Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE TEMPLE OF TASTE. * - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
THE TEMPLE OF TASTE. * - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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- The Works of Voltaire
- The Dramatic Works of Voltaire Vol. X— Part I
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- An Epistle Dedicatory to Mr. Falkener, an English Merchant, Since Ambassador At Constantinople, With the Tragedy of Zaïre.
- A Second Letter to Mr. Falkener, Then Ambassador to Constantinople.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- Act IV.
- Act V.
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- The Prodigal
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- Act IV.
- Act V.
- Preface to Mariamne.
- Preface to Orestes.
- Preface to Catiline.
- Preface to MÉrope.
- Preface to the Prodigal.
- Preface to Nanine.
- 1 Preface to Socrates.
- Note On Mahomet.
- Preface to Julius CÆsar.
- Voltaire the Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems Vol. X— Part Ii
- Author’s Preface to the Lisbon Earthquake.
- The Lisbon Earthquake. *
- Preface to the Poem On the Law of Nature.
- The Law of Nature.
- The Temple of Taste. *
- The Temple of Friendship.
- Thoughts On the Newtonian Philosophy, Addressed to the Marchioness Du ChÂtelet.
- On the Death of Adrienne Lecouvreur, a Celebrated Actress.
- To the King of Prussia On His Accession to the Throne.
- From Love to Friendship.
- The Worldling. *
- On Calumny.
- The King of Prussia to M. Voltaire.
- The Answer.
- On the English Genius.
- What Pleases the Ladies.
- The Education of a Prince.
- The Education of a Daughter.
- The Three Manners.
- Thelema and Macareus.
- The Origin of Trades.
- The Battle of Fontenoy.
- The Man of the World. *
- The Padlock. *
- In Camp Before Philippsburg, July 3, 1734.
- Answer to a Lady, Or a Person Who Wrote to Voltaire As Such. *
- The Nature of Virtue.
- To the King of Prussia.
- To M. De Fontenelle.
- To Count Algarotti At the Court of Saxony.
- To Cardinal Quirini.
- To Her Royal Highness, the Princess of ***.
- To M. De Cideville.
- To ****.
- Epistle XIII. *
- To the Duke of Richelieu, Marshal of France, In Whose Honor the Senate of Genoa Had Just Before Caused a Statue to Be Erected. *
- To Madam De ***, On the Manner of Living At Paris and Versailles.
- To the Prince of Vendôme.
- To Madam De Gondoin, Afterward Countess of Toulouse, On the Danger She Had Been Exposed to In Passing the Loire In 1719.
- To the Duke Delafeuillade.
- To Marshal Villars. *
- To Monsieur Genonville.
- To the Countess of Fontaine-martel. *
- Written From PlombiÉres to M. Pallu, Intendant of Lyons.
- The Nature of Pleasure.
- The Utility of Sciences to Princes. to the Prince Royal of Prussia, Since King of Prussia.
- Epistle In Answer to a Letter, With Which, Upon His Accession to the Throne, the King of Prussia Honored the Author.
- Epistle to the King, Presented to His Majesty At the Camp Before Freiburg.
- On the Death of the Emperor Charles.
- To the Queen of Hungary.
- Inscribed to the Gentlemen of the Academy of Sciences, Who Sailed to the Polar Circle and the Equator, In Order to Ascertain the Figure of the Earth.
- To M. De Gervasi, the Physician. *
- The Requisites to Happiness.
- To a Lady, Very Well Known to the Whole Town.
- Fanaticism. *
- On Peace Concluded In 1736.
- To AbbÉ Chaulieu. *
- Answer to the Foregoing.
- To President HÉnault, Author of an Excellent Work Upon the History of France.
- Canto of an Epic Poem. *
- Epistle On the Newtonian Philosophy. * to the Marchioness of ChÂtelet.
THE TEMPLE OF TASTE.
- That cardinal o’er all the realm
- Revered, not he who holds the helm,
- But he who o’er Parnassus reigns,
- Renowned for his harmonious strains;
- The patron whom all bards respect,
- Who can instruct them and protect,
- Whose eloquence we all admire,
- Who with a true poetic fire,
- In Latin verse can reason right,
- Plato with Virgil can unite,
- Who vindicates high heaven to man,
- And quite subverts Lucretius’ plan.
That cardinal, whom every one must know by this picture, desired me one day to accompany him to the Temple of Taste. “ ’Tis a place,” said he, “which resembles the Temple of Friendship, which everybody speaks of, which few visit, and which most of those who travel to it, have never thoroughly examined.”
- I answered frankly, I must own,
- To me taste’s laws are little known,
- To favor you that God inclines,
- He to your hands the keys consigns;
- You are his vicar here deputed,
- And o’er his Church pope constituted.
- In furious fret all Rome may rage,
- And rave at this my honest page;
- But there’s a difference very plain,
- ’Twixt you and Rome’s pope, I’ll maintain;
- For Sorbonne’s doctors all aver
- God’s vicar upon earth may err:
- But when I hear you reason strong,
- I think you can’t be in the wrong;
- So just your reasoning, wit so bright,
- You seem infallible outright.
“Ah,” replied he, “at Rome infallibility is confined to things which men do not comprehend: in the Temple of Taste, it concerns what all think they understand. You must positively come with me.” But, continued I, if you carry me with you, I will make it my public boast.
- I shall be importuned I’m sure,
- To write a volume on this tour:
- Voltaire’s account shall be at best,
- But a short narrative in jest.
- But town and court will, without fail,
- Loudly at the relation rail;
- The court will murmur, and the town
- Will, as a fibber, run me down;
- As one who talks with serious air
- Of places, when he ne’er was there,
- And readers better to engage,
- Tells a flat lie in every page.
However, as we should never refuse ourselves an innocent pleasure, for fear others should think ill of us, I followed the guide who did me the honor to be my conductor.
- Abbé with taste and genius fraught,
- With us the sacred shrine you sought;
- You, who with sage enlightened mind,
- At once both knowing and refined,
- Have, by example, shown the way
- Which we may take, nor fear to stray,
- When in pursuit of taste we go,
- That God which wits so seldom know.
In our journey we had many difficulties to encounter. We first of all met with Messrs. Baldus, Scioppius, Lecicocrassus, Scriblerius, and a crowd of commentators, who made it their business to restore passages, and compile volumes upon a word which they did not understand.
- Dacier, Salmasius the profound,
- With learned lumber stored I found;
- Their faces wan, their fire quite spent,
- With pouring o’er Greek authors bent.
- Soon as the squalid troop I spied.
- I raised my voice, and to them cried,
- “To Taste’s famed Temple do you bend?”
- “No, sir, we no such thing intend.
- What others have with care expressed,
- With accuracy we digest,
- On others’ thoughts we spend our ink,
- But we for our part never think.”
After this ingenuous confession, these gentlemen would have had us read some passages of Dictys, of Crete, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, which Scaliger had spoiled. We thanked them for their kind offer, and continued our journey. We had not walked a hundred steps, when we met a person surrounded with painters, architects, carvers, gilders, pretended connoisseurs, and flatterers. They turned their backs to the Temple of Taste.
- With air important, pride reposed,
- His face with gravity composed,
- Then Crassus, snoring, cried: “I’ve store
- Of gold, of wit and genius more:
- With taste, sir, I am amply fraught,
- I know all things, yet ne’er was taught;
- I’m skilled in council and affairs,
- In spite of tempests and corsairs;
- My vessel safe to port I’ve brought,
- With pirates, and with winds I’ve fought,
- A palace, therefore, I shall raise,
- Which every man of taste will praise,
- Where every art shall be displayed,
- Which shall with wonder be surveyed.
- The money’s ready, no delay,”
- He said and slept. They all obey:
- This is no sooner said than done,
- To labor all the workmen run.
- To a Vitruvius pride erects
- One of our modern architects,
- Resolving to do something new,
- A plan too much adorned he drew;
- No porch or front the pile could show,
- But your eye meets an endless row,
- Your walls not thick, your closets great,
- Your salon without depth complete;
- Windows each one of which appears,
- Like a church door and little peers;
- Gilt, wainscoted, and painted white,
- It shall with wonder strike the sight.
- “Wake, sir,” a painter cried aloud,
- Be to my art just praise allowed;
- The skill of Raphael ne’er was such,
- He had not half so soft a touch.
- To nature I can give new grace,
- And cover all the ceiling’s space,
- With various figures, which the sight
- Beholds at distance with delight.”
- Crassus awakening, took the plan,
- And to examine it began:
- Having at length the whole inspected,
- At random he its faults corrected;
- Then glass in hand a connoisseur
- Said, “Look upon this picture, sir;
- Buy it, sir, ’twill your chapel grace,
- God in His glory suits the place;
- The taste alone’s enough to show,
- That ’tis the work of famed Vatau.”
- Meantime a bookseller, a cheat,
- Whom wits are often forced to treat,
- Opens tomes which the works contains,
- Of Gacon, Noble, Desfontaines;
- Miscellanies of journals store,
- My lord begins to read and snore.
I thought we should meet with no further delay, but that we should approach the Temple without encountering any other difficulty; but the journey is more dangerous than I imagined. We soon after fell into a new ambuscade.
- Thus in the path which to salvation
- Leads, devotees meet much temptation;
- And with the devil oft contend,
- Before they reach their journey’s end.
This was a concert given by a gentleman of the long robe, infatuated with music, which he never learned, and chiefly with the Italian music, which he had no knowledge of, but from some indifferent airs which were never heard at Rome, and which are very badly sung in France by some girls belonging to the opera.
He then caused a long French recitative, set to music by an Italian, who did not understand our language, to be performed. It was to no purpose to remonstrate to him, that as this sort of music is nothing more than noted declamation, it is of consequence, subjected to the genius of the language; and that nothing can be as ridiculous as French scenes sung in the Italian taste, except Italian ones sung in the French taste.
- Nature ingenious, fertile, wise,
- Earth with gifts various beautifies;
- She speaks to all in language fit,
- They differ both in tongue and wit;
- Their tone, their voices suit; each note
- Is by the hand of nature wrote;
- And every difference must appear
- To a refined, judicious ear.
- Music to charm in France, the tone
- Of France must imitate alone.
- Lulli could to our taste descend,
- Not strive to alter but amend.
No sooner were these judicious remarks made, but the pretended connoisseur, shaking his head, cried, “Come, come, you shall soon see something new.” We could not refuse to enter, and immediately after, the concert began.
- The rivals then of Lully’s fame,
- Their taste and skill in art the same,
- French verse most dissonantly played
- With the Italian music’s aid:
- A lady, with distorted eyes,
- Acted a thousand ecstasies.
- A coxcomb, of his dress quite vain,
- Quavered and thrilled a frantic strain,
- And beat time false, which made them soon
- All equally play out of tune.
We left the place as rapidly as we could, and we did not arrive at the Temple of Taste, until after we had met with many adventures of this kind.
- On basis firm, in ancient days,
- Greece did this famous temple raise:
- The building, with revolving years
- Increased, to menace heaven appears.
- The world, upon its altars laid,
- Incense and adoration paid:
- To own the power Rome long delayed,
- At length to taste she homage paid.
- The Turk, a more inveterate foe,
- In dust the edifice laid low.
- The ruins, by the Goths neglected,
- Were all in Italy collected.
- Soon the first Francis, nobly bold,
- Raised a new temple like the old;
- But his posterity despised
- An architecture once so prized.
- Next Richelieu made it all his care
- The abandoned temple to repair.
- Lewis adorned the sacred shrine,
- Colbert invited all the nine;
- Each art, in which the wise excel,
- Beneath the temple’s roof to dwell.
- By this the first shrine was surpassed,
- But much I doubt it will not last.
- Here might I in descriptive verse
- The beauties of the shrine rehearse;
- But let us not, to show our skill in
- Description, simply write for filling;
- Let us prolixity avoid,
- By which Felibien’s readers cloyed;
- Whilst he each trifle to explain,
- Launches into rhetoric strain.
- This noble building’s not disgraced
- With heaps of rubbish round it placed;
- For thus our sires, but little skilled,
- Their Gothic structures used to build.
- The shrine from all the faults we see,
- In Versailles Chapelle famed is free;
- That gewgaw which strikes vulgar eyes,
- But which all men of taste despise.
It is much easier to give a negative than a positive idea of this Temple. To avoid so difficult an attempt I shall only add,
- The structure’s of a simple taste,
- Each ornament is justly placed;
- The whole’s arranged with so much care,
- Art seems to copy nature there;
- The beauteous structure fills the sight,
- Not with surprise, but with delight.
The Temple was surrounded with a crowd of virtuosos, artists and connoisseurs of various kinds, who endeavored to enter, but did not succeed.
- For criticism, severe and just,
- Still stood before that shrine august,
- Repelling all the efforts rude
- Of Goths, who would in crowds intrude.
How many men of quality, how many persons in high vogue with the public, who dictate so imperiously to little clubs, are refused admittance into that Temple!
- There the cabals of wit no more
- Have the same power they had before;
- When they could make an audience praise
- Pradon’s and Scudéri’s wretched lays,
- And think their writings did excel
- Those of Racine and great Corneille.
The obscure enemies of all-shining merit, those insects of society, which are taken notice of only because they bite, were repelled with equal rudeness. These would have envied the great Condé the glory he acquired at Rocroi, and Villars the reputation he gained at Denain, as much as they envied Corneille for having written “Polyeucte.” They would have assassinated Lebrun for having painted the family of Darius; and they in fact forced Lemoine to lay violent hands upon himself for having painted the admirable salon of Hercules. They always hold in their hands a bowl of aconite, like that which men of the same character caused Socrates to drink.
- Pride mixing with envy in odious embrace,
- Gave birth to this cursed and detestable race,
- Suspicion, self-interest, malignant detraction,
- And of devotees a most dangerous faction,
- These often in secret confederacy combine,
- And to the cabal ope the gates of the shrine.
- There a Midas’ eyes they impose on with ease,
- Knaves yield them support, and fools glut them with praise;
- True merit, indignant, a sad silence keeps;
- Time alone wipes his tears, whilst in secret he weeps.
These persecuting wretches fled as soon as they saw my two guides. Their precipitate flight was followed by something of a more diverting nature; this was a crowd of writers of every rank, age and condition, who scratched at the door and begged of Criticism to permit them to enter. One brought with him a mathematical romance, another a speech made before the Academy; one has just composed a metaphysical comedy; another held in his hand a poetical miscellany long since printed, with a long approbation and a privilege; another presented a mandate wrote in an affected and over-refined style, and was surprised to find that all present laughed instead of asking his blessing. “I am the reverend father,” said one: “Make room for my lord,” said another.
- A prating sir, with voice acute,
- Cried, “I’m the judge of each dispute,
- I argue, contradict and prate,
- What others like I’m sure to hate.”
- Then Criticism appearing, cried,
- “Your merit is by none denied;
- But since Taste’s godhead you reject,
- Do not to enter here expect.”
Bardou then cried out, “The world’s in an error, and will always continue so; there’s no God of Taste, and I’ll prove it thus.” Then he laid down a proposition, divided and subdivided it; but nobody listened, and a greater multitude than ever crowded to the gate.
- Amidst the various coxcombs chased
- By judgment from the shrine of Taste,
- La Motte Houdart amongst the rest
- Approached, and words like these addressed:
- Receive my Œdipus in prose;
- Roughly, ’tis true, I verse compose;
- I must with Boileau hold converse,
- And rail against all sorts of verse.
Criticism knew him by his gentle deportment and the roughness of the two last lines, and she left him awhile between Perrault and Chapelain, who had laid a fifty years siege to the temple, and constantly exclaimed against Virgil.
At that very moment there arrived another versifier supported by two little satires, and crowned with laurels and thistles.
“I come hither to laugh, to sport, and to play, And make merry,” said he, “till the dawn of the day.”
“What’s this I hear?” said Criticism. “’Tis I,” answered the rhymer; I am just come from Germany to visit you, and I have chosen the spring of the year to travel in.
Spring, the season in which the young Zephyrs dissolve
The bark of the floods, and to fluid resolve.”
The more he spoke in this style, the less was Criticism disposed to open the door to him. “What,” said he, “am I then taken for
- A frog, who from his narrow throat
- Still utters, in discordant note.
- Boekekex, roax, roax?”
“Heavens,” cried Criticism, “what horrible jargon is this!” She could not immediately guess who the person was that expressed himself in this manner. She was told it was Rousseau, and that the Muses had altered his voice as a punishment for his misdeeds. She could not believe it, and refused to open the door. He blushed and cried out,
- “A rigor so extreme abate,
- I come to seek Marot, my mate;
- Like him, ill luck I had awhile,
- But Phœbus now does on me smile;
- I’m Rousseau, and to you well known;
- Here’s verses against the famed Bignon.
- O thou, who always didst inspire
- My bosom with thy sacred fire,
- Kind Criticism a welcome give
- To one who elsewhere cannot live.”
Criticism, upon hearing these words, opened the door and spoke thus:
- “Rousseau, my temper better know,
- I’m just, and ne’er with gall o’erflow;
- Unlike that fury, whose fell rage
- Suggested thy malicious page;
- Who poured her poison in your heart,
- And armed you with the deadly dart.
- The calumnies you strove to spread,
- Drew Themis’ vengeance on your head;
- Your muse was into banishment
- For certain wicked couplets sent.
- And for a wretched, ill-writ case,
- Which added to your dire disgrace;
- But Phœbus quickly did pursue
- Your malice with the vengeance due;
- Your soul of genius he deprived;
- Genius which you from him derived,
- Of harmony he robbed your lays,
- Which by that only merit praise;
- Yet you the scribbling itch retain,
- Whilst Phœbus disavows each strain.”
Criticism, after having given this advice, adjudged that Rousseau should take place of La Motte as a versifier; but that La Motte should have the precedence whenever genius or understanding were the subjects of dispute.
These two men, so different from each other, had not walked four steps, when the one turned pale with rage, and the other leaped with joy, at the sight of a man who had been a long time in the temple, sometimes in one place, and sometimes in another.
- This was the learned Fontenelle,
- Who could in all the arts excel,
- And on each branch of science threw
- A light that pleased, because ’twas new;
- He from a planet came post-haste
- Back to the sacred shrine of Taste;
- Reasoned with Mairan, with Quinault
- Trifled away an hour or so;
- And managed with an equal skill
- The lyre, the compass and the quill.
“What!” cried Rousseau, “shall I see that man here, that man against whom I have written so many epigrams? What! shall Taste suffer in her temple the author of the Chevalier D’Her’s letters, of an ‘Autumnal Passion,’ of ‘Moonlight,’ of ‘A Brook in Love with a Meadow,’ of ‘The Tragedy of Aspar,’ of ‘Endymion,’ etc.”
“No,” answered Criticism. “’Tis not the author of those works that you see before you; ’tis the author of the plurality of worlds, who composed ‘Thetus and Peleus,’ an opera that excites your envy, and the history of the Academy of Sciences, which you are not capable of understanding.”
Rousseau was going to write an epigram, and Fontenelle looked upon him with that philosophical compassion which every man of an enlightened mind must have for a mere rhymer, and then went and seated himself with great composure between Lucretius and Leibnitz.
I asked how Leibnitz came to be there. I was told that it was because he had written tolerably good Latin verses, though he was versed in both metaphysics and geometry, and that Criticism admitted him into her temple to soften by such an example the austerity of his scientific brethren.
Criticism then turned to the author of the “Plurality of Worlds” and said: I shall not reproach you with some of your juvenile performances, as these zealous cynics have done; but I am Criticism; you are now in the presence of the God of Taste, and I must thus address you in the name of that god, the public and myself; for we all three agree in the main.
- Your sportful and instructive muse
- Of art should not be so profuse;
- Her charms are not quite so faint,
- As to require the aid of paint.
As for Lucretius, he blushed as soon as ever he saw the cardinal, his adversary; but no sooner did he hear him speak than he conceived a friendship for him; he ran to him and accosted him in very fine Latin verses, which I translate into indifferent French ones.
- Misled by Epicurus’ lore,
- I thought I Nature could explore,
- And as a god the man admired,
- Who, with presumptuous fury fired,
- Dared impious war with heaven to wage,
- The gods dethroning in his rage.
- I thought the soul a transient fire,
- Dissolved the moment we expire;
- I now no more with truth contend;
- The soul shall never have an end;
- But of existence always sure,
- Shall like your deathless verse endure.
The cardinal answered this compliment in the language of Lucretius. All the Latin poets present, from his air and style, judged him to be an ancient Roman; but the French poets are highly displeased at authors composing verses in a language which is no longer spoken; and they affirm that since Lucretius, born at Rome, wrote a Latin poem upon the philosophy of Epicurus, his adversary, born at Paris, should have written against him in French. To conclude, after several such amusing delays, we at last arrived at the Temple of the God of Taste.
- I saw the god, whom I in vain
- Implore for aid in every strain;
- That god, who never was defined;
- Whose essence escapes the searching mind;
- To whom just service few can pay,
- Though they with such devotion pray;
- Who animates La Fontaine’s strain,
- And Vodius searches for in vain.
- The Graces he consults, whose ease,
- With native beauty joined, can please;
- Graces which other nations own,
- Are best to the French writers known;
- Which others oft to copy tried;
- Which by strict rules are never tied;
- Which reigned at court in times of yore,
- With which love crowns the Gallic shore.
- Around the god the tender band
- Of Graces still obsequious stand;
- They to adorn the god attend;
- He pleases by the charms they lend;
- They crown him with a wreath divine,
- Where Phœbus self took care to twine;
- Laurels, which once famed Maro crowned
- For epic poetry renowned.
- Myrtle and ivy leaves, which graced
- Horace supreme in wit and taste;
- The roses, which in times of yore
- The lyric bard Anacreon wore.
- His front, the mirror of his mind,
- Showed wisdom by true taste refined;
- Wit sparkled in his eyes, his air
- Was such as might his soul declare.
- To prove his beauty is divine,
- Silvia, his face resembles thine;
- I thus conceal your real name,
- Lest envious beauties should declaim
- Against you should it once be known,
- Your charms are greater than their own.
- Rollin not far, with action grave,
- To youth his learned lessons gave.
- And though in his professor’s chair,
- Was listened to, a thing most rare.
- Meantime in an apartment by,
- Which Girardon and Puget vie
- With statues to adorn, where taste
- As well as just expression’s traced;
- Poussin upon stretched canvas showed
- What genius in his bosom glowed.
- Le Brun with elevated mind,
- And genius nobly bold, designed.
- Le Sueur, in his art complete,
- Between both painters took his seat;
- None murmured to behold him there,
- All owned him worthy of the chair.
- The god, who with a critic eye
- Could every pencil’s stroke espy,
- Grieved, whilst he much admired their art,
- They could not to their works impart
- Those vivid colors, whose bright glow
- On nature’s self new charms bestow.
- A crowd of loves before him played,
- And to his touch new force conveyed,
- And raised each beauty to its height,
- By adding Rubens’ colors bright.
I was surprised that I did not meet at the sanctuary several persons, who, sixty or eighty years ago, passed for the greatest favorites of the God of Taste. The Pavillons, the Benserades, the Pellissons, the Segraises, the St. Évremonds, the Balzacs, the Voitures, were no longer in possession of the first places. They possessed them heretofore, said one of my guides; they made a figure before the bright period of the learned world; but they have at length given place to men of real genius. At present they are but little considered; and, in fact, most of them had only the wit peculiar to their age, and not that species of wit which reaches posterity.
- The graces of their feeble lays
- Are tarnished, and they lose their praise;
- None them as geniuses admit,
- But all agree to praise their wit.
Segrais attempted one day to enter the sanctuary at the same time, repeating the following verse of Boileau:
- Que Segrais dans l’églogue en charme les forêts.
- Let Segrais charm the woods with rural lays.
But Criticism having, unhappily for him, read a few pages of his “Æneid” in French verse, dismissed him a little roughly, and in his place admitted Madame de la Fayette, who published the delightful romance of “Zada”; and the Princess of Cleves, under the name of “Segrais.”
Pellisson is not easily excused, for having in his history of the French Academy gravely related so many puerilities, and cited as strokes of wit things which by no means deserve that name. The soft, but weak Pavillon, humbly pays his court to Madame Deshoulières, who is placed far above him. The unequal St. Èvremond does not presume to speak of poetry. Balzac, with his long-winded hyperbolical phrases, tires the patience of Benserade and Voiture, who answer him by antitheses and quibbles, which they are presently after ashamed of themselves. I went in quest of the famous Count de Bussy. Madame de Sévigné, who is beloved by all who dwell in the Temple, told me that her dear cousin, a man of great wit, but a little too vain, could never succeed so far as to make the God of Taste entertain the same favorable opinion of Mons. Roger de Rabutin, which the Count de Bussy had of him.
- Bussy for pride and self-love famed,
- Is by the god severely blamed;
- Because too much a slave to fame,
- Himself he often made his theme;
- His son with every talent graced,
- Is always well received by taste;
- He flatters none, of none speaks ill,
- His conversation pleases still;
- He shows that wit and eloquence,
- To which his father makes pretence.
- Chaulieu, who gay and void of care,
- Rising from table sang an air;
- Addressed the god-head as a friend,
- With freedom which could not offend.
- His lively and luxuriant vein
- Roves unconfined, nor hears the rein;
- His muse disdaining all control,
- With native beauties charms the soul.
- La Farre, with softness tempering fire,
- Tuned to a lower note his lyre,
- And poured forth in his mistress’ praise,
- His incorrect, but sprightly lays;
- Which might from ease and pleasure spring,
- Though Phœbus had not taught to sing.
- There Hamilton, whose darts ne’er fail
- To wound, at all mankind did rail;
- There St. Aulaire, who for old age,
- Surpassed Anacreon, the sage;
- Could all love’s joys and cares rehearse,
- In softer and more pleasing verse;
- Cytherian chaplets graced his head,
- With hoary honors overspread.
The god had a great affection for these gentlemen, especially for those who piqued themselves upon nothing. He hinted to Chaulieu that he should look upon himself as the first of careless and negligent poets, not as the first of good poets.
They conversed with some of the most amiable men of their age. Their conversations were equally free from the affectation of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and from the confusion which reigns amongst our young fellows.
- From here with equal shame are chased
- The affected and pedantic taste,
- The stiff and syllogistic air,
- The rage which strives to overbear.
- There gracefully we see unite,
- Learning profound with humor light;
- And with precision close we find,
- The follies of the human mind.
- Genius takes various forms there,
- It jests and knows a jest to bear;
- For fear of tiring there the wise,
- Put on even pleasantry’s disguise.
Chapelle was there; that genius more debauched than delicate; more natural than polite; an easy versifier, incorrect in his style and licentious in his thoughts. He constantly answered the God of Taste in the same rhymes. ’Tis said that God once answered him thus:
- “Chapelle henceforward less admire,
- Reiterated rhymes they tire;
- Those strings of syllables displayed
- By Richelet, ill a poet aid;
- That author’s dictionary gleaning,
- In double rhymes you’ll have no meaning.”
In this agreeable company I met the President de Maisons, a man of a very different character, not at all used to utter words without a meaning; a man as solid as agreeable, and equally a lover of all the arts.
- “Dear Maisons, is it thee I then embrace?”
- Cried I, while trickling tears bedewed my face;
- “Thou who wast snatched from me by cruel death,
- Who in my arms when young resigned thy breath.
- Deaf to my prayer, inexorable fate
- Was bent two dearest friends to separate;
- Ah! since its rigor either death required,
- Thou shouldst have lived, and I should have expired.
- Since my sad eyes first opened on the sphere.
- ’Twas heaven’s decree I should be wretched here;
- Thy path of life by heaven was strewed with flowers,
- And heart-felt joy winged all thy golden hours.
- With pleasures and with honors compassed round,
- In arts your wisdom full contentment found;
- Weakness is not of worth, like thine the source,
- O’er such a mind opinion ne’er had force;
- Man’s born to err, the potter’s forming hand,
- Soft earth is far less able to withstand.
- Than can the mind resist the potent sway
- Of prejudice, which mortals still obey.
- To such vile slavery you refused to bend,
- Your time you gave to study, and a friend;
- And in your nature were at once combined,
- A tender heart, and philosophic mind.”
Among these wits we met some Jesuits. A Jansenist would say upon this that the Jesuits intrude everywhere, but the God of Taste receives their enemies too; and it is diverting to see in this Temple Bourdaloue conversing with Pascal upon the great art of uniting eloquence and close reasoning. Father Bouhours stands behind them, setting down in his pocketbook all the improprieties and inelegances of language which escape them. The cardinal could not help addressing Father Bouhours thus:
- The care each little fault to spy,
- That pedants diligence lay by;
- Let us in eloquence respect
- Each careless phrase and bold defect.
- Were I to choose, I should prefer
- Wild genius, and like great men err,
- Rather than be the wight who dwells
- On syllables, who scans and spells.
This reprimand was expressed in terms, much more polite than those which I have made use of; but we poets are sometimes guilty of deviations from good breeding for the sake of a rhyme. When I visited this temple my attention was not entirely engaged by the wits.
- Harmonious verse and prose refined,
- To you alone I’m not confined;
- I scorn a taste that’s fixed on parts,
- And now invoke all pleasing arts.
- Music and painting, arts divine,
- With architecture’s great design,
- Graving and dancing all unite
- My soul to ravish with delight;
- From all art pleasure must arise,
- None then are slighted by the wise.
I saw the muses by turns place upon the altar of the god, books, designs, and plans of various kinds. The plan of that beautiful front of the Louvre (for which we are not indebted to Bernin, who, with great expense and to no purpose, was brought into France, it being the work of Perrault and Louis la Vau, great artists, whose merit is too little known) is to be seen upon that altar. There also is the plan of St. Denis’s gate, the beauty of which most Parisians are as insensible of, as they are ignorant of the name of Francis Blondel, the architect, to whom they owe this monument.
That admirable fountain, so little taken notice of, which is adorned with the precious sculptures of John Gougeon, but which is in every respect inferior to the admirable fountain of Bouchardon, at the same time that it seems to upbraid the rude taste of all the others. The porch of St. Gervais’ church, a masterpiece of architecture, to which a church, a proper situation and admirers, are wanting, and which should immortalize the name of Desbrosses, still more than the palace of Luxembourg, likewise was built by him. All these monuments, neglected by the vulgar, ever barbarous, and by people of the world ever inattentive, often attract the observation of the deity. The library of this enchanted palace was next shown us; it was not very big. It will be readily believed that we did not find in it.
- A heap of manuscripts most rare,
- Which greedy bookworms seldom spare;
- Nor on those shelves are ever found
- Those writings which so much abound;
- Writings by no man ever read,
- The lumber of an author’s head.
- In person here the tuneful nine,
- Their proper place to books assign;
- To books where genius may be traced,
- Combined with elegance of taste.
Most of the books there have passed through the hands of the muses, and been by them corrected. The work of Rabelais is to be seen there, reduced to less than half a quarter of its bulk.
Marot, whose only merit is his style, and who in the same taste, sings the Psalms of David, and the wonders of Alix, has but eight or ten leaves left. The pages of Voiture and Sarrasin together, do not exceed sixty in number.
The whole genius of Bayle, is to be found in a single volume, by his own acknowledgment; for that judicious philosopher, that enlightened judge of authors and sects, often declared that he would never have written more than one volume in folio, if he had not been employed by booksellers.
We were at last admitted into the innermost part of the sanctuary. There the mysteries of the God were unveiled: there I saw what may serve as an example to posterity: a small number of truly great men were employed in correcting those faulty passages of their works, which would have been beauties in those of inferior geniuses.
The amiable author of “Telemachus,” retrenched the repetitions and useless details of his moral romance, and blotted out the title of epic poem, which the indiscreet zeal of some of his admirers had given it; for he frankly owns that there is no such thing as a poem in prose.
The eloquent Bossuet was ready to strike out some familiar expressions, which had escaped his vast, impetuous, and free genius, and which, in some measure disgrace the sublimity of his funeral orations; and it is worthy of remark, that he by no means vouches for the truth of all he has said concerning the pretended wisdom of the ancient Egyptians.
- Corneille the great, and the sublime
- Who pleased not by the charms of rhyme;
- But waked the soul by strokes of art,
- Which filled with wonder every heart;
- Who with a pencil ever true
- Both Cinna and Augustus drew;
- Cornelia, Pompey brave and great,
- Who fell by too severe a fate;
- Into the flames Pulcheria threw
- Agesilaus, Surena too,
- And sacrificed with no remorse,
- The fruits of genius without force:
- Productions of declining age,
- And quite unworthy of the stage.
- Racine more artful and refined,
- Who touched with gentle woe the mind;
- Who still profound attention draws,
- And never breaks dramatic laws;
- His lovers’ parts with critic eye,
- Remarks, but in them can’t descry
- Those various touches which in nature,
- Distinguish character like feature:
- In all the same perfections meet,
- They’re tender, gallant, and discreet;
- And love whose power o’er all prevails,
- Believes them courtiers of Versailles:
- La Fontaine, poet born to please,
- By happy negligence and ease;
- Whose careless style, with bold neglect,
- Pleases us more than if correct.
- Your own opinion freely tell
- Of works, which in their kind excel:
- We’d gladly be informed by you,
- About your tales and fables too.
La Fontaine, who retained the simplicity of his character, and who in the Temple of Taste joined acuteness and penetration to that happy instinct, which inspired him during his life, blotted out some of his fables. He abridged almost all his tales, and tore the greater part of a collection of posthumous works, printed by those editors who live by the folly of the dead.
- There Boileau reigned who taught his age,
- By reason roused to satire’s rage;
- Who framed with care poetic laws,
- And followed them with just applause:
- Severely now his works he views,
- One quibbling poem shames his muse;
- The verses now he can’t endure,
- Written on the taking of Namure;
- He blots them out with hasty hand,
- And cries, “Your genius understand.”
Boileau, at the express command of the God of Taste, was reconciled to Quinault, who may be considered as a poet, formed by the graces, as Boileau was by reason.
- But Boileau, satirist severe,
- Whilst he embraced could scarce forbear,
- The lyric poet to revile,
- Yet Quinault pardoned with a smile.
“I’ll never be reconciled to you,” said Boileau, “except you acknowledge that there are many insipid lines in those agreeable operas.” “That’s very possible,” answered Quinault, “but you must at the same time acknowledge that you were never capable of writing Atys or Armida.”
- Your poems labored and exact,
- May general esteem attract;
- My operas composed with ease
- May surely be allowed to please.
After saluting Boileau, and tenderly embracing Quinault, I saw the inimitable Molière, and I made bold to accost him in these terms:
- Terence the sage, and the polite,
- Could well translate, but could not write;
- His elegance is cold and faint,
- He could not Roman manners paint:
- You the great painter of our nation,
- Have drawn each character and station;
- Our cits with maggots in their brain,
- Our marquises as pert as vain,
- Our formal gentry of the law,
- All by your art their likeness saw;
- And you would have reformed each fault,
- If sense and virtue could be taught.
“Ah,” said he, “why was I ever under a necessity of writing for the people? Why was I not always master of my time? I should have invented much more happy intrigues; I should have seldom descended to low comedy.”
‘Twas thus these masters, in their several arts, showed their superiority, by owning those errors to which human nature is subject, and from which the greatest geniuses are not exempt.
I then found that the God of Taste is very hard to be pleased, but that he is never pleased by halves. I perceived that the works which he criticises the most are those which he likes best.
- The God takes every author’s part
- Of pleasing, if he has the art:
- No anger he in censuring shows,
- With transport in applauding glows.
- The muse displayed her charms divine,
- And brought her heroes to his shrine;
- The power benign can scarce forbear,
- Seeing their faults to drop a tear.
- That wretch should be to woe consigned,
- Who’s not to tenderness inclined:
- By such our nature is disgraced,
- He flies the sacred shrine of taste.
When my company was going to retire, the God addressed them in terms to this effect, for I am not permitted to use his own words.
- Farewell, my much loved friends, farewell,
- Since you in poetry excel;
- Let not to Paris, dire disgrace,
- My rival there possess my place.
- False taste I know, from your keen eyes,
- In terror and confusion flies;
- If ever you should meet that foe,
- You’ll him by this description know:
- His tawdry dress, is void of grace,
- His air’s affected, and his face,
- He forces oft a languid smile,
- And talks in the true coxcomb’s style;
- He takes my name, assumes my shape
- Of genuine taste, the awkward ape;
- For he’s the son of art at most,
- Whilst nature as my fire I boast.
Jean Baptist Rousseau, in exile, became embittered against Voltaire, who had said of the former’s “Ode to Posterity,” that it was not likely to reach its destination. He circulated several unflattering criticisms on Voltaire’s recent productions, including “Zaïre,” the tragedy which placed the young author at the head of the dramatic poets. Voltaire took a merry revenge in this variegated piece, “The Temple of Taste,” which set the town laughing at the good-humored badinage he so freely distributes among his literary and fashionable contemporaries.
Cardinal de Fleury.
Scudéri was the declared enemy of Corneille. He had a party, which greatly preferred him to that father of the stage. He boasted that four doorkeepers were killed when one of his pieces were represented, and said he would never yield to Corneille till there were five doorkeepers killed (illegible) the representation of the Cid or the Horatii.
A privy counsellor; a man whose merit was acknowledged all over Europe. Rousseau had written some bad verses against him.
It is universally known, that Rousseau was condemned to make an amende honorable, and banished for life, on account of certain infamous verses, which he wrote against his friends, and laid to the charge of Mons. Samin of the French Academy.
Leibnitz was born at Leipsic, on the 23d of June, 1646, and died at Hanover on the 14th of November, 1716. He was the greatest ornament to learning that Germany ever produced; he was a more universal genius than Newton, though, perhaps, not so great a mathematician. To a profound knowledge in every branch of natural philosophy, he added a refined taste for polite learning; he even wrote French poetry. He owed his fortune entirely to his reputation. He enjoyed considerable pensions from the emperor of Germany, the emperor of Russia, the king of England, and many other sovereigns.