Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/95

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85
THE FRENCH INSTITUTE.

poration. The members would have been quite content to have continued theii meetings in their former quiet, informal way. At the same time the condescension of the august prelate was not to be gainsaid, for, while he could purr as gently as a cat, he could strike with equal swiftness when it suited his purpose. A prime minister, in those days, preserved his own head by cutting off the heads of others, and the gentle priest had become wonderfully ex- pert at this business.

With commendable promptness the members meekly drew up a code of regulations. They were to have only forty members. The officers were to consist of a director, who should preside over their deliberations ; a chancellor, who should act as keeper of seals ; and a permanent secretary.

The title of " The French Academy " was adopted, and its object was avowed to be " to labor with all care and diligence to give certain rules to our language, and to render it pure, eloquent, and capable of treating the arts and the sciences. It shall be the object of the new academicians to purge out of it those impurities with which it has become polluted."

The cardinal passed the statutes, and the king signed the let- ters patent on the 2d of January, 1635. When the Chancellor of State, Peter Seguier, impressed the charter with his great seal, he expressed his wish to become a member.

So far all was smooth sailing ; but the Parliament of Paris, whose assent was necessary before the Academy could become legally constituted, proved obdurate, and it was not until after two years and a half, with all the powerful influence of the king, and his more dreaded prime minister giving it urgency that the coveted act was passed, with the qualification, however, that the academicians should " bind themselves to take cognizance of no other matters than the embellishment and enriching the French language, and to sit in judgment upon no books save such as were written by their own members, or by authors who should willingly submit themselves to academic discipline."

As a balm for their wounded feelings, the Government decided that each member of the Academy should receive an annual pen- sion of two thousand francs. It was a source of no little scandal when it became known that they were paid out of a fund of forty times two thousand francs, which had been appropriated to pay the scavengers of the streets of Paris. The members themselves did not escape a just popular censure for the complacent manner with which they allowed themselves to be used by the wily car- dinal.

The condemnation of The Cid of Corneille, which Richelieu instigated Chapelaine to write and the Academy to pass, will always be remembered against them. Much has been made of