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Catherine, as well as Frederick of Prussia, particularly encouraged the band of philosophers arrayed under Voltaire and D'Alembert;—her studies and character inclined her to speculative liberalism; she did not hesitate to place her grandsons, for their education, in the hands of a Swiss governor of the liberal school. But the explosion in France, in 1789, alarmed her even for the docility of the Russians; and that she was not without immediate cause for apprehension, may be seen by the following curious passage of the Memoirs, in reference to the demolition of the Bastille at Paris:—
"The news spread with rapidity in the Russian capital, and was listened to with very different feelings, according to the condition and opinions of the persons to whom it was communicated. At court, the agitation was violent, and the discontent general; in the town, the impression was altogether the reverses and, although the Bastille could not assuredly endanger the safety of the inhabitants of St. Petersburgh, I cannot describe the enthusiasm which was excited among the merchants, the tradesmen, the citizens, and some young men, of a more elevated rank, by the destruction of that state-prison, and the first triumph of a stormy liberty.
Frenchmen, Russians, Danes, Germans, Englishmen, Dutchmen, all congratulated and embraced one another in the streets, as if they had been relieved from the weight of heavy chains."
Mr. Burke saw things rightly enough, when he wrote, in 1791—"The Muscovites are no great speculators, but I should not much rely on their uninquisitive disposition, if any of their ordinary motives to sedition should arise. The little catechism of the rights of man is soon learned; and the inferences are in the passions." On the journey to the Crimea, the Prince de Ligne informed Segur that he had overheard the Emperor of Germany and the Autocrat of all the Russias talking very earnestly about "a fine project, the re-establishment of the Grecian republics." The extrication of Greece from the Turkish yoke was, if we may be allowed the figure, an heir-loom in the Russian cabinet; but the idea of republics, in the heads of the two absolute monarchs, sprung, as Segur remarked, from the humour of the continent at that moment. The French revolution frightened Catherine into other thoughts; the Spanish and Neapolitan insurrections, and the establishment of republics in Mexico and South America, frightened her successor into a total abandonment of the Greeks.
The Count de Sdgur is of opinion that the constant distinction and generosity, with which the philosophers and men of letters were treated by Catherine and Frederick, may be ascribed, in part, to their insatiable thirst of praise and celebrity; that order of men being the true dispensers and transmitters of fame. Our author, himself of the number, should have assumed too, for the sovereigns, a liberal sense of the value and dignity of purely intellectual labour and superior intellectual powers; and if they cherished a passion for glory, the aspiration could have no otherticularly for his comedy of the Philosophers. Laharpe was first brought into notice by his numerous odes and eulogies, and by several dramatic pieces. The best of these are Melanie, a drama of excellent composition, Warwick, Philoctetes, Menzikoff, Coriolanus, and Virginia; the three former only have sustained their credit at the theatre. His principal title to fame rests upon his Cours de Literature, or course of lectures delivered before the Lyceum, and published in the seventh year of the Republic. This work, by which he has acquired the appellation of the French Quintilian, as to ancient and French literature, is generally creditable to its author; but in reference to modern foreign nations, of which it professes to treat, is extremely meagre and deficient. In the distribution of intellectual merit, his ideas seem not to have strayed beyond the Pyrenees or the Rhine; even upon the ancients, his remarks are often strangely scanty or disproportionate; two hundred pages being employed in the abuse of Seneca, Polvbius being barely mentioned, and Julius Caesar being left out altogether as an author of no account. The English authors he viewed only through the medium of translations, which can confer upon a critic no just title of discrimination; no more than to view the sun through a hazy atmosphere, may qualify him to judge of its meridian splendour.
expedient for the preservation of the poor relics of royal mortality.
In fine, from all that we have read of the lives of female sovereigns, we should draw this corollary,—that an independent throne is not a seat of virtue or happiness for the sex; and that, although it has afforded scope for the display of talents and energies which are too commonly supposed to have been denied to them, yet, since it has proved almost incompatible with moral excellence and reputation, they may believe the Salique law to be the law of nature, the universal prevalence of which they ought to desire.
Laharpe, in his youth, was the disciple and enthusiastic admirer of Voltaire, and belonged to what is called the school of Philosophers; but in his maturer years, he made a solemn renunciation of these attachments, and concluded his life in professions of piety, and in writing sacred odes, much inferior, however, as poetry, to the profane ones that preceded his miraculous conversion.
Lebrun has been dignified, according to the French fashion, and in spite of the admonition of Horace, with the surname of Pindar, yet with good reason is ranked amongst the most distinguished lyric poets of his country. His ode upon the earthquake of Lisbon, and that to Voltaire in favour of the niece of the great Corneille; his two odes addressed to Button; and one upon the naval combat and conflagration of the Vengeur, are worthy of high praise; and his ode in celebration of those who fell at Austerlitz, almost reaches, sometimes, the flights of the Theban bard:—
"et centum potiore signis
It is to be regretted that he did not live to finish his poem De la Nature, of which some fragments only have been circulated amongst his friends of the Institute, enriched, it is said, with the most elegant and luxuriant description. He translated into French verse the two episodes of Nisus and Euryalus, and the Aristaeus, of Virgil; he is also distinguished in epistolary poetry, and in epigram, is said to have no superior in France. In a brilliant assembly at Paris, Baour-Lormian, a wit of the day, addressed t» him the following distich:—
"Lebrun de gloire se nourrit,
To which Lebrun replied immediately,—
"Sottise entretient l'cmbonpoint
Chenier died prematurely, but has left, nevertheless, a reputation for letters, not often attained by the maturest age and experience. He possessed a brilliant imagination and a philosophical mind, and has infused much grace and elegance into all his compositions. He paid his court to almost every muse, and in all his addresses proved successful. His dramatic writings consist of sixteen pieces, among which the most distinguished are Charles IX., Henry VIII., Fenelon, Caius Gracchus, Timoleon, John Calas, and Tiberius. This last, which is the author's best dramatic effort, is of the present century. He had been himself an actor in the scenes of the French revolution, and witnessed more than once the subtle character of Tiberius in actual operation. The plan is happily conceived, the style of excellent fashion, and the characters are skilfully delineated; that of Tiberius especially is drawn with great fidelity. In anticipating the succession of Caligula his son, whose sanguinary nature he has scrutinized with malicious pleasure, he thus broods upon the hope of perpetuating his revenge against the Roman people—odium in longumjacens auctamque:— "•> •' i ■
"Puisse Rome en effet tomber entre ses mains!
Kebelles en secret, publiquement serviles,
The scene between the emperor and Piso, a courtier, who had violated the laws, and, being agitated by remorse, dares accuse Tiberius to his face, is presented with great force and animation, and is even sometimes sublime. • .» ■ -*. »
"Je me prise la mort,"
Says Piso. Tiberius replies:—
"Vous la cTaindrcz encor, car vous avez un fife V The place of Piso being supplied by Sejanus, the emperor ( der? this worthy minister of his revenge to have his enemy despatched, being a man of rank and influence, through a simulated insurrection, to which the sentiments of his own mother were to serve as a pretext. The inquiries of the minister concerning the