Joseph Forster.

Some French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon online

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 1 of 19)
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Author of 'Four Great Teachers,' &c.




Tower Street. Cambridge Circus, W.C.



THE welcome accorded to the author's little book,
Four Great Teachers : Ruskin, Carlyle, Emerson, and
Brmcning, by the critics and the public, induces the
writer to hope that the following slight sketches of
men whose memories are in some danger of being
carried away by the deluge of new books, which
appears to him to engulph the reputation of the
most brilliant writers of the past, will not be
unacceptable to many readers whose professional
and other occupations prevent them from doing
more than keep in touch with the good, bad, and
indifferent literature of the day.

Some of the essays have been delivered as
lectures and were very kindly received; a few
have appeared in the magazines, and these have
been added to and revised.







BEAUMARCHAIS . . . . . .111










born at Paris, in the parish of St. Gervais, on
February 4th, 1688. His family came from Nor-
mandy. His parents were not rich, but in easy
circumstances. He received a good education : a
little Latin and no Greek the education of a man
of the world.

One of his first works was L'lliade travestie,
written in 1716. Marivaux was French of the
French, and could not rise to the simple grandeur
of Homer. After burlesquing the Iliad, Marivaux
parodied the first four books of Telemaque and
imitated Don Quixote. He then turned to the
theatre, and wrote a tragedy, entitled La Mort
d'Annibal. But tragedy was not Marivaux's strong
point, and the day after its performance his first
comedy, Arlequin poll par V Amour, was played
with great success at the* Comedie Italienne. For-
tunately for the brilliant author there was an actress
in the company, Rosa Zanetta Benozzi, who became
famous under the name of Silvia, to create the de-
lightful, fascinating characters imagined by him.
Marivaux originated a new type, full of many-


coloured light and shade ; tender, witty, gay, and
delightful, but never dull.

' We cannot help noticing ' (wrote Sainte-Beuve) ' that
in Marivaux's comedies, as a rule, there are no exterior
obstacles, no positive intrigue, nor circumstances which
oppose the passion of his lovers ; there are only decep-
tions and caprices of the heart, and internal opposition.
Their hearts commence by being in harmony, and when
there are no dangers from the outside world Marivaux
places the difficulty in delicate scruples, in curiosity, in
timidity and ignorance, or in the morbid self-love and
wounded point of honour of the lovers. Frequently it is
a simple misunderstanding prolonged with great art. He
agitates and torments this slight thread. If it were
treated with less art it would break in a moment ; but
he takes care to avoid that ; and it is the consummate
skill displayed in the handling of this slight thread, and
the gracious events strung upon it, which please a fas-
tidious public. "You will be there? You will not be
there ? I wager yes ! I wager no ! " That appears to
be the spirit of all the plots of Marivaux's plays.'

Marivaux's works have not grown old. The}'
have been preserved by the salt of human nature
and the spice of wit. Like Moliere's, his plays live
again when adequately acted. Marivaux's canvas
is small ; he is a miniature-painter ; but his portrait
of human nature is subtle and strong. His style
was so much his own that a new word was coined
to define it : Mariraudagc. This was at first con-
sidered to be an attack, but it was not so. Let those
who think lightly of the brilliant, delicate, glittering


style of our author try to imitate it, and they will
soon discover that in this case, at all events, the style
is the man.

Marivaux's life was in his plays. He was foolish
enough, misled by the advice of practical people, to
place part of his fortune in the speculation of John
Law, and lost it. He married early in life, and soon
became a widower. His one daughter became a
nun. He had refined tastes, and was so generous as
to often embarrass his affairs. The following anec-
dote is very characteristic :

Marivaux started one day for the country with a
lady who had given him a seat in her carriage.
While she was giving some orders before starting,
a young man of eighteen or twenty years of age, fat,
dimpled, and rosy, came to ask alms of Marivaux.
He, struck with the contrast between this humiliating
action and the appearance of the beggar, said, * Are
you not ashamed, young and strong as you are, to
beg for bread which you might gain by honest work ?'

The beggar, astonished by this vigorous attack,
sobbed out, ' Ah ! sir, if you only knew ; I am so

This reply touched the sympathetic heart of
Marivaux ; he smiled and gave the man a crown.

' You are very munificent in your charity,' said
the lady, who had seen and heard what passed.

' I could not refuse to reward the sincerity of the
poor fellow.'

Marivaux often spoke of his love of idleness, and
the reply of the beggar was not to be resisted.


Marivaux cultivated his talent till it reached
perfection ; but it was limited, and his plays at last
fell flat. This caused him deep mortification and
embittered his easy, amiable character. He died on
the 12th February, 1763, aged seventy-five years.

In addition to his plays, Marivaux wrote two
novels, Marianne and the Paysan Parvenu. His
first play, Annibal, was performed on the 16th
October, 1720, and his last, Les Actcurs de bonne
Foi, on 16th September, 1755. Amongst the best
pieces of Marivaux are the Double Incomtance and
Les Sinceres.

Of these plays Sainte-Beuve wrote as follows :

' La Double Inconstance is one of the plays he preferred,
and it is indeed one in which he uses all his resources :
coquetry, rivalry excited to the most extreme point,
female perfidy, and cajolery. Les Sinceres is one of
Marivaux's most delightful works. There are two
persons, the Marquise and Ergaste, who, above all,
pride themselves on being sincere. Deeply loved by
Dorante, whose compliments she finds insipid, the
Marquise flies to Ergaste to put her in a good
humoiir. She opens with a scene of raillery and
satire, in which she paints with ravishing wit the
absurdities of five or six people who have just left
her. This scene recalls, in some degree, that in the
Misanthrope. All goes delightfully while the sincere
friends deal with their friends and not with each other.
But Ergaste risks too much in believing that he may,
in reply to questions of the Marquise, avow to her that
he has loved Arimante as much as he loves her, and, in


addition, that the latter appears to him more beautiful,
although the Marquise is more fascinating. According
to the Marquise, it is not Ergaste's sincerity that shocks
her, " but when one has such bad taste, sincerity is a bad
quality." Ergaste, to whom the Marquise speaks so
candidly, turns to Arimante again, and the Marq\iise
reverts to Dorante, whom she asks to tell her her
faults. Dorante pretends to obey, but chooses wisely
two or three trifling defects with such tact that his
criticism merges into the sweetest and most insinuating
flattery. All ends in a double marriage, the reverse of
what was expected : so true it is that in life a little flattery
is necessary, even to love with warmth and please with
passion. " Ha, ha, ha !" laughs the Marquise, "we have
taken a pleasant roundabout road to arrive here ! " That
mot might serve as the key to all the charming plays of

The following are his best pieces :

La Surprise de I' Amour. Comedy in 3 acts.

La Double Ineonstance. In 3 acts.

La Seconde Surprise de V Amour. In 3 acts.

Le Jeu de I' Amour et du Hasard. In 3 acts.

L'Ecole des Meres. In 1 act.

Le Legs. In 1 act.

Les Fausses Confidences. In 3 acts.

Les Sinceres. In 1 act.

L'Eprcurc. In 1 act.

I shall devote the rest of my space to a few
scenes from Marivaux'i comedies, which I have
ventured to translate.



[Lelio and his servant, Arlequin, have both been
deceived and disappointed in love. Naturally, the
servant burlesques the melancholy of his master.
The following scene between them is in Marivaux's
best style.]

LELIO. The weather is gloomy to-day.

ARLEQUIN. Yes, indeed ; it is as melancholy as we are.

LELIO. One is not always in the same spirits. The
mind, like the weather, is sometimes cloudy.

ARLEQUIN. So far as I am concerned, when my
spirits are bright, I care little for a dull sky.

LELIO. Most persons resemble you in that.

ARLEQUIN. But I always find the weather abomin-
able when I am sad.

LELIO. Does anything trouble you now 1


LELIO. You have no cause for sadness ?

ARLEQUIN. Why should I be sad ? I have no reason
for being dull. Perhaps I am sad because I am not gay.

LELIO. Nonsense. You do not know what you mean.

ARLEQUIN. In spite of that, I do not feel very well.

LELIO. Oh, if you are not well, I can understand

ARLEQUIN. I am not unwell either.

LELIO. Are you mad ] If you are well, how can you
be unwell ?

ARLEQUIN. Listen, sir; I drink much, I eat more,
I sleep like a dormouse : thatj_ is all.

LELIO. It is the health of a farmer ; a gentleman
would be fortunate to possess it.


ARLEQUIN. In spite of that I feel heavy and dull ; I
have a weakness in my limbs; I yawn without any
cause ; I am only brave at my meals ; all displeases me.
I do not live, I only exist ; when it is day, I wish for
night ; when it is night, I long for day. You know now
why I am unwell why I am both ill and well.

LBLIO. I understand, you suffer from ennui ; that
will pass away. Have you brought me the book sent me
from Paris ? Answer !

ARLEQUIN. Sir, with your permission, I will pass to
the other side.

LELIO. What do you mean ?

ARLEQUIN. I do not wish to see two little birds on
that tree make love to each other ; that irritates my
nerves. I have sworn never to make love again ; but
when I see it made, even by little birds, I feel an
inclination to break my vow, and reconcile myself with
those pests of women ; and then it is so deucedly hard to
make myself properly angry with them again.

LELIO. My dear Arlequin, do you think that I am
exempt from such little inquietudes'? I sometimes re-
member that there are women in the world, that they are
amiable, and such ideas make my heart beat ; but such
emotions strengthen my resolution to see them no more.

ARLEQUIN. Now, it does not affect me like that : when
such feelings stir within me, my resolution is shaken.
Teach me, sir, to profit by such feelings in your way.

LELIO. Yes, my friend, for I love you. You have
good sense, though a little coarse. The infidelity of
your mistress has disenchanted you with love ; the cruel
treason of mine has produced the same effect on me ;
you have followed me with courage to this calm retreat,
and you have become dear to me because of the con-


fonnity of your character to mine and the similarity of our

ARLEQUIN. And, sir, I assure you that I love you a
hundred times more than customary, because you have
the kindness to love me so much. I would see nothing
more of women, no more than you ; not a ribbon, not a
curl-paper : they have no conscience. I thought I should
die because of Margot's infidelity. But time, your
company, and good eating and drinking have preserved
me. I love her no longer, although sometimes her pretty
little nose trots in my head ; but when I don't think of
her I gain nothing ; because I think of all other women,
and then certain emotions of the heart come to trouble
me. I run, I jump, I sing, I dance. I have no other
secret to drive such dangerous thoughts away, and that
is not infallible. I feel myself in great danger ; and as
you love me so much, pray have the charity to teach me
how to become strong, because I feel so feeble.

LELIO. Poor fellow, I pity you ! Ah ! perfidious
sex, torment of those who pursue you, leave in peace
those who fly from you !

ARLEQUIN. Yes, sir, that is very reasonable ; why
injure those who leave them alone ?

LELIO. When some one tells me of an amiable and
beloved woman, I look upon him as a maniac who praises
a viper, and informs me it is charming, and that, fortu-
nately, he has been bitten.

ARLEQUIN. Ob, don't, sir ; you frighten me !

LELIO. Ah ! my dear Arlequin, a viper only kills.
Woman, woman ! you rob us of reason, liberty, repose :
you rob us of ourselves, and let us live on ! To what an
abject condition you reduce mankind ! Poor madmen,
with troubled brains, drunk with sorrow or with joy,


always in convulsions, wretched slaves of passion ! And
to whom belong these slaves 1 To women. And what is
a woman 1 To define her it is necessary to know her ;
we could begin the definition to-day, but I maintain that
we could not finish it until the end of the world.

ARLEQUIX. In truth, she is after all a charming little
animal, a pretty little cat ; it is a pity her claws are so
long and sharp.

LELIO. You are right, it is a pity ; because, after
all, is there in the universe anything more charming ?
What grace, what variety of charms she has !

ARLEQUIN. Yes ; one could almost eat her !

LELIO. Then look at her dress : narrow skirts, full
at the back, hair nearly over her bright love-provoking
eyes, hood on the head, and all the most extravagant
fashions ; but let them appear on a woman, and from the
time they adorn her enchanting person, one would think
the Loves and the Graces had dressed her : her fingers are
inspired when she dresses. Is not all that very singular ?

ARLEQUIN. Ah ! all that is true, too true. No, there
is no book so clever as a woman lightly dressed, with her
pretty feet in little slippers !

LELIO. What a delightful disorder of ideas in her
pretty little head ! what vivacity ! what expression !
what apparent simplicity ! Man may have good sense
for his portion ; but, my faith ! wit only belongs to
women. Then as to the heart : if the pleasures they gave
us were durable, what a delicious place this earth would
be. Men, as a rule, make love fairly well ; we pay
flattering compliments, we try to be delicate, we make
love according to rule, as people besiege a fortress.
What pitiable folly ! A woman does not try to be
tender, nor delicate, nor displeased, nor unaffected :


she is all these things without knowing it, and that is her
; ill-subduing charm. Look at a woman who loves and
would not confess by words. Good Heavens ! our most
eloquent avowals do not even approach the eloquence of
love in her silence.

ARLEQUIN. Ah ! sir, I remember too well that Margot
did all that with such grace the little demon !

LELIO. Without the excitement of love and pleasure
our hearts are paralysed : we are like stagnant water,
which waits to be moved. The heart of a woman gives
the shock : it comes from a word that she says or does
not say. There is no need for her to say that she loves.
You can always know it : here by an impatient move-
ment ; there by a little coolness ; by an imprudence, by
a distraction, by her lowering the eyes or raising them,
by her leaving or remaining in a room ; in short, it is
jealousy, calm, inquietude, joy, gossip, and silence of all
kinds and colours. And can you help being intoxicated
by the pleasure all this infinite variety affords ? How can
you see yourself adored without your head turning ! In
my case, I was as ridiculous as all other lovers ; I thought
myself a little prodigy, my merit astonished me : ah ! it
is mortifying to fall off one's pedestal ! To-day my
absurdity astonishes me ; the prodigy has disappeared,
and only a dupe remains.

ARLEQUIN. Ah, well ! sir, that is my history, too ; I
was as foolish as you. Still, sir, your portrait makes one
love the original.

LELIO. You are an idiot ! Have I not admitted
that women are amiable, tender-hearted, and very witty 1

ARLEQUIN. Yes, quite so; but is not that an attrac-
tive portrait 1

LELIO. No ; all that is frightful.


ARLEQUIN. Good, good; perhaps you only wish to
entrap me 1 ?

LELIO. No; her attractions are the instruments of
our torture. Tell me, my poor fellow, if you found on
your road silver at first, a little further on gold, after
that pearls, and that the same road conducted you to a
monster's cavern, would you not hate the silver, gold,
and pearls?

ARLEQUIN. I do not feel so disgusted, I find that
very pleasant : I only object to the brute of a tiger. But
I would take quickly some thousands of pounds in my
pockets and bravely run away.

LELIO. Yes; but you would not know that there
was a tiger at the other end of the road, and when you
had pocketed the crowns you would covet the gold and
the pearls.

ARLEQUIN. That would be a dreadful shame ! What
an abominable treasure ! Let it go to the devil, and the
tiger too !

LELIO. Listen to me, my good fellow. The silver
that you first find on the road is the beauty and fasci-
nation of a woman, which first attract you; the gold,
which you find later, the sweet hopes she gives you ;
and the pearls, her heart, which she abandons to you
with all its transports.

ARLEQUIN. Beware of the tiger !

LELIO. Yes, the tiger appears after the pearls, and
that animal is the perfidious character entrenched in the
soul of your mistress ; it shows itself, it tears out your
heart : adieu all happiness ! it leaves you as wretched as
you believed yourself happy.

ARLEQUIN. Yes, sir, that was exactly like the beast
Margot loosed 011 me, for loving her silver, gold, and pearls.


LELIO. Do you still love her ?

ARLBQUIN. Alas ! sir, I did not think of the ugly
devil at the end of the road waiting for me. When one
is ignorant, one only sees as far as the end of the nose.

LELIO. When you think of women's society again,
always remember the tiger, and look upon the emotions
of your heart as a fatal desire for your own destruction.

ARLEQUIN. Oh ! sir, I am convinced ; I renounce all
the women and all the treasures in the world, and I will
drink a glass of wine to fortify me in my good resolution.

I need hardly say that Lelio falls desperately in
love again, forgetting all about the terrible tiger,
and that Arlequin imitates his master.

The following short dialogue between Arlequin
and Lisette is taken from La Double Inconstance :

ARLEQUIN. You speak of Silvia. Yes, she is indeed
charming. When you make love to her, you fall into
admiration of her modesty. During the first days she
takes refuge in flight, and then she begins to retreat
more slowly ; then, little by little, she does not retreat
at all. Then she glances at you occasionally ; and
appeared ashamed that I noticed it ; and I felt as happy
as a king to see her uneasiness : then I took her hand,
and she let me keep it ; and she was covered with
confusion, when I spoke to her ; she did not answer, but
thought all the more. Then she gave me glances kinder
than words ; and then she uttered words without thought,
because her heart beat so wildly. In short, there was a
spell in all she did, and I was like a fool. Yes, she is
what I call a girl ; but you do not resemble Silvia.

LISETTE. In truth, you divert me; you make me laugh.


ARLEQUIN. Indeed ! Well, I am weary of making
you laugh at your own expense. Adieu. If all people
resembled me, you would sooner find a white crow than a

As we have permitted Lelio to attack the fair
sex so bitterly, it is only just to quote Silvia's attack
on the unfair sex. Both repent and make expiation.

The scene is between Silvia and her servant,
Lisette :

SILVIA. I dispense with beauty and fine form in a
husband ; those qualities are superfluous.

LISETTE. Oh, indeed ! If I ever marry, such super-
fluities will be to me necessaries.

SILVIA. You do not know what you say. In mar-
riage one has to do oftener with a reasonable than an
amiable man ; in a word, I only ask for a good character,
and that is not so easy to find, I assure you. People
praise that of my would-be lover ; but have they lived
with him 1 All clever, agreeable men are actors. Have
I not seen myself those who appeared amongst their
friends the most pleasing men in the world ? They were
mild, reasonable, pleasant, and their countenances ap-
peared to guarantee all these good qualities. ' Mr. So-
and-So has the air of a perfect gentleman of sound judg-
ment,' people say of Ergaste. ' There is no doubt about
that,' is the answer ; ' his appearance only does him
justice.' Oh, yes ; confide in that pleasant countenance
and charming manner, which disappear a quarter of an
hour afterwards, to be replaced by a visage gloomy,
brutal, ferocious, which is the terror of his home !
Ergaste is married ; his wife, his children, his servants,
only know him by that face, while abroad he shows the


charming countenance we all know so well, and which is
only a mask put on when he leaves home.

LISETTE. How fanciful you are with your masks and
your visages !

SILVIA. Is not Leander popular with every one who
knows him? Well, at home he never opens his mouth,
except to eat and drink. He does not laugh, nor talk,
nor scold : his soul is icy, solitary, inaccessible. His
wife does not comprehend him, has no communion with
him ; she is married only to a statue who comes out of
his study, seats himself at table, and makes expire of
weariness, cold, and languor all those who surround him.
Is not that a vastly amusing husband ?

LISETTE. I feel my blood freeze at your description
of the man ; but what do you think of Tersandre 1

SILVIA. Yes, Tersandre ! The other day he was
storming at his wife ; I arrived ; they announced me,
and he came to meet me with open arms, his face without
a cloud ; you would have said that he had just had a
most gay conversation ; his mouth and eyes laughed.
The cunning actor ! Other men resemble him. Who
would believe that his wife had any cause of com-
plaint? I find her sad and downcast, the complexion
leaden, eyes red with weeping : I found her as I shall be
some day, perhaps. Behold my future portrait ; at least,
I risk being a copy. She awakened my pity. Lisette, if
I should also one day be the object of pity ! That is a
terrible thought ! What do you say ? Only think to
what a husband may reduce one !

LISETTE. A husband is a husband; that reconciles
me to all the rest.

The following delightful love scene is from Le s


Fcotsses Confidences. Dorante, a poor gentleman, lias
become steward to a rich widow, Arimante, in order
to obtain the opportunity of winning her heart. For-
tunately, like most widows, Arimante knows her own
mind, and returns the passion of Dorante. The lover
is admirably assisted in his plot to win the widow by
Dubois, an old servant of his. Arimante's mother
favours the love of another suitor, the Comte, and
tries to drive Dorante out of the house. I need not
say that such conduct helps Dorante. Dorante plays
his last card, splendidly led up to, in the folloM'ing
scene, that is, he resigns his post and prepares to
leave Arimante's house :

ARIMANTE. Approach, Dorante.

DORANTE. I hardly dare to appear before you.

ARIMANTE (aside). Ah ! my confidence is no greater
than his. (Aloud) Why would you return me your
accounts? I have every confidence in you. It is not
on that account that I complain.

DORANTE. Madam, ... I have something else to
say. ... I am so bewildered, so nervous, that I can
hardly articulate.

ARIMANTE (apart, with emotion). Ah ! I fear the end
of all this !

DORANTE. One of your tenants was here just now.

ARIMANTE. One of my tenants ? Very likely.

DORANTE. Yes, madam, ... he was here.

ARIMANTE. I do not doubt it.

DORANTE. And I have some money to hand you.

ARIMANTE. Ah ! money ; ... we will see about it.

DORANTE. When will it please you, madam, to

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 1 of 19)