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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XVI. The Essay and the Beginning of Modern English Prose

§ 7. Urquhart’s Rabelais; Pascal; Descartes; Corneille, Racine and Molière

But, to return to the days of the commonwealth, there appeared, in 1653, the translation of a more famous work, which, in one sense, was a burlesque. This was Sir Thomas Urquhart’s remarkable version of the first two books of Rabelais’s great romance. It apparently fell flat, for the third book was not published till forty years later. Greater success attended the translation of another monument of French prose, Pascal’s Lettres Provinciales, which, under the title The Mysterie of Semitism, discovered in certain letters, was published in 1657, the year in which Pascal wrote the last of the letters, a new edition being called for in the following year. And a translation of Descartes’s Traitédes passions de l’âme (1650) testifies to an interest in that psychological analysis which was to be a brilliant feature of the new school of French writers.

At the restoration, there was a decided falling off in this work of translation. In fact, all the translations from the French produced during the twenty-five years of Charles II’s reign hardly surpass in number those which appeared during the last eight years of the commonwealth. The first decade after the restoration was marked chiefly by a fairly successful attempt to acclimatise Corneille, the details of which have been given in a previous chapter. The psychological tragedies of Racine were less to the taste of English audiences, and it was not till nearly the close of queen Anne’s reign that they secured a footing on the English stage with Ambrose Philips’s Distrest Mother (Andromaque). The unparalleled debt to Molière has been pointed out in an earlier chapter. It need only be said here that, of all his thirty-one plays, only about half a dozen escaped the general pillage. La Fontaine was not translated into English till the next century; but he was read and admired by the English wits, and it was only his growing infirmities which, towards the end of his life, prevented him from accepting an invitation sent by some of his English admirers, who “engaged to find him an honourable subsistence” in London.