Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Jean-François La Harpe
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Jean-François La Harpe
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A French critic and poet, b. at Paris, 20 November, 1739; d. February, 1803. He was ten years old when his father, a Swiss nobleman in the service of France, died. He was cared for by Sisters of Charity and then sent as a free scholar to the Collège d'Harcourt. He began his literary career by some satirical couplets, on account of which he was imprisoned at Fort-l'Evêque. At the age of twenty he published "Héroïdes", preceded by "Essai sur l'héroïde", and followed by a second volume, "Héroïdes et Poésies fugitives" (Paris, 1762). In the following year, his tragedy "Warwick" met with a tremendous success. He then became intimately acquainted with Voltaire, whose "son" he professed to be, and whom he imitated so closely that he was nicknamed "the monkey of Voltaire". A few other tragedies-"Timoléon" (1764), "Pharamond" (1765), and "Gustave Wasa" (1766)-were a complete failure. In 1768 he entered the "Mercure" then a famous magazine, and contributed some remarkable articles. His drama, "Mélanie ou la religeuse" (1770), a violent attack upon the religious vows, the representation of which was forbidden by the censors, was enthusiastically received by the public and widely read, although it is the most tedious book that has ever been written. Three years in succession he won the prize in the competition instituted by the Freneh Academy, with his "Eloge de Henri IV" (1770), "Eloge de Fénelon" (1771), and "Eloge de Racine" (1772) respectively. In 1776 he was elected to the Academy. He then once more attempted to work for the stage and force the admiration of the public, but failed anew. His tragedies, "Menzicoff" (1776), "Les Barmécides" (1778), "Jeanne de Naples" (1781), "Les Brames" (1783), "Coriolan" (1784), and "Virginie" (1786), were received worse than coolly. "Philoctète" alone (1783) won some applause. In 1787 he was made professor of literature in the Lycée, a school recently established in Paris by Pilâtre du Rozier. The lectures he gave in that institution were published in eighteen volumes (Paris, 1799-1805) under the title of "Lycée, ou Cours de littérature". This work, although containing excellent chapters, is now antiquated. When the French Revolution broke out, he welcomed it with enthusiasm until he was sent to prison (1794). Once set free, he renounced his former ideas and became a zealous Catholic. His last works bear the stamp of his new-found faith. Among them may be mentioned: "De la guerre déclarée par nos derniers tyrans a la Raison, à la Morale, aux Lettres et aux Arts" (Paris, 1796); an epic in six books, "Le Triomphe de la Religion, ou le Roi Martyr", published after his death; "La prophétie de Cazotte", which was regarded by Sainte-Beuve as a masterpiece.
PEIGNOT, Recherches historiques, bibliographiques et litteraires sur la vie et les ouvrages de La Harpe (Paris, 1820); SAINTE-BEUVE, Causeries du Lundi, V; PETIT DE JULLEVILLE, Histoire de la langue et de la litterature francaises, VI (Paris, 1894).
LOUIS N. DELAMARRE