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REVIEWS MINUET*' The word "minuet" evokes various abstract associations and concrete images, such as: the eighteenth centu~y; grace ~nd wit; a long melodic phrase with subtle harmonies on the harpsichord; . . above all; a slow, stately dance in which the partners approach with dignity, curtsey to each other, take hands, then separate and withdraw , avoiding any suggestion of intimate union. I t thus concentrates in itself, with that brevity which is the soul of wit, both the matter and the manner of Professor Green's remarkable study of Anglo-French literary relations in the eight~enth century ~ Perhaps the author does not intend us to pursue the musical or choregraphic analogies indefinitely, but .1 cannot resist saying that Professor Green has absorbed not only the clearness, lightn~ss of touch, and wit 'of his chosen century), but'someth'ing also of its love of complex" polyphony, for.at times the counterpoint of his English and French themes becomes intricate in the extreme. This is the book that many a compara/isle has dreamed of writing (it was simply cryi~g out to be written), but has lacked the ability, the knowledge, or the if?,dustry to bring to fruition. Pro~ fesso~ Green is almost the ideal literary scholar.. .Hehas minute eru,dition, yet 'he obviously regards literature primarily ~s a living art, not as a cadaver for the social historian to dissect; besides, he is a born writer; what is even more uncommon among literary scholars) he has the philosophic mind; rarest of all, he seems t~ have some insight, not only into books, but into life and ~haracter­ a gift that saves him from those naive judgments in dealing with the "criticism of life" implicit in novels and plays, that make the obiler dicta of scholars so often a 'source of innocent merriment. When such an instrument of precision starts operating on such a field as tJ1.e combined literatures of France and England in the eighteenth century, the result. is such that we may cry with Dryden: "Here~ at last, is God's plenty"-for we revel in a banquet of enthusiastic appreciations, witty excoriations, new discoveries in litera~y his- *Minuet: A Critical Suraey oj French and English Literary Ideas in the Eighteenth Century, by F. C. Green, J. M. Dent and Sons. 555 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY , tory, exquisitely chosen quotations, philosophical analyses, lapidary phrases and aphorisms, French nuances and English gusto. The primary theme of Professor Green's "minuet'.' maytbe summed up in the following sentences, taken from the first and last pages of his book: "Nations, like individuals, can be intensely curious about each other, and, having satisfied the.ir curiosity, continue to behave as before. Besides, literary genius is essentially racial and the books which exercise an international appeal are very rare." "Inclosing this survey I am led to the irresistible conclusion that the cosmopolitan spirit left no deep or lasting imprint upon the imaginative literature of eighteenth-century France or England." The secondary themes (if we elect to pursue the musical analogy) or the partners who curtsey and touch hands hut nothing more (if we prefer the image of the dance) are the "literary geniuses:' of France and England, and these geniuses may, in Professor Green's judgmen.t, be summed up in the words "Cartesianism" and "Experimentalism " respectively. This idea-though not an original discovery of the author-has never been applied so extensively and so searchingly in a study of the literary masterpieces ;'f th; two countries as in this book. Perhaps the admirable chapter entitled "The Philosopher and the Dramatist" (containing the finest parallel study of Shakespeare and Racine in English criticism, not excluding Lytton Strachey's) is the best illustration of what Professor Green means by his antithesis; but the parallel studies of Le Sage and Smollett, of Marivaux and Richardson, of Diderot and Sterne, in the section on "The Novel," are hardly inferior achievements in comparative CrItlclsm. In other chapters, the author studies the attempts of Voltaire, Ducis, La Place, and Le Tourneur to naturalize Shakespeare on the French stage, and also the points of contact between the English middle-class tragedies and sentimental comedies on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 555-558
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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