Thursday, July 21, 2011

Contre Voltaire

Playwright Alexis Piron (1689–1773) is perhaps best remembered today for his exclusion from the Académie française, a witty epigraph, and for his satires on the proud young Voltaire. Elected in 1753 to the Académie française, the victims of his many witticisms induced King Louis XV to interpose his veto. He and Voltaire often exchanged barbs.

L'Académie française , is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. Established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the Académie consists of forty members, known as the immortels.

Pierre Corneille, French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine, has been called “the founder of French tragedy. He was a member of the Académie Française.

Thomas Corneille, his younger brother, wrote the three volume Dictionnaire Universel Géographique et Historique. In 1761, Voltaire wrote of him: "Si vous exceptez Racine, auquel il ne faut comparer personne, il était le seul de son temps qui fût digne d’être le premier au-dessous de son frère." Or, "If you except Racine, to whom nobody can be compared, he was the first of his time who was worthy to be behind his brother." Thomas Corneille succeeded to the Académie française at his brother's death.

Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, a member of the Académie française, was considered by many to be superior to Voltaire as a tragic poet. Rivalry induced Voltaire to take the subjects of Crébillon's tragedies (Semiramis, Electre, Catilina, Le Triumviral and Ahreeas), as his own.

Voltaire, well, he speaks for himself.

Son Epitaphe

Ci-git Piron, qui ne fut rien,
Pas meme academicien

Here lies Piron, who was nothing,
Not even an academician.

Contre Voltaire

Son enseigne est a l'encyclopedie
que vous plait-il? de anglais, du toscan?
Vers, prose, algebre, opera, comedie?
Poeme epique, histoire ode ou roman?

Parlez! C'est fait. Vous lui donnez un an?
Vous l'insultez!... En dix ou douze veilles,
Sujets manques par l'aine des Corneilles,
Sujets remplis par le fier Crebillon,
Il refond tout ... Peste! voici merveilles!
Et la besogne est-elle bonne? ... Oh! non!

His expertise is an Encyclopedia
What is your pleasure? English, Italian?
Verse, prose, algebra, opera, comedy?
Epic, ode story or novel?

Speak! It's done. Give him a year?
Such an insult! ... In ten or twelve evenings,
Subjects missed by the first of the Corneilles
Subjects replenished by the proud Crebillon,
He recast all ... Scourge! These are marvels!
And the work, is it good? ... Oh! no!