Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/750

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

that the two Academy dictionaries propose to do, does much, more. With which marvellous contrast we have to join the startling fact, that M. Littré was refused admission to the Academy in 1863, and at length admitted in 1871 only after violent opposition.

Even if we pass over these duties which, in pursuance of its original purpose, the French Academy might have been expected to perform, and limit ourselves to the duty Mr. Arnold especially dwells upon—the duty of keeping "the fine quality of the French spirit unimpaired," and exercising "the authority of a recognized master in matters of tone and taste" (to quote his approving paraphrase of M. Rénan's definition)—it may still, I think, be doubted whether there have been achieved by it the benefits Mr. Arnold alleges, and whether there have not been caused great evils. That its selection of members has tended to encourage bad literature instead of good, seems not improbable when we are reminded of its past acts, as we are in the letter of Paul Louis Courier, in which there occurs this, among other passages similarly damaging:

"A duke and peer confers honor upon the French Academy which will have nothing to do with Boileau, rejects la Bruyère .... but readily admits Chapelain and Conrart. In like manner we see a viscount invited to the Acedémie grecque, but Corai repulsed, while Jornard comes in as though it were to work in a mill."

Nor have its verdicts upon great works been such as to encourage confidence: instance the fact that it condemned the "Cid" of Corneille, now one of the glories of French literature. Nor has its theory of art been beyond question. Upholding those canons of dramatic art which so long excluded the romantic drama, and maintained the feeling shown by calling Shakespeare an "inspired barbarian," may possibly have been more detrimental than beneficial. And when we look, not at such select samples of French literary taste as Mr. Arnold quotes, but at samples from the other extreme, we may question whether the total effect has been great. If, as Mr. Arnold thinks, France "is the country in Europe where the people is most alive," it clearly is not alive to the teachings of the Academy: witness the recent revival of the "Père Duchêne," the contents of which are no less remarkable for their astounding obscenity than for their utter stupidity. Nay, when we look only where we are told to look—only where the Academy exercises its critical function, we find reason for skepticism. Instance the late award of the Halpin Prize to the author of a series of poems called "L'Invasion," of which M. Patin, a most favorable critic, says:

"Their chief characteristic is a warmth of sentiment and a 'verve,' which one would wish to see under more restraint, but against which one hesitates to set up, however just might be their application under other circumstances, the cold requirements of taste.’