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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

§ 9. Influence of French Criticism: Chapelain, Le Bossu and Dacier

The debt of English literature to French criticism begins with D’Avenant’s laboured and long-winded preface to Gondibert, written in Paris and there published, with an answer by Hobbes, in 1650. It was, no doubt, suggested by Chapelain’s turgid and obscure preface to Marino’s Adone (1623). In 1650, Chapelain was at the height of his authority as a critic, and the whole tone of this piece of writing, with the talk about nature and the insistence on the need of criticism as well as inspiration in poetry, is thoroughly French. Dryden, in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, is perfectly independent in his views; but he must have written it with a copy of the 1660 edition of Corneille’s plays, which contain his Examens and Discours, by his side. Among the French critics of the next generation, Boileau stands out prominent, but his authority in England during the last quarter of the seventeenth century was balanced by that of Rapin, whose Réflexions sur la poétique d’ Aristote was translated by Rymer in the same year in which it appeared in French (1674), and of whom Dryden says that he “is alone sufficient, were all other critics lost, to teach anew the rules of writing.” Le Bossu and Dacier were also highly esteemed. Dryden speaks of Le Bossu as “the best of modern critics,” and the greater part of his Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693) is little more than an adaptation of Dacier’s Essai sur la Satire. A translation of this treatise, which consists of only a few pages, was printed in an appendix to one of Le Bossu’s, Du poème épique, in 1695. “I presume your Ladyship has read Bossu,” says Brisk to lady Froth, in Congreve’s Double-Dealer (1693). “O Yes, and Rapin and Dacier upon Aristotle and Horace”; and, in Dennis’s The Impartial Critic, produced in the same year as Congreve’s play, frequent appeals are made to Dacier’s translation of Aristotle’s Poetics, which he had published, avec des Remarques, in the previous year.