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Review Article The Rehabilitation of a Second-Rate Writer: Jean-Franc;ois Marmontel MICHAEL CARDY Jean-Fran~ois Marmontel. Memoires, edition critique etablie par John Renwick . 2 volumes. Clermont-Ferrand '972 - Correspondance, texte etabli, annott~ et presente par John Renwick. 2 volumes . Clermont-Ferrand 1.974 De l'Encyc1opedie ilia ContreRevolution . Jean-Frallf ois Marmol1tel '(1723-1799), Etudes rfuNes et presentees par J.Ehrard. ClermontFerrand 1970 La Oestinee posthume de /eall-FrallfOis Mnrlllontel (1723 -1799), Bibliographie critique (articles et documents) etablie par John Renwick. Clermont-Ferrand 1972 James Maurice Kaplan. La Nellvaine de Cythere: une dbnarmontelisation de Marmontel, Studies on Voltaire, CXIII, 1973 John Renwick. Marmol1tel, Voltaire and the Btiisaire Affair, Studies on Voltaire, CXXI,1974 Jacques Wagner. Mnrmontel journaliste et Ie Mercure de France. Grenoble 1975 Scholars and critics of eighteenth-century France have long pillaged the Memoires of Jean-Fran~ois Marmontel for picturesque details of the literary, social, and intellectual tife of the period and to substantiate and illustrate generalizations about the Enlightenment. Even a passing knowledge of eighteenth-century sources would confirm Marmontel 's status as a major figure of the time. Born in 172) of poor parents in a tiny village on the borders of Limousin and Auvergne, MarmonteI. after initial success, then dismal failure as a tragedian, acquired between 1755 and 1765 an international reputation with the publication of his COlltes morallx which, to judge from their reception throughout Europe and the Americas, exactly corresponded to contemporary taste. His fame gained added lustre with the appearance of Beiisaire (1767), a plea for religious tolerance in the form of a novel that caused a scandal resembling, though in miniature, the affaire provoked by the publication of Helvetius's De I'esprit in 1758. The increasing strength of the parti encyclopedique during the 1760s may be assessed in terms of the impunity Marmontel enjoyed compared with the persecution suffered by Helvetius. In th e early 17505, at the invitation of Diderot and D'Alembert (who was to become one of his closest friends) , Marmontel began an association with the UTQ, VOLUME XLVII, NUMBER 2 , WINTER 1977/8 164 NUCHAELCARDY Encyc10pedie which was interrupted by the political disputes surrounding that publication in the Jatter half of the decade but which set him upon a course destined to last for over thirty years. The articles he wrote for the great enterprise were almost exclusively concerned with literary theory, as were many more he contributed to the four volumes of the Supplement de I'ElIcycIopedie (1776- 7) and his contributions to the vast El1cyclopedie metltodique, which began publication in 1782. Assembled in five substantial volumes of Elements de litterature, Marmontel 's articles on Iiterary theory constitute a major contribution to the diversity and vigour of aesthetic thought in the eighteenth century, a contribution, moreover, which has not yet been properly appraised by modern scholarship. The most practical manifestation of Marmontel's involvement in the literary life of the age was his brief tenure (1758- 60) as edilorof the official but rather undistinguished journal, the Mercure de France. His editorship was abruptly terminated by imprisonment in the Bastille for offending the ducd'Aumont, but such had been his energy while he was in office that the journal had been transformed in very short order into a prestigious organ of literary and scientific infonnation and debate, a veritable intellectual forum. Marmontel's editorship of the Mercure de France has recently been the subject of Jacques Wagner's remarkable study, which clearly r.eveals Marmontel's originality and distinction as a literary journalist. Leaving aside Marmontel's translation of Lucan's Pharsalia (1766), his prose epic Les Incas (1777), and his Essai sur Ie goLit (1786), one is constrained to cite a further aspect of his significance: his participation as a librettist in the development of opera, a domain too often neglected by literary scholars. Like many French writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Marmontel cherished an ambition to succeed in the theatre. After the failure of three successive tragedies in the early 1750s, he increasingly envisaged opera as a legitimate avenue of theatrical success. Quite early in his career he collaborated with a figure as great as Rameau in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 163-171
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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