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The volumes which we are about nounced on an appeal to time—“No to notice, form part of the course of doubt but we are the men, and wisdom lectures on the Literature of France, shall die with us,” was, perhaps, the delivered by Villemain in his capacity only scriptural text to which the men of professor at the Faculté des Lettres of letters of the eighteenth century in Paris, in 1827. They embrace the gave their unqualified and universal first and the most interesting portion assent. And yet this complacent selfof the literature of the eighteenth cen. confidence has been found fallacious ; tury; the period of invention and bold the criticism of the nineteenth century philosophical speculation, when litera. has not only lowered from their pride ture, suddenly emerging from the rank of place the popular favourites of the of an art, became in truth what Bo. eighteenth, but, as there is reason to nald calls “the expression of society" believe, unduly degraded them below
-a power in the state of vast and im- their just level, from the not unna. mediate influence both for good and tural reaction produced by a total evil; the only power, indeed, which opposition of critical views. One lesson preserved its energy and activity amidst may at all events be gathered, even in a period of social decline. The three the outset, from these revolutions of volumes which complete the course, opinion. Let no nation, or age, flatter and in which the author traces the itself that it has succeeded in fixing literary history of the eighteenth cen. the standard of critical taste. The tury up to the period of the Revolu- canons of criticism inay be, in their tion, when a new character was, in main points, invariable, as founded on many respects, impressed upon it, will universal principles of our nature, but it form the subject of a future article. is in their practical application that the
Looking back on the high preten. difficulty occurs. And there all experisions of the eighteenth century, and ence teaches us, that no one age can feel the self-complacent confidence which the least assurance that its judgments, its critics and writers seemed to en. derived as they are from a thousand tertain of their own superiority to all minute circumstances of manners, hawho had gone before, if not also to bits, and opinions, unknown to its preall who were to follow them, it is an decessors, can be in any way binding object of great interest to compare, on their surcessors ; or that there is with the assistance of the lights de- any impassable limit in critical georived from experience, their estimate graphy—any spot where the post or of their own 'merits and pretensions, the philosopher may pause, as at the with the sentence which has been pro- Pillars of Hercules, and say—
Cours de Littérature Française. Par M. Villemain, Membre de l'Académie Fran. çaise, Professor à la Faculté des Lettres à Paris. Tableau du Dix-huitième Siècle, Première Partie. 2 tom. 1838. VOL. XLVI.