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Jean L. G. de Balzac.
sition. On his return to France he became a member of the Academy, and a special favourite of Cardinal Richelieu ; and his successful devotion to the refinement of his native language ultimately secured for him a permanent place in the literature of his country. He is usually considered to have formed his style on the magnificent rhetoric of Pliny and Seneca ; and his more elaborate productions are strikingly characterized by the stateliness of his language and the harmonious cadence of his periods. Although somewhat stiff in point of diction, and frequently exhibiting a tendency to hyperbole, his Letters,' which extend from 1620 to 1653, have been most generally admired, and are still frequently read. “He passed all his life,' says Vigneul Marville, ‘in writing letters, without ever catching the right characteristics of that style ;' and even those addressed to his sister are so laboured and artificial, that they are well described by Hallam as 'smelling too much of the lamp.' A good edition of Balzac's Letters, in three volumes, was published in Paris in the year 1806.
Vincent Voiture was born a few years after Balzac (1598), and died at the age of fifty.
Remarkable for his brilliant wit and fluency of expression, his society was courted by all the most influential personages in France. After his death, his writings, which are full of vigour and bel-esprit, were collected and published by his nephew, and have been frequently reprinted. His ‘Letters' have been translated into English by various authors, including Dryden, whose edition appeared in 1736. They begin about the year 1627, and are addressed to the widow of the Marquis de Rambouillet—the associate of Richelieu, Condé, and Corneille—and to various other persons of both sexes. Although not always so correct, Voiture's letters are considered more natural in point of style than those of Balzac, which, however, are more remarkable for their meaning and good sense. They are full of gaiety and compliment to the person addressed, and are frequently imitated by Pope in his correspondence with ladies. Those written from Spain are sometimes truly witty, and always brilliant and lively.
The characteristics of Balzac and Voiture are thus contrasted by Olivet :- The one inclined always to the sublime, the other always to the elegant (au délicat). The one had a lofty ima
Madame de Sévigné.
gination, which invested the most insignificant subjects with an air of dignity; the other a playful imagination, which caused a tone of gallantry to pervade all his thoughts. The one, even when he wished to jest, was always grave ; the other, on the most serious occasions, provoked a smile.'
Marie de Rabutin Chantal, afterwards Madame de Sévigné, was born at Paris in the year 1626. Deprived of both her parents at a very early age, she was carefully educated under the superintendence of her maternal uncle, M. de Coulanges, the abbé of Livry, whose amiable character is pleasantly indicated by the soubriquet of 'Bien-bon,' which she herself applies to him. At the age of eighteen, she married the Marquis of Sévigné, who was killed in a duel about seven years afterwards, leaving a son and a daughter, to whose education the young widow religiously devoted herself. Immediately after her daughter's marriage, in 1669, to the Count de Grignan, Lieutenant-General in Languedoc, she commenced that long-continued correspondence which embraces the greater proportion of her celebrated letters. "To read your letters,' she tells her daughter, and to write to you, is
the chief business of my life ; all gives way to
: that ; and to love as I love you makes all other friendships seem frivolous. Although somewhat severely criticised by Lady M. W. Montagu, the letters of Madame de Sévigné have long been generally regarded as models of graceful diction ; and from first to last they furnish abundant evidence of the brilliant wit, the vivid imagination, and the exquisite taste, for which the writer was so eminently distinguished. “They are filled,' says Voltaire, 'with anecdotes, written with freedom, and in a natural and animated style ; are an excellent criticism on studied letters of wit, and still more those fictitious letters which aim at the epistolary style, by a recital of false sentiments and feigned adventures to an imaginary correspondent. “Their ease and freedom from affectation,' says Hallam, "are more striking by contrast with the two epistolary styles which had been most admired in France, that of Balzac, which is laboriously tumid, and that of Voiture, which becomes insipid by dint of affectation. Every one perceives that, in the Letters of a Mother to her Daughter, the public, in a strict sense, is not thought of; and yet the habit of
Madame de Sévigné's Letters.
speaking and writing what men of wit and taste would desire to hear and read, gives a certain mannerism, I will not say air of effort, even to the letters of Madame de Sévigné. . . . Her wit and talent of painting by single touches are very eminent. Scarcely any collection of letters, which contain so little that can interest a distant age, are read with such pleasure. If they have any general fault, it is a little monotony and excess of affection towards her daughter, which is reported to have wearied its object ; and, in contrast with this, a little want of sensibility towards all beyond her immediate friends, and a readiness to find something ludicrous in the dangers and sufferings of others.' These remarkable letters may be described as the eloquent journal of the age of Louis Quatorzefaithfully reflecting, as they do, the tone and genius of the Court of that 'magnificent' monarch, besides touching upon most of the leading events in other parts of Europe during the seventeenth century. The most complete edition of Madame de Sévigné's letters is that of De Montmerqué, in thirteen volumes, published in 1818. A small selection, translated into English, was published in London in 1853, under the