1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Coppée, François Édouard Joachim
COPPÉE, FRANÇOIS EDOUARD JOACHIM (1842-1908), French poet and novelist, was born in Paris on the 12th of January 1842. His father held a small post in the civil service, and he owed much to the care of an admirable mother. After passing through the Lycée Saint-Louis he became a clerk in the ministry of war, and soon sprang into public favour as a poet of the young “Parnassian” school. His first printed verses date from 1864. They were republished with others in 1866 in a collected form (Le Reliquaire), followed (1867) by Les Intimités and Poèmes modernes (1867-1869). In 1869 his first play, Le Passant, was received with marked approval at the Odéon theatre, and later Fais ce que dois (1871) and Les Bijoux de la délivrance (1872), short metrical dramas inspired by the war, were warmly applauded.
After filling a post in the library of the senate, Coppée was chosen in 1878 as archivist of the Comédie-Française, an office which he held till 1884. In that year his election to the Academy caused him to retire altogether from his public appointments. He continued to publish volumes of poetry at frequent intervals, including Les Humbles (1872), Le Cahier rouge (1874), Olivier (1875), L'Exilée (1876), Contes en vers, &c. (1881), Poèmes et récits (1886), Arrière-saison (1887), Paroles sincères (1890). In his later years his output of verse declined, but he published two more volumes, Dans la prière et la lutte and Vers français. He had established his fame as “le poète des humbles.” Besides the plays mentioned above, two others written in collaboration with Armand d'Artois, and some light pieces of little importance, Coppée produced Madame de Maintenon (1881), Severo Torelli (1883), Les Jacobites (1885), and other serious dramas in verse, including Pour la couronne (1895), which was translated into English (For the Crown) by John Davidson, and produced at the Lyceum Theatre in 1896. The performance of a short episode of the Commune, Le Pater, was prohibited by the government (1889). Coppée's first story in prose, Une Idylle pendant le siège, appeared in 1875. It was followed by various volumes of short tales, by Toute une jeunesse (1890) — an attempt to reproduce the feelings, if not the actual wants, of the writer's youth, — Les Vrais Riches (1892), Le Coupable (1896), &c. He was made an officer of the Legion of Honour in 1888. A series of reprinted short articles on miscellaneous subjects, styled Mon Franc Parler, appeared from 1893 to 1896; and in 1898 was published La Bonne Souffrance, the outcome of Coppée's reconversion to the Roman Catholic Church, which gained very wide popularity. The immediate cause of his return to the faith was a severe illness which twice brought him to the verge of the grave. Hitherto he had taken little open interest in public affairs, but he now joined the most violent section of Nationalist politicians, while retaining contempt for the whole apparatus of democracy. He took a leading part against the prisoner in the Dreyfus case, and was one of the originators of the notorious Ligue de la Patrie Française. He died on the 23rd of May 1908.
Alike in verse and prose Coppée concerned himself with the plainest expressions of human emotion, with elemental patriotism, and the joy of young love, and the pitifulness of the poor, bringing to bear on each a singular gift of sympathy and insight. The lyric and idyllic poetry, by which he will chiefly be remembered, is animated by musical charm, and in some instances, such as La Bénédiction and La Grève des forgerons, displays a vivid, though not a sustained, power of expression. There is force, too, in the gloomy tale, Le Coupable. But he exhibits all the defects of his qualities. In prose especially, his sentiment often degenerates into sentimentality, and he continually approaches, and sometimes oversteps, the verge of the trivial. Nevertheless, by neglecting that canon of contemporary art which would reduce the deepest tragedies of life to mere subjects for dissection, he won those common suffrages which are the prize of exquisite literature.
See M. de Lescure's François Coppée, l'homme, la vie, l'œuvre (1889), and G. Druilhet, Un Poète français (1902).