Perrault, Charles

, younger brother to the preceding, was born at Paris, Jan. 12, 1628, and at the age of eight was placed in the college of Beauvais, where he distinguished himself in the belles-lettres, and had a considerable turn to that kind of philosophy which consisted mostly in the disputatious jargon of the schools. He also wrote verses, aud indulged himself in burlesque, which was then much in vogue; on one occasion he amused himself in turning the sixth book of the flLiieid into burlesque verse. He had, however, too much sense when his ideas became matured by reflection, to attach the least value to such effusions. When his studies were completed, he was admitted an advocate, and pleaded two causes with a success sufficient to induce the magistrates to wish to see him au | tached to the bar. But Colbert, the French minister, wh was acquainted with his merit, soon deprived the law of his services. He chose him for secretary to a small academy of four or five men of letters, who assembled at his house twice a week. This was the cradle of that learned society afterwards called “Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres.” The little academy employed itself on the medals and devices required from it by Colbert, in the king’s name; and those proposed by Charles Perrault were almost always preferred. He had a singular talent for compositions of this kind, which require more intellectual qualities than is generally supposed. In the number of his happy devices may be ranked that of the medal struck on account of the apartments given by the king to the French academy in the Louvre itself. This was Apollo Palatinus; an ingenious allusion to the temple of Apollo, erected within the precincts of the palace of Augustus. Perrault not only was the author of this device, but likewise procured the academy the apartments it obtained from the monarch, who at the same time was pleased to declare himself its protector. Colbert, enlightened by the wise counsels of Perrault, inculcated upon the king, that the protection due to genius i s one of the noblest prerogatives of supreme authority. He also procured the establishment of the academy of sciences, which at first had the same form with the French academy, that of perfect equality among its members. His brother Claude had also a considerable share in this useful establishment.

Scarcely was the academy of sciences established, when Colbert set apart a yearly fund of 100,000 livres, to be distributed by the king’s order among celebrated men of letters, whether French or foreigners. Charles Perrault partook likewise in the scheme of these donatives, and in their distribution. It was extended throughout Europe, to the remotest north, although we do not find any English among the number. Colbert, whose esteem for the talents and character of Perrault continually increased, soon employed him in an important and confidential office. Being himself snperintendant of the royal buildings, he appointed him their comptroller general; and this office-, in the hands of Perrau’t, procured a new favour to the arts, that of the establishment of the academies of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Then it was that his brother Claude produced the celebrated design of the front of the Louvre. | The credit Perrault enjoyed, and the gratitude due to him from men of letters, had from 1671 given him admission into the French academy. On the day of his recep* tion, he returned thanks in an harangue which gave so much satisfaction to the society, that they from that time resolved to make public the admission -discourses of their members. But as the favour of the great is rarely lasting, Perrault underwent some mortifications from Colbert, which compelled him to retire; and although the minister, sensible of his loss, solicited him to return, he refused, and went to inhabit a house in the suburbs of St. Jacques, the vicinity of which to the colleges facilitated the superintendance of the education of his sons. After the death of Colbert, he received a fresh mortification, that of having his name erased from the academy of medals, by Louvois. This minister did not love Colbert; and his hatred to the patron fell upon the person patronized, though he had ceased to be so.

During his retreat, Perrault employed his leisure io the composition of several works, among which were his “Poem on the age of Lewis the Great,” and his “Parallel between the Ancients and Moderns.” The long and bitter war these pieces excited between Boileau and the author, is well known. The chief fault of Perrauit was his censuring the ancients in bad verses, which gave Boileau the advantage. Had the two adversaries combated in prose, the match would have been more equal. In the collection of Boileau’s works, may be seen a letter addressed to him by Perrault, in the height of this warfare, against which this great poet’s prose, somewhat inclined to harshness and ponderosity, is scarcely able to sustain itself, notwithstanding all the author’s talents for sarcasm and irony. Perrault’s letter, though filled with reproaches, for the worst part well merited by his antagonist, is a model of decorum and delicacy. With respect to the ground of the dispute, the two adversaries, as usual in these quarrels, are aitrrhafely right and wrong. Perrault, too little conversant m the Greek language, too exclusively sensible of the defects of Homer, shows too little feeliirg of the superior beau ties of this great bard, and is not enough indulgent to his errors in favour of his genius. Boileau, perpetually on his knees before his idol, defends him sometimes unhapplx, and always with a rudeness almost equal to that with which the heroes of the Iliad abuse each other. | It is, indeed, asserted that the enmity of Boileau against the author of the “Poem on^Louis le Grand,” had a secret cause, more potent than his devotion for the ancients; which was, that the writer, when justly celebrating the great Corneille, had affected to avoid all mention of the author of “Phaedra” and“Iphigenia." There is some reason to believe that Boileau was- not better satisfied with the silence observed with respect to himself in this poem, which had not disdained to notice Godeaux and Tristan. But the satirist’s self-love in the displeasure he professed, prudently concealed itself behind his friendship for Racine, and perhaps was thus concealed even from himself. If on this occasion he displayed an excess of feeling, his adversary had been guilty of great injustice. To deprive the age of Lewis the Fourteenth of Boileau and Racine, is to deprive the age of Augustus, of Horace and Virgil.

The enmity of the two academicians was of older date than their quarrel concerning the ancients and moderns. Charles Perrault and his brothers, friends of those writers whom Boileau had treated with most severity, did not content themselves with a silent disapprobation of his attacks upon them; they freely expressed their sentiments of the satirist, who, on his part, did not spare them. We ought not, on this occasion, to suppress an anecdote of Perrault, which does him much honour. The French academy, in 1671, had proposed as the subject of their first poetical prize, the “abolition of duels.” Some days before the prizes were distributed, Perrault had spoken highly in commendation of the successful piece, the writer of which, M. de la Monnoye, was unknown. A person who heard him, said to Perrault, “You would be much surprized were the piece to prove Boileau’s.” “Were it the devil’s,” answered Perrault, “it deserves the prize, and shall have it.” Boileau on his part, as if through emulation, rendered some justice to Perrault, and even on account of his verses. He praised the six lines which conclude the preface to Perrault’s “Parallels,” though the ancients are not treated in them with much respect.

PerrauJt, besides the verses alluded to, has written some others, not unworthy of praise. Such are those in hi.s poem “On Painting,” in which he happily, and even poetically, describes the boauties added by time to pictures. In these lines, the image he draws of time giving | the finishing touches to the master-pieces of the great artists, while with a sponge he effaces even the remembrance of inferior productions, is noble and picturesque. Somewhat more of harmony and elegance in the expression would have rendered this draught worthy of the first masters.

When the quarrel between Boileau and Perrault had lasted long enough to make them both almost equally in the wrong, and the two adversaries had satiated themselves, the one with reproaches, the other with epigrams; when even the public began to grow weary of it; common friends, who ought sooner to have interposed, endeavoured to effect a reconciliation. They were indeed entitled to mutual esteem, which the one commanded by his uncommon powers, the other by his knowledge and understanding, and both by their probity. On the side of Perrault, the reconciliation was sincere. He even suppressed several strokes against the ancients, which he had in reserve for the fourth volume of his “Parallels,” “choosing rather,” said he, “to deprive himself of the satisfaction of producing fresh proofs of the goodness of his cause, than longer to embroil himself with persons of merit like that of his adversaries, whose friendship could not be purchased at too high a rate.” With respect to Boileau, he wrote what he termed a letter of reconciliation to Perrault; but in which, through its forced compliments, he could not avoid displaying that relic of gall or malignity, of which it is so difficult for a professed satirist entirely to discharge himself. This letter might almost pass for a new critique on Perrault, so equivocal was the turn of its reparation. Accordingly, a friend of Boileau said to him, “I doubt not that we shall always keep upon good terms together, but if ever, after a difference, we should be reconciled, no reparation! I beg: I fear your reparations more than your reproaches.

We shall at present pass over some works of Perrault, less considerable than the two, which made him most talked of, and most clisturbed his repose. We shall only mention his “History of Illustrious Men of the Age of Lewis XIV.” Freed from his controversy with Boileau, but still a zealous partizan for his age, Perrault celebrated its glory in this work, which did equal honour to his understanding and his impartiality. Somewhat more life and colouring might be desired in it, but not more sincerity and justice. The author even confesses that he has denied himself ornament, | for the purpose of giving more truth to his narration, by limiting encomium to the si,.iple recital of facts. “I was not ignorant,” says he, “that if I had made these eulogies more eloquent, I should have derived more glory from them; but 1 thought only of the glory of those whom I commemorate. It is well known, that funeral orations in general are more the eulogy of the preacher than of the deceased; and that if the reputation of the composer i$ often augmented by them, that of the subject almost always remains what it was before.

We have hitherto followed D’Alembert, in our account of M. Perrault. It may be necessary now to add a few particulars from other authorities. With respect to his “Age of Lewis the Great,” it was a kind of prelude to a war with all the learned. In this poem he set the modern authors above the ancient, an attempt which would of course appear shocking to the majority, who considered the ancients as superior in every species of composition. Boileau was present at the academy when this poem was read there, in 1687, and was greatly disgusted; yet took no farther notice of it, than answering it by an epigram, as did also Menagn in another, to which Perrault replied in a letter, which he reprinted the same year, and added to it his “Parallel between the Ancients and Moderns,” in regard to arts and sciences. A second volume of this appeared in 1690, where the subject of their eloquence is considered; a third, in 1692, to determine their poetical merit; and a fourth, in 1696, which treats of their astronomy, geography, navigation, manner of warring, philosophy, music, medicine, &c. 12mo. In the third volume, which relates to poetry, Perrault had not only equalled the modern poets with the ancient, and partu ularly Boileau, but had also set up Chapelain, Quinault, and other French poets, whom Boileau in his Satires had treated with contempt. This brought on the animosity of which we have already given an account. Voltaire says, with regard to this famous controversy, which was carried on at the same time in England, by sir William Temple and others, that “Perrault has been reproached with having found too many faults with the ancients, but that his great fault was the having criticised them injudiciously.

Perrault’ s work, the “History of the Illustrious Men, 17 is now chiefly valued of all his writings, and not the less for the fine portraits from the collection of the celebrated | Begon. Of the letter-press, we have an English translation by Ozell, 1704 5, 2 vols. 8vo. Perrault was determined by the public voice in the choice of his heroes, whom he confined to an hundred; but there are an hundred and two in the collection; the reason of which was this. Arnauld and Pascal were deservedly in his list; but the Jesuits made interest to have them excluded, and prevailed. Perrault thought it necessary to substitute two fresh ones; but the public refused to accept the work, unless Arnauld and Pascal might keep their places; and hence it arose, that instead of a hundred lives, which was Perrault‘ s original design, we find an hundred and two. There are other works of Perrault, which are much esteemed, as” Le Cabinet de Beaux Arts,“&c. or, A Collection of Copper-plates relating to Arts and Sciences, with Illustrations in Verse and Prose, 4 vols. oblong 4to;” Faernus’s Fables, translated into French Verse," &c.

Perrault died in 1703, aged seventy-seven. Madame Dacier, in the preface to her translation of “Homer’s Odyssey,” has given the following character of this author. < He was,“says she,” a man of talents, of agreeable conversation, and the author of some little works, which have been deservedly esteemed. He had also all the qualities of an honest and good man; was pious, sincere, virtuous, polite, modest, ready to serve, and punctual in the discharge of every duty. He had a considerable place under one of the greatest ministers France ever had, who reposed the utmost confidence in him, which he never employed for himself, but always for his friends." Such a character from madame Dacier must suggest to us the highest opinion of Perrault as a man, when it is considered, that, as an author, she thought him guilty of the greatest of all crimes, an attempt to degrade the ancient writers, whom she not only reverenced, but adored.

Besides Claude and Charles, there were two other brothers, Peter and Nicholas, who distinguished themselves in the literary world. Peter, the eldest of them all, was receiver-geueral of the finances, and published, in 1674, a piece, “De l’Origine des Fontaines;” and, in 1678, a French translation of Tassoni’s “La Seochia rapita.Nk­Colas was admitted doctor of the Sorbonne in 1652, and died in 1661 leaving behind him a work, entitled “La Morale deslesuites, extraite fidelement de leurs iivres,” which was printed in 1667, 4to. | Charles Perrault is said to have had a son. Perrault D'Armancourt, who, although he made a less figure in the learned world than his father or uncles, was the author of a book of tales, lately transferred from the nursery to the stage. The French edition is entitled “Contes de ma Mere l’Oye.Hague, 1745, with a translation, “Mother Goose’s Tales.1

1

D’Alembert’s Eulogies by A.kin, fol. II. —Niceron, To!. XXXIII.