Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 8. Boileau

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

§ 8. Boileau

To Boileau, the remaining member of this illustrious group of friends, Dryden refers in 1677, three years after the publication of L’Art Poétique, as one of the chief critics of his age; while, in the Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693), he pays a splendid tribute to him, as “the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed and whose sense is close.” His Lutrin appeared in English in 1682; his Art Poétique, translated by Sir William Soames and revised by Dryden, in 1683; and, about the same time, Oldham imitated two of his satires, the fifth and the eighth. The second had been already translated by Butler, and the third by Buckingham and Rochester. Bossuet is represented by some of his controversial writings, such as his Exposition de la Doctrine de l’Église Catholique and Conférence avec M. Claude, and by his great Discours sur l’Histoire Universelle, which was translated in 1686. Malebranche’s Recherche de la Vérité and La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes both appeared in English in 1694, and, of the latter, there had been an earlier translation by Mrs. Aphra Behn. Pascal’s Pensées and La Bruyère’s Caractères, which Dryden couples together as “two of the most entertaining books that modern French can boast of,” were translated in 1688 and 1699 respectively; in 1688, too, appeared an English version of Mme. de la Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves, But a mere record of translations from a foreign literature is far from constituting a measure of its influence. The real influence which French literature exercised upon our own between the restoration and the close of the seventeenth century may be classified under four heads: that of Corneille and the heroic romances upon tragedy, that of Molière upon comedy, that of Montaigne upon the essay and that of French criticism upon English criticism. Neither the first nor the second of these influences is really important: for the fashion of the riming heroic play soon passed away; and, though our comedy borrowed its materials from Molière, it took over little of his form, and nothing of his spirit. The influence of Montaigne upon the essay will be discussed later. But it may be well, in the first instance, to consider the influence which is the most important of all, because it affected our whole literature and not merely some special department of it.