Quinault, Philip

, a celebrated French poet, was born in 1636, and was one of a family that had produced some dramatic performers. He had but little education, and is said to have been servant to Tristan D’Hermile, from whom he imbibed some taste for poetry. The lessons of Tristan were probably of some use to him, as that author had had long experience in theatrical matters but Quiuault owed still more to nature. Before he was twenty years old, he had distinguished himself by several pieces for the stage, which had considerable success: and before he was thirty, he produced sixteen dramas, some of which were well received, but not all equally. It is supposed that some of these early pieces prejudiced Boileau against Quinault early in his career. There was neither regularity in the plan, nor force in the style: romantic lovers and common-place gallantry, in scenes which required a nervous pencil and vigorous colouring. These were defects not likely to escape the lash of the French Juvenal. He covered the young poet with ridicule; reproached him with the affectedly soft and languishing dialogue of his lovers, by whom even / hate you was said tenderly. | Quinault, born with great sensibility, was so wounded by his seventy, that he applied to the magistrates, not only to silence Boileau, but oblige him to remove his name from his satires but the attempt was vain and it was not till after Quinault was inlisted by Lulli to write for the opera, that he silenced all his enemies, except Boileau and his party, who envied him his success. The French nation knew no better music than that of Lulli, and thought it divine. Quinault’s was thought of secondary merit, till after his decease and then, in proportion as the glory of Lulli faded, that of Quinault increased. After this his writings began to be examined and felt; and of late years, his name is never mentioned by his countrymen without commendation. His operas, however, though admirable to read, are ill-calculated for modern music; and are obliged to be new written, ere they can be new set, even in France. Marmontel, who had modernized several of them for Piccini to set in 1788, gave M. Laborde a dissertation on the dramatic writings of Quinault for music which is published in the fourth volume of his “Essai sur la Musique.” He begins by asserting that Quinault was the creator of the French opera upon the most beautiful idea that could be conceived; an idea which he had realized with a superiority of talent, which no writer has since approached. His design was to form an exhibition, composed of the prodigies of all the arts; to unite on the same stage all that can interest the mind, the imagination, and the senses. For this purpose a species of tragedy is necessary, that shall be sufficiently touching to move, but not so austere as to refuse the enchantments of the arts that are n-ecessary to embellish it. Historical tragedy, in its majestic and gloomy simplicity, cannot b.e sung with any degree of probability, nor mixed with festivals and dances, or be rendered susceptible of that variety, magnificence, show, and decoration, where the painter and the machinist ought to exhibit their enchantments.

All the wits of the time tried to write down Quinault. Ignorant of music and its powers, they thought Lulli always right, and the poor, modest, unpretending Quinault always wrong. Posterity has long discovered the converse of this supposition to be the truth. Quinault’s great mistake and misfortune, says La Harpe, was the calling his pieces tragedies, and not operas. He would not then have been regarded as a rival of Racine, or have oifended classical | hearers or readers with the little resemblance these compositions had to Greek and Roman dramas, or to the genuine tragedies of the moderns.

Quinault, however, was not without his consolations. Louis XIV. gave him a pension of 2000 livres he received 4000 livres from Lulli for each opera, and he married a rich wife. He was also elected into the French academy; and, in the name of that society, addressed the king on his return from the campaigns of 1675 and 1677. He was a man of a mild conciliating temper, and much respected in society. When sickness came on, he lamented the loss of the time he had bestowed on his operas, and resolved to write no more poetry, unless to celebrate the king, or for the glory of God. His country, men assure us that he died with fervent sentiments of religion and piety, Nov. 28, 1688, in the fifty-third year of his age. His works, consisting of his operas, some epigrams and miscellaneous poetry, were printed in 1739, 5 vols. 12mo. 1


Niceron vol. XXXIII.—Chaufepie.—Perrault’s Les Hommes Illustrees.— Dr. Burney in Rees’s Cyclopædia