The New International Encyclopædia/Delavigne, Jean François Casimir

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DELAVIGNE, de-lȧ′vē̇ny’, Jean François Casimir (1793-1843). A French lyric poet and dramatist, born in Havre, April 4, 1793. He won distinction from the French Academy in 1811, and was elected a member of it in 1825. His first important writings were dithyrambic poems, Les messéniennes (1818), antique in form, but present and direct in their allusions to the disasters of the last Napoleonic years. These gave stirring expression to popular emotions, especially to the rancor and fears of the Liberals at the reactionary rule of the restored Bourbons. They achieved sensational success. In 1819 he turned the same talent to celebrate Joan of Arc, thus appealing to a universal patriotic sentiment before either Hugo or Lamartine had begun to touch the French heart with their Napoleonic verses. The forerunner should not be forgotten in the greatness of his successors, and in drama Delavigne is as important as either to the continuity of historic development. He stands between Beaumarchais and Emile Augier, almost the sole talented representative of dignified comedy, and while his dramatic work, taken chronologically, represents almost every phase of the conversion of a strict Classicist into a moderate Romanticist, his merits of prudent eclecticism are in danger of being obscured by the glories of his successors. His L'école des vieillards (1823) still holds the boards by its lively dialogue, graceful style, and ingenious invention. Marino Falieri (1829) anticipates the Hugoesque mingling of tragic and comic elements, preserving an academic correctness of form without following the classic rules. Other plays still occasionally acted and often read are: Les vêpres siciliennes (1819); Louis XI. (1832); Les enfants d'Edouard (1833); and La fille du Cid (1839). Delavigne was elected to the Academy in 1825, and in 1830 rose to the political occasion, as he had done after Waterloo. His song, “La Parisienne,” set to music by Auber, rivaled for a time the “Marseillaise” itself, and “La Varsovienne” was sung as a battle march by the rebelling Poles. Indeed, it is as a poet of politics, a man of the hour, that Delavigne is at his best. At times very popular, he needed striking occasions to evoke his genius. When he became contemplative he was commonplace, but in direct appeal he wrote with terse vigor. His private life was above reproach. He died in Lyons, December 11, 1843. There are several editions of his works (Paris, 1845, 1855, 1863), and a convenient one of the Poems and Plays (ib., 1863).