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England, and in 1627 a disastrous rupture. The
earliest verses of Edmund Waller celebrate incidents
in Buckingham's expedition, and seem to prove that
Waller had even then been made aware of the reforms
in French prosody instituted by Malherbe. The Civil
War broke out in 1642, and the raising of the king's
standard at Nottingham was the signal to the :\Iuses
to snatch up their lyres and quit this inhospitable
island. The vast majority of our li\ang poets were
Royalists, and when Charles I. was defeated they either
withdrew into obscurity or left the country. Suckling
was already in Paris ; he was followed there by Cowley,
Waller, Davenant, Denham, and Roscommon, that is
to~say, by the men who were to form poetic taste in
England in the succeeding generation. From 1645 to



356 French Profiles

1660 the English Court was in Continental exile, and it
carried about it a troop of poets, who were sent, like
so many carrier-pigeons, upon wild diplomatic errands.
It was a great misfortune for English poetry that
it was flung into the arms of France at this precise
moment. What the poets found in Paris was not the
best that could be given to them, and what there was
of the best they did not appreciate. Their own taste
in its rapid decadence had become fantastical and dis-
ordered. We have but to look at the early Odes of
Abraham Cowley to see into what peril English style
had sunken. It had grown diffuse and yet rugged;
it had surrendered itself to a wild abuse of metaphor,
and, conscious of its failing charm, it was trying to pro-
duce an impression by violent extravagance of imagery.
Its syntax had all gone wrong ; it had become the prey
of tortured grammatical inversions.

It is strange that in coming to France the Enghsh
poets of 1645 did not see the misfortune of all this.
They should have found, if they had but had eyes to
perceive it, that French poetry was on the high road
to escape the very faults we have just mentioned.
The fault of poetry such as that of Waller and Davenant
is that it is complicated and yet not dignified. Well,
the English Royalists who waited upon Queen Henrietta
in Paris might have observed in the verses of Malherbe
and Racan poetry which was majestic and yet simple, an
expression of true and beautiful sentiments in language
of pure sobriety. But these were the new classics of
France, and the English exiles had been educated in
a taste which was utterly anti-classic. They could not
comprehend Malherbe, who was too stately for them,
but unfortunately there were other influences which
exactly suited their habits of mind. There can be no



French Influence 357

doubt that they were pleased with the posthumous
writings of Theophile de Viau, whose nature-painting
has left its mark on Cowley, and unquestionably, like
the rest of the world, they were enchanted with the
fantastic, almost burlesque talent of Saint-Amant,
who ruled the salons of Paris during the whole of the
English Exile, and who seemed to his admirers of 1O50
a very great poet whom it was a distinction to imitate.

The English ear for rhythm is not constituted like
the French ear. We have a prosodical instinct which is
entirely unlike yours. This was ill comprehended, or
rather not comprehended at all, by the English Exiles.
They were confronted by the severity of Malherbe and
the uniformity of Maynard, and they were unable to
appreciate either the one or the other. The English
sublimity, as exemplified at that very hour by the
majesty of Milton, is obtained by quite other means.
The sympathy of the English poets was with what is
irregular, and they never were genuine classics, like
the French, but merely, in ceasing to be romantic,
became pseudo-classical. The very type of a pseudo-
classic in revolt against romance is Denham, in his
extravagantly-praised Cooper's Hill To compare this
with the exquisite Retraite of Racan, with which it is
almost exactly contemporaneous, is to realise what the
difference is between a falsely and a genuinely classical
poem. Racan's lines seem to be breathed out without
effort from a pure Latin mind ; the couplets of Denham
are like the shout of a barbarian, who has possessed
himself of a toga, indeed, but has no idea of how it
ought to be worn.

It is noticeable that foreigners are seldom influenced
in their style by their immediate contemporaries in
another country. The prestige of public acceptance is



358 French Profiles

required before an alien dares to imitate. Hence we
search almost in vain for traces of direct relation between
the Parisian Precieux and their British brethren. There
is little evidence that Voiture or Benserade had admirers
among the Exiles, although they returned to England
with ideas about pastoral, which I think they must have
owed to the iglogues of Segrais. But it is certain that
they were infatuated by the burlesque writers of France,
and that Scarron, in particular, was instantly imitated.
The Virgile Travesti was extravagantly admired and
promptly paraphrased in England, and in Cotton we
had a poet who deliberately and with great popular
success set out to be the English Scarron. Trivial
in French, these burlesque exercises became in Enghsh
intolerably heavy and vulgarly obscene. The taste for
rhymed burlesque was a poor gift for the Exiles to
bring back with them from the country which already'
possessed the Adonis of La Fontaine.

In offering to their countrymen the forms of French
poetry, without giving them any of its enchanting
dignity and harmony, the English poets of the Restora-
tion were doing the exact opposite of what Chaucer
had done in the fourteenth century. They imported
the substance without the colour; they neglected pre-
cisely the gift which our neighbour has always had to
bestow, namely, the charm of aesthetic proportion.
They were partly unfortunate, no doubt, in the moment
of their return to London. It was in the very year
1660 that the great revival of poetic taste began in
Paris, and, by coming back to their exciting duties
and pleasures at that moment, the English exiles
excluded themselves from participation in Boileau,
Moliere, and Racine. But would they have learned
to appreciate these great masters if the restoration



French Influence 359

of the House of Stuart had been delayed for twenty
years ? It is permissible to believe that they would
not.

The invasion of the British stage by French drama \
between 1665 and 1690 is the most striking example
of the influence of French taste which the history of
English poetry has to offer. The theatres had been
closed by an ordinance of the Puritan government,
and all performance of plays forbidden throughout
England in 1642. So fierce was the enactment that
the theatres were dismantled, in order to make acting
impossible, while all actors in plays, even in private,
were liable to be publicly whipped, and the audiences
individually fined. The result of this savage law was
that the very tradition of histrionics died out in England,
which had been the most theatrical country in Europe.
It was not one of the least satisfactions to the banished
Royalists in Paris that they could enjoy their beloved
entertainment there, as it was no longer possible to
do in London. They could not sit through performances
of Fletcher and Massinger and Ford, but they could
delight their eyes and their ears with the tragedies of
Scudery and Tristan I'Hermite and La CalprenMe.
You will remind me that they could do better than
this by attending the dramas of Rotrou and ten times
better by studying those of Corneille. But the curious
thing is that while there are definite traces of La Cal-
prenede and Scudery on our English drama, there is
not, so far as I know, a vestige of Rotrou, and the
English attitude to Corneille is very extraordinary. A
poetaster, named Joseph Rutter, translated Lc Cid
as early as 1637, that is to say, in the midst of Corneille^s
original triumph ; it is interesting to note that Rutter's
version was made at the command of the English king



360 French Profiles

and queen. This bad translation, which enjoyed no
success, sufficed for EngHsh curiosity. On the other
hand, Les Horaces was a great favourite in England,
and was carefully translated into verse by three or
four poets. Some couplets by Sir John Denham,
accompanying the version made about 1660 by the
" Matchless Orinda," have a particular interest for us.
Denham (who was, we must remember, the Racan of
the classical movement in England) says of Les Horaces :

" This martial story, which through France did come,
And there was wrought on great Corneille's loom,
Orinda's matchless muse to Britain brought.
And foreign verse our English accents taught."

The total ignoring of the Cid, while Les Horaces received
boundless admiration, is a curious fact, which can only,
I think, become intelligible when we observe that to an
English audience in 1665 the chivalry and panache of
the former play were unintelligible, while the showy
patriotism and high-strung amorosity of the other were
exactly to the English taste. Wherever Corneille's
psychological study of the human heart became subtle,
he rose above the range of the Royalist exiles. In
the English tragedies of the Restoration we see the
predominant part which violent passion took in the
interest of the age. This, together with the laborious
and unflagging emphasis which becomes to us so tedious
in these dramatic writers, the English poets borrowed,
not from Corneille, whom they may have venerated
but hardly comprehended, but from the lesser heroic
dramatists of the same age.

A little later in the seventeenth century, when the
great men had made their appearance in France, the
English dramatists could no longer overlook Moliere
and Racine ; but the luminous wit of the one and the



French Influence 361

harmonious and passionate tenderness of the other were
beyond their reach. There is evidence of the favour
which Ouinault, especially for his Roman tragedies,
enjoyed in London, and there was something in his
colourless, melodious, and graceful style which attracted
and did not terrify the contemporary English translator.
The want of interest shown by the London adapters
in the successive masterpieces of Racine is quite extra-
ordinary. A solitary attempt was made in 1675 by
John Crowne, or under his auspices, to bring Andromaque
on the English stage, but shorn of all its tender beauty.
This, amazing as it sounds, is practically the only
evidence remaining to show that our Gallicised play-
wrights were conscious of the existence of Racine.
The fact is, no doubt, that he soared above their reach
in his celestial emotion, his delicate passion and his
penetration into the human heart. English versifica-
tion in 1675 was capable of rough and vigorous effects,
music of the drum and the fife ; but it had no instrument
at its command at that time which could reproduce
the notes of Racine upon the violin. Here was an
instance of colour which was evanescent and could not
be transferred. The substance of Moliere, on the other
hand, offered no technical difficulties. It is extra-
ordinary how many of Moliere's plays were imitated
or adapted on the Enghsh stage during his life-time
or very shortly after the close of it. Our great Dryden
mingled L'itourdi with the Amani Indiscret of Quinault,
and as the result produced Sir Martin Mar-all in 1667.
He used the Dcpit Amour cux and Les Prccieuses Ridicules
in adapting Thomas Corneille's arrangement of /:/
Astrologo fingido of Calderon, in 1668. The English
playwrights, however, had no real appreciation of
Moliere, though they stole from him so freely. The



362 French Profiles

poetess, Mrs. Aphra Behn, being accused in 1678 of
borrowing scenes from the" Malad Imti^enere " (as she
called it), admitted frankly that she had done so, but
" infinitely to Moleer's advantage."

The poetry of France in the third quarter of the
seventeenth century is pre-eminently characteristic of
a grave and polished system of society. The age of
Racine was, and could not but be, an age of extreme
refinement. It was useless for the crude contemporary
dramatists of London to take the substance of the
Parisian masterpieces, since their spirit absolutely
evaded them. English society under Charles II. had
elements of force and intellectual curiosity, but it lacked
exactly what Paris possessed — the ornament of polished,
simple, and pure taste. In the jargon of the time
Racine and Mohere were " correct," while even English
poets of genius, such as Dryden and Otway, hardly
knew that " correctness " existed. Hence Boileau, in
whom " correctness " took the form of a doctrinal
system, made no impression at all upon the English
poetry of his own time. He could not act upon English
social thought until England ceased to be barbarous,
and it is, therefore, not until the age of Queen Anne
that the powerful influence of Boileau, like a penetrating
odour, is perceived in English poetry, and above all
in the verse of Pope. In the First Epistle of the Second
Book, published in 1737, that great poet reviews the
literature of the last seventy years in lines of extra-
ordinary strength and conciseness : —

" We conquered France, but felt our captive's charms;
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms :
Britain to soft refinements less a foe,
Wit grew polite, and numbers learned to flow.
Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full-resounding line,



French Influence 363

The long majestic march and energy divine.

Though still some traces of our rustic vein

And splay-foot verse remained, and will remain.

Late, very late, correctness grew our care.

When the tired nation breath 'd from civil war.

Exact Racine and Corneille's noble fire

Showed us that France had something to admire.

Not but the tragic spirit was our own.

And full in Shakespeare, fair in Otway shone.

But Otway failed to polish or refine.

And Huent Shakespeare scarce effaced a line."

When Pope wrote these vigorous verses, he liad
reached the meridian of his art. He was the greatest
Uving poet not only of England, but of the world.
He had to look back over a literary career of nearly
forty years, which had been a perpetual triumph, yet
in the course of which he had been steadily conducted
by the genius of Boileau, who had died in body exactly
at the moment when Pope was giving new lustre to
his spirit. No critic of authority will question that
Pope was a greater writer than Boileau, excellent as
the latter is. In the innumerable instances where
direct comparison between them is invited, the rich-
ness of Pope's language, the picturesque fulness of his
line, transcends the art of Boileau. But there is always
due a peculiar honour to the artist who is a forerunner,
and this belongs to the author of Le Luirin.

The qualities which entered the English poetry of
the eighteenth century came through Pope, but they
had their source in Boileau. Fiom him, enemy as he
was to affectation, pedantry, and spurious emphasis,
we learned that a verse, whether good or bad, should
at least say something. Boileau's attitude of " honest
zeal " commended itself, theoretically if not always
practically, to the mind of Pope, who is never tired of
praising the Frenchman, " that most candid satirist."
Both imitated Horace, but even Pope's vanity could



364 French Profiles

not conceal the fact that he studied the great Roman
master mainty in the EpUres of Boileau. We have here
an excellent example of the kind of influence of which
we found an example so many centuries back in Chaucer.
Here it is not a dull transference of material, ill-com-
prehended, ill-digested, from one literature to another.
It is the capture of the transient charm, the colour and
odour of a living art. Few exercises in criticism would
be more instructive than an analysis of French influences
on the splendid poetry of Pope. They mainly resolve
themselves into the results of a patient and intelligent
study of Boileau. If we compare the Essay on Criticism
with the Art Poctiquc we see the young Pope at the feet
of the ancient tyrant of letters; if we place Le Liitrin
by the side of The Rape oj the Lock we see the knack
of mock-heroic caught, and developed, and raised to
a pinnacle of technical beauty. The Epistle to Dr.
Arbuthnot is vastly superior to the poem A son Esprit,
but Pope would never have traversed the road if Boileau
had not pointed out the way. Pope captured the very
touch of Boileau, but he heightened it, and he made
it English. How English he made it can be seen from
the fact that the manner spread, as Pope's and as
English, to the literatures of Italy, Sweden, and even
Russia.

It spread, moreover, to the whole of the fashion of
poetry to be written in Pope's own England through
the remainder of the eighteenth century. Even where
that fashion turned to forms more unclassical or even
languidly romantic, a faint varnish of Pope's precision
continued to characterise it. But during the eighteenth
century (that epoch so curious in the history of poetrj',
where everything seemed to combine to hold the imagina-
tion in a static if not in a semi-paralysed condition) there



French Influence 365

was no more display of influence from France on England.
What influence there was was exercised all in the reverse
direction. The moral disquisition in exquisitely-serried
couplets gave way in some degree to descriptive poetry
as Thomson devised it, to lyrical poetry as it was con-
ceived by Gray. But these writers, eminent enough in
their place and their degree, not only owed nothing to
France, but they exerted an immediate influence on the
poets of that country. The Abbe Delille, with his
olives and his vines, his corn-fields and his gardens
and his bees, was inspired in the second degree, no
doubt, by Virgil, but in the first degree, unquestionably,
by the natural descriptions of the English poets of the
preceding generation.

When we come to the dawn of a new age, when we
examine for exotic impressions the writings of the
pioneers of the romantic revival, we find that the
prestige is still all on the side of Great Britain. On
Cowper and Burns and Blake we discover no trace of
any consciousness of foreign influence, other than is
indicated by an occasional and usually hostile acknow-
ledgment of the existence of Voltaire and Rousseau on
the prosaic confines of the art. Quite different is the
case in France, when we approach a writer in some
respects more modern than either Cowper or Burns,
namely, Andre Chcnier, the more conventional parts
of whose works display, to an English reader, a far
greater pre-occupation with English poetry than, 1
beheve, any French critic has noted. In the later
part of the eighteenth century the deplorable didacticism
of verse, with the tedium of its topographical and
descriptive pieces, of its odes to Inoculation and to
The Genius of the Thames, of its epics on the cultivation
of the sugar-cane, and the breeding of sheep and the



366 French Profiles

navigation of sailing-vessels, although it took its start
from a misconception of the teaching of Boileau, had
long ceased to be definitely French, and had become
technically British in character. But the group of
Parisian poets, so solemn and so deadly dull, who formed
the court of Delille after the French Revolution, were
the disciples of the verse of Thomson, in fact, as much
as in theory they were the pupils of the prose of
Buff on.

The reaction against dryness and flatness in imagina-
tive literature was complete and systematic in England
long before it had been accepted by the intelligent classes
in France. The authority of Chateaubriand, although
most of his important work was published already, was
not in any wide degree accepted until after 1810, even
if this be not too early a date to suggest for it, while
the formular tendency of the whole work of the author
of Atala and Rene was rather to the revival of a vivid,
picturesque, and imaginative prose than to the study
of verse. But in England, before 1810, the revolution
was complete in the essential art of poetry itself. Words-
worth and Coleridge had completed their reform, and
it was of a nature absolutely radical. In 1798 they had
determined that " the passions of men should be incor-
porated with the beautiful and permanent forms of
nature," and they had, working on those lines, added
to the poetry of the world some of its most perfect
and its most durable ornaments. Crabbe, Campbell,
even Sir Walter Scott, had completely revealed the
nature of their genius before France was awakened to
the full lesson of Chateaubriand. When the second
romantic epoch was revealed in France, the great era
in England was over. The year 1822, which saw Alfred
de Vigny, Victor Hugo, and Lamartine ascend the



French Influence 367

Parisian horizon as a new constellation of unequalled
effulgence, saw the burial of Shelley in that Roman
garden of death where Keats had shortly before been
laid, and saw the retirement of Byron to Genoa, his
latest Italian home.

It was physically impossible, therefore, that the
belated Komantiques in France, at the beginning of
the nineteenth century, could exercise any influence
over their British brethren, who had been roused from
slumber one watch earlier than they had. Far north,
in tlie valleys of Somerset, by the Isis at Oxford, long
before there was any motion of life by the Seine or by
the Rhone, the spirit of living poetry had arisen, singing,
from the ground, and the boyish Lamartine and Vigny,
had they been aware of the fact, might have whispered
of their English predecessors in 1810 : —

" By rose-hung river and light-foot rill

There are who rest not, who think long

Till they discern as from a hill

At the sun's hour of morning song.

Known of souls only, and those souls free,

The sacred spaces of the sea."

The English Romantics of the beginning of the nine-
teenth century earnestly and pointedly repudiated the
influence which French poetry had exercised in England
a hundred years earlier. This dehberate revolt finds
a very interesting expression in the Sleep and Poetry
of Keats, a poem of much importance in the history
of criticism. Sleep and Poetry was written in 18 16,
six years before the first Cenaclc was formed in Paris,
and four years before the publication of Lamartine's
Meditations Poetiqties. In the course of it, Keats
describes the practice of the Anglo-Gallic writers of
verse in picturesque and stringent language, culminating



368 French Profiles

in an attack on the impeccable Boileau himself. He
says : —

" A schism
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism
Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
Men were thought wise who could not understand
His glories : with a puling infant's force
They swayed about upon a rocking-horse
And thought it Pegasus. . . . Ill-fated race !
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face
And did not know it, — no, they went about,
Holding a poor, decrepit standard out,
Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
The name of one Boileau ! "

During the ninety years which separate us from the
early enthusiasms of Keats and Shelley, it cannot be
said that this influence of France has to any marked
degree asserted itself on the poetry of England. It
would be in the highest degree fantastic to pretend
that it can be traced on the texture of Tennyson or
of the Brownings. It is a remarkable fact that the
genius of Victor Hugo, although of such overwhelming
force among the Latin nations, failed to awaken the
least echo in the poets of the North. The allusions
to Hugo in the writings of his greatest immediate
contemporaries in England are ludicrously perfunctory
and unappreciative. Tennyson addressed to him a
well-intentioned sonnet which is a monument of tact-
lessness, in which Victor Hugo is addressed as " Weird
Titan " and in which the summit of the French poet's
performance appears to have been reached in his having
been polite to one of Tennyson's sons. " Victor in
drama, victor in romance," the English poet sings in
artless wit, and shows no appreciation whatever of the
unmatched victories in the splendour and perfection
of lyrical melody. It was Mr. Swinburne who, about



French Influence 369



1866, earliest insisted on the supremacy of Victor
Hugo : —

" Thou art chief of us, and lord ;

Thy song is as a sword
Keen-edged and scented in the blade from flowers ;

Thou art lord and king ; but we

Lift younger eyes, and sec
Less of high hope, less light on wandering hours."


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