Sage, Alain Rene' Le

, the first of French novelists, was born, according to one of his biographers, in 1677, at Ruys, in Britanny; or, according to another, in 1668, at Vannes. At the age of twenty-five he came to Paris, with a view to study philosophy. His talents, although they did not display themselves very early, proved to be equally brilliant and solid. He made himself first known by a paraphrastic translation of the “Letters of Aristsenetus,” which he published in two small volumes. He then travelled through Spain, and applied to the study of the Spanish language, customs, and writers, from whom he adopted plots and fables, and transfused them into his native tongue with great facility and success. His works of this kind are, “Guzman D’Alfarache” the “Bachelor of Salamanca;” “Gil Bias;” “New Adventures of Don Quixote,” originally written by Avellaneda; “The Devil on two Sticks,” as it is called in our translation, in French “Le Diable boiteux,” and some others of less note. Of the “Devil on two Sticks,” we are told that the first edition had amazing success, and the second sold with still greater rapidity. Two noblemen coming to the bookseller’s, found only one single copy remaining, which each was for purchasing: and the dispute grew so warm, that they were going to decide it by the sword, had not the bookseller interposed. | He was also distinguished for some dramatic pieces, of which “Crispin,” and “Turcaret,” both comedies, were the most successful, and allowed to fall very little short of the genius of Moliere. “Turcaret,” which was first played in 1709, has been praised by the French critics, as comprehending a dialogue just and natural, characters drawn with peculiar fidelity, and a well-conducted plot. He composed also many pieces for the comic opera, which, if somewhat deficient in invention, were in general sprightly, and enriched with borrowed fancies very happily adapted to the genius of the French theatre.

When a favourite with the town, he appears to have presumed a little on that circumstance. It was his custom to read his plays in certain fashionable circles, before they were publicly represented. On one of those occasions, when engaged to read a piece at the duchess de Bouillon’s, an unexpected affair detained him until a considerable time after the appointed hour. The duchess, on his entrance, began to reproach him, but with pleasantry, for his having made the company lose two hours in waiting for him. “If I have made them lose them,” said Le Sage, “nothing can be more easy than to recover them. I will not read my play,” and immediately took his leave, nor could any invitation induce him to visit the duchess a second time.

He had several children, the eldest of whom was long a distinguished actor on the French stage, under the name of Montmenil, and amidst all the temptations of a theatrical life, was a man of irreproachable character. He died suddenly while partaking of the pleasures of the chase, Sept. 8, 1743, and his death was a loss to the public, and particularly to his father, who was now grown old, and had been poorly rewarded by the age which he contributed so often to entertain. He was likewise at this time very deaf, and obliged to have recourse to an ear-trumpet, which he used in a manner that bespoke the old humourist. It was his practice to take it out of his pocket when he had reason to think that his company was composed of men of genius, but he very gravely replaced it, when he found that they -were of an inferior stamp.

This infirmity, however, depriving him of the pleasures of society, he left Paris for Boulogne-sur-mer, in the cathedral of which one of his sons held a canonry: and although of an advanced age, Le Sage left the metropolis of | taste, literature, and gaiety, with considerable regret. He did not enjoy his retirement long, being cut off by a severe illness, Nov. 17, 1747, in his eightieth year. He was interred at Boulogne, with the following epitaph:

"Sous ce tombeau git Le Sage, abattu

Par le ciseau de la Parque importune

S’il ne tut pas ami de la Fortune,

II tut toujours ami de la Vertu."

His character is said to have been truly amiable, and his conduct strictly moral and correct, free from ambition, and one who courted fortune no farther than was necessary to enjoy the pleasures and quiet of a literary life.

Of all his works, his “Gil Bias” is by far the most popular, and deservedly ranks very high among the productions of historical fancy. It has been, we believe, translated into every European language, and received in all nations, as a faithful portrait of human nature. Few books have been so frequently quoted, as affording happy illustrations of general manners, and of the common caprices and infirmities incident to man. Le Sage, says Dr. Moore, proves himself to have been intimately acquainted with human nature. And as the moral tendency of the character of Gil Bias has been sometimes questioned, the same author very properly remarks that he never intended that character as a model of imitation. His object seems to have been to exhibit men as they are, not as they ought to be: for this purpose he chooses a youth of no extraordinary talents, and without steady principles, open to be duped by knavery, and perverted by example. He sends him like a spaniel, through the open fields, the coveru, the giddy heights, and latent tracts of life, to raise the game at which he wishes to shoot; and few moral huntsmen ever afforded more entertaining sport.

The popularity of this novel, which equals that of almost any of our own most favourite productions, may afford a lesson to the writers of fiction, who are ambitious that their works may live. Had Le Sage drawn those extravagant and distorted characters which are so common in the novels published within the last twenty years, he could not have expected that they would outlive the novelty of a first perusal; but, depicting nature, and nature only, as he found her in men of all ranks and stations, he knew that what would please now would please for ever, and that he was speaking a language that would be understood in every | spot of the globe. The artifices of refined and highly polished society may introduce variations and disguises which give an air of novelty to the actions of men; but original manners and caprices, such as Le Sage has described, will perhaps at all times be acknowledged to be just, natural, and faithful, whether we apply the test of selfexamination, or have recourse to the more easy practice of remarking the conduct of those with whom we associate. 1


Dict. Hist. Moore’s Life of Smollett. Blair’s Lectures, Seattle’s Dissertations, p. 570.