Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/792

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RACINE, JEAN

and Racine were the sensation of the season. In 1855 she made a tour in the United States with comparatively small success, but this was after her powers, through continued ill-health, had begun to deteriorate. She died of consumption at Cannet, near Nice, on the 4th of January 1858, and was buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris. Rachel's third sister was Lia Felix (q.11.).

See Jules G. Ianin, Rachel et la tragédie (1858): Mrs Arthur Kennard, Rachel (Boston, 1888); and A. de Faucigny-Lucinge, Rachel et .son temps (1910).


RACINE, JEAN (1639-1699), French tragic dramatist, was born at La Ferté Milon in the old duchy of Valois on an uncertain date in December 1639. He was certainly christened on the 22nd, and the ceremony was at that time often, though not invariably, performed on the day of birth. Racine belonged to a family of the upper bourgeoisie, which had indeed been technically ennobled some generations earlier, and bore the punning arms of a rat and a swan (rat, cygne). The poet himself subsequently dropped the rat. His family were connected with others of the same or a slightly higher station in La Ferté and its neighbourhood-the Desmoulins, the Sconins, the Vitarts, all of whom appear in Racine's life. His mother was Ieanne Sconin. His father, of the same name as himself, was only four-and-twenty at the time of the poet's birth. He seems to have been a solicitor (procurer) by profession, and held, as his father, the grandfather of the dramatist, had done, the office of conlroleur au grenier ti sel. Racine was the eldest child. Little more than a year afterwards his sister Marie was born and his mother died. lean Racine the elder married again, but three months later he himself died, and the stepmother is never heard of in connexion with the poet or his sister. They were left without any provision, but their grandparents, Jean Racine the eldest and Marie Desmoulins, were still living, and took charge of them. These grandparents had a daughter, Agnes, who figures in Racine's history. She was a nun and later abbess of Port Royal under the style of Mere de Sainte Thécle, and the whole family had strong Jansenist léanings. lean Racine the eldest died in 1649, and the poet was sent to the Collége de Beauvais. This (which was the grammar-school of the town of that name, and not the famous Collége de Beauvais at Paris) was intimately connected with Port Royal, and to this place Racine was transferred in November 1655. His special masters there were Nicole and Le Maitre. The latter, in an extant letter written to his pupil, speaks of 'himself as “ votre papa.” It is evident from documents that he was a very diligent student both at Beauvais and Port Royal. He wrote verse both in Latin and French, and his Port Royal odes, which it has been the fashion with the more fanatical admirers of his later poetry to ridicule, are far from despicable.

Racine stayed at Port Royal for three years, and left it, when nearly nineteen, in October 1658. He was then entered at the Collége d'Harcourt and boarded with his second cousin, Nicolas Vitart, steward of the duke of Luynes. Later, if not at first, he lived in the Hotel de Luynes itself. It is to be observed that his Jansenist surroundings continued with him here, for the duke of Luynes was a severe Port Royalist. It is, however, clear from Racine's correspondence, which, as we have it, begins in 166O and is for some years very abundant and interesting, that he was -not at all of an austere disposition at this time. Occasionally the liveliness of the letters passes the bounds of strict decency, though there is nothing very shocking in them, and those to Madame (or, as the habit of the time called her, Mademoiselle) Vitart are free from anything of this kind. It does not appear that Racine read much philosophy, as he should have done, but he occasionally did some business in superintending building operations at Chevreuse, the duke's country house. He would seem, however, to have been already given up irrevocably to literature. This by no means suited the views of his devout relations at Port Royal, and he complains in one of his letters that an unlucky sonnet on Mazarin had brought down on him “excommunications sur excommunications.” The marriage of Louis XIV. was the occasion of an ambitious ode, La 'nymphe de la Seine, which was submitted before publication to Jean Chapelain, the too famous author of the Pucelle. Chapelain made many suggestions which Racine duly adopted. Nor did the ode bound his ambitions, for in 1660 he finished one piece, Amasie, and undertook another, Les Amours d'Ovide, for the theatre. The first, however, was rejected by the actors of the Marais, and it is not certain that the other was ever finished or offered to those of the Hotel de Bourgogne. Racine's letters show that he was intimate with more than one actress at this time; he also made acquaintance with La Fontaine, and the foundations at any rate of the legendary “ society of four ” (Boileau, La Fontaine, Moliere and Racine) were thus laid.

His relations were pretty certainly alarmed by this very pardonable worldliness, though a severe expostulation with him for keeping company with the abominable actors is perhaps later in date. Racine was accordingly disturbed in his easygoing life at Paris. In November 1661 he went to .Uzes in Languedoc to live with his uncle the Pere Sconin, vicar-general of that diocese, whose attempts to secure a benehce for his nephew were, however, in vain. Racine was back in Paris before the end'of 1663. His letters from Uzés to La Fontaine, to Le Vasseur, and others are in much the same strain as before, but there is here and there a marked tone of cynicism in them. He also attempted a little courtier ship. An ode on the recovery of Louis XIV. from a slight illness probably secured him the promise of a pension, of which he speaks to his sister in the summer of 1664. It is uncertain whether this pension is identical with “ gratifications ” which we know that Racine for some years received, and which were sometimes eight and sometimes six hundred livres. It would seem not, as one of these gratin cations had been allotted to him the year before he so wrote to his sister. The ode in which he thanked the king for his presents, La Renommée, is said to have introduced him to Boileau, to whose censorship there is no doubt that he owed much, if not everything; and from this date, November 1663, the familiarity of “the four ” seems to have existed in full force. Unfortunately it is precisely at this date that his correspondence ceases, and it is not renewed till after the close of his brief but brilliant career as a dramatist (Esther and Athalie excepted). From this time forward the gossip of the period, and the Life by his son Louis, are the chief sources of information. Unfortunately Louis Racine, though a man of some ability and of unimpeached character, was only six years old when his father died, and had no direct knowledge. Still his account represents family papers and traditions; and seems to have been carefully, as it is certainly in the main impartially, written. From other sources-notably Boileau, Claude Brossette and Jean Baptiste de Valincourt-a good deal of pretty certainly authentic information is obtainable, and there exists a considerable body of correspondence between Boileau and the poet during the last ten years of Racine's life. The first but the least characteristic of the dramas by which Racine is known, La Thébaide, was finished by the end of 1663, and on Friday 20th June 1664 it was played by Moliére's company at the Palais Royal theatre. Some editors assert that Moliére himself acted in it, but the earliest account of the cast we have, and that is sixty years after date, omits his name, though those of Madeleine Béjard and Mademoiselle de Brie occur. There is also a tradition that Moliére suggested the subject; but Louis Racine distinctly says that his father wrote most of the play at Uzés before he knew Moliere. From Racine's own earlier letters it appears that the play was designed for the rival theatre, and that “ La Déhanchée, ” Racine's familiar name for Mademoiselle de Beauchateau, with whom he was intimate, was to play Antigone. The play itself is by far the weakest of Racine's works. He has borrowed much from Euripides and not a little from Jean de Rotrou; and in his general style and plan he has as yet struck out no great variation.from Corneille. It was acted twelve times during the first month, and was occasionally revived during the year following. ' This is apparently the date of the pleasant picture