« ZurückWeiter »
of a literary dictator in England, acknowledged discipleship to Boileau. A little later the literary philosophers of France-Rousseau and the Encyclopédistes-drew nutrition from the writings of Hobbes and Locke. French novel-readers of the eighteenth century found their chief joy in the tearful emotions excited by the sentimentalities of Richardson and Sterne. French novel-writers one hundred and thirty years ago had small chance of recognition if they disdained to traffic in the lachrymose wares which the English novelists had brought into fashion.
At the present moment the cultured Englishman finds his most palatable fiction in the publications of Paris. Within recent memory the English playgoer viewed with impatience any theatrical programme which lacked a Parisian flavour. The late Sir Henry Irving, who, during the past generation, sought to sustain the best traditions of the English drama, produced in his last years two original plays, Robespierre and Dante, by the doyen of living French dramatists, M. Sardou. Complementary tendencies are visible across the Channel. The French stage often offers as cordial a reception to plays of English manufacture as is offered in London to the plays derived from France. No histrionic event attracts higher interest in Paris than the assumption by a great actor or actress of a Shakespearean rôle for the first time; and French dramatic critics have been known to generate such heat in debates over the right conception of a Shakespearean character that their differences have required adjustment at the sword's point.
Of greater interest is it to note that in all the cultivated centres of France a new and unparalleled
FRENCH STUDY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE 201
energy is devoted to-day to the study of English literature of both the present and the past. The research recently expended on the topic by French scholars has not been excelled in Germany, and has rarely been equalled in England. Critical biographies of James Thomson (of The Seasons), of Burns, of Young, and of Wordsworth have come of late from the pens of French professors of English literature, and their volumes breathe a minute accuracy and a fulness of sympathetic knowledge which are certainly not habitual to English professors of English literature. This scholarly movement in France shows signs of rapid extension. Each summer vacation sees an increase in the number of French visitors to the British Museum reading-room, who are engaged on recondite researches into English literary history. The new zeal of Frenchmen for English studies claims the most cordial acknowledgment of English scholars, and it is appropriate that the most coveted lectureship on English literature in an English University-the Clark lectureship at Trinity College, Cambridge - should have been bestowed last year on the learned professor of English at the Sorbonne, M. Beljame, author of Le Public et les Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre au XVIII Siècle. M. Beljame's unexpected death (on September 17, 1906), shortly after his work at Cambridge was completed, is a loss alike to English and French letters.
In view of the growth of the French interest in English literary history, it was to be expected that serious efforts should be made in France to determine the character and dimensions of the influence
exerted on French literature by the greatest of all English men of letters-by Shakespeare. That work has been undertaken by M. Jusserand. In 1898 he gave to the world the results of his investigation in his native language. Subsequently, with a welcome consideration for the linguistic incapacities of Shakespeare's countrymen, he repeated his conclusions in their tongue.1 The English translation is embellished with many pictorial illustrations of historic interest and value.
Among French writers on English literature, M. Jusserand is the most voluminous and the most widely informed. His career differs in an important particular from that of his countrymen who pursue the same field of study. He is not by profession a teacher or writer: he is a diplomatist, and now holds the high office of French ambassador to the United States of America. M. Jusserand has treated in his books of almost all periods of English literary history, and he has been long engaged on an exhaustive Literary History of the English People, of which the two volumes already published bring the narrative as far as the close of the Civil Wars.
M. Jusserand enjoys the rare, although among modern Frenchmen by no means unexampled, faculty of writing with almost equal ease and felicity in both French and English. His walk in life gives him a singularly catholic outlook. His learning is profound, but he is not overburdened by it, and he preserves his native gaiety of style even when solving crabbed problems of bibliography. He is at times discursive, but he is never tedious; and he shows
Shakespeare in France under the Ancien Régime, by J. J. Jusserand. London: T. Fisher Unwin. 1899.
M. JUSSERAND'S LITERARY WORK
no trace of that philological pedantry and narrowness or obliquity of critical vision which the detailed study of literary history has been known to breed in English and German investigators. While M. Jusserand betrays all the critical independence of his compatriot, M. Taine, his habit of careful and laborious research illustrates with peculiar vividness the progress which English scholarship has made in France since M. Taine completed his sparkling survey of English literature in 1864.
M. Jusserand handles the theme of Shakespeare in France under the Ancien Régime with all the lightness of touch and wealth of minute detail to which he has accustomed his readers. Nowhere have so many facts been brought together in order to illustrate the literary intercourse of Frenchmen and Englishmen between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. It is true that his opening chapters have little concern with Shakespeare, but their intrinsic interest and novelty atone for their irrelevance. They shed a flood of welcome light on that interchange of literary information and ideas which is a constant feature in the literary history of the two countries.
Many will read here for the first time of the great poet Ronsard's visits to this country; of the distinguished company of English actors which delighted the court of Henry IV. of France; and of Ben Jonson's discreditable drunken exploits in the French capital when he went thither as tutor to Sir Walter Raleigh's son. To these episodes might well be added the pleasant personal intercourse of Francis Bacon's brother, Anthony, with the great French essayist Montaigne, when the Englishman
was sojourning at Bordeaux in 1583. Montaigne's Essays achieved hardly less fame in Elizabethan England than in France. Both Shakespeare and Bacon gave proof of indebtedness to them.
By some freak of fortune Shakespeare's fame was slow in crossing the English Channel. The French dramatists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lived and died in the paradoxical faith that the British drama reached its apogee in the achievement of the Scottish Latinist, George Buchanan, who was reckoned in France "prince of the poets of our day." In Buchanan's classical tragedies Montaigne played a part, while he was a student at Bordeaux. His tragedy of Jephtha achieved exceptional fame in sixteenth century France; three Frenchmen of literary repute rendered it independently into their own language, and each rendering went through several editions. Another delusion which French men of letters cherished not only during Shakespeare's lifetime but through three or four generations after his death, was that Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, and the father of Lord Chancellor Bacon were the greatest authors which England had begotten or was likely to beget. French enthusiasm for the suggestive irony of More's Latin romance of Utopia outran that of his fellow-countrymen. A French translation anticipated the earliest rendering of the work in the author's native tongue. No less than two independent French versions of Sir Philip Sidney's voluminous fiction of Arcadia were circulating in France one hundred and twenty years before the like honour was paid to any work of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's work first arrived in France tow