in his capacity of lieutenant général de police. The chief stumbling-block was the famous scene with the beggar, in Don Juan, but other passages shared the same fate. It is only within a comparatively recent period that these inter
* Having been led to conjecture that the Archives of the Comédie Française might contain some precious relics of Molière's handwriting, we availed ourselves of the kindness of a common friend to procure from M. Samson, of histrionic celebrity, some precise information on this subject. The result we give in his own words :- Aucun manuscrit, pas une seule ligne de la main de Molière n'existe dans les archives du Théâtre Français. Les manuscrits ont ils en effet été anéantis par l'incendie du Théâtre ? (This took place in 1799.) Quelques personnes croient qu'ils avaient disparu avant ce temps : ils assignent à cette disparition des causes qu'il est inutile de rapporter puisque ce ne sont que de simple conjectures et que rien n'est prouvé à cet égard.' M. Samson here alludes to a vague rumour that in 1792 Fabre d'Eglantine purloined certain papers of Molière's writing, which, up to that time had been in the possession of the Comédie Française. He goes on to state that he has himself a fac simile of a signature by Molière appended to a receipt, of which the original, he believes, exists at the Bibliothéque Impériale. Apropos of relics of Molière, we may add that the same letter informs us, that there is no reason whatever for supposing that the fauteuil' always used in representations of the Malade Imaginaire is the same as that in which Molière (so runs the legend) was seized with no imaginary malady.