Imatges de pÓgina


The style of MARMONTEL, (says a modern poet of eminence,* who, as a critic, has the merit of being sincere, and of weighing well all that he says,) is so peculiar to himself, that it is very difficult, except by a long descriptive periphrasis, to convey any suitable idea of it. In its general nature, indeed, it is composed of the constituents of a per fect simplicity-a simplicity of thought-a simplicity of feeling-and a simplicity of language. But his simplicity is not the simplicity of an English writer. It has no resemblance to that of Sterne, and still less to that of Goldsmith. It is the simplicity of Marmontel, and of Marmontel alone it is sui generis.

Amongst the works of Marmontel his reputation almost solely rests upon his Moral Tales. He has been, indeed, the author of many other productions ;-of some poems, some comedies, and a kind of historical romance, under the title of Belisarius. It is somewhat singular that his poems are altogether as flat and insipid as his Moral Tales are pointed and spirited. He loses himself in the moment in which he attempts to become poetical. His figures are the most wretched commonplace, and his natural humour is lost in lengthened dilatation. His comedies are little better. He has no success when he steps out of his peculiar circle. He is equal to a scene, but not to an act.

It is from the Moral Tales, therefore, that we must endeavour to form a due estimate of the genius of Marmontel. With respect to the general plan of them, they are a species of narrative dramas. They have their fables, and their characters, and their peculiar scenery: the fable is some action

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of life and manners: the fidelity of the painting to the original in life constitutes its chief excellence. It is this, in fact, which may be termed the peculiar talent of Marmontel. He selects for his fable some certain action-something which we see daily passing in the domestic intercourse of life, and with equal judgment and accuracy follows it through all its parts with a representation as exact as lively. His tale is thus a domestic picture, a representation of manners as seen in the action which he has chosen for his subject.

His dramatis personæ are as natural and as domestic as his fable. They are all of a piece, and seem as if taken together, and existing only for each other. They are imitated with the same fidelity as the action. He possesses the peculiar faculty of transmigrating into the person of each of his characters, and of investing himself as it were in the same circumstances. It is by this facility of substitution and general sympathy, that he is enabled so correctly to imitate nature. It is this which constitutes his naïvette.

The Shepherdess of the Alps is perhaps the best specimen of the general style of Marmontel ;-it is at once nature and

In its kind it is a perfect piece. · It has been adopted as the groundwork of an opera in almost every kingdom in Europe : the scenes are beautiful, and the situations impressive: it is an epic romance. It was the first which produced the reputation of Marmontel. When it appeared in the Mercure François, the author was anxiously sought out, and taken under the immediate patronage of a prince of the blood. He was, in fact, from that moment admitted into the society of the first wits in France.



In the mountains of Savoy, not far from the road from Briançon to Modena, is a solitary valley, the sight of which inspires travellers with a pleasing melancholy. Three little

hills, in form of an amphitheatre, on which are scattered, at a great distance from each other, some shepherds' huts, torrents that fall from the mountains, clumps of trees here and there, pastures always green, form the ornament of this rural place.

The Marchioness of Fonrose was returning from France to Italy with her husband. The axle-tree of their carriage broke; and as the day was on the decline, they were obliged to seek in this valley for some shelter to pass the night. As they advanced towards one of the huts, they saw a flock going that way, conducted by a shepherdess whose gait astonished them. They drew nearer, and heard a heavenly voice, whose plaintive and moving accents made the echoes groan.

• How the setting sun still glitters with a gentle light! It is thus,' said she, that at the end of a painful race, the E exhausted soul departs to grow young again in the pure

source of immortality. But alas, how distant is the period, and how long is life! On saying these words, the shepherdess retired with her head inclined; but the negligence of her attitude seemed to give still more nobleness and majesty to her person and deportment.

Struck with what they saw, and still more with what they had just heard, the Marquis and Marchioness of Fonrose redoubled their pace, in order to overtake this shepherdess

whom they admired. But what was their surprise, when : under the plainest head-dress, beneath the most humble

garb, they saw all the graces, all the beauties united!

Child,' said the Marchioness to her, on seeing that she avoided them, 'fear nothing; we are travellers. whom an accident obliges to seek shelter in these huts till the day : will

you be so good as to be our guide ? I pity you, Madam,' said the shepherdess to her, looking down and blushing: these huts are inhabited by poor wretches, and you will be very ill lodged. “You lodge there without doubt yourself,' replied the Marchioness ; and I can easily endure, for one night, the inconveniences which you suffer always.' · I am formed for that,' said the shepherdess, with a modesty that charmed them. • No, surely,' said the Marquis de Fonrose, who could no longer dissemble the emotion shehad caused in him, 'no, you are not formed to suffer; and Fortune is very unjust! Is it possible, lovely damsel, that so many charms are buried in this desert, under that habit ?" • Fortune, Sir,' replied Adelaïde (this was the name of the shepherdess, Fortune is not crue) but when she takes from

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us that which she has given us. My condition has its pleasures for one who knows no other, and custom creates wants for you, which shepherds do not know.'

• That may be, said the Marquis, 'with respect to those whom Heaven has placed from their birth in this obscure condition; but you, astonishing damsel, you whom I admire, you who enchant me, you were never born what you now are; that air, that gait, that voice, that language, every thing betrays you. But two words, which you have just now spoken, proclaim a cultivated understanding, a noble soul. Proceed, teach us what misfortune can have reduced you to this strange abasement.' · For a man in misfortune,' replied Adelaïde, there are a thousand ways to extricate himself; for a woman, you know, there is no other honest resource than servitude, and the choice of masters.' They do well, in my opinion, who prefer the good. You are now going to see mine; you will be charmed with the innocence of their lives, the candour, the simplicity, the probity of their manners.'

: While she talked thus, they arrived at the hut. separated by a partition from the fold into which this incognita drove her sheep, telling them over with the most serious attention, and without deigning to take any further notice of the travellers, who contemplated her. An old man and his wife, such as Philomel and Baucis are described to us, came forth to meet their guests with that village honesty, which recalls the golden age to our minds. - We have nothing to offer you,' said the good woman, but fresh straw for a bed, milk, fruit, and rye-bread for your food ; but the little that Heaven' gives us, we will most heartily share with you.' The travellers, on entering the hut, were surprised at the air of regularity which every thing breathed there. The table was one single plank of walnut-tree highly polished: they saw themselves in the enamel of the earthen vessels designed for their milk. Every thing presented the image of cheerful poverty, and of the first wants of nature agreeably satisfied. • It is our dear daughter,' said the good woman, 'who takes upon her the management of our house. In the morning, before her flock ramble far into the country, and while they begin to graze round the house on the grass covered with dew, she washes, cleans, and sets every thing in order with a dexterity that charms us.' • What!' said the Marchioness, “is this shepherdess your daughter ?' * Ah! Madam, would to Heaven she were ! cried the good old woman ; it is my heart that calls her so, for I have a

mother's love for her ; but I am not so happy as to have borne her ; we are not worthy to have given her birth.'Who is she then? Whence comes she ? and what misfortune has reduced her to such a condition ?--All that is unknown to us. It is now four years since she came in the habit of a female peasant to offer herself to keep our flocks; we would have taken her for nothing, so much had her good look and pleasing manner won upon our hearts. We doubted her being born a villager ; but our questions afflicted her, and we thought it our duty to abstain from them. This respect has but augmented in proportion as we have become better acquainted with her soul; but the more we would humble ourselves to her, the more she humbles herį self to us. Never had daughter more attention for her father and mother, nor officiousness more tender. She cannot obey us, because we are far from commanding her ; but it seems as if she saw through us, and every thing that we can wish is done, before we perceive that she thinks of it. She is an angel come down among us to comfort our old age. And what is she doing now in the fold?' demanded the Marchioness. Giving the flock fresh litter ; drawing K the milk from the ewes and she-goats. This milk, pressed out by her hand, seems to become the more delicate for it.

I, who go and sell it in the town, cannot serve it fast p enough. They think it delicious. The dear child employs ¿ herself, while she is watching the flock, in works of straw and osier, which are admired by all. Every thing becomes valuable beneath her fingers. You see, Madam,' continued

the good old woman, “you see here the image of an easy and j quiet life : it is she that procures it to us.

This heavenly daughter is never employed but to make us happy.. • Is she happy herself?' demanded the Marquis de Fonrose. She endeavours to persuade us so,' replied the old man ; 'but I have frequently observed to my wife, that at her return from the pasture she had her eyes bedewed with tears, and the most afflicted air in the world. The moment she sees us, she affects to smile: but we see plainly that she has some grief that consumes her. We dare not ask her what it is. “Ah! Madam,' said the old woman, “how I suffer for this child, when she persists in leading out her flocks to pasture in spite of rain and frost! Many a time have I thrown ;; myself on my knees, in order to prevail with her to let me go in her stead ; but I never could prevail on her. She goes out at sun-rise, and returns in the evening benumbed

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