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MILTON IN FRENCH LITERATURE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY Florence Brinkley When the French writers broke away from classicism, their search for fresh materials and new heroes led them to real characters in history and literature, whether their own or those of other countries. Most of the Continental countries furnished sources, but England was most frequently drawn upon because of her great popularity in France at this time. J. G. Robertson says that "the French literature of the first twenty or thirty years of the nineteenth century represents the most intense period of Miltonic influence on any alien literature.'" One phase of the expression of this interest is the introduction of Milton as a character into various literary works. Since the Revolution had brought the French to a better understanding of the Civil War, it is not surprising to find Charles I, Cromwell, and Charles II freely introduced into their literature. Historical characters from other periods, as well as poets and playwrights, also often appear. Under the influence of Madame de StaiiI, England was considered the particular home of genius, and Shakespeare and Milton, Chatterton and Thomson, are among the poets used fictionally by French writers. Loving the dramatic, the French writers seize upon episodes which lend themselves to dialogue and action, whatever the literary genre chosen as a medium. They use situations which have been associated with a real person, regardless of whether these are biographical or only legendary, and they often add material to make a good story. They pay little attention to accurate chronology or characterization and sometimes even give a diflerent name to a character. An amusing instance of change of fact occurs in a play Thompson et Garrick, ou L'Auteur et I'acteur, 1822, written by Messrs. J. A. Jacquelin and Ourry. In the last scene the dramatists tell of the generosity of an actor to Thomson, an incident for 243 244 FLORENCE BRINKLEY which they give a reference to Laplace "dans son 6' volume des pieces interessantes et peu connues." The actor is Quin according to Laplace's story, but the dramatists say that Quin is a name which "serait desagreable pour les oreilles Fran.aises" and therefore they attribute the incident to Garrick. Several legendary stories of Milton's life provided material for effective scenes. One of the most popular of these was that Milton had saved the life of Davenant, poet and ardent Royalist, when Cromwell was in power and that in turn Davenant secured the king's pardon for Milton after the Restoration.2 With variations in detail this story occurs in two poems, an opera, a novel, and a play. Since Milton's brother Christopher was in the Royalist service after the fall of Reading, it seemed plausible that Milton should use his influence with Cromwell to save him as well as Davenant, and this situation is introduced into a poem and a novel. Milton's pleading with Cromwell not to assume the crown is referred to in a poem and a novel and becomes one of the finest scenes in Victor Hugo's play Cromwell. Such biographical materials as the Italian journey and the meeting with Galileo, Milton's position as Cromwell's secretary, and his loss of sight while in office provide additional material and sometimes form a point of departure for fictional elaboration. Since Milton was in Paris on his Grand Tour, two writers imagine that he met Corneille and discussed poetry with him. He is also represented attending a play in Italy which depicted the fall of man.s Through this performance, it is said, he became aware of the grandeur of the subject. Though Milton cut off all his daughters in his will, calling them "unkind children" who had been "undutiful" to him, the tradition is that the youngest one, Deborah, had real affection for him. So it is Deborah, who was only eight years old at the time of the Restoration, to.whom one writer gives a role of devoted care for her father in his blindness which is compared with that of Antigone for Oedipus. Other writers are less accurate as to the daughter's name (one calls her Emma!), but they, too...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 243-255
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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