1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Scudéry

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SCUDÉRY, the name of a family said to have been of noble Italian origin and to have transferred itself to Provence, but only known by the singular brother and sister who represented it during the 17th century.

Georges de Scudéry (1601–1667), the elder of the pair, was born at Havre, whither his father had moved from Provence, on the 22nd of August 1601. He served in the army for some time, and, though in the vein of gasconading which was almost peculiar to him he no doubt exaggerated his services, there seems little doubt that he was a stout soldier. But he conceived a fancy for literature before he was thirty, and during the whole of the middle of the century he was one of the most characteristic figures of Paris. He gained the favour of Richelieu by his opposition to Corneille. He wrote a letter to the Academy criticizing the Cid, and his play, L’Amour tyrannique (1640), was patronized by the cardinal in opposition to Corneille. Possibly these circumstances had something to do with his appointment as governor of the fortress of Notre-Dame de la Garde, near Marseilles in 1643, and in 1650 he was elected to the Academy. During the troubles of the Fronde he was exiled to Normandy, where he made his fortune by a rich marriage. He was an industrious dramatist, but L’Amour tyrannique is practically the only piece among his numerous tragi-comedies and pastorals that has escaped oblivion. His other most famous work was the epic of Alaric (1655). He lent his name to his sister’s first romances, but did little beyond correcting the proofs. He died at Paris on the 14th of May 1667. Scudéry’s swashbuckler affectations have been rather exaggerated by literary gossip and tradition. Although possibly not quite sane, he had some poetical power, a fervent love of literature, a high sense of honour and of friendship.

His sister Madeleine (1607–1701), born also at Havre on the 15th of November 1607, was a writer of much more ability and of a much better regulated character. She was very plain and had no fortune, but her abilities were great and she was very well educated. Establishing herself at Paris with her brother, she was at once admitted to the Rambouillet coterie, afterwards established a salon of her own under the title of the Société du samedi, and for the last half of the 17th century, under the pseudonym of “Sapho” or her own name, was acknowledged as the first blue-stocking of France and of the world. She formed with Pellisson a close friendship only terminated by his death in 1693. Her lengthy novels, such as Artaméne, ou Le Grand Cyrus (10 vols. 1648–1653), Clélie (10 vols. 1654–1661), Ibrahim, ou Villustre Bassa (4 vols. 1641), Almahide, ou Vesclave reine (8 vols. 1661–1663) were the delight of all Europe, including persons of the wit and sense of Madame de Sévigné. But neither in conception nor in execution will they bear criticism as wholes. With classical or Oriental personages for nominal heroes and heroines, the whole language and action are taken from the fashionable ideas of the time, and the personages can be identified either really or colour ably with Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s contemporaries. In Clélie, Herminius represents Paul Pellisson; Scaurus and Lyriane were Paul Scarron and his wife (afterwards Mme de Maintenon); and in the description of Sapho in vol. x. of Le Grand Cyrus the author paints herself. It is in Clélie that the famous Carte de Tendre appeared, a description of an Arcadia, where the river of Inclination waters the villages of Billet Doux, Petits Soins and so forth. The interminable length of the stories is made out by endless conversations and, as far as incidents go, chiefly by successive abductions of the heroines, conceived and related in the most decorous spirit, for Mademoiselle de Scudéry is nothing if not decorous. Nevertheless, although the books can hardly now be read through, it is still possible to perceive their attraction for a period which certainly did not lack wit. In that early day of the novel prolixity did not repel. “Sapho” had really studied mankind in her contemporaries and knew how to analyse and describe their characters with fidelity and point. Moreover her novels had the interest always attaching to the roman à clef. She was a real mistress of conversation, a thing quite new to the age as far as literature was concerned, and proportionately welcome. She had a distinct vocation as a pedagogue, and is compared by Sainte-Beuve to Mme de Genlis. She could moralize-a favourite employment of the time-with sense and propriety. Though she was incapable of the exquisite prose of Mme de Sévigné and some other of her contemporaries, her purely literary merits were considerable. Madeleine survived her brother more than thirty years, and in her later days published numerous volumes of conversations, to a great extent extracted from her novels, thus forming a kind of anthology of her work. She outlived her vogue to some extent, but retained a circle of friends to whom she was always the “incomparable Sapho.” She died in Paris on the 2nd of June 1701.

Her Life and Correspondence were published at Paris by MM. Rathery and Boutron in 1873. An amusing sketch of her is to be found in vol. iv. of Sainte-Beuve’s Causeries du lundi. Georges de Scudéry is sketched by Théophile Gautier in his Grotesques. See also V. Cousin, La Société française au XVII e siècle, vol. ii.