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to be charged with little Matter, which it was the business of invention to support and extend. The opinion was warmly contested: but, after many reasons for and against, it happened, as it generally does in this sort of disputes, that nobody was convinced, and that each continued in his own opinion. The heat of dispute being over, we talked on other subjects; and laughed at the violence into which we had been betrayed, in discussing a question of so little consequence. We moralized on the folly of men who pass * almost their whole lives in treating the greatest trifles in a serious manner; and in making to themselves an important affair of something quite indifferent. To this purpose, a country gentleman related a famous quarrel, that had lately happened in a little church in his province, between the treasurer and the chantor, the two principal dignitaries of that church, about the place in which a reading-desk was to stand. We thought it a ridiculous affair. Upon this, one of the
* It ought to be remarked, that Boilcau, in a subsequent edition, 1683, withdrew this Preface. See Sect. XII. of this Essay. Desmarets severely and acutely criticised some parts of this poem.
critics in company, who could not so soon forget our late dispute, asked me, if I, who thought so little Matter necessary for an heroic poem, would undertake to write one on a quarrel so little abounding in incidents, as this of the two ecclesiastics? I said, Why not? before I had even reflected on the question. This made the company laugh, and I could not help laughing with them; not in the least imagining, that I should ever be able to keep my word. But finding myself at leisure in the evening, I revolved the subject in my mind, and having considered in. every view the pleasantry that it would admit of, I made twenty verses, which I shewed to my friends. They were diverted with this beginning. The pleasure which I saw these gave them, induced me to write twenty more. Thus, from twenty verses to twenty, I lengthened the work to near nine hundred. This is the whole history of the trifle I now offer to the public.<^Tt is a new kind of burlesque, which I have introduced into our language; for as in the other kind of burlesque, that of Scarron, Dido and JEneas spoke like fishwomen women and porters, in this of mine, a * clockmaker and his wife talk like Dido and JEneap^ I do not know whether my poem will have all the qualities requisite to satisfy a reader: but I dare flatter myself, that it will at least be allowed to have the grace of novelty; because I do not conceive, that there are any works of this nature in our language; the Defaites Des Bouts Rimes of Sarasin being rather a mere allegory than a poem, as this is."
/ On a subject seemingly so unpromising, and incapable of ornament, has Boileau found a method of raising a poem full of beautiful imagery, which appears like that magnificent cityf which the greatest of princes caused to be built in a morass. Boileau has enlivened this piece with many unexpected incidents, and entertaining episodes;
Maxima de nihilo nascitur historia. Prop.
* Altered afterwards to a Barber. See the commentary of Brossette.
particularly that of the Perruquier, in the second canto, and of the Battle of the Books, in the fifth. The satire throughout is poignant, though polite, to the last degree. The indolence and luxury of the priests are ridiculed with the most artful delicacy. What a picture has he drawn of the chamber and bed of the treasurer, where every thing was calculated to promote and preserve inactivity and ease!
Dans le réduit obscur d'un alcove enfoncée*
The astonishment of Gilotin, the treasurer's almoner, to find that his master intends to go out
* Compare with this the account of the Canon fed by his Housekeeper, in Gil Bias.
f Chant, i.
before dinner, is extremely natural; and his remonstrances are inimitably droll and pertinent:
Lui montre le péril, que midi va sonner;
Quelle fureur, dit-il, quel aveugle caprice.
How admirably is the character of an ignorant and eating priest preserved in this speech of the sleek and pampered Canon Evrard, one of the drones, who,
In that exhaustless hive
On fat pluralities supinely thrive !f
Moi? dit-il, qu'à mon âge, Ecolier tout nouveau,