Chapelain, John

, a celebrated French poet, was born at Paris Dec. 4, 1595, and having been educated under Frederic Morel, Nicholas Bourbon, and other eminent masters, became tutor to the children of the marquis de la Trousse, grand marshal of France, and afterwards steward to this nobleman. During an abode of seventeen years in this family, he translated “Guzman d’Alfarache,” from the Spanish, and directed his particular attention to poetry. He wrote odes, sonnets, the last words of cardinal Richelieu, and other pieces of poetry; and at length distinguished himself by his heroic poem called “La Pucelle,” or “France delivree.Chapelain was thought to have succeeded to the reputation of Malherbe, and after his death was reckoned the prince of the French poets. Gassendi, who was his friend, has considered him in this light; and says, that “the French muses have found some comfort and reparation for the loss they have sustained by the death of Malherbe, in the person of Chapelain, who has now taken the place of the defunct, and is become the arbiter of the French language and poetry.” Sorbiere has not scrupled to say, that Chapelainreached even Virgil himself in heroic poetry;” and adds, that “he was a man of great erudition as well as modesty.” He possessed this glorious reputation for thirty years; and, perhaps, might have possessed it now, if he had suppressed the “Pucelle:” but the publication of this poem in 1656, ruined his poetical character, in spite of all attempts of his friends to support it. He had employed a great many years about it; the expectation of the public was raised to the utmost; and, as is usual in such cases, disappointed. The | consequence of this was, that he was afterwards set as much too low in his poetical capacity as perhaps before he was too high.

Chapelain died at Paris, Feb. 22, 1674, aged seventynine. He was of the king’s counsellors; very rich, and had some amiable qualities, but was covetous. “Pelisson and I,” says Menage, “had been at variance a long time with Chapelain; but, in a fit of humility, he called upon me and insisted that we should go and offer a reconciliation to him, for that it was his intention,” as much as possible, to live in peace with all men.“We went, and I protest I saw the very same billets of wood in the chimney which I had observed there twelve years before. He had 50,Ooo crowns in ready cash by him; and his supreme delight was to have his strong box opened and the bags taken out, that he might contemplate his treasure. In this manner were his bags about him when he died; which gave occasion to a certain academician to say,” there is our friend Chapelain just dead, like a miller among his bags.“He had no occasion therefore to accept of cardinal Richelieu’s offer. Being at the height of his reputation, Richelieu, who was fond of being thought a wit as well as a statesman, and was going to publish something which he would have pass for an excellent performance, could not devise a better expedient than prefixing Chapelain’s name to it.Chapelain,“says he,” lend me your name on this occasion, and I will lend you my purse on any other.“The learned Huet endeavoured to vindicate his great poem, but could not succeed against the repeated attacks of Boileau, Racine, and Fontaine. Chapelain, however, was a man of learning, and a good critic, and he has found an able defender in the abbe cT Olivet, in his History of the French Academy, It was at the desire of Malherbe and Vaugelas that Chapelain wrote the famous preface to the” Adone“of Marino; and it was he who corrected the very first poetical composition of Racine, his” Ode to the Queen," who introduced Racine to Colbert, and procured him a pension, for which Racine repaid him by joining the wits in decrying his poem. 1


Moreri.—Dict. Hist.—Biographia Gallica.